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Diet Coke and Ray

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Michael pulled Ryan’s name for Secret Santa and threatened to rage quit Christmas immediately after seeing the name.  Fortunately Geoff was the only person in the room at the time, because Michael had immediately begged, “Can I switch with Ray?” and Geoff had frowned at him, beginning a Dad Lecture™ about honor and responsibility.  That’s when Michael knew he was screwed.

What the fuck did Ryan even like?  Besides murder?  Michael slowly realized he knew the least about Ryan than anyone in the crew.  Ryan was out with Ray four nights a week doing jobs.  The other nights, he was on the couch with Gavin, Jeremy, and Ray playing any pretty much any video game.  Geoff and Jack knew everything there was to know about the crew and Los Santos.  Michael didn’t know shit.  Michael was fucked.

Even though Geoff had strictly forbidden Michael from seeking help from anyone else (even the B-team!  What kind of bullshit rule was that??), Michael still thought maybe Ray would accidentally (or not) let something slip about what Ryan might want for Christmas.  Everyone knew Ray and Ryan were the closest of anyone, and Ray and Michael were good friends, right?

“So, you know this whole ‘secret santa’ thing?” Michael asked.

“Yeah?” Ray responded, not looking up from (surprisingly) not pokemon, but cleaning his sniper rifle.

“Did you get the whole lecture about not talking to anyone about it?”

“Yeah,” Ray agreed.  “Geoff gave me the whole thing after I pulled mine and started bitching about it.”

“I wish I’d gotten you instead, I know exactly what I’d get you,” Michael sighed.

“What’s that?” Ray asked, laughing a little in anticipation.

“Weed and lube, disguised in a bouquet of red roses,” Michael replied.

“Both things I could use,” Ray agreed.  “I’d get you a basket of grenades with a brand new elite xbox controller in the bottom of it.”

“Dude, that’d be sweet,” Michael agreed.

“Personalized to say ‘will you marry me’,” Ray joked.

“Don’t be fucking gay,” Michael replied, but he didn’t mean it.  

“The grenades, not the controller,” Ray explained.  Michael laughed, hard.

“Too bad we didn’t get each other?”

“Gav would be so easy,” Ray continued.  “Anything with gold paint slapped on it.”

“And for Geoff, you’d just have to get him booze,” Michael agreed.  Ray hummed in agreement.

“Ryan is so sure I picked him, he’s been dropping incredibly non-subtle hints about everything he wants for two weeks,” Ray complained.  “Every time we go into a store, ‘Boy, wouldn’t I be disappointed if I got this for Christmas’.”

“You’re not going to get him something anyway?” Michael asked.

“No?  That’s not how secret santa works,” Ray frowned.

“Yeah, but it’s you guys,” Michael shrugged.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know, you’re kind of a Big Deal.”

“I’m pretty sure I understand the rules of Secret Santa, dude,” Ray said.  “Plus, even if I had picked him, I’d just print him out a meme and put it in a card.  That’s the way it works with me and him.”

Needless to say, that conversation didn’t help Michael in the slightest.  What did you get for someone who only expressed vague interests and never favorites?

*

Jack was taking inventory of the cupboards and refrigerator, because as the self-proclaimed resident Mom, she’d put herself in charge of trying to make the Lads eat healthier.  They were going to get heart disease before they turned 30 at the rate they kept consuming fast food.  One cupboard at the top left was labeled ‘Ryan’ (with a tiny ‘also Ray’ scribbled underneath it).  She’d never been in that one, as it wasn’t her business what Ryan was eating, but she opened it anyway.  The contents were very predictable.  Half a dozen cans of diet coke, a partially eaten bag of Flipz, and a few packages of ramen that Jack were pretty sure had belonged to Ray when he’d moved in and had been there ever since.  The rest of the cupboard was completely empty.  It’d be a nice gesture in the spirit of Christmas and general camaraderie to fill it up for him, right?  What did Ryan even like?

Jack closed the cupboard and continued inventorying the kitchen, but when she’d finished and was headed out, she still had a big question mark next to Ryan’s name on her pad of paper.  She sighed, knowing the solution to the problem.  Jack pulled out her phone to text Ray.  She knew he was in the penthouse somewhere, but it was a big place and he knew how to hide.  It took five minutes for Ray to stump into the kitchen, annoyed.

“What’s up?” he asked, wiping sleep out of his eyes.  It was 1 in the afternoon.

“You’re coming grocery shopping with me,” Jack announced.

“Why?  I don’t know how to cook,” Ray said.

