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Something About Just Knowin' When It's Right

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The first text comes on the third day: a simple sentence asking where he is and if he’s okay.

The second part of that question is about as moot a point as Barry can imagine; he shot up the stash house like a John Wick impersonator, killed everyone except the man he went there to kill in the first place, and disappeared off the face of the earth. No, he’s not ‘okay’.

The first part can be answered with a big-fat ‘none of your business’. He shacked up in this hole-in-the-wall motel strictly because it was on the opposite end of L.A. and in a neighborhood where even the rats and roaches don’t go. He’s pretty sure the only other tenants of this place are addicts or ghosts, because he never hears any movement aside from the cleaning lady (a withered stick of a woman with thin white hair piled atop her head under a silk scarf, a faded rose tattoo on her neck, and the stink of a stale cigarette following her at all times) and the motel manager (a string bean with hair from the 60’s and facial piercings that look like he got on the wrong side of a nail gun).

But it doesn’t matter. People don’t give him a second look, and he can be left in peace.

***

The second text comes the following day: same content.

Barry chucks the phone out the motel window and spends the next hour hoping a car will run over it. Wishful thinking: people don’t come out here, and if they don’t come out here, then their cars don’t come out here.

Right as it’s getting dark, Barry drags himself downstairs, out the side door, and picks up the phone. He has three more texts; the content is mostly the same, except Hank has started inserting colorful language. But no emojis.

Barry pockets the phone, heads back inside, and tries to pretend he doesn’t miss those stupid emojis.

***

The texts continue for the next week. Still no emojis, but Hank has started using all-caps. And the language gets more colorful. Barry learns a few new words.

After that, the phone calls start. Hourly. Daily. Incessantly. At all hours.

He throws the phone against the wall. Twice. Apparently God has a cruel sense of humor, because the impact barely cracks the screen, let alone causes any real damage.

He thinks about shooting the damn thing, but decides against it. With his luck and God’s sense of humor, the bullet would ricochet and blow his foot off.

***

He gets a short reprieve from the calls for a couple days. Sally texts him twice. He stares at the messages for over an hour before he deletes them. Then he deletes her contact information. He spends the rest of the day deleting everyone from his contacts.

Right when he gets to Hank, another text comes in…from Hank. And then another. And one more.

Barry moves on to the rest of his contacts. He never does get around to deleting Hank out of the phone.

***

The phone calls don’t stop for two more weeks. Finally the battery dies and he conveniently forgets to turn the phone back on. Peace and quiet…for about three days.

At two o’clock in the morning, someone starts banging on his door. He has the gun in hand and his pants up before his feet even touch the floor. There’s no peephole (of course not) so he just rips open the door and aims for the face.

He’s both surprised and not.

“How did you find me?” he doesn’t even bother with the usual introduction; frankly, the ‘how’ is more important because if Hank can find him then anyone can find him and—

“HANK!!” he staggers, after the fact, with a hand over his face; the shocked expression is a bit dramatic, but not every Marine can’t say he got bitch-slapped by a heavily-tattooed European gangster in the same fashion a jilted wife would her husband after the latter stumbles home smelling of booze and Chanel No. 5.

“YOU!” Hank shoves a finger in his face, demanding Barry take a few steps back just to try for personal space, and marches into the room. He doesn’t close the door, and Barry can’t quite get around him to do it, so now God and everyone else in this rat-trap can hear the colorful mix of Russian and broken English being spewed out like contents from a rogue blender. “SIX weeks!!! I call! I text! I call again!! NOTHING! Radio silence!! I’ve been driving around, try to find you! Keep thinking I find you dead in ditch!!! WHY you not answer?!”

At that, Barry stops trying to look beyond Hank’s pointing fingers for a mob of Chechen gangsters flooding his room with guns at the ready. “Why the fuck have you been trying to call me?!” he demands, finally shoving Hank’s hand out of his face, “I killed half—over half of your men! Did you forget that??”

“Of course I not forget!” Hank snaps; as close as they are, Barry can now see signs of sleepless nights and not the best personal hygiene, “I dive behind bar to avoid bullet in my brain!! Hard to forget that!!”

“Then why the fuck are you here??”

“Worried about you, you IDIOT!!!”

“STOP YELLING!!”

“YOU ARE YELLING TOO!!”

“THEN WE BOTH STOP YELLING!!”

“FINE!!” Hank is just shy of foaming at the mouth now, but he mercifully just shuts up. Then he drops onto the bed, crosses both his arms and legs, and glares at Barry. Just…sits there and glares at him.

