Freedom doesn't agree with him. Freedom means having nothing to get in his way, which is the same thing as having nothing. What the fuck is he going to become with nothing to stop him?
No Fuches and no Goran, which leaves him with — what? He had something going with Gene Cousineau, he had a rapport, he had everything coming to him, and he bailed on it. He made a tactical retreat. And if Sally thinks he’s a king-size asshole for that, she’s right, she’s never been more right. He'll never be a really good actor, or a really good boyfriend, and Sally deserves both these things — even if she's only maybe at rock bottom a pretty good actress, good enough. Good enough to have a wildly popular podcast about cults or something. Sally's the real thing. Barry Block is a fake. He's a bad actor. He can be these things; that's fine. Barry Block was never a real person. He was a bad joke, and now he's dead.
Barry Berkman, on the other hand. Barry Berkman is signing the lease on a duplex with his boss next Monday. He's traded in his shitty Camry and he's shuttling his boss around like an Uber driver, watching him out of the corner of his eye as they pull up at the curb.
Hank is wearing an indigo button-down printed with tiny birds and a pair of incredibly brief shorts — where does this man shop?
NoHo Hank exhales. "Freedom, right? Like summer vacation. I love it."
"They have summer vacation in Chechnya?"
"That's the Barry I know!" The door swings open, the seat belt clicks, and Hank slips out onto the concrete. "You want me to put in good word, huh? Wait here, I'll be back in ten. Fifteen, tops."
"It was a serious question—"
Within the first five minutes he gets a text: Security deposit is covered — they want us to pick up the keys 8 AM Monday. NoHo Hank sends him a link to a website's worth of photos, and Bitmoji of a striding sasquatch captioned Believe In Yourself.
It doesn't look like a mob safe house, but maybe once they get some furniture in there it'll start to look a little more defensible. The building supervisor gives them the rundown — no smoking (okay) and no dogs over 70 pounds (okay?) and no AirBnB rentals, the grill's out on the patio and it's all yours if the neighbors aren't actively making dinner on it, all the stuff that makes NoHo Hank nod brightly with his hands thrust in his pockets. There's in-unit laundry and a big shower and more than enough space for everything Barry owns, which isn't much. Sifuentes has said to call if they need anything, but Barry would rather stay out of personal debt to the guy as much as possible, and NoHo Hank has his own weird collection of swag boxed up in some Chechen guy's garage. This place looks like a magazine spread — it's insane. But it's not cheap. Nobody's wanted to invest in Barry for a long time. The supervisor is a short, aggressively hip woman in her 30s with a tattoo of an ax on her arm and a great security-deposit spiel.
"We just had two guys move into one of our other units last year with a Belgian sheepdog, which was kind of pushing it," the supervisor says with a knowing glance in Barry's direction, but Barry doesn't hear the rest of it because his ears are ringing — it's hard to mistake her intonation on the part of that sentence that has nothing to do with dog breeds.
Two guys! They're two guys! And this lady is totally cool with it, because she thinks they're totally gay. NoHo Hank asks polite questions about the hardwood floors and proximity to a good gym and the locks but Barry's whole face is tingling — even to hang back and watch them go on the welcome tour seems like incriminating himself, acting like the disinterested slob boyfriend, the slob boyfriend who seems like he might want to own an unlawfully large dog one day. Not the domesticated voice of reason. He's never lived with another person, at least not like this. He doesn't even know what to look for. How the fuck does NoHo Hank know what to look for?
"Welcome to the neighborhood," the supervisor says, handing over the keys with a squeezing handshake. Barry tries to smile and feels the muscles in his face spasm. They're on the right track.
"We have locks, deadbolt, screwdrivers, smart doorbell installation kit," Hank points to what's currently in their cart, "plates, glasses, whatever. We need kitchen chairs, kitchen table…"
"Those are in the warehouse. We need to check out."
Barry swallows down his existential nausea and dutifully punches the list into the Notes field on his phone — just two dudes, hitting up an IKEA Home Furnishings to fill the void. The two of them have canvassed every inch of this place, up and down the dizzying array of corridors and little fake rooms — fake books on fake shelves, fake fruit in fake vases. Fake families, fake houses. NoHo Hank has a spring in his step even after 45 minutes of navigating blind corners and circuitous turns; his button-down shirt accentuates the hollow between his shoulder blades and Barry thinks not for the first time what this guy's gym routine must be like.
