The morning after a heist is almost like the morning after sex. Geoff is still awake, happiness thrumming through his veins and it's a match-flare moment, that strike of hot bliss at how his life has turned out, may the rest of his life be like this. The crew is scattered about the safehouse; Ryan and Ray sprawled on the couch taking up both ends with their legs tangled up in the middle, Ray asleep at one end with the skull mask draped over his head, Ryan at the other looking scarily peaceful in sleep, eyes blacked out with paint. Michael and Gavin in the kitchen mixing cereals and daring each other to eat the concoctions and Gavin grabs the bottle of chocolate syrup, drizzling it over something rainbow-colored, the smell of sugar tinting Geoff's contentment sweetly. Jack is at the table, collapsed sleeping on a pillow-pile of money. Geoff takes a picture of that, then follows the tug of his veins to the tattoo parlor three blocks down.
He gets the names of his crew, those idiot boys, inked on his shoulders; no matter what happens he wants those names on his skin, living or dead, this moment is it, permanently.
"Why anywhere," Ryan asks and rolling his eyes, Geoff huffs, "Y'all always watch my back."
"Or we're staring at your ass," Ray says as Michael laughs, "Either way, that's cheesy as hell, Geoff."
Jack hmms. "I like it. Like a string of lovers. Or bastard children. Or names you picked out for your dog."
"Or a hit list."
"Shut the fuck up, Ryan. And thanks, Jack."
"It's the sentiment, I know," Jack grins. "I wanna remember these assholes forever, put them on my back so I never have to see them again."
Gavin says, "They spelled my name wrong!"
"Oh, no, no, that's how it's spelled."
"WHAT THE FUCK, GAVIN."
Geoff huffs again, it's been three weeks since he got the ink, but he's still content, he feels settled with the names on his shoulders, like little devils giving him wings. Cheesy as hell is right.
Michael takes the opportunity to hug him and slap him on the back, right on the healed skin. "Congrats and mazel tov and all that fucking shit."
They have a heist they’re running that night and as Geoff looks at them, seated (it’s a loose term) around the table, he feels a bright snap of happiness again, quick and heady. Michael and Ray are discussing grenade launching possibilities between two alleys as Jack and Gavin argue about the merits of stealth in various situations, “but say you wanted them to know it was you, would you wave bags of money in their faces, for the news cameras, or just disappear and leave like a card or something—“
“Like a Hallmark card?” Ryan asks, that grin that says he’s being a total shit, “roses are red, violets are blue, your safe is now empty, and look, so are you. Of life.”
“Ryan, that was bloody awful,” Gavin says, face scrunched and Jack sighs, “What, Gavin, you think we should send body parts to the cops?”
Ryan raises an eyebrow. “Now we’re talking.”
What they’re talking about has absolutely nothing to do with the heist, imagine the fuck out of that, Geoff isn’t even moderately surprised, clever Michael told him they have to “be prepared for any eventuality,” and Ray piped up, “You get that word from Ryan.”
“Yeah, he sold it to me for $20 and some Cheez-its.”
Geoff’s happiness meter is fucking screwed up, but he doesn’t care. He shrugs his shoulders and swears the names tingle.
May the rest of his life be like this.
(Ah, life's little ironies.)
A lot of the time they’re really good, and some of the time they’re lucky, and most of the time they’re dangerous. They pay in blood: bumps, bruises, scrapes, grazes, twisted knees or wrenched wrists, dislocated shoulders and concussions. There have been a few bullet holes, a few stab wounds, a lot of “motherfucking sonuvabitch goddamn shit on my dick, that hurts like hell,” trips in the middle of the night to an exhausted doctor they pay off handsomely.
Nothing heartbreaking. Their crew is fearsome and alive, unlike those who attempt to fucking go up against them.
Looking back, maybe pretty much all of the time they’re on the right side of an accident.
It starts with Michael, like a lot of things in their lives, mainly explosions. Everything was going to plan: get a van, gear up, get in the van, drive to the spot, get out of the van, swarm the bank, take the money, get back in the van, and that’s where it all went to shit, right before the last and final step of drive the fuck away.
A hot-shot security guard who yells “FREEZE” like this is some sort of stupid cop show follows them out of the bank and somehow they miss shooting him (getting five guys with guns and several bags of money into the back of a van isn’t exactly as easy as fucking Sunday morning) and Michael’s the last in, he turns to finish the goddamn guard off when that goddamn guard shoots him twice, once in the chest and once in the neck. Gavin screams and Jack’s shouting from behind the wheel and they haul ass with blood dripping on the road.
Ray gets the doors shut as Ryan drags Michael in, sitting down hard to prop Michael up against his chest, hands covering the wounds and Gavin’s kneeling on a toppling bag of money, “Michael Michael Michael.” Michael’s mouth opens, no sound, Ryan’s fingers on his throat and chest going slick, slicker with each heartbeat. Blood everywhere, Geoff stripping off his jacket to make tourniquets and Ray’s talking, low and steady, just random things to keep people calm.
Ryan and Geoff try to shift Michael to wrap him, but he grabs at Ryan’s arm around his chest, holding on tight and Gavin tips over, face pressed to Michael’s temple, “look at me, boi, look at me, look at me.”
They take a turn, sliding a little, then Ryan feels it when everything goes still, his voice breaking, “no, no, Michael, Michael, no, come back,” and Geoff cries where he is, on his knees between Michael’s sneakers, broken stacks of money spilled like ancient offerings. Gavin doesn’t move, still whispering, “look at me, look at me,” as Ray climbs next to him, pulling him into a hug.
Jack says, “We’re out of the city.”
When they finally stop at their safehouse, there’s nothing to do. Jack opens the doors and sits staring out at the land, tearing a bill into little pieces. Ryan hugs Michael’s body to him, bloody hand clutching the quiet one Michael had on his arm. Gavin and Ray are a ball of thin limbs, curled up together and they don’t make a single sound. It’s Geoff who does their outward mourning, his shoulders shaking.
Something’s buzzing, going off over and over, a strange rhythm in the silence; Ryan’s phone, he’d set a timer, a sort of experiment to see how long it would take them, Geoff saying oh so long ago that morning, “it shouldn’t take more than fifty minutes, total, if it does, we are fucking pathetic.” He thumbs at it, a streaky fingerprint over the damn annoying noise, throws the phone against the wall of the van. It cracks into loud clattering pieces.
“Fuck, have to buy you another goddamn phone now,” Michael says and they scream, this is worse than any goddamn nightmare, but Michael ignores them, feebly fighting back, “Ryan, that hurts, hey, let go, that fucking hurts, you dickhead.”
Gavin’s eyes are terrible, green drained of all meaning, just horror and a weird hope, as Ray says, “Michael?”
“Yeah, what’s going on. Ryan, seriously, dude, you’re gonna crush my ribs. Is someone going to tell me why the fuck Geoff’s crying.”
It’s Jack who says, “You died, Michael,” his voice gone like ash.
“You did. You bled out. That’s not Ryan’s blood.”
“You assholes, what is this.”
“Michael, you’re the fucking asshole, you asshole, you goddamn died!” Geoff shouts and Michael kicks him in the knee, “What in the fuck are you talking about, I’m right here.”
“The guard,” Ray says, “that cheesy cop show security guard, the one who did the Charlie’s Angels pose, he shot you, man, right as we were leaving.”
Michael’s expression is wondrous. “No shit. Really?”
“DO WE LOOK LIKE WE’RE BLOODY JOKING,” Gavin bellows, grabbing Michael’s face. “YOU WERE GONE. WITHOUT ME, OR OR OR US, ANY OF US, OR—”
“Was there a tunnel,” Ryan says, grim, and Geoff almost hits him, “Don’t fucking ask that, don’t you joke around—“
“Shut up, just shut the fuck up for a second,” Michael says from where Gavin’s got his face pinched and Ryan finds his neck again, his pulse strong.
There’s no wound.
“The bullet hole’s gone,” he says, patting frantically at Michael’s chest as Michael squirms. “What in the holy fuck.”
Michael shoves at them, “Get me out of this fucking shithole of a van, I need air,” so they numbly stumble out to stand around under a blue sky.
They look like a horror show, they all have blood on them, Ryan’s covered except the void where Michael’s body was, Gavin’s face and one side streaked, Jack and Geoff’s hands, Ray’s other side stamped by Gavin, he’s even got blood on his glasses. Michael paces a slow line in the dirt and they watch him, it’s like some sort of awful tear in the universe, then Gavin stops Michael in his path and hugs him, shaky. Michael holds on, saying something into his hair, until Gavin laughs, high and thin.
Geoff is still crying, tears on his face, “What the fuck just happened.”
Michael shrugs around Gavin.
It starts with Michael, like a lot of things in their lives, mainly explosions.
Two weeks later, Michael is all hugged out, the crew keeps hugging him or half-hugging him or climbing on him (Gavin) or giving him ammo (Ray) or checking on him in the quiet (Geoff) or buying him shit (Jack) or trying to beat him in whatever game they’re playing (Ryan) because it’s “therapy,” according to that gigantic dickhead (it’s close, the score is nine games to seven, Ryan leading, that gigantically ginormous dickhead).
“Can’t you just let me win.”
“Why would I do that.”
“’Cause I’m the dearly fucking departed.”
“No, you were the dearly fucking departed for about forty-five minutes. Now you’re just a dick again.”
“What he means is he loves you very much, Michael,” Geoff says over the comm from the second car and Gavin says, “Would you let him win, if Michael was a zombie.”
“Absolutely, no question,” Ryan replies, taking a turn a bit too fast in the third car, Michael holding onto the door, “I will be a zombie again the shitty way you keep driving.”
“No, you were never a zombie, that implies—“
“The argument could be made that you’re one now,” Gavin says, then there’s a squawk, Geoff smacking him in the passenger seat.
Jack sighs. “What a fascinating discussion, does anyone know where we’re going?” Behind the wheel of the first car, Ray nods, “Yeah, I do. You’re lucky today, Jack, you’re stuck with me. The smart one.”
“The smart one?” Ryan, Michael, and Geoff say simultaneously, and Gavin coos, “That was adorable.”
They’re on their way to a heist; yeah, they didn’t learn their lesson, they left it up to Michael and he looked at them as if they’d given each other brain damage by close proximity to their own stupid, “what the hell is wrong with you, I died, I’m back, I’m angry, and I’m armed, so let’s do this. Fuck, I apparently hafta buy you guys ice cream or some shit like that, so I need the fucking money just to afford Gavin’s goddamn sprinkles.”
Ryan’s had a faintly alarmed look on his face all day, Geoff tried swiping it off his face and Ray simply handed him his mask, “you got a little worry, just right there, you psychotic softy.”
Three cars, this is not a new plan, they’re going to overwhelm an armored truck with a bit of vehicular bullying and a lightning-fast strike, netting them a most excellent reward.
Geoff and Gavin’s car in the front, Ray and Jack on the side, Ryan and Michael in the back. Trap the truck against civilian traffic or a nice cement barrier. It works like a charm.
Except luck has left them far behind in its rearview when a cop pulls up almost as soon as the truck stops and the guards feel confident enough to effectively fight back, “what fucking fresh hell is this,” Ryan yells, as a guard levels a shotgun at Gavin, fires before Michael can kill him, shot ripping through the windshield, glass shattering over Geoff and Gavin. It’s a clusterfuck of FUBAR proportions. Ryan and Michael are forced into running interference, they can’t blow the truck’s doors while Geoff and Gavin try to evade the guns up against their grill. Ray and Jack’s car is rammed by a startled civilian and it gets wedged, Jack’s side left open, and the guards see the opportunity.
Jack glances at Ray, “Oh, Christ,” and Ray’s yelling, “OH SHIT,” and Geoff calls abort, “fucking leave it, go, go, get the fuck out!”
Ray can’t get the car out; Jack says, all aggrieved, “I hate these shitty—“ and bullets punch through, blood spraying the dash, the wheel suddenly slippery and Ray slaps at the red wetness, “YOU’VE GOTTA BE KIDDING ME. Jack? Oh fuck no. Jack. Jack.”
It’s gunfire and the screech of tires, smell of burnt rubber, hard shouting and running screams on the highway, Michael saying, “What a pile of shit. If you’re fucking pissed the hell off, fucking clap your goddamn hands,” and Geoff talks over him, “Talk to me, everyone talk to me.”
Whir of the road, high speeds and adrenaline fear, none of that matters because all they hear is Ray, “Don’t fucking—I’m sorry, Jack, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t get the goddamn car—I’m so so sorry, man. Jack, please. Jack—“
“I’m here. I’ve got him.”
Exhaling sharply, Geoff says, “Fuck me, no.” Gavin sounds like pure heartbreak, all soft squished vowels.
They split up and weave through the city, quiet. Ray tries wiping his hands on his jeans only to smear viscera, and he keeps looking at Jack tilted against the door, so still. “Jack, I fucked up so bad.”
The smell of blood is getting to him, even with rush of air from the smashed window.
They drive until Ryan says something cryptic, “Michael, check my phone.”
“Uh, four minutes twenty-six seconds, twenty-five, twenty-four, what the fuck is this.”
“Meet up fast, we’ve got about four minutes.”
“Before what, motherfucker,” Michael asks, voice rising, “before what,” all violence and urgent grief.
There’s a minute-thirteen left when they stop, a lost area around the airport, and Ray pulls up last, Geoff sprinting to the passenger side with tears on his face. Cold and stunned, Ray unclenches his sticky fingers from the steering wheel, reaches over and balances Jack’s body as Geoff throws open the door, “no, Jack, fucking please, Jack.” The door is torn through, ragged holes in the metal making a jagged line to the broken window, and a bullet had found its way to Jack’s head. Geoff tries to sit with him, arm across his chest, head against Jack’s shoulder, and the others stand in the dust.
It’s only been two weeks. Two fucking weeks.
Stiff, Ray climbs out, swaying. He puts his head back, eyes closed to the sky. Michael pulls him into a sideways hug, says, “You’re here. You got out, you got him out—“
“Uh, not quite, you see what, he’s—“
“You’re fucking here,” Michael says, gives him a tiny shake. “So. Tonight. Later. After.” He loses words for a second, then finds his way back. “Wanna torch the car.”
“Yeah. That’d be good. That’d be fucking fantastic.”
Gavin sits on the ground by the open door, fiddling with his sneakers as Ryan tugs his mask off, focused on the phone in his hand.
“What’re you doing. Mad bastard,” Gavin says slowly, bone-tired. “What do you think you’re doing, come over here—“
“Wait.” Ryan’s eyes seem lost in the black paint, almost gone. “Wait.”
The alarm goes off, Ryan tapping at it, and Ray holds his breath, hears Michael do the same.
Ryan mutters, “C’mon.”
The faint roar of an airplane taking off. Nothing else but Geoff sniffling, murmuring against Jack’s shoulder. Ray takes a deep breath and hopes he passes out the next time he breathes in.
A minute-twenty seconds later, Jack sighs. “Oh, what in the fuck, did we wreck, I feel like shit.”
Geoff scrambles off the seat, tripping over Gavin, and they end up in a strange gasping heap. “Jesus Christ, Jack.” Geoff’s expression is struck clean, eyes so clear and open. “Jack, you’re back. Here. What.”
Gavin stands with an angry screech, dumping Geoff into the dirt. “RYAN. WHAT IN THE BLEEDING FUCK.”
Dragging a hand down his face, Ryan smudges the paint in tired streaks. “Forty-five minutes. Give or take.”
With a shiver, Ray starts laughing, monotone, and Michael frowns.
“Oh my God, you don’t mean—“
In the car, Jack waves a crooked circle around his forehead, as if making a halo. “We got any aspirin?” Then he’s slapping Geoff away as he paws at Jack’s face, “Geoff, what the hell is wrong with you.”
“Look at him. Gone, it’s all fucking gone. No scar, not even a mark.”
Ryan smiles, a little bitter. “Like Michael. Weird, isn’t it.”
“Weird as dicks, dude.”
Jack freezes. “I died?”
Ray is still laughing under his breath. “Yeah, man, I got you killed.”
“Oh, fuck no you didn’t,” Michael starts, furious concern, and Ray glares at him, “Well, I didn’t pull the fucking trigger, but I was driving—“
“Oh, wow, I died,” Jack says. “How fucking disappointing.”
Geoff bursts out laughing, dropping his head in his hands. “Oh my God, oh my God, what in the shit is going on here. Jesus.”
Michael snickers and Ray laughs a little helplessly at his devilish expression.
“Are we fucking invincible?”
“Invincible means we don’t get hurt. We get dead, so that’s something,” Ryan says, tapping his temple, paint on his sweaty fingers and when Michael rolls his eyes, swats at him, “shut your goddamn mouth,” Ryan swats back, marking him black across his face.
“I should shoot you for that,” Michael says and Geoff’s mouth twists, but Ryan shrugs, smirking.
“C’mon, try it.”
Jack groans, gives a sad whimper. “My shirt is ruined.”
They’re not actively testing anything. It’s fucking frightening is what it is. What if Michael and Jack were aberrations?
“You mean abominations,” Ryan says.
“You’re just jealous, asshole,” Michael retorts, then he throws an unarmed sticky bomb at him, “here, catch it and find out.”
Ray has a strange light in his eyes, his hands fluttering out over his weapons, and Geoff stares him down, “No, no, we don’t know what the fuck this is. We keep going. Business as usual.”
But even laid-back Ray can be stubborn on occasion, says casually, “Who wants to have a little target practice.”
“I said no, didn’t I, I did just say no, I heard myself say no, I should’ve said ‘fuck no,’ so now I’m saying it: fuck no.”
Pulling his hood up, Ray grumbles and heads off to find his 3DS in the sofa cushions, pushing Gavin into a pillow-shape to lean against. With an oddly soothing coo, Gavin pats him. “I’d shoot you, if Geoff let me.”
“Like that’s stopping you.”
“Ah, lovely Ray, Geoff would shoot me so I’d not-die and that would be the ultimate bollocks, so.”
Geoff spends the day glaring at them each in turn, as if this was somehow their fault.
They run a few more heists, milk runs compared to the other shit they’ve done in the past and everyone is acting bizarre, “like a bunch of shithouse rats, what the fuck is going on with y’all, I fucking swear to fuck—“ Geoff says, bracing himself against the table on his fists.
Michael crosses his arms and leans back in his chair, shrugging. “Dunno what you’re talking about, Geoff, we’re just doing—“
“Crazy shit,” Geoff retorts with a sharp glare. “I mean, seriously, this is fucked up, are we fucked up?”
Sighing, Ryan says, “We aren’t fucked up. It’s just different.”
Someone shot seriously fucking close to Michael today and Gavin fumbled a grenade, Ray had to duck a rocket (honestly, a goddamn rocket, right over his fucking head, like this was some sort of movie shit, there weren’t even supposed to be rockets), Ryan’s got a limp and his hip is a dark purple-blue from getting clipped by a passing car, Jack set the helicopter down in the middle of the street laughing the entire time, and Geoff, well, he heard a bullet go past his head like a furious insect looking for blood, then he almost fell out of the helicopter.
Suddenly, everyone finds the ceiling to be very interesting. Geoff exhales hard. “Okay, what the shit, is this—now be honest, who’s too curious for their own good.”
Ray and Ryan’s hands go up pretty goddamn quickly, of fucking course, those two have a complicated relationship with curiosity and violence. Gavin’s goes up fast too, he’s got that same complex as Ray and Ryan except his is more like an aggressive inquisitiveness, he’s certain, that determined insanity lighting his eyes (only Gavin has that look, it’s practically motherfucking patented). Michael and Jack smirk as they raise their hands, “Well, y’know, we don’t want anyone to feel left out,” Jack says, and then and only then does Geoff raise his hand too, he should be fucking ashamed of himself.
Bunch of geniuses they are.
“Fine, fine, so yeah, we wanna know what happens, if it happens like Jack and Michael, but that doesn’t mean we’re gonna kill ourselves. Shit, this is fucking ridiculous, Jesus Christ.”
“We don’t have a death wish,” Ray says casually, voice of reason, and Ryan chimes in, “We have a will-we-come-back-to-life wish.”
“Har har, fucker, laugh it up.”
They sit there for a while, Geoff towering over them, Gavin’s foot tapping a steady beat because it isn’t fucked up, not really, they’re okay, they’re always okay, they have never not been okay and they should forever be okay, may their lives always be like this.
Jack reaches behind him, grabs a beer, and slides it over to Geoff.
“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow…” Ryan says and Geoff rolls his eyes.
“Whatever, shut up, you quote-y bastard.”
“Gavin, will you fucking stop that, you’re driving me up the wall, goddammit,” Michael says, slapping at Gavin’s leg, Gavin punching at him, and that’s it, the discussion is broken up, Ray saying loudly, “Alright, who wants pizza,” and Jack says, “Yes, pizza, what a great last meal.”
Geoff groans. “Go away, get outta my sight, fucking animals.”
The TV starts up, Ryan picking a movie and Ray bursts out laughing, “Nice one, man, wouldn’t mind some Halle Barry.”
“I don’t wanna know,” Geoff calls, but Michael’s laughing too, his voice going raspy, “Oh, dude, Die Another Day, goddamn evil genius,” high-fiving Ryan and Jack’s laughter is contagious, he’s trying to say “who wants what on which pizza,” but he can’t even talk.
May their lives always be like this.
They take a break from heists. It turns out not to be a good idea, they’re such fucking junkies.
They go out because people are pacing around Jack’s apartment as if their skeletons are buzzing in their muscles, they go out for stupid fun and relaxation, no heist, no vengeance, no scaring the city shitless, just them out, picking up “milk, seriously, you’re out of milk.”
“You dipshits ruined all the cereal at the safehouse, again, and did something to the milk, I’m not sure what, but I’m sure I really don’t wanna fucking know.”
“So you’re out of milk because the safehouse is out of milk.”
“Indirectly. It’s been a busy month. I’ve been thirsty. Maybe milk brought me back from the dead. It’s good for the bones. Who knows,” Jack grins. “Bastards.”
It’s the grocery store, even self-respecting criminals have to go to the grocery store and Ray fights with Gavin over frozen pizzas, Michael and Geoff wander around grabbing fruit, Jack is the one with the cart, softly calling after them, “Hey, where’d you dickheads wander off to, I have the fucking cart,” trailing about aisle to aisle before remembering to get laundry detergent. Ryan appears with the milk and an already open box of Cheez-its, “what, I’m hungry, and they are too tempting to pass up.”
A few aisles down, Michael hollers about Funyuns and the lights overhead are bright, that clean dry grocery store smell everywhere, it’s a Thursday, nothing’s happening. The girl at the checkout is reading a paperback thriller, Ryan tilts his head to see the title and Michael tosses a candy bar on the conveyor with the other food, Gavin and Geoff going on through, arguing about chips, crisps, and biscuits. Ray stays with Jack to bag and cart the food, “thanks, Ray, such a gentleman.”
“A one-time thing, wanna make sure you don’t get shot ‘cause the cart has a broken wheel.”
The gallows humor has been in full effect since the first day this fell on them, so Jack shakes his head as Ryan rolls his eyes.
“You’re such a ray of sunshine, Ray,” Ryan says and Ray smirks, “You better believe it.”
“You fucker, you buy me a candy bar for that,” Jack demands.
“Buy your own! You’ve got money, you dodged a spare-no-expense funeral! There could’ve been doves and shit! Harps! I could’ve been paid a lot of money to cry!”
Jack hits Ray with the cart and Ray shoves back at him only to accidentally crash into Ryan, who pushes at him too, mock aghast, “I challenge you to a duel, sir, pistols at dawn.”
“Sniper rifles at noon and you’ve got a deal.”
“Sounds like fun, only don’t tell Geoff, he’d get all pissy about it.”
Outside, Michael’s at the SUV, flipping the keys in his hand, Geoff and Gavin waving arms at each other as they argue, “Biscuits are meant for gravy!” is what the crew hears before a man bumps into Geoff and says, “Geoff fucking Ramsey.”
“Yeah, who’s fucking asking.”
The man puts a gun in Gavin’s face and pulls the trigger. He drops immediately, Michael screaming, “FUCK, NO,” and in the hovering red mist, Geoff’s firing back, “You fucking sonuvabitch, I will fucking tear you apart and eat you!”
A gang ambush, armed people appear from around the corners, bullets flying, the food in the cart exploding as Ray, Ryan, and Jack get to cover. Geoff takes two in the stomach right as Ryan reaches him and Michael drags Gavin’s body to the SUV, “I got you, boi, I got you, just stay here,” before he grabs a grenade launcher from the back seat.
“You shoot Geoff, I kill you. You kill Gavin, I decimate you, it’s as simple as that. Easy fucking math.”
He almost burns down the entire block. Ryan gets Geoff in the SUV, defending it, giving cover to Jack and Ray as fire explodes to life over and over and over before Ray finally yells for Michael, “Let’s fucking go!” It’s a Thursday and that part of the city is dying slow as they get away, Gavin’s body slumped in the passenger seat, Michael shearing fast through the streets, and in the back, Jack says, “Geoff? Geoff. Geoff, talk to me.”
A pool of blood spreads on the seat, soaking into Jack’s pants, Geoff’s eyes blank and empty, turned up to the ceiling, and Jack says, “Oh shit, Ryan, set the timer. Please.”
Ryan and Ray are picking off their pursuers from the busted back window, and Ryan stops to reload. “Sorry, I’m a little busy at the moment. I’m not the only one with a phone, someone else has a damn phone.”
“Shit. Fuck this shit.”
With a single push of sound, Gavin comes back as Michael takes a corner and almost spins them. “Michael, Michael, what’s going on, you’re going to hit a tree, don’t hit a tree, Michael—“
“Gavin, oh my God, Gavin—“
“What’s going on, what’re you—“
Ray laughs, he sounds strangled, “Gavin, you’re back, holy shit, welcome back.”
“Back? That’s not funny. Did I die? You pricks, did I die?”
Jack’s muttering, “Geoff, you sonuvabitch, you’re such a fucking asshole, you know that, you gotta tell everyone who you are, of course you do, where’s the fun in being anonymous,” and Ryan yells, “Precisely!” and Jack screams back, “HOW ABOUT I SHOOT YOU IN THE GUT AND SEE HOW YOU LIKE IT.”
“Uh, did I heroically save Geoff,” Gavin asks, hands pushing at his clothes, “look at my shirt, oh my God, did I do something awesome or—“
“You took a bullet right in your idiot face, Gavin,” Michael says and Gavin pouts as Michael continues, “I don’t think your nose came back right, it looks bigger, fuck, how’s that work.”
“Oh, shut it, you mingy little—“
“C’mon, Gavin, c’mon, what you got, huh, bitch.”
“Reunion fuck later, drive now!” Ray yells and they’ve lost their pursuers and the cops, thank fuck, and Geoff says, “Did we get the milk?”
“JESUS CHRIST,” Jack yells and Michael laughs, “Did Jesus Christ get the milk?” then he jumps the curb, dumps them into a parking lot.
It’s like a clown car, they tumble out in chaotic fashion, Jack still has a hold on Geoff, Gavin tackles Michael to the asphalt, “you sodding prick,” and everything’s happening for no good fucking reason.
Geoff squints at them, then turns to Jack, “get offa me, shit, did someone die, where’s the fucking fire,” glaring as Ryan and Ray crack up.
“Hooooly shit, the fire’s at the grocery store,” Ray says, “courtesy of Michael.” He pantomimes the grenade launcher and Ryan reaches over, fixes his hands, turns it into a lewd gesture, “oh, hey, thanks, man.”
They gesture at each other as Jack breathes in and out, squeezing Geoff’s shoulder, shaking him occasionally. “This guy asked your name, then shot Gavin in the head, and it was a goddamn gang, I don’t know which one, Christ, pick one, and you got shot in the stomach—“
“The bullets didn’t bounce off my rock hard abs?” Geoff gasps, tugging his blood-soaked shirt up, then he sees the ragged holes, poking his fingers through. “Shit on my dick, no way. No fucking way.”
Shrugging, Ray says, “Very fucking way.”
Ryan shrugs too, “And then Michael burned down part of the city.”
“That was also very fucking way.”
“You mean exceedingly fucking cool as shit!” Michael shouts where Gavin’s trying to shove his head into his armpit. He picks Gavin up, a cacophony of noises between them, some possibly not even heard by humans, before dropping him on the hood of the car in a sort of wrestling hug. “Gavin, Gavin, next time, don’t put your face in front of a gun.”
“Next time, you shoot him, then I’ll come back and shoot him again.”
“Oh no, you don’t, fucking moron, that isn’t a workable plan—“
“Next time?” Ryan asks, crossing his arms, eyebrows raised.
Geoff closes his eyes. “Oh fuck.”
But Ray smiles, all sunshine in the clean late afternoon air. “Me and Ryan are still death virgins. We should get helmets.”
“And matching shirts.”
“See, kids, it’s cool to be a virgin.”
“Death virgins sounds like a metal band.”
They throw metal fingers and fist bump and Jack’s expression is are you fucking serious as he stares at them for a second. “I would be more than happy to shoot you right now.”
Frowning, Geoff rubs at his stomach. “I’m hungry. Who’s hungry.”
They don’t take a break from heists. They go after the gang who shot Geoff and Gavin and it’s a goddamn pleasure, especially when Michael and Ray grab a snitch outside a liquor store who can tell them about which fucking asshole son of a bitch ordered the attack. The guy is cocky and arrogant, spitting at their feet until Geoff stops by to see how the discussions are going. Suddenly, the guy is terrified, watching Geoff as if he’s seeing a miraculous freakshow.
“How are you not dead? I saw you get shot! You were all gut-shot and fucked up! You’re supposed to be dead! What the fuck are you?”
The guy goes a little hysterical and Michael can’t help but laugh at Geoff’s comical expression, “Jesus tap-dancing Christ, what.” Jack’s brow is creased, watching the guy chuckle darkly, hunched in on himself, then Gavin walks in and it’s as if a hellish abyss is staring back.
“I saw you—I SAW YOUR HEAD EXPLODE—WHAT IN THE FUCK ARE YOU?!” the guy screams. His eyes go sharp, then glassy, as if something’s broken in his brain. Even Ryan looks concerned when the guy goes limp and pisses himself.
“Oh fuck me,” Geoff says on a breath.
(The Fake AH Crew isn’t exactly merciful, per se, but they give the guy a superficial knife wound and dump him anonymously at a nearby hospital with a note “possible brain or psychological trauma.”)
Gavin is quiet for a few days after that, skittish and reckless in turn as they track down the shithead who ordered the attack. When they find said shithead, he doesn’t put up a fight, the only thing he says is, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” then promptly has a heart attack.
“Uh. What,” Ray says as Ryan and Jack try to tend to him (“what the shit kind of revenge is this, goddamn,” Michael blurts out, confused, as Geoff complains, “He isn’t allowed to just fucking keel over”), but the shithead dies, horror on his face, and they leave him there for the cops.
“It’ll be more mysterious if we say we did it,” Gavin finally says, shrugging. “Don’t mess with us, we can kill you with high cholesterol.” He waggles his fingers, shrugs again. “Being dead-not-dead has its perks.”
“Would you two hurry up and fuck already.”
“No, Geoff, you said it wrong, though we could use the entertainment.”
“What? Wait, what’d I say.”
Patting him on the head, Michael smirks. “You said fuck, hurry up and fuck.”
“Oh, right, Jesus, what was I thinking,” Geoff nods, then makes finger guns. “Would you two hurry up and fuck, then die already.”
“Much better.” Michael swings the bowl of popcorn towards him as a reward and Geoff says, “Thank you kindly, now where’s the remote.”
Like a demented genie, Gavin appears with the remote and an SMG. “I’ll do it.”
“You’ll do what,” Michael asks, offering him popcorn. “You’ll fuck ‘em?”
“Nah, well, maybe, yeah, yes, okay, but not right now, I’m a bit busy,” Gavin tosses the remote, takes a handful of popcorn, “I’ll shoot them though.” He waves for more popcorn. “For a nominal fee.”
“Not for free?” Ray asks, his expression melodramatic hurt. “Gav, I thought we had something special. Won’t even kill me for free.”
Michael snickers, “No, he’ll kill you for popcorn.”
“Popcorn, Ray, cheers.”
“Cheap ass popcorn?” Ray asks, staring in disbelief.
Ryan tilts his head, eyes narrowed. “This has suddenly become morbid.”
“Suddenly?” Jack says. “No, this was already fucking morbid. You haven’t died yet. Trust me, it’s morbid.”
“Oh God, I haven’t died yet. I see your point.”
Movie night is a normal night, something normal in all the absofuckinglutely abnormal that’s been happening in the last few months (Gavin drunkly saying, “Should we blame Geoff’s tattoos, I think we should blame Geoff’s tattoos,” and for a second, they all considered it, which is insane, they’re insane, that’s nothing new but this, this is “super hyper fucking insane,” as Ray said).
Goddamn, it’s been weird, so they’re having a movie night and it looks like it’ll be a marathon, no one wants to sleep; it’s Die Hard all the way, which, “okay, who picked this, seriously,” Michael says about twenty minutes in, fighting a grin, “really, Die Hard, c’mon, you fuckers, whose goddamn idea was this fucking travesty, I’mma bitch-slap that fucker so hard—“
Geoff giggles, eyes a little glassy from the mug of whiskey he’s clutching like an egg, “shut the fuck up and watch the fucking movie, you little shit,” and Michael pummels him with a pillow, “Have you no respect for the dead?” he yells and Geoff’s laughing so hard no one can hear anything, “SHUT UP, I CAN’T HEAR THAT SEXY MOTHERFUCKER ALAN RICKMAN,” Ray bellows, and Jack steals Geoff’s mug as Michael buries Geoff under a pillow and sits on it.
Yup, a marathon, they’ll even suffer through Die Hard 2, “we’ve never blown up an airport,” Ryan points out and Jack make a curious noise, as if he’s considering it, “Yes, Jack, yes, give in to the Dark Side.” They make it through though, goddamn those snow mobiles, “FINALLY, WE MADE IT, GIMME THAT SEXY MOTHERFUCKER SAMUEL L. JACKSON,” Ray says in triumph and Gavin laughs around the stolen mug of whiskey.
“I need a break before we get to fucking hackers and jets,” Geoff says, “we got food, who’s got food, we never did get more food, did we.”
“If we leave, we might die,” Gavin says, over-dramatic, swaying a bit, “I for one wish we wouldn’t get shot at.”
Rolling his eyes, Michael takes the mug away, ignoring Gavin’s grabby hands, “Gavin, we’ll always get shot at, usually ‘cause we’re shooting in the first place.”
“So you’d rather we die in some innocuous, ordinary way,” Ryan says as he stands, stretches, and Gavin hits him in the stomach, “Yeah, why not.”
“Uh, we’re criminals?”
“Speak for yourself.”
“Gavin,” Michael says, grabbing his face, “Gavin, you’re like the worst criminal out of all of us.”
“Sod off! Worst like I’m terrible at it? Bollocks.”
“No, worst like you’re gonna blow us all up someday, you’re like an accidental serial killer, fuck, it’s the perfect crime.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t see them standing there, these three grenades just went off,” Geoff mocks, voice high-pitched, the accent atrocious, “sodding buggering bollocks and pricks.”
Laughing, Jack tugs Geoff to standing, says, “Food. Then I wanna see the fucking hackers and jets.”
“Hackers fucking jets?” Ray asks and Jack somehow shoves them all out the door, it’s a mystery how he accomplishes these things.
