There were different levels of avoidance and Matt knew when John didn’t want to talk about something big. After three years together, he knew the difference between, ‘I forgot your birthday’ and, ‘I might’ve blown up something downtown today.’ It was usually like pulling teeth to get John to talk - even when news vans were involved and it ended up as a breaking bulletin and/or on the six o’clock news - but Matt knew when he could press and when he couldn’t.

The last couple of weeks, something kept John at the office late enough that Matt fell asleep before the other man got home. He was also up and gone when Matt finally dragged himself out of bed. If his body wasn’t demanding every shred of energy he had and allowed him to stay up past ten, he’d damn sure wait up. He tried, but every night he fell asleep on the sofa and every morning, he woke up in bed with just a hint of warmth on his husband’s side of the blankets.

This was avoidance on a scale that he’d never before dealt with, which meant that whatever was going on was massive. Matt decided to take matters into his own hands. He stopped at John’s favorite BBQ place, picked up a ton of food, and took the subway to the precinct. He called the captain before leaving the BBQ restaurant to make sure John was there and moved as quickly as he could so he didn’t miss him.

Matt ignored all the hungry looks he got from the cops he passed, keeping a firm grip on the bag of food. They were all vultures, he knew that firsthand. Any sign of weakness and the BBQ would vanish right from Matt’s hands. He glared at a couple of the uniformed cops he didn’t know very well as they got a little too close and they backed off.

John was at his desk, frowning at his computer monitor, which was circa 1995. Matt grinned to himself as he took a few seconds to watch John’s ‘hunt-and-peck’ method of typing. Now and again, Matt took pity on his husband and snuck into the precinct while John was on stakeout and caught up all his reports. Everyone from A/P to the Captain loved him for it.

John’s nose twitched less than a minute after Matt arrived; he didn’t know if John had smelled the food or him, but the other man’s gaze zeroed in on him a couple of seconds later. Instead of some kind of happiness, seeing Matt just deepened the grooves of tension lining John’s face. He sighed a bit. This is going to be more difficult than I thought.

Matt pasted on a smile and strode forward. He set the bag of food on John’s desk and said, “Hey. I figured since I haven’t seen you in, oh, weeks, I’d drop by.”

John reached for him, not the food, which Matt considered a victory. Strong arms wrapped around Matt’s waist and John sighed, pressing his face to Matt’s rounded belly. Matt rubbed a hand between John’s shoulder blades and waited.

I guess we should talk,” John finally muttered.

Matt kissed the top of his head and said, “Probably a good idea, yeah.”

John let him go and stood up, grabbed the bag of food with one hand and sliding the other around Matt’s waist. They ended up in an interrogation room, which was really kind of appropriate and made him grin a little.

John saw him smirk and rolled his eyes. “Shut up.”

Matt snickered and said, “Make me.”

John’s grin twitched reluctantly to life and he said, somewhat smug, “Did that four months ago.”

Matt rolled his eyes and started pulling food containers out of the bag. “Yeah yeah, whatever. Ribs, mashed potatoes, and slaw for you. Baked chicken, rice, and oh joy, mixed veg medley for me. It’s a good thing I love you, McClane. I wouldn’t let just anyone knock me up and force me to eat healthy, you know.”

Unexpectedly, John roughly pulled him in for a tight hug. Matt jumped a little, startled, and then relaxed into it. John pulled back just enough to kiss him stupid for a few minutes.

When John broke off the kiss, Matt blinked at him, dazed. “Uh, not that I’m complaining, but what the fuck?”

John snorted and gently pushed him into a chair. “Sit, kiddo. I’ve got big news and you’re not gonna like it.”

John was right; he didn’t like it at all. Matt listened to the tale of Jack McClane getting arrested for an assassination hit and thrown in a Russian prison and wanted to punch the wall. Since the wall would probably break his hand, he settled for stabbing his plastic fork viciously into his irritatingly non-BBQ’d chicken a few times.

My flight leaves tomorrow.”

Matt gaped at him. “Excuse me?”

Yeah. Lucy’s going to drop me off at the airport.”

Lucy knows?”

John winced and said, “Yeah. I called her yesterday.”

Matt very carefully didn’t throw his food in John’s face. Mostly because rice didn’t have the same, satisfying splatter effect mashed potatoes would. He took a calming breath, as taught to him by his OB-GYN, and released it. Before they’d known he was pregnant, his stress levels had almost caused a miscarriage.

He’s her brother!” John said defensively.

Matt stood up and said, “I’m going home. When you feel like, I don’t know, being part of this marriage, let me know. Asshole.”

He didn’t even make it to the door before John caught him up from behind and held onto him. “I’m sorry. You’re right, I’m an asshole. I should have told you. I just didn’t want to stress you out.”

Matt elbowed his way free and spun on him, poking John hard enough in the chest to hurt his finger. “So you thought springing a trip to Russia on me at the last minute was a better option? What the fuck, McClane?!”

John rested his hands on Matt’s shoulders and squeezed firmly. “I’m sorry. I just… I’m really worried about you, okay? About both of you. I handled it badly.”

Matt continued to glare at him, but any expression of emotion was a victory. Getting an apology at the same time was really like winning the lottery: a once in a lifetime event. He closed his eyes and let out several long, slow breaths. When he opened his eyes again, his body wasn’t quite as tightly wound and he said, “Okay. So. Russia, huh?”

John visibly relaxed, shoulders dropping and a faint smile drifting into place. “Yeah. And look. I’m just going to support Jack. I’m not going to try and spring him. He did it. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind. I just… I want to talk to him, you know?”

There was a lot of guilt in those pale blue eyes and Matt reached out to cup the side of his face. “He’s a grown man, John. Yeah, you weren’t there a lot when he was growing up, but plenty of kids have it way worse than that and come out just fine. This is not your fault.”

John gave a little shrug. “Sure, kid.”

Matt rolled his eyes. The emotional moment was officially over. His stomach growled and Matt sat back down. “Alright. Feed me. And promise me that that you’re not going to, I don’t know, start a revolution or blow up half of Moscow.”

Finally, a real smile crossed John’s face. “I solemnly promise not to blow up half of Moscow.”

Matt noticed the sin of omission, but just shook his head in fond resignation and started eating his bland lunch.

* * * *

Lucy had become a pretty permanent fixture in their lives about two months after the fire sale disaster; basically once Matt had gotten out of the hospital. Matt had needed a place to stay, what with his blown-up apartment, and Lucy had wanted a predictably neurotic roommate instead of, in her words, “…some crazy bitch that could go SWF on me like the last two, or fall in love with me like the one before that. At least your neuroses are interesting.”

Matt knew that without her, it was highly likely that John would’ve chalked everything up to a mid-life crisis and never called Matt back after Matt had kissed him the first time and John had, shockingly, kissed back.

It was a double hurt to find out that John had told Lucy about Russia and Jack, but not Matt, and that she hadn’t told Matt.

Matt left the precinct with John’s solemn vow that the other man would be home to spend his last night stateside at home, at a decent hour. As soon as he was outside, he called Lucy.

Hey, Matt!”

Don’t you ‘hey Matt’ me. You’re a lousy friend.”

He could practically see her wincing over the phone.