He can heft a Björksnäs without incident, but retrieving the Knislinge will take a little more doing — the least cheap-looking of the leather couches, but all that memory-foam back support comes crammed into multiple boxes.
"Let me help you, let me help you—"
"I've got this," NoHo Hank says, and hoists the cardboard flat down off the pallet — Barry grabs the other end and tries to lever it onto the dolly. The two of them grapple with it for a while, fumbling awkwardly when it won't quite fit — rectangular flat-pack, rectangular cart, two grown men
"Wait, wait, wait—"
"Teamwork," Hank says serenely. They wheel their cargo to the checkout lanes, past the bundles of wash cloths and jars of jam. "Collaboration."
What are they doing this for? They need plausible deniability — their landlord might not give two shits if the guys in this unit are an item, but the Bolivians will probably have some thoughts on the whole thing. He'll just have to follow NoHo Hank's lead on this one, NoHo Hank who put it on the line for him
Motivation. What does he want? He wants a house, not a hotel room. It doesn't matter if it's a rental as long as there aren't bed bugs. He wants job security. He wants to work with Hank and the Bolivians without the whole thing turning into Fuches mk. 2. He wants to go 24 hours without thinking about Fuches.
They walk out of there with eggshell-blue plastic laundry baskets and table runners and a coat rack. A dozen Bolivian guys must have come and gone while they were away, because all of NoHo Hank's stuff has been slotted into place, including the television. Barry drags the Ikea boxes into the living room and slits the plastic bindings with his pocketknife. There's a lot to unpack here.
NoHo Hank calls out to him from the bedroom: "Barry?"
All there is in the bedroom is a gun safe and a king-size mattress.
"Shit," NoHo Hank says, "I knew I forgot something."
"Just leave it. I'll take the couch."
He's slept on the couch a million times — usually with a gun resting on his stomach. But he'll have to put the damn thing together first.
The neighbors are a guy with a beard and a girl in a sundress covered in tattoos — she'd look a little like Sally if her hair weren't dyed stark black. They're framed in the front window like a wedding photo, or the About page on an independent coffee roasting company.
Barry watches them for a long moment before there's even a knock at the door.
"Hey Barry," Hank calls from the other room, "smart doorbell alert, somebody is here— looks like guy with big beard—"
"Yeah, I know, I can see — just put a shirt on, okay?"
Barry fumbles the coffee pot back into place and stumbles backward, reaching — for his phone, his gun, something. What's he going to do, take a picture?
Barry hurries to discreetly unbolt the door before Hank can burst forth dressed in one of Barry's shirts, one hand crooked on his hip and the other fiddling with that stupid video doorbell app — in a knit henley he looks better than Barry does, but it doesn't quite cover his massive array of prison tattoos, just tones them down a little. He looks less conservative and less likely to murder you at the same time. Barry motions for him to stay back, but it must look like come on out and stare at your phone where the whole neighborhood can see your neck tats, because Hank does that. Beard Guy and Sundress are unfazed.
"Hi," Barry says, "you must be the folks next door. Is this about the hammering?"
You weren't supposed to need a hammer to put together Ikea furniture in the first place, but some of the couch parts didn't fit, and Barry had gotten a little zealous. It had been cathartic. Hank hadn't gotten back until 4 that first night, so the question of who got the mattress was already moot.
"No, no, no, no, no! We just wanted to say hi!" Which means yes, it's about the hammering. "We wanted to bring a pie or something, but we weren't sure if you eat wheat.
"I'll eat anything," Barry says, trying to smile, "don't worry about it. It's great to see you guys, we just got the keys on Monday."
Barry must have lived in twenty different apartments in the last twenty years and nobody, nobody has ever come over to say hello. Who are these people? What planet are they from?
"Nice, nice," Beard Tropical-Shirt says. "It's a really great space, you're going to love it here. So what do you guys do? I'm Lane, and this is Daphne. What brings you to the neighborhood?"
"Just, uh — just small businesses."
"So what do you do?"
Hank gestures. "Startup guy here. Barry's an engineer, challenging stuff, kind of complicated — but his real thing is acting."
