Title: let me tell you something (you already know)
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: For Barney Ross, the Vilain mission ended more or less how it had begun: with an unexpected visitor in his private hangar. 2500 words.
Spoilers: Tag for "The Expendables 2" (2012)
Notes: For beedekka in Yuletide 2012. Slash pairing. (Mature action hero action? Yes, please.) Title from a Sly Stallone quote.
For Barney Ross, the Vilain mission ended more or less how it had begun: with an unexpected visitor in his private hangar.
Somehow, though, he doubted the purpose of the visit was anything like the first one – and not just because the man waiting for him had graying blond hair rather than a stubbled chrome dome. Barney sighed, then acknowledged his guest with a grunt. "Hey, Gunnar."
"Hey, Barney." The swivel chair Gunnar Jensen had been waiting in turned, revealing the unusual sight of the Swede looking sharp for once. Or at least, what passed for sharp with Gunnar: a nice crisp dress shirt that hadn't had the sleeves ripped off yet, clean jeans with no visible holes or stains, and hair brushed neatly into order. Nothing much could pretty up his battleworn face, though.
"Been a long time since you showed up here," he said, trying to decide whether the other man's appearance was a good or a bad thing. When times had been good, before, they'd been pretty damn good; but firing a man and putting a bullet in his chest would make kind of a drastic ending to any arrangement, satisfactory or otherwise.
"Been a long time since I thought I'd be welcome," Gunnar shrugged.
"Yeah?" Barney raised his eyebrows.
Funny thing, considering they'd never given a name to the arrangement – the occasional relief, celebration, release valve, whatever – when it had actually been going on, he'd missed it a hell of a lot more than he'd have expected after kicking Gunnar off the team. And he'd kept missing it, even after Gunnar had come back; because his return didn't change the reasons Barney had fired him in the first place, or the fact that Barney had had to shoot him to stop him from killing Yin. While things probably could have gone a lot worse if Gunnar had actually meant any of the things he'd done during his little tantrum, any disagreement that involved one party teaming up with a murderous enemy out of sheer pique did not bode well for future attempts at reconciliation. And even less for the team, if Barney was ever stupid enough to let it happen again.
"Yeah." Gunnar reached for something in his pocket – and Barney flinched toward his own belt almost instinctively before the Swede's callused fingers came back up. They weren't wrapped around a weapon, though; nor the first thing his mind jumped to when he saw the small, metallic object Gunnar held. It was a coin.
Gunnar gave a half-wincing, sheepish smile at Barney's reaction, then flipped the coin in his direction.
Barney caught it, turning it slowly over in his hand, checking out the design on the one side and the numeral on the other. It took him a few seconds to grasp the significance of it, but when it finally sank in, he swallowed hard. How had he missed all that going on? "Gunnar ... you didn't have to do this," he said, gruffly.
"You said you couldn't trust me anymore," Gunnar replied easily, as if the accusation had never driven him into a vengeful episode in the first place.
Barney shook his head. "You made that right a long time ago," he objected, and he meant it. Giving them the layout of the compound on Vilena, toeing the line on every mission since, even apologizing to Yin. Amends, yeah; Barney should have guessed.
... But then, maybe he hadn't wanted to. Men like them, living lives like theirs; Barney didn't have much use for regrets. And as far as he was concerned, hope was just another four-letter word.
Gunnar smiled wryly. "Yeah, well. Maybe I wanted to prove it to myself. Set a goal to work for, at least." Which goal had apparently included his presence there that night ... and from the leer on his face, Barney had a fair idea how he'd imagined the rest of the evening would go.
Barney's heartrate picked up a little at the thought, reminding him how long it had been since he'd been that friendly with anyone but Rosie Palm and her five daughters. Clearly, his dick was already on board with Gunnar's proposal. But Gunnar – and Barney's libido – had fucked things up before; indulging them again would be asking for trouble.
He cleared his throat and flipped the coin back in Gunnar's direction. "I see that," he said, and gestured back toward the door. "C'mon, then. Let's go find the others. We should celebrate."
Gunnar worked his jaw as he closed his fingers around the coin, a frown line carving across his forehead, but he nodded in reluctant agreement. "Okay, sure. I get it," he said, slowly.