“…what, are you going to just pout?” Barry says, loitering at the corner of Exasperated Street and Cannot Give a Flying Fuck Boulevard; Hank responds by giving him a haughty little toss of the head, and Barry takes a couple more steps to the boulevard, “Fine. Whatever.”

“Oh, now who is pouting?”

Barry whirls around mid-step and glares at him, “Either decide to shut up, or use your indoor voice to have a conversation.”

There is a ninety-nine percent chance Hank just stuck his tongue out, but Barry lets it be a trick of the imagination.

***

By the fourth day, Barry figures out that Hank isn’t going anywhere soon.

“Hope you like Chinese.” He says, dropping the bags on what serves as the coffee table, and shucks off his jacket with a relieved groan. The summer in L.A. is murder for layers, but there’s no other way to conceal the gun at his belt.

“Fine.” Hank answers; he’s stretched across the bed like he fricking owns it and thumbing through an outdated copy of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Barry strips out of his T-shirt and pitches it into the growing pile of laundry in the far corner. “Help yourself.” He always gets way more than needed; it’s how he survives on no income: ration the leftovers, starve for a couple days, repeat cycle.

“Not hungry.”

Barry drops his head for a moment, “Put something in your mouth, or I will shove the chopsticks sideways down your throat.”

Hank flicks the pages with two fingers, “Nice try. You not ever get chopsticks. You hate them.”

Barry doesn’t deign to give that comment a response and spends the rest of the night fantasizing about smothering Hank with a pillow.

***

“Okay, seriously.” Hank nudges the growing stack of dirty towels aside with one foot. “When is last time anyone does laundry here?”

“There are two people working in this place, Hank.” Barry says without looking up from cleaning his gun, “What did you expect? We’re not in the Hilton.”

“Then you change hotels.”

“Hank,” Barry grits his teeth a bit, “I literally have fifty bucks left in my wallet. I can barely afford to feed myself. Now I am having to feed you and myself. I can’t change hotels just to accommodate your hygienic needs.”

“Well, one of us needs to have good hygiene. Obviously is not you.”

“…Do you want me shoot you or suture your lips shut?”

“I’m putting us in new hotel.”

“There is no us.” Barry retorts, “And you’re not putting us – which there isn’t – in a new hotel.”

Two days later, Barry is stomping inside Room 950 at the Four Seasons at Beverly Hills with all the enthusiasm of a five-year-old grounded over Christmas.

“You’re welcome.” Hank says, pitching the room key in his general direction, and goes about unpacking Barry’s suitcase.

***

Beverly Hills is not unkind to Barry. There are people here, and lots of them, but everyone is too busy with their own business to pay attention to his. He can sit in the hotel lobby and read. He can go for a walk around the block. He can walk to a store and buy some snacks for the hotel room. He can do all of this, and nothing: no consequences, no issues, no drama.

The sense of freedom, of liberation, is terrifying.

“You cannot stay in corner of hotel room for rest of your life.” Hank says, staring at him with exasperation.

“Can too.”

“You have to eat sometime.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Hank rolls his eyes with way too many dramatics; unbidden, Barry thinks Hank would have done exceptionally well in the acting class. Hell, in any acting class. Does Beverly Hills have acting classes? They must. It’s Beverly Hills, for fuck’s sake. Everyone here is an actor. Or at least they think they are.

“You need me to force-feed you?”

“Go ahead and try it.” Barry retorts, without the slightest concern that Hank might actually do it.

Until five minutes later, when he does.

***

He decides to finally venture back out into civilization on one of the hottest days of the year, just to get fresh air. To save himself from melting into the pavement, he stops inside an ice cream shop and tries to drown himself in the frozen yogurt.

He gets back to the hotel room with three tubs of Fro-Yo and crams them into the freezer. The commotion gets Hank to look up from the Desperate Housewives marathon on TV. “…having guests, or having stomachache in near future?”

“No to the first, most definitely to the second.” Barry answers, then starts stripping. His clothes are going to fuse to his skin at this point.

“Put in laundry pile, please.” Hank turns up the volume a bit.

“Yes, Mother.” Barry shoots back, then helps himself to the shower for over an hour. He steams up the bathroom, walks out in nothing but a towel, and stands in front of the A/C unit a little too long – or so he figures out, when Hank suddenly pipes up again.

“Marilyn Monroe have nothing on you, Barry.”

“Enjoying the view?” Barry replies; he’s too hot and too tired and too…everything, to give a fuck about Hank and his sense of modesty.

“Is hell of view.” Hank answers, then starts channel-surfing again.

Barry pauses, much longer than he should be, then pulls out the frozen yogurt, grabs a couple of plastic spoons, and drops down on the bed next to Hank.