“You don’t get out enough,” Jack told him, grabbing her wallet and stuffing it in her pocket before picking up the keys to the blue entity she loved.  “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“Your definition of fun is warped,” Ray muttered, but followed her into the elevator anyway.

Jack’s suspicions that Ray would know exactly what to get for Ryan proved correct, even without prompting, as Ray kept wandering back to Jack and the cart with items from halfway across the store, saying things like “Rye loves this type of soup,” or “Can I get these chocolates?  I’ll split them with Ryan”.  The variety of items seemed so random that even Jack couldn’t keep track of the things Ray would bring.

*

Jeremy was the newest to the crew, so it didn’t surprise him how much he didn’t know about Ryan.  He’d been outside of the crew for a long time, watching them pull off jobs on the TV and wishing he could be as awesome as he thought they were.  Occasionally Jeremy would catch Weasel News’ live broadcasts of the police chasing them around town.  The Vagabond would always charge straight into danger and emerge laughing almost satanically.  Any stray officers that he hadn’t caught in his initial explosion would be sniped by BrownMan, across the street, hidden on a rooftop.  What a dynamic duo.

When Jeremy actually got into the crew, through a series of happy accidents (not actually involving Bob Ross), he was over the moon, but it was about a thousand times more terrifying than he ever expected it would be.  Ryan lurked with his skull mask on in dark corners of the penthouse at 4am, Michael got angry and chucked bombs off the balcony at least twice a week, and the sheer amount of inside jokes he only vaguely understood was just overwhelming. 

The Lads constantly teased him that if he messed up a heist, Geoff was going to kick him out (even though Geoff assured him that wasn’t true).  There was an almost constant onslaught of practical jokes, mostly from the Lads, but Ryan as well.  Then finally, one night, they actually full-on pretended to kidnap him – well, actually did kidnap him – and brought him to a remote location in South Los Santos.  After thoroughly scaring the shit out of him, the Lads inducted him as one of their own.  He’d made it.

“Plus, we think Ray is going to leave the Lads to join the R&R Connection full time,” Michael had joked.

Still, after somehow winning the approval of the Lads, Geoff, and #1 Mom Jack Pattillo, Jeremy was still at a loss as to how to even start a conversation with Ryan.  Sure, they played video games together and became battle buddies, but what kind of things did Ryan do for fun… besides murder?  What movies did he like to watch?  Was he secretly a giant weeb?  SuperFan Jeremy Dooley really wanted to know.

“You know Ryan, right?” Jeremy asked Ray.

“I’m sensing a trend,” Ray said, side-eyeing his accomplice.  They were both in an unmarked SUV that Ray was driving away from a quick burglary at a gas station Geoff had put them up to as a diversion for the real burglary at the liquor store.  They were supposed to lead the cops around for a while, and car chases without grenade launchers were boring.

“What?”

“Why has everyone been asking me what I know about Ryan lately?” Ray asked.  “It’s really weird.  Just ask him yourself.”

“Gav said not to ask Ryan questions,” Jeremy confessed. 

“Don’t ask him questions that make him want to put your head on a spike, simple,” Ray shrugged.

This information was not helpful to Jeremy.

*

Gavin had a habit of asking inane questions, and unfortunately Geoff had a habit of indulging him in them.  Gavin always seemed to have an infinite number of questions preloaded at any given time, ready to shoot them at unsuspecting individuals. 

But Gavin didn’t ask questions to Ryan.  Not since The Incident™.

Ryan hadn’t been with the crew for too long at that point, maybe a few months, and he’d been politely answering Gavin’s questions up to that point, but for some reason, he snapped on this one, and he wasn’t even a part of the original question.

It was something about flipping a coin, and the original premise was that if you correctly called the coin flip, you could have sex with anyone you wanted for the rest of your life, but if you didn’t, then you had to have sex with Bam Bam Bigelow.  By the way, he died in 2007, but for this hypothetical, he would be resurrected.  And you get three coin flips to correctly call it.  Which is pretty decent odds.  Ryan got pulled in halfway through for his math skills, probably misheard or misinterpreted the question, and it turned into a debate that lasted months.  Both Ryan and Gavin could easily be provoked with just the words, “but if you flip a coin three times…” and no one wanted to listen to them both insist they were right anymore.

One of the most iconic questions ever asked was that if Ryan was given some kind of astronomical amount of money, would he kill Ray every morning for the rest of their lives if there was a 100% chance that Ray would respawn good as new 20 minutes later.  Ryan had responded with, “I hope you guys don’t mind waking up to gunshots,” and Ray had walked in at that point.  Gavin had explained the whole premise to him, appalled for Ryan’s sanity and their relationship if Ryan would kill Ray every single day for the rest of their lives for money.  Ray had snorted and replied with, “he better take that money, and he better fuckin split it with me.  You gonna pay up, or?”  And Gavin didn’t ask questions about the pair of them anymore. 

Ray and Ryan had been a duo before they’d joined Fake AH, bringing the crew from three members up to five (then Michael had come along after).  No one ever questioned their relationship or the nature of it.  In fact, Gavin was the only one who had ever gotten close, and he didn’t understand these two apparent sociopaths, yet with such a deep bond between them.  He accepted pretty early on that asking questions to the pair of them was only going to scare him. 

(That’s not even to mention the time Gavin asked Ryan if, hypothetically, he could take all of Geoff’s money by touching Geoff’s penis with his lips, and every single person in the penthouse immediately agreed without hesitation, and Geoff started locking his bedroom door.)

Gavin would say he knew three things about Ryan, for sure, which were 1, that he would not hesitate to murder a crewmate for money, 2, he became very mingey when asked questions, and 3, he was shite at probabilities.

“Gav, c’mon, you gotta know something,” Michael whined.  “What the hell do you get a guy for secret santa?”

“I dunno, boi,” Gavin said, scuffing his trainers on the pavement, or whatever dumb British words he was constantly trying to pass off as real.  “I wish I got someone easy like Geoff.”

“Yeah, fucking so do I!” Michael agreed.  “Who’d you get?”

“I can’t say,” Gavin said.

“Did you get the bullshit lecture too?  I gave up on that.  Ray wouldn’t help me out, you gotta be able to give me something,” Michael begged.

“Give him three coins,” Ray suggested through their comms, reminding the two of them that Ray and Jeremy could hear their entire conversation.

“Shut up,” Michael snapped.  “Are we ready for this or what?”

“Yeah, on three,” Jeremy agreed.

“Wait, on three or after three?” Gavin asked.

“On three, Jesus, he just said,” Ray rolled his eyes.

“I’m going now,” Michael shot back, chucking a bomb at the building.

*

Geoff was the leader of the crew, and therefore he knew everything there was to know about his crew, or at least he liked to think.  In truth, he didn’t know much more about Ryan than anyone else did.  He did his research, though, before hiring the pair of them.  Because BrownMan and Vagabond had always been a double act, hadn’t they?

R&R had a pretty slick gimmick running for them.  A sniper and a total wild card?  They could do anything together.  The first time Geoff had noticed they were anything other than a pair of hooligans running around doing petty theft, he’d actually accidentally been a witness to one of their crimes. 

It was genius.  Ryan casually opened the door of a shop, one shot from a suppressed sniper rifle a safe distance away, and suddenly there he was in an empty store with the cops none the wiser.  By the time police arrived on the scene, Ryan had cracked the registers (and sometimes the safe) for the money, and both of them were en route to their next location.  There were 20 stores in LS that kept cash (most had gone to credit only because of the high crime rates), and R&R hit every single one of them.

Geoff had been casually staking a joint for a heist from a nearby roof when he’d seen them do it.  Just pull of a job in one bullet.  He had to have them.  Who were they?

Considering the sheer amount of intel LSPD had on them, the fuzz sure did know absolutely nothing true or useful whatsoever.  Every time they’d hauled R&R in for questioning, they’d never gotten an English word out of Ryan, and Ray generally spoke only in memes and refused to refer to officers by their real names, instead assigning each of them a new name that sometimes changed three times in a conversation.  Not a single one of their crimes could ever have been pinned to either of them, mostly because fiery explosions tend to conceal evidence fairly well.

So when Geoff finally devised a plan to approach R&R with the intent of asking (bribing) them to join Fake AH, he wasn’t surprised to find out that they were totally different from what he’d expected.  Well, Ray was almost exactly what he’d expected.  Barely out of his teens, total memelord, only owns one pair of sneakers… Gavin would love him.  Ryan was still a total wild card.  He was charming but nerdy.  His eyes seemed to say ‘you are safe here’ but crackled with murder.  His body language seemed to say ‘yes you called this meeting and I am compliant’ but also ‘you are the one being interrogated here Geoffrey’.  Ray did 90% of the talking in their meeting and 0% of the paying attention.  Geoff and Ryan stood over the counter in the Fake’s penthouse (it took a lot of convincing – a few hundred grand worth of convincing – to get them to agree to a meeting in the penthouse) talking business while Ray sat on the couch playing on his DS seemingly not giving a fuck about the meeting at all, yet answering every question intuitively as though he was trying to ace some kind of verbal SAT test.  Jack was casually in the kitchen cooking dinner as Geoff’s backup.  (Geoff wanted them to feel comfortable, but not too comfortable, and Jack was an intimidating woman when she wanted to be – but only when or if she wanted to be.)

What did Geoff learn about R&R in that meeting?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  They were an amazing duo, and they were going to rise to the top with or without Fake AH.  But Geoff really wanted it to be with Fake AH.  So what does Geoff Ramsey do when he has a problem?  He throws money at it.  And they accepted. 

And that’s the story of how Geoff Ramsey is the leader of his crew, but still knows next to nothing about Ryan Haywood.

*

“You can stop dropping hints, Rye, I didn’t get you for secret santa,” Ray finally burst out, exasperated, as his phone received yet another casual ‘Ryan wants you to see this product!’ email.  “I got Jack.”

“You can’t tell who you got, that’s cheating!” Ryan exclaimed.  “What about honor and responsibility?”

“Boy, Geoff really ran that one into the ground, didn’t he?” Ray rolled his eyes.  “What the hell do I get for Jack?”

“Get her a gift card to Ponsonby’s or Pampered Chef or something,” Ryan suggested.  “OR!  You could carefully construct some kind of message spelled out on the ground such that you can only see it from a helicopter!  That’s creative!”

“That’s a lot of work,” Ray whined, scrolling through all the emails Ryan had sent him to that point of things he wanted for Christmas.

“It would show you really care.”

“Do you ever think about, maybe, opening up to the rest of the crew, telling them literally any factoid about yourself?” Ray asked.

“I tell them stuff about me all the time, it’s not my fault they don’t listen,” Ryan said.

“I mean, yeah, I know,” Ray agreed. “It’s just… people have really started to notice how little they really know about you in the last few weeks.  Do you think you could just walk around the living room and just talk really loudly about what kinds of food you like or something?  I don’t want to go grocery shopping again.”

“I guess so…” Ryan agreed.

*

“What’s this?” Michael frowned at the gift-wrapped box Ray had shoved into his hands.  “It’s fuckin heavy.”

“That is what I got you to give to Ryan for Christmas.  You’re welcome,” Ray replied, walking away before Michael could protest any further.  Leaving Michael’s room for Jack’s, Ray knocked and was allowed entry.

“What’s up Ray?” Jack asked, looking up from her computer screen where she was diligently researching the available vehicle mods for the upcoming releases.

“Your real present is under the tree, but I got you something extra… from Ryan,” Ray said, holding out an envelope addressed to her.  She frowned at him, taking it and opening it, unfolding the paper inside.  “It’s Ryan’s grocery list.  I know that’s why you asked me to go with you.  No one genuinely enjoys my company enough to invite me out with them.  I get it.  I’m more approachable than he is.  I know that.”

“Come on, Ray, that’s not true, I had a really good time when we went out,” Jack replied.

“Well… either way,” Ray shrugged.  “I know it’s a long list, but he doesn’t really have favorites, so… you know.”

“Thank you,” Jack said.  “I’m honestly touched that you’d think to get this for me.  I wish I had something for you.”

“Again, your real present is under the tree,” Ray reaffirmed.  “You just, uh, keep being the cool Crew Mom™ and I’ll see you later.”  He ran from her room before he could be any more awkward.  Jeremy’s room was next on his list of places to visit.  Lil J was, predictably, watching YouTube when Ray walked in.  Lil J didn’t get knocks.  Lil J got walked in on.  Lil J was not really done with being hazed yet.  “Hey.”

“Hey!” Jeremy replied.  “What’s up Ray?  Am I late for something?  Lads Heist?  Shopping Montage?  Are you here to kill me?”

“You know how we were on that job the other day, and you asked about Ryan?” Ray asked.

“I didn’t mean it, please don’t kill me,” Jeremy said, eyes very wide.

“You’re new, and I sorta get that, but – please, I am definitely not going to kill you,” Ray said.  Jeremy visibly relaxed.  “Today.”  Jeremy tensed slightly again.  Ray laughed.  “Ryan likes talking to people.  He loves to tell stories about his childhood back in Georgia.  Ask him anything you want to know.  Seriously.  He’ll tell you.  And if he doesn’t want to answer a question, he’ll tell you.  He’s not going to threaten you with bodily harm or kill you over a few questions.  You’re not Gavin.”  Jeremy laughed nervously.  “Plus, don’t tell the others, but I think you’re his favorite.”

“Ryan doesn’t have favorites,” Jeremy replied.

“Well… he has Diet Coke,” Ray said. 

“And you.”

“What?  No,” Ray deflected.  “I mean, yeah, we’ve been together a long time, but we’re just crewmates.  We look out for each other.”

“Okay, sure,” Jeremy laughed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ray asked, frowning.

“If that’s your story, then sure,” Jeremy continued to laugh.  “Sure, there’s nothing going on with you and Ryan.”

“What do you think is going on with me and Ryan?” Ray asked, continuing his confusion.

“You’re… you know…” Jeremy said, starting to get confused.  He’d thought this was another one of the Lads hazing things, but Ray really didn’t seem to know what was going on.  “…a couple.”

“A couple of what?” Ray asked.  Jeremy stared at him.

“No, like…  a couple.  Are you two not… like, half-married?”

Ray stared.  Shocked.  Shook.  What was going on?  Did everyone think he and Ryan were… dating?  Fucking?  In Love?  Ray didn’t even reply to Jeremy, just walked out of his room and back to his and Ryan’s.

“We share a room,” Ray said to Ryan, who was sitting on the bed reading.

“Yes,” Ryan agreed, confused.  “We always have.  Are you okay?”

“We share a room, we go out together four times a week, we have a combined cupboard in the kitchen, we’re always paired together on heists, and above anyone else in the crew, we’d defend each other with our lives,” Ray said, still shook.  He was aware of Ryan’s presence in the room, but didn’t have the mental capacity to focus his eyes so everything in the room was sort of blurry.

“Are you okay?” Ryan repeated.

“I… I don’t know?  My life is crashing down.  I think I need help,” Ray said, walking forward to the bed and crawling next to Ryan.  Ryan put an arm around him, pulling him to his chest, and continued reading his book, knowing Ray needed to just breathe and calm down for a bit.  Ray actually ended up falling asleep with his head on Ryan’s chest, as he so often did.  When he woke up, he blinked, confused, cracked his neck, and started looking around.

“Feeling better?” Ryan asked.

“Yeah… I just… It was weird,” Ray said.  “It’s like… I guess I should have known the rest of the crew thinks we’re, like, in  super gay love or whatever.”

“Oh, yeah, they do think that,” Ryan agreed.  “After two years, I don’t know what it says about us or them that they still think that.”

“To be fair, we share a room, go out together four nights a week, and defend each other with our lives,” Ray commented.

“Yeah, but… I don’t know,” Ryan shrugged.

“That must be why everyone thinks the joke about me saving my virginity for the day you can actually fuck an xbox is so funny,” Ray finally put together.

“Yeah,” Ryan agreed.

“Are you in super gay love with me?” Ray asked.  Ryan shrugged.

“I wouldn’t want to screw up what we have,” he replied.

“What if I did?  Want to,” Ray almost tripped over his sentence. 

Ryan kissed him in response, ducking his head to meet Ray’s, as Ray was still leaning on him.

“Oh, it’s ruined now,” Ray said sarcastically when Ryan pulled away, even going so far as to dramatically start leaving the bed.  “I’m moving in with Michael.”  Ryan laughed and pulled him tighter to him.  Ray put his head back on Ryan’s chest and smiled.

“Merry Christmas,” Ryan said quietly.

“Christmas isn’t for like four days,” Ray replied.

“Yeah, but I have your present right here,” Ryan said, pulling a small red box with a bow on it from the nightstand.

“Oh?  You got me for secret santa?  And you didn’t even have to ask anyone what to get me, I bet.  Lucky,” Ray said, taking the box from Ryan and popping it open.  Immediately, Ray stopped talking.  It was a necklace with two charms, a red rose and a black skull.  Objectively, it was pretty badass, and Ray totally would have accepted it any day, said ‘sweet necklace, bro’ and worn it every day for the rest of his life.  But since the whole Ordeal Of Thirty Seconds Ago™, he wasn’t even sure what to say. 

BrownMan and Vagabond had been partners in crime for six years.  Four before Fake AH, and two with Fake AH.  The red rose and the black skull had been graffitied on the walls of Los Santos together for six years.  It was something they sometimes joked about, like getting friendship bracelets or matching tattoos or something.  They’d considered starting a crew for a couple weeks once, and Ryan had created them a crew logo with the images easily.

Ray and Ryan, though?  It should have been weird, shouldn’t it?  To take their relationship from basically platonic  to romantic?  But it really wasn’t.  It felt like… why haven’t we been doing this for six years?  It felt like… maybe we have been in super gay love for six years and we’re both idiots?

“I do love you,” Ray told Ryan as Ryan put Ray’s necklace on for him.  “Maybe I always have.”

“Isn’t that kind of cliché?” Ryan asked. 

“Yeah, you know that clichéd story of two fucking murderers being partners for six years and finally realizing they were in Super Gay Love™ the whole time,” Ray said sarcastically.  “Yeah, a total cliché.  Every single Lifetime movie.  People are bored of hearing about it.”

“You don’t always have to point out how wrong I am,” Ryan told him.  “You can let some of them go.”

“Never have, never will,” Ray said stubbornly.

*

Geoff liked to think he was fairly observant.  No one else would ever tell him any differently.  (They wouldn’t dare.)

When Ray and Ryan sprinted into the kitchen on Christmas morning to get some of the enormous breakfast Jack had cooked, Geoff couldn’t say there was anything different about them.  Ray had showed his necklace off a few days before, saying Ryan just couldn’t wait for Christmas day to give it to him, and blushing. 

Ryan bumped Ray purposefully out of the way of the fridge with his hip, grinning.  Ray blushed.  Ray blushed?  Did Ray blush?  Was that a thing Ray did?  Then he pouted.  Ray pouted?  Did Ray pout?  Was that a thing that Ray did?  Ryan laughed and pressed a kiss into Ray’s hair.  Ray blushed again.  Maybe blushing was something Ray did do?

Wait, did Ryan always kiss Ray’s hair?  Everyone knew they were a couple, but there was little to no actual evidence of them putting on public displays of affection. 

Geoff Ramsey was very observant.  He observed this.  And he came to this conclusion:  Ray Narvaez Jr, like many other humans, blushes, pouts, and gets hair kisses.

After breakfast, the crew each opened their gifts, with the exception of Ray, who sat in Ryan’s lap, as usual, and played with his necklace with a dumb grin on his face.

Jack opened her gift from Ray, it was a sweet vintage record player she’d pointed out in the window of an antique shop once while they were on a heist.  Ray and Ryan had been out enjoying the Christmas lights and fake snow, when they walked past the store and Ray remembered she’d said she wished she had one.  So he and Ryan had immediately held up the shop and taken it.  Who the fuck paid for stuff if they didn’t have to?

Jack’s gift was for Geoff.  She’d gotten him three bottles of very expensive whiskey and a set of glasses with his initials engraved on them.  “If any of you motherfuckers breaks one of these glasses, I’ll punch you in the dick,” Geoff warned the rest of the crew.  Michael made a joke about how Geoff should really keep the pleasure of breaking the glasses for himself.  Geoff threw a punch at him and Michael ducked.  The punch hit Gavin, and everyone laughed.

Geoff had drawn Jeremy, and known exactly what to get him.  (Because Geoff is very observant.  Obviously.)  Jeremy was very pleased with his gift, four colors of neon hair dye, a package of gold star stickers, a bright green remote control toy monster truck, and a keychain with two things on it: a pewter Massachusetts and a key to a Grotti X80 Proto, painted in Jeremy’s favorite ‘Rimmy Tim’ colors.  Michael screamed in protest.  “Welcome to the big leagues, Lil J,” Geoff said.

Even though that was clearly the big winner at the gathering, Jeremy presented his gift to Gavin hastily before excusing himself from the action around the coffee table to play with his remote control monster truck.  He’d gotten him a few different gold tone makeup things that Gavin had seen various advertisements for and whined about wanting for two straight weeks.  Gavin gushed in all of his non-real British words about how great Jeremy was for ten straight minutes before Jack cut him off and made him present his gift.

Gavin had gotten Michael.  They’d been best friends for so long, anyone would think Gavin would know exactly what Michael would want, but he hadn’t had a clue.  Weapons and bombs were too simple.  He didn’t need a new car, not since Geoff had bought him the chrome Adder (and therefore really had no room to complain about Jeremy’s new car, besides the fact that X80s were twice as expensive as Adders).  What did you get your best friend for Christmas?

“Gav, this box is empty,” Michael told him.

“Yeah, I couldn’t fit it,” Gavin said.  Michael frowned at him.

“Okay…” Michael said with a shrug.  “Where is it?”

“Oh, um… