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picking your battles: an unauthorized los santos survival guide

Chapter Text

It’s the sixth time Ray’s seen Ryan in the club this month.

The guy’s quiet, polite enough, but it took a few sales just to wheedle a name out of him. He’s a little out of place, if Ray’s honest—he doesn’t look much like a junkie, for one, and he’s older than the vast majority of people there, and he never dances. He’s bought a drink maybe twice in all the times Ray’s seen him.

And, okay, that’s not overly weird. Plenty of people come to the club just to buy. Ryan’s not, like, an ambassador from Bizarro World or anything, Ray’s just one of those people whose brain inexplicably decides to focus on random shit, like floor patterns on a subway car, or the stray cat with one eye that hangs around the motel he’s staying at, or the attractive guy who’s walking up to him in the club for the sixth time this month.

He’s got a hand in his pocket, drawing out cash—he pays in crisp twenties, always, and it’s a welcome change from the crumpled ones and fives held in hot fists Ray gets half the time from other buyers.

As Ryan approaches, Ray pushes away from the wall he’s leaned up against, ready to play the small talk game with Ryan, who’s not much of a talker but doesn’t seem to mind Ray babbling stupidly about the weather or the shitty music in the club.

And so, a list of things Ray could say that would be acceptable, if somewhat awkward:

-It’s freezing outside tonight
-Nice shirt
-Nice face
-Here’s your coke, because this is a business transaction and small talk probably isn’t really necessary, is it

What Ray actually says, with the confidence of someone who’s not like 5’9 on a good day and has far more faith in the sense of humor of their customers:

“So, you buy a lot of coke for someone who’s definitely not a crackhead. What’s up with that?”

He’s expecting a shrug, maybe a joke if he’s lucky, but Ryan’s expression closes off almost imperceptibly. His fingers shut over the bundle of cash and slip back into his pocket, and Ray’s mind switches gears to make the sale in a fraction of a second.

“Hey,” he says, moving in, unassuming smile plastered on his face. Placating (hey, just your friendly neighborhood coke dealer). Flirting, maybe, just a little (sue him). “Not judging. That’s just me trying to make small talk. I’m, uh, not a social butterfly. My bad.” He grins, carefully sheepish. “C’mon, you wanna dance? Loosen up?”

He does this at least once a night. Clubs are easy for sales. Ray can pull a guy onto the dance floor and walk away a gram lighter, a hundred bucks richer. Less frequently, he can bump a line with a girl in a dark corner and send her off with an eightball, money stuffed into the pocket of his jeans. Quick, easy money, little drops in the metaphorical bucket that add up fast.

And, okay, it’s like ninety percent about making the sale, but real talk, it’s also at least ten percent because, hey, the guy’s attractive, Ray’s shallow, 2+2=put your dick in me. He doesn’t usually do the ‘screw your customers’ thing (because half of them are crackheads and the other half would probably start thinking a quick fuck should get them a discount), but he’s getting ready to close up for the night anyway, Ryan’s in the realm of his type (that sounds bad: “what’s my type? oh, you know, significantly older than me and into hard drugs”), and it’s been a while since he’s gotten laid.

For a few seconds, Ryan just looks at him, and then the stoic expression softens with a laugh. “Yeah,” he says, shrugging, like to hell with it. “Sure.”

The club plays typical house music, the wow-I-can-actually-feel-the-bassline-in-my-dick music, where one song blends seamlessly into the next. Ray’s about as into dancing as he is crowds, but he maneuvers his way onto the dance floor easily enough, Ryan’s body a warm, nearly-touching presence at his back. He turns when he manages to secure a place for them on the floor, sees Ryan’s face lit strangely and constantly changing from the lights, and he’s expecting Ryan to be hesitant, even shy—because Ray’s never seen him dance before, because he’s the guy in his thirties surrounded by people in their twenties, because he looks the type to be all left feet and no eye contact—

But Ryan tugs Ray close by the belt loops and moves; Ray’s the one left feeling a second behind, thrown off for the few seconds it takes to find the beat and match it, match Ryan’s push-pull rhythm.

Ryan’s hands are all over, roaming, shameless, and Ray starts thinking real hard about whether or not it’s possible to work in “wanna come back to my motel room” in a way that’s both casual and sexy (probably not. “my motel room” is maybe a few points higher than “my mom’s basement” on the scale of “phrases that get you hot”).