He never does put on any clothes the rest of the night.

***

“Cristobal called again.” Barry says, loud enough to wake Hank up, and lightly drops the phone on the bed before getting dressed.

“The fuck, man….?” Hank grumbles and smacks the bedside light on; he blinks at the clock’s neon green numbers, then rolls over to blink up at Barry, “You just make point to go run at what-the-fuck-time-is-it every day?”

“Did you not hear me about Cristobal?”

“It’s fucking three in the morning, you ass.” Hank retorts, “I not give fuck about Cristobal; I give fuck why I am awake.”

“You’re a real peach when you first wake up, you know that?” Barry finishes tying his shoes and stretches his arms for a long minute, “But since you’re up, you can come running with me. Come on. You got five minutes.”

“I’m flushing toilet while you are in shower tonight.” Hank grumbles, then starts to get dressed. The man’s choice in nightwear vacillates between wearing nothing but boxers and wearing nothing at all. If Barry had a sense of modesty when this whole what-the-fuck-is-this-anyway started six months ago, it has since been put six feet under and set on fire.

Case in point: when they get back an hour later, Barry doesn’t even care when Hank joins him in the shower. At least this way no one is out any hot water.

***

“He called again.”

“You think I not know that?” Hank gives him a look over the pages of whatever cheap tawdry romance novel he checked out from the library, “I didn’t throw my phone at wall for exercise practice.”

“Explain something to me.” Barry leans against the wall, “For months you can’t shut up about Cristobal. Now you’re throwing the phone across the room just because he calls.”

“So what?”

“…so what?”

“So what?” Hank puts the book aside and sits up, cross-legged like a kid in the classroom, “Not talking about Cristobal anymore. You not want me to talk about him before, now you want me to talk about him?”

“I didn’t say I wanted you to talk about him.”

“Then why do you care I not talk to him?”

“I was curious.”

“Since when are you curious about me?”

“Jesus Christ, Hank!!!” Barry throws up his hands, “I asked a simple question!”

“You always hate it before when I talk about Cristobal! You think I not notice this about you??”

“No, as a matter of fact, I didn’t think you noticed!” Barry glares at him, matching the look he’s getting in return, “You never shut up about him!”

“Not true!”

“The hell it’s not!” it was, Barry knows, one thing to have these loud arguments in the middle of nowhere where not even the roaches and rats could hear; yelling at each other in Beverly Hills is a different story, and they probably should tone it down, “The only reason you fucking came to me about Esther was to get her out of your little peas-in-a-pod happy place with Cristobal!”

(Peas-in-a-pod happy place? Who the fuck says THAT?)

“That was reason ‘b’, you ass!” Hank fires back, now standing and giving a legitimately threatening look, the likes of which Barry hasn’t seen from the guy in over a year, “Reason ‘a’, I not want YOU to get killed!”

“Until you fucking took shots at me with my fucking girlfriend in the apartment!!”

“Oh, please!” Hank throws up his hands, “Until you train them, my guys suck ass! He couldn’t hit you if you were wearing neon target sign.”

“What, I’m supposed to believe you showed up on a hit just to watch it fail??”

“Got your fucking attention, didn’t it?”

Barry stares at him. Hard. “…you screwed your own hit just to get my attention.” He has to repeat it out loud, just to appreciate how absurd it sounds, and even though he is not convinced it’s the whole truth, it might be a good chunk of the truth, “Ever hear of picking up the phone, Hank?”

“Would you have answered?”

“….no.” he huffs and runs a hand over his face, then backtracked the same hand through his hair. Jesus. He’s too sober for this shit. And Hank still hasn’t answered the first question which started this spiral down the god-damn rabbit hole. “Look, I need beer. Call Cristobal so he’ll stop calling you.”

He gets three steps towards the door when something soft hits him square in the back: a pillow.

Hank threw a pillow at him.

Hank threw a fucking pillow at him.

And he’s sitting cross-legged on the bed, head cocked in a haughty little display with naked brow similarly arched, as if to silently say, ‘What now, hot shot?’

Barry grabs the pillow off the floor and chucks it back at Hank. The gangster is armed and ready and bats it away with another pillow before throwing that one at the former Marine. “You want to play that way?” Barry says, grabbing both the second pillow and those from a chair, “You better be ready to play, buddy!”

The noise they make with the pillow fight is probably worse than anything they made yelling at each other, but neither of them care. Besides, Barry pulled the phone off the hook, so if anyone is complaining about the noise, he and Hank don’t have to hear about it.

***

While Barry is flipping through the newspaper, trying to find some job posting that might be of interest, Hank strolls through the door laden with bags and faintly smelling like a bakery.

