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On the Importance of Workplace Synergy

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It’s a heist for recognition more than anything else. The take’ll be huge, sure, but Geoff says that’s just icing on the cake.

Not that they’re a small-name crew as it is. Since Geoff brought Ryan in, they’ve grown a lot, able to take on bigger and better heists. Michael goes places now and people he’s never met before know who he is.

And Geoff’s got connections for days. They need access to a helicopter, a plane, a tank, and it’s theirs within twenty-four hours. A couple months ago, Michael needed a flight out of Los Santos to visit his idiot brother who’d gotten into a car accident—later that day, Jack handed him a plane ticket for a flight that was supposed to be booked solid.

But it’s been a while since they’ve done anything big, and Geoff likes to keep up appearances.

He lays out the plan on a Saturday, too early in the morning to be anything but torturous. Michael’s only half awake, going through the motions of making coffee without paying much attention to what he’s doing.

It’d probably be safer to just abandon the effort before he ends up doing something like dumping salt into his mug or trying to percolate flour instead of ground coffee beans, but right now he needs caffeine with the sort of blind intensity that would put a heroin addict to shame.

Gavin, even less conscious than he is, is leaning solidly against his back. Michael pushes him away before he can actually fall asleep standing up.

Yawning, he leans against the counter to wait for the coffee to brew while Gavin stumbles in the general direction of the living room, flops heavily onto one of the couches, and only barely avoids landing on Ray’s legs on his way down. Ray, for his part, just pulls the hood of his jacket farther down over his face and props his feet up on Gavin’s lap.

“Might help to turn it on.”

Michael glances over in time to see Ryan reach over and start up the coffee pot. He blinks as it starts to burble. “Don’t question my coffee-making abilities. I know what I’m doing.”

“And what were you doing?”

“Waiting for it to let its guard down. You have to take it by surprise.”

Ryan shakes his head. “What time did you go to bed?” He somehow manages to look completely awake at— Jesus, barely seven in the morning. Michael resents him a little for it.

Still, he grins. “About the same time Gavin and Ray did,” he says.

“He’s talking about sex,” Ray deadpans from the living room.

Ryan snorts. “Got it, yeah.”

He helps Michael juggle six mugs from the kitchen to the living room just as Geoff and Jack walk in. Ryan nudges Ray and Gavin until they make room for him on one couch while Geoff and Jack take the other. It says something about how much time they spend with one another that Michael doesn’t have to ask anyone how they want their coffee; he sets each mug down on the coffee table in front of their respective owners before sitting down between Geoff and Jack with his own.

Gavin, typically, takes Ray’s by mistake, and they bicker about it while Geoff lays a map out on the table.

More often than not these days, they’re all sleeping under one roof. Geoff has rooms for all of them. They don’t stay always, but even Ryan claimed a room, the one at the end of the front hall with guns under the bed and his own version of a bug-out bag at the door.

It’s better this way, Michael thinks, than it used to be—when Geoff had to call them in from anywhere and everywhere. Michael stayed at a cheap apartment at the edge of town, Ray used to bounce from shitty motel to shitty motel in the city, and Ryan would always show up from who knew where jetlagged to hell with bags under his eyes. They tried to stay centered around Los Santos as a general base of operation, but work and lifestyle had them spread out.

So it’s better, now. Tentative and weird, but better. Michael lives in the most expensive penthouse Los Santos has to offer, and he knows how everyone likes their coffee, and it’s disgustingly domestic, almost, except how they’re all fucking each other and committing high-stakes crimes on the regular.

“Alright, boys,” Geoff says. His coffee sits untouched on the table, the way it does whenever he’s particularly excited about something, the way it will stay until he’s laid out the plan completely. “This one’s gonna be good.”

“We’re going to steal the Declaration of Independence,” Ray whispers.

Geoff ignores him. “Straightforward heist this go-round.”

“What, no picking up tanks with a cargobob?” Ryan murmurs into his coffee cup.

“Nope,” Geoff says brightly. “Hitting an armored truck and a bank. But don’t tempt me, Ryan.”

Gavin frowns, fingers tapping on his mug. “Not very exciting, is it? Thought you said this was a heist for recognition. We hit a bank last month.”

“Bigger bank this time,” Jack says. Geoff uncaps a marker with his teeth and circles a spot on the map in bright red. Michael leans forward to get a better look.

And, yeah.

It’s a bigger bank.

The Union Depository is where all the big-wigs keep their shit. The bank holds money and jewelry and, like, expensive paintings, Michael’s heard. The rich and famous and powerful from all over the city hold accounts there because it’s prestigious and because it’s guarded like Fort fucking Knox. Michael hasn’t heard of anybody making it out of there alive with a substantial take, so of course it’s the one Geoff wants to hit.

Ray’s the one who finally says something. “Geoff.”

“Yeah, buddy?”

How is this supposed to be straightforward?”

-----

So, okay, it’s not straightforward. It’s actually going take more planning and setup than most of their past heists combined—which is a good thing, Michael tells himself, because they’re going to need all the prep work in the world to pull this off.

