There was a heavy thump and a low curse from the next room. Hartley’s hand stilled, poised as it was with a tiny screwdriver between his thumb and forefinger, his left glove - laid out in pieces on the desk before him as he finished a small upgrade to the sensors - momentarily forgotten. He was poised, motionless, every nerve simply waiting.
He wasn’t sure, yet, for what.
Another thump, and then the crack-then-fizz of a can opening. Hartley let out a breath that he hadn’t been aware he had been holding, shoulders slumping minutely as he let his eyes slide closed, the tight bundle of nerves unraveling for the moment. The calm descended once more, punctuated by the deep thud of bass as the radio in their spare room clicked on, music entirely too loud for how late it was.
Not that the neighbors would complain. They were worse, if anything, and Hartley did not particularly care for their opinions regardless.
The plates clicked back into place, one by one, minute screws holding them where they belonged. He was tired, too little sleep making focus difficult, yet he needed to finish up before he could crawl into the unmade bed that he sat beside. He needed his gloves, could not be without them so close to a heist, and leaving them on the table overnight in pieces was simply asking for trouble. No, he would not make that mistake again. Another can popped during a lull in the music. Five, he counted.
Hartley’s fingers were trembling by the time he placed the screwdriver back into the toolbox, packing it away with a meticulousness born of practice. His gloves followed in kind, finding their place, a neatness he had never previously bothered with. His bed was calling, and he scarcely bothered to strip out of his clothes before collapsing on the plush mattress, wrapping the duvet over his curled form to tuck beneath himself, hoping that he might keep hold of the temporary warmth for a short while at least.
The bed was fairly large, filling most of the bedroom, and that had been how Hartley had wanted it. A king sized mattress, costing more than he had intended to spend, and he had mapped out the argument in his mind before making that particular decision. He had been surprisingly close to the mark as well, yet it was a better way to spend his own money than on food he would never eat or drink he would never see.
Yet if years hunched over computers and lab equipment had taught him anything, it was that his bed was the most important piece of furniture he owned. Hartley had no intention of crippling himself on lumps and springs, after all; it had been worth it.
He curled as close to the edge of it as he could, facing the window with the door to his back, the large duvet tucked in part beneath him keeping the draft that would otherwise assault his knees and toes as they poked over the side of the mattress. He held onto the edge, left hand curled possessively around the sheet beneath him. A belch sounded from the next room, audible even over the sound of the racket that just about passed for music, and Hartley winced.
Reaching out, he clicked the lamp off, and settled down to sleep.
Three-twenty-eight, the light clicked on and Hartley groaned softly, not quite enough to be noticed as he scrunched his face up against the invading brightness that woke him. There was a rustling behind him, a grunt, and he could hear the periodic soft thuds of clothes hitting the floor. The bed dipped and he remained still, fighting against wakefulness and knowing he was losing, giving up the battle entirely as a loud snore sounded from directly behind his head. The light remained on, and there was a sharp shift of legs behind him which made the musician tense. Hartley gave up on sleep again that night.
At just before six, Hartley gave up the pretense of sleep entirely, rolling carefully from the bed and silently gathering his clothes, before slipping from the room to dress quietly in the bathroom. The snores from the bedroom did not abate, following him as he shuffled through the apartment he had moved into not twelve months prior. His right shoulder ached from sleeping in such an uncomfortable position all night, yet it was a familiar sensation and he knew it would pass by the afternoon. His back stung, as did the backs of his legs, from the impact of dreams made real, slumbering body lashing out at him hard enough to leave bruises.
There were eleven cans in all, crushed and empty, awaiting him in the spare room. He was barely aware of the wry half-smile that contorted his features at that; the twelfth, sitting untouched beside the Playstation would have made little difference. He left it there, knowing better than to move it - or anything, in fact - from the room. The empties went in the recycling, the box almost full again, and he dreaded taking it out, dreaded the knowing looks of his neighbours.