“I brought those claw-bears you like.” He says, putting one bag down beside Barry’s left elbow.

“Bear-claws, Hank.”

“Sorry. Still not sure why you call them that. Not look like any bear claw I ever seen.”

“And how many times have you been close enough to know what a bear’s claw looks like?” Barry leans back in his chair and gives Hank a faintly amused look.

“What, I’ve been to zoo.” Hank drags the second chair over and plops down beside Barry, munching on his own pastry (cherry Danish, from the look of it); his eyes drag over to the newspaper, “Anything look good?”

Good? No, not necessarily. But beggars can’t be choosers, especially when Barry is working with no resume. What’s he supposed to say in an interview anyway? Former Marine-turned-hitman who killed a whole bunch of people and would really like it if no one found out so he’s applying to work as a store clerk at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Yeah, that should go over smoothly.

“Maybe.” Barry says; it’s the most honest answer he can give. “I’ve gotta find something, sooner than later. We can’t keep living out of a hotel, especially this one. We’re gonna go broke.”

Hank daintily licks some cherry off his finger. “Maybe I go work for hotel. Like, this one. I’m very polite. Make good receptionist.”

“Oh yeah.” Barry takes a bite out of the bear claw and tries to not outwardly groan at how good it tastes right now, “The tattoos make a great first impression.”

“I AM capable of wearing long sleeves, thank you.”

“In the middle of the summer.”

“Hotel has air conditioning.”

Barry shakes his head and abandons the cause before he is inspired to beat his head on the wall. “What else did you buy?” he asks instead, nodding at the half-dozen bags still gathered by the hotel door; if nothing else, Hank’s inability to pass any kind of tech store without acting like a five-year-old on Christmas morning is a decent distraction.

It works like a charm.

“Bought us new phones.” Hank says happily; he hands over one of the newest Apple releases – a relatively compact piece of technology that Barry wouldn’t know how to use even if they provided a manual strictly in English and with 3-D diagrams, “Already program your number in mine, and vice the versa.”

“Hank,” Barry sighs and shakes his head, “you gotta stop spending all this money. Especially on me. I’m gonna be in debt to you for the rest of my life – and about twenty years after.”

“So I’m your sugar daddy for a while. Big deal.”

Barry holds out a finger, as if to hold the moment while he swallows another bite, then continues with, “I am NOT calling you my sugar daddy.”

“…Sugar papa?”

“NO.”

***

By mid-summer, Barry lands a job as bouncer to a local nightclub bearing the colorful christening of Sex on the Beach. The interview process was a joke: the manager forgot to ask for references until Barry was almost out the door; he gave Hank’s name as the only person he could think of who would actually vouch for him, and Hank got a thirty-second phone call wherein he was just asked to verify that he knew Barry Berkman. Using his real name is dangerous, but Barry Block is dead and gone and Barry doesn’t have the energy to make up a new self. Besides, he knows for a fact the manager didn’t run his criminal history; the guy all-but admitted his past problems with the cops getting called to this place for fights, and he’s one more complaint away from losing his business. He just wants someone to fix the problem, so Barry was hired as soon as he said ‘ex-Marine’.

Hank gets hired two weeks later, when the bartender takes an early retirement in the middle of his shift.

“Is perfect fit!” Hank says, chipper as always, “I get to be polite and friendly behind bar, you get to be bad-ass Marine at front door, and no one care about tattoos or sticky pasts.”

Barry doesn’t bother correcting Hank’s word-choice; he knows what Hank means, and that’s just about all that seems to matter these days.

Chapter Text

There are some days when Barry thinks, just maybe, he and Hank see WAY too much of each other. They’ve lived in the same hotel room for God-knows-how-many months. They work in the same club. They both get flirted with on regular basis by drunk coeds. They work the same shifts, the same days, the same EVERYTHING.

Somehow, today is not one of those days.

“We have so many different amenities here, to make life super-duper easy!” the complex guide is a perky little blonde bubble who looks two days out of her eighteenth birthday and seems either oblivious to or politely ignoring the absurdity of two guys – one wearing a black leather jacket at the tail-end of summer; the other wearing prison ink and lime-green paisley print – asking to tour a two-bedroom in a place that looks like a magazine cut-out for ‘Best Places to Live 2019’.

Hank has clearly never owned an apartment in his life, so Barry has to ask all the questions: what kind of amenities? Washer and dryer included in the unit? Key-card access at the main entrances? Attached garage or public parking on the street? Average cost of utilities? The list goes on.

They tour six places before the week is out. The weekend, by default, is spent reviewing the options and narrowing down to the best one. Hank is singularly unhelpful in this endeavor.