"I bet you two know each other from work," the girl with the bangs says. She looks like a Daphne. "I met Lane when we were doing a childcare startup together. Blockchain for babies. He was so sweet. We don't have any of our own, obviously, you don't have to worry about dealing with that. Everybody knows each other from work around here. It's like nobody goes out any more."
What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Barry looks to NoHo Hank for some kind of cue — desperately, feeling his throat tighten up like he's forgotten his lines. There is no right answer to this question, but there are definitely wrong answers, like I met this guy when his boss contracted me to murder his wife's lover and we really clicked when he saved my life, you know, from being violently murdered by his boss.
"Oh," Barry says, "We don't work together. There was this farmer's market in Santa Fe Springs. We just met the normal way."
Hank picks it up immediately. "You know the one, it's outside—"
"And they sell these hot sauces," Barry says
"Barry loves spicy food," NoHo Hank says. Polite laughter from the neighbors. Barry doesn't like spicy food, he barely could be said to like food. "So he was there, and I was there."
Picture it. Try to set the scene in your head. Red checkered tablecloths, suntanned farmers stacking bushels of apples, whatever the fuck people do at farmer's markets, they're there and they're doing it.
"Hank was there, and I had to help him carry a bunch of groceries to his car—"
And on, and on, and on. Cute, but fake. Nobody in California meets like that — everybody meets on an app. It sounds phony, but does it sound phonier than anybody else's how-we-met story? Their property supervisor met her wife playing roller derby in Seattle when she helped her Superglue one of her teeth back together. That shouldn't be a cute story, but it is one, somehow. Put that in a TV show. Barry feels his body unstiffen slightly as the pair of them maneuver their bodies to easier postures, as the guy with the beard and the girl with the heavy black bangs nod and smile and bullshit. The two of them together are a type. Barry and Hank, put together, make a type.
Fun, wholesome, bland. This is a performance, and Barry is killing it. That much is terrifying.
As soon as they're behind closed doors again, Barry can fix his face into something less stupid looking.
"Smart doorbell," Hank says breathlessly. "I love it."
Yeah, no way that's not going to bite them in the ass some day.
"What the fuck was that? What just happened?"
"They think we're —" Barry tries to give a meaningful look and ends up staring. "They think we're gay. They think we're together. They think we're gay together."
"Happens all the time," Hank says, shrugging.
Barry blinks. "Really?"
"I'm very outgoing. It sends mixed signals.
"And you're okay with that?"
"I mean, if you're okay with that—"
"Hello, yes. Of course I'm okay with it. Are you okay with it? I know you're not the most outgoing guy —"
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I'm a hitman."
"You are not your job," Hank says earnestly. "But point taken. It could be a good thing for us."
"As a cover." A role. A bit. They're doing a bit. "
"Oh, yeah, of course." Hank holds up his phone. "There really is a farmer's market in Santa Fe Springs. I Googled it."
“Yeah, I know.” It was one of those places he’d thought about taking Sally some time, in one of his weirder reveries. Reconnaissance. "There's a Whole Foods a block away from here."
“It just sounded like you were bullshitting. I know that, are you coming or not?"
It is an hour fucking drive from Silver Lake to Santa Fe Springs, with the super illegal gun Barry's started to wear digging into his side the whole time. NoHo Hank pipes his yacht rock playlist through the car speakers and tells long weird stories about back home in the Soviet bloc, which doesn't sound much worse than Cleveland.
Barry scopes out the exits from the parking lot. There's about a smattering of stands and carts and tables, with signs advertising honey sticks and falafel and kettle corn. NoHo Hank has his sunglasses pushed up across his forehead, and an electric blue polo shirt that clings to his biceps — he'll fit right in. On closer look there are women in heels and moms with kids, hand-woven baskets and plastic bags straining with their cargo — young boys in red shorts, old guys with ponytails, a guy selling lovingly hand-polished beard combs,
NoHo Hank is making a beeline for a crepe stand on the far side of the lot. Barry uneasily hefts the grocery bag on his arm, tangled in his jacket sleeve, and tries to remember what people buy when they go grocery shopping.
Freak varietal avocados, zucchini, some other green thing that looks like zucchini but costs a buck more. Eggplants, lettuce or something that's bigger than Barry's whole upper body.This stuff's never going to make a meal, but every second he spends not buying something is making him break out in a cold sweat. People are watching him — people are watching both of them.
