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!!!”
“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.
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.
“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?” 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!”
“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.
“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.”
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.