It’s hard to act skeptical, though. Geoff’s excitement is infectious, and as he lays out the plan, it doesn’t take long for Michael’s hands to start itching to wrap around a steering wheel, a gun, a bank-wrapped stack of cash.

“What do you guys think?” Geoff asks finally, tossing down his notes and looking at them all expectantly. There’s a beat of silence.

Ray clears his throat. “Right,” he says, “I’m all for it, except—and this is just a suggestion—maybe instead of doing that, we could not do that.”

“Ray.”

“I’m a reckless asshole, Geoff, but I’m not suicidal. Do you seriously think we can pull this off?”

Geoff sighs. “Honestly? No, I’m not. That’s where the research and surveillance come in. I mean it—if I’m not confident we can run this thing clean, we won’t do it.” He grins. “But we’re gonna find out if we can. And if we can? It’s gonna go down as one of the best heists Los Santos has ever seen. Look me in the eye and tell me you aren’t interested in being a part of this.”

That seems to pacify Ray a little. He smiles, shaking his head. “Alright. Cut the inspirational music already—I’m with you.”

“Of course you are. Anything else?”

Ryan raises his hand like grade school kid.

Geoff snorts and calls on him dutifully. “Is this actually important?”

“I’m insulted you would imply that I ever have something to add that is anything less than important, Geoff.”

“Out with it.”

“Do we get masks?” Ryan asks, and then ducks, laughing, when Geoff launches a pillow at him.

-----

Prep work starts slow—Geoff makes a bunch of phone calls for a few days, and he and Jack go meet up with people for information and deal-making. It’s times like these Michael remembers just how good a team they make. Half their communication is silent, shared looks and body language and the odd sigh.

He’d asked Geoff once how they’d gotten together—didn’t specify in terms of work or a relationship—and Geoff had grinned. “I was shit-faced,” he’d replied simply, “and Jack was a sucker. Ask him about Queens if you really want to get him riled up.”

When he’d done as much, Jack had just smiled, shaken his head, said, “Someone needed to baby-sit him,” and left it at that.

But it feels good to have the two of them working cohesively. They’re working to do something nobody’s pulled off before, and some of the concern leaches from Michael’s shoulders when he sees them bent over a stack of notes, making plans, keeping everything together.

Geoff wants to get Gavin access to the Union Depository’s security footage. “I want to know exactly what we’re working with,” he says. “Camera placements, guard schedules, the works. No surprises.”

After a few days, Jack manages to get his hands on blueprints for the place. Ryan poses as an IT guy over the phone to get intel without raising any suspicion, gets a hold of the security records, relevant names, some general info on the vault. Ray knows a few employees on the inside from his drug work and says he might be able to call in a couple favors.

Back when he first moved to Los Santos, Michael worked for a repair company that did electric and plumbing and other general handyman stuff. He got called in a couple times to go to the Union Depository, one time to repair an elevator, the other to help reroute a fire sprinkler system. He got a little official nametag to clip to his uniform, and he kept the thing. Geoff thinks it’s as good a ruse as any to get him into the building if they need that to happen and tells him to bring it from his apartment.

Jack says Geoff needs to stop watching Ocean’s Eleven.

Michael’s heading back to Geoff’s place after grabbing the nametag and a few other things from his apartment—why he even bothers to keep the place, he’s not completely sure, but the rent is more than manageable, and it feels good to have a place to go that isn’t a motel when he wants a night to himself, and they’ve used the place as a safe house a few times before, so it’s a decent investment.

He stops by their warehouse on his way back across the city to drop off a file Jack gave him to give to Geoff. They’ve worked out of that warehouse for ages now; Geoff maintains it’s the best money he’s ever spent on a building, including his penthouse suite.

Ryan called it a shithole when he first joined up with them and still calls it a shithole now, and Michael can’t really argue with that, because it sort of makes the Motel 6 in the middle of fucking Crack Cocaine County look like the Buckingham Palace. It’s not dirty, really, but there are some suspicious blood stains and they’re not as good about cleaning the place up as they should be, and it’s not the most structurally-sound place in Los Santos.

The atmosphere is pretty great for torture interrogation, though, which is what Geoff uses the warehouse for most days now.

Michael parks his car around back and lets himself in. It’s lit sparsely, the only strong lights coming from one of the separated rooms all the way at the end. It’s mostly silent, save the sound of a low, threatening voice and what Michael guesses is someone protesting through a gag.

Sounds like a party.

He heads in that direction, file in hand, the multiple lights sending shadows across boxes and fold-out tables and a couple of motorcycles. When he pokes his head into the room, he sees Geoff leaning over a guy tied to a chair, gagged and bleeding. Geoff’s holding him by the hair tight enough to make the guy snarl, a pistol held loosely in his other hand.

Michael coughs.

Geoff turns and smiles beatifically. “Hey!” he greets. There’s drying blood spattered across his jaw. “I’ll be done here soon.”

Michael holds up the manila folder and uses it to fan himself. “Got your file. And may I say how thrilled I am to be demoted to delivery boy?”