He stops in front of a table set up next to a chest freezer, and buys a wad of vacuum-packaged bison steaks — why the fuck is he staring deeply into the selection of organic meats like he knows what he's looking for, he hasn't cooked in his life? But, the part of him that's starting to soak up West Coast smarminess interjects, he could start, they'll need to buy pots and pans and stuff, they could do one of those meal box things, they'll need a spice rack…
You spend your whole life doing something that no sane person would want to do and you forget how to do anything else. Everything else is too exhausting to bother with, so instead of putting on a movie and making dinner you buy dinner at a Wendy's and watch TV all night. You forget to buy groceries. You only own one set of silverware.
There are two guys at a stand selling fresh bread who are staring at him, waiting for him to buy something else. Or waiting for him to turn around. Waiting for him to buy some bread. It's too wide-open here, too many weird lines of sight, too many strangers.
NoHo Hank slides up beside him with his hands full. Barry startles.
"You like Nutella?"
"Sure," Barry says numbly, "yeah, I love it."
Hank peels off a spiral of silver foiled paper and passes him a scalding-hot crepe.
"Those guys are looking at us," Barry says. "Why are they looking at us?"
Maybe because there's a heavily tattooed Eastern European gangster stalking through a Los Angeles farmer's market along with a dude who's wearing a coat in the middle of summer. Hank puts his arm around him companionably — his hand dodges the gun holstered to Barry's side and settles instead on his hip pocket. It feels good. Barry tries to lean into it, and ends
"Hold on. Let's double back, I think I saw zucchini."
Barry does end up hitting up Whole Foods, but his heart's not in it. There are plenty of acting classes in and around LA, and tons of guys with a camera and a reasonably priced photography package, and lots of improv groups or whatever the fuck people do, but there's hardly a guarantee that any of that can make him feel alive. Maybe the headshots were putting the cart before the horse. Maybe that was too soon.
There's a car idling on the street in front of their house, and the guy in the passenger seat is pretending to be deeply absorbed in the porn playing on his phone. Maybe he is, people do all kinds of gross stuff on the clock. Barry raps on his windshield with two knuckles and watches him roll off from the front steps of the duplex. He snaps a picture of the license plate, and shoulders deeper into the doorway.
Sifuentes is there on the tiny fenced patio, in a tan blazer with sunglasses stuffed in the pocket. NoHo Hank slides past Barry on the front walk, clapping him on the chest affably — he smells like he's been grilling something. He smells like charcoal smoke and expensive stores at the mall.
"Hey, Barry. You're looking great. Nice shirt."
It's his stupid J. Crew mannequin outfit, the one he wore to terrorize Sally in front of thirty of her closest friends. Barry smooths out the front of his shirt uneasily.
"Thanks, I was — I was getting some pictures taken. Can I have a word?"
"Like… passport photos, or—"
"Headshots, actually. Listen, there was a guy," Barry says, "in a car out front, acting shady. I goit his plates. I'll take care of it."
"You'll take care of it?"
"Yeah. I told him to leave. If he shows up again I'll put a little — vinegar in it."
What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Barry's never said that in his entire life. NoHo Hank mouths it back at him, before twisting over his shoulder to call out to Sifuentes.
"Come meet free agent Barry! I was just telling you — Barry's setting up the perimeter. I got this smart doorbell, right? From online, right?"
Sifuentes gestures at him happily with a beer, and gestures for him to come out. Barry's shirt collar is itching at him, and he's not even in direct sunlight. Grilling steaks and Mexican beers and fresh-chopped onions and what the fuck is this? What the fuck does take care of it even mean any more?
He can't kill the guy, not in his own backyard, not in broad daylight, not with a Whole Foods bag in one hand and a text from Hank in the other. But what about next time? The Bolivians have to have a clean-up crew, right? They'd be in deep shit if they didn't. This isn't a tiny, homegrown, artisanal murder-for-hire operation any more, it's industrial. The two of them are supposed to be taking the heat off.
Barry used to know what this stuff meant. Sharing a beer with Fuches used to be a special just-us-guys thing with dad and then it turned into a proposition and now Fuches is dead and a beer can just be a beer. It can just be one more friendly gesture.
Barry doesn't stay out that much longer, with the bagged charcoal stinging his eyes and the smell of burned meat dragging up memories of weekends in Afghanistan. It's a little too much, and nobody busts his balls over it — nobody even notices, they let him slip away to drink alone and after an hour or so he hears car tires cut out of the driveway. So long boys, have fun, take lots of pictures. He watches a couple old episodes of 30 Rock and clips his fingernails and brushes his teeth and takes a shower.
The bathroom has traditionally been the place where Barry goes to be alone. It's a lot harder to be alone with two people in the house. They end up here because of poor planning. Poor communication, scheduling issues. If Hank stumbles in bloody, Barry isn't going to question it. He's not going to ask him intrusive questions.
He's never seen Hank like this — but he's seen that expression before staring out of a bathroom mirror. Cold eyes, and a set jaw.
"I'll leave," Barry says, fumbling for a towel. Hank doesn't hear him or doesn't notice; he pulls his blood-soaked polo shirt off over his head, and undoes his belt to peel away the rest of his clothes.
It's a lot of blood — Barry's not a serial killer, he can't eyeball how much blood a person's lost based just on surface area of a bloodstain, but if somebody pressed him for an exact quantity he'd have to say a lot. A lot of blood. On his hands, on his neck.
"Hey, hey, hey—" The shower door swings open. "You get in, I'll get out—"
Barry isn't going to let him contaminate the entire bathroom suite and all the towels and the bath mat and his fucking tooth brush with biohazard blood. He's going to step to one side and let him sluice off in the shower. The water turns orange as the first splashes of blood disappears down the drain — there's no actual marks on NoHo Hank, which is less suggestive of the need for gangland first aid and more suggestive of a body in a trunk someplace.
"It's not evidence," Hank finally says, but that's not why Barry is looking at him.
You don't ask a guy what his tattoos mean, and you really don't ask a guy what his prison tattoos mean. Barry can't keep from looking, and Hank meets his eyes with weirdly flirtatious insouciance. Hank's body is a canvas — Barry's really going to need to quit calling him that, at least in his head, but he can't stop — and in the flickery white light of a single badly-screwed-in bulb, it feels just a little delinquent to be looking. Like prison. Like a lineup. The ink tracks down his arms from biceps to wrist, in distinct glyphs — it twists around from collarbone to throat, all black, all monochrome.
Barry isn't getting out of the shower for some reason. Weird.
Watching him go through the motions of lathering up while covered in blood is not the only aspect of this scenario that makes Barry think he's drastically miscalculated. His sense of modesty died a decade ago, so it's not getting naked in front of other men that's the problem here, or being with guys, getting touched by guys, letting some guy with a shaved head and bad ink jerk him off — it's something else. Something else about this feels wrong.
Hank glances at him over his shoulder, lashless eyes round and questioning. Then he glances downward.
"See anything you like?"
"I was trying," Barry says, "not to look at your dick."
Hank shrugs. "Go right ahead."
Barry lets the towel drop. There are a couple ways things could go from here, some of them good and some of them bad but all of them weird.
Barry takes a decisive step to the side, which turns out to be the wrong thing to do in a shower clearly built for one person — it puts him closer than he'd intended, too soon, with their knees practically knocking together and his heart rattling in his chest so loudly it seems like it should be audible.
Hank continues, gesturing nervously as he runs his hands under the shower spray. His skin has already begun to rinse clean; it has the air of a nervous tic. "You know, if you think about it, it's totally normal. Just us guys, you know—"
"Don't," Barry says quietly. "Don't make excuses."
Hank puts his hands up slowly to Barry's face, slowly like he's one of those bomb-squad guys trying to defuse something covered in wires and held on with duct tape — like Barry's the most dangerous thing in this house, like he's about to go off any minute now. They're getting water in their mouths, water running down into their eyes — Barry blinks it away, he closes his eyes tightly and presses his back to the tile.
Their bodies press close together in one long line, chest to chest and leg to leg — Barry puts out a hand to touch the slippery muscles of Hank's side, thumbing from tattoo to tattoo, finding the white arc of a scar. There are plenty of scars to choose from. What was that thing he said? Getting shot hurts. The scar from the time Barry shot him is here, clear and pink.
NoHo Hank sinks down to his knees on the wet tile, mouthing against Barry's stomach, down the ledge of his hip — touching him, touching him carefully
"You're not going to make this weird, right?" His voice has changed somehow, it's gotten a little hoarser. He licks his lips.