There’s a corner store open 24-7 and it’s a fucking movie marathon, complete with explosions and shit, they’re not getting goddamn gourmet food, this is canned cheese dip and jars of salsa and bags of candy, frozen single serve pizzas and strips of jerky, and Jack gives a lazy salute, says, “’Murricuh.” Gavin and Ray wrestle around the slurpee machine, Michael stalking the aisles, grabbing up food as fast as he sees it, Geoff listing off alcohol he needs, “I want that fancy vodka, y’know, the whipped cream vodka, who doesn’t, it’s fucking vodka that tastes like fucking whipped cream, oh, and some more whiskey, and you got bourbon, holy shit, I think I’m out of bourbon,” and this is the motherfucking Fake AH Crew, hopped up on no sleep and cinematic explosions and possible immortality, this is the motherfucking Fake AH Crew during a movie marathon; they’re still packing heat and the clerk’s expression goes stone-faced when Ryan breaks up the Gavin-and-Ray pay-per-view going on, his shirt riding up to show the gun in his waistband.
And Jack sees the clerk make a subtle movement, usually meaning silent alarm; he scrunches his eyes shut, says, “Well, this was fun.”
“Jesus, Jack, you look fucking constipated, did it come on all at once,” Geoff says, cradling his bottle of whipped cream vodka.
Ray and Michael break into song, “BAD BOYS, BAD BOYS, WHATCHA GONNA DO,” but Jack says calmly, “Nope, I mean, real cops.”
Geoff drops the bottle, glass and vodka smashing over his shoes. “Oh shit. Well.”
Let it not be said that the motherfucking Fake AH Crew doesn’t know how to ruin a good time, “Ruin? No, this is the good time,” Ryan says, ducking behind a display, a bag of chips exploding in front of him.
“That’s highly debatable, you goddamn psycho,” Jack says, “I wanted to see fucking hackers and jets! Why can’t we get back to that in one piece, for Christ’s sake!”
“Jesus wants you to see those hackers and jets, Jack,” Michael replies, dragging Gavin by the collar of his shirt, “so let’s get the fuck outta here in one fucking piece.”
“I said normal,” Gavin whines, he’s holding a giant blue slurpee like a bomb, “this is not normal.”
“Gavin, this is very fucking normal,” Ray calls and Geoff yells, “Go, Jack’s gonna kill us if we don’t live free or die hard.”
Michael’s eyes flash, sharp as the cop lights outside, “I’M GONNA FUCKING KILL YOU, YOU MOTHERFUCKER. YOU BETTER RUN, GEOFF, YOU SONUVABITCH.”
It really shouldn’t be that bad, two cop cars (“so far,” Jack points out, “seriously, can’t we just get food,” and Gavin agrees with him, “why’s it always food, are we cursed, we’re bloody cursed”), about four cops out front and there’s six of them, the odds are marginally good, so they go out in pairs, firing.
But they’re the Fake AH Crew and as Ryan said once, “Murphy’s Law, gotta love it.”
Geoff and Michael leave first as Ray shoots out some lights (“remind me to thank Ray with some Cheetos, so fucking glad he’s on our side”), but Michael gets tagged in the leg, Geoff pulling at him as Michael screams obscenities into the dark. Jack and Gavin, and Gavin throws his slurpee, dousing a cop who was creeping close, and it actually works, “oh my God, Gavin, how’d you do that, that was fucking amazing,” and they disappear around the corner as another cop car screeches up, the blues and reds flashing like lightning. Ryan and Ray, and right as they’re through the door, the blue iced cop takes the shot, Ray grunting as a bullet finds his chest, another in his ribs, he crashes against Ryan and Ryan grabs him up in a fast body snatch, “oh, God, shit.”
Somehow they’re all running, it’s incredible, it’s the middle of the night and the dark hides them well, but Ryan’s got Ray in an awkward half-bridal carry, “did those bullets make you heavier,” he hisses and Ray laughs, blood on his mouth, “Ryan the shitty joke guy.”
He’s turned around, Michael’s stopped yelling in one direction and Jack and Gavin somehow went silent (a miracle if there ever was one), he’s running best he can, Ray vacantly staring at the sky between the buildings.
“Ray,” Ryan whispers, “Ray, c’mon, no, no no no no, Ray, death virgins, remember, we’re headlining a tour of not dying, c’mon.” It’s not fair, Ray dying while Ryan’s still kicking, so he talks to him, maybe he can talk for the next silent forty-five minutes, how much he’s jealous of Ray’s pink rocket launcher and really, the kid needs to kick his CapriSun addiction, and, seriously, c’mon, their body counts are almost in the triple digits, he can’t leave Ryan to kill on his own, it’s just not how things are done—
A burn of light from behind and Ryan has to keep moving, then he’s punched forward a few steps, once twice three times, he almost stumbles because he can’t breathe around the bullets in his body, his back is fucking on fire, he’s being torn open from the inside.
Ray’s glasses reflect weak moonlight, Ryan can’t see his eyes, but he’s that same quiet Michael was the first time (fuck that shitty first time) and now Ryan can’t see much of anything at all, the world is so heavy and that light is so goddamn bright.
He goes towards the blacker shadows, falling, catching his arm on a dumpster, something breaks and he sits down with Ray because the world is so very, very heavy.
Michael hunkers in an alley, Geoff behind him, sort of struck sober for all he smells of whipped cream vodka, tying a torn sleeve around the graze on Michael’s leg and grumbling, Michael says, “Fuck if we don’t die hard.” It’s a nightmare, sitting there, everyone separated, it’s a waiting game, patience is not a motherfucking virtue, they have to sit and listen for cops and hope against everything else they can wait this out.
No clue about Jack and Gavin, who’ve climbed a fire escape, wincing at every scrape of metal.
No clue about Ray and Ryan, dead in a heap by an old refrigerator box.
Ray wakes curled on his side, he’s staring at Ryan’s sneakers, sprayed with blood. “Oh, shit, shit,” it’s still dark, he remembers cops and he can’t see for shit, he puts out a hand and there’s Ryan, he’s in Ryan’s lap, he pats along Ryan’s jaw, thick slickness on his fingers, “oh, fuck, man, Ryan, Ryan.”
He’s propped against the bricks, smears of black-red where his body slid a little and Ray sighs. “Alright, well, we aren’t death virgins anymore. We popped that cherry in dramatic fucking fashion.”
He’s stiff and sore when he moves, his chest feels like he’s been knocked down a few times, so he waits, Ryan’ll come back, they all have so far, it’d be a cruel fucking joke if Ryan doesn’t, it’s not even remotely an option, so he waits. He puts his head on Ryan’s chest, gruesomely he wants to hear Ryan’s heart jumpstart.
“C’mon, man, you don’t get to not come back. Don’t leave me hanging. Also, I’m the one who stole your rifle and completely on fucking accident broke the scope, so I might owe you a new one, maybe. And I’ll let you borrow my pink rocket launcher, I know how much you love that thing, you just need to pony up and get yours painted, man, really. Plaid or some shit. C’mon, c’mon.”
The night sky is bleeding out to faint sunrise when Jack and Gavin come down, two alleyways up and over, and they meet Geoff and Michael, Geoff grinning big as a makeshift crutch and Michael looks ready to blow shit up, but that’s old news.
“What about Ryan and Ray,” Jack asks and Gavin is immediately furious, “If they died without us, I might strangle them. They should know better, the bastards.”
“Okay, slow down, let’s just find them, then if you want, you can try to strangle them,” Geoff says, cheery, and Jack rolls his eyes, “Like I said, morbid,” but Michael sides with Gavin, “They can’t just wander off on their own to fucking die, we’re a crew, none of this greedy bullshit allowed.”
“Stop being jealous.”
“No, this is some real bullshit.”
The bricks are cold when Ryan opens his eyes and his legs feel like they’ve been asleep way too long, pins and needles stabbing at once, maybe because Ray is perched in his lap, he’s captured Ryan in a strange octopus hug, “hello, Sleeping fucking Beauty, I’m not your weirdo bride, bitch, so don’t you fucking carry me around like a sack of potatoes, you carry me like a magnificent god-being.”
“What, like on a litter? A sedan chair? Y’know, the things on the poles.”
“Whatever, next time, you give me a piggyback ride.”
“Magnificent god-beings get piggyback rides?”
“This one sure as hell does.”
Ryan hurts where Ray’s squeezing him, but he squeezes back until Ray laughs, says, “Dude, you’re not gonna believe this, but I heard you respawn.”
“Is that what we’re calling it.”
The crew search the alleys, trying to look normal (“I said normal,” Gavin hisses, “not like a bunch of mingy criminals, you arseholes” as Geoff and Michael perform a strange we-survived-a-shootout two-step past the back door of a bakery and a guy comes out for a cigarette, Jack mumbling, “Don’t mind them, they’re drunk”), then Gavin makes a noise, high and happy, pointing.
Ryan and Ray are still on the ground, leaning against the spray-painted dumpster, talking fast and animated, Ryan sketches a symbol, then mimes aiming, pulling a trigger, a little explosion his hands show blasting out, his fingers run like scared pedestrians and Ray laughs.
“Look at these cuddly motherfuckers. Did we miss the goddamn party or what, shit,” Geoff says overly loud, and instantly, there are two guns pointed at them, Jack’s hands going up, “They didn’t lose their reflexes, I guess.”
“So did you finally fuck,” Michael says, snickering, “I mean, did you finally die.” Ryan and Ray beam at them, twin grins, kind of loopy and psychotic, and Gavin says, “Oh my lord,” taking a step back, and Jack laughs, “You two are insane.”
“Insane in the membrane,” Ray says, as Geoff gets him to his feet and Ryan stands, braced against the bricks, says, “So did we win?”
“Jack hasn’t lived free or died hard yet, so no, we haven’t won,” Geoff says, noticing the wall behind Ryan, “Jesus fuck, you seriously lost a lot of blood.”
“That’s what happens when you get shot carrying a useless sack of potatoes,” Ryan replies, so Ray throws a slow punch at him, “A magnificent fucking god-being, don’t you forget it.”
“Oh my God, you carried him?” Gavin asks, laughing. Geoff’s grin is trouble-big, “Romance isn’t dead, fellas, maybe we should leave them to their honeymoon, holy shit.”
“No time for that googly-eyed bullshit, he can carry me, I’m the one who’s still fucking injured,” Michael says, arm hooked over Ryan’s shoulder, trying to climb Ryan as he works to shrug him off. Ray looks appalled, “Did you die? No, you didn’t, so get off my manservant.”
Ryan’s still fighting Michael as he laughs, confused, “Manservant, goddammit, what the fuck?”
Adopting fake confusion, Ray says, “Manservant, sex slave, they mean the same thing, right?”
“Hey, I saved your ass and died doing it, so I think you owe me,” Ryan points out emphatically, elbowing Michael in the chest, but Michael hangs on as Ray retorts, “Actually, you didn’t save me, I fucking died too, so maybe you should just suck my dick.”
Around Ryan’s shoulder, Michael says, “Technically, that would mean you suck each other’s dicks and live happily ever after.”
“Did anyone get food,” Jack asks, “I mean it, this shit has got to stop.”
“Awww, c’mon, Jack,” Geoff says, hugging Jack, “I’ll buy you a bottle of vodka.”
“You mean you’ll buy you a bottle of vodka.”
Michael’s given up and is simply poking at Ryan viciously, “OW, Michael, c’mon, I just died. What happened to respect for the dead, stop it, STOP, THAT TICKLES.”
“So, question,” Gavin says, but everyone’s talking in little groups, Ray and Jack are making lists of something, ammo maybe, Jack loves those damn lists, and Geoff and Ryan are moving ketchup packets around on the table, “no, see, that’s not fucking smart, if the door’s here and the guard’s here—“ and Michael’s just relaxing, feet kicked up, eyes closed. Gavin tries again, “Guys? Question. I have a question. WILL EVERYONE BLOODY SHUT UP.”
Michael says sarcastically, “Everybody shut up, Gavin has a question, I bet it’s a real fucking doozy.”
“Alright,” Ray says, “but a .50 caliber would be so fucking sweet—“
“I SAID SHUT UP.” Gavin looks murderous, so Ryan chuckles, “Uh, okay, go ahead, Gavin.”
“Yeah, so we’ve all died. We’ve come back, it was fun, whatever the buggering—anyway, what if we die.”
They kind of look around at each other, Michael waving as if expecting more to the sentence and Ray’s eyes are narrowed.
Gavin gives him the look back.
“Are you suggesting a suicide pact?” Ryan says, voice and smile generous, “’Cause really, as much fun as dying was—“
“And it was so much fun,” Ray says, nodding seriously, “I mean, the bullets and the blood, can’t forget the blood. That fucking alley kinda sucked, would not recommend that, but—“
“The sexy promises Jack made me if I’d just come back to life, come back, Geoff, come back to me, Geoff, I’ll blow you every day for a fucking year, I’ll let you spank me and I’ll call you Big Daddy, just goddammit, come back to me,” Geoff pleads, big simpering gestures towards Jack and Jack flips him off, “Oh, fuck you, you’ve cried every time someone died, you fucking threatened cannibalism when Gavin died, I heard it, so fuck you, you sonuvabitch—“
Then everyone’s talking at once again, the conversation jumps tracks and Gavin might just test his theory on them without even telling them about it as Michael says, “Well, as Ryan the dictionary guy pointed out, what a fucking nerd, we aren’t invincible. As disappointing as that is.”
“I want laser eyes,” Ray says, making bzzzzt motions from his eyes.
“Jack wants flight, imagine that,” Geoff says and that’s about all Gavin can take, he’s lost control, waving frantically, he has a fucking question, “oh, look, Gavin wants flight too—“
“SHUT IT, YOU DUMB PRICKS. I meant, what if we die, do we come back again.”
“Holy shit, that is a doozy.”
They all stare at him, dumbfounded, and Ryan’s expression scrunches idiotic.
“How the fuck have we not thought of that.”
Geoff sighs, props his head on a hand. “Well, we haven’t thought about it because, hey, in case you haven’t fucking noticed, we all died and fucking came back to life, that’s a bit goddamn distracting, you might say.”
Silence again, water drips in the kitchen sink. Geoff peels at the label on his beer bottle, Jack scratches black lines on the corner of the list, Michael is scowling, Ray stares at the ceiling, and Ryan drums his fingers on his leg.
Silence because what is this shit, what do they do now, what can they do—
“Well, y’know, there’s only one way to find out,” Ryan says with a small smirk.
Jack frowns, “Oh God, I don’t even wanna think—“
With wild grins, Ray, Ryan, and Michael dive in opposite directions, searching for guns, Michael tripping over someone’s shoes, “Gavin, GAVIN, I fucking told you to put your goddamn shoes away, NOW I’M GONNA DIE AND IT’LL BE ALL YOUR FAULT—“ and Ray’s laughing, “HA HA, I’LL SHOW YOU MINE IF YOU SHOW ME YOURS,” but Ryan’s already disappeared down the hallway, calling out in singsong, “Come and find me if you dare.”
“That’s so disturbing,” Gavin says, huffy, “what’re you gonna do, you donuts, just shoot each other?”
“That’s the plan!” Ryan replies, muffled, and Michael jumps into view, does a ridiculous forward roll, “GEOFF, GET READY TO SET THE TIMER.”
Glaring, Jack scoots around to put the table between himself and everyone else. “Jesus Christ, am I the only one who thinks this is fucking insane?” and Geoff’s scooted around next to him, “I think we should go for a drive. It’s a nice day. We can go to the beach. You love the beach.”
“I hate you, Geoff. I hate you so much.”
“Aww, I love you too, buddy.”
They stand up in unison, keeping their backs to the wall. Gavin stares at them in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”
“What if they actually shoot each other? What if they get killed and the cops come before the time runs out? What if they don’t come back?”
Geoff waves a hand, as if he’s done with all this shit. “Gavin, it’s fine. They’re like puppies, they’ll get it out of their system—“
“And we will be elsewhere,” Jack insists, still glaring, the expression’s set on his face probably for the next few hours, but Gavin’s grabbed him by the arm, saying, “No, this is serious, you guys are mental, I—“
“They won’t shoot each other,” Geoff says, then a shot rings out and Ray yelps, “RYAN, WHAT WAS THAT. WHERE’S THE LOVE, WE’RE EX-DEATH VIRGINS TOGETHER—“ and Ryan’s laughing crazily, “THEN YOU BETTER SHOOT ME, SO WE CAN BE EX-EX-DEATH VIRGINS TOGETHER AGAIN!” and Michael appears in the living room with three guns strapped to him, yelling, “I CAN HEAR YOU BOTH AND I WILL FIND YOU, FUCKERS. THIS HOUSE IS JUST BARELY BIG ENOUGH FOR THE SIX OF US.”
Jack turns his glare on Geoff and Geoff rubs at his eyes, “Okay, we can all go to the beach. To the pier. To the roller coaster.”
Gavin gives him a concerned look, making strange noises accompanied by various wild hand gestures, then Geoff realizes, “Oh, yeah, heights and water, two fucking great ways to die. Alright, we’ll all go to the beach. Without weapons of any kind. And sit in the sand. And do nothing.”
Faint sirens in the distance and that’s it, game’s over, Michael bounding back into the room, “SHIT, SOMEONE CALLED THE COPS,” and Gavin rolls his eyes, “I wonder why, you mingy idiot prick,” and Ray and Ryan reappear, guns at the ready, as if they’re about to go into battle, but Jack’s glaring at them, his beard practically bristling.
“Clean up. Put everything away.” Grumbling from the three combatants, their eyes excitement bright, so Geoff points at them, “I said everything. Then we’re quietly getting into the car and quietly going to the beach and quietly sitting there—“
“I want one of those cold things—“
“And we’ll get Gavin one of those lemon ice things that hopefully might freeze his brain forever this fucking time and it’ll be fanfuckingtastic ‘cause I goddamn said so.”
It’s all working out fine until Jack says, “If everyone behaves, we’ll go on a helicopter ride,” and Michael snickers, Geoff groaning, “Jack, no, bad idea, no,” but Jack’s chuckling too, the sound turning dark, they’re staring at him as he says, “Oh, Geoff, you don’t understand, it’s an excellent idea. I can drop you off anywhere you’d like to go. You wanna see downtown? Done. You wanna see the ocean? Done. You wanna see the Vinewood sign? Done. You can see it all, really fucking up close and very personal.” His smile twists and he strokes his beard. “I’ll have peace and quiet at last.”
He’s still laughing, black and low under his breath, as he walks out. Gavin and Ray’s eyes are wide in horror, but Geoff’s grinning.
“Jack’s gonna kill us,” Michael says, looking surprised and pleased.
Ryan nods, “If he does, I’ll be so proud.”
“If we come back, he’d have to do it all over again,” Ray says, he sounds way too eager and it makes Michael smirk, “He’d be so pissed off.”
“I’ll be so proud of all of us,” Ryan says.
“I hate you all, you’re all rubbish, ” Gavin pronounces, stomping out the door.
So Ryan didn’t exactly plan it, that’s his defense and he’s sticking to it; it happened and he maintains it had to be done. For science. Otherwise, they would’ve kept tiptoeing around, being careful and shit, and maybe now Gavin will stop making them watch 1001 Ways To Die.
“You know you’re just giving them ideas,” Ryan said and Gavin glared at him as if he could set him on fire (which would defeat the purpose), “Oh, sod off, Ryan, bastard, shut your knobhole, you’re not helping.”
There’s a heist because of fucking course there is. The crew picks the biggest jewelry store in the area to hit and that’s great and all, but Ryan sees an opportunity. For science.
“Diversion. Y’know, someone does something over here,” he wiggles his fingers, “while everyone else is doing something else over here,” he wiggles his other hand, “and the cops go after the squeaky wheel,” he makes one hand run away from invisible cops making pew pew pew, booooosh sounds.
Geoff watches him, thinking. “And you wanna be the diversion.”
“Sure, why not. I did just get my rocket launcher painted.” Plaid and it’s so fucking sweet.
“It’d be a shame if he never got to use it,” Ray says, smiling as he leans back in his chair.
Jack huffs a laugh, “Ryan never using a rocket launcher? In what world is that ever fucking likely. “Cause it’s not this one.”
“Multiple universes,” Gavin says, making circles in the air, “in some universe at some time, there’s a Ryan who’s never even seen a rocket launcher in real life.”
Ryan shudders and Michael looks concerned. “That is a scary fucking thought, Gavin, don’t do that again.”
“In some universe, there’s a Michael who never met his Gavin,” Geoff says in his can we get back to business goddammit tone, but Gavin’s stricken, mouth open, “Don’t you say that, Geoff, how dare you, don’t you bloody say that.”
Tilting his head, Michael shrugs, “Serves you right, Gavin, I told you not to pull that creepy shit.”
“Don’t ‘but Michael’ me, you brought it up.”
“In some universe, there’s a Fake AH Crew that aren’t a bunch of crazy-ass fuckers who can actually get a goddamn job done,” Geoff says, voice rising, but Jack rolls his eyes, “I bet they don’t have nearly as much fun.”
Geoff grunts, “In some universe, I’m having fun, so much fucking fun I can’t stand it.”
“Aww, poor Geoff, so full of vinegar today.”
Anyway, heist, diversion, “it’ll be great, don’t worry about a thing, it’ll be as smooth as oil on glass. With butter. And other slippery things.”
They stare at Ryan and he’s glad he said all that wearing the skull mask, it makes it so much more entertaining.
“Alright, Ryan the slippery buttered guy, you taking a bike?”
“Why do you ask questions you already know the answer to.”
Sighing, Geoff shakes his head, “Where’s that goddamn universe where I’m having fun, really. Holy shit, can someone boot me in the ass towards the goddamn rainbow bridge that takes me to that awesome fucking universe.”
And it’s going to be great, Ryan said it would, he starts out ahead of them, everyone’s driving all normal-like, just a regular day in Los Santos, people actually follow traffic laws, who knew. The bike’s great, the speed’s great, it’s all great.
He parks the bike down the block from the rest of the crew, finds his beautiful launcher, then he takes aim.
“And begin,” Ryan says, firing. A car explodes in front of the movie theater, bouncing into the air before smashing back down, charred metal and broken glass and shrieking people. He spots a Blista and says, “Oh, God, hell no, I don’t think so. Who the fuck drives a Blista,” and shoots it sky high as Gavin says a little out of breath on the comm, “I do.”
“’Cause. That’s why.”
So far, no alarms, but there are sirens, so he hops on the bike, goes down a block, balances, and fires. The bike rocks a little underneath him, then the truck he shot explodes and lands on an Adder, crushing it.
“Oops, sorry, whoever owns that. Eh, insurance’ll cover it.”
Sirens closer, so he hops on the bike, lather, rinse, repeat. Until he’s far away, blowing shit up as he can, then it becomes too unfeasible, he has to regrettably pack away the plaid launcher and pull out an assault rifle because this is an assault. Cops chasing him, there’s the whupp-whupp chop of a police helicopter, and it’s sunny in Los Santos, not a cloud in the sky.
“Hey, Jack,” Ryan says and Jack replies, “A bit busy,” and Ryan shoots at the tires of a cop car, says, “Get back to me when you’re leaving.”
He weaves through the streets and from the calm silence on the other end, everything is definitely going great, unless everything’s definitely gone shitty, then that’s a problem, but this is his experiment, so—well, it could definitely turn shitty.
“Uh, guys, can you hurry up, please? This is getting fucking cumbersome.” He’s doubling back on himself, flying past cops as they try to j-turn to catch him, maybe he could do a slow car chase, that’d be fun, just have everyone chasing him at 35 mph, yeah right, in what goddamn universe.
Suddenly, Jack’s there, “Okay, we’re in the van, heading out,” and Ray says happily, “I got to shoot somebody!” and Gavin’s laughing about something, “Look how pretty you are, Michael, let me drape you in diamonds, boi,” “why, yes, thank you, Gavin, did we get a tiara, I want a goddamn tiara,” and Geoff exhales hard, sounding relaxed, “Oh my God, well, that worked like a fucking charm, Jesus.”
And this is the perfect universe, it really is, the crew laughing about a heist gone oh-so-right and Ryan’s on a bike with a trail of destruction behind him, then a bullet grazes his arm, he grits his teeth, “Shit.”
Well, on with the experiment. It’s a delicate balance: get shot and die, but die away from the cops, preferably at the eastern safehouse. For science.
“Lemme hear your best Axl Rose. You used to say ‘live and let live,’ you know you did you know you did you know you did—“
And Jack does not fucking disappoint, “BUT IF THIS EVER CHANGIN’ WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE IN MAKES YOU GIVE IN AND CRY,” and then it’s a free-for-all, the gents and lads screeching raucously together, “SAY LIVE AND LET DIE.”
(Though not everyone can be Axl Rose, most people shouldn’t try, Ryan’s not pointing fingers.)
“LIVE AND LET DIE.”
Skidding to a stop, Ryan ditches the bike and runs, cops starting to swarm now that he’s slow and on foot, blood streaming down his arm, it makes his fingers slippery around his gun. He’s close to the right neighborhood; the houses are small and tight together, like a maze, and maybe he can make it through—
A bullet hits him in the shoulder, spinning him a bit; he fumbles and drops his weapons bag, but he keeps running, pissed off, “why do you have to shoot me in the back, oh my God, why always in the motherfucking back,” and around Jack singing a wail of guitar riffs, Michael says, “Wait, hold the fuck up, what the fuck’s going on, Ryan, Ryan.”
He’s running down the sidewalk and this being shot in the back is some fucking horseshit, what the fuck, then two cops appear on his left, “DROP THE WEAPON,” and Ryan laughs and flips them off, so they fire. One misses, “shame on you, LSPD,” Ryan says and Michael’s yelling on the comm about something, but Ryan’s too busy dropping the cop with two shots (“I only need one of you fuckers, goddamn”) and the other cop hits him in his bullet-free shoulder that is now not-bullet-free, then pulls the trigger again, a hit right in the thigh, then moves to fire once more with feeling, so Ryan figures that is just about enough and it fucking hurts as he shoots the cop in the head.
Glancing around, he realizes he’s at least six blocks away from the safehouse, “Jesus Christ, this sorta sucks,” and to his mild concern, he’s staggering between houses like the goddamn living dead.
“Well, it’s appropriate,” he says under his breath. A few backyards and chain-link fences later, he’s only a block over and up and he can’t breathe. He looks down, blood streaming from his chest near his heart down his jacket.
“That motherfucking cop shot me an extra time. Three goddamn times. What is this, Duck Hunt?” he says and Geoff talks all in a rush, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you, Ryan, we’re coming to get you, Jesus shit on my dick, where are you.”
“Around the safehouse. Somewhere.”
He collapses in the shadow of a fence, he can see a clothesline and the helicopter flies away over waving t-shirts. He pushes his mask up and it hurts so much. He digs out his phone, sets the timer for fifty minutes (watch, it’ll take him longer than that to die, holy fucking shit, too many variables in this experiment), and stretches out his legs.
“Well, fuck this, I lost my launcher.”
“Ryan, no,” Ray says and he sounds upset, Ryan’s confused. “That plaid was kickass, man.”
“I know, I’m gonna miss it. And there’s a hole in my jacket. Actually, there’s a few fucking holes in my jacket. I’m angry.”
“Are you gonna turn into the Hulk,” Gavin asks, light and fast, “in some universe, you’d turn into the Hulk.”
There’s a muffled noise from Michael, “I fucking told you some serious fucked-up shit was being pulled, I goddamn told you,” but Ray interrupts him, “The Hulk wearing that skull mask? Holy shit, that’d be creepy. Gavin, why do you think of the creepy universes?”
“’Cause he’s Gavin,” Michael retorts.
They keep talking, weirdly urgent, as if they’re being forced to make small talk at gunpoint. Ryan half-listens.
Jack quit singing and that’s a goddamn disappointment, so Ryan pulls up some good ol’ GNR on his phone. His hands don’t work right, he drops it, “ah, fuck it.” He lets it play, Axl all tinny, telling Ryan he wants to watch him bleeeeeed.
He’s annoyed he didn’t make it to the safehouse. The couch there is comfy.
The sky is blue and the sirens cut off abruptly, car engines slowly creeping by and it’s kind of cold in the shade. He watches the t-shirts wave on the line, someone likes Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He pictures the Turtles fighting Optimus Prime to a draw and then sitting down to eat pizza—
When he wakes up, he’s laughing and how fucking bizarre is that, then Jack punches him.
“OW, what the fuck—“
“Ryan, you bitch,” Geoff says and Jack’s pointing at him, threatening, he looks like a furious god come down from on high, “That was not fucking funny, you absolutely moronic asshole. And you know what’s really fucking bad? That stupid song is stuck in my head. Goddamn Axl Rose is stuck in my head, Jesus fucking Christ. He’s there, Ryan, with the guitar riffs and I don’t want him there.”
Geoff twists his mouth in agreement, moustache looking disappointed in Ryan. “Yeah, mine too.”
“So you punch me?”
The alarm goes off and as if summoned, Gavin appears behind them, pushing in. “Can I punch him now, oh my God. You smegpot of a bastard.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Ryan says, but he’s happy, the experiment worked. He died, again, and came back, again. He grins down at the alarm as he cancels it, then he grins up at them.
“OH MY GOD, NO, YOU DO NOT GET TO SMILE. UNLESS YOU’RE FUCKING HAPPY YOU FUCKING RESPAWNED, THEN AN ARGUMENT CAN BE MADE FOR THAT,” Ray yells, Michael beside him, “Wait, is that what we’re calling it. Fucking sweet, dude.”
“I know, I’m a wordsmith,” Ray acknowledges, fist-bumping Michael before swinging in one smooth motion to punch Ryan.
“OW, SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE—“
Ray’s glasses flare in the sunlight. “You’re now an ex-ex-death virgin and I’m only an ex-death virgin. No leveling up like that, what a fucking cheater.”
“Ryan, you utter, utter bitch,” Geoff says, “I’m not gonna hit you, yet, but it’s only,” he squints at his watch, “3:27, so the day is fucking youngish.”
Michael’s bouncing on his toes, shifting his weight. “I’m not gonna hit you either. I’ll just take this, yoink” – he snatches the skull mask off Ryan’s head – “and you don’t get it back until you’ve fucking groveled.”
“Oh, I like the groveling,” Gavin chips in and Michael continues, “On your knees groveling. Pleading. Begging.” He waggles his tongue at Ryan, so Ryan smirks, he curls his hands at Michael, bring it, and Michael smirks back, “Oh, I will, big boy, open your mouth and say ahh.”
Gavin’s not paying attention though. “Absolute real groveling. The proper stuff.”
“Ashes and sackcloth?” Ryan asks and they give him twin expressions of you dumbass and Gavin says, “No, you dope, like foot massages and fetching stuff. Doing our laundry. Or buying us presents.”
Michael’s hands sketch disbelief as he shakes his head, face scrunched, “Gavin, what, no, typically, in the real world, we demand sexual fucking favors.” Ray murmurs, “Fucking favors,” and Michael smiles big, “Yeah, but I forget Gavin doesn’t live in the real world.”
Gavin sighs loudly, whole soft consonants. “Never mind, I’d like sexual favors, that sounds lovely, but all he did was get himself shot like a lunatic.”
Jack snorts, Geoff hangs his head, groaning, and Ray and Michael stare at Gavin as Ryan laughs under his breath.
“Gavin, he died on purpose. Like a fucking cheater who cheats,” Ray says as Michael says, “He answered your stupid goddamn question for you, Gavin, oh my God,” he pushes his hands into his hair, “how have you lived this long, wait, never fucking mind, technically you haven’t.”
Gavin’s eyes are furious sparks in his face. “What. WHAT. Ryan, you—you bastard, oh my God—“
Ryan stands, arms outstretched, “I am a genius, to be praised and lauded. In some universe, I am a formidable and angry god, stunning and awesome in my glory, demanding riches and sexual favors from you, all of you. You’d be pleading, begging, so fucking happy to—“
“Can I shoot him here in this universe,” Jack says and Geoff says, “Nah, his jacket’s been through enough for one day,” and Jack whines, “But, Geoff, that goddamn song—“ and Geoff pats him, “I know, it was a fucking poor choice of music, what’d you expect, it’s Ryan,” then they start to wander off, Geoff calling behind him, “You’re a stunning and awesome sonuvabitch.”
With a glare, Gavin flips Ryan off, double with interest, and says, “You’re buying me something really bloody nice, you absolute prick,” then flounces away after Jack and Geoff. Ray and Michael are already talking about something else, “I don’t think you can hit that cave yet, I mean, you can fucking try, but unless your gun is at fucking least a level 19 or exotic, then it’s a goddamn moot point,” as they toss the mask back and forth between them.
Ryan frowns. “Hey, did anyone find my launcher? It’s plaid. I love it. Guys?”
Gavin’s seated at the table, a notebook in front of him as he pushes a beer bottle between his hands. Then he grabs the remote and turns off the TV. “So, I think there are rules. I have some rules. I’ve written them down.”
Michael leans over the back of the couch with a gimme motion. “That’s great, Gav, now gimme the remote, I was actually watching that,” and Geoff leans over the couch too with the same gimme motion, says, “Yeah, I was too, I need to tell Alex Trebek that the answer is ‘who is Morgan fucking Freeman.’”
Jack points out, “I don’t think ‘fucking’ is acceptable.”
“Why not, Jack, it’s in the form of a goddamn question. Don’t piss on my parade.”
Ray retorts, “Hey, fucking is always acceptable. And welcome. Very, very welcome.”
“I have some rules,” Gavin repeats, Ryan kicking a seat aside to sit next to him, “Rules for what, Gavin.”
“I thought you didn’t want us doing that anymore,” Michael says, stealing Gavin’s beer. Gavin huffs at him, “I don’t, but Ryan went and did it like a monumental tit, so I guess I can’t stop you, now can I.”
“Like you could’ve stopped us anyway.”
“Oh, shut it, Michael, y’know, there’s a universe where you’re so normal you’re boring and you work a regular job and you don’t even drink or curse.”
Michael exaggerates shock, hand on his chest. “Say it ain’t so, Gavin.”
They’ve gathered at the table because that’s what’s happens with them, they’re this weird fucked-up family, and it’s like an 80’s sitcom gone horribly wrong somewhere down the line. Except Ray can’t find a chair, “where’d the fucking chair go,” so Geoff pats his lap, “c’mere and snuggle, I think Michael broke that chair playing Rambo,” and as Ray perches on Geoff’s knee, Michael flips them off, “hey, that was Ryan’s fault, he went all Call of Duty on everyone.”
Jack glances at the piece of paper Gavin’s tearing the corners off of. “I’m curious, what are these rules.”
“Stop calling them rules,” Michael declares, “no one cares about your rules, Gavin, Geoff makes the rules.”
Reaching around Ray, Geoff takes the notebook from Gavin. “Alright, I have the rules.”
With a roll of his eyes, Michael scrunches down in his seat. “Fine. What are these goddamn rules.”
Ray’s reading as Geoff scans it too. “Oh my God, Gavin, really? Wow. This is some deep shit.”
“Well, Gavin’s put a lot of thought into this,” Geoff announces and Jack leans his elbows on the table. “So tell us already.”
“Gavin?” Geoff gives him the floor, but Gavin shrugs, frowning, “You do it.”
“So, he’s right, there could be rules—“
And Ryan suddenly sits up, “Oh fuck, I see where this is going—“
“What if we can only die and come back so many times.”
“Like a cat,” Gavin says helpfully and Michael says, "No, not like a cat," and Gavin says, "Nine lives, Michael," and Michael's hands are in fists, "That isn't a thing, Gavin, it's not a real thing," and Gavin's cocked his head, "Of course it's not a real thing, you donut, it's a myth, what're you—"
Geoff blinks at them for a second, then continues, “What if we die all together. Does one of us have to be alive for everyone else to come back. Do we have to be close to each other.”