Geoff grins at him and crosses the room, reaching out to take the folder from him. “Some people would kill for the opportunity to deliver shit to me.”

“I have killed for this opportunity to deliver shit to you, and I gotta say, not all it’s cracked up to be— No, gross, you have blood on your face, don’t kiss me,” Michael protests, turning his head away.

Geoff laughs and backs off. “What, too kinky?”

“No, it stops being kinky when it’s someone else’s blood."

Geoff grins wickedly. “So you’re implying that if it’s your own blood...”

Michael just raises an eyebrow and smirks faintly.

Well. I’ll keep that in mind.” Geoff tosses the folder on the table next to Michael after leafing through it for a minute, then turns back to the guy in the chair and walks over. If the expression on the guy’s face is any indication, he’d clearly been hoping that Geoff had forgotten about him.

“You need any help?” Michael asks.

Geoff looks thoughtfully at the guy, who’s glowering. “Nah, I’ve got it. The shipment come in alright?”

“Yeah, Kdin’s gonna call later to give you the numbers. And Gavin wants to know if it’s okay to start looking into the security cameras for the heist?”

Geoff sighs and runs a hand down his face. “Shit. Yeah, tell him to go ahead and get started on that. Toss me that knife?”

Michael picks up a pocket knife from the table and throws it underhand to Geoff, who catches it and flicks it open casually, heedless of the way the guy starts struggling wildly and swearing muffledly behind the gag. “I’m gonna head back to the apartment if you’ve got this covered. Ryan’s making that really elaborate pot roast of his and I don’t want to miss out.”

Geoff takes another look at the guy and frowns, toying with the knife. “Tell Ryan to put some aside for me if I don’t make it back in time to eat with you guys. Should be finishing up soon, but you know how it is.” He gives a little sigh, like he’s some nine-to-five office worker stuck working late and not implying that he’s about to kill a man.

Michael fucking loves him.

-----

Once Michael gives him the go-ahead for the security tapes, Gavin disappears into his room, laptop under his arm, a determined expression on his face. Hours later, Michael gives a friendly tap on the door on his way to bed but doesn’t disturb him, both because he values his life and also because if Gavin didn’t kill him with the power of his annoyance, he’d rope Michael into looking at some of the security footage while talking about camera angles for twelve million years, and Michael’s got better things to do, like sleep, or just literally anything other than that.

Gavin doesn’t reappear until midafternoon the next day. Michael’s hanging out in the living room with the others when Gavin, bags under his eyes and not quite stumbling around in exhaustion, walks through the living room, tosses his notebook onto the table, and heads straight to the pantry in the kitchen.

He emerges a moment later with three cookies stacked between his teeth, a box of hostess cupcakes in one hand and a bag of chips in the other.

Michael stares. “Did you forget to eat again?” he asks.

Gavin makes a sheepish, muffled noise of affirmation. He gets about halfway to the couch, pauses in consideration, turns around, then goes back into the kitchen and practically dives into the refrigerator.

“If you didn’t get so caught up in camera work, this wouldn’t happen,” Jack says disapprovingly.

Gavin returns to the living room, arms piled with food, mouth full. He sets everything down on the coffee table and sort of rearranges it like he’s got a plan of attack. He swallows. “I remembered to stay hydrated this time,” he says, sounding proud about it.

Ryan walks in, raises an eyebrow at Gavin’s feast, and shakes his head. “Take it slow,” he warns, walking into the kitchen and opening the refrigerator. “Unless you want a repeat of last time.”

Gavin, mouth full again, just gives Ryan a thumbs up and continues to demolish a leftover carton of Chinese takeout.

Geoff reaches hopefully for one of the cupcakes that had tumbled out of the box, only to pull his hand away when Gavin glowers at him. “Jesus, fine. What’d you find on the security tapes, then?” he asks.

It takes a moment before Gavin stops chewing long enough to respond—even then, Michael’s not sure if he was just pausing to breathe and replied as an afterthought. “It’s going to be a damned tight run,” he says, voice a little slurred with exhaustion.

“That’s not really an answer.”

“Who the hell drank all the beer?” Ryan demands, slamming the refrigerator door closed.

“I told you,” Gavin says through a mouthful of lo mein, “I stayed hydrated this time.”

“Alcohol is a diuretic,” Jack says mildly.

“I should get credit for trying.”

“Not only do you not get credit for trying,” Ryan says, resignedly pouring himself a glass of juice, “but you also get to restock the fridge.”

“Can we focus on the job?” Geoff asks plaintively. “Just for a minute?”

Gavin pushes various food items out of the way and unearths his notebook. Michael cranes his neck. The writing starts off as at least an attempt at being neat, then gets progressively messier down the page. “This place has security tighter than the bloody military base.”

“I’d hope so,” Ray says. “Considering how many times we’ve gotten in and out of there.”

“What are we looking at?” Geoff asks.

“There’s an absolutely ridiculous number of security guards,” Gavin says, still eating. “And they’re on the most rigid schedule I’ve ever seen.”

“Perfect,” Geoff says.

Ray frowns. “That’s...not the adjective I’d use, but okay.”