After a few minutes, Ray jumps a little, rhythm stuttering, when he feels Ryan’s fingers dipping past the waistband of his jeans, his boxers. He gets a quick thrum of energy, electric and hot, and presses closer—and they’re practically a few degrees west of vertical sex at this point, bodies flush together—and then he notices the rough scratch of money against his skin.

Ryan grins, hands disappearing, the bills now pinned between his skin and his waistband, and Ray thinks, I want to wreck him.

Quick fingers, again, in and out of Ray’s jacket in two seconds, a bag of coke caught between his middle and index finger and then tucked away. “Thanks.”

Ray cracks a grin, shaking his head. “C’mon. You don’t even do drugs, do you.”

Ryan starts to laugh (breath hot over Ray’s face, too sweet like grenadine and Ray wants, and wants, and wants). He doesn’t answer, just grabs at him again with big, sure hands, looks at Ray like he’s going to kiss him, and—

Pulls away slow, gives Ray an eyebrow raise, a smile like he’s in on some joke Ray doesn’t know the punch line to, and melts into the crowd with a fuckton more grace than he’s shown the past ten times he’s been in the club.

Ray stares at the empty space left on the dance floor and pulls a bunch of twenties out of his pants.

So much for getting laid.

——

He wraps up not long after that, ready to head back to the motel and jerk off in the shower (that’s a sad sentence. that is possibly the most pathetic mental image Ray can come up with that doesn’t involve jacking off with his own tears. jesus). Cash from the night is pushed deep into the inner pocket of his jacket, crumpled, unorganized bills, Ryan’s twenties buried in there somewhere.

He leaves out the back like usual, the night air hitting his face, and he stuffs his hands into his pockets, shoulders hunched against the cold.

It happens too fast: a shout, rough hands, thrown against the dirty brick wall of the club before his eyes can even adjust to the yellow light of the streetlamps in the alley.

He thinks, I’m getting mugged, and then his eyes adjust and he wishes it were just that.

Information comes in harried, stuttering: Four guys, not greedy nobodies, people he recognizes, which means he’s in trouble, he messed up—obviously. Stupid. Let himself get too careless.

Ray’s hands go for his gun, immediate, instinctive, and it’s not there. It’s not there. He flashes back to the dance floor, furious with himself—Ryan’s hands everywhere, quick fingers, body too close, grinning like—

Stupid. Stupid.

“Asshole,” Ray mutters, calmer than he feels.

Hands on him again; Ray throws out an elbow, then goes down hard when someone punches him in the stomach.

He’s kneeling on the ground, gasping, when there’s a shout and a gunshot from the end of the alley. He turns toward the sound automatically, hands twitching uselessly for his gun again, and something heavy connects with the back of his head.

Stars explode behind his eyes. He blacks out for a second, fades back in to his head swimming, throbbing, ears ringing, face down on the concrete.

Groaning, he rolls over, spots in his vision. Shouts again, gunshots, scattering footsteps and Ray can’t see. He struggles to his feet, hands reaching back blindly to support himself against the wall. He barely manages to straighten up before the worst rush of vertigo ever hits him like a truck, knocks him back on his ass.

Black out, fade in: hands, rough movements, jerking him upright. Dizzy. Ray shuts his eyes and tries to remember which direction is up and keep it that way.

Black out, fade in: a car door slamming, leather seats, bile rising in his throat, footsteps crunching on gravel outside the car. Panicked, dazed, he flounders, barely holding onto consciousness and trying to get a sense of where he is—back seat, half upright, windows tinted, clouded with the cold. He’s struggling to unlock the door and get it open (what the fuck, child safety locks, what the fuck) when the driver’s side door opens and a voice snaps, “Stop.”

It reaches Ray’s ears tinny and far away and distorted. He tries to remember how to make his mouth fucking work (come on, Narvaez, words, sounds, something vaguely in the realm of human communication). Vertigo hits him again. “What—”

Keys rattling. An engine starting. “Try to stay conscious.”

“Fuck you,” Ray grates out, and passes out again.

——

It takes a minute to realize he’s not in his motel room.

The bed’s not nearly uncomfortable enough, first of all. And it’s too quiet. Ray’s eyes snap open and he has to shut them again immediately before he throws up. Okay. Save the seeing thing for later, then. What’s happening?

He shifts. All his clothes are on, even his shoes. That’s probably a point in the “good” column. And, not dead—another point.

Head’s throbbing like a motherfucker. Not good. Feels a little like someone threw him off a building. Also not good. No glasses on.

