“What the heck is on your face?”
It’s the first thing Barry says to him in person after the six months Hal has been gone on the road with Oliver. It’s not surprising, given how much of a square he can be, but Hal still takes the time to look offended.
“What, you don’t like it?” he asks, rubbing his hand over his moustache, down the long sides that end at his jaw. Barry grimaces, but steps aside to let him into his small apartment.
“You look like a dirty hippie,” Barry readily admits as he enters. He shuts the door as Hal shrugs off his jacket, taking it to hang over the coat hooks before crossing his arms over his chest. Hal only grins at him and makes his way further inside, eyeing the new line of books along the wood panelling in the living room. He sees Papillon and picks it up, turning and holding it to show to the man as he makes his way over.
“I picked this one up too, while I was on the road,” he says with a small, sad smile. He turns back to the worn novel in his hand and thumbs the pages open, “Made me think of you.”
He doesn’t look up but he hears shifting and an almost inaudible clearing of Barry’s throat.
“My dad was let out in June,” he says quietly. Hal jerks his head up, turning around as he tosses the book onto the others on the shelf.
“Get outta here,” he says, and brings his friend in for a hug, “Far out, man!”
Barry stiffens in his hold but brings a hand to pat at his back. When they part his smile is forced and awkward, “Yeah. Really—far out.”
Hal sniggers at him, nose wrinkling. He throws himself into the chair near the bookcase, “So where’s he at, man. He need help finding a job? I know it’s hard for an ex-con, and I got some under the table connections if he needs--”
“He’s dead,” Barry interrupts, “Two months after he got out.”
Hal stares up at him, “Shit. I’m--I’m so sorry, man.”
There’s only a small shrug in response before his friend is taking a seat on the couch across from him, “He was staying here with me before he got back on his feet. Heart attack took him August 13 th .”
Hal can only gape, before his eyebrows furrow in confusion, “Didn't I call you around then? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to--” Barry pauses, hands waving as his eyes search the room for his words, “Cut your trip short, I guess. As much as I didn’t want you to go in the first place. You seemed to be—you were liking it. Learning a lot, from what I gathered when we saw each other last.”
It’s an obvious try at getting the conversation to go somewhere else. He’s done with talking about it – uptight and unable to speak a word about feelings. Like Hal was too before he left. Not that he can really do it much more now, but his eyes are opened. Men don’t have to be stoic. Just like women don’t have to be emotional. It sits wrong with him now, nodding it off and continuing like the death of a parent isn’t traumatic. It used to be easy. Brushing it off like it was a natural part of life – because it is, death. Your father’s burning corpse in a faulty plane. Your mother mysteriously murdered in the middle of the night by a man who’s not your father. Said father set free, finally, after so many years, just to die right before he can live again. Your wife’s brains scrambled by a man faster than the speed of sound. It’s all natural.
Hal sits forward, hand rubbing over the hair on his upper lip roughly before he throws it down in defeat and nods. He catches Barry’s eye before he sits back again, settling in.
“So, you see that Star Wars movie?”
It hits him later, after he’s left to go home and lands inconspicuously in the alley behind his own apartment building, that he wasn’t there for his best friend, when he needed him the most. No one was, that he could really think of – he, Oliver and Dinah on their respective cross-country adventures. Wally is only a boy and is still reeling in the aftermath of his aunt's death, and his visits come few and far in between since then. Ralph and Sue busy in Europe with their detective agency. Ray – well, who knows where Ray disappeared recently, after finding out about Jean.
Barry was alone, once more, to deal with his tragedy.
He swears, kicking at the trash can in front of him, effectively knocking it over into the others. The elderly woman who lives on the third-floor slides open the window and sticks her hair-curler covered head out of it.
“Who’s there!” she crows, “I have the phone in my hand! I can have my sons over here in five minutes to kick your ass!”
Slower than Barry , Hal thinks as he scoffs.
“It’s just me, Ms. Lopez. Chill.” He calls, “Can’t see anything back here.”
He bends down and rights the cans, smashing the lid on one before storming into the building. He hears her spit quick complaints as the door shuts behind him. His boots clap noisily on the tile as he heads down the stairs to the basement apartment. The light is dim and he needs to shine his ring on the knob to get his key in, but even still it won’t slide through.
“What?” he mutters, jiggling it roughly before kicking at it.
“Won’t do you no good,” Ms. Lopez says from the top of the stairs, “Landlord kicked you out a month ago.”
Hal swears, then apologizes when Ms. Lopez raises an eyebrow at him, “What about my stuff?”
She crosses her arms, face softening only the tiniest bit before she waves him up to follow her, “I grabbed your clothes and some books I could find from the alley. Everything else is gone.”
He climbs the stairs with her to her apartment, “Thank you.”
“I didn’t do it for you, boy,” she chides, “But my sons didn’t like the clothes, or they didn’t fit.”
He grits his teeth, remembering everything he’s learned over the past half-year and repeats it to himself before he says something he’ll regret. Then he thanks God he didn’t leave his father’s jacket behind.
She gives him two full trash bags, and a box with the books, then tells him to scram before the landlord’s daughter catches him, and asks for the back rent he owes them. And he does so, juggling the bags and box as he scurries down six blocks to a hole in the wall café he knows has a payphone. He’s about to call Oliver when he glances up and sees a young man, about twenty, with soft blond hair and a redhead on his arm walk by and into a bar on the opposite side of the street. Then he dials and hopes the charges are accepted.
“Hal,” Barry’s tinny voice says, “Did you forget something?”
“Yeah,” Hal replies, “About five months of rent.”
He hears a sigh on the line, and his boot taps the sidewalk.
“I’ll make up the couch,” Barry says.
It takes all of ten minutes for Barry to convince him to shave the moustache. It helps that with how terrible the night has been, Hal’s not vibing with it anymore. He’s a deadbeat friend, and he’s been kicked out of his place and lost all of his stuff. Barry puts him in front of the mirror and he sees the raggedy hair and untrimmed ‘stache and sees—he sees what Barry sees, probably. A jelly brain. Especially next to someone like him.
Barry’s hair is freshly cut and combed, and his olive-green shirt is tucked neatly into his pressed khakis. As Hal shaves, he considers his friend. How much his neatness reminds Hal of his superior officers in Vietnam.
Barry was in ‘Nam too, not that they’ve ever discussed it of course. It’s not hard for Hal to see it, though. A younger man, wide-eyed and naïve, thinking he was signing up to do some good and being thrown into hell on Earth. Becoming an unwilling, but loyal, foot soldier. He has that look about him like all the vets do. Oliver has that look too, but it’s different. He never served because he was missing, stuck on some island not too far away.
Sometimes he wonders if anything Oliver says about Barry – what horrors he could have partaken in alongside his fellow army men – holds any truth. Hal did some things he’s not proud of, things that make him jolt awake in a cold sweat at night – things that he just did to survive that goddamn hellhole. He can’t see Barry doing any of it, having to make those decisions – make the horrifying ones – he wouldn’t be alive now if he had to, there’s no way.
He blinks away the images that are itching to crawl their way to the surface, hyper-focusing on getting every bit of hair off of his face and wiping away every last spot of shaving cream. The screams echoing in his head—the clouds of orange – drifting in limbo until he hears a beeping from the kitchen.
He hangs up the towel and slowly wanders over to Barry, who stands in front of a small appliance that is thankfully able to grab his attention.
“Hey!” he says, mustering a smile, “A microwave!”
Barry glances back at him and grins, “Neat, huh? Sears was having a sale and I thought, why not?”
He opens its door and pulls out a TV dinner, steaming hot, and hisses, dropping onto a nearby plate. The clattering makes Hal jump – something he’s glad Barry doesn’t see.
“Darn,” the other man swears, sticking a finger in his mouth, “I can never remember how long to put it in. Either it’s still frozen in the centre, or it comes out hotter than the Devil’s you know what.”
He motions for Hal to sit at the tiny dining table, and places the plate in front of him with a fork and butter knife. He pops the second dinner in the machine and they both watch in fascination as it spins and heats for two and a half minutes, and the meal comes out just as steaming as the first.
“I’ll never get over that,” Barry says with a grin as he brings his dinner over and sits.
“Finally, something that can keep up with your appetite, huh?” Hal jokes, but Barry’s very serious nod makes him frown afterward. He feels his throat tighten, the fog settling in again as he fumbles with his cutlery.
“Sorry I couldn’t make you something a bit better with it,” Barry says, “Iris was always the cook.”
Hal shakes his head, “Anything that isn’t a can of beans over a fire is a five-star meal to me, man.”
And in keeping true to his words, he mows down, the taste of turkey and instant potatoes better than anything he’s eaten recently, including diner food. It fills his mind and senses and he focuses on that instead.
“I know a thing or two about cooking,” he says between bites, “Maybe I can make up some nice dinners while I’m here. Y’know, as payment for the couch.”
He continues eating, and after his brain has settled, he realizes Barry hasn’t replied to him, and he looks up. The other man has a soft smile on his lips. Gravy drips off his fork slowly. Hal feels his own lips quirk up almost involuntarily, and he brushes his too-long hair out of his face.
“What?” he asks, and Barry shakes his head, resuming eating.
“Much better looking without that dead rat on your face,” he says casually. Licking his lips, Hal wonders at the jolt in his chest before he scoffs.
“It wasn’t that bad.”
“You keep telling yourself that, Bandit.”
The first few days are easy. Barry heads off to work, and Hal heads out to find work. They barely see each other, save for when they come together late in the evening to eat dinner and watch Bob Newhart or Little House on the Prairie . Barry heads to bed at a respectable time, and Hal falls asleep to the TV static at one A.M.
It’s at the beginning of the second week where they hit a snag of sorts. Hal’s dosing on the couch, static drifting him in and out of consciousness, before a yelping noise jolts him into a sitting position, at the ready. He sits, watching for movement for a long time before he realizes there won’t be any. Shaking his head, he listens, unsure if the noise was in his dream or reality.
He stares into the blue-tinted room and waits for another minute before lying back. Just as he does so, another cry sounds out. His gaze settles on the bedroom door at the end of the small hallway. Turning off the TV, he stands by it and waits again, until he hears the telltale sound of a sob.
In an instant he’s out of the room, his blanket falling to the floor, forgotten. It doesn’t occur to him that it might be awkward to barge into his friend’s room in only his underwear. Hell, he’s shot a gun in nothing but his helmet once. When he opens the door, Barry is sitting up in bed, sweating and trembling to the point of vibration as a cigarette burns in the side table ashtray. He jumps when the door opens and he sees Hal. They stare at each other for a long time before Hal slowly steps forward and sits at the foot of the bed.
“I’d ask if you were okay, but I doubt I’d get an honest answer,” he says, bluntly. It’s silent after, save for Barry’s heavy breaths and the swaying of branches in the wind through the open window.
Hal looks over to him, frowning as Barry’s lips stay sealed shut, and his eyes train on the bed. In the distance, a siren wails to life. Hal can’t even get his mouth open before his friend is gone, after image dissipating before he can tell it’s there.
He waits a moment, hand settling in the lingering warm spot on the bed where his friend’s leg once was, and sighs. The smoke from the still-lit cigarette drifts into his vision. Putting it out, he flares his ring to life, then takes off after the blur of red.
It never comes up in conversation. Hal doesn’t want to force anything, and Barry very clearly doesn’t want to talk about it, though that’s not a surprise.
But Hal tells him to keep his door open at night, and he does. Through the evening and late-night talk shows, Hal will sit up, vigilantly listening until the flag waves and the anthem plays before turning to static.
Sometimes he hears noises and speaking, and when he does, he’s up and in the room in twenty large and quick steps. Mostly it’s only mumbled nonsense that gets him grinning – and one-time petting at blond hair – but the odd night there’s whimpers and cries. Calling out for his mother, or Iris. Once, Hal hears a name. M-something – Hispanic, it sounds like – maybe someone from the war who never came home.
Those nights he carefully wakes his friend with calm and forceful words. Sometimes he’ll give him a strong nudge to stop him when he’s lashing out. It always takes time before Barry’s really conscious and aware. It’s not pretty, but Hal will sit with him and talk to him until he’s calm. They’ll wait in silence, sometimes they’re hands will touch -- an iota of comfort for their ravaged minds.
When Barry’s eyes shut and his breathing evens out, Hal returns to the couch and settles into his own restless sleep.
LATE NOV 1977
One morning, he’s awoken by a small pinching pain in his side. He throws a hand out in as mean a punch as he can muster, but it just hits the air. Then he’s up. He can’t see anything clearly – everything is blurry from the sleep dust getting in his eyes and making them water. All he sees is earthy green and a figure and he lunges. The figure is out of his reach before he can even notice. Fuck— fuck.
“It’s Barry,” a low and smooth voice says to him, from his right.
He’s grabbing at his waist for his knife – for anything and swears when nothing is there but his underwear. Panicking more, his breath comes in sharp gasps and his hand scrambles before his head drops to the floor when he realizes it's covered in carpet and not grass. There are hands resting over his shoulders, and Barry's reedy but soft voice assuring him that everything's okay. He scoffs sharply, fingers gripping into the carpet as he pushes himself back up and onto the mattress of the pull-out.
Tears run down his cheeks. He didn’t realize he was crying until they drip down onto his bare leg. He jerks back, hand rubbing over his eyes. Barry doesn’t watch. His eyes train away from him, to give him some semblance of privacy until Hal throws himself back down into the sheets. The old Hal would appreciate it—no. The old Hal would have been pissed that Barry was even there to see him like this—vulnerable and scared. Crying like some pansy.
Present Hal is grateful that his friend is here to remind him where he is, even if it’s just by his presence. To have that comforting voice tell him it’s okay. But old habits die hard. He turns away, facing the rusty orange of the couch, and hugs his pillow.
“Thanks,” he says. Barry hums in response, then stands, by the sound of it. It’s quiet, then more shuffling.
“I have to get to work,” he says softly, “Do you – Are you—?”
“I’m fine,” Hal answers shortly, “Don’t be late.”
Silence again, for a long moment, then Barry is stepping away. He grabs his coat and the door closes. Hal turns back to the room, wide-eyed and watching, muffling his sobs in pliant, down feathers.
They go out to a bar that weekend. Hal’s getting cabin fever sitting in that dinky little house all the time, and he thinks Barry needs to loosen his strings a bit. Shake out the heaviness and chill out. The man himself doesn’t think so, and it takes a lot of begging, but eventually, it succeeds.
He tries to go in his sweater vest and lame, straight-legged chinos, but Hal gets him in something a little less embarrassing to be seen around. Jeans that don’t end at his ankles, and a handsome earthy brown sweater he said Iris had bought him, but he never wore.
“I think she’d like you to,” Hal says, “So she could show off how good looking you are to all the jealous ladies.”
Barry looks away, hand rubbing harshly at the back of his head before he nods and they both come down to rest at his hips. The smile he gives Hal is forced, and he feels a bit guilty bringing her up like that, but he figures it’s time to force it. A year later, she needs to be mentioned like that. It all needs to be acknowledged so the pain can pass and she can live beautifully in memory.
He slaps a hand against his friend’s shoulder and leads him out the door and into the night.
And he was right, somewhat. Lots of pretty women ask for dances from Barry, and the man eventually obliges after some goading. Hal makes sure to cover the slinkier, sex-eyed chicks, and leaves Barry with the shy, girl next door types. And after a hot and heavy dance with a black woman with a tall and absolutely groovy afro, that ends in a hand-job and some fingering in the back room, he finds his friend sitting at the bar with a small brunet, smoking.
“Am I interrupting something?” he asks with a smirk as he steps up beside them. The girl shakes her head, straight hair shining in the bar lights as she frowns and stands from the stool.
“I was just leaving,” she replies shortly and walks away. Hal watches her go, curious, before taking her seat. Barry stares at the empty glass in front of him, taking a long drag of his smoke.
“She was nice,” he throws out with a smile that looks more like a grimace.
“What the hell did you do, man?”
His eyebrows suddenly furrow, lips taking a hard turn down as he pulls from the cigarette again, “I’m not interested in them.”
“Doesn’t mean you have to be a jackass,” Hal replies harshly, landing a hard enough punch to Barry’s shoulder. The man rubs at it, blowing the last bit of smoke through his nose as he finally turns to look Hal in the eye, and glares.
“I wasn’t. I just told her I was in the war and she got upset.”
Hal groans, “Man, first of all, quiet the fuck down about that. Secondly, you should know better than to tell anyone . You looking to get your ass kicked?”
Barry waves over the bartender, again, pulling smoke, “This isn’t California, Hal. We’re not a bunch of liberal draft-dodgers.”
The bartender smirks at them, pouring both a couple more large drafts with a hand missing two fingers before giving them an ‘oorah’ and a half-hearted salute. Barry ignores it, grabbing the glass and sipping at it. Hal’s too furious to speak for a moment, holding himself back from punching his friend’s lights out. Instead, he leans in his space, grabbing hard at his shoulder so he can’t back away when he tries.
“You don’t believe that shit do you?” he asks, serious as death, “That—that propaganda they fed us?”
Barry stares at him, more still than a speedster should ever be, eyes hard. And Hal stares back, chest filling with ice.
“Once,” Barry replies finally, tapping ash into the nearby tray, “But not after I went. Not after I met the people. I—”
He stops himself, before taking another long pull and putting the butt out. Then he apologizes and sips at his beer. Hal frowns, pulling in his own glass.
“How many of those have you had?”
Barry shakes his head, “Only my second one, but it doesn’t matter anyway. My metabolism burns up the alcohol so fast, I can't even get buzzed let alone drunk.”
Hal’s eyes widen – his mood suddenly changes and he feels awful for his friend. Alcohol is one of the only ways Hal can deal with—with it . The relaxed and tingling feeling he gets once he takes a large gulp of beer or wine or a good rum and coke. The blacked-out memories and dreamless sleep. Barry can’t have that; he has to live through everything whenever it comes to him. He can’t escape.
Hal studies him for a moment, watches as he takes out another cigarette and lights it up. Then he turns back to his drink and downs a chunk of it. They sit in silence for a long time, watching the other patrons. Girls with long, long hair in groups, laughing together. Hal can see the segregation in the room, now. He notices it more and more everywhere he goes in Missouri. He saw the looks him and that woman got when they danced and left to do their thing. Despite the laws that have passed not too long ago, the whites stay with whites and blacks with blacks, though they share the same room.
Oliver told him that change is a process. It can take a long time for society to progress, but it doesn’t mean they have to wait to take action. Hal wonders if America will ever change really. If different people will be able to live together – really live together, without bigotry or hatred. He wonders if he will be able to live as himself, someday -- without fear, just as he claims he is. His heart sinks, when he thinks of all the people of the world, shit outta luck because of the way they were born. Or where they were born.
He chugs the rest of his beer, noticing the weird look his friend gives him afterward, and the disappointed frown when he lifts a finger for another. He holds the man’s gaze as he takes the first gulp of his next glass. He focuses on blue eyes and soft blond hair -- lips that wrap around a cigarette and cheeks that pull in smoke. Then he turns away, focusing back on the circle of girls that formed, dancing to The Doobie Brothers.
After another little while, when his glass is near done, Barry shifts towards him to speak quietly over the music, “I’d like to go home. If that’s okay.”
Hal nods, not really wanting to stay anymore either, “Yeah, I’m done here.”
He finishes the last bit of his drink, and Barry the last of his cigarette, and they pay their tabs. The walk home is mostly quiet until Hal can think of something to say.
Barry looks to him, eyes tired, “For what?”
“For forcing you to hang with other women,” Hal explains, “I just thought it might help. It’s been a year now, you know?”
Barry looks away, out at the quiet street for a moment, “It’s okay, Hal. I just--”
He pauses, in his words and steps, and Hal stops in front of him. He waits patiently as Barry stares at their shoes and thinks.
“I’m just not interested in them,” Barry says. He looks up afterward, eyes intense and jaw tight. Hal gets the feeling he might be missing something, and it frustrates him to not be able to figure it out. He grits his teeth and blows air through his nose heavily.
“Alright, man,” he says, “No more other chicks.”
Barry frowns, but nods and agrees, “Thank you.”
They make the rest of the way back to his place. Both of them heading to bed without a word. Hal thinks he fucked up tonight, but Barry’s door stays open, so he thinks maybe it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
EARLY DEC 1977
On a Wednesday, after an interview with a construction company not too far away that ended with a job offer, Hal happily returns to Barry’s home. There’s a tall woman there, with carefully styled, wavy blond hair and large glasses. She’s dressed nicely, a cute striped button-up with a large tied bow, and a rust coloured skirt down to her knees. She sits very proper with Barry on the couch that Hal calls his bed, as they share a pot of tea.
They’re speaking quietly when Hal comes in, but stop as soon as they notice him. Both stare at him wide-eyed before Barry stands and puts his mug on the coffee table.
“Hal,” he says, stepping towards him, “I wasn’t expecting you back this early. How was the interview?”
Hal’s eyes dart between him and the girl, who does the same to them. He shrugs after a moment, finally letting them rest on his friend and smiles.
“Decent,” he says, “Start next Monday.”
Barry grins, hands reaching out in excitement, “That’s great!”
“Yeah,” Hal nods, then points behind his friend, “Don’t forget your friend, though, buddy.”
Barry suddenly turns back to the girl, remembering her presence, “Oh, right. Hal this is Patty Spivot, a colleague of mine at the station.”
She stands, and Hal walks over to shake her hand.
“Patty this is Hal Jordan,” Barry finishes as he joins them, “I told you he was staying with me.”
She smiles at Hal, eyes soft. She’s very pretty in a dorky sort of way, with a pert little nose, and eyes magnified by the lenses of her glasses,
“Congratulations on the job. Times are tough these days, you’re lucky to have found something.”
Hal nods as they part, and moves to take a seat on the chair opposite her, “No kidding.”
“He’s been looking for a good while now,” Barry adds from the spot he’s taken at the window. Smoke drifts from his mouth and gets caught in a draft that breezes in. He waves at it ineffectually.
“C’mon, man,” Hal complains, “Not while the lady’s here, huh?”
Barry’s eyes widen and he butches an almost full cigarette with an apology at which Patty only smiles.
“Wow,” she says, then turns to raise an eyebrow at Hal, “Someone actually got you to put one out.”
Hal gives her a wink, and she smiles bigger. One that pushes her cheeks up, cuter than any apple. He feels a tug in his chest and swallows down the frown he feels pushing its way to the surface. Barry sits back down on the couch with her, grabbing at the pot in front of him, and holding it out in an offering.
"You want some?" He asks, "It's just orange pekoe."
Hal shakes his head, and swallows again as he forces a smile, "I'll uh, I'll make myself some coffee. Sorry about interrupting."
He gets up, ignoring the concerned frown Barry gives him and goes to the kitchen. He hears Patty ask a question -- asking what his deal is, no doubt. He sighs and puts on the old, dated percolator.
Patty seems like a nice girl. Someone Barry works with, so likely into science and all that lame stuff he's into. She's fairly pretty, could even be a bombshell if she dressed better and got rid of the specs. He wonders if that's why Barry didn't want to meet other women -- because he already found one. The thought disappoints Hal more than he expected. He didn't expect to be disappointed at all; he wanted Barry to move on. Maybe it's because he already did and never told him. Or maybe because he wasn't there to help him, to make him well enough to take the next step.
The percolator calms, and he lifts it from the range, pouring himself a cup of coffee he doesn't really want. He sips at it anyway, leaning against the counter and letting his vacant stare land on the patterned wallpaper. His eyes trace over floral shapes and lines as he listens to the quiet tones of the conversation in the next room over. His gaze stops at a point where the paper has bubbled a bit, just next to the fridge.
Putting his mug down on the counter behind him, he moves toward the bubble, reaching and pressing at it. He hums and wonders if Barry wants a different colour in the kitchen. Something other than orange. Hal wants something other than orange. Something serene, like soft blue.
He startles, turning quickly to see Barry leaning around the wall to peek inside, "Hm? What's shakin'?"
"Patty's heading out," Barry explains, stepping into the room fully, "I thought maybe you'd like to say goodbye?"
The woman comes around the corner as well, giving him a small wave. He waves back, stiff and awkward.
"It was nice to put a face to the name," she says sweetly, "I'm glad Barry has a friend with him. He really shouldn't be alone."
"Patty," Barry mumbles, rubbing at his neck. She frowns at him.
"I don't care if you're embarrassed," she says, "It's true."
"Well, what about you?" Barry replies. It's not harsh, only tinged with his genuine concern. But her cheeks colour, something that makes Hal wonder, and they stare at each other for a long time. Hal's eyes flit back and forth between them, and again he's frustrated at his ignorance. But he tamps it down. No need to offend Barry's potential girlfriend.
"It was nice to meet you too," he says, jerking the duo out of their staring contest, "And uh, it's nice to know he had someone here while I was gone."
She nods, cheeks still red, and doesn't say anything. Barry, however, catches his gaze, eyebrows pinched up, looking all too much like a sad puppy.
"I should get going," Patty finally says, moving to the entrance again, "I'll see you at work, Barry."
His friend follows her, and he too makes his way to see her off. She grabs her purse from the coat rack, and Barry opens the door for her.
"You should come for dinner sometime soon," Hal says suddenly, for reasons he's not sure of, "You seeing family for the holidays?"
Both Patty and Barry stand stock still, both taken off-guard by the offer. After a beat, Patty’s eyes drop and she shakes her head.
"Uhm, no," she replies, softly.
"Neither are we," Hal says, "You can come here."
Her eyes dart back up to regard him. He smiles genuinely, despite the ache in his chest. There’s a moment where her eyes meet Barry’s, looking to him for confirmation. He nods, and her lips turn up.
"That sounds wonderful." she agrees.
Hal rubs his hands together, grinning, "Decent. I'll make latkes."
She grins at him, giggling. Then she leans in and gives Barry a kiss on the cheek. She waves and walks out the door, Barry shutting it gently behind her.
"She's cute," Hal says after a moment. Barry rests his hands on his hips, face mysterious and strained, and shakes his head.
"She's not interested," he says, then points a harsh finger at him, "Don't you dare try anything."
He walks past Hal, back into the living room and his butched cigarette.
"Me?" Hal says as he follows, "No, man. You."
Barry lights up again, shaking his head as he pulls smoke, "No."
He blows it out, this time not so careful about it being in the house. It bleeds into Hal senses, with it a tingling of annoyance.
"Would you stop that?" he gripes, waving away the acrid air. Barry only frowns, taking a seat on the window sill. Despite his complaining, Hal comes closer, leaning onto the wall next to him.
"It's okay, you know," Barry says, gazing up at him.
Hal squints back, "What?"
"That you weren't here." He explains simply. Shaking his head, Hal looks away and crosses his arms over his chest.
"No, man." He says, "It's not."
"It is!" Barry argues, he grips a hand over Hal's shoulder, getting his eyes back on him. His are sad again, pleading, "Hal you can't put your life on hold for me. You were doing something for yourself that was much more important I am."
"Nothing's more important than you," Hal argues, but there's not a lot of fight in it, "You're my best friend, man. And your dad just fucking died."
The hand on his shoulder presses more firmly, thumb rubbing an indent into the muscle.
"It's okay," Barry repeats. Then he sighs, and puts out his cigarette again, "I won't say I'm fine, but...you're here now."
Their eyes meet, Barry’s full of softness and a sincerity Hal rarely ever sees in anyone else. Sometimes he wonders if that’s just the man’s default expression, if it’s even as true as it seems or if he’s just trying once more to make an unpleasant situation go away. But he nods anyway, after a moment, and pushes away from the warm hand and wall behind him.
"I am here." he says with conviction, placing his hands over his hips and a hard look anywhere but his friend, "What colour do you want in your kitchen?"
Their dinner ends up being on the Friday before Christmas since Barry and Patty always volunteer to cover the holidays at work. A kind gesture from both that lets their coworkers enjoy time with their families. Hal is okay with that, only really celebrating a few days of Hanukkah with Jim usually, and since that was a couple of weeks ago, he’s pretty much got his holiday bug out already.
But he did promise a dinner, and he feels if he can make it nice enough, maybe he can dip out a little bit early and score Barry some points with the cute chick. So he works hard, navigating the kitchen -- around the haphazardly put away wallpaper rolls, glue tubs, and various tools -- to prepare a turkey with the latkes he promised, and vegetables. He hems and haws at dessert before a neighbour brings over a tin of homemade cookies.
Barry comes out of his room, adjusting the collar of his turtleneck. He eyes the container before smiling.
“Mrs. Delmar?” he asks, and Hal shrugs, “Probably. Her cookies are the best.”
He takes the lid off the tin and grabs two. There are still plenty after that, so Hal lets it slide and maybe grabs one himself before stashing it away from quick hands. It’s going to be a good night, he thinks as he takes a minute to stop and breathe. He’ll peace out after dinner, let Barry and Patty get cozy -- maybe head over to The Castro to get cozy himself.
Things don't really play out the way he expected, however. Right before dinner, when discussing the gas crisis, it’s revealed Patty knows of Barry’s secret identity. And she’s smart enough to have made the connection between Green Lantern’s recent appearances and Hal’s presence. It catches him off-guard, that this random woman would know something Barry keeps close to his chest, and yet Hal had never even heard her name before a few weeks ago.
He tries not to take it too personally, but it does distract him enough that he burns the latkes he’s cooking just a bit.
“Shit,” he mutters as he plates that last batch. He takes the plate and sets it on the table with the rest of dinner, before calling the others to sit.
At dinner, Barry eats ten of the pancakes, burnt or no, with two huge portions of turkey before Hal and Patty finish even half of their plates. It just about makes up for the betrayal Hal felt earlier but doesn’t quite take the curiosity out of him.
“So,” he starts, when the previous conversation dies out, “How did you find out about Barry’s powers anyway? He’s pretty good at keeping that stuff on the down-low.”
There’s a pause, where Patty and Barry stop eating and their eyes meet. Hal frowns, stabbing moodily at his plate. The fork scratches at the ceramic, making a horrible noise that pulls Patty’s attention back. She smiles, pink forming at her cheeks.
“Well,” she says, “Iris used to always get the best photos of the Flash-- she was such a great photographer.”
She smiles sadly, poking at her food, and chuckles, “But no one is that good. There had to be a reason why she would know exactly where he’d be, how she’d be able to get the perfect shot, even with his speed. Either they were dancing around each other or they already knew one another.”
She looks up after, a cheeky smile, replacing the bittersweet one, gets pointed at Barry, “And this one always disappeared when Flash appeared. And his excuses were awful!”
Barry shrugs, unoffended, “Well, I did throw you off with the mirror imaging that one time.”
“That was impressive! And you almost got me,” Patty says, grinning, “But I know Iris. She’d get that little smirk when she’d talk about it. And she’d always glance over to you. Quick, but I’d catch it every time.”
They both laugh, and Hal can’t help the upturn of his lips. He feels a bit stupid getting upset. Patty’s a smart chick, it shouldn’t have surprised him that she’d figure it out, working so closely with Barry. It does surprise him that she and Iris were friends -- close enough that she could pick up on Iris’s quirks like that -- but he figures since her and Barry are friends, it’s not out of the question that they met through him.
And Patty’s surprisingly chill, not to mention she has a great sense of humour. Her and Barry get into a pun making competition of sorts, him winning with a well-timed 'chive turkey' joke that leaves them all rolling. Iris loved Barry, and Patty and he have so much in common, it’s easy to see why she’d like her, too.
After dinner, she and Barry decide they’ll cover the dishes since Hal put in so much work, and he gets an inkling that this is where he should book it, but something holds him back. He doesn’t feel like he’s third-wheeling -- like he often did with Oliver and Dinah, or Tom and Tegra. In fact, he’s not really feeling anything between the two at all. Patty seems like a little sister -- could pass for it too, by how much the pair look alike with the matching hair and eyes and geeky charm.
So he settles at the entrance of the kitchen, hanging about until they congregate in the living room. Barry hoards the tin of cookies, as Hal and Patty pick and choose from it once in a while. Coffee and tea are made eventually, and Barry's Pong game is taken out when the conversation slows. He and Hal play for a good two hours, and only because both have played each other enough that they know the other's tricks. Their games last forever.
Eventually, Patty joins in playing, rather than scorekeeping. She beats Barry easily but fails to take on Hal in the championship. But he takes out his ring and gives her the specs to make up for that.
While he’s making fists and the fun shapes she asks for, the phone rings. Barry zooms over to grab it, something that makes Hal’s construct wither a bit with distraction. When he hears it’s Wally, he gets up to join Barry in the kitchen. Patty stays behind on the couch, chin dropping to her chest for a moment before she gets up to sit by the window. Hal offers for her to join them, but she declines with a sad smile.
Barry talks with the kid for a good, long while, letting Hal take the phone for ten minutes to catch up with the new teen. He makes fun of the way Wally’s voice cracks, and asks him about school -- wants to ask about when he’ll be back out with the two of them, but knows better.