“It means we’ll know what to expect,” Michael chimes in.

Geoff points at him, grinning. “Exactly.”

“Don’t get too excited,” Gavin says. “There’s also dozens of cameras on constant watch, electronically-locked doors with codes that get changed every week—don’t get me started on the damn vault.”

“Do you think we can pull it off?”

Gavin sets down the now empty container and glances at his notes. He shrugs, stifles a yawn. “Well, yeah.”

“Then that’s all I need to know.” Geoff leans over and presses his lips to Gavin’s cheek, smiling a little. “You look like you’re about to fall asleep just sitting here,” he says. “Get some sleep. You can go over your notes with me later.”

“I’m fine,” Gavin argues.

“You nearly ran into like three different walls just getting from your room to here,” Ray points out.

“I did that on purpose.”

Michael snorts, standing, and reaches out to haul Gavin to his feet. “You’re making me tired just looking at you. Go the fuck to sleep.”

Gavin sulks. “Fine.”

“Try not to run into any more walls on your way there,” Ryan adds. “You have such precious few brains cells left.”

“I have control over my bloody motor functions,” Gavin protests, and then he takes exactly one and a half steps and trips over the coffee table.

Because Gavin is incredibly, incredibly predictable, Michael manages to grab him by the back of his shirt and haul him back upright before he can hit the floor. “Man, comedic timing really likes to fuck with you, huh.” He puts an arm around Gavin and steers him along. “C’mon, I’ll tuck you in like the baby you are.”

“Not a baby,” Gavin mutters, but he’s already leaning against Michael, eyes half closed.

“Sure as shit haven’t developed your sense of spatial awareness yet,” Michael says, pushing Gavin gently into his room when they get there. “I figure that counts.”

Gavin turns as he’s pushed through the doorway and snags Michael by the belt loops, tugging him along as he walks backwards to his bed.

Michael laughs. “Nuh-uh. You’ve been working your ass off nonstop for the past seventeen hours. Even if we did screw around, you’d fall asleep before you’d manage to get off.”

“Don’t want to screw around.”

“Then what the hell— Dude, no,” Michael protests, trying to pry Gavin’s hands off him as he’s pulled inexorably down onto the bed. “I slept last night. I don’t need to sleep now.”

“Then don’t sleep. Just stay.” Gavin wraps around him like an octopus, smiling a little, and shuts his eyes.

“I’m not gonna stare at the ceiling for hours just because you need a goddamn cuddle buddy! You’re a grown-ass man! You— Fuck you, you’re not actually asleep right now, quit pretending, what are you, five? Get off. I have shit I need to do today. Gavin!

(Geoff pokes his head into the doorway a couple hours later and grins at them. Michael’s staring resolutely at the ceiling, because fuck his life and fuck his to-do list, apparently; Gavin, actually asleep now, is clinging to him like a fucking—analogies fail him. Like a bullshit clinging thing.

Because he’s not a complete asshole, Michael just mouths Help me for the love of god instead of saying it out loud and waking Gavin up.

Geoff, because he is a complete asshole, just laughs quietly, gets out his phone, snaps a picture of them, and walks away.)

-----

Nights before a heist always leave them all twitchy-fingered. Jack paces, Ryan fiddles with knives, Ray plays shooter games, Gavin downs enough Red Bull to kill an elephant, and Michael mostly just focuses on suppressing the urge to blow something up just to break the tension.

Geoff drinks and goes over the plan with a repetition that really makes Michael want to blow something up.

“We’ll load up on weapons and ammo tomorrow morning, in case we end up needing it,” Geoff says, again, and then he adds, “Oh, and we’re switching to a new supplier.”

Ray frowns and glances up from his game. “Why? What happened to Sean?”

“Did Gavin try to sleep with him?” Michael asks sympathetically.

“Oh, piss off!” Gavin exclaims.

“Well, did you?”

No!

“Just the vehicle transport guy, then,” Ryan says, nodding.

“That was one time!”

Jack glances back and forth between them like he’s watching a complicated tennis match, then eventually raises an eyebrow at Geoff, who lets out a long-suffering sigh. “I had to drop Sean. His prices were up over thirty percent when I went in a few days ago to see if he’d be good for what we’d need for this job.”

“Jesus,” Ryan comments.

 “When I called him out on it, he admitted he was only cranking up the price for us.”

“What the hell?” Michael demands. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Said I shouldn’t be pissed off about it ‘cause we can afford it, anyway.”

“And what’d you say?” Ray asks.

Geoff snorts. “I told him to go fuck himself. He tried to threaten me, said he’d make it so no one in Los Santos would sell us shit. So I put a good word out—no one’s gonna come to him for business anytime soon. He gets his head out of his ass, I’ll think about seeing if he’ll be willing to sell to us again.” He grins. “For a hefty discount, of course. And I’ve got good connections in the meantime.”

“Told you I didn’t try to sleep with him,” Gavin mutters.

So,” Geoff continues, ignoring him completely, “For tomorrow night, we’ve got Jack in the air, Ray and Michael’ll be across from the bank—Ray on a roof, Michael playing wheelman in the alley—and Ryan will be waiting at the bank for when Gavin and I meet up with him in the armored truck.”