He made me promise not to tell you. He’s my dad, Matt, what could I do? I’m really sorry.”

Matt scowled at the bus blocking the crosswalk.

Don’t hate me, okay?”

The faintly pleading tone made him sigh and grimace at himself as he thought, Jesus. All someone needs is the last name McClane and I’m done for. Aloud, he said, “I don’t hate you. But you better bring vast quantities of strawberry ice cream when you come over tomorrow after you drop your dad off at the airport.”

Strawberry froyo, absolutely.”

Matt scowled again as he started to cross the street. “You know, my taste buds have died a lingering death with the lack of flavor and fat for the last two months. You and your dad are both responsible for it.”

Strawberry sorbet from that Italian place you like? And hey, wait, you’re not going to the airport? I figured you’d talk him into it once you knew.”

Matt stepped out of some irritated looking accountant-type’s way and answered, “No, we actually agreed that it’d be too stressful between the saying goodbye and dealing with traffic.”

Oh, yeah. I bet. Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Lots of sorbet, McClane.”

Got it, Farrell.”

Matt huffed in amusement. “Bye, Lucy.”

Bye, Matt.”

He disconnected and put the cell in his pocket.

* * * *

John got home at six that night, which wasn’t just a decent hour, but early for him. Matt was in the kitchen looking for a snack and grinned when the other man hugged him from behind. John’s hands rested on Matt’s belly, and he kissed the side of his neck, nosing at Matt’s hair. “God, you smell good.”

Says you,” Matt said, squirming a little. “I didn’t even shower today.”

Rubbing his hands gently over Matt’s stomach, he insisted, “I know, that’s why you smell good.”

Matt rolled his eyes, but leaned back into the comfortable embrace. “Thai should be here in about thirty minutes, which gives you enough time to take a shower. Unlike you, I don’t have a scent knk.”

John chuckled, the sound a warm rumble against his back. He nipped at the side of Matt’s throat and stepped back. “Okay, okay, I get it. I stink.”

Matt pulled out a sleeve of boring, whole wheat crackers to munch on and went back into the living room. He plopped down on the sofa and then made a face as his heavier body protested the movement. He looked down at his stomach and said, “I’m evicting you in five months, lady. Just keep in mind this is a temporary sublet.”

But he rubbed his hands gently over his belly so she knew he wasn’t being serious. He felt like he was pretty damn big already, but John assured him he was being paranoid and the last ultrasound had shown nothing wrong, even if she was hiding from them. He picked up the tablet resting on the sofa and yawned as he checked through emails to kill time until John finished showering. At least business was good.

John joined him about twenty minutes later, draping an arm over Matt’s shoulder and pulling the tablet from his hands.

Hey! I was working!” Matt complained.

John grinned. “And now you’re not. Lucy told me you bawled her out earlier. Everything okay with you two?”

It was John’s version of a heart-to-heart and Matt shook his head fondly. “Yeah, we’re fine. You’re still in the doghouse, though.”

John leaned closer and scraped his teeth down the side of Matt’s neck. “Hmm. Wonder what I can do to fix that?”

Fortunately, the delivery guy chose then to ring the buzzer. They’d been caught too many times right in the middle for Matt to feel comfortable getting physical when food was about to be delivered.

John got up and pressed the intercom. “Yeah?”

It’s Frank. Delivery from Thai Palace for McClane.”

Because anywhere that delivered regularly to them knew a simple, ‘Delivery,’ wasn’t going to get anyone buzzed up.

John hit the door release button and pulled out his wallet, fishing out a couple of twenties and opening the door.

Frank was a large Asian man with dyed-blond, spiky hair. He grinned at John and handed over the large bag. “Good to see ya, man. You ain’t been around lately.”

John nodded. “Working, yeah. Thanks, Frank.”

Any time, McClane.”

John shut and locked the door, then brought the food to the coffee table. They were comfortably settled with the food a few minutes later. Matt sighed, but dutifully ate his low-sodium noodles with chicken.

I’m going to turn into a chicken at some point, you know that, right?” Matt grumbled.

John laughed and tweaked his nose. “Just keep the feathers out of the bed.”

It was a quiet night. Matt watched tv curled up on John’s lap, head on his shoulder and drowsing about ten minutes after settling down. He must’ve fallen asleep for real, because he woke up when John set him down on the bed. Matt yawned and caught the back of his neck, pulling him down for a slow, sleepy kiss. “Was gonna give you a going away to remember.”

John chuckled and sat on the bed, carding his fingers through Matt’s hair. “This is perfect, Matty.”

Matt sighed and whispered, “You’re coming back, right?”

John’s eyes widened and he said, “Of course I am! What kind of question is that?”

Matt shrugged and refused to meet his gaze, face heating up with embarrassment. “A stupid one. Never mind.”

No, Matty, look at me. What’s going on?”

Matt reluctantly turned his head to see him. “It’s just… I’m so boring now. We never do anything and it’s like, I’m just kind of weighing you down. You didn’t even want another kid.”

John sighed and took his hand. “We already talked about this. I love you and I love our kid to be. I wasn’t expecting either of you, but I want you both. You’re stuck with me, Matty. I’m not going anywhere. Well, I’m going to Russia tomorrow, but I’m coming back in two weeks. Less, probably, if Jack’s as chatty as I expect. Repeat after me. I, Matt Farrell, will be suffering the infliction of John McClane for the rest of my life.”

Matt laughed a little at that, feeling lighter at his words. “Okay, I get it.”

John grinned and ordered, “No, come on. Say it!”

Matt had to grin back. “I, Matt Farrell, will be suffering the infliction of John McClane for the rest of my life.”

John leaned down and lightly bit his earlobe. “And I will never leave him, no matter how emotionally constipated he gets as an old man.”

Matt wriggled a little at the ticklish sensation of his warm breath. “And I will never leave him, no matter how emotionally constipated he gets as an old man.”

I love you, Matty. Remember that.”

Matt couldn’t help repeating, “I love you, Matty. Remember that.”

John barked out a laugh and started tickling him. Matt immediately and helplessly started laughing. He wheezed with it and fruitlessly slapped away John’s hands until he gasped, “Uncle! Uncle! I’m gonna wet the bed!”

John immediately stopped, but crawled into the bed with him and drew him in close. Matt giggled a little longer and let John rearrange them so that Matt curled up against his chest. He pulled the blankets over them and said, “I do love you, Matty.”

Matt sighed in contentment and said, “Love you, too, John.”

Get some sleep, baby,” John murmured against his ear. “I’m just gonna hold you for a while.”

Because ‘cuddle’ and ‘snuggle’ weren’t in the McClane vocabulary, no matter how often he did it. Matt grinned at the thought and let himself drift to sleep.

* * * *

Lucy showed up, as promised, with several pints of expensive Italian strawberry sorbet right after dropping John at the airport.

How did it go?” Matt asked, taking the bag from her. “Did he seem okay? What happened?”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Geeze, Matt, let me get in the door a second, will you?”

Matt let out a breath and said, “Sorry. Hi Lucy, how are you? Did the trip to the airport go okay or was traffic awful?”

She snorted and pushed him gently to the sofa. “Yeah, yeah. Traffic sucked, but the trip went fine. Dad was his usual self, worried and trying not to show it. Did his impression of a brick wall pretty good this morning.”

Matt huffed in amusement as he sat down and said, “Yeah, to me, too.”

Lucy didn’t stay long, since she had a class at three and needed to get back to her apartment to get her stuff. Much to everyone’s surprise, she’d gone on to graduate school. Not that she wasn’t smart, but her temperament was a lot closer to John’s, than Holly’s, in that whole ‘rules don’t apply to a McClane’ kind of way.

Matt sighed to himself once she’d left. The apartment felt extra empty since he knew John wouldn’t be home, no matter how late it got. He resigned himself to long, online chats with Freddie and bland take-out food.

At least until John’s captain called at four that afternoon to ask for his help with a server going down. With as little a tech budget as John’s precinct got, Matt helped for free whenever he could. It wasn’t like he didn’t get well paid on the government-approved freelance gigs he took. He could afford to do some pro bono work for the city.

He was only there for a couple of hours before Captain Kyle came over and said, “Pack it up, kid.”

Matt frowned at him and said, “I’m almost done.”

Really almost done or, ‘planning to upgrade to an almost illegal level that’ll take another three hours’ almost done?” Kyle asked, grinning.

Matt rolled his eyes at the black man and said, “Really almost done. And when are you going to let that go? It was like, one time.”

Never. How much longer?”

Half-hour?”

Okay. But I’m calling Lucy if you’re not walking outta here in thirty-five minutes.”

Matt grimaced and got back to work. As threats went, it was pretty effective. Lucy was almost as overprotective of him as her dad. It was definitely something in the blood.

Probably that residual caveman thing, he thought with a grin.

He finished with four minutes to spare and packed up, waving at Captain Kyle on the way by to make sure the man knew he’d left. The subway ride home took way too long and he was just about sleeping on his feet when the stop got called. The walk home from there was a form of torture because he walked by three different bakery shops and they all smelled awesome.

Matt’s cell rang with John’s ringtone, ‘Bad to the Bone,’ and he perked up. “Hey! I didn’t expect to hear from you until tomorrow!”

It is tomorrow,” John grumbled through a yawn. “Why does it sound like you’re outside?”

Matt snorted and unlocked the front door to their apartment building. “Because I’m just getting home and happen to be outside. There. I’m inside now, better?”

You’re just now getting home? Where from? It’s… what is it, nine at night?”

Just about, yeah. And relax. There were no muggings or shootings or kidnappings from the precinct all the way home. I’m just getting on the elevator, hang on,” Matt told him, stepping into the small thing. Calls didn’t usually drop in it, but they could never hear each other. Once he was out of the elevator, he asked, “And what are you doing calling me, anyhow? Do you know how expensive this call is?”

fuck the expense, I needed to call you. I’ve got another twelve hours on a plane before I get to Russia.”

See, if you’d told me about this trip, I could’ve gotten you a much better route. Since you didn’t, you’re just going to have to suck it up.”

You’re all heart, baby.”

Matt grinned as he unlocked their apartment door and then locked it automatically. “I know.”

He dropped his work bag and walked to the sofa, sitting down with a sigh of relief. His feet felt about twice their size, which was ridiculous since he hadn’t walked all that far.

You okay? You sound tired?”

That’s because I am tired, but yeah, I’m good. Did some server work at the precinct for Captain Kyle.”

You can call him Larry like everyone else, you know. It’s been two years.”

Not with my record, I can’t. So how was the flight?”

John accepted the change of subject, because he talked about nothing much at all for the next ten minutes. An announcement came on in the background and he sighed before saying, “That’s me. I’ll call you when I get to the hotel, okay?”

Okay. Be safe,” Matt said firmly. “And no revolutions.”

I already promised that.”

No, you didn’t.”

Didn’t I?”

You’re really not funny, McClane.”

Yeah, I am. Bye Matty, I gotta go. Love you.”

I love you too.”

And then Matt was listening to a dial tone. He sighed and dropped his head against the sofa cushion.

* * * *

John didn’t call from the hotel. Matt tried not to keep one eye on the clock and the other on his phone, but it was hard. There were plenty of reasons John couldn’t check in from delayed flight to battery problems to hotel reservation mix-up to starting a revolution, though he really hoped it was too soon for that last one.

Captain Kyle called him in again and that pulled his mind from worrying too much about John. He spent the day working on their ancient servers and the Captain only harassed him twice to take a break, which was great. Lucy showed up to drag him away for dinner and they trash talked John the entire time because, as she put it, “The most likely explanation is the jackass forgot.” And he probably had, though John had gotten a lot better about remembering to call since Matt got pregnant.

He’d just gotten into bed and closed his eyes when his phone rang with Lucy’s ringtone, ‘Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown.’ Matt immediately grabbed it and said, “What did he do?”

Don’t panic. It’s not time to panic yet.”

Matt groaned. “Okay, seriously? Just tell me.”

He may have broken Jack out when the court got attacked by either terrorists or paramilitary-types, they aren’t sure yet.”

Matt thumped his head against the wooden headboard a few times.

Stop that!”

He sighed, but stopped. “‘They,’ who?”

Going by the cut of the suits in my apartment? CIA. I’m guessing Bowman’s on his way to you now, if no one’s woken you up.”

Matt groaned again and shoved off the blankets. “Just once. I swear to God, I just want one time that he leaves the city and shit like this doesn’t happen.”

Florida doesn’t count.”

It does so! He dragged me all the way down there and then leaves me hanging on that damn ride to stop a local militia? It counts.”

Lucy paused. “Okay, it counts. All he told me was he stopped a couple of kids from doing bad things and you wouldn’t talk about it.”

A pounding at the door prompted Matt to say, “Bowman’s here. I’ll call you later.”

Farrell! Open up, it’s me!”

Matt shook his head and finished walking to the apartment door, opening it with, “Lucy just called me. I haven’t heard from John since Germany yesterday.”

Bowman’s dark eyes gave him a shrewd look, but it only lasted a few seconds. These days, he mostly believed Matt on the first try. He walked in, followed by six other agents who immediately began to set up a communication hub. One of them took Matt’s cell right from his hand, ignoring the glare he got in return.

Really? You’re pregnant and no one told me?”

Looking back at Bowman, Matt smirked a little and said, “You told us you didn’t want details on our sex life after the last time when we…”

Bowman’s eyes widened and he help up a hand. “Stop! I don’t. I just, this is a little more than your sex life. You know, most fathers-to-be take less chances once they find out.”

Matt’s smirk dropped off and he muttered, “Tell me about it. Coffee?”

Thanks,” Bowman accepted, trailing him to the kitchen. Once they were sitting at the table, Matt with herbal tea and Bowman with coffee, the agent asked, “So why was McClane there?”

He just wanted to talk to Jack.”

Just talk?”

Matt rolled his eyes. “I know you think he’s the bomb, but John doesn’t have Russian contacts.”

Bowman snorted and said, “That you know of.”

Matt lifted his mug and agreed, “That I know of. He did promise not to blow up half of Moscow while he was there.”

He broke that promise about two hours ago.”

God damn it.”

Bowman cracked a grin and said, “Look. We’re not getting much info out of the CIA or official State Department sources. They sent me over to keep an eye on you and in case he called.”

Matt shook his head and said, “He won’t, not now. Whatever he’s caught up in, he’ll be focused on that until it’s done. You know that.”

Yeah, that’s true. Told them I’d keep an eye on you anyhow.”

Well, it’s your back. Our sofa’s not that comfortable. I’m going back to sleep.”

Really?”

Really.”

Matt stood up and said to the other agents, “Help yourself to the coffee, guys. Try to keep things down to a dull roar, huh?” on his way back to the bedroom.

Once he’d closed the door, Matt punched the wall and yelped in pain. He was right a few days ago; the wall won.

* * * *

It was a nerve-wracking three days before any kind of real intelligence came out of Russia. Matt didn’t leave the apartment, living on take-out and his laptop. Lucy offered to come over, but he brushed her off. If he had anyone else harping at him to get some rest and drink more water, Matt wouldn’t be responsible for his actions. He was already in a wrist brace from attacking the wall.

He did as many of the calming and deep breathing exercises as he could and walked laps around the bedroom. His take-out was mostly healthy, even if he did single-handedly demolish all the strawberry sorbet and make Bowman get him a couple of bars of pure dark chocolate to go with it. The other agents snickered quietly at that, but waited until Bowman was gone to do so.

Matt was on the sofa working when Bowman got a call. The very neutrality of his voice had Matt looking over at him to find the agent as sober as Matt had ever seen him. Worry clenched his stomach and he wrapped both arms around his belly as he waited.

Bowman glanced at him as he said, “You’re sure? Okay. Call me when you get details. Thanks.”

As soon as Bowman hung up, Matt demanded, “What happened? Where’s John.”

Farrell… Matt, there was a major explosion in Chernobyl.”

Matt stared at him blankly. “And? John’s in Moscow.”

He was, yeah. The CIA tracked him and Jack out to an abandoned bank in Chernobyl just before the explosion.”

A ringing noise echoed in Matt’s ears, making it hard to hear anything. “How big are we talking? Like, another nuclear explosion or just a little IED?”

Bowman sat beside him and gripped his shoulder, “It leveled the structure, Matt. They don’t see any sign of survivors at the site.”

The ringing was joined by a rushing noise and Matt shook his head to clear it. “No, but how could the CIA even know? They don’t have anyone there.”

They do now. They broke protocol to get the McClanes back, it was just… too late.”

A sharp pain caught Matt by surprise. He gasped and pressed against his stomach. “Bowman, something’s wrong.”

Shit! Someone call an ambulance, now! C’mon, Matt, calm down for me, okay? Slow breaths. Breathe with me,” Bowman ordered, dark eyes locked onto Matt’s.

Matt bent forward, hugging the last bit of John that he had and praying desperately that she was okay. He couldn’t lose her, too, but couldn’t seem to catch his breath.

Matt, come on, stay with me!”

He tried, but that rushing noise kept getting louder and the pain in his stomach grew with it. Matt gasped for air and stayed conscious by the skin of his teeth. Bowman’s hand in his was warm and strong, squeezing painfully tight whenever he started to fade. It seemed like an eternity before a couple of EMTs and pushed a gurney into the small apartment and took over for Bowman.

Sir, where’s the pain?”

Right here,” Matt said, pressing against his stomach. “It’s sharp, like someone’s stabbing me.”

One of them hooked an oxygen mask over his face and said, “I need you to calm down a little, sir, can you do that?”

Matt shook his head and gave a semi-hysterical laugh. “I really can’t, sorry.”

What’s your name?”

Matt.”

Okay, Matt, just focus on your breathing as best you can.”

How far along are you?” the other asked.

Matt answered, “Almost six months.”

They helped him over to the gurney as the first one said, “That’s good. There’ve done great things with preemies that age. Nothing to worry about. You’re both going to be fine.”

They lifted him onto the gurney and he groaned as the pain exploded and shifted to his back. His breathing turned into panting and he gasped, “Oh God, that’s not good.”

Matt? What just happened?”

Pain just got worse, now it’s in my back, too,” Matt answered. He noticed the EMTs exchanging a look, but was too engrossed in the pain to ask what it meant.

There was a pinch in his arm and then darkness took him.

* * * *

Matt vaguely remembered waking up a few times in the hospital and a nurse taking his vitals, but consciousness always quickly receded. The only thing he felt was relief because he could feel his baby each and every time. Whatever had happened, they’d managed to keep her in place.

When he woke up for real the first time, someone was holding his hand and it wasn’t Lucy. Matt forced his eyes open and squinted against the too-bright overhead light before turning his head to find John slouched in a chair beside the bed, eyes closed. In his drugged state, the Lazarus move didn’t even come as much of a surprise. He slurred, “Izza good thing I’m on th’good shit right now.”

John jolted upright. “Matty!”

Matt scowled at him and said, “You’re in deep trouble buddyyy. You promizzed no blowin’ up Mozcow.”

John winced and said, “Technically, I didn’t. I was just there at the time.”

Matt flailed his arms around and exclaimed, “You blew up Chernbly. Chernabol. That place!”

Well, yeah, but…”

No buts!”

Matty, come on, take it easy, please? The docs said you need to be as not-stressed as you can be,” John said, sitting on the bed and taking hold of both hands. “I’m here, I’m okay, and I’m not going anywhere, alright?”

Matt scowled at him and tugged on his hands, but they weren’t going anywhere. “I hate you. Made me thingk you were dead. Asshole.”

I know. I am. Just, please relax, okay?”

When he didn’t make any more wild moves, John released one hand so he could put his on Matt’s belly, rubbing gently. The contact was warm and soothing and fast sending him back to La La Land. Matt laced their fingers together to make sure John didn’t go anywhere while he was asleep.

* * * *

The next time Matt woke up, he was surrounded by John. The other man had climbed into his bed and stretched out behind him, supporting him and holding an arm around his waist, hand curved possessively over his belly. John’s breath was warm and moist against the back of his neck, a slow and steady sensation that made Matt smile. His whole body was sore, especially his middle area, but relaxed. He was a lot clearer mentally, which meant that they’d stopped whatever drugs he’d been on.

Mornin,’” John murmured from behind.

Matt smiled and craned his neck around to kiss him, slow and hungry. John’s arm hooked backwards, supporting Matt’s neck as they spent a long few minutes kissing.

Come on, really? I leave for five minutes and get back to you guys mackin’ like there’s not tomorrow!”

Lucy’s complaint made Matt grin into the kiss and he flipped her off without looking at her.

So this is the dude that Dad married? Seems kinda scrawny.”

Matt jerked away from John at the unfamiliar voice and looked at the door to find Lucy standing with a man who could only be John’s son. With those eyes and that attitude, there was no mistaking Jack McClane. He was broader than John with thick muscles that his father must have had before twenty years and too-many bad guys to count had whittled him down to the leanest, strongest he could be.

Watch your mouth, Jack,” John rumbled, climbing out of the bed.

Jack grimaced, but his blue eyes sparkled merrily enough as he closed the distance to the bed and held out a hand. “Hi. Jack McClane.”

Matt blinked at him a couple of times before accepting the hand and saying, “Yeah, hi. Uh, Matt Farrell.”

I guessed that,” Jack said dryly.

Matt flushed and reached for the bed control to raise it so he didn’t feel at quite so strong a disadvantage.

John walked around the bed and sat back down on it, leaving a hand on Matt’s hip as he said, “I thought you were getting debriefed for another couple of years.”

Jack smirked and said, “Nah. They got most of it from us in Germany. I mostly just got my ass chewed off for not following procedure, but blamed you.”

John snorted. “Glad to help.”

Matt looked between all three McClanes and knew he was doomed. “Could someone explain to me what the fuck happened in Russia?”

Lucy and Jack dragged over a couple of chairs. Jack and John took turns talking over each other to tell him what had happened. They each bitched about the other’s actions, but Matt could see a real inroad had been made into healing the rift between them. It would probably take more than bonding over terrorists, but he was happy that they were finally talking.

Once they finished talking and John looked at him with such a pleased, expectant expression, Matt gave him a stern look and said, “You are in so much trouble, Mister.”

John protested, “I didn’t even start any of those explosions! Well, other than the last one and they deserved it!”

Matt mocked, “Oh no, Matt, I’m not going there to break him out. I just want to talk.”

He broke himself out!”

I promise, I won’t blow up half of Moscow or start a revolution.”

Okay, first? I didn’t blow up half the damn city and second, I never promised about the revolution thing. And it’s not like it was a real revolution or anything and I’m seriously going to kill you.”

Because Matt couldn’t hold back the laughter any longer; peals of it escaped until he was gasping and holding his sides.

Then Jack said, “Oh, I like him,” which set Matt off all over again.

* * * *

It turned out that John hadn’t found out that Matt was in the hospital, let alone why, until after the final CIA briefing. Lucy had picked him up at the airport, along with several agents, and decided not to spill the beans until things were settled.

Because by then, you were fine. They were just keeping you under until Dad could get here and there was no way he’d do anything but come right here once he found out.”

Resting comfortably against John instead of the pillows, Matt pointed out, “You don’t usually care about things like that.”

Lucy smirked and said, “I still don’t, but now Bowman and the CIA owe me a favor for wrangling Dad like that.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Typical McClane.”

John snorted and gave him a squeeze. “In case you didn’t notice, you’re kind of out-numbered on that front, Matty.”

Oh, I noticed, believe me,” Matt muttered, a grin tugging at his lips. “But that’s okay. I’m still smarter than all of you.”

Jack’s eyebrows went up at the boast and he said, “Oh yeah?”

Don’t even try, Jack, trust me. You’ll lose,” John warned.

Jack sat up a little straighter and he smirked. “You might. I’m not exactly an old beat cop, Dad.”

Matt had been teasing, but now he was getting a little pissed. How dare he dis John like that? “Is that so?”

Yeah. You want to try me?”

Lucy snorted and said, “Seriously, Jack. Don’t.”

How about poker? One on one?” Jack suggested.

Matt grinned and said, “I don’t know. Poker’s kind of a numbers game. You sure you want to do this?”

It’s not a numbers game, it’s about reading people. And I’m going to wipe the floor with you.”

John kissed the top of Matt’s head and climbed out of the bed. “C’mon, Luce. Let’s get something to eat. I don’t think I can watch the slaughter.”

Hey, bring me back something with a lot of chocolate?” Matt asked hopefully.

John winked and said, “I’ll check with the doctors.”

Lucy linked her arm with John’s and said to her brother, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

Since Matt was going to be in the hospital for another couple of days until his numbers were better, John and Lucy had brought his laptop - with strict instructions to use for games only - and a deck of cards. Matt raised the hospital bed until he was more or less sitting upright and Jack brought over the cards and the tray-table. He gave Jack an innocent look. “Mind if I deal?”

Jack handed over the deck. “No problem. Might as well give you every advantage. You know I read people for a living, right?”

Matt pulled out the deck and got rid of the extra cards before silently shuffling with tricks worthy of a master card shark… which he was. “Did I forget to mention that I paid my way through college playing poker?”

Jack’s smug expression dropped.

* * * *

Just like John, Jack McClane didn’t know when to quit and that included playing poker. By the time Lucy and John returned from eating, Matt had emptied Jack’s wallet and was working on an IOU of fairly substantial proportions.

All right you. You’ve hustled my son long enough,” John said with a grin. He looked at Jack. “So how’d you do?”

Jack scowled and said, “You could’ve warned me.”

Lucy laughed and punched him in the shoulder. “We did, doofus! Come on, I’ll buy you a beer to drown your sorrows in. I’m sure you don’t have any money left by now. Bye, Matt. Feel better.”

Matt returned her hug and said, “Thanks, Lucy. Bye Jack! Any time you want a rematch, just let me know.”

Jack snorted and shook his head, but offered a hand. “Yeah, no. Thanks. Glad you’re okay, Farrell. See ya, Dad.”

Matt restrained an eye roll at their manly handshake as the McClanes exchanged goodbyes. Lucy, at least, gave John a kiss before leaving. Finally, it was just them again.

John sat on the edge of the bed and took one of Matt’s hands, knotting their fingers together. He laid the other hand on Matt’s stomach. “So. How’re you feeling?”

Matt thought about it for a few seconds and said, “Pretty good. Clear-headed and no pain, just some sore back muscles.”

John kissed the back of his hand. “Thank God. When Lucy told me what’d happened… Matty, I’m so sorry. I really didn’t think about what you might go through, what could happen to the baby.”

I don’t want you to stop being you, you know that, right? I honestly don’t think you could change even with the best intentions and that’s okay.”

Matty…”

No, just listen for a second. You’re a cop and a hero and I love you just like that. You’re built to help others and stop the bad guys. Normally, I’d be worried out of my head for you and trying my damnedest to help, but it wouldn’t affect me physically. Right now it does. So for the next five months, if you end up taking on the Swedish Mafia or Antarctic Eco Terrorists or the good, old-fashioned mob here in the city, no one tells me anything until the dust settles. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I need to be censored. Or, rather, you need to be censored and I need the info blackout. After you’re patched up and come home, then you can tell me all about it. Deal?”

John nodded and gave his hand a squeeze. “Deal.”

Matt let out a long breath and said, “Okay. Good. Now we need to talk about what happens when this little girl gets born.”

John sighed. “Do we need to decide everything today?”

No, but I want the high-level breakdown settled,” Matt said firmly. “We’ve put this off way too long.”

John grimaced, but said, “Yeah, I know. Are we talking about cutting back at work?”

A little, yeah. At least for the first couple months, I want you to take paternity leave. You know it takes longer for guys to get up after birth than women,” Matt pointed out.

John nodded and said, “I did some research, yeah.”

Matt grinned. “Really? You?”

Oh shut up. So I take paternity leave. That’s eight weeks, twelve if I take the next month unpaid or with my leave time.”

Dude. Your leave time would cover her first year of life.”

John snorted. “And HR would finally get off my back, but I’m not taking a year off. Okay, let’s do this. I’ll take off the first three months and then go part-time the fourth. Sound good?”

Matt relaxed and nodded. “Sounds great.”

And if there’s some kind of, uh, event that I need to deal with after that?”

On the one hand, Matt really didn’t want to hedge John in or change him. He really loved his sense of duty and honor. On the other hand, he was getting up there. As strong and fast as he was, Matt could see that he was still moving stiff and the bruises were still dark from his last encounter. It was taking longer and longer for John to recover and one day, he wasn’t going to be fast or strong enough to answer the call. He wanted John alive to see their daughter grow up. He wanted her to be as strong and independent as Lucy and that meant John needed to stick around.

Finally, Matt said, “That’s up to you.”

John’s eyebrows rose, showing his skepticism. “That’s it?”

Matt shrugged and said, “I’m not Holly, John. I’m not going to yell at you for doing what comes natural. You’re a cop. You work long hours and you fight bad guys. Not to say I wouldn’t love for you to let someone else handle it once in a while. Or for you to get home at a decent hour so you can actually watch your daughter grow up this time, but it’s your choice.”

John’s hand rubbed gently over his stomach and he didn’t reply for a long time, staring at the rounded belly. Matt smiled and hugged his other hand to his chest, letting the contact soothe him and leaned back against the pillows. John rearranged them a few minutes later. He kicked off his shoes and climbed onto the bed, but this time rested his head on Matt’s chest, just before the bump began and put his arm around Matt and the baby.

Matt put his arm over John’s shoulder and yawned a couple of times as they rested together. John was a comforting, heavy weight on him and the steady breathing reassured him that he wasn’t dreaming, that John really was with him again. That scare had been too close.

Stupid Agency getting their facts wrong, Matt thought. Should’ve known better.

Yes.”

The random word threw Matt. “Yes, what?”

John huffed and shifted onto an elbow so he could look at Matt. “Yes, I want to see my daughter grow up this time. I’ve got nothin’ to prove anymore. I want this second chance. I want you, us. I want this family.”

It wasn’t the first time John had actually said the words, but there was something different about them now. They held a conviction that had been lacking and something deep inside Matt finally relaxed. He let out a shaky breath and said, “Thank God.”

John moved again, closer, and kissed him. It was slow and sweet, a promise that Matt soaked in.

A knock sounded at the door and then the nurse said quietly, “I’m sorry, Mr. McClane, but visiting hours are over now.”

John sat up and climbed off the bed, bussing a kiss on Matt’s forehead. “I’ll be back in the morning.”

Matt nodded and quipped, “I’ll be here.”

John snorted and said, “You better be.”

Matt watched him go and then looked at the nurse, who’d come into the room and picked up his chart. “So. Alone at last.”

She grinned and shook her head.

* * * *

It was only two days later that the doctor discharged Matt with strict instructions to keep things as stress-free as possible. The baby was fine and so was he, but his pregnancy was still high-risk and he needed to take it easy. Matt had already known that, but thanked the man anyhow.

They took a cab to the apartment and shortly thereafter, Matt found himself nested on the sofa with blankets, pillows, his laptop and the tv remote. He grinned at John and waggled the remote at him. “Sure you want to give up that much control?”

John rolled his eyes. “I’m not. Lucy’s coming over to keep you company. I need to get my ass to work before Larry demotes me back to a beat cop.”

Matt made a rude noise. “Like that’s happening.”

Lucy opening the door stopped whatever John had been going to say. She plopped a massive backpack onto the floor and groaned, “I hate my life.”

Bye Matty. See ya later, Luce, thanks for this,” John said quickly and vanished out the door.

Matt scowled after his now-vanished husband and then turned his attention to Lucy. “So. What’s wrong with you?”

That started the pattern of babysitting. Lucy came over when she didn’t have classes and John came home at the unheard-of hour of five almost every night. And while he loved having John home so much, Lucy fast got on his nerves. Almost two weeks into the well-meaning, over-bearing schedule, Matt put his foot down.

But you need to rest!” John protested. “The doc said so!”

Matt shook his head. “No, he said I needed to be stress-free and Lucy? Is not stress free. I love her, you know I do, but if she comes over again I’m going to kill her and that will not be good for my blood pressure.”

John winced and said, “Okay, okay. I’ll call her and tell her she’s off the hook. Uh, that she doesn’t need to come over again.”

Oh, you’re so paying for that.”

And he did. With nightly foot-rubs. Matt wasn’t above taking shameless advantage of John’s need to make sure he felt good. And there were backrubs. And long, slow love-making that curled his toes and made him lose his mind. As good as it was, Matt knew that it couldn’t last so he wasn’t surprised when five p.m. became five-thirty and then six and finally seven. Since this gave him back his breathing room, Matt didn’t mention anything about it.

Despite the extra hours at work, the room that had been Matt’s office got slowly converted to the baby’s room. Matt read the instructions for the crib and laughed non-stop as John tried to put it together and it ended up inside-out. Jack and Lucy came over to paint with John while Matt was banished to the living room so he didn’t breathe in the fumes. Stuffed animals magically made their way into the rightside-out crib over the next couple of months, along with blankets. John picked up a changing table and a dresser, both of which he painted on his own. Little girl clothes filled up the dresser and tons of diapers filled up the closet.

John made it to all his doctor appointments, just like he’d promised in the beginning. His check-ups were monthly and John picked him up at the apartment and drove him to Manhattan, cursing out the drivers the entire time. Matt liked to guess which ones would piss John off the most and frequently rewarded himself later from the stash of chocolate bars he’d hidden from John in his gaming bag.

At eight months, Matt felt like a blimp and moved about as slow as one. John always had an arm around his waist whenever it was a longer walk than the apartment and the support was welcome.

How the hell do women do this more than once?” Matt groaned as they waited for the elevator.

John opened his mouth and then closed it again.

Matt pinned a glare on him. “What?”

Nothing,” John said immediately.

Matt huffed in annoyance, but didn’t call him on it. They stepped off the elevator into the well-furnished Ob-Gyn’s office where soft music and light fragrances instantly made Matt want his hard rock music and the smell of their own apartment. Happened every time.

Mr. McClane! Detective McClane! It’s great to see you,” Betty, the receptionist, gushed. “Not long now, right?”

Matt sighed and leaned on the ledge outside her window. “No, thank God. Last amnio before the birth.”

Betty beamed at him. “You can go right in. She’s on time today.”

In the exam room, Matt said, “You really need to check her for drugs.”

John chuckled. “You say that every time.”

And yet, you still haven’t done it!”

John helped him onto the exam table, paper lining crinkling underneath him.

A knock preceded Dr. Jennie Wu walking into the room. The tall, slender Asian woman smiled and greeted, “Afternoon, guys. How are we doing today?”

Big as a whale and a lot grumpier,” Matt muttered. “I’m never going to lose this weight, you do know that, right?”

John wisely didn’t answer the mostly-rhetorical question.

Dr. Wu grinned and said, “Men lose it much faster than women, so count your blessings.”

She took his vitals, noting them on the chart, and the smile she turned on him then didn’t seem quite right. Matt frowned and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Absolutely nothing. Why don’t you lie back for me?” she suggested.

Matt’s frown remained, but he did so.

Dr. Wu listened to his stomach and his heart through her stethoscope for a few silent minutes and then palpated his sides and the front end that Matt hadn’t seen in a couple of months.

John’s hand on his tightened, as if sensing something was wrong, too. “Doc?”

Dr. Wu straightened and gave them a definitely tense smile. “I think we might be delivering early.”

Matt gaped at her. “Excuse me?”

How’s your back feel?”

Uh, sore for a couple of days now.”

Any cramping?”

A little…” Matt trailed off, as panic ran through him. “No. I am not in freakin’ labor! It’s too early!”

John asked, “Are you sure?”

Dr. Wu nodded and said, “I also have another surprise for you.”

Matt froze. That was never a good thing to hear from an Ob-Gyn.

You’re having twins.”

John looked equally as stunned.

Matt shook his head and protested, “No, but… you’ve done amnios before this! How, how did this get missed?”

Dr. Wu shrugged and said, “It happens more than you’d think, especially with male deliveries. Your body’s internal set-up just doesn’t give us as much of a line-of-sight as a female one does.”

How’d you miss a second heartbeat?” John demanded.

Dr. Wu walked over to the heart monitor and turned it on. “They must have been beating in tandem. Here, I’ll show you.”

She hooked Matt up to the machine and, sure enough, it sounded like one heartbeat… until a sharp pain stabbed into Matt’s belly and then the two heartbeats were clearly audible, echoing each other.

All right, gentlemen, let’s get to the hospital,” Dr. Wu said calmly. She pressed the intercom button. “Betty? Could you call an ambulance for Mr. McClane and tell maternity to expect us?”

Will do, Dr. Wu!”

Matt laughed, a little hysterically. “Oh my God, she even rhymes!”

Dr. Wu snickered and said, “Why do you think I keep her? She’s a great distraction for my patients. I’ll leave you two alone for a while to regroup.”

Oh, I don’t think there’s regrouping from twins,” Matt replied, still giggling. “But thanks.”

As soon as the door closed, John faced Matt and said, “I feel like I should apologize.”

Matt chortled. “McClane super-spem! Yes, yes you should apologize. Oh my God, twins, John! Twins!”

John gave him a hesitant look and asked, “You sound happy about it?”

Matt grinned and said, “I think it’s the endorphins. Talk to me after the birth.”

John smiled, finally, and squeezed his hand. “I hope they’re both girls, or we need to do a shit-ton of shopping very fast.”

Thank god for your OCD need to buy diapers until we had two closets full of them,” Matt commented, still snickering.

Another pain ripped into him and he gasped, thumping his head against the exam table’s tiny pillow. At least it wasn’t a plain metal table. By the time he caught his breath, Dr. Wu had returned and was again listening to his stomach. He asked, “Everything okay?”

She nodded and said, “I think you’re going to go even faster than expected, though. Usually, first-time male labor takes a full day. I’m guessing that you’ve already been in labor for at least ten hours.”

A knock at the door preceded two EMTs and Matt was glad to see they weren’t the same guys as the first time. Not that he was superstitious or anything, but it would’ve seemed like a bad sign. They got him on the gurney and to the hospital in less than fifteen minutes, which was saying something since the hospital was a good twenty blocks away and it was almost rush-hour.

John stuck with him like glue, holding his hand through the cramps and being an unmovable presence throughout. He hadn’t been there for Lucy or Jack’s births and had declared early on that he would be at Matt’s side the whole way. He helped change Matt into the birthing gown, which Matt had bitched about the entire pregnancy, calling it a Mumu. He only let go of Matt’s hand to call Lucy, which started the phone tree of Jack, Holly, Freddie, and Matt’s parents in Seattle.

I want to talk to my Mom,” Matt said between cramps. He tried to breathe like the class had instructed, but it was hard to think never mind actually breathe. “Call my Mom.”

John let go of his hand and dialed again. “Hi Michelle, it’s John. Yeah, yeah he’s doing fine. Wants to talk to you. Here you go, kid.”

Matt took the phone and exclaimed, “I’m so sorry! I had no idea!”

His mother’s gentle laugh echoed back at him over the phone. “It’s quite all right, honey. How are you feeling?”

Like someone’s stabbing me every four minutes,” Matt answered.

Four minutes? Oh honey, you always were in a hurry. And twins right out of the gate? There’s my little overachiever.”

Is now really the time for mockery, Mom?”

Why yes, dear, I think it is. You’re going to be busy later and I’ll be on a plane.”

He snorted and said, “I love you, Mom.”

I love you too, honey. Do you want to talk to your father?”

Son of a bitch!” Matt exclaimed at another cramp, dropping the phone.

John was there instantly, rubbing his back and saying, “Just breathe for me, Matty, come on. This is the easy part.”

I am seriously going to cut off your balls for that,” Matt hissed through the pain. “I might pickle them. Put them in a jar.”

Dr. Wu stepped in just then and said, “And I see we’re doing just fine in here.”

She walked over to the fetal monitor and looked at the paper output for a moment. Then she moved to the equipment monitoring Matt and took in the results there. She walked over to Matt, after, and again palpated his stomach.

John frowned and asked, “Everything okay?”

Dr. Wu’s poker face put Matt’s to shame as she said, “The babies are doing perfectly. And you, Matthew, are going into the delivery room right now. Slight change of plans. We’re going to do a C-section.”

Alarmed, Matt demanded, “What? Why?”

Your blood pressure’s a little higher than it should be,” Dr. Wu explained. “It’s just a precaution.”

John stepped in front of her as she tried to leave and said, “You wouldn’t change to a C-section for a little high blood pressure. What’s going on?”

Dr. Wu looked between them for a moment and then said, “Your blood pressure is dangerously high, Matt. We need to relieve the stress your body’s under and it has to be now. The babies are fine and you will be too. There’s really nothing to worry about.”

Fear tightened Matt’s throat and he reached for John, who immediately stepped away from the doctor and took his hand.

Dr. Wu said, “I’m going to start preparations, but it won’t be more than a few minutes before the nurses come back for you.”

Matt couldn’t look at John as he admitted, “I wasn’t scared until just now. What if…”

No, Matty, everything’s going to be fine. She’s the best in her field, it’s why we picked her,” John interrupted. “You and the girls are going to be safe and sound in no time flat, understand me?”

John cupped his chin and forced him to meet his gaze. Those usually piercing blue eyes were firm and certain and filled with love for him. Matt slowly relaxed and nodded. “Okay. We can do this.”

You bet your ass we can,” John said bluntly.

Matt laughed a little and then pulled him down for a short, desperate kiss.

The nurses came into the room just then, one of them saying gently, “Excuse us, but we need to get Mr. McClane to the OR.”

They transferred him to the wheeled-bed with John’s help and then out of the room. John walked with him as far as he could go, but they were forced to part at the doors into the operating room. John bent in close and whispered against his ear, “I love you, Matty. You got this.”

Matt nodded and said, “Okay. Okay, yeah, I can do this. I love you, too, John.”

And then the nurses wheeled him into the operating room and his fear spiked at how cold and sterile everything looked. Nurses and an anesthesiologist were already there, doing whatever it was they needed to do, and he was again shifted, this time to the operating table. Monitors and leads were attached at various points.

The anesthesiologist looked down at him and said, “Hi, Matt. I’m Dr. Will and I’ll be your drug pusher today.”

Matt laughed and relaxed a little.

That’s much better,” Will said, looking at one of the monitors. “Glad you’ve got a good sense of humor. Now, I’ve got all your stats, but just to be on the safe side, are you allergic to any medications?”