Eventually, the kid tells him about his estranged cousin. One from the equally if not more estranged Daniel West, who none of them have seen since the convenience store hold-ups he orchestrated a while back. He laughs when Wally tells him the kid is also named Wallace.
"We call him Wallace, and I'm Wally," the kid says, "To avoid confusion."
"Is there that much confusion?" Hal asks with a grin. Barry matches it from where he leans against the counter.
"Well, he's living with us now, so yeah," Wally explains, a bit late. Hal's eyebrows raise.
"Why's that?" He asks.
"His mom died."
Hal swears and gets scolded by Barry quietly.
"Yeah, I feel real bad for the kid," Wally says before his voice lowers to whisper excitedly, "Oh, and speaking of -- she was black! Can you believe it?"
"No kidding," Hal replies, "You treat him the same as if he were white though, right?"
"Of course, Uncle Hal. Who do you think I am?" Wally replies. Hal can almost hear the eye roll, "I just think it's cool! I have a black cousin!"
Hal chuckles, counting that as a win against the loss that is how his father probably treats the poor boy, "That is pretty cool, kiddo."
For a few more minutes, he listens to the kid tell him about all the stuff he's been doing now that he sort of has a little brother. Hal feels a swell of pride in him, that Wally is forward-thinking, and took it upon himself to look after the child even with their differences. And he's happy that little Wallace has someone at home who cares for him, despite only learning of his existence just now. He's family -- Barry and Wally's family, and Hal loves anyone they love. And Wally seems to love Wallace completely and unconditionally-- plays with him, takes him to the corner store to get comics, reads with him. Hal asks where the boy is, but it's late and Wally lets him know he's sleeping.
Barry watches him on the phone the entire time, leaning into the wall and smiling fondly, as if he could hear both sides of the conversation -- as if Wally was there with them.
When goodbyes are made, and the phone switches hands, Hal makes his way back to be with Patty, who sits alone, staring into the dark, cold street.
“Are you okay?” He asks, “Want another tea?”
She shakes her head no, and returns to watch the light snowfall that has started up. He takes a spot on the arm of the chair she’s in to join her. They sit in what seems like companionable silence, only the sound of Barry's soft voice drifting through the air.
She sighs after a moment, resting her cheek in her hand. Hal glances down at her and places a gentle hand over her shoulder. She looks at the hand, then at him, before she settles her head into his side, wrapping her hands around his knee.
"I miss Iris," she says quietly, a bit choked up. He wraps his arm more tightly around her shoulders and squeezes.
They must have been good friends, he thinks. And it's only the second Christmas all three have had without her. Suddenly, Hal feels a thickness build in his throat. He thinks about how the night could be different, if she was here. She would have cooked, of course. He would show up late, ruffled with a bottle of cheap wine and a cheaper woman on his arm. Patty would be there, maybe Ralph and Sue, and both Wallys. Maybe they'd have a Chinese auction for gifts. There would be gifts because she’d make sure everyone got at least one.
He sniffs, blinks against the wetness forming at the corners of his eyes. He hasn't really noticed it until now, her absence, and he feels like an asshole for it. Too caught up in finding Barry someone new. He misses her. That sweet smile, and her devilish smarts. Her fearlessness, and her willingness to get deep into a story for integrity's sake. He misses her wit and her pretty red hair.
A hand comes to rest over his shoulder and he realizes the sight him and Patty must make. He tries to wipe the tears away before Barry can see them, but it's too late. There's a wet spot on his shirt from where Patty cries as well. Barry's other hand comes to rest on her near Hal's, and they each reminisce over their missing part.
You’ll see a lot of Green Lantern on the news these days in Central City. Talking heads speculating at the reason why he’s taken up so much of the Flash’s territory. Those who are for metahuman heroes regale in their stories of the day -- Green Lantern and Flash Crush Captain Cold! Flash and Green Lantern Grapple with Gorilla Grodd! Are these two superheroes super friends ?
On the other side -- the side that’s against them no matter what clothes they choose to don that day -- speculate at more sinister notions. That the two aren’t friends and this is some sort of turf war. That Green Lantern has been spotted all over the country, and he has an associate in uniform. Is there something bigger out there, unknown to the world? Will there be more and more Lanterns until the Earth has been taken by some fascist, intergalactic dictatorship?
Hal can’t help but laugh at that, because they don’t know jack squat about the Corps and how little they gave a rat’s ass about this backwater planet. Or about the emotional hell he went through with Oliver these past few months. If they only knew how much he was trying to learn and help them despite all the disregard from his fellow corpsmen -- well, maybe they’d say it wasn’t enough. And maybe it wasn’t. But turbulent times these are, and no one person can do more than their own share.
Which is why he feels it’s good to team up with his fellow heroes now and again, as much as he hates being told off when they can’t handle him. If there’s anything being in the military taught him, it’s that you need to stick together, work together, to be stronger than the other . And without Wally around since Iris’s death, Barry could use another hand out there.
But he does feel guilty for not being there for Coast City recently. So, he trucks back for a week, using some saved up dough to rent a dingy motel room a few miles from the strip. There’s not much trouble around his end of the state, other than a bit of drug running and the occasional gang violence. And he’s not too sure about using force on minorities anymore, after his trip -- at the same time, though, he doesn’t want to leave it to the cops. It’s a complicated matter for those who have better sense than him to make the decision, so he decides to leave well enough alone, sticking to the metahuman menaces. That is, until he comes across some teenage kid in an alley, dead with a needle hanging from his elbow. No more than sixteen, he thinks, the same age as Roy. There’s a moment’s pause before he bundles the kid up -- carefully extracting the needle and encasing it in a construct for proper disposal, before taking off for the ER.
It’s hard to wrap his head around. He’s so angry he takes down the opiate operation he knows is on Fourth street, in the basement of some shitty restaurant that should have been shut down years ago. Then, as Hal Jordan, he bursts into the room in the motel that houses a dealer and beats the shit out of him, taking everything he can find and lighting it up so it can’t hurt anyone anymore.
After his head clears he knows he has to blow that pop stand. So he packs up his stuff and returns to Central. He’s upset when he gets there, and Barry can tell right away. He asks what’s wrong and Hal tells him all about Roy and the boy in the alley and what he did that night. He swears at God and breaks the glass of water that was given to him against the wall. Barry only steps forward and grabs him. He holds him tightly and Hal cries.
LATE MAY 1978
Spring bleeds into summer, like the old faded orange and green wallpaper in Barry's living room turns into the new light blue in the kitchen, though the difference is not nearly as stark.
Hal can only tell by the horrible cold becoming unmanageable heat. It’s a Sunday when he suggests they go spend the day at a beach somewhere. He hasn’t been in far too long, and they both have a day off together for the first time in -- a long time. Hal can’t remember when they’ve spent more than an hour or two together without one being drenched in sleep sweat.
Barry agrees easily, which is no surprise. It’s obvious that with his enhanced metabolism, his body has a hard time managing temperature. Most of his time spent at home is in an undershirt, bare feet, and shorts that leave Hal even hotter and more uncomfortable than before.
They decide on Star City and call up Oliver and Dinah to join them, which Barry agrees less easily to -- given the last time the three of them met up, this is no surprise either. But he does enjoy Dinah’s company, she’s much less intense and more open to respectful conversation -- and they seem to have an unspoken understanding with each other -- her and Barry -- that Hal appreciates. At least the three of them can still get along.
He takes a moment, while he's on the phone with Oliver, after the man's five-minute rant about 'Smokey' being with him, to tell him to shove it for the day. All he lets him know is that Barry's father died last August and he better be fucking nice or Hal will tear him a new hole out of which he won't be able to talk. Then he slams the phone back on the hook and meets Barry inside the gas station to pick out snacks and drinks.
It's a beautiful day, as it always is on the west coast. They're early enough to get a semi-private spot near the rock face on the north end of the beach. They're also earlier than Oliver and Dinah, so they set up in enough of a visible spot until they arrive.
Hal changes where he is, not bothered by the couples and girls showing up, but Barry finds a crevice in the rocks that covers him from the shoulders down. He comes out in a t-shirt and swimming shorts, to Hal's disbelief.
"Barry, you dork," he shouts from his spot in the water, "Don’t be a drag, take the shirt off."
Barry shakes his head as he crouches to put his neatly folded clothes in their bag. Not one to be said ‘no’ to, Hal trudges back to shore, and up the sand. When Barry stands back up, Hal grabs at the hem of his shirt and tugs it up. His friend jerks around faster than he can process, and grabs his wrist.
“Hal, what the heck!”
But Hal only tries again, using his free hand. He gets the shirt up just enough to see the beginning of a large red, spidery mark over Barry’s stomach before it’s pushed down again. His eyebrows furrow, while Barry grips both his wrists to keep him from trying again,
“What’s that?” he asks. Barry stares at him, frowning.
“It’s nothing,” he replies. Hal shakes his head in response. They’re still standing together, Barry still has his wrists in his warm grasp as his face burns red.
“Seriously, man,” Hal presses, “What’s going on there? I’ve never seen a scar like that.”
“It’s--” Barry pauses, lips pursing as he thinks, “It’s from the accident.”
It takes a second before Hal realizes what accident Barry is talking about, “Can I see it?”
His wrists are released, fingers unwrapping slowly before Barry fiddles with the hem of his shirt. Eventually, he lifts it, just enough to show the large red mark underneath the light coating of hair, just left of centre on his chest. It spreads out in all directions, spindling lines that branch out tinier and tinier. Hal reaches forward, and touches gently at the skin, bending to take a better look.
“The lightning did this?” he asks, stupefied by the intensity of them.
“Yeah,” Barry replies, “The pattern is called a Lichtenberg figure. Basically, they show the electric discharge as it progressed through my body.”
Hal’s eyes widen. In his own chest, he feels a phantom ache as he imagines the pain Barry must have felt. But he traces the line of one, down to its tail end that just reaches his belly button, admiring the funky pattern.
“I don’t know why you hide them,” he says as he stands back straight, “They’re pretty far out, man.”
Barry still puts the shirt down, and rests his arms across his chest, “Yeah?”
Hal nods, “Totally, dude. Listen, take your shirt off, get some sun. No one’s going to judge you, you’re not the only one with scars.”
He gestures to himself as an example, at the many knicks and knacks over his skin. He carefully turns to hide the large burn over his waist, not wanting to explain it, but Barry doesn’t seem to want to pry anyway. His lips quirk up and after a moment, his shirt comes off -- something that makes pride and something else swell in Hal’s chest.
Someone wolf whistles a ways from them, and they both turn to find Dinah and Oliver making their way down the beach. Hal watches as Barry flushes red again, and grabs the shirt from him before he can put it back on and takes off.
“Hey!” Barry calls, with Dinah’s beautiful laugh sounding loudly through the air. He takes off after Hal, his carefulness to keep his identity a secret making it easier for Hal to avoid him. But eventually, he gives in to his speed and uses a push of it to tackle Hal into an incoming tide. They tustle around a bit, spitting out water and gasping for air as they laugh until Barry gets his now soaking shirt back.
They splash and fight a bit more before they finally truce, and make their way back to their friends. Their new additions pop their umbrella a bit further into the rocks, so the men grab their things and join them. Oliver's hair has grown considerably since Hal's seen him last. It reaches his shoulders now in long, wavy strands. Hal tugs on it when he's close enough.
"Shit dude," Oliver gripes, "I only like that in bed."
Hal winks, already knowing full well how much Oliver likes it and throws himself onto his towel. He slaps at Barry's calf.
"And you said I looked like a dirty hippie," he says with a grin. His friend only raises an eyebrow at Oliver's appearance, knowing better than to make a comment. He instead turns his attention to their bag, producing from it a bottle of sunscreen and a pack of cigarettes. Dinah groans.
"I knew I forgot something!" she says, tapping her forehead, "Barry can I bum some sunscreen, babe?"
He nods and hands the bottle over. But she doesn't take it, instead turning her back to him.
"Can you help me," she says over her shoulder. Hal watches in interest, eyes darting between her and Oliver, who pays no mind to the flirtatious tone in her voice.
Barry smiles, bright-eyed and genuine, "Sure, if you'll get me too."
She grins and nods, letting him pour out the lotion carefully onto her shoulders and rub it in around the thin straps of her bikini top. Hal watches his hands run smoothly over her pale skin, down the curve of her back to the point just above her ass. His eyes flick to meet hers, and she winks at him, smirking behind a shoulder.
"Ok, I think you're all covered," Barry says and slaps playfully at her side. She squeaks, turning to shove him back, then maneuvering him to sit.
As this happens, Hal eyes Oliver. The man reacts nothing like Hal would expect from him. He watches his girl, smiling when she smiles, laughing when she does -- paying no mind to her hands all over a man with whom he can barely hold a civil conversation. But then, he rolls over to their bag and takes out a small pouch. Getting up, he moves over to sit by Hal, hiding the bag between them. He keeps his eyes on the chatting pair on Hal’s other side, sticking his fingers into the bag and producing a small piece of brownie.
He holds it out to Hal, “Care to partake?”
Hal waves it off, knowing better than to get high when he’s with Barry. Oliver shrugs and pops the piece into his mouth, chewing happily. They watch together as Dinah massages over Barry’s shoulders a few more times before letting them rest around him, her breasts pressed into his back. He doesn’t seem to mind, reaching to grab the small pack beside him to pull out a smoke. He lights up and pulls, only to have it snatched away by Dinah, who takes a puff herself. He frowns.
“You shouldn’t smoke,” he scolds. She blows the smoke out, slow and languid, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Excuse me, ash face?” she says, then giggles. He holds back his own smile.
“Really,” he says, “It won’t hurt me. It’ll still hurt you.”
She moves to make herself comfortable in his lap, taking another drag, “I have lungs of steel, Barry baby. You want me to show you?”
“No, thank you,” he replies, taking another cigarette out for himself.
Hal huffs. If it were him and Dinah was crawling over him like that, he’d have her on her back, giving him a show of that voice. He turns his attention back to his other friend, splayed out beside him, soaking rays as he waits for the high to hit.
“How’s Roy,” he asks quietly, so only they can hear. Oliver’s lips twist and he doesn’t answer, so Hal leaves it. After a few boring moments of watching the waves and listening to dull conversation, he gets up.
“Bar, can I rent a surfboard?”
Barry pauses his talk with Dinah, reaching for their bag, “Did you not bring your wallet?”
“I’m short,” Hal replies, arms crossing.
“You look pretty tall from here,” Barry comments, before producing a fiver from his own wallet, smiling as he hands it to Hal, “Should be enough for the day.”
Hal takes it, grinning, “Aw thanks pop, that’s real swell.”
He briefly wonders if he should split the money and rent one for himself and another for Dinah or Ollie, but figures he’ll let them get their own. As much as Oliver likes to think of himself as a Robin Hood figure, he still privileges from the Queen money. Barry and he don’t have much, Hal’s surprised he was given this much just for a surfboard. For a moment, he thinks about not spending it. But Barry would have said no if he couldn’t afford it, wouldn’t he?
He gets the board, thinking maybe he can let the man gets some fun out of it later. He’ll teach him how to surf.
After he rides a few waves, he comes back in from the water. Dinah seems to have exhausted her wiles on Barry, and is now taking in the sun on her own towel. Barry lies with a cigarette and a book, and Oliver is still in the same position as when Hal first left.
“Dude,” he says, kicking at Oliver’s leg. The man takes a moment before he’s grinning big, and lifting his head.
“Brother!” he says jovially, "Carve some turkeys?"
Hal raises an eyebrow as the man laughs at the lame joke, "Nah, dude. Lotta ankle-busters today."
Oliver nods, "Mushburgers. Mind if I take it out? Might just dick drag a bit."
Hal shrugs, lifting the board to stick it into the sand, "Be my guest, brother."
He takes the man's spot as Oliver stands and stumbles over to the board, hefting it over his head and taking off in a crooked sprint to the water. Barry sits up, tucking his book behind him and watches as Oliver throws the board into the water and climbs on it recklessly.
"If he breaks that--" he's up and making his way to the water before Hal can even open his mouth. Wading in, he follows Oliver as the man glides carelessly over a small lump of a wave. Hal can hear them jiving, loud and harsh words, but it's nothing he's worried about. Especially since it hasn't caught Dinah's attention at all.
He rolls over to her, matching her position on his stomach, and bumping his foot against her lower leg when he settles in beside her. She turns her head, humming in question.
"Got a bit of speedster fever?" He asks with a toothy grin. She smiles herself, peeking an eye open.
"So what if I do?" she says, soft and teasing. Hal swallows, his gentle ribbing sinking down to form something else, dark and ugly, in his chest. Sure, he noticed her flirting and innuendo, but he didn't think it was more than fun. The idea was so out there, that she'd think --
"He wouldn't go for that," he mutters, turning his head away. Beside him, Dinah shifts raising up onto her arms.
"I dunno," she says, "I think he's freakier than he lets on."
Hal scoffs, "He's as straight and narrow as Ollie's arrows."
"Ollie's arrow isn't always so straight and narrow." Dinah parrots with a sly twist to her lips. She cocks an eyebrow at him, and he dips his head with a laugh.
"Yeah, yeah. I know," he sighs, "Barry's not that guy, though."
Dinah shrugs, and turns her head back to look at the water, "Maybe so, but it's not stopping anything."
There's something in her tone that makes Hal turn as well. He searches for their friends, eventually having to roll onto his back to see them. That knot in his chest tightens and grows uglier when he does.
Oliver has Barry on the surfboard in the sand, seemingly showing him a basic stance. He steadies him, hands around his ribs, when the board wobbles. Then one is sliding to touch the small of his back, while the other comes to twist and turn Barry's body the way he wants. Eventually, one goes to wrap around his leg, guiding it to another spot on the board. It's when he guides Barry to squat down, hands gripping around his hips and pulling back that Hal jumps up and storms over.
"What're you doing, man?" he calls, barely able to reign in his tone. The two men whip their heads over to him, and Barry straightens, Oliver's hold on him slipping off and he steps away from the board.
"Ollie was just showing me how to stand on the board," he explains innocently. Genuinely. Hal huffs through his nose, what a geek .
"Don't take lessons from this jellyhead," Hal says, jutting a thumb to the man in question. Oliver gapes at him, before glaring.
Hal ignores him, pulling Barry's arm to get him back to the board. He ignores the man's protests as well.
"All this guy does is dick drag and wipeout," Hal explains, motioning for Barry to lie on the board, "Not the type of dude you want teaching you."
"Fuck you," Oliver snaps, "I saw you eat shit twice today."
Hal catches Barry's eyes as the man moves to lie on his stomach. His lips twist in an unamused frown.
"I didn't even ask to be taught," he mumbles under his breath. For some reason that gets Hal even more frustrated. He stands up sharply and gets in Ollie's face.
"I'll make you eat shit if you don't back off," he growls at him. Oliver doesn't back down though. They're nose to nose, itching for that first hit. Oliver's eyes are glazed and red, his hair wild. The situation reminds him of when they were on the road, all those times they'd snap and scuffle, and the few times it turned into a rough rub n tug in the back of their truck. It's not the same now, hasn't been since their last night together, with Dinah. When he got up halfway through and never came back and wasn't missed.
A hand comes to rest on his shoulder, and he realizes Oliver's eyes aren't on him anymore, but on the small, beautiful woman between them. He himself turns to find his own beauty -- slicked back hair, sun reflecting off the tip of a pale nose, soft frown over pink lips -- and realizes that's not his either.
"Sorry," he says, without provocation. He turns back to the couple, "Sorry, I'm just -- I'm hungry."
Oliver smiles, big and goofy, "Aw, the munchies! Let's go get some burgers."
"Oh," Barry says, eyes turning a bit dreamy, "Yeah, let's go."
That’s all it takes to turn Hal’s mood around. The corners of his lips turn up as he flings an arm around Barry’s shoulders. They make their way to their things, stowing them in a hidden alcove and head to the burger stand not too far away. Oliver orders almost as much as Barry does, and they decide to share the whole lot of food. Hal steals a bite of Barry’s animal burger, a move that surprisingly gets him another bite, this time fed to him by hand with a smile. He returns it, cheeks full and ignores Dinah’s knowing eyes.
Wally's hair is a deeper red than the last time he's seen him. It's one of many changes Hal notices when the young man appears on Barry's doorstep one hot, sunny evening. He's got a child hanging off of him. A small, black boy with matching freckles and hair that hints at auburn.
Barry's not home at the time, but Hal lets the two in regardless, leading them to sit on the couch. He takes a seat on the coffee table opposite them, leaning forward onto his knees and smiling at the small boy.
"You must be Wallace," he says gently and holds out a hand. The boy flinches when he does it, and he shoves down the anger that flares at the man he knows caused that, "It's alright, just a handshake buddy."
It takes a moment, but Hal keeps the hand out with a smile. Eventually, the boy grabs his two forefingers, moves them up and down quickly. Hal grins, and Wallace brings a hand up, chewing on his finger and smiling around it.
When he turns back to Wally, the kid is watching the two with an upturned lip. Hal taps at his knee with the back of his hand, "What brings you here, Red?"
The kid’s eyes dart away, to a point on the far wall and he shrugs a shoulder, "Wanted to see Uncle Barry."
"Well, he was supposed to be home a half-hour ago, so he should be here soon," Hal replies simply, before turning back to Wallace, "You know what is here though? A container of his chocolate chip cookies."
Wallace's eyes widen, and he stops chewing his finger to sit up, "Uncle Barry says cookies are dessert only."
Hal grins, “I don’t see Uncle Barry here, do you?”
And Wallace shakes his head, bouncing up and out of his seat when Hal stands. He leads the boy to the kitchen, Wally following not too far behind. Hal grabs the jar that sits on a high shelf, opening it and placing a few cookies on the counter. He watches as Wally eyes the new rolls of wallpaper on the floor and the half-finished job in Barry’s dining area. He says a quiet ‘thank you’ and reminds Wallace to do the same when Hal hands them the cookies and cups of milk.
When they head back to the living room, Hal gets the box of toys he knows Barry has in the front closet. He puts it beside Wallace, and let the boy go nuts with everything he finds. Crayons are eventually pulled out and he grabs a pile of scrap paper off of Barry’s desk, sitting on the floor and getting Wally to join them in drawing. The kid slides off the couch to sit on his knees, trying his best to hide a wince when they touch. He lets out a small grunt but smiles when Hal raises an eyebrow.
“Growing pains,” he says, not knowing Hal is all too aware of what’s really going on. He doesn’t bring it up, letting the kid come to trust him with that in his own time, and not wanting to make either boy upset during one of the only places they can feel at ease.
Instead, he draws a large frog face and cuts in into a mask for himself. Wally laughs, and Wallace begs for him to make him a cheetah mask. When Hal asks why, the boy explains how Wally told him that’s the fastest animal alive, and he wants to be fast. Hal asks him about the Flash, and the boy lights up, talking a mile a minute about the hero and his new adventures with Green Lantern.
“But I miss Kid Flash,” Wallace says eventually, with a pout, “Where’d he go?”
Hal tries to meet Wally’s eyes, but the kid’s gaze stays resolutely on the paper he scribbling on, “I don’t know, kiddo. But I’m sure he’ll be back.”
It’s then that the front door opens. Wallace shouts and is up and rushing down the hall to meet his uncle.
Wally laughs, and gets up too, meeting Barry at the entrance to the room. The man is rumpled, bow-tie and shirt collar half undone. He has Wallace on his hip and hugs Wally into his side when he sees him. He eyes the table where Hal sits, the corner of his lips turning up at the mess of drawings scattered, and the mask still tied over Hal’s head.
“You guys hungry?”
He orders two large pizzas for the group. Hal gets to laugh at Wallace’s innocent amazement at how much his uncle and cousin can eat in one sitting. He tries to keep up with Barry, failing after five pieces, but Wallace pats him on the arm, with an all too serious expression, and tells him he did alright, calling him Uncle Hal like Wally does.
He’s a good kid -- smart and eager. When Barry is around he’s playful and expressive. Despite the big brown eyes and dark skin, Hal sees a lot of Wally in him. It breaks his heart to know what both of them have to go home to every day.
Later on, after Barry helps Wally with a bit of his homework, and Hal keeps Wallace busy playing Store and Airplane -- when the boy is half asleep on him as they catch the tail end of Happy Days -- Barry ushers the two to bed. He lets them have the bedroom, and gets Wally to read Wallace a story by themselves.
“They need time together,” he explains quietly when he returns, “Without-- them .”
Hal nods, and stands to pull out the bed from the couch, “What do you think happened?”
“Hard to say,” Barry replies as he searches the closet for clean blankets, “Wally comes over with or without trouble.”
He tosses the pillow covers to Hal and starts on changing the fitted sheet over the thin mattress. Hal shucks the pillows in, thinking about when Wally sat on the floor with them. Shifting and grunting in pain once in a while, when he’d twist his torso.
“Something happened,” he says, shaking his head and tossing the pillows on the bed. He swears under his breath and punches at them roughly to fluff them. Barry foregoes the blanket he brought for a couple of thin sheets for each of them. Sad eyes meet Hal’s when the bed is finally ready for them.
They ready themselves for sleep, Barry changing into an undershirt and shorts, while Hal just undresses down to his boxers. They climb into bed and fall asleep on opposite sides.
A small voice wakes Hal from his sleep. He’s warm and sweating a bit, his face pressed into Barry’s side, arm flung over him. It takes a second for his eyes to adjust to seeing the tiny figure in front of him. Shifting himself to rest on his elbow, he musters a smile.
“Wallace,” he says, grumbling and thick, “What’s shakin’, buddy?”
The boy doddles, rocking back and forth, fingers at his mouth, “I had a bad dream.”
“Aw, kiddo,” Hal replies, pushing himself up further, “You alright?”
He hears a sob, followed by a sniffle and his heart sinks, “I’m scared.”
There are a few more sobs, and Hal leans over, reaching to pull the boy onto the bed. He’s got the kid’s hand in his own when suddenly the wind is knocked out of him. He’s down on the mattress, getting choked out as Barry's strong figure looms above him.
"Keep your hands off of him," he grumbles, dark and menacing as his fist sparks and vibrates. There’s a terrified scream as it happens, and small but loud footsteps run back to the bedroom.
The hand around Hal's neck is gone after another instant. It’s dark but despite this, Hal knows his vision was going -- he gasps for air when he can finally get it. And when he can sit up without getting dizzy, he does, searching the room. Barry’s at the wall near the window, his face is shadowed but Hal can hear his laboured breathing. He holds a hand up, slowly getting out of bed.
“I’m okay,” he can barely say, “I’m gonna go check on the kid. Stay here.”
If Barry responds, Hal doesn’t hear or see it. He heads to the bedroom, knocking gently and opening the door to soft whimpers. The light is on, and Wally is cradling Wallace in his arms, shushing him, and petting his hair. Hal approaches slowly, sitting down beside the boys. He meets Wally’s tired eyes and reaches to rest his fingers softly over dark skin.
“Wallace,” he says in a whisper, “It’s okay, buddy.”
Wallace looks at him, deep brown eyes red and watery, lip pouted out and wet, “Why did Uncle Barry hurt you?”
Hal swallows, the remaining pain in his throat flaring slightly, “He didn’t mean to, kid.”
He sighs, not knowing what to say that won’t make their situation worse. Wally steps in -- which in itself is both surprising and unsurprising. It’s amazing how much he matured since the last time Hal’s seen him. He feels proud of him, but at the same time, it hurts to know that it’s not necessarily by choice.
“Uncle Barry was scared,” Wally explains simply. Hal thinks for a moment and nods.
“He was,” he agrees, “Your Uncle Barry was having a bad dream, too. And he thought he was still in his dream.”
Wallace looks to both of them, “He was scared?”
“Yeah, buddy. Grown-ups get scared too,” Hal says, thumbing gently at the boy’s arm, “You know your Uncle Barry would never hurt anyone on purpose.”
“Uncle Hal is right,” Wally adds, “Uncle Barry is safe. Right?”
Hal watches Wallace as the boy gazes at his cousin, and nods, “Uncle Barry is safe.”
Then he’s wiggling out of Wally’s lap and back onto the bed. Hal tucks him back in and asks if Wally is okay to handle it.
“I don’t think your uncle will be able to right now,” Hal says truthfully.
Wally shuffles closer to his cousin, face serious. The shadows under his eyes lends a much older look to him than the thirteen years he has on him, “Not my first rodeo.”
Hal smiles sadly, rubbing his hair before turning back to the smaller boy again, “I’m okay, kiddo. Your Uncle Barry is safe.”
Wallace stares back at him, eyes red and nods, before shoving a corner of the sheet into his mouth and chewing. Hal rubs his hair, and gives Wally another pat for good measure, and leaves. After he shuts the door behind him, he stops, silent and listening to the muffled words of comfort Wally gives to his cousin.
The small side table lamp is on when he comes back to the living room. Barry's sat at the foot of the bed, slumped over himself with a lit cigarette hanging limp from his fingers. When Hal appears he looks up, darting forward in a flash to him. Hal lets him touch at his neck, examining him. His throat clicks audibly as his frown deepens.
"I'm so sorry, Hal." He says, low and sleep rasped.
Hal shakes his head, and leads the man back to sit on the bed, "It's okay. Not like I haven't done the same to you."
Barry slumps next to him, "No. I could have--"
It's almost unnoticeable, but his breath hitches. Hal looks over in time to see his eyes widen, hands gripping hard onto his knees. Hal quickly takes the burning cigarette away, butching it on the side table ashtray before it burns a hole in something.
"Wallace," Barry breathes, "I could have--oh god ."
His breathing picks up. Hal's hand is over his before he can think, fingers curling over Barry's and holding hard. He attempts to shush him as he hyperventilates, holding firmly to the back of his neck and rubbing. Barry’s eyes eventually squeeze shut and a sob escapes him.
“I’m so sorry,” he chokes, “I didn’t want to--I wouldn’t--”
Hal pulls him in, hanging on tight as Barry’s arms and body falls limp into his chest, “I know.”
Over the next long while, Hal holds him while he sobs, repeating over and over that it’s not Barry’s fault. That he’s not a bad person. Barry tells him that there’s something wrong with him, with his mind. He mumbles into the skin of Hal’s neck that he’s dangerous, that he’ll end up hurting someone someday. And Hal calls him a turkey, tells him he’s not making any sense because no one would ever talk that way about Barry Allen. It’s not much but the self-effacing words stop coming, and he counts that as a win.
Barry’s breathing calms, but they don’t move from where they’re sitting. And Hal doesn’t mind, he’ll sit like this all night if Barry wants, as long as the man stops feeling so tattered. He’s rubbing his hand soothingly, up and down Barry’s back, when movement from the corner of his eye catches his attention.
He turns to look down the hall at the bedroom and squints at the shape of a gangly teen peering out from a crack in the door. In an instant, the door is shut again, and he wonders if he saw it at all.
The next morning at breakfast, Barry is awkwardly quiet as he makes pancakes for the boys. Hal busies himself, showering and putting on some old clothes to go to work before he helps out, seating Wallace on a stack of books at the table, and getting juice and milk poured for everyone. He sits with the two boys when he’s done, waiting for Barry to bring them their stacks.
Wally watches him the entire time, eyes flitting and examining his movements. Hal wonders if he’s worried about him, given the small amount of bruising that litters his neck this morning. He gives the kid a grin, and the kid smiles back--barely there and awkward. Hal moves his attention to Wallace, who steadily colours in a spare notebook Barry pulled out for him.
“Hey kid,” he says quietly to Wally, eyes flitting over for a moment to see if he’s paying attention, “How much do you know about your uncle’s --well, his dreams.”
Wally shrugs, picking at a spot on the table, “Aunt Iris told me about them. He talks in his sleep. She didn’t really say much at the time, but I know they make him...buggy.”
“Right,” Hal replies.
“The sleep talking has gotten worse since she--” Wally pauses, biting his lip and looking away. He busies himself, rolling some strayed crayons back toward his cousin. Hal doesn't push, lets the kid think.
"A girl at school says a lot of people who were in the war are like that," Wally says after a moment, "Her dad is a psychiatrist--a psychologist?--something like that. I guess he's been researching vets and stuff."
He looks back up at Hal, considering, "Do you get dreams?"
Hal bites at the inside of his lip, watching Wallace colour, "Sometimes."
He flits his eyes back to Wally, to gauge his expression. The kid only stares into space, finger tapping at an intense speed. There's something up, and Hal wants to ask but isn't sure if he should. Then he can’t really, since Barry enters the room with breakfast and Wally plasters on a fake smile.
When the plates are set down, Barry takes a second to put the notebook Wallace has aside. He pulls the chair from the table a touch, moving to squat next to it, meeting the kid at his own level.
"Wallace," he says, making sure the boy is paying attention, "Last night--I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
Wallace glances briefly toward Hal, and kicks his feet out, "Uncle Hal told me you were scared."
Barry looks over as well, "He did?"
Hal freezes, unsure of himself, and gives a shrug.
"He said you had a nightmare, too,” Wallace replies, nodding, “And that's why you were scared."
Barry considers Hal then, for a moment, before he speaks, turning back to Wallace, "He's right. I had a very bad dream, and I was scared."
Wallace tilts his head, "You thought he was the monster?"
"I did." Barry replies with a chuckle, before sobering again, "I thought he was going to hurt you."
"Hal won't hurt me," Wallace says, shaking his head and scoffing at the very idea. Barry lets himself smile too, and Hal feels his chest warm as Wally gives him a grin of his own.
"You're right, he won't." Barry says, "It was my mistake. A bad mistake, and I'm sorry."
Wallace nods, accepting the apology, "Did you say sorry to Hal?"
"Yeah kid, last night. Don't worry about it." Hal jumps in, rubbing at the kid's hair. Wallace giggles and wriggles away, almost falling from the books before Barry steadies him.
"Uncle Rudy never says sorry," Wallace says as he’s pushed back to the table. He grabs for his fork while the rest of them freeze.
"Your uncle--" Barry says, gripping the back of the chair, "You always say sorry for your mistakes, Wallace. Okay? And you never hurt someone on purpose."
He leans over, lightly pushing Wallace’s head back so the boy is looking at him. Wallace nods firmly.
"Okay, Uncle Barry."
"Promise?" Barry prompts.
With that Barry moves to take his seat opposite Wallace. The boy manages to maneuver his fork by himself to cut the pancakes, opening wide to take a bite. Hal can’t help his grin, and he tucks into his own breakfast.
"And you can always come to me if you're hurt or scared." Barry adds, "If you have a nightmare or any other problem."
He makes eye contact with both boys. The two of them nod, Wally doing so vigorously, with a mouthful of pancakes.
"Can I go to Hal too?" Wallace asks.
"Of course, kiddo," Hal says. The kid smiles, nodding before it strays off into a rhythm. He takes another bite of his pancakes and moves back and forth in his seat, grooving to an unheard song. Hal laughs and joins in, and Wally covers his eyes in embarrassment before Barry gets up and puts on an old James Brown record so they don’t look like a couple of space-cadets.
After breakfast, Hal and Wally clean up, allowing Barry time to get ready for work himself. The music plays steadily -- Wallace taking up the living room floor to dance. When Barry comes through the kitchen to grab his lunch from the fridge, Hal hip bumps him a few times. Barry, not the dancing type, avoids returning it as best he can, but Hal doesn’t let up. Eventually, he chases him around the room, ass first, to land as many bumps to Barry’s hips as he can.
Barry laughs the entire time, despite his harsh reprimands. He pushes at him when he’s cornered behind the table and kicks him in the ass when he won’t let up. All the while, Wally’s eyes follow the pair, brows furrowed, asking a silent question in his mind.
The fun stops when a harsh knocking sounds at the door. Wallace jumps in his spot, and Barry rushes to turn off the music. It takes a moment for Hal to realize why Wally takes to hiding in the kitchen, but when he hears the low, booming voice asking where the boys are, he understands.
Barry deals with Rudy as the man storms in and demands that Wallace come to him right away. It takes everything in Hal not to take him outside when he hears the boy whimper and sees the look of fear on Wally’s face. He puts on his reflective vest, and grabs his hardhat when he walks, fast and tall, into the living room.
The man looks shocked to see him, though the look quickly turns into a sneer. He’s holding tightly to Wallace’s arm. Hard enough that it’s turning the skin around his knuckles white, and Hal’s stomach in a sick way. Barry is right by the two, stiff enough that he could be vibrating. He calls for Wally to come to his father, and the kid skulks quietly into the room.
“C’mere, boy,” Rudy grunts, “You’re in deep shit, mister.”
“Language.” Barry barks. Rudy turns to him, finally letting go of Wallace to get into Barry’s face. The kid runs to his cousin, and Hal makes his way over to the two as well, on edge and ready for anything to go down.
“I don’t need a man like you telling me how to act around my family,” Rudy says through gritted teeth, “Don’t think I don’t know your habits. They’re no safer here than on the streets.”
Hal steps forward, rage flaring, but Barry keeps his cool. His arms cross over his chest, and even though he’s a good few inches shorter than Rudy he stands tall and unafraid. As he should be, Hal thinks.
“I could say the same about you,” Barry says, low and challenging. Rudy looks about ready to drop the gloves but seems to remember himself, and the profession of the man in front of him. Instead, he turns, intending to grab the boys but stopping when he sees Hal between him and them. There’s a beat where he takes a long hard look at Hal’s getup, and the state of his neck, and scoffs, muttering under his breath.
“Boys,” he grunts, “Let’s go. Move it.”
They do as they’re told, Wally half dragging a crying Wallace by the arm out the door before he has to pick him up. It kills Hal to see them going, and he can only imagine how Barry feels right now, watching that man take those innocent, good kids back to the wretched place they call home.
Rudy walks out and Barry slams the door not a second later. Then he’s over to the windows and looking out onto the street. Hal waits and watches him watch them. After a few minutes, he hears tires squealing and Barry’s head hangs between his shoulders. Hal walks over to him, placing a hand over his shoulder, not knowing what to do or say to make either feel better about what they just had to do.
When he has days off, Hal works on removing the old wallpaper around the apartment, and replacing it with the various blue tones Barry chose for each room and area. The kitchen is a light, sky colour. The dining a more royal tone. The living room will be a mix of both, spun in paisley patterns, with splatters of pinks and yellows mixed in to create something fun and bright. Hal and the salesman thought it was ugly as all hell, but Barry loved it. And Hal won’t admit it, but there was no saying 'no' to the excited look on that face when the man found it.
Today he starts setting up to work. First focusing on moving the shelves and furniture to the centre of the room. The bookshelves are the hardest part, seeing as they're anchored to the walls in various, hard to reach places. Not to mention Hal took the time to remove the books, carefully placing them on the table in the order they were on the shelves. But once he has it done, there's only the armchairs, side table, and the record player and TV. Then the couch.
He lets out a long sigh, and makes his way to the heavy piece of furniture, dragging one side away from the wall, then walking over to grab the other and do the same. It's dusty behind it, clumps of bunnies scrambling across the floor to find their hiding spot again. He spots a couple of pencils and a paper with a pink drawing on it, and the corner of a magazine. He picks up the stray items, piling them into his fist. Seeing the drawing more closely, he can tell it’s one Wallace did -- of Barry and Iris, with Wally and Wallace himself, and another woman, but Hal can’t tell whom. He smiles and places it on the coffee table for safekeeping, before going back and grabbing the magazine.
The face he makes when he sees the cover is one of shock, not from the image, but the name he recognizes all too well. An issue of Blueboy -- older, their special issue on gay pro athletes that Hal distinctly remembers picking up. An insight into the lifestyle, but more just another rag to add to his pile. But he can’t for the life of him understand why it might be here, hidden under the couch in his best friend’s living room, almost untouched by dust.
Maybe he didn't buy it. Maybe it was a gag gift. From Ralph or someone else. He wouldn't put it past the guy, and he can't blame him if he did -- the look on Barry's face would be worth the ones you get purchasing the thing. But then why is it still here? Granted, he found it under the couch with a drawing that was fairly old at this point. He chalks it up to the only plausible explanation he can think of that doesn't make his heart race and his palms sweat.
Throwing it onto the couch, he forgets about it for a while, taping down the tarp to protect the carpeting. When he moves to grab his putty knife to pull off the top layer, it catches his eye again. He tells himself it was a prank. Ralph, Sue and Iris teamed up to make Barry flustered and stuttery with a shocking, silly, completely stupid joke.
Hal imagines it as he gets to work, pulling the paper off in large chunks. Maybe it was Barry's birthday, the two couples get together for dinner and chatting. After the cake is eaten, they have tea and coffee and give presents. Iris gets him something sweet, and Ralph takes out a poorly wrapped gift. Barry smiles politely at the thought and unwraps his surprise. His face goes red as a beet when he realizes and his eyes dart around the room at the three, who laugh and laugh and laugh. How funny! Being a homosexual. What a laugh! Men with men. How queer .
He digs a bit too hard at the wall with the knife, causing a deep scratch. Swearing, he tosses the blade to the ground and runs his fingers over the divot. Luckily Barry planned for such a problem, grabbing a small tub of plaster with his wallpaper. Hal makes a note to fill the hole once he gets the backing off and gets back to work.
It takes him a long time. Almost three hours to get the whole room unpapered. When Barry finally gets home, he's taking a well-deserved break, sitting on the couch about a foot away from the TV in the centre of the room, flipping through the channels and eating a hastily put together bologna sandwich.
Barry's eyes roam the room, taking in the mess, but he smiles.
"All that hard work on your day off," he says.
Shrugging, Hal speaks around a bite of bread and meat, "Needed to get done."
Barry nods, agreeing, before he moves to the dining area to put down his briefcase and shuck off his blazer. Then he moves behind the couch to see what's on, and Hal glances briefly at fingers tugging off a bow-tie. He finds a channel playing a variety show -- a woman with two poodles doing tricks. Classic. He laughs, throwing a hand back to pat at Barry's stomach, but the man doesn't respond. Hal glances back again. His friend stands stock still, staring hard at a point in front of him, his hand paused with the tie hanging limp from his fingers. Hal looks back to where he stares and sees the magazine, still in the spot he put it hours earlier.
"Oh," he says, "Yeah, I found that under your couch."
He looks back again and sees the Barry from his daydream. Red-faced, eyes flitting, choking on his words. He squints, wondering at the reaction. Eventually, Barry finally speaks.
"Th-that was um, a gift."
Then he cringes after, "I mean--"
"A gag." Hal supplies for him, helping him out.
Barry nods, smile strained. He shoves his bow-tie into his pants pocket before pulling out his pack and lighting up. He’s still beet red, but tries hard to act casual, rolling up his sleeves and generally fidgeting around the room. He smokes, and steps around, running fingers over the plaster. Hal watches him carefully, not expecting the reaction the magazine received. If it were the night it was ‘given’ to him, it would be different. But Barry knows about it, it’s not the first time he’s seen it. Maybe he thought it was gone for good, but even in that case, the severity of his reaction is strange.
“You ok, dude?” Hal asks, “You’re acting all freaky deeky.”
Barry pulls the last of his cigarette and stubs it out, then takes out another one, “Fine. Just a long day. Blood typing for that homicide on Lindell Avenue. Couldn’t get the type so I figure the sample was contaminated. Fingerprint pulling for a burglary. And there was a meeting about some new training we need to attend for microscopy and serology. Which, I don’t need, but how am I supposed to explain how I learned new techniques from Batman and Gotham PD?”
He takes a long drag, tilting his head back and blowing the smoke out in a long sigh. His toe taps on the ground in a speedy rhythm. His eyes keep darting to the magazine and back to the floor. He’s giving Hal the heebie-jeebies with his restlessness, and he says as much.
Barry swallows, “Sorry. I just -- I need to go for a run. We can go to the diner after? No need to make more of a mess in here.”
Hal nods, and in a split second, the other man is zooming into the bedroom then out the door. Not knowing how long his friend will be, Hal decides he should probably shower and get dressed as soon as possible. As he moves to the bathroom, he grabs the magazine and flips through it, past articles and sultry looks to the spread he knows far too well. The blonde that’s sprawled, legs wide open and bare as the day he was born, over an armchair. A bit too buff, hair a bit too long, but with a nice dick and a good amount of body hair. He has a football dangling from his hand and high socks with cleats in a half-assed attempt to fit into the theme of the issue.
He starts the shower as he looks at the image, and reaches down to rub himself through his jeans. Heat pools there, tingling low in his abdomen. The magazine is tossed on the floor, and he takes his jeans off, relieving his half-hard dick from its confines. When he’s undressed completely, he takes one last look at the spread before stepping into the shower.
As he washes, he closes his eyes and thinks about the image. The man is featureless, save for the body hair and the length of his dick. Eventually, a scar appears over his chest and stomach, and his body leans out. His neck becomes a bit skinnier and longer, with an adams apple that protrudes. His hair lightens a bit and becomes shorter. Lidded brown eyes turn blue.
He takes himself in his hand and makes quick work of it. Starting a fast rhythm and jerking consistently until he’s biting into his hand to cover a moan as he spurts into the stream of water. And he doesn’t have much time to come down, because he hears the front door over the water, signalling the return of his friend. So he washes his hair quickly and gets out.
The magazine is thrown into the cupboard under the sink, and he pulls on his underwear again before he leaves the bathroom, passing a sweaty and breathless speedster as he takes his turn. Hal turns to watch him disappear into the bathroom, surprised at the exertion the man took during his run. But he doesn’t mention it. Let’s the man blow off steam the way he needs to, because Hal knows what it’s like, and knows it’s not something anyone wants to be confronted with. So he dresses and waits, and they leave the house in silence.
The walk to the diner is long and quiet. Barry puffs along the way. Acrid smoke drifts into the air around them hurriedly with every drag he takes and spits out, and lingers in a haze around their heads.
They take the booth at the far corner, brightly lit and dated with its cherry red vinyl seats and aluminum trim. The waitress is a familiar one, equally old and well worn, and asks how the two are doing with a smoke roughened, but sweet, voice before taking their drink order. She moseys away, leaving the two to listen to the awful, jingling doo-wop on the jukebox and otherwise sit in silence.
Barry grabs the ashtray from the array of courtesy items, and drags it over, pulling his pack out and dropping it on the table. It’s one of the two he bought the night before, and it’s almost empty. Hal’s lip pulls back in a grimace as he picks it up and rifles through the last few cigarettes with a finger.
“You sure you’re alright, man?”
Barry eyes the pack as Hal tosses it back in front of him then blinks slowly and rubs a tired hand over his eyes.
“I--” he starts, pausing for a long moment, hand squeezing over his eyes, before he sighs, “I’m fine.”
Disappointed, Hal sits back in his seat. Their waitress brings their drinks, takes their orders, and takes a minute to scold Barry for smoking before she’s off again, squawking insults at a couple of older men sat at the coffee bar. Hal pays her no mind, his focus honed in on his friend.
“What’s got you down, brother?” he asks simply, “Is it the fucking magazine?”
Barry doesn’t answer, but the tensing of his hands around the cardboard pack says everything. Hal rolls his eyes, chest feeling tight.
“Relax,” he says sharply, “It was just a gag. A stupid one, but a gag.”
Barry’s mouth thins, his eyes concentrated on the world outside the window, “It’s stupid.”
It comes out as more of a question than a statement, and Hal nods.
“Stupid,” he repeats, “That’s someone’s life. It’s not a joke.”
He huffs out an annoyed breath and joins Barry in window watching. His leg picks up a quick tapping rhythm, and he takes some breaths to calm himself. Barry fiddles with the pack again, placing it on the table and flicking a stray piece.
“It is someone’s life,” he says quietly. Hal’s eyes dart to him, brow pinched in question, but his friend isn’t looking at him. His eyes stay glued to the cardboard under his hand. Hal leans forward, but before he can pick any further at that, the waitress appears with their food, quicker than she’s ever been before. She asks about the boys, how they’re doing. Asks Hal when he’ll be back in Coast and flying planes. Barry welcomes the distraction while Hal rues succumbing to it.
As Barry and the waitress talk, pieces come together in Hal's head from the past year. They fit together, albeit loosely, to form a picture he's been missing out on for a while now. Something dreamed of but never pursued in reality. His palms sweat, but he keeps his cool. Barry smokes and Hal follows the lines of his cheek when he inhales, this time not looking away in shame when lewd thoughts enter his brain.
He grins, and eventually, the cigarette is put out.
The exciting, heart palpitating wonder Hal felt that night extends throughout the rest of the following month, and finally comes to a head when an underground gay club was raided and Barry unnecessarily and overly explained why he took off at the first mention of it to help those men and women against any brutality that may occur.
Barry is a fair man. He’s rational and logical and doesn’t believe in God and whatever unfair morals the church my force onto others. He believes everyone has rights, and no one is above the law. He believes in justice and everything it encompasses. There’s no reason Hal would assume he’d act otherwise in this circumstance. As he knows Barry Allen, it makes sense.
And that’s what solidifies his suspicion. The twenty-minute, long-winded exposition he had to sit through that he never asked for in the first place. But he needs to know for sure. There’s an ache in his chest that has to be taken care of, one way or another.
He forms a plan. Something that would make Barry proud -- an experiment for his hypothesis.
One dull, slow afternoon, he suggests a small day trip. He says he misses the west coast, which isn’t untrue, and wants to spend a little time getting some real sun without the dank Missouri heat. Barry agrees, blond hair and bright smile amplified by the exploding, garish colours of his living room wallpaper.
The Castro District is one that’s familiar to Hal in that it’s his go-to spot for scoring with hot guys. There’s a plethora to choose from, and most are ready and willing to go with anyone, still reeling in the age of free love while the rest of the world calms with a steadily rising fear of what’s out there. It’s a refreshing oasis in a land that persecutes and condemns anything out of the norm. He loves the freedom of walking these streets.
Barry is less familiar with it, as far as Hal can tell. He doesn’t seem to recognize the streets, nor does he seem to notice any of the appreciative looks he gets from passersby, or from Hal himself. He’s dressed down for once, opting for a regular t-shirt and jeans that hug him in all the right places. He still looks like a dork, with the awful stripes on the shirt, and the fact that it’s tucked into his pants, but it’s as endearing as the bright red high-tops he chose to go with them.
He keeps up with Hal for the most part, unless something in one of the passing shops, or a busker, catches his eyes. It’s slow for anything else to catch his eye. Leather-clad men leaning into walls, or men in short-shorts rollerblading past them. Handkerchiefs hanging from back pockets, though that could easily go over anyone’s head, as it's supposed to. But over time a frown forms over his lips, and he gets less inclined to stray. Hal can see the tenseness form in his shoulders.
Then they pass a couple, hand-in-hand, out and proud and Barry blanches. His eyes grow wide and stay glued to them, head-turning to follow the two as they stroll. In his shock, he runs into someone handing out flyers on the sidewalk. Hal stops with him as he takes the time to pick up the stray papers that fell.
"Oh geez," Barry says, "I'm so sorry, let me get that for you miss--"
He looks up and sees the person Hal already saw, a brown-skinned man in drag. His mouth drops open and he gapes for a second before it snaps shut and he hands the papers back with a jerky movement.
"Miss," he finishes awkwardly. The man smiles, lidded and sultry and not at all bothered by his obvious discomfort.
"That's no problem, sweetie," she says, in a slightly accented falsetto, "A cutie like you can bump me anytime."
Barry swallows hard, face turning red, "I--hah,"
Before his head pops, Hal steps in and tugs at his elbow to pull him into him, “He’s new here.”
“Mm,” she hums, as they walk away, “Well, tell him to come by more often.”
Hal chuckles and winks at her before turning away and dragging his still struck friend further down the street. He spots a hot dog vendor and feels his stomach growl, so he maneuvers them along to grab some grub. He orders for both, and as the vendor makes up their dogs, he watches and waits for his friend to come back to the present.
Taking their food, he hands two to Barry and gestures to a nearby bench. They sit, and Hal starts in on his hot dog.
"Hal," Barry asks after a quiet moment, "why are we here?"
"What do you mean?" Hal replies around his food. Barry squints at him sharply, frown tugging his lip, so he sighs and swallows, "I thought I'd take you out. You've been sulky. I thought--I don't know. Maybe we could do something we'd both like."
Subtle, but Barry's a smart guy, he gets it.
"Is this something we both like?" he asks quietly.
"I enjoy it from time to time." Hal replies with a shrug, "Let's eat and I'll show you around."
Barry watches as he continues to eat. His mouth pulls into a tight line, wavering a bit before he bursts into a wide, trembling grin as he laughs.
Later Hal brings him to odd shops, with funky things Barry would find neat, and shows him good restaurants and the clubs he frequents. At first, Barry is still tense, not leaving his side or saying much to any of his comments, but soon he's asking questions and takes cards and papers people will give him for shops or protests. Slowly, his demeanour changes. He moves comfortably, gestures freely and speaks to whomever he chooses -- speaks honestly to strangers. It's something new about him that gets Hal's attention, makes him feel way too many things at once.
But what gets him the most -- what makes him feel absolutely groovy -- is the hand that Barry will lay gently, but firmly, around his arm every now and then. When the street around them gets too crowded. When he sees something he likes in a shop or a busker he wants to watch play music. He'll touch at the crook of Hal's elbow, manipulate the sensitive skin to make Hal's heart pound.
At the end of the afternoon, when time bleeds into the evening, he leads Barry to the comic book shop hidden away down a bordering street. They walk in and immediately Barry flicks through the collections, and Hal meanders behind him, uninterested in any of the offerings.
Barry chooses his items and when they get to the counter, Hal wanders further to lean at the entrance to wait. An unassuming younger man greets Barry. He's rail-thin, with a big nose that holds up large, thick glasses. He wears a bowling shirt Hal swears he saw Mr. Ferris wearing on one of his days off before. Barry says hello with a friendly smile as he drops the few issues he grabbed onto the counter. The man flushes a light pink.
"Dr. Mysterio," he squeaks, then clears his throat, "Nice choice."
Barry nods, "He's a great character. I really like how they blend sci-fi with noir type stories."
The man rings him up, chin dipped as he smiles at Barry, "Yeah, me too! I've never met anyone who knew about these comics."
"I read a lot of comics," Barry says with a shrug, as he passes over the change, "I dip into the obscure now and then."
"You should come to our Comic Club meetings if you like the underground stuff," the man says readily and slips over a flyer with the address and times. Barry takes it and looks consideringly at it.
"Or you can just come around here too," the guy suggests, eyes downcast, "If you -- I don't know -- prefer one on one discussion."
Hal raises an eyebrow when Barry grins and nods, "Yeah! I'm not from town so I can't make meetings, but I can always stop by once in a while. It's hard to find an adult to talk comics with."
The man’s eyes widen before he grins back excitedly, "Great! I guess I’ll be seeing you then. I’m Michael."
The man nods with a smile so wide, it could be seen from space. Barry tells him it was nice to meet him, that he might stop by the following week, and walks away with a wave and a thank you. Hal watches as the guy stands still at the counter before excitedly tapping at it and bouncing away. He holds back a smirk until they exit, and shoves at Barry's arm when they're a bit further away.
His friend regards him questioningly, "What?"
"Making friends already," Hal jibes.
Barry's eyebrows furrow for a moment. He stops walking, pondering Hal's words until his eyes widen and he flushes.
"I didn't--he was just--," he stutters, " Oh ."
Hal laughs at him, and gives him another playful shove, "You geek."
Barry laughs too, quietly at himself, and shoves him back. They continue walking, aimlessly into the dissipating crowds.
"He was kinda cute," Hal says, "If nerd is your type."
Barry slaps at his arm, "That's rude. He's perfectly fine looking."
"So," Hal says, trailing off for a second as his stomach drops, "You gonna…"
"Uh, I’ll visit," Barry says truthfully, "But I’m not going to -- he's not really my type."
Hal hums, nodding in understanding, "What is your type?"
"Um," Barry says, and bites his lip. He doesn't say anything else, only shrugs a bit and looks away. Hal nudges him, again and again, prodding and curious, but Barry shakes his head and repeating that he doesn't know.
They're giddy, snickering and stumbling around the people on the street like schoolboys. Eventually, they come to a stop at an intersection, both red-faced as they catch their breath from laughing. As they wait, Barry turns to him. Hal raises an eyebrow in question before he's suddenly engulfed in a warm hug. When he gets over the surprise, he hugs Barry back, strong and firm.
They pull away from each other, Hal taking in Barry's beaming face. He swallows hard, stepping back. The events of the day suddenly come rushing all at once into his head. The implication. What’s now within the realm of possibility. He swallows hard.
Barry brings up a hand to rub at the back of his neck, "Thank you. Today was -- it was great."
Hal smiles, small but genuine, "It was."
There's a short pause, where both of them say nothing, eyes avoiding each other.
"We should probably get back," Barry says finally, "I have work early tomorrow."
"Actually, I think I might stick around for a bit," Hal replies, "See some old friends."
Barry frowns, and if Hal didn't know any better, he'd think he looked disappointed. But there's no reason Barry would want him to come back right away, not after a year of seeing him almost every day. And if he's being honest with himself, he doesn't trust being alone with Barry right now. Not after what he learned today. He needs time to process, to come down from the high slowly so he doesn't do something that causes him to crash and burn. So they say their goodbyes, and he lets the man walk away until he disappears down a deserted alley.
When he’s sure Barry’s gone, he heads into the direction of a club a few blocks down. He needs a distraction, something -- someone -- to take his mind off of things for a while.
It takes all of ten minutes for him to find that someone. They find a bench at the back of the bar, dark and secluded. The man is pale with piercing hazel green eyes. He has long curls, and he kisses aggressively. Hal lets him lead, allowing himself to be pushed back into the soft, malleable cushion behind him. He keeps trying to reach to pull the man closer, but his hands are brushed away over and over until he's pinned. Usually, that would get him going over anything else, but it's not what he needs right now. He needs to be held, to have a body against his and at least pretend he's being loved . So he pries himself away, ignoring the protests and insults thrown his way as he takes off out the door.
He finds his own deserted alley, taking a moment to breathe in the musty, grimy air. It’s getting darker, and he’s not entirely sure if he should stay where he is, but he knows he can’t go back just yet. Leaning into the wall, he stops and thinks. It’s been a while since his indiscretion in Coast City. He thinks maybe the heat would have died down on him enough that maybe he could spend a few hours back home at least. At this point, he’s ready to try it, and worst comes to worst he can duck out if things get hot. So he powers up and takes off.
On his way to his old stomping grounds, he passes over a familiar neighbourhood, not too far away from Ferris Air. He gets a sudden tightness in his chest when he realizes he hasn’t seen Tom in almost two years at this point, what with his trip and layover in Central.
He takes a sharp dive near La Mirada Avenue, down until he’s well hidden and walks out in his street clothes. Taking a left, he crosses the fairly quiet street and makes his way down a familiar suburban block. The door and porch have been repainted to a pleasant yellow, and their grass looks less dead than the year before. He knocks and waits only a few moments for Tom to answer.
His eyes widen when he sees him, and he’s immediately engulfing him in a hug, "Hal!"
Hal laughs and squeezes him back just as hard, "Hey, brother,"
Eventually, Tom steps back, but keeps a good hold on Hal’s arms as he takes him in, “Oh god, you’re looking good. Pale, but good.”
“Can’t get out to the beach much lately,” Hal says, rubbing the back of his neck. Tom slaps at his shoulder and moves aside.
"Come on in!" he says with a wide swinging motion. Hal complies readily, and Tom calls out after him, "Tegra! Look who's here!"
She comes out of the living room, slowed from the large belly she’s sporting under her dress, but once she sees Hal she speeds over to him, hugging him as best she can.
"Hey!" she greets with a beautiful smile, "Oh, it's been so long."
"I can tell," Hal replies, reaching to place his hand over her stomach, "How far along are you?"
She holds his hand, and moves it over to where there’s just the slightest bit of movement, "Just over seven months."
"Wow," Hal breathes as he feels. He lays his other hand down gently, "Congratulations, guys.”
Tegra grins at him. He brings his hands away as one is slapped between his shoulders, leading him to the dining table.
"Ah, not as exciting as fighting the intergalactic menace," Tom says. He guides Hal to sit, and must see the flash of guilt that Hal can feel shoot through him, "I'm just joshing you, pal."
Tegra moves to the kitchen. He hears the fridge and the pop-hiss of cans opening.
"I haven't been off-planet," he says, "I'm sorry. I caused some trouble in town not long after my trip and had to lie low."
Tom nods in understanding, unsurprised given Hal’s past. The beer cans are placed in front of them, plus a glass of lemonade for Tegra as she sits with them. Hal moves to stand and help, but she waves him off.
"Where have you been staying?" she asks before she takes a sip from her glass.
"Central City,” Hal replies, “with Barry."
Her eyes meet Tom’s for a brief moment, before flicking back to him, "For how long?"
He thinks, taking a quick swig from his can, “Since last October.”
Their eyes meet again. Tom’s brow raises a bit, but Hal doesn’t think much of it. It’s rare for him to stay in one spot for very long, given his duties as a Lantern and his general need to wander.
"Oh," Tegra says eventually, "Well, I'm happy you had a warm bed."
"How is Barry?" Tom interjects, leaning over the table and fiddling with his can, "He came by a few times last summer while you were out on the road to see if you were back.”
Hal meets his eyes, this new information settling in an ugly nest in his mind, “No shit.”
Tom nods, taking a drink, “Looked pretty rough.”
Swearing, Hal leans back in his chair. He runs a hand through his hair, "His father died in August."
Tegra lets out a small gasp, her hand settling over her chest, "Oh no, that poor man."
"Yeah,” Hal replies, distracted. The table falls into silence and he drinks again, longer, downing a good portion of the can. After a moment, he dips his head, licking the extra moisture from his lip, "I think he's doing better, though. But it can be hard to tell, y’know? He never talks about it."
Tom’s fingers tap, dented aluminum bending under his finger and creating a warbling rhythm. He hums but doesn’t say anything. Tegra brushes her hand over Hal’s shoulder.
"I'm sure he feels the same way about you," she says softly. She then adjusts herself in her seat, speaking louder, with more mirth, "I understand completely. It can be like pulling teeth to get this one to talk about what's bothering him."
Tom holds his hands up in a quiet surrender when she gazes pointedly at him. It gets a chuckle out of Hal as the air lightens a bit between them.
"He opened up today a bit,” he says, not explaining any further, “We went out earlier. It was good."
"It takes time." Tegra says, smiling, "He loves you, and he trusts you."
Hal only nods, "Yeah."
"So the guardians haven't called you away since your trip?" Tom asks, guiding the subject to something he’s likely to take more of an interest in.
"No," Hal sighs, "I'm on indefinite leave right now while they review the ring's findings."
Tom’s eyebrows furrow, "I thought they knew everything about the universe."
"Earth has always been a backwater planet to them,” Hal explains with a shake of his head, “Unimportant, with under evolved lifeforms."
"Wow," Tom scoffs, "Refusal to help because the lives were perceived to be less progressed,” He turns to Tegra with a rueful smirk, “Where have I heard that rhetoric before?"
"Right." Hal replies, "We'll see what comes of it. For the time being, I'm here to help. And we have the league."
Leaning back, Tom kicks his feet up to rest on a chair next to him, knocking back the rest of his beer and ignoring Tegra’s tutting about shoes on the furniture.
"That's all we need, in my opinion,” he says, sliding his loafers off, “No offence but I would rather just deal with someone like you or John than an all-powerful alien."
Hal grins, "What about Supes?"
"In his eyes, we’re all equal, brother." Tom replies easily, then gestures to his can, “You want another one?”
Hal nods an affirmative, sliding his empty over when Tom stands.
"That is true,” he replies, before turning to Tegra, letting his hand rest over her stomach again, "What are you thinking for names?"
He makes his way down the dark street, lit only by the passing lamps. Every home looks the same at night, differences that are discernable by day muted out by shadow. He knows Barry's place by heart by now, ring not needed to relocate it. He makes his way up the stone walkway, up the porch stairs, to stand under the awning at the door.
He hesitates, long enough for the door to open to Barry peering out at him, cigarette hanging from his lips. The other man is still dressed, but now in slacks and a button-down. Hal can see his pistol under his blazer, and the bump in his pocket that must be his badge. He has a briefcase in one hand.
"Why are you standing in the dark?" he asks, taking the smoke and tucking it into his chest pocket, "Are you coming in?"
"Yeah," Hal replies, but only shifts in his spot. He gestures at the briefcase, "Heading out?"
Moving out of the door, Barry nods. He closes it, but not all the way, "Got a call. Homicide."
"Another one," Hal says, "Second one in the past two weeks alone."
Barry sighs, running a hand through his hair, "Similar cause of death they told me. They're thinking it might be one of those multiple murder cases. You know, Son of Sam, Co-ed Killer -- that type of thing."
"Jesus," Hal breathes, "You going to need some help?"
"Maybe," Barry replies, "I'll case the scene and see what I can find. Some of these guys want it to be that, right? As morbid as it is, they want something interesting ."
"Talking gorillas and freeze guns are getting stale, huh?"
Barry chuckles, "Apparently."
He shuffles his feet a bit, inching a bit closer. His posture changes as he studies Hal, eyebrows furrowed and lips pursed. When he speaks, his voice is hushed.
"Are you okay?" he asks, the line of his body tense, "You seem a bit -- I don't know…"
"I'm fine," Hal replies, matching his tone, "Went to see Tom. Had a drink or two."
His friend visibly relaxes at his false explanation, a relieved smirk twisting his lips as his shoulders drop.
"I thought maybe…" he trails off, head dipping so he can scratch at the back of it, "I don't know, what with today…"
Hal meets his eyes, "Today was great. I'm glad we--"
He cuts himself off, biting his lip and gazing into the night. Barry only waits patiently, smiling softly.
"I'm glad you trusted me with that," Hal says finally, truthfully, "I'm glad I can trust you."
"Of course," Barry replies, his conviction leaning him forward as he does so, "Hal, I trust you more than anyone."