“I’m on a murder break,” Ryan cuts in.

Geoff raises an eyebrow at him.

Ryan shrugs. “Gavin said he didn’t think I could.”

“I dared him,” Gavin confirms.

“Great. Glad we’re all still in middle school,” Geoff says. “But, sure. This all goes to plan, you won’t end up having to kill anybody.”

Ryan looks almost disappointed.

-----

Michael loves the action of a heist, but there’s something to be said about the set up in the few hours before the action starts. Anticipation. It’s like foreplay, he tells Ray as he helps him finish setting up on a roof across the street from the bank.

Of course, that conversation leads to fooling around on the roof, fumbling hands and hot skin and then breathless laughter when Geoff’s voice crackles in their ears over the radio.

“If Charlie 1 and Charlie 2 could keep it in their pants until we’ve finished robbing this bank, that’d be great.”

“If we could actually hurry up and rob the stupid bank, that’d be great,” Ray says, checking the scope on his rifle for the umpteenth time and rebuckling his belt. “I’ve been sitting on this roof for an hour. I’m gonna start taking pot shots at pedestrians in a minute.”

“Why is there a fire truck and bunch of police cars less than a mile from the Union Depository?” Jack asks suddenly.

What?” come Geoff and Ryan’s voices together.

Gavin clears his throat and pauses. His silence somehow manages to sound sheepish. “Well. I may have blown up a gas station just a tiny bit a few minutes ago.”

“Seriously?” Ryan demands. His voice is nearly drowned out by collective sounds of exasperation from everyone else.

“I wanted to test the blast radius on the new sticky bombs!”

“So you blew up a gas station?” Jack sounds deeply disapproving.

“Well, don’t say it like that, you make me sound unreasonable!”

“Good! Because you are!” Michael snaps.

“Michael!”

“The entire heist is gonna fail because you can’t control your fucking hard-on for messing things up!”

“Like you’re one to talk,” Gavin says, and then everyone starts yelling at once.

It’s complete chaos until Geoff finally shouts, louder than them all, “Everybody shut the fuck up!” When there’s silence over the radio save the faint noise of cargobob blades on Jack’s line, he sighs. “Fuck. Okay. It’s fine.”

“Uh, is it really?” Ray asks.

Geoff ignores him. “We’re not waiting for the police to clear out,” he continues. “That could take hours, and we don’t have that kind of time. We do it now. Maybe we’ll end up with less police on our asses if they’re too busy cleaning up Gavin’s mess.”

“He was testing the blast radius,” Ryan says mockingly.

“It wasn’t even that big of an explosion,” Gavin protests.

“Not killing you during that first heist was a mistake.”

Ryan,” and that was unmistakably a whine, “don’t be terrible.”

“We still have time to rectify that mistake.”

“You’re on a murder break!”

Geoff sighs again, deeply. “Guys. Please? Everybody into positions.”

-----

While Gavin hijacks the armored truck with Geoff, he and Ryan bicker incessantly, which means they’ll probably fuck tonight if the heist goes well. Michael laughs at Geoff’s increasingly more theatrical sighs and waits in a car in an alleyway just below the roof Ray’s crouched on, right across the street from the bank. He knows Ryan’s there, in the car park beneath the bank, waiting for Gavin and Geoff to arrive in the truck so they can get started.

Geoff has him only playing wheelman this heist. He’ll wait for Ryan to run out of the bank and into his car after Geoff and Gavin get out with the money, and he’ll drive to the meet-up location where Jack will be waiting with the cargobob. Chances are, they won’t even have to evade the police—chances are, he’ll be able to go the fucking speed limit the whole way there. He knows he shouldn’t be disappointed, but there’s a part of him that always wants to be moving a hundred miles an hour, one hand on the steering wheel, the other wrapped around a hot gun.

But he sits in the car, headlights off, engine rumbling quietly, and waits. There’s an AP Pistol sitting on the center console but he’s not likely to use it, didn’t even bother buying body armor when they went to load up on gear from their new supplier—not as good as Sean, if he’s honest, but if what Geoff said about the guy is true, he can deal with that.

“We’re thirty seconds from the bank,” Geoff finally shouts above Gavin and Ryan’s argument.

“Oh!” Gavin says. “Yeah, we are. Wasn’t even paying attention, sorry.” There’s a pause, and then, “Geoff, you’re going to blow out the windows if you keep sighing so loudly.”

-----

Getting the money goes off without a hitch, and then it all goes wrong faster than Michael can blink.

He blinks, and as he opens his eyes he hears approaching sirens in the same moment Ray shouts, “We’ve got police!”

Geoff swears, and Michael hears doors slamming and feet shuffling.

“How many?” Ryan asks.

Stuck in the alley, Michael can’t see anything approaching, but Ray says, “Uh.”

How many?

“Fuck, like ten cars? You guys— You guys gotta get out of there, now or five minutes ago if possible,” Ray says, and Ray rarely sounds nervous but he does right now, clear in the cadence and shake of his voice.