“What does that mean,” Michael asks, expression pinched.
“Like wifi,” Gavin says and Ryan tilts his head, “Like wifi?”
“Yeah, do we have to be in range of each other to come back to life.”
“Our harmonious crew signals have to be in range of each other so our immortality receiver kicks in,” Ryan says slowly.
“Well, it sounds stupid when it say it like that.”
“No, it sounded stupid when you said it the first time, Gavin,” Michael retorts and Gavin swipes at him, “Sod off, Michael, what’re you so upset about.”
“Not upset. Fucking annoyed is more like it.”
They’re about to lunge across the table, but Geoff stops them, “Sit the fuck down, oh my God, two and half words: stern talking-to.” Ray keeps reading out loud for him, “What if we kill each other. What about explosions.”
Gavin shrugs again, looking nervous. “I mean, they’re messy. Bits and bobs. Body parts.”
“What about collisions, he wrote ‘car or otherwise’.”
“’Cause again, messy.”
Jack lets out a short laugh, disgusted. “Gavin, oh my God.”
“What, it’s a valid concern. You always want to get a plane, Jack, or a helicopter. What if someone walked into a rotor. What then, Jack, what then.”
Ryan’s crossed his arms, so utterly amused. “You’ve really thought a lot about this, like a whole fucking lot, haven’t you? Is anybody else worried?”
“And I thought 1001 Ways To Die was bad,” Ray says, jiggling a little because Geoff’s started bouncing his other knee. “Is someone gonna pull my heart outta my chest? Are they gonna take my brain, I need my brain to shoot things.”
But Ryan’s grinning. “What if we come under siege. We’d die, come back, fight some more, die again, come back, fight some more, it’d be never ending. We would be the siege engine—“
“Calm the fuck down there, Caesar, this isn’t a tower defense or ancient Rome,” Jack says, rapping his knuckles on the table. “I hate to say it, but Gavin’s right.”
“So what do we do.”
They sit there a bit, Ray bouncing in silence, except it’s making him laugh and Ryan’s laughing too, Jack staring at the ceiling with his hands behind his head as Geoff traces over the words on the page with a finger. Michael takes a swig of beer from the bottle and slides it over to Gavin.
Déjà vu all over again because what is this shit, what do they do now, what can they do, then Ray falls off Geoff’s knee, catches himself, feet slapping hard on the floor, “I got it, I’m okay, I meant to do that, ta-da.”
“I give you a six for the floor routine which will go up to a seven for the dismount, but I’ll bump it up to an eight if you blow me under the table,” Michael says and Ray rolls his eyes, “Only a fucking eight? You suck.”
“No, you suck, c’mere,” Michael grabbing for him as Ryan says, “I’ll give you a perfect ten if you pay for the paint job on my new launcher,” and Ray says, “Sold. Wait, the entire paint job? For a fucking imaginary ten? Did I just sell my soul too.”
Jack steals the notebook from Geoff and shrugs. “We won’t ever really know. Just like before all this, before we were, whatever—“
“Immortal,” Ray and Ryan say at the same time, and Michael lifts an eyebrow, “Now let’s not get all goddamn high and mighty about it—“
Gavin makes a noise, a kind of angry whimper, “I want a bloody instruction manual,” and Ray says, “Yeah, like from IKEA.”
“With the weird names and an allen wrench.”
“And you end up with that extra piece you aren’t supposed to have.”
“Immortality is like IKEA,” Ryan says, shuddering, “can’t we think of something happier and less alarming.”
“What, like Highlander?” Jack says, straight-faced, and they burst out laughing until Geoff says, “Alright, numbnuts, so I am all about this, whatever this is. And Jack’s right, I don’t think we’ll every really fucking know, so let’s just keep an eye on it.”
“That sounds like you think we have a rash,” Ryan says and Geoff grins, “Maybe we do.”
“So we just need lotion.”
“It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.”
The TV flicks back on, just in time for a new Jeopardy clue, so Geoff gets to say, “Who is Morgan fucking Freeman.”
“Uh, fantastic fucking answer, Geoff,” Michael says, “totally wrong fucking category.”
Flopping onto the couch, Geoff says, “Whatever, I just wanna wrestle Alex Trebek, moustache to moustache.”
“I put my money on Trebek,” Jack calls, then he gives Gavin a hug, “good job, Gavin.”
“I agree, nice job imagining us all dead,” Ryan says cheerily, handing Gavin a new bottle of beer.
“Aww, thanks, guys, cheers. It is all a bit morbid, isn’t it.”
“That is certainly the word.”
Geoff strokes his moustache, “Fuck you, Jack, you traitorous fucking turncoat. Just look at that thing, I bet I could take it.”
“What if he gets rid of it again.”
“In some universe, you and he can’t grow those fabulous—“
“DON’T EVEN SAY IT, YOU SICK FUCK.”
Someone has put up one of those job safety signs in Geoff’s apartment, 008 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT.
They find it after an outing to refill ammo, leaning against the wall. Gavin laughs so hard he trips down the step and right into Ray, they laugh where are, fallen in a heap, and Michael’s grinning, “Oh my God, really? Seriously with this shit?”
“Ryan, did you do this,” Gavin says. “That is top.”
“What, why’re you asking me.”
“’Cause you’re you,” Geoff says, “obviously.”
“It’s your apartment, Geoff!”
“You didn’t do this, Michael?” Ryan asks as Michael stands in front of the sign, hands on his hips. “Nope, some sneaky fuck put it in here. Wow, triple digits, someone is way too optimistic, holy shit.”
Jack’s eyes shine behind his glasses, he’s trying to say, “That’s not too optimistic,” but he’s laughing breathlessly, the words come out in jerks and Ray says, “Uh, no, don’t tell me, I know this one, I’m gonna guess it was Jack. Just a hunch. I said no one tell me, I got this, I can figure it out on my own.”
“Jack, I’m impressed,” Ryan says, smacking him on the back as he tries to get his laughter under control, “nice fucking work.”
Geoff’s squinting at it. “Eight days, huh?”
“Well, Ryan died last, so,” Jack says, between breaths, and Ray nods, “I like it. Very official.”
“And decorative,” Ryan agrees.
“So useful,” Geoff pitches in. “I like the diplomatic use of the word ‘incident.’”
Michael bursts out laughing, “So when Gavin trips over air and shoots himself in the face next time, it’s just a fucking ‘incident.’ Oh my God, I love it. So goddamn amazing.”
Crossing his arms, Gavin pouts, points at the sign, “So, Jack, you just went and bought this.”
“Yes, Gavin, a company makes and sells them to hazard-conscious people like me,” Jack says and Geoff laughs and Ryan says, “Yeah, they aren’t just born out of danger, Gavin.”
“Wouldn’t that be great, each time we go out, a sign just appears out of thin air, 8 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT,” Michael says, laughter making his voice rasp, “and then as soon as Gavin dies, it fucking changes to zero and decides, ‘fuck it, I’m out,’ and disappears.”
They’re laughing, except Gavin whose pout is deepening into a sulk, “Why’m I the one who keeps dying in your examples.”
“’Cause you’re you,” Geoff says, “obviously,” poking at the number tiles on the rings.
A week later, the sign is hung properly on the wall (15 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT, “look, double digits, is it a fucking miracle, I think it’s a fucking miracle,” Michael says) and next to it, a large black piece of poster board shows a simple bar graph: their names in a column on one end, in a rainbow of glittery colors, separated by glittery orange lines all the way across and the words DEATH RACE 2552 in huge glittery red letters with orange and red glitter flames decorating them.
“That’s a lot of glitter,” Jack comments and Geoff says, “Gee, I wonder who’s responsible.”
Michael and Ray are pretty much leaking glitter every time they move as they strike a nonchalant pose. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Geoff,” Michael says.
“Me neither,” Ray says. “Sweet poster. Who made it.”
Ryan walks in and almost drops his can of Coke. “What the sweet fuck is that.”
“Death Race 2552,” Gavin reads, “c’mon, Ryan, Death Race 2552, can’t you see it.”
“I can really fucking see it. And I really can’t unsee it. I’m afraid if I look at it much longer I might spontaneously burst into glitter flames.”
“Don’t be such a sour arsehole, Ryan,” Gavin says and Ryan murmurs, “Sour arsehole, that’s one for the history books,” and Jack says, “I’m yellow! I like the colors. Very colorful, those colors. Very bright and full of color.”
“I’m pink,” Geoff says, grinning, “thanks, guys, two thumbs up—Oh, wait, I stand corrected, I am an amazingly awesome hot fucking pink. Everyone else can eat a dick.”
“I get to be green!” Gavin crows as Ryan says, “2552?”
“The future, Ryan, it’s the glorious goddamn future,” Michael says and Gavin’s grabbing his arm, “Aww, naughty little Michael is red, look at you, Michael, all sparkly.”
“So what we have here is a death race,” Ray says with fantastic jazz hands, “it states it quite clearly in the title there, Death Race 2552. Each time someone dies, they get a sticker.”
In a small flash of glitter, Michael produces a packet of stickers, “Rubber duckies, dude,” and Ray mutters, “What, were they out of sparkle stars,” and Michael’s stage whispering, “I had to get back before the fucking glue dried, okay, this was what they had,” and scowling, Ray continues to the rest of the crew, “Fine, we have these fabulous rubber ducky stickers. In the future—“
“That’s 2552,” Ryan explains and Michael nods sagely, “Very good, nice job paying attention, Ryan,” as Ray says, “We’ll have different stickers, but for now, this is what we’ve got.”
Pointing to the space by his bright purple name, Ray says, “Since I’ve only died once,” he stops to glare at Ryan and flip him off with a rubber ducky stuck on the end of his finger, “unlike some fuckers who don’t wanna share the sweet loots and XP with the rest of us, I get one sticker.”
Ryan’s chuckling, “How about I shoot you, then when you come back, we can stick our guns in each other’s faces and—“
“Yes, we know, pony rides and blow jobs,” Geoff says, waving a hand for sticker, “it’s all fun and games until someone loses a goddamn eye.”
“Is that what happens,” Ryan asks, faux innocent and surprised, “I never knew it involved loss of an ocular organ.” He puts a sticker next to his blue name, then Gavin slaps another sticker beside it.
“Hey, I bought you that laptop you wanted. And I fetched your damn ‘crisps.’ Even when you ‘ran out’ and ‘desperately needed more.’”
Gavin wrinkles his nose. “You’re still a prick.” He flicks glitter at Ryan and in revenge, Ryan puts a ducky on his forehead, Gavin making a noise like a long rubber-banded vowel, “Is it in my hair, did you put it in my hair, you complete bastard arsehole.”
Shaking his head, Michael grabs him and presses the sticker down against Gavin’s skin. “There, boi. Wear it with pride. You’ll probably die next.”
“Will you stop it with that shite?”
Jack’s carefully putting a sticker by his name. “So when we get to the end of the poster, what then.”
“We make a new poster.” Michael is putting glitter in Gavin’s hair, Gavin pretending to shampoo with it.
“So what do we win.”
“It’s a race? What do we win.”
“Uh, fame and glory,” Ray says with a shrug, wide-eyed, “the honor of being completely killable.”
A week and a half later, there’s a trophy sitting on the side table under the poster board and the safety sign (3 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT, Gavin walked in front of a bus, Jack and Geoff carting off his body before too many curious bystanders and cops arrived, Michael screaming, “I swear to fuck, Gavin, how did you not see that?” and he hovered as Gavin bled all over Geoff’s carpet, Ray sighing as he added another rubber ducky to Gavin’s count, Ryan with the timer, “why am I the timer guy?”).
Ray barks a laugh when he sees the trophy. “It’s a little running dude!”
“Aww, he didn’t run fast enough,” Geoff says as Jack picks it up to read the inscription, “GRIM REAPER’S BITCH. Jesus Christ, well, that’s one way of putting it.”
“Hey, hey, which one of you mingy bastards added an extra sticker to my name?” Gavin demands. “I have not died three times! I’ve only died twice!”
“Are you sure about that, Gavin?” Michael says, smirking, somehow he still looks like he has glitter stuck him even though he’s showered ‘so much I might as well be goddamn Aquaman,’ as he claimed. “Are you fucking sure. I mean, maybe you accidentally fell out the window.”
“In some universe, you’ve died five times by now,” Ray says, completely serious and Ryan agrees, nodding, same serious expression, “Well, in the next ten seconds, it’ll be eight times. In three different universes.”
“Maybe we should just give Gavin the trophy permanently,” Michael says with an air of resignation.
Gavin glares at them. “In a buggering bunch of universes, I just kill all of you. You guys suck.”
“You’d kill me too?” Geoff asks, mock hurt. “But I haven’t done anything. Nothing at all. Nothing whatever.”
Eyes narrowed, Gavin stares at him, Jack fighting a grin next to Geoff and he realizes. “Bollocks, Geoff! You added the extra sticker. You’re the absolute worst.”
Grabbing the trophy, he chucks it at Geoff and manages to hit him, Geoff’s head snapping to the side. He falls, hitting the coffee table sideways, then his head cracks hard against the floor. Blood pools under his ear, his eyes open.
“Oh shit,” Ray hisses and Michael yells, “WHAT THE FUCK, GAVIN,” and Gavin’s spluttering, “I thought he’d dodge it! Duck and weave, y’know, all that sodding stuff, like a play fight, or or or catch,” and Jack kneels next to Geoff, “Great, just fucking great, Christ,” as Ryan exhales, “Alright, timer started. Have you ever played catch, Gavin?”
When Geoff blinks awake, he’s in their gaming room and they’ve propped him on the couch with them, Jack on one side, Ryan on the other, Gavin, Michael, and Ray leaning on pillows back-to-back-to-back on the floor as they run a co-op campaign.
“What’s going on, am I playing,” Geoff asks. Handing him a pillow, Ryan leans in, “Nah, you were too boring. You just stood there like an idiot while people shot you, so it’s the lads and Jack.”
“Oh, well, that’s good. Did Gavin hit me?”
“No, you dope, I gave you a love tap,” Gavin says, shooting an enemy, and Ray says, “He loves you a whole goddamn lot, Geoff.”
“Aww, I love you too.”
The trophy’s a little bent, but it’s still a trophy. “It looks better that way,” Michael declares, “the Grim Reaper takes no prisoners.”
(000 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT. And Geoff gets another sticker, “Hi there, little buddy. Look, I’m getting my fucking ducks in a row.”)
So life (and death) goes on. (Ah, life’s little ironies.)
There’s the time Ray’s flying a plane because stealing a helicopter isn’t exactly like walking up to a car dealership and saying, why, yes, I’d like to buy a car today, what can I drive off the lot. The entire operation went “tits up, how did this happen, this is bloody mental!” Gavin’s shrieking on the comm and Geoff talking over him somehow, “Shut up, Gavin, shut the hell up. Ray, what’s going on, what’s happening.”
“Uh, well, the plane is smoking and not in an awesome way, this is completely fucked up—“
Michael shouts at him, “Don’t you crash that plane, don’t you do it,” and laughing, Ray says, “I will if I want to—ohhhhh, shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit—“ then nothing, utter stillness, and it’s odd, like misplacing that voice in your head that tells you everything’s going to be okay. They’re in two stolen cars, racing to the airfield at the base of the mountains, cop cars screaming behind them, Jack’s muttering under his breath, “Jesus H. Christ, tell me we’ll get there in time, what the fuck are we gonna find,” and Geoff inhales, exhales, “We’re gonna find Ray and we’re gonna kick his ass through to next year, that’s what’s gonna happen.”
Ryan just keeps driving. No one’s set a timer, they’ve been a bit fucking busy, thank you so fucking much.
They lose the cops, but have to circle back to the airstrip and it’s dusk by the time they get there, it’s been at least an hour. They pull up at normal speed, just normal people out driving by, come to watch the planes take off and land, if that’s what normal people do at small airstrips. Sitting by the burning, twisted wreckage are three cop cars and an ambulance, their lights whirring silently, throwing out color into the growing dark.
Ray’s seated on a rock nearby, hoodie zipped, knees up, arms balanced on his wrists, as if he’s watching a show. “Hey, guys. You bring popcorn?”
“What in the fuckity fuck was that,” Geoff says, striding towards him fast, Michael right on his heels, “What was that for? Shits and giggles?”
“Something like that. Now I’m caught up to some of you fuckers. Got my XP,” he says, grinning, he points at a piece of broken propeller at the base of the rocks, “and someone needs to help me get that fucking thing into one of the cars.”
Gavin runs up, drags him from with the rock, saying, “No more planes for Ray,” gives him a hug and a shake as Jack says, “Did the EMTs find you in what’s left of the plane.”
“Nah, I woke up next to the cockpit door out on the runway. 911 took too long, fucking shame, I guess they don’t care about planes falling outta the sky. Watched them do their thing until one of the cops spotted me. Since I’m fucking alive and not burning, the genius thought I was a witness. Told him I’d seen it all,” making a slashing motion down with his hand, a plane diving fast, “and that’s it.” Ray shrugs and unzips his hoodie to show them his bloodied t-shirt, the graphic on it isn’t even visible anymore, the bottom hem hides splashes of dark blood on his jeans. “I am not asking any questions about explosions and what happens when squishy things go boom.”
“Aren’t we enough for you, Ray,” Ryan says with a small smirk, pulling open the hoodie to survey the ruined shirt. “You gotta get your thrills elsewhere?”
Ray pushes at him before sighing loudly. “Don’t you talk to me, this is your fault.”
“My fault? Bullshit, how’s it my fault.”
“Your ‘diversion’ started all this.”
“Excuse the fuck outta me, but Michael’s the one who started all this.”
Michael nods, all smug smile, “Fuck yes, I did and I made it look beautiful, goddammit. Fucking poignant and shit.”