Then he pauses, returning to his original stance, "I'm sorry I never said anything. If I knew you--"
"It's fine," Hal replies, "I get it."
He lets himself smile, head dipping, before he shakes it, "Now we know."
Their eyes meet again, both smiling. The porch is dim, the only light drifting over from the kitchen window and the tiny lamp just to the right of the door. It shadows Barry's face enough but accentuates his stronger features. The halo of blue, the line of his cheek down to the gentle curve of his upturned lip. They're standing closer than what might seem normal, but the moment needed that intimacy. It's gone now, though, but their closeness drags on. Hal feels he should be closer -- that need from earlier coming back in full force.
But he sighs and steps back when he realizes where they are, and the importance of not keeping his friend too long. And even if the situation were different -- if they were in the privacy of the house, with all the time in the world -- he has to respect Barry. What he wants -- and Hal's sure that isn't him.
"I'll let you get going," he says as he takes the doorknob, and pushes it open. Barry nods, giving a small wave and a goodnight. He turns and steps quietly down the stairs, padding off into the night. Hal watches him go before he closes the door with a sigh.
A few days later, there's an explosion at the Central City branch of the Bank of America. It's Gorilla Grodd, and it has nothing to do with money. The ape only wishes to wreak havoc on human lives, as if they haven’t been frayed and divided enough by their own kind.
It’s a hard fight. There are casualties -- more than enough to distract both men. Barry is thrown clear across two blocks into a pile of debris they built to protect the rest of the street. He has trouble getting back to his feet and Hal is left to hold off the ape, mind half focused, and his ribs are bruised by the powerful fist that beats him down.
They’re weary and wounded when they enter the house later that afternoon. Barry finds his first aid kit, bringing it to the living room where Hal gingerly settles himself onto the couch. He’s bleeding from a few places. Barry patches him up, iodine staining his skin under off white bandages. Before he can blink the bed is set up underneath him, and he's lying across it. The TV is turning on, and Barry sets himself down beside him.
Donahue is on, and he’s interviewing Bruce Wayne. There’s an amused noise beside him, and he too smiles. The soft talking lulls him in and out of consciousness until he finally succumbs to sleep.
There’s a hand in his hair when he wakes, trembling and sticky with dried sweat. The sun shines in a deep yellow glow across the room and the low sounds of a news report fills the air. He blinks his eyes open and turns his head to an equally sleepy-eyed Barry, still snugly cuddled into a pillow. His hand stops its petting, slowly pulling back to tuck under his head.
“Sorry,” his friend mumbles, “You woke me up. You seemed troubled.”
Hal sniffs, and nods, turning to rubs is nose into his own pillow. He doesn't remember the specifics of his dream, but he knows it wasn’t anything good. Bringing a hand up, he wipes his now oily hair off of his forehead.
“Thank you,” he murmurs and relaxes back into the sheets. It's silent for a moment, as the man on the TV recounts some puff piece about a dog show. Barry shifts beside him.
“I don’t always dream about the same thing,” he says quietly, “But one comes back more often than the others.”
Hal opens his eyes, and stares out at his feet, “Which one is that?”
It takes a moment. Hal breathes in and jolts at the pain in his chest, breathing out through clenched teeth. Barry frowns.
"I'm in the war," he says, "In the jungle. It's endless."
His eyes are far away as he recounts it. So far, it's familiar territory for Hal -- dreams of the jungle.
"There are eyes everywhere, and whispers," Barry continues, "I'm with Manuel. He's beside me."
That's the name Hal hears sometimes, the one he doesn't recognize or know from stories or fond memories. He doesn't know who that is, but he keeps his mouth shut.
"An animal sets off a landmine," Barry says, toneless, "It happened. This happened. Manuel was within the reach of the explosion. His hand -- his hand and his leg were mangled."
His eyes shine with unshed tears, throat heavy as he keeps speaking, "He was screaming. I radio for help, and he kept screaming."
He sniffs, "Then a Vietnamese soldier comes -- almost out of nowhere -- he drops from the trees. He's so young. And he comes for me."
Hal swallows the thickness in his own throat and squeezes his eyes shut from his own memories of a young boy, torso soaked in red. Barry continues.
"I didn't want to but I had to," He says, and sniffs again, "I didn't have to, but I didn't want to die. Manuel was going to die."
He sobs, once. Hal watches as his friend shuts his eyes and breathes. His face is splotched pink, eyelashes wet and dark. A few tears escape Hal's own eyes.
"I shoot him," he says after a moment, "He's at close range and it makes a huge hole in his head. And then --"
He hiccups, mouth gapes open as he keeps staring into nothing, "And then it's Iris. She's dying. I killed her. I can't save her because I killed her."
Hal collects himself, but his voice still wavers when he speaks, "Zoom killed her."
Barry shakes his head, "I killed her."
"No," Hal says with force, " Zoom killed her."
"She wouldn't have been in his sights if I didn't -- if she and I -- if I was honest --"
"You didn't kill her!" Hal shouts. It's deathly silent after, and his ribs ache, "You think she'd like that? You wallowing and blaming yourself for what that fucking piece of shit did to her?"
He tries to meet Barry's eyes, but the man has them squeezed shut again. Suddenly, he regrets his outburst.
"You didn't kill her," he repeats, quiet words that sit in the air.
"I killed that boy," Barry whispers after a long beat, "I killed a lot of people who didn't deserve it."
"The government did that," Hal says, taking a page from Oliver's book, "They sent us there, and they made us think we were doing something good, but we weren't and we knew it. We did what we did because we wanted to live, but the government killed those men."
Barry sits up at that, face stony and eyes puffy and red, "You say that -- the government didn't hold the guns. They just put us in that place. They didn't dump the Agent Orange, they just put us in the situation that made it happen."
Their eyes catch in a hard gaze. Hal grits his teeth because Barry's tone suggests he doesn't agree. And he doesn't, but not to what Hal thinks.
"So if they're responsible, even though they didn't hold the guns, and they didn't drop the bombs, and they didn't crop dust the land -- but because they put everyone in that situation. How am I not responsible for Iris' death?"
Hal can't answer, he’s caught in a logical fallacy. If he believes what Oliver told him, which he does, then logically he should believe that Barry is responsible. But he can't bring himself to think that because Barry may have killed men but he could never kill her. He brings his hands up to rub harshly at his face.
"You loved her," he tries futilely.
"I didn't," Barry says, then shakes his head, "At least, not in the way that I should have."
"Did she know?"
Barry chuckles, humourless, dropping back into the thin and lumpy mattress, "Yeah. She was too."
Hal's eyes widen at that, "She--?"
"We were together to keep each other safe," Barry explains, hushed, "But she was never safe with me."
Hal is still reeling from what he learned. The best relationship he knows was a sham marriage. It didn't occur to him before, that's what it could have been. He himself likes both men and women, as well as those who are in between, so he figured it was probably the same for Barry, seeing how invested he was with Iris. Questions spin in his head, but it's not time.
He falters when he tries to comfort him. There’s nothing to argue, in Hal’s mind. If it weren’t for him, Carol would never have been taken over by the Star Sapphire. In their line of work, there are consequences. Life becomes short for anyone who dares to become anything more than an acquaintance.
But they are human. Are they not to love, or live with others? Are they to sacrifice their happiness for the safety of those around them? And what if those around them don’t care about the consequences? Like Iris. Like Tom and Tegra. Jim, and Susan and their family. Is he responsible for their possible demises?
In a way, Hal supposes he is, but only as much as the person themselves are responsible for their own actions. Iris had every chance to leave. She apparently wasn’t bound by romantic love, and could have found more success in bigger cities -- cities that had places to accept her lifestyle . But she stayed, knowing the danger. Hal always suspected she liked it. Found the same thrill in it that he himself did, and it made him love her more.
It makes him hate Zoom more just thinking about it.
As if hearing his thoughts, Barry speaks, low and more menacing in a way that sets Hal on edge, “If I ever see him again -- if I ever catch him. I don’t know what I’d do.”
To be honest, Hal feels the same way, but it’s something else coming from Barry. He turns to look at him, and their eyes meet again. Hal reaches out, hesitating before he grabs a clenched fist, holding until it relaxes into his hand.
There’s surprisingly no awkwardness after that evening -- after Barry chain-smokes through their silent dinner, and their parting for sleep. The next day, he's offered a mug of coffee with a smile, and has toast and bacon ready for him to eat before work.
And even more surprisingly, they speak more over the next couple weeks. Usually, Barry will blindside him, like the first time, voicing a thought in moments of comfortable silence that will spark a long and winding conversation. Hal doesn't mind it, in fact, he enjoys it. They're unpredictable -- he doesn't know what he might learn -- that Barry is only into men, and Iris only women. That Ralph and Sue know. That Patty was Iris' long-time girlfriend, the two having met during Barry's coma after his accident. Quite the surprise to wake up to, in Hal's opinion. But Barry wasn't without his own lovers. Hal learns about his first love, that Manuel that kept coming up in dreams -- who lost his hand in the war and disappeared and broke Barry's heart. Not that he said as much, Hal could just see it plain as day.
He takes comfort in Barry's close relationship with Iris, however, when he learns more about it. He thinks that they may have been in love, in some way. At the very least, they both cared deeply for each other -- that was obvious to anyone who knew them. The way Barry talks about her, always fond and gentle, as if he’s cradling her memory in his hands like a baby. And the way she would look after him, make sure he was safe and not getting in too deep with either of his jobs. In another universe, they would be the love story of a lifetime.
In this universe, their queerness is what brought them together when they were young, according to Barry. It was almost like we knew -- before anything was said, we knew and we were drawn together, he explains one late night, cowl pulled down, tapping the cherry off his cigarette. Hal got it. He felt that way with Oliver -- and now feels similarly with Barry -- that their quirks made them come together in a way they hadn’t with their other team members, even if they weren’t aware of it at first.
He didn’t quite get the same support with Oliver as Barry did with her, though. His friend is surprisingly untroubled by himself, despite the secrecy, and he owes it all to her influence. Out of the two of them, Iris was bolder, braver. He says she knew as soon as she hit puberty that she was different, that boys weren’t for her. Barry took a bit more time, and basically needed to be told -- told that he could be -- because he knew deep down for just as long, he thinks, but the science didn’t back up his feeling that it was okay, that he was okay feeling this way. It was Iris who told him it was -- that science is an ever progressing thing, and that someday they’ll learn what’s right -- she was the one who eased his worry and supported him through everything, and he did the same for her.
Hal’s almost jealous. All he got was Oliver and their stressful and disheartening journey, and his form of support was some handjobs, a couple of fucks, and a ‘don’t get all freaky deeky on me man, love is love’. But at that point in his life, he thinks that’s what he needed. Or at least that’s what he tells Barry in return.
The conversation unsurprisingly went downhill after that, ultimately ending in some much needed time apart. Overall, he never quite knows how those conversations might go -- ending in more tears, or anger, or fond nostalgia. But, even when they do end badly, when they part on less than savoury thoughts and feelings, they still come back to each other, open and willing to do it all over again.
It's freeing and exhilarating , being able to talk about these things. And it makes him feel amazing, to be listened to and have his thoughts and opinions considered instead of shot down. He's tired of people treating him like he's an idiot or ignorant -- in the corps he's mostly respected, but the guardians talk down to him, and some of the other lifeforms are still wrapping their heads around a human Lantern. And the League -- they think he reckless and a liability. Sometimes he can admit that he can be, but it's never the other way around. They can never admit when he's right, or when his actions saved their asses.
Barry always did. He's always been fair -- at least to him -- and it's becoming more and more clear to Hal that it's always been that way and always will be. Maybe it takes time -- hours or nights away from each other so their words can process. And maybe they can't always see eye to eye, but they can compromise as easy as anything.
He's falling harder and deeper than he ever thought possible. What was once a casual attraction turned crush is becoming an unmanageable mess of feelings he's only felt once before in his life -- and he remembers very clearly how that went. It's terrifying, but it sure feels nice to think about. Waking up beside his best friend in the same shared bed they make love in. Living in a shared home. Fighting evil side by side.
His heart aches when these images dance through his mind. The urge to reach out when they watch TV or cook together, make intimate contact, rushes to the surface very often.
He needs a break, which is why he takes a week to meet up with Oliver and Dinah again, and help out with their never ending fight against The Man . The Guardians still haven't been in contact, though John has told him he didn't have anything to worry about. But he's antsy to get back into space. Explore more of the unexplored. Go where no man has gone before , Ollie supplies when he says as much.
It's a nice week with them. The two aren’t held down by regular jobs, and they’re out more often than not, working on Oliver’s next big sting against corrupt cops or politicians. There’s a multiple murderer documented in the area, but Oliver admits to not being the best detective, as well as Hal himself, but Dinah is passionate about helping out, so they lend helping hands when they can, calling Barry up when they need a bit of better insight.
Their days and nights are often punctuated by bouts of sex. Either just Oliver and Dinah dipping out, but many times Hal will join them. At least at first. There’s always a point where he leaves the bed, not to return. There’s nothing he needs there anymore -- nothing he craves from them, as much as he loves them. It’s different now that they’re more committed to each other, and now that his mind is occupied by someone else.
One night during a heated session, he rolls away from Dinah, as Oliver slides into her and her mouth pulls away to gasp, and gets up. Their bedroom has a set of French bay doors that leads to a balcony overlooking their large backyard. On his way over, he grabs what’s left of the joint they had shared, and the book of matches, and lights up as he closes himself out of the room.
Looking out into the night, listening to the dull sounds of the nearby highway, and the chirping of crickets, he slumps in his seat. The cool air feels nice on his heated skin, and his dick softens as time goes on. He’s pent up, but he doesn’t really care anymore. The weed helps take care of that in other ways.
After another few minutes, the door opens again. A large, warm and sticky hand settles over his shoulder.
“Missed you, brother,” Oliver says.
Hal only shrugs, taking the last hit before snuffing the roach out on the cement. The hand slides across his shoulder as Oliver moves to take the other seat, equally as naked, but more relaxed.
“Something on your mind?” he asks, eyes boring into Hal’s like he knows. Because he does, and so does Dinah. Hal twists his mouth in thought, turning back to the dark.
“I don’t know what’s happening, man,” he says, “You know?”
Oliver snickers, moustache curling up with his lip, “Shouldn’t have smoked the rest of that kush, brother.”
Unable to help it, Hal laughs, “No really, man.”
Oliver nods, fingers playing over the rings on his hands, “I know.”
As Hal thinks about Barry, about their life as it is together, he becomes elated. His heart pounds and he feels a tingling in his fingers and toes, but it’s overpowered suddenly by an immense feeling of sadness. He smoked too much.
“Fuck,” he breathes and sits up. Oliver sits up with him, and reaches out to cup his knee.
“Deep breath,” he says, “You’ll be alright.”
“When?” Hal asks, squeezing his eyes shut.
“Soon,” Oliver replies simply. It’s calming, his simplicity. How he communicates with Hal, and how he knows what words to use and not use with him and when. Hal breathes again, his heart slowing to just above normal. His mind still races with thoughts he wishes to vocalize and would hate to have shared, but he’s calmer. He can ignore them for how good the warmth of the hand on his leg feels. He leans back, eyes still closed, and lets his body relax.
“You should go home,” Oliver says. Hal’s eyes open again and meet his, “Not right now. But tomorrow.”
He sits back, that warmth fading with the cool air that replaces his hand.
“It’s time to stop avoiding your truth, brother,” Oliver says, “It’s done nothing good for you.”
“I don’t avoid it,” Hal says, “You know that.”
Oliver shakes his head, “Letting it happen isn’t the same as living it.”
Frowning, Hal looks away, “That’s all peachy for someone who’s fallen for a woman. Are you living your truth?”
“I am,” Oliver says quietly, “when I’m with you.”
The honesty behind those words pierces his heart. He grits his teeth, because it’s unfair, “Are you? Threesomes are your truth? A quick fuck in the back of your truck.”
Oliver dips his chin, bottom lip disappearing as he brings it into his mouth, “Hal, I was never meant to fall for a man. Men are great to look at but I can’t spiritually connect with them like I can with a woman. You know how I am with men. With you or with Lightning Rod.”
Hal can feel his anger mount with every sentence, but he knows Oliver is right. The man can barely get along with him, and they’re best friends. He couldn’t imagine him in a romantic relationship with a man without it being toxic and volatile. It wouldn’t be the same as him and Dinah. He wonders if it’s some sort of sexist part of Oliver that makes him act this way, an underlying, leftover part of him from his playboy days. He wants to ask, because he wants a fight. But he’s not ready to go home yet.