Barney didn't think he did. But then, to be fair, Barney wasn't enjoying the decision much, either. A year's worth of pent up aggravation gave wings to his feet as he walked back out of the hangar.
Throwing a leg over his bike reminded him incongruously of Maggie Chan, though, and of that tasteless joke back in the debris of the old Soviet base about dying for some Chinese. Jealous bastard, he thought absently – then abruptly changed his mind about where they were going to go. Maybe the last thing he needed was to be alone with Gunnar and his expectations, but he didn't really need a drink, and seeking out the guys at the Old Point Bar or Tool's tattoo parlor would just put the problem off 'til later. Or drive Gunnar off for good, and he didn't want that, either. Might as well man up and actually have a word with him.
He started the engine, waiting for Gunnar to finish closing up behind him. Then he headed for the green space under the bridge where he'd met up with Church's operative. Maggie'd turned out to be surprisingly competent, yeah, and attractive, too – but for all the flirting, he had a pretty good guess whose attention Gunnar had really been after.
The night was clear and just one step above chilly when they arrived. Barney coasted to a stop on the short grass, then watched as Gunnar passed him in a wide arc, circling around to come to a stop a few feet away.
"What the fuck are we doing here?" Gunnar asked, looking perplexed.
Barney looked away. He flexed his hands on the grips of his bike, feeling his forearm muscles shifting under the skin like heavy cords; aware of the slight stiffness plaguing his shoulders, the split skin above his right eye and his left cheekbone, and how little any of that evidence of strength and experience meant when it came to matters of the heart.
There was a reason he'd made the intelligent, good-natured Yin Yang Gunnar's partner; a reason he'd assigned himself the pragmatic, steadfast Lee Christmas after Tool had retired despite his longer acquaintance with Gunnar. Regulations really didn't mean shit to the Expendables beyond the common-sense basics – there were reasons none of them had stayed in their respective militaries of origin – but letting the personal mix with the professional too much was a good way to get everyone killed.
"It can't ever go that way again," he said quietly, staring up at the bridge overhead. The lights dotting the wide span, the buzz of tires on the pavement, the bulk of the city beyond: a reminder of just how much bigger the world was than their petty issues. "And I don't just mean the using. Doing things we don't do. Cock-blocking our op. Throwing a tantrum that gets me shot at, busts up my truck, and ends with you bleeding out on the concrete."
Gunnar snorted at that. "Munroe asked me why I turned on you. He wasn't very impressed with me, either. You know what I told him? That it was a lover's quarrel."
Barney threw a sharp look over his shoulder at that. He didn't seem dismissive, just blackly amused – but they'd never used terms that frank before. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. 'Course, he didn't believe me. Shut him up, though," Gunnar chuckled. "And I do get that going to him in the first place was a stupid thing to do. Hadn't really thought it all through."
"Not exactly your strongest suit," Barney agreed, wryly. "Not that there's anything wrong with your brain – you just got that little problem with not always remembering to use it."
Gunnar frowned a little at that, looking Barney over again, trying to read his expression. "Is this like when you let me think I was dying? Or is it some kind of half-assed way of letting me down easy? I did hear what you said to Maggie. About keeping a distance. 'Swhy I picked today to stop by."
Barney sighed, still of two minds on the subject. His eyes drifted to Gunnar's left shoulder, where the skull and raven tattoo slept beneath creased navy fabric, then down the slabs of muscle filling out his shirt and massive thighs sheathed in denim. This giant of a guy, pulling where he should push, submitting to Barney's touch: it had been a serious draw back when he'd thought of it as nothing more than getting off with a teammate, and the attraction hadn't lessened with time. But that wasn't enough to justify taking the risk again.
"Can't say I don't have reason," he pointed out. "People I get close to have a tendency to get hurt – or leave, if they're lucky."
Like Tool, his brother in all but blood, whose absence at Barney's shoulder in the field still ached some days. Like Trench, back when they'd both been full of piss and vinegar, who'd gone so far as to form his own team when Barney had made the mistake of getting attached. His worst, oldest friend – who, granted, did seem to have finally got that stick out of his ass, at least where Church was concerned. Now there was a thought to make his head ache.