He reaches out and runs a hand across the bed. Alone, on top of the sheets. Good. Probably. Also, nice sheets. Shit’s probably, like, Egyptian cotton. Fancy comforter. What the hell, he’ll count it as a good point. He could use more of those.

So, all in all, could be worse.

Taking in a slow breath, Ray opens his eyes cautiously. It’s mostly dark in the room, curtains covering the window. He sits up. Groans, wincing. His eyes land on the bedside table and he blinks once, twice, again.

His wallet’s there, and his phone, and the coke he didn’t sell, and his gun. His glasses, too, folded up neatly. He puts them on, squinting a little.

The room’s furnished but sparsely decorated, like maybe he’s in the guest room of somebody’s house. He swings his legs off the bed and stands, sticks the landing like a fucking olympic gymnast, and takes a series of wobbly steps to the window. Parts the curtain.

The sun isn’t even peeking above the horizon yet. He looks out at the city—still in Los Santos (plus one point in the good column), on maybe the seventh or eighth floor of an apartment complex?

There’s a rattling, clanging sound from somewhere in the apartment, like someone’s fucking around with pots and pans. Ray moves back to the bedside table, pockets his wallet after rifling through it—everything’s still in there—and the coke and his phone, then picks up the gun. Still loaded, which is somehow both reassuring and unsettling.

He’s not entirely convinced he hasn’t entered the fucking Twilight Zone or something.

Gun in his hand, safety off, he pushes the door open. It swings forward silently into a hallway and the clanging noises get a little louder. No real plan in mind (he needs to work on that, the plan thing; “winging it” has proven to be even less successful than you’d think), he starts moving down the hall, shoes leaving prints in the carpet. He pauses at the end of the hall where it opens out into a living room—like the guest room (what he assumes is a guest room), it’s furnished but virtually undecorated. Lived-in, but just barely. Light is coming in from the kitchen and throwing shadows over everything.

Ray takes in a breath, brings his gun up, and moves into the kitchen.

He stares. “What the fuck.”

Ryan turns around, one hand on a waffle iron, the other holding a big, green mixing bowl. He barely gives the gun a cursory glance. “Morning.”

“What the fuck.”

“You’re probably still concussed. And you might want to ice your head.”

“You stole my gun—”

“I gave it back,” Ryan points out.

“—and threw me to the fucking wolves—”

“That’s an exaggeration.”

Ray moves further into the kitchen and points the gun directly at Ryan’s chest. “Who are you? Not a crackhead. Not some guy looking to get his rocks off at a club. You took my gun, let me walk off like Prince Happy Unaware to get the shit beat out of me, and now you’re making, what, chocolate chip waffles, are you serious—who the fuck does that?”

Ryan sets the bowl down and lifts his hands, palms up, still not looking particularly concerned. “I got hired to find some stupid kid who stole nearly fifty thousand dollars’ worth of coke off a kingpin,” he says, offhand, and Ray’s stomach flips.

“They would’ve killed me,” he says, to Ryan and to himself, as it hits him for the first time how close he came to losing everything. “Or, fuck, worse.”

“But they didn’t.”

“Because you, what, had a change of heart?” Ray demands, gun waving in a vague gesture, uncomprehending.

Ryan raises an eyebrow. “No.”

“You wanna stop being cryptic any time soon, man?”

“Saw you in the alley on my way out. I’d already gotten paid. Figured there wasn’t any reason why you had to die, as long as I had my money.” Ryan turns back to the waffle iron and lifts the top, shrugging. “You’ve got a lot of potential. And it didn’t take much to scatter them.”

“Well, I mean, business first, right?” Ray deadpans.

“That’s right.” There’s no hint of sarcasm in Ryan’s voice.

Ray runs a hand down his face and aims the gun at Ryan’s back. “Okay. Okay. Cool. You wanna give me a reason I shouldn’t kill you right now? Because, I dunno, maybe it’s the concussion, but I’m having trouble coming up with one myself.”

Ryan doesn’t turn around. “Because you don’t want to.”

“Now that’s some bullshit.”

“If you wanted to kill me, kid, you’d have done it already.” He transfers the waffle from the iron to the plate, turns, ignores the gun entirely, and sets the plate down on the set table. “So put that shit away, get some food in you, and tell me about this stolen coke.”

Ray’s eyes flick from Ryan’s face, expectant and calm, to the table, and his grip on the gun falters. He tucks it away, frowning, and pulls up a chair.

——

It’s not a complicated story.

Ray grew up pretty solidly middle class until the economy went to shit and half the neighborhood lost their jobs at the same time. Crime went up. The drug business went way up.

There were only so many months Ray could watch his mom try to stretch pocket change into a week’s worth of groceries. The crew he got involved with was big on recruiting young, so it didn’t take much to get taken in. He worked his way up from what was virtually running errands to selling coke. After a while of working his ass off, real money started coming his way. Nothing to get his family rich, but enough to get them above the danger line. Food on the table. Bills paid. A good pair of shoes for his dad.

“It went to shit, predictably,” Ray continues, grabbing for the syrup again. He gets a little bit of vindictive pleasure in Ryan’s disgusted expression when Ray all but drowns his waffle in the stuff. “The details are boring. Decided pretty quickly I needed to get the fuck out of dodge before things got worse. Skipped town, got my hands on a couple bricks of coke on my way out so I’d have a way to make fast cash.”

“You make it sound like it was easy,” says Ryan, who apparently doesn’t use syrup at all, what a fucking weirdo.

Ray shrugs, cuts off a section of the waffle, and stuffs it in his mouth. “It was,” he says, mouth full. “People don’t... People look at me, you know, and they see a skinny kid who probably doesn’t know how to throw a punch. Bunch of coke goes missing, nobody thinks to look for the kid.”

“They do eventually.”

Ray swallows, grins. “Thought I had enough time to make myself disappear by then. I mean, Los Santos, right? You can’t throw a rock without hitting a criminal in this city. Figured I could keep a low profile, wait things out until they didn’t give enough of a shit to waste money or manpower trying to find me.” He points his fork at Ryan. “And then you happened. I’m a fucking idiot. ‘Oh, hey, he’s dancing with me because he wants to have sex with me, lucky me, I have the actual attention span of a horny sixteen year old.’ “

“Sorry,” Ryan says, looking way too amused to be sorry at all.

“Took my gun and left me defenseless with four hulking ex-high school jocks from the crew who wanted to rip off my arms and beat me to death with them. You sure know how to kill a boner, dude.”

“Nothing personal,” Ryan offers, and that’s fair.

“Why’d you bring me here?” Ray asks, because he’s been sitting on the question for a while now. “Why not just dump me back at the motel?”

Ryan has the decency to look apologetic this time. “Part of the deal was that I tell them where you were staying. Didn’t want to go through the trouble of saving you if you’d just get stabbed in the middle of the night.”

“Fuck,” Ray groans, pushing his plate away and pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes. “Half my shit’s still in that room.” Unless it’d already been ransacked, which, yeah. Probably. Some of his stuff was back at the club in his car (he’ll be lucky if it hasn’t been towed yet), but everything else? Clothes, laptop, other guns, a pretty significant amount of money, and— The coke. Fuck. All the rest of the coke he hasn’t sold yet. Great. So he needs to deal with this ‘my old crew wants me dead’ thing and chances are he’s going to have next to nothing to work with. “Man, I hope they paid you a fuckton to sell me out. I better have been expensive or I’m gonna get seriously offended.”

“You were expensive,” Ryan assures him. “Wouldn’t have taken the job if the money wasn’t good.” He gestures to Ray’s plate, standing, picking up his own. “Are you finished?”

“My life is fucked. I can’t think about eating right now.” Ryan goes to pick up the plate. “No, stop, I lied. It’s an orgasmic waffle, I’m finishing it. Just give me a second.”

So Ray ends up sitting in Ryan’s kitchen, alternately sulking and polishing off the waffle (“Are you licking syrup off that plate,” Ryan says, horrified, “why would you do that, why did I let you into my apartment”) while holding an ice pack to the back of his head (“unless you want a baseball-sized knot,” Ryan says, “it’ll look like a grotesque, deformed second head, just keep it on ice for a while”), and then Ray bails the hell out of there while Ryan’s distracted with dishes, because he’s had enough weirdness in the past six hours or so to last him the rest of his life and he needs to go try to save his car from being towed.

And that should be the end of it. There’s no reason for either of them to return to the club—Ryan because his job is done, Ray because he’s out of coke to sell and hadn’t gotten set up with a supplier yet. Ryan will probably go back to whatever the fuck he does for a living, and Ray’s going to work on, you know, not dying, and everything’s going to go back to some semblance of normalcy. That’s the plan.

But Ray’s never been very good with plans.