“What the hell? Did someone rat us out?” Gavin asks, his voice pitched up an octave and terrified.

Michael’s hands itch as his pulse starts to rise. Ten police cars is good enough reason to be nervous. Ten police cars— They can handle a few no problem, a few are normal to start, but so many, so soon, even at a bank like this? This shit isn’t normal.

“Go!” Ryan says, and Michael grips his steering wheel white-knuckled until he hears Ray let out a sigh of relief.

“Jack— Bravo one,” Ray amends, exasperated, “Alpha— Fuck it, Geoff and Gavin are headed your way.”

“We’ve got a couple cars on us,” Geoff adds, “but we can lose them. I think the rest are still at the bank. Money’s in the truck. We get away, we’re golden. Alpha two?”

“Fuck,” is all Ryan says, and Michael wants so badly to know what the hell is going on, but all he can see are police cars swarming the bank.

When Ryan finally emerges, he’s got a gun in his hand and a bag slung over his shoulder and he’s running flat out like he doesn’t know there are police surrounding the parking lot and the street, blocking him in. He stops short when he sees them with their weapons drawn and takes a few steps back, right hand twitching towards his own gun.

“Get back in the garage!” Michael shouts, but he can see Ryan shaking his head minutely from across the street.

“They’re already in there.”

There’s a beat’s pause, and when the gunfire starts it drowns out Geoff’s hurried instructions. Ryan’s body twists and lunges for what little cover there is in the parking lot, but it’s not enough, that’s obvious.

Ray’s sniping from the rooftop, but Ryan is going to get shot dead without better cover, there’s no avoiding it. The headlights of a cop car hit Ryan’s face and Michael can see his eyes through his mask, focused like they always are in a gunfight but wide in alarm like they have never been, and that’s it.

“Hang on, I’m coming over there,” Michael says, grabbing his gun from the center console and tucking it into his jacket.

“You’re not wearing any body armor,” Ryan snaps.

“Ryan—”

“Michael, don’t dare.”

Michael throws the car into drive. “Ray, cover me.”

No!” Ryan snarls, and everyone’s shouting, but Michael can barely hear them over the sound of his car’s tires screaming out of the alley and across the street. He thinks, belatedly, I probably should have put on my seatbelt as he crashes into a cop car, forcing it out of the way so he can get 00Mogar between Ryan and the police.

It’s a decent plan for the moment, but with the active gun fire and sheer number of vehicles in the lot, they’re gonna have to take down a serious number of cops before it’s safe to push back out and get the hell out of there.

Whatever. They’ll manage, and it’ll keep Ryan alive. Making things up as they go along is basically how they’ve made it this far, anyway.

When Michael stumbles out of the car, bruised to hell but otherwise okay, Ryan is already there, a hand curled in his shirt, shoving him down on his ass by the driver’s side door as bullets fly overhead. Distantly, he hears a body hit the ground, and reminds himself to thank Ray later.

Michael has seen Ryan angry. He knows how Ryan’s eyes go cold and bright like burning ice when he’s gunning someone down. Ryan’s fury, when it’s directed at someone else, is scary.

When it’s directed at him, it’s terrifying.

“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” Ryan’s voice is cold and soft and slow, like he has all the time in the world to speak. He doesn’t blink, and Michael feels pinned to the tarmac by his gaze alone.

“I’m trying to make sure you don’t get killed!” he manages to spit back. Ryan’s eyes flash, and Michael is recklessly thankful for the sudden barrage of bullets that hit the car and force Ryan back up and shooting.

“Alpha two sounds pissed,” Ray singsongs. Ryan, in one fluid motion, turns and fires once at Ray’s rooftop. “Hey! Okay, Jesus, sorry!”

“Quit the fucking pillow talk and get the hell out of there,” Geoff barks. “We’ve already made it to Jack.”

“The whole street’s a clusterfuck,” Michael says, kneeling on the tarmac and reloading his gun. “It’s gonna take a minute.”

It takes a bit longer than that, but with the three of them actively shooting, it’s not by too much, and it looks like they might actually be getting the upper hand. The high stakes are terrifying, yeah, but if he’s honest, the adrenaline high he’s getting right now is unbelievable, and at the end of the day, these jackhammer-heart moments are why he does this for a living.

It’s a little harder to get all sappy about it when another squad of police cars pulls up to the bank, though. Happy moment officially shat on by the LSPD—what else is new.

“I’m running out of ammo,” Michael says. Ray makes an unhappy noise of agreement.

“What’s happening?” Geoff asks.

“We’re about to be fucked by the long, hard dick of the law.”

Ryan manages to look completely unaffected, which is both weird and oddly terrifying, probably because he’s always been most dangerous when ostensibly calm. He scans the parking lot, thoughtful, as the cars rush in. “Ray, pack up your rifle. We’re gonna be in the street in just a minute,” he says. Michael stares at him. “Jack, I’m gonna need you to meet us halfway.”

“You got it,” Jack responds uncertainly.

“And Gavin?” Ryan adds.

“Yeah?”