Breakfast took almost no time at all, and Hartley moved mindlessly around the living room as he crunched on a slice of toast that he did not taste. He tidied away clothes that should not have been there, moved magazines, picked up a half-eaten sandwich from the floor. The place looked better once he was done, though it needed a proper clean, with the smell of beer and weed permeating from every surface.
“You look like shit.” Snart glanced up and down, and at any other time Hartley might have cracked a joke about the man checking him out, yet all he could manage was a small quirk of the lips. If anything, that seemed to make the man’s concern grow, brows furrowing as he watched Hartley with a too-sharp gaze.
Hartley was afraid he might cut himself on that gaze, one day.
“I haven’t been sleeping well lately, it’s nothing you need concern yourself with.” Len didn’t seem convinced, but he knew when to drop a subject, stalking off to deal with someone else. Hartley breathed a small sigh of relief; he didn’t want Len asking questions. Didn’t want anyone poking their noses into his life. After all, what did he truly have to complain about?
Nothing. Everything was just fine.
“You look like hell.” Cisco looked so pained, so concerned, and Hartley wanted nothing more than to smack that expression from his face. He hated it, hated Cisco, hated the pity in his gaze. Instead, Hartley laughed, loud and bitter as he sat back in the chair he had practically fallen into, letting Cisco manhandle him however he wished.
“I’ve had worse, don’t concern yourself Ramon.” He tried to blow it off, tried to ignore the stinging of his ribs beneath his sweater.
“That’s because you have shitty taste in men.” Cisco muttered, dabbing at the cut below Hartley’s eye, the antiseptic stinging against the open wound yet he did not wince at the sharp pain. “At least this time it’s not too bad.” At that, he flinched, and Cisco did not miss the motion, eyes widening slightly as he backed off enough to glance down Hartley’s body.
Too many clothes, too well covered for how warm it was, too out of place for the time of year.
“Shit.” The engineer cursed, and Hartley found that he liked the sound.
“Earl has a temper on him. Like I said, it isn’t anything to be concerned over. He’s gone now, he won’t be doing this to me again.” And if he sounded just a little bitter, well, he didn’t just look like hell, he felt like it. He could sound however he damn well liked.
“Just promise me the next one’ll be less of an asshole?” Cisco sighed, and while Hartley didn’t outright agree, he did allow a flicker of a smile as he leaned into the hand that had resumed cleaning out the cut on his face.
“I’m home.” A grunt, something that might have been a ‘welcome back’, if Hartley could understand neanderthal. The door clicked shut behind him, and Hartley placed his bag down by the coat rack, shucking out of his coat and hanging it carefully on the hook it always occupied.
A glance into the living room indicated it was a mess and he sighed softly, not loud enough to be heard, disappearing into the kitchen to start dinner. It was late, long past dark. He had not intended remaining out for so long, yet Cold had him working on deconstructing some tech they had lifted from somewhere, and he had no desire to take his work home with him.
A bolognese would do, he decided, onion frying in the pan as he took the mince from the fridge. Quick, simple, and usually fairly delicious. The mince was in, tomatoes, wine - Hartley pulled the ingredients from his cupboards without really thinking, barely measuring, practice making the act effortless. It would need to simmer for a while; twenty minutes or so would do the trick. It would be nice, he thought, to sink into the couch and perhaps read for those twenty minutes, or flick mindlessly through television channels until the buzzer alerted him to the fact that dinner was ready.
Instead Hartley remained in the kitchen, leaning against the worktop, tapping away on his phone as he waited. The living room wasn’t his domain, not any more.
“I was gonna cook tonight.” Kettle boiled, pasta simmering in a second pan, he looked up at the heavy footsteps, faced with dark hair and a frown, pulling his features into a smile and Hartley wondered just when it had become so forced. An hour ago, you might have helped.