“The pool was HUGE, man!” he says excitedly, “So was workout center! What more you could want?”

“For the rent they want, I expect the ceilings to be gold-plated.” Barry answers in a vaguely bored tone, though it’s pretty hard to be completely bored when Hank is bouncing around behind him like a kid on a sugar-high, “They don’t even supply the washer and dryer, and we’re not hauling that crap in and out of the unit every time we need to move.”

Reality checks have no effect on Hank; he just moves on to the next one.

***

After another week of back-and-forth negotiations (see also: bickering, challenging each other’s priorities), he and Hank reach agreement on a cozy beach-side townhouse complex. It’s on the higher end of their budget (more like Barry’s budget; Hank wouldn’t know what a budget is if it danced naked in front of him), but the amenities and Hank’s radiating excitement about being so close to the beach won Barry over.

They sign the papers one day and start packing the next. Neither of them owns much (like, anything) so getting everything moved in is the easy part. The hard part comes when Hank starts putting together a shopping list.

“No.”

“It’s half-price!”

“No. We don’t need it.”

“Loosen up purse strings, Mr. Marine.” Hank huffs with the hint of a pout, “This is supposed to be home-sweet-home. Little splurge not hurt anyone.”

“Hank,” Barry gives him a look through the tinted lens of his sunglasses, “we do not need a gas-fire grill.”

“We can host barbecue!”

“Do you even know HOW to barbecue?”

“What? How hard can it be? You put meat on grill, make fire, and wait.”

Ignoring the looks they’re getting (and will continue to get before this home shopping network nightmare is over), Barry bodily carries Hank out of the Outdoor Living section and puts him in Home Decor, where he can’t do anymore damage.

***

Hank’s mood is regularly set to ‘happy go-lucky’, so when he comes in the front door without his usual proclamation and beelines to what now serves as Barry’s writing area, there’s no question something is amiss.

“There’s guy outside in car.” Hank says, providing a string of words which always get Barry’s blood pressure sky-high, “Black sedan; even have tinted windows. Not even trying to blend.”

Barry flicks the shades open with two fingers and spots the offending vehicle in under five seconds. The passenger window is cracked: just the right amount to provide access for a camera lens or a long-distance rifle. Inwardly, Barry groans. They JUST finished with the wall decorations.

“You want I should get your Glock?” Hank asks in a hushed whisper, “The one you keep under bed, right?”

“No.” Barry shakes his head, pulling the phone out of his pocket; he still can’t do much on this damn thing except call and text (mostly Hank, although he did have a girl at the club pop her digits in his phone while he was distracted with her drunk friend), but he doesn’t need any additional skills to call 9-1-1.

“You fucking nuts?” Hank hisses, eyes going wide as Barry punches the trio of numbers out on his screen, “You calling cops??”

“Who else do you call when there’s a problem?”

“When you are Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver from Sunny-Side Lane, maybe.” Hank tries to grab the phone; Barry holds it high above his head, where Hank literally cannot reach without standing on a chair, “Has bad idea written all over it, Barry.”

“Hank,” Barry says, tone calm, and gives Hank a look which (he hopes) toes the line between being stern and being the sexy kind of dominant – if for no other reason than it throws Hank off his game, “do you trust me?”

Hank stares at him, and Barry knows he managed to hit the nail on the head with his look. Kudos to his facial muscles. “I…trust you, Barry.”

“Good. Now sit down and zip it when the cops come.”

A very nice female officer takes down their report; she reminds Barry, even briefly, of Moss – the Janice Moss he knew as Barry Block before that perfectly blissful fantasy came crashing down with a bullet to the back of the head. This officer is the embodiment of professionalism but gives polite smiles and a friendly greeting to Hank when he appears over Barry’s shoulder. When she promises they will make a full investigation, that the department takes these things very seriously, Barry thinks she might be telling the truth.

A week later, he’s proven right. With mixed results.

“Thanks, Officer Peyton.” He says before ending the call. He can’t follow through on his first impulse and pitch the phone out the window (Hank will have his ass in a sling), so he punches the brick of their fireplace.

“Okay…how about we NOT do that again?” Hank says; in the span of a few short motions, he’s got the First Aid kit out and puts Barry on the couch so he can work. It isn’t even five minutes before he hits the nail dead on the head, “It was Fuches.” He doesn’t even phrase it as a question.

“How the FUCK did he find me?” Barry grits out; his hand is already throbbing, and while he’s pretty sure he didn’t break anything, there’s going to be some deep-muscle bruising. And he split open two knuckles.

“Because he has nothing better to do.” Hank finishes with the alcohol pads and ointment, then pulls strips of gauze for the final touch, “Forget him, Barry. You call cops; now they take care of it and you not have to kill anyone. Was good idea, after all.”

Even with his eyes closed, Barry’s eyebrows slowly rise, “…I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Was good idea, to call the cops.”

“Can’t quite hear you?”

Hank pulls the bandages nice and firm around the injured hand, “Calling cops was good idea.”

“One more time?”

“Alright, you ass.” Hank punches his shoulder lightly, “You were right; I was wrong. There, better? Or you need me to repeat that five times too?”

Barry cracks what might be the first genuine grin he’s given in years, then answers the shoulder punch with a scoff upside Hank’s head. “Good enough.”

***

Officer Peyton calls Barry at work to advise that Fuches has been issued a trespassing notice. If he’s seen around the property again, Hank and Barry are to call her personally.

They’re also to call her ‘Hayley’ instead of ‘Officer Peyton’. And join her and her boyfriend for drinks on Friday night.

With the threat of having a social life looming over Barry, Hank insists on a wardrobe purge. Because, of course, it’s not enough that Barry is being required to go out and socialize; now he has to suffer watching Hank empty his closet into black Hefty bags and then be dragged to the closest mall.

Apparently Hank is going for an image, because he puts Barry in the kind of get-up you’d see a bounty hunter wear – complete with a new black leather jacket.

“You look good, man.” Hank grins at Barry and all four of their respective reflections in the dressing room mirror, “Like, really good.”

The ego boost helps Barry’s nerves a bit, though he would probably feel a lot better if it didn’t come from a guy who sees nothing wrong with wearing paisley on his lower half.

Hayley, wearing a hot-pink dress that makes her look way more feminine than the police uniform ever could, waves Barry and Hank down as soon as they walk in the door (Barry made Hank change three different times before he considered the man fit for public presentation). The club is a jazzy little shore-side place with a drink menu two-miles long and waitresses in floral print. Hayley’s boyfriend, Joe, is very much the surfer-type: tall, well-built, and not wanting for Vitamin D. But he matches her in attitude with a friendly smile and a warm handshake.

They get past the small talk pretty quick and head into the ‘getting to know you’ part by the second round of drinks.

“So, how long have you known each other?” Joe asks, nodding between Barry and Hank.

“Almost three years now.” Barry says; this is as good a stage for improv as he can think of. He might be an oblivious rock when it comes to a lot of things, but this isn’t one of them. No bubbly brunette cop and her surfer boyfriend invite out two random guys she met on the job because she thinks they’re ‘just friends’.

“How’d you meet?” Hayley chirps over her margarita, then waves a hand, “No, no – let me guess! …You met at work!”

“Good guess.” Hank grins; he’s picked up on Barry’s cue and enters stage-left, “Met at old job. Barry was independent contractor. Horrible gig. When Barry ask if I want to get out of the dodge, didn’t even need to think on it.” He adds a wink for flair, “Two peas in pod, you know?”

Yeah, suspicion confirmed: Hank would knock acting class out of the park.

“That is so sweet!!” Hayley coos; she leans against Joe’s arm with a smile, “We met at the coffee shop. I’d just gotten off a double graveyard shift and was in desperate need of some mocha-jo. Joe was working the counter.”

“And offered up the worst pick-up line in history when I told her she could arrest me anytime.” He grins, obviously without shame in the memory, and kisses her on the cheek, “For some reason, she still agreed to go out with me.”

“What? The pick-up was lame, but it made me laugh.” She flashes her smile at Barry and Hank, “That’s all that matters, y’know? You find someone who makes you happy, and the rest is history!”

The conversation takes a sharp left turn when the table gets filled with appetizers; Hayley starts laughing about how she can’t cook to save her life and Hank is offering tips on simple recipes that no one can possibly screw up. With the two of them occupied, Joe and Barry start talking sports. The topic isn’t particularly inspiring (mostly it’s just watching the game on TV) but Barry does give some serious thought to utilizing the basketball court adjacent to their townhome.

“Look at that,” Hank says, when they finally get through the front door at some ungodly hour, “you mingled and are still alive. Is miracle.”

Barry scoffs, untying his shoes, “The bigger miracle is surviving your driving.”

“Is nothing wrong with my driving! I am amazing driver!”

“For NASCAR, maybe.”

“Jealous.” Hank sticks his tongue out at him, “At least my car not have hissy fit when you go above forty.”

