Ellis pushed the door open to his apartment, a list in his head.
3. Then food. Maybe.
4. And please, God (and he knew there was a God, though he still was on the fence about the benevolent part), I promise I'll do something really, really nice for someone tomorrow if you can just guarantee that Ray isn't on the other side of this door. Because, yeah, I'm sure Ray has some good points, even though he's kept them hidden really well, but, God, really, just no more tonight. Just no more.
He breathed a heartfelt Thank you, Jesus when he stepped inside and was greeted by nothing but empty apartment, nearly bare after Hurricane Robicheaux had destroyed most everything in it, leaving only the refrigerator that ran too loud and the cheap replacement couch Ellis had picked up at the Salvation Army. He pushed the door closed with his back, leaning against it as he tried to find the strength to get on with the rest of his list. It felt warm against the chill he carried with him, and even though he knew how thin a barrier it was against the world, it felt like safety at the moment.
Ellis turned the shower up as hot as he could stand, a shade past that, washing off days worth of worry. But updrafts of cold air kept winding through the liquid heat, and he could only distract himself for so long with debating whether or not killing Barker would be considered a really, really nice thing. He dragged himself out from under the water, shivering in Chicago's idea of spring, and stared at his reflection. He was more wrecked than usual, the deliberate seediness replaced by true exhaustion. Bruises stood out against too-pale skin; some of it red, darkening with time, some of it black, fading with the same.
It had been a hard couple of days. A hard couple of months. Ellis looked at his face in the mirror, already showing the signs of age that thirty years and a lot of miles could put on it, the scar on his nose like a sign marking how many bad turns there'd been. Make that a hard couple of decades, he amended.
We've played this scene before, he thought when she knocked on the door. He couldn't figure what she was doing here, since she'd told him it was over, sealed it with cursing him for getting her involved. He'd fed her his worst, and yet here she was.
She was looking at him the same way she had last time, part concern, part something that might even have been desire, and he almost wondered if it was the bruises, better hidden beneath a robe this time, that spurred it. Maybe she was one of those women that were turned on by violent people, what was it called? Hybristophilia? Yeah, that was it. And Barker said he didn't pay enough attention to the details.
Rose called Ellis' attention back before he could get too distracted, but he had trouble concentrating on her. He was too tired, and he'd done too much to leave her behind to start again now. She couldn't be his Dulcinea anymore; he was done with windmills. Ray with his broken family, Barker with his Beast philosophy… that was the choice Ellis had made last night. And someone like Rose was what he'd left behind.
It would have been flattering, how almost insistent she was, but it just kicked his paranoia into a higher gear. Made him wonder if Ray's people had had a second line of persuasion. If Red Gauntlet… hell, some other group that Barker had pissed off, or that Ellis had pissed off, had him in their sites, too.
He turned her away, regret barely registering over the instinct that made him lock his door behind her.
He could have been surprised at finding Barker leaning against the wall of his bedroom, apparently not a care in the world, but Ellis was kind of used to finding everyone but himself inside his apartment now. He'd considered leaving the door unlocked a number of times, figuring he was apparently the only one who needed the key to get in.
Still marginally thankful that it wasn't Ray, Ellis just ignored Barker as he got ready for bed, sending one last prayer to what might be a benevolent God that Barker would get bored and go away soon.
He wound up ignoring Barker so well that he was startled when he spoke. "I always wondered what was hiding beneath all those layers you wear."
Too tired to try to translate, Ellis just shook his head and finished putting his sweats on.
"Too large sweats. Too large jackets and sweaters and pants. Rarely anything that fits close. The only time I've seen you in something that really showed off your body was when you were playing Lt. Gantry, and I'm figuring you only did it then to make it obvious to them just how dangerous you are."
Ellis rubbed his hands over his face, almost amused at Barker's gall in trying to ferret out someone else's secrets while clinging so tightly to his own, but he was far too tired for outrage. He thought he might have been conditioned to accept almost anything from the man now, after months of the demands that he be the center of Ellis' world, the implied god complex, complete with commandments -- trust only your case file and your partner, you can't have friends, but you owe your loyalty to me -- though seriously lacking even a single gospel to spell out what the rewards of worship might be. It was pointless to worry about it at this point, anyway, since Ellis had already cast his lot with Barker; professionally, personally, there was no difference anymore. Why not give him the last little pieces, too?
Except he didn't have the words, never really his strong suit anyway. How to explain his mother, who he didn't even really remember, or his father, who he remembered too well. How to explain Will, who was the only family Ellis had, who had raised him when his own father wouldn't, and yet who had sold him out to save his own hide. And not even just the once, either. Will with his schemes and shortcuts and strong self-interest that wound up biting them both in the ass, landing one of them in prison and the other in Iraq, and it was a close call as to who'd served the harder time. How to explain why he didn't know how Nadia had stood it, day after day of a hell that he'd only managed to survive once, or why he couldn't let his hair grow out anymore, even though he didn't like how it looked short. How to explain what staring down a scope at a dead man walking had done to his head, or why crossing too many lines, why playing God, fucked with it even more.
How to explain himself, when even Ellis didn't know who that was anymore.
All he could do was sink down on the bed, arms on his knees, head too heavy to hold up as he shook it, not even knowing what he was saying no to. He missed the long hair right then, the mask it used to be when he didn't want anyone to see him.
Barker either understood what Ellis meant, or didn't need to, because he just nodded, letting his head sag back into the wall behind him. In the harsh light from the lamp without a shade, another casualty of the destructive search, Barker looked like a gargoyle; weathered, timeless, otherworldly.
Ellis woke up to afternoon daylight, still on top of the covers, and with an unfamiliar dip in the bed where Barker's bodyweight combined with his was pushing the old mattress to its limit. He smiled, inordinately pleased that even Barker looked foolish with bed hair and pillow face. That he also drooled a little just made Ellis wish he had his phone to save it for posterity. Or blackmail, one of those two things.
A light sleeper, Barker stirred with Ellis, looking at him in confusion for a second before his habitual disinterest slipped back into place. The continuing heat and hardness that pressed along Ellis' thigh, twitching as Ellis stretched a little, said that not all of Barker was as cool as he seemed.
Ellis could be surprised at that, too, but he wasn't. He'd learned the hard way to spot when a man was interested in him. He'd known from the beginning that Barker hadn't wanted him as a partner strictly for his skill. Barker never did anything for one reason. Ellis' base level skills, his lack of experience that made him all the easier to train up the way Barker wanted, the blind obedience that the Corps had tried so hard to instill in him and only mostly failed, the lethal weapon the Corps had succeeded in creating; those were all desirable elements to Barker. The package they'd come in had just been an added incentive.
He'd burned so many bridges during the last week, Ellis didn't even know if he could find his way back from where he'd landed. Didn't know that he wanted to, either, safe in this bed, with this man, who may or may not like him, but who felt something for him that transcended that anyway. Partners, part of Barker's commandments. Part of the only thing he'd ever let himself trust. And Ellis was coming around to his point of view more and more every day.
It had been years since Ellis had kissed a man, and forever since he'd done it with real desire. Even in Iraq, when things were at their worst, he'd never made the leap past his own hang-ups to take any comfort from those he knew would be happy to give it. But right here, right now, he could remember what it was like when he was young, when gender hadn't been the main criteria for whether he found someone attractive.
If Ellis was past surprise with Barker, Barker hadn't lost the ability yet. His eyes went wide when Ellis leaned closer, and his mouth was open when their lips met. But he was always fast in a crisis, and faster still in this, his lips softening under Ellis', his hands coming up to hold Ellis in place.
Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, considering his stance on personal relationships outside the job, Barker wasn't all that smooth at kissing. But he was as eager as Ellis could hope for, his usual reserve on hold for the time, not even fastidious about the lack of minty freshness after hours of sleep. His hands were hard on Ellis' neck, not letting go. It made Ellis nervous, not liking the restraint, but he made himself relax. If he couldn’t let go of even this much, it was pointless to do this at all. He just hoped that God was still on the benevolent kick about unwanted visitors, because Ray walking in right now would not be a pretty thing.
It was just getting really interesting, lips puffy from sloppy, wet kisses, hands moving beneath thin cloth, Barker's leg between Ellis', long and hard and fitting just right against each other, when Barker pulled back. Ellis might have made a small whimper at that, but he would deny it to his dying day. Which felt like it was going to be soon, and he tried to pull Barker back to avoid that possibility.
But Barker was looking far too intent on talking for a man who'd been about to get laid, and Ellis flopped back on the bed, scrubbing his hands through his hair in an attempt to give them something to do besides beat the shit out of his partner. The debate on whether killing Barker counted as a very, very nice thing was skewing heavily towards yes right then.
"You remember Capone?"
It was a stupid question, because there was no way that Barker didn't know he did. But Ellis was willing to play along if it got this over with. "Yeah."
"You wondered why I didn't just shoot him myself. It was because it would have been like shooting myself." Barker paused, voice going softer. "We were… so alike. Two burned out agents who'd given too much to the job, and had nothing left to lose."
Ellis could see that; where shooting Capone would have been judgment against Barker, too. An acknowledgement that perhaps he'd gone too far as well. But he didn't have anything to tell Barker that he didn't already know, so he just repeated, "Yeah."
Without any warning, Barker gripped the back of Ellis' neck again, pulling them close enough that Ellis' eyes wanted to cross, and he was twitching with the need to break the hold. But he bit it back, made himself trust Barker with something besides the case or his life.
Maybe Barker could feel the tension, maybe he could see what holding still cost Ellis, but he relaxed his hold, face softening with it. "Do I have something to lose now?"
It wasn't funny, it really wasn't. Barker was being more open than he'd ever been around Ellis, vulnerable in a way the man probably never was. But Ellis couldn't help laughing anyway. It was just too much, and he let it go where it wanted.
Ellis felt him start to let go, but he placed his hand over Barker's, the angle awkward, but needing to keep him close until he had breath enough to explain. "It's not… it's just that it's funny -- no, it really is." Ellis swallowed air and laughter, almost choking himself, but managing to get most of the laughter tied down, though it tried to escape him from time to time. "It's just that since I've worked with you, I've given you everything you've asked for. I trusted you in the face of what Ray said about you, siding with you even when I had doubts. I lied for you to Conrad. I lied for you to my section chief. I lied for you to pretty much everyone, even the woman I was sleeping with, and who I broke up with on the same night I threw my lot in with you against the FBI, the DOJ, and Red Gauntlet. So I really don't know why my saying yes to your question would be any better of an answer than I've been giving you since day one."
Ellis never did get an answer to that. But then, considering his own argument about actions speaking louder than words, he guessed what happened next was answer enough.
Barker fingered the ages old scars that ran over Ellis' ass, his own fingernails tracing the path that others had taken, but he didn't ask. Ellis was thankful for that. As much as he wanted Barker's hands there, as much as his body was telling him all of this was good, he was having to concentrate really hard to only feel his touch.
If he'd ever really considered it before he'd met Barker, Ellis would have assumed he'd want it soft and slow, everything it hadn't been before. But there was nothing soft about Barker's hands, hard on one hip, hard on one cheek, fingers pushing inexorably in. There was nothing soft about Ellis' reaction to it, either, his dick as hard as it had ever been, his hips pushing back to take the finger in deeper. By the time Barker had decided he was ready, Ellis felt beyond it, hot and cold all at once, his skin trying to shrink or his body wanting to expand, he couldn't tell, all of his attention focused on his dick and his ass, and the need to have both of them worked hard.
It hurt when Barker finally gave him what he wanted, what he was nearly begging for, and the need died in him a little at that, memory coming too close for the moment. But then Barker was all the way in, flush against his back, one hand jacking him hard until Ellis' whole body moved to the rhythm of Barker in him and Barker holding him tight. There wasn't any thought in his head at that point, no memory but the instinctual ones; breathe, fuck, come.
Ellis laughed afterwards, breath he didn't have to spare gusting out of him. It felt like a weight had been lifted. Not that he thought things would be much different now. Barker would still be a jerk. There would still be moments of doubt. And they still weren't friends. But they weren't not friends, either; too connected, too fucked up, too them for anyone else.
Ellis had hardly started in on the third item off his list before item number four finally fell to pieces. Ray's face when he saw Barker there was almost worth it, though, and it was kind of nice to have someone else in the place to argue with Ray while Ellis finished his corn flakes for once. The fact that they were still arguing when the corn flakes were gone was somewhat less nice, but Ellis was kind of resigned to stuff like that now.
He sat on his second-hand couch, watching the two of them argue while working on his new list.
1. Fuck Barker.
2. Let Barker fuck him again.
3. Linse, rather, repeat.
4. Finish getting rid of Red Gauntlet, get life back in order, and work on other cases in between other items on list.
5. And please, God, I promise to do something else really, really nice, if you let Ray walk in on us with item one, because I really need to see if the reality of what his expression would be can match the picture I have of it in my head.
Ellis breathed a heartfelt Thank you, Jesus later that day when he stepped inside his apartment and found he wasn't alone.