"No, no, no—" Barry stammers and takes a step backward, against the wall.
Hank touches him like he's precious, like he doesn't give a shit that he's more vulnerable now than he's ever been. Sucking him off so sharply and sweetly it feels like the first time, the ultimate platonic form of every blowjob he's ever gotten or wanted to get or even wanted to give — all the touch he's never known, sleek pulls of his mouth with his tongue artfully tracing the underside of the head, and the air smells like blood and salt and bleach.
He cries out, staggering a little, and the guy puts out a hand to steady him against the wall — making a tiny sound around his cock as he glances up
"I'm okay," Barry says, reaching out to prop himself up and almost slipping backward — Hank keeps going, then, with the earnest industry of a porn star. It's impossible to keep quiet.
After he finishes he's completely out of breath — his knees could buckle, if he let them. "That was — that was good."
"You think so?" Hank's face is beaded with water, washed clean of blood. There's pink in his cheeks; his lashless eyes blink winsomely. "Because if that was too unprofessional, I completely understand."
"No, I wanna," Barry says. "Uh."
"You wanna what?"
He wants to touch him, but those glancing lashless eyes are looking someplace else.
"I'll get the bleach."
They get dinner. They buy furniture. They rent movies — NoHo Hank laughs his way through John Wick 2. They pretend it didn't happen, whatever it was that did happen. Hank goes out all day and comes back at six, and Barry watches 90s sitcoms on Hulu and tries not to think about what he'll do with himself the next time he's needed for something.
This is the best thing he's ever had, and isn't that a kick in the teeth — his best thing so far has been offing his mentor, cozying up to the Bolivian cartel, and shacking up with the only chipper made man he's ever met.
We're Marines — they're criminals. Eighteen months ago he'd have been perfectly content to line up some crosshairs on the back of this guy's head. Now he'd kill for him, probably.
Some nights he sits up awake with NoHo Hank snoring lightly in the other room and his gun on the table in front of him — not the way he used to, but just waiting, waiting for someone to try and make an entrance. It's what he would have done, once upon a time — quick and neat, one after another, in and out. Nobody ever comes.
Somebody clears their throat.
In the doorway, Hank is wearing shark print boxers and black socks. If he had hair, it'd be disheveled from sleep, but he doesn't, so it isn't. He pads over to the refrigerator and starts futzing with the Brita filter unobtrusively, like Barry isn't there at all.
"Can't sleep?" Hank says, over his shoulder.
Barry shakes his head miserably.
"Want a Popsicle? Night beer?"
Barry presses his face in his hands. He's pushing forty and he's got gray hairs coming in and he can't sleep and he can't even put together a couch. He can install a security system and bolt a gun safe to the floor, but he can't screw together an armrest. He wasn't always this guy. He used to sleep fine. Maybe that's a good sign.
"Christ, I fucking hate this."
"What do you hate?" Hank straightens up and pads over to the table, socks swishing on the tile.
"I always thought I wanted this. Like, really wanted this. To be settled. Not with you, necessarily."
NoHo Hank nods furiously and gestures at himself. "Oh, no, no, no. Of course. Not me — necessarily. This is just — stopgap, you know?"
"I don't know what the fuck to do all day. I've never had this before, with a house, and a car, and a roommate. Not even before the Marines. There wasn't really a before, before that. Now I don't know what I want."
"Well, you know," NoHo Hank says appraisingly. "You are not a bad guy. I'll vouch for that. If you move out, it's nothing personal. But I like having you around."
He rests his hand on Barry's shoulder, not quite a comforting pat but pretty close. Barry leans back into the touch, then realizes what he's doing and straightens up, embarrassed.
"Did you ever try meditating?" Hank asks.
"Yeah, for a while. Back when I first came back. Didn't work." All that bullshit about mindfulness, being alone with your thoughts. Being alone with his thoughts is Barry's entire problem.
Hank catches this, from the look on his face. "Right. I don't like it either, I just thought it was worth a try. What do you do to sleep?"
"I don't." He never even had trouble before. He wasn't one of those guys.
"You're not your job, Barry. This is America. Be whatever you want to be."