“It’s fine, it’s almost ready.” It wasn’t worth the argument, not any more. Hartley had learned his lesson, learned which fights to pick and which ones to leave. Five minutes to go, and he should really be thinking about setting the table, yet the doorway was blocked and he had no way past. Hartley busied himself with tugging open drawers, pulling out the cutlery they would need, and by the time he turned around the doorway was clear.
“And then he shot the guy, and the money flew everywhere.” Hartley nodded along, making small noises of agreement when necessary. He had been sitting listening to his boyfriend talk for almost an hour, about some video he had found on Youtube.
Not that he minded, not really, but he would have preferred a conversation. A discussion, like they used to have, not this non-stop torrent of words that he could not contribute to, had very little real interest in, and yet he listened regardless. Took in every word. Smiled, laughed, and wondered when it was going to end.
Every small thing he had to say on the subject, ignored. He could see the words weren’t registering, and he didn’t mind, he told himself. Not really.
“Oh, you’ve just reminded me, the rent’s coming out tomorrow, can you transfer your half in tonight?” Hartley knew his mistake as soon as he had finished speaking. Eyes narrowed, lips pulled back in a sneer that looked more like a snarl, and the pleasantries of conversation died.
“What the fuck?” He shrank back, eyes round and fearful. “What the actual fuck? You always fucking do this! Fucking interrupting me, always talking over me.” If the floor could open up and swallow him whole, Hartley would wish for it. He swallowed, trembling, words lost to him. “You never fucking listen! You’re never fucking interested in anything I have to say, always so condescending, it’s always about you. Stupid little bitch!”
Not to you, he thought. Never to you. He knew better than to interrupt.
Hartley sat, as small as he could make himself appear, and listened.
That night, Hartley had the bed to himself. He slept, truly slept, for the first time in almost a week.
“You live here?” Hartley rolled his eyes, throwing Axel a scathing look as the boy - no, man he reminded himself; as much as Walker might act like a teenager, the man was in his twenties - glanced around the modest apartment.
“No, I brought you to a complete stranger’s house, just for kicks.” He drawled in reply, shrugging off his cloak and boots before heading first into the living room, then to the bedroom, and finally the spare room.
Deserted. Good. Hartley breathed a small sigh of relief as some of the tension drained from his body. They’d had a hell of a day, and the last thing he wanted was an argument for bringing someone home.
“So.” Walker was bouncing on the balls of his feet, over excited and overstimulated, a smudge of soot marring his chin. “We still ordering pizza?”
“Sure.” Tossing Axel the phone, the man released a small squeak of excitement as he dialled out, ignoring Hartley entirely as the musician tried to organise at least some of the chaos that was his living room.
“You promised.” Cisco had the gall to actually look disappointed in him. Like it was any of his business, really. “No more assholes, you promised!”
“I’m fairly certain I didn’t.” Hartley knew he hadn’t, wouldn’t have. He, of all people, knew his propensity for dating entirely the wrong kind of man. “At least I didn’t get punched this time.”
“Dude, this is worse than getting punched! Like, way worse.” He seemed to calm slightly at the small, pained noise that emanated from Hartley’s chest, at least outwardly. Hartley knew Cisco well enough to feel the simmering rage still lurking just below the surface. “You need to call the cops.”
“No, Cisco. I don’t.” He curled a little tighter against Cisco’s side, the slender arms that wrapped around his shivering form pulling him closer still, face buried in the soft cotton of Cisco’s Star Wars tee, and if either man noticed the growing damp patch in the fabric above his nose they chose not to mention it.
“So as it’s my birthday today, I thought we could do something nice?” It was almost noon, and Hartley had been up for hours already, pouring through sketchbooks at the kitchen table, adding notes to diagrams that would have made the heads of most physicists spin. He enjoyed his work; helping to plan heists with Len, designing new gadgets, even helping Axel to Flash-proof his air-walkers. He loved it, and was smiling softly to himself when his boyfriend finally dragged himself into the kitchen.
“I haven’t got any money, so we can’t do much.” Realising they were out of coffee, he shuffled out again, and Hartley could hear the shuffle of fabric in the hallway, the thud of boots as they hit the floor.
“It’s fine, I can cover us.” He’d managed to save up a little, not easy considering how much the apartment took from what ill-gotten gains he managed to procure for himself, and he’d had a craving for sushi for almost three days now - it was his birthday, so why not? He deserved a treat every now and then.
“Okay, sure babe, I just gotta go out for a bit, we can do whatever you want after I get back.” The door slammed and he was alone. The apartment seemed to echo in the silence, and Hartley shivered, moving through to the living room and curling into the couch he seldom used, flicking on the television he rarely watched, simply as something to do, his motivation quashed.
Hours passed, and Netflix helped to fill at least some of the quiet, Hartley using the time to catch up on programs he had gone months without watching. It might have been enjoyable, even, if not for the slight ache in his chest at sitting alone on his birthday. He almost missed his family for a moment. Almost.
Part of him had craved the time to spend with his boyfriend, to try to fix up their relationship, even as he felt it crumbling through his fingers, while the other part had hoped for a rejection. A chance to slip out and spend the day with friends, with the Rogues - were they friends? He wasn’t certain. Wasn’t sure if he truly wanted to know.
Yet he had somehow gotten both, and neither.
Seven o'clock came and went, Hartley’s stomach complaining loudly at the lack of food. He was about ready to make a sandwich from whatever he could scrape together from the kitchen when the door slammed.
“Happy birthday.” Lips brushed against his cheek, sloppy and with the overbearing stench of alcohol. A CD was tossed down on the couch next to him, the square plastic case bouncing on the cushion. Hartley picked it up and stared at it, familiar artwork staring right back. “What, you don’t like it?” He must have paused, waited too long, irritated growl sounding from the computer chair.
“No, I do, it’s just-” He paused, tongue flicking out to moisten dry lips, stomach clenching nervously. “I already have this one.”
“Well how the fuck was I supposed to know that?!” He tried not to flinch, really did, yet the sharp snap of words stung like a whip.
“We bought it together. Last month.” Hartley paused, swallowed, sinking back into the couch, wishing he could vanish into the dark leather. “You made fun of the cover, said it was...phallic.” Not quite what he had said, but it was close enough to the crude comments that had been practically shouted across the record store, much to Hartley’s mortification at the time.
“You can take it back, then.” The crumpled receipt was discarded on the floor beside the couch, and the computer chair in the corner squeaked as it turned, signalling the end of that conversation.
In the end, Hartley ordered Indian food for dinner. He had hoped to go out somewhere nice, somewhere he could actually dress up for, to look good for his boyfriend.
Still, he thought as he sat alone at the table, fork in hand and the tapping of keys sounding from the next room. At least they could spend the evening together.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” The light flicked on, blinding in the dark of night. Hartley was awake in less than a second, scrabbling around for a moment, trying to work out firstly where he was, and secondly what was happening to him. “You never fucking listen, do you? You don’t give a fuck what I say, you just do whatever you want.”
“Wh-” Hartley rolled onto his back, blinking owlishly over at his boyfriend, who stood at the end of the bed, glaring down at him. The man was practically vibrating with rage, and Hartley could not have gotten any smaller if he had tried.
“Do you like doing this, huh? Do you like shitting on me like this? You must do, you fucking have to, you do it often enough. Fucking bitch, always going against what I say, always doing what you want. Fuck me, right? Fuck what I want. As long as Hartley gets to do what Hartley wants, fuck the rest of us! Do you actually give a flying fuck about anyone other than yourself? No, you fucking don't!”
“What are you talking about?” Hartley finally interjected, the tirade increasing in volume until it was almost deafening, until he winced from more than just the impact of the words. The clock ticked to two thirty, and he stared up at the man he thought he loved, quivering under the intensity of the verbal attack, with no idea what had triggered it or what he might have done.