So collisions – cars or otherwise is marked off the list.
There’s the time they decide to hit a rival gang at their drug stash/abandoned warehouse and it’s going swimmingly until someone throws a grenade. Then it’s only Michael, he’s on his ass behind a car, sputtering at the smoke, calling out after them, “Geoff? Gavin? Guys? Hello, Ray? C’mon, Ryan. Jack, c’mon, c’mon.” Silence, then a bullet flies overhead, someone yelling, “C’mon out, little cocksucker, we wanna play.”
“Oh, I don’t think you fucking understand a goddamn thing. I wanna fucking play and goddammit, I make the rules.” It’s a shitty uphill battle, he finds his assault rifle and fires to give himself cover to find a body, drag it to cover, and do it over again five goddamn times. He talks to them as he does it, “Geoff, buddy, I know you loved those shoes, sorry for your loss; Jack, oh man, your glasses are cracked, we’ll get ‘em fixed, no worries.” It’s much better by the third time, when he finds Ray, because he also finds a grenade launcher (“I see you hogging all the good weapons, Ray, asshole, learn to fucking share”). It’s like a fucking obstacle course, “oh fuck me, Gavin, seriously, how’d you end up under this car, goddammit, fuck you, Gavin,” and he’s pissed off, this is some goddamn ludicrous bullshit. He literally has to walk through fucking flames to get to Ryan, “only you, Ryan, you sonuvabitch, bitch ass busta gotta make my life so fucking hard.”
By the time they all wake, he’s racked up a decent body count, “Ray, you’re gonna be so fucking jealous,” but there’s still enough gang on the other side to do some damage and one of them sarcastically singsongs, “Are you a fucking Terminator? Are you from the future?”
“The year 2552,” Ryan says, stepping up behind Michael, shaking blood out of his hair, a carbine in his hands, then there’s a choked scream as Geoff stands, wet red sliding down his face, moustache dripping, and says, “It’s a death race, fuckfaces, so let’s get to racing.”
“You mean them, right, they’re racing towards death,” Gavin says, shoving a mag into the SMG, “ugh, my trousers are leaking blood, which is something I’ve never wanted to say,” and beside him, Jack’s leaving dark red finger streaks on a car as he wrings out his shirt, sighing, “Yes, Gavin, not us, that’s a separate fucking thing. Stop fucking whining, we’ll buy you new pants.”
They’re doused in blood, looking as if they’ve rolled around in it, standing there, bold and ready to fuck up whatever crosses their path. Michael says, “Goddamn, we look fucking nice.”
“Leave a few alive to tell the tale,” Ryan says, laughing, as Ray tries to clean his glasses and spits blood, “Did we just become gore porn?”
Eyes big, mouths agape, the rival gang members scatter, “FUCK THIS SHIT, ARE YOU SEEING THIS, I AIN’T FIGHTING NO FUCKING ZOMBIES.”
It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Or scared motherfuckers in the back.
Later, Michael yells at them for fifteen minutes, different expletive variations on “you fuckers left me all alone in the middle of a fucking explosion, what the shit, guys, that was some fucking cold bullshit, I had haul your heavy dead asses around, then fucking babysit your goddamn dead bodies, you’re all a bunch of punk-ass motherfuckers, you sonuvabitch goddamn losers, you left me all alone.”
Ryan hugs him, flailing arms and all, says, “Now you know what it feels like.”
“It fucking sucks so goddamn much,” Michael says, muffled.
And that turns into a grab-ass group hug which turns into a weird rubber ducky sticker party. Gavin yells, “Which of you arseholes keeps putting extra stickers on my name, bollocks, you have to know that means I’ll win faster.”
There’s the time they’re in a warehouse testing new gear and when they wake, Gavin’s sitting in the middle of an odd scorch ring, face streaked with ash, tears have made tracks in the black-gray on his cheeks, he says, “YOU PRICKS DIDN’T MOVE LIKE I TOLD YOU TO, BLOODY IDIOTS.”
There’s the time they wake together in the wreckage of what looks like it used to be a cargobob. Groaning, Jack says, “Well, I hope everyone had a fabulous fucking vacation.”
There’s the time they go get pimp outfits, bright colors and animal prints, big hats and faux fur because why the fuck not. “We look like we raided someone’s porn set wardrobe closet,” Gavin complains, but Michael’s laughing so hard he can’t talk, Ryan saying, “Individually, we look fantastic. Collectively, we look fucking absurd.” Geoff smirks, adjusts his orange rhinestone sunglasses, and says, “Gentlemen, let’s fuck shit up.” Ray grins and Jack adjusts his hat and they are guns ready. So they go out and paint the town motherfucking red. Which really means they end up dying by midnight and they wake up on a goddamn golf course, sprinklers spraying them with water. There’s an overturned yellow Vacca next to them with its headlights on and hazards flashing, and a horrifyingly green Carbonizzare with a wrecked grill, the hood smoking. “Where’s my bloody hat,” Gavin cries, “I loved that hat.”
They run heists and inevitably now, someone dies. When Gavin is a getaway driver at the bank, he gets shot by an excitable cop, so they have to move to Plan B, that involves them shoving Gavin’s body into the backseat and hauling ass and losing two tires to cop bullets. Or when Ray is sniping from a lower building than usual (“seriously with this fucking shit, why am I so far down”) and an explosion sends shrapnel his direction; he dodges, falls off the building, and hits a fire escape on the way down. “Hey, you didn’t have ‘fall from great height’ on your list, Gavin, so that’s my gift to you,” Ray says, “even though that building really wasn’t fucking high enough, Geoff,” and Geoff raises his hands in surrender, “Alright, duly noted, sorry, Your Highness, or Not-So-Highness, just go smoke up, you’ll be high enough then, you dumbass.” Jack crashes a helicopter, that’s nothing new except how he gets impaled by the steering shaft. Ryan gets smashed by a car he was standing too close to when he fired a rocket. Michael takes a bullet to the head as he throws a sticky bomb, “but I took three cop cars with me, so fucking suck it.” Geoff drives off an overpass. “Really, I’m so fucking sad you guys missed it, you should’ve seen it, fucking cinematic as fuck,” Ray says, laughing, holding up Jack who’s laughing so much he’s shaking, “Geoff guns it and the car shoots right off and just does this pathetic little flip, then it skids along on the grill for a ways. Which was awesome. Then a semi hit it. Which was even more awesome. I almost pissed my pants, seriously, Geoff, I almost died of laughter in a puddle of my own piss.”
Death slows down the heists, makes them difficult, they have to recalculate and gather bodies and sometimes run for their lives (“ha, it’s a joke, you get it,” Gavin says, “run for our lives, because it doesn’t matter, we’ll just come back, it’s irony, a huge bloody joke,” and Michael swats at him, “Yes, Gavin, I get it, oh my God, I fucking get it, shut up, you goddamn hyena”), they end up scattered or having to take down pieces of the city, they’re going through ammo, clothing, and skull masks at an alarming rate until Geoff is glaring at a conga line of rubber ducky stickers, yelling, “OH MY FUCKING GOD, STOP DYING AND RUINING THE GODDAMN HEISTS, IT’S OBNOXIOUS AS DICKS, GOD FUCKING DAMMIT.”
There’s the time Ray and Ryan accidentally shoot each other (“at least we’re fucking even, you fucking cheater, Ryan,” “aww, Ray, it was so romantic, looking into your eyes,” “then you should’ve known it was me!”). There’s the time Gavin runs in front of one of Michael’s grenades. There’s the time Geoff drives three of them off the pier into the ocean, hey, it was complicated, there was an emergency and Geoff panicked, the important thing is no one’s ever going to let Geoff fucking forget it. There’s the time with Jack and the speedboat. There’s the time with the Seashark. There’s the time with Michael’s beloved Bifta. There’s the time with the Faggio, but everyone still maintains Ray is lying about that because c’mon, a Faggio, really, “goddammit, it happened, I don’t have to explain it, fuck you all.” There’s the time with the train. Then the train again. And again.
Gavin walks into a propeller. When he opens his eyes, the crew’s applauding him, “that was fucking impressive, Gav, top notch work, so fucking scientific, goddamn.”
“We should have death buddies,” Ryan says over lunch, “y’know, to keep track of each other’s bodies and shit.”
“I don’t want someone keeping track of my shit, that’s gross, you’re a gross motherfucker, Ryan,” Ray says around a fry.
Ryan rolls his eyes as Geoff laughs, “Death buddies, not bad. But I know you fucks, you’ll get separated from your death buddy, so everyone in general needs to keep an eye on everyone else’s bodies—“
“What’d you have in mind, Geoff,” Jack says, coy, coquettish laughter under his breath, and winking, Michael says, “Yeah, Geoff, sounds like you’ve got something fucking specific in mind.”
“Or specific fucking in mind,” Ray says.
“Is it safe to be Gavin’s death buddy,” Ryan says, waving a hand, “isn’t that just like an attempt to die faster.”
“Ha bloody ha.”
Ray says, “Hey, you playing footsie with me, Gavin.”
“No, I’m trying to kick Ryan.”
“You don’t wanna play footsie?”
Angling, twisted in his seat, Gavin finally kicks at Ryan under the table and Ryan catches his foot, “Aww, play footsie with me, Gavin.”
“Hey, no, he was playing with me first,” Ray frowns, the table rocking as the three of them tangle legs.
Michael raises an eyebrow. “Don’t shoot each other over it, I’ll leave your rotting asses here.”
“I wonder if these nice diner people would clean up your dead bodies or just leave you slumped in your food,” Jack says, reaching for the ketchup.
Geoff points his burger at them. “I’m fucking eating, don’t spoil the eating, just calm the fuck down, enjoy the eating. Maybe I’ll buy good children milkshakes or some shit.”
“Since when are we good?” Ryan wants to know and Jack grins.
“I think you just loopholed yourself out of a milkshake.”
“No one’s playing footsie with me,” Geoff says, sadly staring at his fries and Michael pushes out his bottom lip, “Poor Geoff, I’ll play footsie with you, c’mere.”
A squeak of sneakers and the table rocks a little, Jack grabbing at things to make sure they don’t topple, as Geoff smiles, “Michael, you’re my favorite.”
Every death hurts. Some deaths they are fucking scared down to their bones. Most of the time, they end up huddled together with a body, thinking, We finally got some sparkle star stickers, you gotta come back for those, don’t leave me, just fucking come back, goddammit, please.
It's like regular life, you just up and die and don't come back, and you don't know when, you don't know where, you just want people to mourn you, or at the very least blow shit up for you. And it's like that, except they die and die and die and maybe one day will be the last day.
“Y'know, like regular life,” Gavin says.
“I'll blow shit up for you, Gavin,” Michael says, mock choked up, “my boi, I’ll blow up a Titan on Mount Chiliad, Gavin.”
“Aww, Michael, my little Michael, I'll blow up the Vinewood sign for you.”
“Jack, how would you like to be mourned,” Geoff asks thoughtfully and Jack hmms, says, “In terms of blowing shit up?”
“Just bomb the city from the air.”
Geoff sniffles. “Beautiful, goddamn beautiful. Jack, you’re a hell of a guy.”
“Thanks, Geoff. How ‘bout you.”
“Burning money. I want it to rain burning money. And maybe y’all should get tattoos.”
Ryan says, “Murder spree. With a rocket launcher,” and Michael nods, considering it, “Just blow up whatever.”
“Yup, nothing is sacred.”
Kicking his feet up, Ray says, “A tank.”
“Yeah, driving through the streets. Shooting everything.”
Ryan whistles. “That’s fucking better than mine.”
“I know, right?”
“Wait, that is mine except with a bigger delivery system and a payload of warheads.”
Smug, Ray nods, smirking, “That is the idea, Ryan. Also, armor. And I can fucking drive over cars.”
“You fucking suck.”
“Pretty sure Ray’s fucking awesome,” Michael says, making kissy noises, and Ray high fives him.
“This is a mourning scenario, Ray, we’ll be doing this for you, ” Ryan says, “you do realize you’ll be dead, so you won’t actually get to drive the tank,” and Ray says, “Not with that attitude.”
“So I should just prop up your fucking corpse beside me in the tank.”
“Sure, why not. Then I can be part of the excitement. And later, you can bury me in it. Better than a coffin.”
Michael’s laughing, “Oh my God, this just gets better and better,” and Ryan looks disgruntled, “I think I need to rethink my rocket launcher.”
“It’s okay, not all your ideas can be winners like mine.”
Ryan wins the trophy, which isn’t a surprise because it’s Ryan, but it is a surprise because it’s not Gavin.
“This is fucking sad since I’m the one who bought it in the first place.”
Patting him, Michael says, “Maybe you’re just showing us how it’s done, you goddamn loser.”
There’s a small ceremony, involving brand new high-fashion pimp suits at a fancy restaurant, and they make it through dessert without breaking, crashing, shooting, or setting fire to anything.
No one dies. It’s like the old days.
A new poster appears a week later (“holy shit, did you use more fucking glitter, how is that even possible,” Geoff asks, incredulous), it’s been 20 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT, and now there are Disney princess stickers for when they run out of sparkle stars.
When it’s been 31 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT, Jack says, “Geoff’s right.”
“I’m right? Oh my God, of course I’m right, I’m always right, goddammit, y’all should listen to me more often.”
“This deserves something substantial.” Jack sighs, hands on his hips. “How pathetic is that. Before this, we went entire years without dying.”
They go to the tattoo parlor three blocks down. No matter what happens, living or dead, this moment is it, permanently.
It takes a few trips, but they all get inked. Ryan has them pick out different fonts and gets each name in the font they chose, Gavin panicking, “NO, I was bloody joking, not that one, for Christ’s sake, use this one, you knob.” The names run down his spine in a column, like vertebrae. Jack’s names are small, on his chest, in an X pattern near his heart. Michael’s are on his left forearm, in a careful line from his elbow towards his palm, they’re in the same colors as the poster, Jack yellow, Gavin green, Ryan blue, Ray purple, and Geoff pink. Ray’s go around his wrist like a band, two lines, thick and dark. Gavin’s are along his collarbone in a long unbroken line, thin plain font.
“So are we fucking married now or what,” Ray asks as on his screen, he ducks around a corner and knifes Gavin’s character, Gavin spluttering consonants, and behind cover, Geoff chucks a grenade, says, “We need to make with the goddamn honeymoon then, shit, where’s the love.”
“Something picturesque and romantic,” Jack says, smirking as he marks Ray’s hiding spot for Michael before dashing off to flank, so Michael snipes Ray, “This isn’t picturesque and romantic? C’mon, I just shot Ray off a bombed-out building. With my love gun.”
Ryan is stretched out, legs across Gavin, twisted a little to see his own screen, firing at Geoff before he runs behind a burning building. “Doesn’t this get you in the mood, Jack.”
“The mood to capture the flag?”
“Oh, is that what we’re calling it.”
“Y’all can capture my flag any time,” Geoff says, his soldier sprinting forward, “just not right now because Ray and I are about to win this bitch, no thanks to Gavin.”
Two weeks later, Michael, Ray, and Gavin disappear for an afternoon, Jack squinting around at the quiet apartment. “Uh, did I miss something.”
“It’s quiet. Too quiet,” Ryan says with a raised eyebrow. “There should be an ominous musical cue right about now.”
“Yeah, those hyper fuckers ran off somewhere,” Geoff says with a shrug and Jack’s eyes widen, “Should we be fucking concerned.”
Ryan goes to the window, arms crossed. “Well, the city is still standing and not burning, so. At least, I don’t see smoke or hear sirens? So that’s good? Maybe?”
They tumble in around nightfall, smirking like they’ve pulled off the heist of heists and Michael says, “Uh, you motherfuckers need to keep up, matchy-fucking-matchy.” He shows under the bandage on the soft skin of his right forearm: four black letters, LADS. Ray’s grin is big and bright, “Hell to the motherfucking yes, matchy-fucking-matchy,” and Gavin cracks up, “Michael is an arsehole genius,” as they show their own matching tattoos, same spot and everything.
“I’m not gonna say anything about ‘asshole genius’ right now, Jesus,” Michael replies, “but we can fucking negotiate that in the bedroom. Any takers?”
“No, no. No sexing anyone up until these fucking geezers get their tattoos,” Ray says as Gavin sprawls in a way only he considers sexy because Geoff says, “Gavin, did you pull a muscle, that looks painful, goddamn.”
He glares at them. “Shut your knobhole, you’re missing out.”
The lads spend three days yammering on about their matching tattoos until Jack tosses his controller onto the sofa and says, “Jesus Christ, they aren’t gonna shut up about this,” so Ryan takes the opportunity to shoot his avatar, says, “Oh, there are ways.”
So one night, after they’ve finally passed out from lack of caffeine (“I’ve secretly switched their regular coffee with decaf,” Ryan whispers theatrically, “let’s see if they notice”) and a long day running bullshit errands (“seriously, we don’t need six different cars, what’s the point in stealing six fucking cars,” Michael spits as Ray flips them off, double time, and Gavin huffs, “Why do I have to fetch all the ammo, that makes no sense, you sods, buy your own ammo”), Geoff and Jack draw dicks on their foreheads because “hey, matchy-fucking-matchy,” Ryan says, shrugging, “aren’t you cute.”
“Cute,” Ray says, gaze sharp and dangerously amused, “this is fucking cute?”
“Yeah, it is,” Ryan says, cheerful, “you don’t think so? Now you need a cutesy nickname.”
“Oh, just try it, motherfucker,” Ray says, cheerful right back. They pull guns on each other as Michael and Gavin stare down Geoff and Jack.
“Stop fucking flirting with the enemy, Ray,” Michael says and Geoff says, “Yeah, only you two weirdos think shooting each other is flirting,” so Ray shrugs, pulls Ryan into a hug, throwing a leg up around his hip, “Is this better, am I supposed to be dry humping him, is that fucking better.”
Michael’s eyes narrow. “There we go. Hug it out, bitches. Slower, yeah, make it awkward and uncomfortable.”