“You said you were testing the blast radius on the new sticky bombs earlier—”

“Oh, come on—”

“Take it easy. I just need you to tell me what the radius is.”

“Uh, bit under twenty feet, depending? Pretty devastating damage, though, mind.”

Ryan scans the parking lot again. “Great, that’s perfect,” he says, and then several things happen at once. Ryan pulls something from his jacket and throws it into the throng of police vehicles, grabs the back of Michael’s neck and pushes him down behind the car, and then crouches down next to him and ducks his head.

And then the whole fucking world explodes.

00Mogar nearly tips over with the force of the sticky bomb blast, its two right wheels lifting up off the ground before they crash back down, shaking the frame of the car. Shrapnel goes flying over Michael’s head and there’s dust thick in the air and in his lungs, and his ears are ringing so loudly he can only hear the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears.

Action movie heroes are the baddest motherfuckers in the world, he decides, because when they’re caught in an explosion, they get up and keep running, but Michael kind of wants to just lay down on the tarmac and gasp for air, or die.

He’s thinking about doing that—because it’s better than what he was thinking about before, which was essentially just fuck fuck fuck oh god fuck me fuck this shit what the hell—when Ryan puts a heavy hand on his shoulder. He’s saying something; the ringing in Michael’s ears makes it indistinct, but the concern on his face and the questioning furrow of his eyebrows probably means it’s “are you okay,” or possibly “are you going to kill me for sort of halfway blowing up your car,” the answer to both being “I haven’t decided yet.”

“Fuck,” is Michael’s actual response, because he figures that covers most of the bases.

He’s no stranger to explosives, but usually he’s dealing with the actual explosion part from a distance, not taking an active role in the whole “holy fuck it’s like the actual air is on fire” bit. That, plus the force of impact from crashing into one of the LSPD’s finest sturdy police cars, and Michael’s not having the greatest time right this second.

He struggles to his feet, looks out over the parking lot, and swears again with feeling.

It’s some weird combination of horrifying and impressive. There are cars and bodies alike in various states of wholeness, and like seven different things are on fire. A few cop cars that avoided the worst of it are retreating, and Michael’s hearing gradually starts to return in time to hear Ray shout above what sounds like ten car alarms that he’s coming down from the roof now and to try not blow him up if they can help it.

“So,” Ryan says awkwardly. “My murder break is, uh, technically over.”

“You owe me fifty quid!” Gavin shouts as Geoff asks, panicked, “Are you guys okay?”

“Ryan just blew up like half the Los Santos police department,” Michael announces, but he’s laughing in a shaken, relieved sort of way, because they’re not dead and they’re going to get out of this. “On the bright side, those new sticky bombs are fucking brutal, so let’s keep getting those.” Ryan’s body language is already relaxing and he’s got the beginnings of a smile threatening to form.

So, typically, that’s when Michael gets shot.

For a second, it feels like being punched. Michael stumbles backward, not immediately understanding what happened, and then pain blossoms in his side, white hot and making him see stars. Ryan’s eyes go wide, then narrow, and he lifts his gun as Michael doubles over, clutching his side.

He looks up in time to see a cop hit the ground, a neat bullet wound between his eyes. Ryan looks absolutely murderous, and he’s eyeing the body like he’s not done with it yet.

Michael moves his hand from his side and it comes away bright red. “Son of a bitch,” he grates out, hoping he manages to sound more irritated than pained.

“Michael?” If the concern in Jack’s voice wasn’t enough, the complete bypass of code names is enough to let him know he isn’t fooling anyone. Michael’s knees buckle, and he leans heavily against his car. Fuck, it hurts, like someone’s pushing a cattle brand into his side and twisting it viciously. Blood’s seeping rapidly into his clothes and he’s too much of a wuss to prod much at the wound to figure out if the gunshot actually did any serious damage. He grits his teeth so hard he can feel his jaw creaking.

“Is he okay?” Geoff demands. “What the hell is going on?”

Ryan’s already got the passenger side door open. He gets his arms around Michael and helps him as quickly as possible into the car as Ray runs up, clutching his rifle white-knuckled, and climbs into the back seat. “He got shot, lower right side. How close are you?”

“ETA two minutes,” Jack replies. His voice is pinched and too controlled, the way it gets whenever he’s worried but needs to stay focused.

“We’ve got more police coming this way. We’ll meet you by the freeway,” Ryan says, slamming Michael’s door and moving to the driver’s side.

“You almost blew up my car,” Michael protests, because it’s better to argue than focus on how much he wants to be removed from his body. “You don’t get to drive it.”

“Is this a good time to say ‘I told you so’ about your lack of body armor?” Ryan asks conversationally. It’s his usual ‘banter’ voice, but his eyes are cold and he’s gripping the steering wheel way too hard.

Michael pushes him anyway. “Fuck you, I saved your goddamn life.”

Ryan makes a low, growling noise in the back of his throat and takes his eyes off the road to look at him, apparently not caring that they’re tearing down the busy street at nearly ninety miles an hour.

“Ladies,” Ray cuts in, laughing nervously. “It’s okay. You’re both pretty. Can you— Ry, you gotta turn up here, eyes on the road, maybe?”