“Can we talk?” His heart was hammering in his chest, leaning against the kitchen worktop, hands clammy as Hartley crossed them over his chest.
“What is there to talk about?” Dismissive, wary and Hartley winced at the tone.
“I’m not happy.” He finally replied, bile rising in his throat and he swallowed it down. “I haven’t been happy for a while.”
“So, what, you’re breaking up with me?” A sneer, a flinch, and he wished he hadn’t said anything to begin with.
“No, that’s not it. I just...we need to work at some things, try to fix what’s gone wrong.” It needed to be said, they needed to talk, though thinking back on their three years together talking wasn’t something they had ever really partaken in.
“Where you’ve gone wrong, you mean.” There was no room for compromise, it seemed, yet there had to be. Hartley was not quite ready to throw in the towel, not just yet, though when he thought on his reasons why he was no longer certain that any were truly valid.
“No, this is about both of us.” Hartley stood his ground, crossed arms shifting instead to wrap around his own waist, his heart thumping against his ribcage so hard that he was certain it must be audible.
“No, it’s about you. It’s always about you! I’m here walking on eggshells, fucking miserable, because I never know if it’s nice-Hartley or ice-bitch-Hartley that’s going to walk through the door. You’ve been a fucking nightmare to live with, ever since we moved in together.”
“Why didn’t you say something, then?” There were tears building up on his lashes, threatening to spill, and he blinked them back. “Why didn’t you leave?”
“Because I’m not a quitter.” Came the growled reply. “I’m not like you.”
“Hey, Piper?” He didn’t look up, didn’t have to, the couch dipping next to him as Axel sat down with so little finesse that Hartley might have scoffed, at one time.
“Yeah?” He was watching his hands, fingers picking at invisible lint on his pants. Flat, lifeless, not the man he used to be. No, he’d lost that person months, perhaps years before.
“I don’t like your boyfriend much.” And if he had been surprised at the admission, he didn’t show it, hunkering down further in his seat.
“Neither do I.” Came the quiet reply.
“I can’t keep going on like this.”
“So, this is it then.” It wasn’t a question. But then, it wasn’t an accusation either. There was no raised voice, no bared teeth, and maybe...maybe he might just survive this.
“Yes.” He swallowed, trembling slightly from his place on the bed. “This is it.”
“There’s nothing I can do to change your mind?” The bed dipped, and the voice so near to his ear was so soft, contained such care, that at one point he might have wavered.
He had wavered, more than once. All it had gotten him was a cigarette-burned carpet and broken crockery.
“No.” Hartley thought that he might have cried, having played this out in his mind more than once, sobbing as his lover left him for good. Instead, he found himself dry-eyed and rigid, willing the man to leave, wanting to be finally, finally alone. Lips descended on his neck, hands wandering to touch, to caress, and he felt a shudder run through him at the unwanted touch. “What are you doing?”
“I thought we could…” Teeth, nipping at the sensitive skin of his throat, and he tried to pull away, held in place by arms stronger than his own. “Rekindle it?”
“Stop.” He pulled, and still the touch, the kisses, did not abate. “Stop it!” A hand to the chest and he was pushing, pushing with everything he had, needing to keep his soon-to-be ex boyfriend at arm’s length. It was the first time he had ever raised his voice to this man, the man he had loved, had adored for so long.
That was all it took; the dam broke. The tirade began.
Piece of shit.
You’re already fucking someone else, aren’t you?
Good luck finding anyone else to love you!
Useless pile of trash.
You’re lucky I put up with your shit for so long.
He was broken by the time the door slammed shut, rough sobs tearing at his throat as Hartley was left alone with his misery. It was better this way, he thought. Even if he was right, if he was entirely unlovable, it was still better to be alone.
He couldn’t run to Cisco, not this time. He wanted to, Christ Hartley wanted to. But he was on the other side now, the other team, and Cisco hated him.
Cisco had always hated him though. Would this be any different?