Jack’s laughing, “Okay, what is happening here,” but Geoff’s still in a staring contest with Gavin, “We already match, now we need to match more in different ways?”
“Why not. It’s called fun, Geoff, don’t you know what fun is,” Gavin replies.
“Of course I do, that’s why you have a dick on your head.”
Ray’s struggling to hop onto Ryan’s back as Ryan holds under his knee, he’s mumbling, “Piggyback, Ryan, you dumb shit, remember, I get piggyback rides,” and Ryan laughs, “How did this go so fucking wrong, I’m not your goddamn mule—“
“I’m a magnificent god-being, Ryan.”
“I’m only doing this so you don’t shoot me somewhere really unfortunate.”
“I almost did and that was something known as an accident, it was totally not my fault. And that was like three weeks ago!”
With a squawk, Gavin pounces on Geoff, “If Ray gets a ride, I bloody want one!” Squirming, Geoff tries to shrug him off, yelling, “RYAN, YOU COCKSUCKER, THIS IS YOUR FUCKING FAULT.”
“I didn’t do anything!” Ryan calls back with an exaggerated gurgle as Ray throws an arm around his neck and Gavin says something about spurs, “don’t I need spurs, is that what they’re called.”
Geoff exhales as Gavin settles on his back, limbs squeezing around him as Gavin smiles big and blissful. Ray’s draped over Ryan like a starfish, arms hanging loose down over his chest, and as Ryan hitches him higher, Ray yelping, “Hey, watch the goodies,” Geoff rolls his eyes and lets go of Gavin, leaving him dangling, “I think I’m too old for this shit.”
“Nonsense, you sausage, you’re just—” Gavin says, clinging to him, “wait, I’m sliding off, Geoff, Geoff, I’m sliding off! Geoff!”
Jack glances at Michael and Michael grins, that grin that says there’s going to be trouble and fucktons of it, so Jack crosses his arms in defense, “I’m not carrying you, so don’t even try. What, you wanna fucking hold hands?”
Laughing, Michael says, “Shit, how’d you guys end up so whipped.”
“Spurs,” Gavin says, nodding precariously against Geoff’s shoulder.
Like a noisy field trip gone way out of hand, the lads march the gents back down to the tattoo parlor and stand watch as get their tattoos, on their forearms, big dark letters, GENTS. (Well, the lads are in the tattoo parlor, Gavin’s distracted by the tattoo gun, “Michael, come here, Michael, what if I just tried, have you ever thought, do people tattoo their balls—“ “Get that the fuck away from me, no fucking way, absolutely not, you’re insane, maybe you can tattoo your balls,” “But there’s no ink, it’s just—“ Ray thwacks them with a rolled-up magazine, “Oh my God, it is possible to go somewhere without fucking bleeding everywhere, like normal fucking people, I think that’s what they do,” then they have a minor sword fight with the magazines, as Geoff swears he doesn’t know them, “at all, I don’t know these people, Jack, do you know these people, they certainly are RUDE and a PAIN IN MY ASS, but nope, I don’t know them.”)
There aren’t any piggyback rides or holding hands on the way back to the apartment, but Gavin and Ryan want ice cream, so they get goddamn ice cream. No one shoots at them, no one drops their ice cream on the sidewalk, no one blows up anything in the elevator, it’s rather mundane, the day is actually cooperating.
“Now we’re seriously fucking committed—“ Michael says, grinning, fist out for a bump and Ray obliges, “Committed to some serious fucking.”
“Or that, so I hope everyone is goddamn happy.”
“Oh my God, so happy, you have no fucking idea,” Geoff gushes in a cracking high pitched sarcastic tone, fluttering his hands into a jacking off gesture, “does this mean we’re BFFs, we have to be now, my name is on your skin, God fucking dammit, get your sweet ass over here and pleasure yourself all over me.”
“I think he wants you to rub your musk on him,” Ryan says, “I think that’s what he’s saying.”
“Musk. Really,” Jack says, “Jesus, well, that’s one word for it.”
“Oh, there are so many words, Jack.”
“What, I thought this had to do with a heist, what’s all this semen doing everywhere,” Ray says, deadpan, “don’t get your fucking cum all over my rifle—“
Licking his fingers, Geoff says, “But your rifle is so sexy, Ray, c’mon—“ He rubs his nipples through his shirt and Ray mimics him, “I know my rifle is sexy, Geoff, but have a little self-control, Jesus, dude—“
Gavin walks in, controller in hand, “What’s going on, aren’t we playing some—JESUS, why are Geoff and Ray pawing at their own nipples.”
Jack’s expression is trainwreck amusement. “That looks like it hurts. It’s not like a genie’s lamp, guys, I don’t think you’re gonna get three wishes.”
Ray is shocked, shocked. “What’re you talking about, of course we’ll get fucking wishes, this is how you get them. All good things come from rubbing nipples.”
“Seriously, how did this go so wrong,” Ryan says, eyebrow up, waving at them, indicating how so very wrong it is, which turns out to be dangerous because Geoff and Ray both grab a hand, slapping his palms on their chests, and he’s yelling, “WHAT IS HAPPENING, I NEED AN ADULT,” as Geoff coos, “Aww, c’mon, rub me right here and make it good,” and Ray’s laughing, “Yeah, Ryan, help us out, man, this is an important job. Wishes are on the line.”
“Oh, well, if that’s the case—wait, do I get wishes too, it’s not like I’m getting more wishes for you—you know what, this is a fucking ridiculous conversation.”
Gavin’s still in the doorway, controller buttons clicking as he randomly presses them, “You can do this later, I want to play. Just get on with it and get your arses into the gaming rig. We don’t have all day.”
With a leer, Michael says, “Just titty twister your way out, Ryan.”
Ryan grins, hellfire mischief. Geoff starts shoving at him, “No, Michael, you bitch, you shut your whore mouth, no no no no, goddammit, Ryan, nooooo, ACK, BAD TOUCH, BAD TOUCH, HOLY SHIT, YOU MOTHERFUCKER,” but Ray’s still laughing, “Oh yeah, pinch me, just like that, more more, yeah, baby.”
Gavin and Jack sigh. “C’mon, Gavin, I’ll play.”
“Thanks, Jack. I want to see how close I can throw a grenade at you before you die.”
“In the game, right?”
“Yes, in the game, you silly minge. We can’t do that experiment in the apartment, Jack.”
“Great. Thanks for the warning.”
There’s a heist because of fucking course there is. In some universe, they go out and do regular things, maybe play some golf or go to the beach or ride the roller coaster, but that’s for after the heist or some random boring day because in this goddamn universe, they’re weird crime junkies.
“Ooh, ooh, I wanna do a diversion,” Ryan says, hand up and Michael gives him a sarcastic high-five as Geoff scowls, “No, absolutely not.”
“Awww, why not.”
“Seriously, no one’s fucking dying. It’s annoying and expensive.”
“I wasn’t planning on dying. It’s just a diversion.”
Jack snorts. “Right, and Gavin’s the queen of England.”
Gavin makes a happy noise, preening, and Michael snickers. “Gav could be the queen of England.”
“If he tries harder, maybe,” Ray says, “I mean, it’d take a lot of work. We’d hafta fly to England, which is already quite the trip. Then overthrow the queen, that’s like a heist and a half by itself, but Ryan would get his fucking diversion—“
“And Gavin would need a sex change,” Jack adds, but Michael dismisses that with a one-shouldered shrug, “Nah, just look at him. A wig, some makeup, he’d be fine. Say something royal and British, Gavin. And try to speak English for us commoners.”
“Americans,” Jack corrects and Ryan replies, “To-may-to, to-mah-to.”
Slipping on his mirrored sunglasses, Gavin frowns at them. “What. What’re you on about. Bunch of plebs.”
Dissatisfied, Michael makes some high-pitched accented vowel sounds, so Gavin mimics them back, Ryan’s laughing, “I’m lost, is this an actual exchange of information?” and Ray grins, “Is this the BBC, am I watching the BBC right now,” Jack giggling where he’s leant against the table, “I think they’re heading into drunk dolphin territory.”
Geoff is staring at them, his flat defeated what did I do to deserve this expression, then he says it, “What’d I do to deserve this, goddammit. And here I thought we were professionals. Must’ve been deluding myself.”
“Oh, we are, Geoff,” Michael says, stealing Gavin’s sunglasses, “Hey, give those back, they’re my cool I’m-ignoring-you sunglasses, because the mirrors mean I can’t see you,” and Ryan tilts his head, “Uh, no, Gavin, that means we can’t see you looking at us, you can already see us because you aren’t blind,” and Jack is laughing into his hands, “Oh my God, you can see us, right, Gavin? You haven’t hit your head or something,” but Ray’s distracted, all laser focus on something else, “Geoff, for this heist, will I get to use my grenade launcher.”
“Ray, I pick these heists according to payout—“
“Geoff, why, you’re supposed to pick by what weapons we get to use—“
“I’m supposed to make that priority number one?”
“You mean you don’t?” Ray is appalled.
Ryan laughs, “I think you just broke Ray,” and Ray makes a sad noise with accompanying miserable frowny face, so Ryan continues, “Though I have to agree with him, it’s more fun if you plan to go in guns blazing and the important part of that is to pick which guns will be blazing. Then you decide how to get the guns blazing and where and when and what you’ll be gaining financially, metaphorically, psychologically, and literally from it. I could add more –ly words, if you wanted. Scientifically. Socially. Astronomically.”
“See, Geoff, professionals,” Michael says, satisfied, holding Gavin at arm’s length, “Those are my smegging sunglasses, give ‘em back, dammit!”
Jack nods. “I see his point.” He grins, wily and devious, Jack’s deviousness is like sugar sprinkled on top of more sugar, he grins just to piss Geoff off. “That sounds like way more fun.”
“Alright, if that’s how y’all wanna play it, fucking fine. The take from this heist better cover more than all your fucking ammo—”
“Geoff, calm down, buddy, it’ll be okay,” Michael says, soft baby talk tone, and when Geoff glowers at him, he grins back in the face of danger. “I’ll give you three sticky bombs.”
“Ugh, fuck you, fine.”
Now it’s not a heist anymore, well, it’s not only a heist, it’s a show of goddamn might and firepower, fuck anyone and anything that gets in their way, and Michael’s laughing dark and low. “Well, well, boys, look what I have here. I do believe I have what’s known as a minigun.”
“OH MY GOD, BOI, THAT IS TIP-TOP, WHERE’D YOU GET THAT,” Gavin screeches.
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“Well, yeah, you idiot, that’s why I said ‘where’d you get that’,” Gavin says, but Ryan looks alarmed, “Holy SHIT, can you even carry that, what’s next, a fucking tank?” and Ray lights up, so Geoff nips that in the bud, “Nope, no tanks or jets or fucking anti-aircraft cannons or what the fuck ever, it’s only what you can carry,” which lets Ryan circle back, “Yeah, exactly my point, Geoff. Michael, can you even carry that.”
He hefts it up, he has to lean a bit to one side, but he’s got it stable. “Look, I can stand. I can hold it. I can even walk with it, I know, right, so fucking impressive, I’ve impressed myself.” He goes in a little figure eight, big grin on his face, he’s laughing like every day is his lucky day, this is my toy, there aren’t many like it, so fuck off because this one is mine.
Smiling, Ryan smoothes a hand over the end of the barrels and Michael pushes the gun towards him, “Yeah, baby, just like that, slow and then fast, then slow again, oh yeah, you know how to get me going,” they’re laughing with death in their mouths, it’s a glorious day, Ray slides up behind Michael to grab him in a hug, swaying them together with the gun, “oh my God, threeway, or I guess fourway if you count Ryan,” he says and Ryan frowns, “Wait, I’m not already invited?”
“Entertain me, boy, and we’ll consider it,” Michael says, eyes shining and may their lives always be like this.
There’s a bank and a jewelry store back-to-back to each other, it’s actually half-assed genius planning, so they’ll be in two teams, “I think it should be lads versus gents,” Gavin says and Geoff says, “Yeah, but I don’t listen to what you say, so it’ll be gents versus lads,” and Gavin sputters, “That’s just what I said, Geoff, you knob,” and Geoff shrugs, “No, I said gents versus lads, ‘cause we’re gonna beat your asses,” and Ryan says, “Uh, wait a minute, how is this a contest,” and they stare at Ryan blankly.
“I mean, how does anyone win.”
Jack nods, chin in hand. “I was just thinking the exact same thing.”
“We’re all winners, Jack,” Michael says from atop a crate of ammo and Jack smirks, “I already know that, we are robbing a bank and a jewelry store—“
“Yeah, it’s not like we’re not going to make money here,” Ryan adds, but Geoff and Gavin still look lost.
“How is this not a contest,” Gavin says finally as Geoff squints at Ryan, “Yeah, I’m not seeing how this isn’t a competition, but I’ve given up trying to figure y’all the fuck out.”
Leaning against the warehouse wall, Ray sticks his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. “Scale of destruction?”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you,” Ryan says and Ray smirks, “Uh, yeah, Ryan, I would, the whole point of this is to use my grenade launcher. Or rocket launcher. Whichever. I haven’t fucking decided, so many choices. I’m just worried you wouldn’t be able to keep up.”
Ryan grins, his mask shoved up on his head, it’s as if he has twin death grins. “Worried? Did it keep you up last night? Couldn’t sleep?”
“Slept like a baby. Know I could beat you. Easy. Like riding a Faggio.”
With a whistle, Michael says, “Them’s fightin’ words, Ryan,” but Ryan shrugs, nonchalant.
“If I remember correctly, Ray, you goddamn died on a Faggio, so sounds like it won’t be much of a fight. More like a watch-and-see-how-it’s-done.”
“I’ll make you goddamn die on a Faggio,” Ray retorts and Ryan responds, “Oh, I would love to see that, but I guess we’ll just have to imagine it happening in some other universe because it’s not going to fucking happen here, now is it.”
“YOUR FACE IS SOME OTHER UNIVERSE.”
Jack’s hiding a smile. “Alright, but we’ve got a problem. Michael’s got his minigun, Ray’s got his launcher, whichever he decides to use—“
“HOW ‘BOUT BOTH, THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY, RYAN, YOU FUCK—“
“OH, SO HAPPY, RAY, YOU HAVE NO IDEA—“
Jack continues, unperturbed, “And Ryan’s obviously going to be doing whatever the hell he wants to do—“
“SHIT, RAY, HOW ‘BOUT I BLOW UP SOME FAGGIOS, WOULD THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY—“
“IT JUST MIGHT, ARE YOU SWEARING TO AVENGE ME, MOTHERFUCKER—“
“MAYBE I AM—“
“But that’s three people at least out causing mayhem, so who’s going to be doing the money and stolen items transaction half of the heist. We can’t have two teams robbing two places at once and blowing everything sky high.”
Geoff laughs, short and loud. “Jack, you’re so good to me, oh, shit, I love you.”
But Gavin’s raised a hand, “I want to bloody blow up something, y’know, it’s good for the heart.“
“And the soul,” Michael says, nodding, “it’d be good for us all to blow up shit.”
So it’s a heist and an explosion fun fest all rolled into one, oh my God, this is the motherfucking Fake AH Crew hopped up on the buzz of golden days and the idea of multiple explosions and astounding immortality, this is the motherfucking Fake AH crew ready to bite into the city and let the juices run thick and heavy like blood.
It’s a dumb shit idea, “seriously, this is dumb as dicks,” Geoff says and Michael shakes his head, “You thought of it,” and Geoff points a finger at him, “Only because you had to show off your shiny new toy and then everyone wanted to fucking be Bruce Willis or some shit—“
“We have to live free or die hard, Geoff, it’s the only way,” Jack says and they burst out laughing, but still, “dumb as dicks, how’d you talk me into this.”
“You’re so soft, Geoff.”
“That’s what she said,” Gavin crows.
“No, that’s what I said,” Ray corrects and there’s a collective ohhhhh. Stroking his moustache, Geoff says, “I was tired, whaddya want me to say. People won’t get off my dick and leave me in peace.”
“That’s what I said,” Ray says, “people won’t get off my dick. Fucking insatiable.”
“You get that word from Ryan,” Michael asks, sliding as they take a turn a bit too fast, someone’s excited to get to this heist, and Ray grins.
“Yeah, he gave it to me for free.”
“Great service deserves great rewards,” Ryan says, already wearing the heist’s chosen creepy cupid mask, smile obvious in his voice, and Ray spreads his hands, gestures at his crotch, “See, what’d I fucking say, people just won’t get off my dick. I am the greatest.”
Jack calls back, “All this talk of dicks has gotten me lost.”
Gavin cracks up, “Oh my God, Jack, what’s going on, are you daydreaming or something?”
“Are you fucking serious?” Geoff says, leaning around the seat and Jack laughs, high and breathless, “No, you moron, we’re here.”
“Oh. Okay. Good. Glad you can concentrate with all these dicks flying around.”
“It’s a skill.”
As they pull on their cupid masks, Michael snickers, “So we look like a bunch of militarized cherubs, holy fucking shit,” and patting Michael’s shiny mask cheek, Gavin says, “Is there anything better, boi.”
“Not really, boi.”
The loose plan decided on only about an hour ago is to hit the bank, the gents doing the actual withdrawal and the lads raising the ruckus, and if that works out okay, then the lads’ll circle around to the jewelry store so they can smash-and-grab and the gents can create the chaos. The thoroughfare alley between them is narrow, but the van fits; Jack parks as if they’re making service calls, they’re heating and cooling specialists, hardy har har. If anything goes wrong, the alley and its smaller arteries to the main streets will be a kill box, but right now, the Fake AH Crew doesn’t give a fuck. They have dumpsters and explosives and ammo and forty-five minutes to respawn. They have each other’s backs (or, well, “stop staring at my ass,” Ryan says and Michael gooses him, “It’s right in my face, what’m I supposed to goddamn do, ignore it?”). They’ve done some insane shit in the past, they do insane shit everyday, it’s in their blood and bones and every brain synapse firing, it’s in their DNA, it’s in how Geoff’s laughing under his breath, Jack is humming, Ryan cracks his knuckles and shifts his weight, Gavin says, “This will be amazing, guys, we are bloody amazing,” as Ray checks his newly-painted pink grenade launcher.
It’s in how it starts with Michael, like a lot of things in their lives, mainly explosions. He strides out to the street, minigun ready, then as he laughs, it whirs and fires.
It might be one of the single best days of their lives. Gavin lets out a battle cry, assault rifle already firing as he comes around out into bright sunlight to protect Michael as the gents duck their heads and pretend to be running civilians as they hotfoot it to the bank. Ray lobs a grenade into the street and it’s all fire and smoke, a concussive blast and shattering glass, the crash of bent metal. Laughter and Gavin’s made up a point system he’s trying to keep a tally of, but Michael’s minigun is cutting through things too fast, it doesn’t even matter. So Ray happily counts grenades instead, “one, alright, that one went a bit too far, I think I took out that truck over there, two, watch your left, Michael, three, Gavin, holy shit, nice job, wait, there’s a Sanchez, I wanna blow it up lemme blow it up, four, fiiiiiive, nailed it, and another motherfucking Sanchez, gotta get that off the face of the earth, hell yes, BEWARE MY PINK WRATH, six and seven and eight, pardon me, I did not mean to shoot that, oh well, ma’am, you left your coffee and, oh, your purse, don’t mind if I do. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve—I feel like I’m on Sesame Street, is this fucking Sesame Street? I can count to twelve! There are colors! This is near! That is far!” Michael’s laughter cuts as quick and fiery as the minigun, Ray briefly switches to a rifle as he stands atop the bank steps, and Gavin’s got hand grenades he’s chucking wherever he can see.
The cops are just pulling up as the gents run out, duffles strapped to their shoulders, Geoff yelling, “IT’S OUR TURN, BITCHES.” They switch bags, weapons for money, as Ray aims, puts a grenade on the hood of a cop car, the explosion tremendous and brilliant and the adrenaline is so fucking incredible. The lads run to the alley, throw the money in the van, and dash through to the jewelry store. Over the comm to the tune to police sirens, Ryan says, “We have the advantage. More cops means more chaos,” and Michael says, “Yeah, but we had all those wonderful stationary buildings and cars to fuck up,” and Gavin yells, “And civilians to scare,” but Ray argues, “As long as everyone’s having fun.”
Geoff’s laughter is better than anything, wild and crackling, he’s throwing sticky bombs with unchecked glee until he announces abruptly, “Oh fuck, I’m out, fuck, I’m so sad, I ran out. Jack, you got anything?”
“A few grenades. I’m borrowing Ray’s launcher.”
“And if there’s a single scratch on that beautiful bitch—“
“I know, I know, don’t worry,” Jack grouses, firing into a running knot of people, “shit, Geoff, I think Ray loves his weapons more than he loves us.”
“Not true,” Ryan says, then there is the chop and shadow heralding a police helicopter, and Ray says thoughtfully, “At least I don’t think so. Huh.”
It’s violence at its finest, clean and explosive, pure noise and energy, each boom echoes through their bodies like a massive drop from the sky, the blood thrumming through their veins with their heartbeats like the bullets rapid fire from their guns. It’s like every time they die and every time they wake up, a rush and pull, as if they’re hurtling through everything that could ever stop them.
A car speeds through the intersection and Geoff blows it up with whoop and a lucky sidearm pitch, the crushed metal chassis slides past them on fire just as Jack asks, “Are we alive?”
“Is that a philosophical question?” Ryan replies, laughing, taking aim at parked/crashed cop car.
“No, Ryan, you jackass, fuck you.”
“We’re ready, go go go go go!” Michael yells. They sprint towards the van, Ryan calling out, “Ray, Ray, your fucking rocket launcher is in the back. And there’s a police helicopter.”
Ray rounds the corner into the alley, hood falling off his head. “OH MY GOD, DID YOU SAVE IT JUST FOR ME. IS THIS CHRISTMAS?”
They’re climbing into the van, gear in, money in, jewelry take in, Geoff behind the wheel and Ryan in the shotgun seat. Michael shoves the launcher at Ray and Ray croons, “I missed you,” laughing as he tosses his mask in the van and steps away to get the helicopter in view.
“Did Ray giggle?” Gavin asks with a smile as big as the sky when he pushes his mask sideways askew. “Was that a proper giggle from Ray?”
Geoff and Ryan are chanting, “Do it do it do it do it do it,” and Michael’s gone hoarse with laughter, “C’mon, Ray, fucking blow it to kingdom come already,” as Jack double-checks the van, hanging out the back door, “Do it, Ray.”
Grinning, Ray says something, his lips move, but it’s gone in the sound of the rocket firing and this is the moment, permanently, living or dead, their names tingling as the rocket shoots up in a perfect arc.
Then booooooom, it smashes into the helicopter, fire bursting outwards with a grind and whine of devastated machinery. They cheer as it careens out of the sky.
Cops are firing from the street. Ray sends a rocket out from the alley between the buildings, then he staggers back, “Jesus Christ.” He suddenly drops the launcher, bleeding down one side. Cursing, Jack grabs him, Gavin jumps out and scoops up the launcher, then they’re climbing into the back of the van. Michael gets the doors shut as Jack drags Ray in, sitting down hard to prop Ray up against the bags, hands looking for wounds and Gavin’s kneeling, “Ray, what happened, Ray, talk to me, what bloody happened, this is bollocks.”
The van bounces out into the street, dodging traffic, nothing to see here, they’re just scared air conditioner repairmen heading for the hills, there’s absolutely nothing goddamn shady about this van, not at all.
Ray’s talking, low and steady, just random things, “did you fucking see that, Jesus, that was outstanding, we gotta do that again sometime,” and Michael’s replying, “Yeah, Ray, fucking masterpiece was what that was, how ‘bout we do it again in a couple of weeks, yeah, how’s that sound,” they keep murmuring, soft and low.
Blood everywhere, Jack tearing through their makeshift first aid for tourniquets and Geoff says, “What’s going on, we got Ray, right, so what’s wrong. Goddammit.”
It’s quiet beyond Ray and Michael talking, trailing off on tangents, anything but blood and pain, Gavin issuing wobbly concerned noises, and it shouldn’t matter, death only hurts, it doesn’t play for keeps with them, but there’s always a shadow in the back of their minds: it's like regular life, except they die and die and die and maybe one day will be the last day.
Then Jack starts laughing and Geoff’s tone goes high, “What, what the shit is so funny, Jack, you dickhead, start fucking telling me what’s going on,” and Ryan takes to firing his pistol out the window at nothing in particular, Geoff snapping, “Would you fucking stop that, it’s not helping, goddamn, dude.”
“Ray’s fine. Bullet went through him, so he’ll live.”
“Fuck you, he’ll live, he’ll live, you’re such a comedian, Jack,” Ryan says, dry as he flips Jack off, then flips off Ray for good measure.
Jack bandages Ray, adjusts his glasses for him, and Ray says, “What, you guys were worried? Of course I’m fucking fine. Did anyone else get shot?”
“Nope, just you.”
“Oh, how is that fair? And where’s my grenade launcher, asshole.”
Exhaling, Geoff says, “Oh my God, Ray, you suck, you know that, you fucking suck.”
Gavin laughs, a cross between a crow and a gurgle. “Ray, you’re such a bastard.”
“Hey, he shot down a helicopter. Show the man some respect,” Michael butts in, scowling. “Don’t worry, I got your back.”
“That’s not my back, that’s my ass, I’m injured, man, can’t it wait?”
“Fine, you fucking baby.”
The van speeds down the highway and randomly, Ryan says, “These cupid masks are fucking creepy as hell.”
Wiping blood on his pants, Jack replies, “Says the man who is disturbingly attached to a skull mask.”
“Yeah, exactly, I should know. I have standards.”
Eyebrow raised, Geoff says, “We should probably discuss those standards.”
“Why, I get the job done.”
“Well, don’t come crying to me when that mask goes missing,” Geoff says, blithely and Ryan narrows his eyes, “And what the fuck does that mean. Is there a plan to steal it?”
“No. Who heists on their own crew,” Gavin says in that rushed tone, completely unconvincing of any innocence whatsoever, “that’s mental, that’s almost wrong.”
“You’re so fucking weird, Ryan,” Ray says and Ryan flips him off again, “Hey, you’re injured, your mouth shouldn’t work.”
“So fucking weird.”
With a sigh, Geoff flicks through the radio stations and starts singing. Michael says, “I’m hungry. Feed me.”
“Christ, it’s always food, isn’t it.”
“I don’t wanna die of starvation, Jack, that’d fucking suck big time.”
“That’d suck big giant knobs,” Gavin says thoughtfully, then he takes a breath and continues before they can stop him, “so what’d be the slowest, worst way to die. Just like the worst because it’s so slow. Like thousand paper cuts worst.”
They groan, loud in the van, Ray saying, “Gavin, c’mon, man, I’m already bleeding here.”
“Curiosity can’t be helped, Ray, it can only be answered.”
“What does that even mean,” Ryan retorts from the front and Gavin sticks his head around the seat, “Oh, you know what it means, Ryan, you idiot.”
“No, apparently, I don’t—“
Michael gives an impatient bounce, “No, seriously, I’m hungry, can’t we stop somewhere and get something—“
“Oh my fucking God, we just finished heisting, can’t we make it to the safehouse first,” Geoff whines, “why do I put myself through this, I must be crazy.”
“Absolutely insane,” Ryan agrees merrily.
There’s the time they wake up on the beach. Well, Jack, Ryan, Gavin, and Ray were dozing a little, while Michael and Geoff were stone-cold dead, the timer ticking down somewhere in the sand.
They’ve laid Michael and Geoff out as if they’re watching the clouds overhead, closed their jackets to hide the blood. Ray sits between them, throwing rocks into the ocean as Ryan says, “Do you know how long it took those rocks to get back to shore. You’ve just ruined years and years of hard work.”
“Well, sucks for them.”
The sun’s going down, the day warm and clear, the water turning inky as twilight creeps in. Jack gathers sand, pushing it with his hands towards Ryan and Gavin as they pile and pat it into mounds.
“We’re grown men building sandcastles,” Jack grumbles and Ryan says, lofty, “No, we’re grown men working to find ways to stabilize an already unstable material to retain shape so as to better engineer tiny, lasting buildings in a hostile, capricious environment—“
“Shut up, Ryan, God, are you always like this, how have I not noticed,” Gavin says, mouth scrunched and Jack laughs, “Poor Gavin, a little full of vinegar, are we?”
Gavin grumbles under his breath. Ray bounces a pebble off his head.
The lights on the pier come on next to them, shimmering and shining in the purple dark, and the breeze carries the smell of salt and hot dogs. People ignore them because this is Los Santos, the city of dreams and fuck-ups, nothing is ever as it seems, so the Fake AH Crew sits in anonymity on the beach, waiting for their dead to wake up.
“Respawn, fuckers,” Ray says, picking through a handful of broken shells, “you’re definitely doing my laundry.”
Jack gently creates a wall between his palms, patting it upwards. Scowling, Gavin digs his toes into the beach. Ryan makes a little moat, heads to the ocean’s edge to gather water in his cupped hands. The water sinks into the sand and he makes a disappointed sound, but Jack laughs, “You’ll have to wait for the tide.”
The boardwalk clangs and dings overhead, the roller coaster swooshing with the surprised screams of its riders, and Ray says, “Anyone remember what the bet was?”
“Nope,” Jack says, connecting two walls, as Ryan drapes a piece of seaweed over Gavin’s shoulder. Gavin lets out a screech and flaps at it, shoving it off, “Ryan, you arsehole, ugh, I smell like decomposing sea things, that’s absolutely disgusting.” He pushes at Ryan, hard, and startled, Ryan goes down backwards into the sand, “Oh God, what the hell, Gavin?”
“You put seaweed on me!”
“Not enough, huh?” Ryan asks, throwing sand at him. Gavin squawks and grabs up some sand, they’re fighting with unlimited resources, sand is flying everywhere. Rolling his eyes, Jack says, exasperated, “Oh, c’mon, you dipshits, really? Fuck, you knocked over my tower!”
Behind them, Ray raises an eyebrow. “Oh, look, a fight. Or is this a squabble. I think there’s tiers. Don’t kill each other like these two fucking idiots.”
Standing, Jack glares at them with the full force of his beard. “If you’re gonna fucking fight, do it the fuck over there.”
“What’s wrong, Jack, you’re a grown man building a sandcastle,” Ryan says, smirking, then Gavin pushes him over and sits on his back, shoving him down into a dip in the beach.
The alarm goes off and they all stop, searching for the phone, “where the fuck is it, did you fucking bury it,” it plays in a loop, is this the real life is this just fantasy is this the real life is this just fantasy, and Jack laughs.
“See, that alarm is better than goddamn beeping,” Michael says as he sits up and Gavin says, “Oh, so you’re finally awake, you stupid sausage.”
Geoff sighs, stays lying staring at the sky. “Well, that was dumb.”
“Yes, yes, it was,” Ray agrees as he zips up his hoodie against the wind off the water.
“Anyone remember what the bet was?”
They shake their heads with muttered variations of “nope, not really, fuck if I know,” and Ray says, “You two dying was a surprise though.”
“Yeah, didn’t exactly mean for that to happen.”
“You make that sound like there’s a bet out there somewhere where death is supposed to happen,” Ryan points out, fuck, he sounds wistful of all things, and Geoff curls his moustache, “Ryan, you’re a sick fucker and I’m afraid of you.”
There’s a sudden waft of spun sugar and a kid up on the pier yells something into the night as Jack and Ryan help Michael and Geoff stand. They brush sand off their clothes and Gavin puts on his sneakers, saying, “So what now.”
With a glint in his eye, Geoff says, “Ryan, stand right there, don't move,” so Ryan stands right there with his what the hell is going on frown, “uh, do I want to be doing this,” then Geoff punches him in the face.
“WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT FOR.”
“For that first time. I said I'd punch you.”
“THAT WAS AGES AGO!”
“To be fair, Ryan, he did say he'd punch you,” Michael chimes, “he just didn't say when.”
They’re laughing as Ryan glares at them, “I call bullshit.”
“No, no, it's true, I remember it. Gavin, you wanna punch him?”
“Nahhh. I mean, I want to? But I'd've already done it by now. So I'll punch him later for something else the sodding prick does.”
Ryan puts his fists up. “Anyone else? Anyone?”
“No, we’ve already had enough fucking stupidity for today,” Jack says and Ray scrunches his face, “Uh, nope, I’m pretty sure we haven’t.”
“So now what.”
They shrug at each other for a bit, Ryan staring at the light pollution against the sky, Gavin kicking his shoes together, Jack shows Geoff the remains of his sandcastle, Ray dumps shells out of his pockets, and Michael runs his hands through his hair to get the last of the sand out of it.
Without a word, they gravitate towards the pier, the flaring colors and the waves of sound, the flashing fun of the city, their city, the Fake AH Crew was just out here a week ago, stealing cars from the boardwalk parking lot as a game (the gents won, somehow, Ray and Michael blame Gavin because why the fuck wouldn’t you blame Gavin).
The night bursts open around them.
They’re wide awake, thrumming with happiness and possibility, an endless stretch of nights like this where the world is unquestionably theirs, every iteration of this night is tremendous, living or dead, this is fucking theirs.
There are tiles to flip over, 000 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT and Disney princess stickers to break open with much fanfare and glitter. There are heists to run and may the adrenaline flow heavy and sweet; there are gangs to intimidate and overwhelm, annihilate if necessary; there are volatile things to do on a hot-blooded whim because they get bored easily and their crew is fearsome and alive.
Jack and Gavin drag them to the roller coaster and they ride it six times, looping and dropping, the city and the ocean flicker and spark at each turn, like fires set over and over. Geoff’s laughter on the wind, Ray and Michael hollering as Gavin shrieks, Jack and Ryan with their arms up, fuck, this is the moment, carved into them like tattoos.
“Ferris Wheel? It’s romantic,” Jack says with a tricky grin and Geoff eyes him, “Are you having a psychotic break, you just wanna push one of us out of it at the top.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I just love you guys.”
Michael nudges him. “You love us so fucking much, you wanna be trapped on a giant slow spinning wheel with us. Anyone stuck with Gavin in a confined space high up in the air would be driven to murder. I figured you out, Jack, that’ll be your motive for killing us.”
Gavin sniffs, haughty. “Death by Gavin Free would be a gift, goddammit.”
“Uh, no, my motive would be homicidal impulse.”
“Hey, that’s my motive!” Ryan protests, offended. “Get your own fucking motive!”
They walk along the pier, taking their time, they have all the time they’ll ever need because it’s like regular life and that one day when it stops could be tonight or it could be never.
They walk under the shifting colors, the dangerous criminal gods of Los Santos, Ryan’s smirk lit promising and easy with a bleeding razor edge of shadow as he makes a subtle joke, Gavin’s eyes like high flames ready to burn whatever they see, Geoff outlined in an unfuckingforgettable imprint on the world, Jack’s glasses cut sharp over his grin and the boom of his voice, Michael’s hands shape new things as they move in time with his words, and Ray seems to bend gravity around him as he laughs.
Michael says, “Goddamn, this is amazing.”
Flashes of dark words as they argue and laugh, LADS, GENTS, blessings and curses on Los Santos, may the Fake AH Crew have mercy on the city’s soul. They’ve got guns and knives on them, violence in their smiles, Gavin finds a wad of $100 bills in his back pocket and Geoff finds a detonator in his jacket, “Huh, what’s this for.”
He pushes the button and out in downtown, a sticky bomb explodes.
“I think that was for later, Geoff.”
“Alright, well, fuck.”
May their lives always be like this.