No.”

Any trouble with anesthesia in the past?”

No.”

Any interesting birth marks I can take pictures of and upload to the web to become the next sensation?”

Matt laughed again and shook his head. “No, but thanks for the thought.”

Will carefully slid the anesthesia mask into place and said, “All right. Here we go then. Count backwards from one hundred between deep, even breaths and when you wake up, you’ll have two beautiful new babies and can torment your husband forever about your new stretch marks. The kids, too, for that matter.”

Matt chuckled and started counting. The sickly sweet smell of anesthesia wasn’t new, he’d had his gallbladder and tonsils removed, and he grimaced at its taste. The world grew fuzzy as he counted and then a kaleidoscope enveloped him and transported him down into darkness.

* * * *

Matt couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so sore. Not even the broken leg and cracked ribs Gabriel had left him with had hurt this much.

Matty? Come on, open your eyes for me,” John ordered quietly. “I know you’re awake.”

Matt blinked a couple of times before he could focus on the big blob he assumed was his husband. “John?”

There you are. How many fingers, kid?”

You have fingers?”

John’s soft chuckle reassured Matt and he rubbed haphazardly at his eyes to clear them. The other man was in much better focus when he opened them again and he asked, “The babies?”

John grinned widely and said, “Twenty fingers and twenty toes, plenty of hair thank god, and one with blue eyes and one with brown.”

I hope that’s not twenty fingers and toes each,” Matt said dryly, brain coming back online. “Did we get one of each?”

John smirked a little and said, “Nope! Two girls. You done good, Matty.”

Matt groaned and said, “One was bad enough! What do I know about girls? Nothing!”

John kissed him, a lingering, loving thing and then rested their foreheads together. “I have you all, that’s all I care about.”

That didn’t sound good. Matt reached up to cup the back of John’s head, lightly rubbing over what little hair was left. “What happened?”

Complications.”

The word might as well have been a curse, for all the bitterness it conveyed.

Matt tugged him into sitting down and said, “Explain.”

John let out a short, sharp breath. “They used a lot of big medical words, but the gist is “something” ruptured your womb so they had to take it out. There was a lot of internal bleeding and they almost lost you a couple of times. I almost lost you for good, Matty.”

Since he’d been unconscious for the whole thing, Matt couldn’t really feel any belated fear. And he’d already come to the conclusion that he was getting his tubes tied, not wanting to go through this again, so it wasn’t like the loss was a huge setback or anything. Still, he hated how haggard and worn John looked. He took John’s hand and said, “I’m still here. I’m mostly in one piece and will soon regain my girlish figure so all’s right in the world.”

As he’d hoped, the words made John laugh a little. He shook his head and said, “You’re something else, Matty.”

Matt yawned and then demanded, “I want my babies. Now.”

John smiled and kissed him again. “Your wish, is my command.”

Matt rubbed his eyes again and yawned as John left the room. He didn’t mean to drop off, but next he knew John was gently shaking his shoulder. He jolted awake and then groaned at the resulting pain in his gut.

John frowned and asked, “You sure you want to hold them?”

Matt held out his hands and said, “Gimme.”

John shook his head, but turned to one of the two mobile, plastic basinets and picked up a smallish bundle of pink blanket. He brought it over and carefully settled the baby in Matt’s arms. It was too awkward an angle to really see her, but John touched the bed control to slowly lift him to a better angle. He winced at the tugging, painful sensation but ignored it as he took in the sight of his daughter for the first time. Big, brown eyes looked up at him, seemingly focused even though it had to be too soon for that. Then he frowned at John. “How long was I out?”

Just two days,” John said.

Definitely too early. The thick patch of dark hair on her head was reassuring and he grinned over at John as his fingers touched over the downy soft tufts.

Don’t even start. Lucy and Jack already have the bald jokes covered, trust me.”

Matt snickered and lifted the baby up to breathe her in, feeling something deep inside settle down as he held her solid warmth. Small as she was, there was something very there about her. She fussed a little at the change in altitude, her tiny hand slapping him on the head. He lowered her back down and said, “Hey there. So, I’m your daddy. That big lug over there is your dad. You’re gonna hate us probably in about twelve years, but try not to hold it against us, okay? We’ll do the best we can.”

John chuckled and said, “You want the other one now?”

Matt nodded eagerly and John brought over the other pink bundle, expertly switching them out. Matt was never so grateful to Holly for breaking him in as he was right then. He made a mental note to send her a thank-you card.

The second baby was smaller than the first with bright blue eyes that clearly echoed John’s, though she also had a thick head of hair. Matt brought her up to scent as well, sighing happily in contentment at her fresh, clean smell. She gurgled at him, wriggling with a gummy grin. “And hello to you, too. I’m your daddy and that’s your dad. Again, you’re probably going to hate us in about twelve years, but we’ll do our best to not be too embarrassing.”

John sat on the bed next to him, holding the other baby in one arm. “Lie back, Matty. There we go. And gimme her for a second… right. That’ll do it.”

The bed rose a little higher, making it easier to see the babies, both of whom were now resting across their legs. Matt sighed happily again, resting on John and loving the arm that went around his waist in support. Pillows were good, but he’d never turn down support from his husband.

John asked, “So what do you think?”

Names?”

Yeah.”

They’d discussed names to death and settled on a couple of variations. John had been all for naming her after Matt’s mom and, as nice a gesture as that was, Matt had nixed the idea. He wanted something simple and as un-nickname-able as possible. Kids were creative, but he wanted to give as little ammo as possible.

Matt gently tickled the brown-eyed baby who frowned mightily and slapped at his hand. He did the same thing to the blue-eyed baby and got a giggle in return. Already so very different and only two days old. “Wow. This is going to be one hell of a ride, isn’t it?”

John laughed, low and hearty. “You don’t even know yet, kid, believe me.”

Right. Names,” Matt muttered, ignoring the teasing. “How about Sara Marie for blue eyes there, and Denise Jennifer for brown-eyes?”

How about Denise Marie and Sara Jennifer?”

Jennifer Marie and Sara Denise?”

John thought for a moment and then nodded. “Deal.”

Matt grinned and said, “Awesome. Hey, where are the hordes?”

Home, thank god,” John said, heartfelt. “Your mother’s great, but I was getting ready to slip your dad something from evidence to calm him down.”

Matt snickered and said, “I come by my hypochondria honest.”

No shit.”

Hey! No swearing around the girls!”

John rolled his eyes and Matt grinned.

As they sat there in a warm cocoon, John observed, “You’re awfully calm about all of this. You’ve been stressing about having a girl for months now, and now you’ve got two.”

You can blame the drugs,” Matt promised. “I’m fully planning to freak out about having two girls just as soon as they wear off and I’m somewhere private where I can scream. On the plus side, your guns and badass reputation are going to come in very handy in about ten years.”

John chuckled and said, “Don’t bet on it. Girls are way worse than boys. Jack was a prince compared to what we went through with Lucy.”

Matt groaned. “Shut up already.”

John kissed the top of his head. “As you wish.”

Matt flushed with happiness at the Princess Bride reference. He took a mental snapshot of the moment and then closed his eyes. Right at that moment, life couldn’t get any better.

Both girls chose then to start wailing at the top of their lungs.