Hartley wasn’t certain how he ended up outside S.T.A.R Labs, staring up at the building that held so many good memories, and far more bad. Wells - Thawne - was gone, but that didn’t mean he was any more welcome that he would have been with the man still breathing. No, he had burned too many bridges for that.
Not that he regretted his actions, not really. He had a new set of colleagues now, his Rogues, and they looked out for him. Some, he might even start thinking of as friends. Mark, slowly. Len, potentially. Axel, undoubtedly.
And yet, after the hell he had endured, the pain and the ache in his chest and the tears still prickling at his eyes, he found himself there of all places. Looking for Cisco. Needing Cisco.
“Why are you here, Rathaway?” The Flash, Barry Allen, the guy was terrible at keeping his secret identity, well...secret. Hartley had figured it out almost immediately, keeping his mouth shut on the matter purely due to some strange, misplaced respect for the man.
Not that he had particularly earned it.
“Is Cisco here?” Something in his voice must have sounded off, the thickness of tears or the grating of a voice hoarse from crying, because Barry was in front of him then, faster than Hartley could blink, thumb and forefinger gently gripping his chin to tilt his head, hood falling back. He didn’t fight it, dark eyes staring up at the speedster who seemed to crumble under his broken gaze.
“Something’s happened.” It wasn’t a question, and Hartley didn’t have it in him to throw any of his usual mockery at the man. Didn’t have much of anything left in him, really. Strong arms wrapped around him and he leaned into them, the rush of air and sudden sense of vertigo the only sign they had moved at all.
“Bar-” Cisco’s eyes honed in on Barry’s passenger, narrowing in the distrust Hartley had come to expect. Distrust he knew he had earned. “Rathaway.” Tear stained cheeks turned to him, eyes filled with so much pleading, all too familiar, that Cisco was moving before his mind truly caught up. On auto-pilot, he dragged Hartley into a tight hug, not surprised when trembling fingers gripped at his shirt, pulling him closer still.
“S-sorry.” It was a familiar dance, perhaps too familiar; Hartley’s face nestled against Cisco’s neck, silent tears spilling over onto the smooth skin, Cisco’s arms wrapped so very tightly around him as he cried, almost possessive in their need to hold, to protect.
“Don’t be.” Cisco hummed, one hand moving to rub soothing circles between Hartley’s shoulderblades. “You wanna talk about it?”
“No.” Yes. He would, they both knew he would. Perhaps not then, perhaps not for a long time yet, but he would. And then, only to Cisco.
Gods but he loved this man.
“You know, this place is way too quiet, with just you in it.” Axel hummed as he followed Hartley down the short hallway to the living room.
“So, what, you’re going to move in with me?”
“Nah, nothing like that.” The Trickster snorted, bumping against Hartley’s shoulder with a grin. “I’m not dumb, I know you could never put up with me. I’m too-” He paused, thinking, then grinned from ear to ear. “-creative!”
“That’s one way of putting it.” Hartley laughed, feeling more at ease than he could ever remember. More like himself than he had in far too long.
“But I got you a gift, so you’re less lonely.” The box was slightly shorter than knee height, covered in brightly coloured wrapping paper and too many bows to count. Hartley eyed it warily.
“It isn’t going to explode when I open it, right?”
“Of course not, that’s not my style.” At the incredulous look, Axel merely shrugged. “Okay, maybe it is my style, but this one won’t, I swear.” Deciding it was worth the risk, Hartley quickly stripped away the wrappings, discarding them to one side and popping open the lid.
Big green eyes looked up at him, and mewed.
“Oh.” It wasn’t much of a response, and Axel was clearly getting anxious, bouncing in place as Hartley picked up the small, tortoiseshell kitten. A delicate paw raised to pat at his nose, before he tucked her against his chest, turning to look up at Axel with a grin that threatened to split his face in two. “She’s beautiful!”
In the end, he named her Trixie.