“If I didn’t want a warm bed tonight, I’d beat the shit out of you,” he says truthfully. Oliver laughs, and Hal could punch him even harder, but the weed gets him going, too.
“Tomorrow you go home,” Oliver says, “You live your truth.”
Hal nods, lying straight to his face.
When he’s turned away from Oliver and Dinah, to head toward Central, he takes to the south. To is home. He rents another room, this time under a fake name, on the opposite side of town, still wary of his presence as Hal Jordan anywhere around these parts. His presence as Green Lantern, however, is met with the same relief as it always is, when he shoots onto the scene to take down whatever threat too big for the police. Or taking on the police themselves.
These instances give him a better name amongst the younger generation, who grew to distrust him and the rest of the League, seeing them as just another police force that could just as easily be corrupted. He steps in when he sees injustice, when the downtrodden are tread on. He keeps kids safe from predators and teaches the vulnerable, low-income neighbourhood children lessons on who to trust and who to report to an adult.
Given the news coming in from Atlanta, the multitudes of young boys and girls going missing and turning up dead, a few of the mothers are grateful. They give him whatever they can, and despite his insistence on the job itself -- taking care of these kids and keeping them safe -- is payment enough, he often finds himself returning to his room with pans of home cooked casseroles and enchiladas. It helps when he’s surviving off whatever is left in his pocket, having no idea if his job would be waiting for him when he gets back.
If he goes back. He was supposed to return a few days ago. Barry had called to tell him he’d probably be working late when he got there -- his most recent case taking up most of his time. Hal had told him he might be a bit longer, but he never specified how long. If he doesn’t run into trouble, maybe he could get back on his feet here.
His guilt is almost palpable. When he finds enough coin to go for a beer, the barkeep comments on how pissed his woman will be when she finds out whatever it was he did. He chuckles, but she doesn’t, turning away from him and calling him an asshole. He doesn’t argue, because there’s nothing to argue against.
The thing is, he doesn’t have to lie to Barry. Their situation was never supposed to be permanent. He’d understand why Hal had to finally go, after almost a year spent with him. And he’s doing better, albeit more now than before. Hal knows it because of their talks, as much as most of them end badly. It’s helped his friend get out of his own head and deal with things instead of compartmentalizing and ignoring his own problems. It’s helped Hal too, and if he’s being honest, he doesn’t want to give that up. Having that outlet has made him feel better than all the alcohol and sex and fights ever could. Despite this, he’s still able to convince himself that it would be best for both of them if he just trucks on.
He calls Barry that night, ready to let him know he’s moving on, and so can his friend. But when he asks about Barry’s day, the man starts into a long and horrific story about the man they caught who murdered four prostitutes in cold blood. It’s the case he’s been working on for weeks now, and he sounds completely guilt-trodden about his inability to save those last two women’s lives. Hal listens and offers advice. Let’s him know that with his help, Dinah was able to find the man who was kidnapping and murdering young girls in Star City. He tells him how awful he felt not being able to help more than giving a quick scan of the crime scenes and find hidden pieces of evidence. Barry’s soft voice tells him he helped a lot more than he realizes, and Hal repeats the same sentiment back to him.
They speak for a bit longer, Hal trying to work up his courage, when there's a loud and forceful knock at his door.
"Hold on, Bar, I gotta get that," he says, only just hearing Barry's 'okay' over the next series of bangs.
"I'm coming!" He shouts, grumbling under his breath after and wondering if maybe his credit card has been declined.
He opens the door and is immediately rushed back into the room by a group of men. The door is slammed shut, and one of them grabs him by the arms and bends them back to pin them. He grunts and tries to get loose, but another thug lands a hard punch to his nose.
"So you're the piece of shit who cost me four grand in merchandise, huh?"
Blood rushes to his nostrils and drips out as his eyes water. He squints up at the man who speaks to him. He’s white, with gnarled teeth and a large gold watch. His hair is slicked back, under a velvet fedora, and he sports a moustache not unlike the one Hal grew last year. The man beside him has got to be over six-four, and built like a truck and a tank had a baby, but it's not what Hal's focusing on -- it's the .20 gauge in his hands. It doesn't scare him, he’s stared down the barrel of much worse weapons. He glances back up to the kingpin, and tries his luck.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Another punch lands on him, but this time in the ribs. He keels over in pain, but the man holding him pulls him up again. Vaguely, he hears muffled shouts coming from the phone.
"Don't try that shit with me, turkey," the kingpin says, "You did a real number on my boy. And no trace of the goods at all. What were you trying to accomplish? I'm still here and I'm still selling."
Hal thinks about his ring, sitting in the pocket of his coat, "Not for long."
Another hit, this time a knee to his gut that nicks hard at his balls. The pain knocks his breath and any will he mustered out of him. What a dirty, low down, piece of shit move. He groans, pain shooting through him from gut to toe. Blood drips from his nose into his mouth, the coppery warm liquid coating his teeth, but he barely notices over the agony that persists between his legs.
Writhing, he tries to stay cool. Just get the ring back on his finger and toss these wannabe gangsters around. Just -- get the ring --
In an instant, he's dropped onto the bed, a gust of wind his only hint at what happened. There's a flurry of movement, and he curls into himself, holding his junk while he knows he's safe. After a second, he opens his eyes to see three of the men, including the kingpin, tied up to the armchairs and furnace at the window. Then he sits up slowly, breathing out through his teeth.
That tank of a man is on his knees, looking up at the Flash as he holds the gun and empties the bullets. As easy as a twig, he snaps it over his thigh and drops the pieces onto the floor in front of him.
"I'm going to tie you up now," Barry says, matter-of-factly, "The police are downstairs, and you're going to let them take you in. And when you're sitting in your cell I want you to think about all those lives you ruined, working for him."
The man nods, hands held up in surrender. When he speaks, Hal can hear the youth in his voice -- he can see it in his dewey brown eyes. He can't be older than twenty, "I'm sorry, Flash. I--I just needed to support my mother. She has stomach cancer -- we can't afford the hospital bills--"
Barry kneels, coming eye to eye with him, "What's your name?"
"Daryll. Daryll Williams."
"Daryll," Barry says, softly, "You made the wrong choice."
The man frowns, letting out a heavy breath as he closes his eyes. A tear falls, and he nods again. He places his hands behind his back, and Barry ties them in place. He's gentle with Daryll, guiding him to sit on the opposite side of the bed than Hal. Then, in an instant, they're out of the room and halfway across the country, safely back inside Barry's home. It takes a minute for Hal to gain his footing again, hands moving to his jacket pockets from his groin when he realizes he has it back on. He finds the ring and breathes slowly, choking a bit on the blood that still oozes into and around his mouth.
Barry waits and watches as he wipes at it ineffectively. He's still in his suit, lightning flashing down his body in short sparks. It hints at something under the surface. Hal thinks back to his display of power, the ease at which the weapon broke in his hands.
"You snapped that gun like nothing," he breathes, "What, are you Superman now?"
In a blink he's crowded into the wall, leather rubbing against the bright blue. Barry pins his shoulders, fisting the lapels of his jacket hard as he maneuvers him. He presses his body forward and lands a rough kiss over his lips. Hal lets out a surprised moan before his mouth opens and he slides his tongue to meet Barry's own. Reaching down, his hands land over a taut waist, and are flecked with the same sparking pricks he feels everywhere else the two of them touch.
As quickly as it started, it's over. Barry's pulling back -- but not too far. They breathe, metallic and wet through red lips. His eyes open to lidded blue, and a hand comes to gently press into his cheek.
"Let me clean you up," Barry murmurs, pulling him away from the wall and down the hall to the bathroom. Hal goes easily, keeping up well enough that their feet kick and trip over each other and he can still smell that ozone and burnt electric scent.
Barry guides him to the counter, and presses into him again, kissing him before grabbing at a nearby face cloth. He wets it with icy water, and wrings it out, pressing it to Hal's nose softly. Hal takes it and lets his head be pushed back.
"Lean your head," Barry coos as he does so, "Good."
Then there's a nose pressed into his neck, sliding over and down as hands push his jacket from his shoulders. It’s an awkward moment, as he needs to adjust his grip on the rag, but then nimble fingers unbutton his shirt and slide over his skin. Barry noses at his collar bone before pulling back and tracing over the redness at his ribs that Hal knows will bruise over soon. He knows they’re not broken -- it’s too easy to breathe -- but he lets Barry prod to make sure anyway, because it feels so good to finally have him touching him.
He reaches his free hand out blindly, wrapping it over Barry’s waist and settling it to keep him close. The other man places more kisses over his shoulders, then moves in to hug him under his shirt. His arms wrap tightly over him and squeeze. Hal squeezes back, a soft noise emitting from his throat that he can’t quite keep back.
After a few seconds, Barry’s leaning back again, but he doesn’t go anywhere. Instead, he drops down, kissing over Hal’s chest and ribs and stomach, and undoes his belt and fly. Hal drops his head forward to watch, breath leaving him all at once when Barry looks back up at him through his lashes.
“Head back,” he says, tugging Hal’s pants down. He clearly doesn’t expect Hal to listen, since he says no more when the rag is flung back into the sink. The jeans are kicked off, and Barry glances up at him when he grasps at the band of his underwear before pulling that down too.
Hal’s been half hard since they got to the bathroom, and though mentally he’s ready to go, his dick and balls are still protesting from that earlier assault. Every throb of blood to those veins ends up with an uncomfortable feeling settling in his stomach. He sighs and hums a negative when Barry’s hand settles over his hip.
“I’m just checking,” Barry explains, and does just that. He examines Hal fairly clinically, though the flush in his cheeks and lingering touches differ from any doctor’s visit Hal has ever been through. He settles his hand over Barry’s hair, fingers petting and grasping at the strands as he watches.
Barry kisses him before he stands up, right above his belly button and beside the mole under his right rib. Then he kisses him on the mouth, saliva rewetting the dried blood on both of them. Hal tugs at his suit, and it comes off in a flash of movement. He still wears his underwear, but Hal rids him of it almost just as fast, revealing how hard he is for him. He’s cut, unlike Oliver and most men Hal has been with, which surprises him, but doesn’t distract him from giving the man a few strokes. He’s rewarded with a gasped moan and hands digging into the flesh of his shoulder blades. Barry noses into his cheek, and pulls him close enough that Hal has to move his hand. His dick settles comfortably into the crease of Hal’s hip, and his own twitches in uncomfortable interest.
“Let’s clean up,” Barry reminds him. After he helps slide Hal's shirt off, he's pulling him over to the shower. He turns it on, warm and steaming and brings Hal in with him. The blood is washed from their mouths and Hal's nose. Gentle fingers prod at it, and come to see it's not broken, just bruised. Hal grins through the pain and tells Barry he's been through worse.
Barry hums, only barely remembering not to brush his own nose against him before their lips meet again. It takes every ounce of effort for Hal not to give in to his wobbling knees and collapse onto the ceramic beneath him. Instead, he melts into Barry, letting his friend hold him gently, but with an intensity that has their hearts beat side by side. Every inch of Hal’s body aches -- from blossoming bruises to phantom sensations of need seeping through his skin. And every caress and touch of fingers and thighs and chest -- the press of lips against his own -- soothes and comforts.
The water soon turns cold, and is shut off. As they exit, Hal tries not to let go -- wrapping himself around Barry when he grabs a towel off the hook. He nuzzles into Barry’s hair when his friend turns, wrapping the cotton around Hal’s shoulders and rubbing. He takes the time to dry himself before he’s tugging Hal along to the bedroom.
They stop at the end of the bed, face-to-face -- with each other and reality. Hal’s eyes search Barry’s, for any signal that this will turn sour, but finds none. Taking a step forward, he’s met with open arms. Hands that reach and drag him in by the waist, gripping hard as they kiss once more. One slides over after a moment, moving to cup at his fully hard dick.
“How do you feel?” Barry mumbles into his mouth. Hal can only moan in response, pressing himself further into the warmth. In a split second, he's sitting on the bed, being gently pushed into the mattress as Barry slides down his body, placing sweet, sucking kisses over his skin. When he gets to his cock, he mouths around it, teasing before taking him into his mouth. The entire time Hal is equally thanking his lucky stars and wondering if he's tripping on some really good space kush. His breathing comes in short gasps before he's taken by wet heat, and he throws his head back to let out a deep moan.
Barry bobs his head and licks more skillfully than Hal can really process right now, but the thought of him doing this for other men send shivers of pleasure and pinpricks of jealousy down his stomach. His fingers grasp hard at the sheets and his toes curl when Barry tongues at the underside of his head and gently rolls his balls in his palm. Fingers brush at his ass, then that hand is moving to wedge itself under Hal so it can squeeze at the flesh. Hal rocks into it, glancing down to the blond head slowly unravelling every part of him. Blue eyes meet his for a moment, as Barry moves his head back -- flashes of memories appear in Hal’s mind. Tired morning mutterings over coffee, a red cowl pressing into the skin of smiling cheeks, a cigarette between lips. Barry’s hand comes to jerk him while he sucks, and it starts up a touch of vibration -- enough to bring Hal over the edge in a few short seconds.
As he comes down, Barry crawls over to the side table to grab a tissue to spit into, wiping his mouth and tossing it in the trash after. Hal’s barely gotten his breath back before he’s tugging the man back over and kissing him roughly. He takes him into his hand, swallowing the resulting moan, and strokes swiftly. Barry manages to maneuver himself to straddle him, bracing himself on his elbows and kissing Hal breathless. He comes not long after -- choked gasps cutting through the smack of lips. A vibration and tingling coursing over his body. His jizz drips over Hal’s hand and onto his stomach, wet and warm.
Barry rolls off of him, but doesn’t move very far, arm and leg still pressed into Hal’s as their breathing slows. Outside, a car drives by, briefly illuminating the room and their bodies. Jumping, Barry gets up, stalking over to the window and wrenching the curtains shut. Afterward, he leans onto the sill, shoulders tense. Hal sits up to rest on his elbows, watching.
“It’s fine,” he says softly, “It’s dark. No one saw.”
Barry turns his head to look back at him, and Hal doesn’t know what else to do but give him a soft smile. It’s a long time before he gets any response, and his chest grows tighter with every passing second. But then Barry turns fully, moving back toward him and crawling over him when he gets there. Hal stays on his elbows, leaning into the kiss when it comes. His nose presses into Barry’s cheek, flaring in pain, but he ignores it easily.
After a few more seconds, Barry rolls off again, but not completely this time. His leg remains thrown over Hal’s as he stays pressed into his side, leaning over him when Hal rests back into the mattress. Barry reaches up to place his hand over Hal’s cheek, thumb rubbing over the line of the bone. He swallows thickly.
“I don’t do that a lot,” he says with a frown, “I’m not -- I don’t want you to think that I --”
His hand slides down, resting over Hal’s chest as he looks away. Hal doesn’t understand what he’s trying to say, and he says as much.
“I’d like to do this again,” Barry says, “I’d really like to, but I’m not a woman--”
His mouth twists, and he shakes his head, “I’m not sure how to explain, but I’m not -- 'the girl’.”
Suddenly, it becomes clear to Hal what he’s saying, “You don’t suck dick and you don’t want one in your ass you mean.”
It comes out harsh -- maybe harsher than Hal really wants -- but he can’t help his offense, because those are two things he really doesn’t mind doing and it doesn’t make him a woman . He bites at the inside of his cheek. Women are fine and all but he’s a man and just because he does things that women may do--he’s not a woman.
Barry’s eyes meet his when he snaps at him, lips parting and eyes widening just enough to give him that lost puppy look Hal usually adores, “That’s not what I meant.”
His hand slides back to curl around Hal’s neck gently as he speaks, eyes focusing everywhere on Hal’s face but his eyes, “I do those things -- sometimes I do, but not always -- other men I’ve been with just didn’t understand that. I just want you to--I don’t want you to treat me that way.”
He finally meets Hal’s eyes. And Hal gets it because it’s the exact same thing he just felt in that brief moment -- because he’s dealt with that too. He breathes through his nose, and nods, hand coming to rest over the one on his neck. His fingers curl to take it off of him, so instead, he can hold it.
“I get it,” he says, “And I want to do this again too.”
Nodding, Hal lets go of Barry’s hand, and hooks his around the back of his neck, pulling him down to kiss him again. Then he presses his forehead to Barry’s, and they breathe together.
“Don’t get hung up on that bullshit,” he says, “It’s me and you, right? We’re still the same people.”
Barry nods, his cheek bumping Hal’s nose again and apologizing when he winces, “Stay here with me.”
In his chest, Hal’s heart does a flip and he grins, “I wasn’t planning on sleeping on that couch again.”
End of Part One.