Barry flips him the bird and heads for the shower. Hank takes his turn thereafter, leaving Barry alone in bed to stare at the ceiling and think about nothing in particular. A massive plume of steam billows out the bathroom door when Hank wanders out fifteen minutes later, wearing black polka-dot boxers and a faint sheen of moisture over his bare skin.

With a content sigh, Hank drops into bed on the other side of the king-size mattress (he insisted on the size and then nearly got them both killed when it came time to moving the damn thing through doorways). Silence follows for a time, then Barry breaks it.

“Hank?”

The (former?) gangster makes a low sound that advises he is two seconds away from sleep but still awake enough to acknowledge Barry spoke. The latter pauses, almost too long, then blurts the words out before he can think better of it, “You do, y’know? Make me happy.”

The responsive pause paints Barry’s face with a heated flush, but before he can stumble out any kind of apology, Hank beats him to the punch.

“Back at you, man.”

***

“You broke his nose?”

Barry can hear Hank trying to not smirk, even before he looks up to confirm it. When he does, Hank doesn’t disappoint, though he is doing a valiant job of hiding it in his beer.

“The official report says he threw the first punch.” Barry answers, offering himself up to the comforts of perfect late-evening weather and ice-cold beer. “Hayley didn’t even question it after she heard him shooting off at the mouth.”

“Surprised he was with-it enough to say anything.” Hank grins at him, “First punch from you is usually last shot. Curtain down. Exit stage-right.”

If pressed, maybe Barry is just a little out of practice. He doesn’t have much need to put out someone’s lights these days; carrying drunk frat boys out by their scruff is the worst he does – unless, of course, the football star decides to get fresh; then he might invoke a bit of ‘corporal punishment’ before calling a cab. The biggest threat he’s handled all month was the coed who got frisky with Hank over the bar.

“Guess I was feeling generous.”

Hank reads the flat tone a little too well – and yet exactly as well as Barry would expect by now. “You still strung out about him coming here?”

“The phrase is ‘hung up’, Hank.” Barry shakes his head, “And yeah, I am. Every time he shows up, everything goes to shit. And it’s all finally working out, you know?”

“Yeah, it is.” Hank sets his beer aside and takes a couple easy steps forward, “You and me have an epic thing going here, man. Good jobs. Cozy little place to hang our hats. Finally getting you back in the social scene.” Barry quietly smiles at that part, “And you haven’t had to use a gun in months. Except when we go to shooting range.”

More like, Barry is firing off at the range and Hank is watching with a milkshake and fascinated gleam in his eyes. “Fuches can’t throw monkey wrench into this, Barry.” Hank continues, leaning against the rail, “’Kay? Not gonna happen.”

“Seems like it always happens.” Barry says, though not as confidently as he might have a year ago.

“Well, it’s not. Not this time.” Hank is, as usual, carrying all the confidence and easy-going demeanor that Barry wants for himself, “You and me, man…we are bullet-proof. I know you. You know me. We’re all up in each other’s business. No wool pulled over anyone’s eyes. What can Fuches do? Tell me shit I already know?” he makes a hand gesture that, Barry thinks, is supposed to convey terror, then rolls his eyes, “He got nothing, man. Besides, we’ve got a cop in our corner. A fucking cop. How great is that??”

Barry’s smile, which has been steadily creeping across his mouth for the last forty-five seconds, finally stretches into a full grin. “Yeah.” He agrees softly, “That’s…that’s pretty great.”

“So just chill, ‘kay?” Hank pats him on the arm, “Is smooth sailing now.”

Following his pep-talk, Hank strolls into the kitchen to put the empty beer bottles in the recycle bins, tidy up the kitchen, turn off the lights…and Barry watches from the patio door. For what might be the first time ever, he looks at Hank. Really looks at him.

When Hank migrates into the bedroom to get ready for bed, Barry is still looking at him, now from the mattress edge. He studies the ink sprawling intricately across pale skin; watches the tight muscles shift underneath; Hank turns, briefly, and Barry sees the scar: a pearl-pink memory located dangerously close to his heart. Barry doesn’t remember pulling the trigger, but he remembers every time he talked to Hank after the bullet left its’ chamber.

Emotion swells in his chest: a massive ball of it, too hot and too tight. It scares him, briefly; then, in the time it takes for him to blink, his hand shoots out and grabs Hank’s wrist.

Hank’s eyes look at him, warm and dark orbs that both see too much and show too much for anyone’s own good, and a serene smile spreads across his face. Before Barry’s higher brain function can officially stamp this as a bad idea, Hank’s legs lightly knock up against his. He has one hand on Barry’s shoulder; Barry isn’t sure when his own hand relocated to Hank’s hip.

“I probably should ask if you’re sure.” Hank says, much softer than usual.