Gunnar sighed, reaching up to shove off his helmet and scratch absently at his scalp. "Can't promise not to give a fuck," he said, heavily. "Too late for that. Can't promise not to get myself killed, either. Or to think the likes of those pirates don't deserve to get a taste of their own medicine. But I can promise not to let my shit stink up the missions anymore."
Any more than his natural brand of crazy did already – but Barney had to admit, Gunnar had been a little more balanced lately. Teasing the others. Trotting out his chemical engineering know-how. Hell, he'd even joked about Barney dumping him under cover of an anecdote about an old girlfriend, right after they'd got back from the job in China.
... Which stung more than Barney wanted to admit. Apparently, abstinence really did make the heart grow fonder. Hell of a thing to learn at his age. Made him feel like a fucking teenager.
"I believe you mean that," he admitted, then impulsively reached out across the space between them to flatten a hand over Gunnar's breastbone. He could feel the steady beat of the Swede's heart under his palm like a guarantee, and found enough reassurance in that to get to the important part. "I let you down too, you know. Made excuses for you when I shouldn't have. Didn't say things I should've."
He stopped there – but Gunnar must've understood what he meant by should've anyway, because a wide smile lit his face at the half-admission. Then he reached out in turn, half jerking Barney off his bike.
Barney grunted in complaint as his facial bruising kicked up a fuss at the lip-smashing, nose-bashing assault of a kiss that followed – but he wasn't the first one to pull away from it, neither.
"Water under the bridge," Gunnar grinned, madcap self-confidence restored. "That enough girly shit for you, or do you need to jaw at me some more?"
Barney rolled his eyes – but he was grinning, too. Fuck sensible decision-making; he was sick and tired of being sick and tired. They could worry about the fine details later. "Think I can find something else to do with my mouth, with a little persuasion."
A year and change hadn't been all that long, by any objective measure. But they'd lived their lives one mission at a time; they both had new scars to trace with coarse fingertips, some of them even caused by each other, and hot spots new or half-forgotten to rediscover. Barney's refraction time, it turned out, was still pretty good for his age – but his stamina, much to his embarrassment, had suffered a little. It served its purpose, though: overwriting the aches and frustrations of Nepal and Bulgaria with others he didn't mind carrying around with him the next day.
He dragged himself to the bathroom afterward and stared in rueful wonder at the roughed up, still-steely physique of the man in the mirror. The dark hair still free of all but a few silver threads, the flush to his skin that owed nothing to Vilain's fists. He thought about Tool and the woman he'd failed to save, the one he'd said had broken him; then about Billy and his own soul starting to shrivel as he stood over the kid's grave. But after beating the life out of Vilain, after this ...
As long as he could still look himself in the eye, as long as there were still moments of light amid the dark, Barney wasn't ready to join Tool on the sidelines just yet.
A blond head appeared behind his in the mirror then, chin brushing against Barney's ear as Gunnar reached around him for the washcloth. "You stayin'? Or are you gonna sneak off to preserve your maidenly modesty?" he asked with a smirk.
Barney leaned back for just a moment, resting against the warm, solid bulk of the other mercenary, and stifled a weary yawn. Then he turned and shuffled back into the room, pointedly not reacting. They'd always been careful not to advertise it before, sure. But he just didn't give two shits anymore.
"Too tired to drive," he muttered, then picked the side of the bed next to where he'd dropped his gunbelt and aimed for it, not bothering to find his briefs in the mess on the floor. "Though I reserve the right to shoot you if you wake me up snoring like a foghorn."
"Yeah, sure, whatever," Gunnar said, over the sounds of running water. Then he followed Barney back into the bedroom, an unexpectedly soft, pleased smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Barney shut his eyes uncomfortably at the sight, somehow more naked than anything else they'd just done. But it warmed him a little, too, like finding a lone coal burning in the ash of a long-extinguished campfire. Maybe a pair of old dogs could still learn new tricks.
The mattress dipped beside him, and a heavy arm slung casually over his chest.
Barney blew out a breath and let exhaustion take him.