He wants a house. He wants two dogs and two kids and a backyard and a hobby. There's shitloads of gay men out there who must want exactly the same things. Stability, constancy, purpose. Two dogs and two kids and a pride flag flying on the front porch, waking up to the smell of frying eggs, waking up to anything at all besides cold sweat and an elevated heart rate
Is there a place for him in this?
Barry hasn't slept since it happened and nobody's been over long enough to notice Barry hasn't slept — the blue light from his laptop makes his eyes smart. Day and night are indistinguishable from each other in California around this time of year.
"I brought danish," Hank says innocently. He sets the paper bag down next to Barry's laptop.
Barry pushes back, rubbing at the crick in his neck. "I found that guy with the fake license plates. He's a small-timer. Worst case scenario, he wants to squeeze in on Sifuentes."
NoHo Hank whistles. "Without interview? He won't like that. No, he will not."
"I'll see what I can do."
"Did you ever think about maybe becoming writer?"
"That's not — that's not really the kind of thing I do."
"You could take screenwriting class. See how it goes."
Barry slams the laptop closed, and twists around in his seat.
"Why do you like me?"
"You heard me — why do you give a shit about me? We have nothing in common. I shot you."
"You seem really sad. I want to be your friend."
Barry feels something like anger rising in his chest, a big tangled knot of it. "Where do you get off thinking I need you to be my friend?"
"You're not like these guys."
"Did you tell Sifuentes about us?"
"No — God, no, I'm not a lunatic. If he finds out, we are so fucked—"
Barry leans forward and kisses him, and feels him stumble backward — for a terrifying moment he's sure he's miscalculated so much worse than the other night in the shower, this is one thing and that was something else. Hank's arms lock around his waist, terrifyingly muscular but undeniably steadying.
"I'm sorry about the other night," Barry says against his mouth. "I shouldn't have done that." He can feel Hank's heart pounding through his shirt, quick and strong. His own heart is beating fast. Giddy, not angry.
"I liked it. I'm open to maybe arranging something, maybe figuring something out—"
"Stop talking," Barry hisses.
Hank cocks his head cheerfully, like a bird. "I can't. It's just how I am. Like it or leave it."
He walks Barry backwards through the bedroom door.
The bed is big enough for two of them. NoHo Hank's weird exuberance runs through him like a contact high, like that sudden bolt of adrenaline that wakes you up out of a dream. If Barry were capable of being playful and spontaneous, he'd do something playful and spontaneous like — hit him with a pillow, or something. But he's not, so he presses him against the springy mattress and kisses him on the mouth and enjoys the soft exhale Hank makes, like a laugh.
Hank pulls Barry's shirt off over his head, kissing along his collarbone, where his dog tags used to sit — it makes Barry shiver and grimace, lifting his hips against him.
"You know, I really do like you."
"Yeah, I got — I got the picture."
"Top or bottom?"
"Whatever you want."
He'll be whatever Hank wants.
"No. Whatever you want." He presses his mouth to Barry's shoulder. "I'm very flexible."
"That's nice of you—"
"No, really. I'll show you."
It's not exactly professional, but it's something. Barry uncrosses his arms, and straightens up against the headboard. The Bolivians came through on something after all.
Barry clears his throat. "So, uh."
Hank lifts his head. "Yeah?"
"What do I call you?"
NoHo Hank tells him.
"But don't call me that," he adds, as if it goes without saying. Then he rolls over, presses his face to the corner of Barry's chest, and shuts his eyes. Not sleeping, just resting thoughtfully in a pool of clean warmth.
His real name is not NoHo Hank. What a surprise. Barry turns the name over in his mouth wonderingly, sitting in a bed that isn't his, where he isn't alone — with the man next to him sprawled out on his face, perfectly comfortable to be bare-ass naked with a Glock in the top drawer of the bedside table right next to the condoms and the old phone chargers. (The condoms had been a surprise.) Some of his tattoos are better-done than others, with sharper lines or blacker ink; others have migrated and blurred. He must have been a kid then, a kid in some Russian detention center. There's more to the story.
I kind of like it, actually, Barry thinks. The name, the tattoos, the man lying next to him. There's not really a script for this — or maybe there is, but he hasn't read it yet, it's from one of those streaming cable shows with frontal nudity and Jonathan Groff or it's some movie that will win an Oscar when it's not starring Barry Berkman and a Chechen mobster.
He likes him, he likes him, he likes him. This is terrible.