“Don’t.” Barry murmurs; getting the option to second-guess himself is the source of half his troubles.

“Good.” Hank faintly purrs; his fingers crawl into Barry’s hair, right before he leans forward to press their mouths together.

“You done this before?” Hank asks, later; later, when clothes are strewn across the room and it takes Barry a solid minute to register the question with a brain otherwise distracted by the press of naked skin.

“No.” Barry’s hands roam the former gangster’s torso and sides with idle curiosity; he lingers on random scars and doesn’t let himself think too much about his fascination with this man’s war stories. His body is a scrapbook in itself, and Hank seems to take great pleasure to exploring each memento with his mouth. “But I want to,” he adds, a soft hitch in the back of his throat when Hank starts using his tongue, “with you.”

“Glad to hear.” He feels Hank’s playful smirk more than he sees it, “Hate to think there is someone else in the room.”

Barry pinches him, “Behave.”

Hank’s breath is hot on his neck, “Make me.” he purrs, and that’s about as much an open door as Barry’s ever heard. He grins, widely, and flips Hank to the mattress. Pillows tumble left and right. All Barry can see, can care about, is the breathless grin on Hank’s face and the way his eyes are glowing.

A very small (and quickly dismissed) part of Barry’s conscious knows they’ll have hell cleaning up in the morning. The pillows were only the first damage incurred. The sheets are a tangled mess before they even get underneath. The lamp gets knocked off-kilter to cast a shadow play that’s way more intimate than it has the right to be. But damned if it doesn’t look good – REALLY good – playing off Hank’s naked skin.

“She never deserved you,” Hank whispers, all the air sucked out of him; he’s riding Barry halfway senseless, fingers digging into the older man’s thighs for balance, and it takes Barry a few seconds to register the words, “She only know watered-down Barry. Not know how fucking amazing you are. How smart you are. How sexy you are with gun.”

Hank won’t say her name, but Barry doesn’t need his brain to be fully functional just to get the idea. “Neither did Cristobal.” He responds, breathless but not wanting for vehemence; his hands lock around Hank’s waist and hold him in place without regard for the man’s protesting whine, “You chased after him for a long time, Hank. Too long. But he’s not in the picture anymore. Ever.”

“No.” Hank shakes his head in agreement, trying to wriggle leverage back, “No, never. Barry, come on…”

Barry doesn’t budge. “You want to come?” he’s finding it easy (too easy, terrifyingly easy) to slip into a dominant role: calling the shots, pulling just the right strings in the right ways to make Hank a pile of putty in his hands.

“Yes, yes…” the younger man pants softly, pawing frantic at Barry’s chest, “Please…”

“Tell me who you belong to.” Barry bucks his hips, just enough to earn a desperate whine, “Tell me, Hank.”

“You.” The answer comes too quickly to be rehearsed, and he looks too raw and wrecked to be anything less than honest (as though the guy is ever anything but too honest for his own good), “I’m yours, Barry. You and me, now and always. This…this is our show now. Just ours.”

He swallows hard; the ball of emotion which spurred himself headfirst down this series of decisions is back for an encore, and before he cares enough to stop himself, Barry surges upright and pulls Hank down to his mouth. They part for air when he flips them, again, and pins Hank down into the mattress.

“Just ours.” He repeats, a rumbling timbre that echoes in the air for a moment, then abandons the need for words while he drives them both to the edge with such force that the headboard is knocking into the wall. They might need to replace the plaster.

Later.

***

Someone’s phone starts buzzing with all the subtlety of a gong banged right next to the ears. Barry mutters something unfit to repeat and rolls to the opposing side; his right arm flings over Hank’s waist and pulls the other man in tight.

“Mmm…good morning to you too.” Hank mumbles, face half-pressed in the pillow, “Yours or mine?”

“Who the fuck cares?” Barry retorts, forehead nestled in the crook of his partner’s neck and shoulder.

“Could be work. Or Hayley.”

“Could be the President of the United States. I don’t fucking care.” The phone finally stops buzzing and he breathes relief, “Hayley can leave a message. And we’re not due in to work until tonight.”

Hank wriggles a bit inside the loop of Barry’s arm, then manages to roll over with a playful grin across his face, “So…we have morning to ourselves.”

“Mm hm.”

“You want I make French Toast?” the grin stretches a little wider, “With bacon and sausage?”

“You trying to sweet-talk me, Noho Hank?”

“Is it working?”

Yeah, he’d say it’s working. Working like a charm. Every minute of every day, working Barry closer and closer to a point, to a place with this man and this crazy life they’ve somehow created together, that feels dangerously like Love.