There’s a moment of tense silence, and then Ryan takes the turn too sharply, making Michael hiss and clutch at his side, breathing hard. He glances down and swears, alarmed, shutting his eyes. “Fucking shit.”

Ray leans forward, sticking his head between the two front seats to get a better look at him. He’s pale and drumming his fingers anxiously. “You gonna be okay, dude?”

No,” Michael groans.

Agonizing gunshot wound aside, he’s bleeding all over the upholstery, and he just got the car detailed.

-----

He nearly passes out as they load him into the back of the helicopter, too pressed for time to be careful or gentle. Spots swim in his vision and he blinks hard, and everything comes in like snapshots: Geoff’s expression is tight and concerned, and he does a quick and instinctive head count, gaze skipping over the tops of everyone’s heads; Jack takes one look at Michael and reaches for the first aid kit; Gavin’s white as a sheet and looking like he’s a few seconds from vomiting.

“Someone needs to fly us out of here while I get a look at him,” Jack says as he kneels down and starts helping Michael out of his jacket. Michael moves mechanically, struggling to block out the pain, and if he thinks about the blood on the floor of the cargobob or how every breath hurts, he’s going to pass the fuck out.

“I’ll do it,” Gavin says, getting to his feet.

“No!” comes the chorus of responses, in varying degrees of alarm.

“I’ve got it,” Ryan says quietly, clapping a hand on Gavin’s shoulder as he moves past him to sit at the controls.

Michael’s stomach flops as the helicopter rises up sharply, and he bites down on a strangled sound when Jack pushes his shirt up and starts to wipe away the blood.

“Sorry,” Jack murmurs, wincing. “I need to get a better look at this.”

“Does he need to go to the hospital?” Geoff demands.

“Like that’s a fucking option right now?” Michael snaps. “Jack can fix it.” Jack doesn’t say anything, just pushes his glasses up from where they’ve slid down his nose and grabs a fistful of gauze. And Michael’s never been squeamish—that’s always been Gavin’s thing—but when he looks down at himself and sees the bloody mess of his side, his head spins. He drops his head back and it cracks against the wall of the cargobob, but that soreness is a welcome relief from the burning pain that blooms further under Jack’s hands, as careful as they may be.

Ray’s the one who asks the question everyone’s been sitting on. “Where’d all the police come from?” He’s looking at Geoff when he says it, hand on Michael’s shoulder. “That wasn’t first-response shit. They were tipped off.”

“Who would’ve ratted us out?” Gavin wonders. He’s sitting next to Michael and he’s rubbing a thumb along the back of Michael’s hand like it’s a worry stone. It’s part reassuring and part self-comforting, Michael knows, and maybe ordinarily he’d be annoyed with the tactility, but right now he appreciates the smoothness of the pad of Gavin’s thumb and the distraction it provides. He doesn’t look down at what Jack’s doing.

Geoff looks furious in that carefully-contained way of his. “The only outside person I mentioned the heist to was Sean,” he says levelly. “I knew he was pissed off about what I did after the price-raising bullshit he pulled, but obviously I didn’t think—” He shakes his head. “Fuck it, doesn’t matter. He dropped the dime on us, I’d stake my life on it. I’ll deal with him.” He pinches the bridge of his nose and shuts his eyes. “I’ll deal with him.”

“I can’t patch him up with what’s here,” Jack cuts in, leaning back. Michael’s starting to feel really light-headed, tells himself it’s the sick twisting of pain and not because of blood loss, focuses on breathing. “If we can’t take him to a hospital—which I recommend, because I’m not an actual fucking doctor and I think you guys forget that sometimes—I at least need my supplies at home.”

“No hospitals,” Michael grates out.

“Okay,” Geoff says, but he looks reluctant. “We’ll get you back to the apartment.” He starts pointing. “Ryan, you get us back to the apartment. Stand by in case I need you for an emergency pickup. Gav, you help Jack get Michael inside. Ray, you’ll come with me; we’ll meet up with Lindsay and Kdin to wrap this thing up. Jack, you call me if you decide Michael needs to get to the hospital; we’ll figure it out. Michael— Shit, hey, look at me.”

“Don’t feel great,” Michael manages. He forces himself to open his eyes, can’t completely focus on Geoff’s face but knows he’s scowling to hide his fear.

“Michael. Hey, come on, keep your eyes open. You— Michael, you keep your fucking eyes open, kid, or I swear to god I’ll fire you. I mean it. And you won’t be able to get a recommendation out of me, either. I’ll say horrible things, like how you got yourself shot and you bled all over the cargobob. This is a rental, you asshole.”

“Marking my territory,” Michael mumbles. “It’s mine now.”

“Least he didn’t piss all over it,” Ray says reasonably.

“Don’t tempt me,” he says—or means to say, but the words come out dulled and indistinct to his own ears. He hears everyone talking at once, the high, anxious strains of Gavin’s voice and the low, calm timbre of Jack’s, and he thinks he manages to force out, “Fuck, I think I’m gonna pass out,” before unconsciousness swallows everything.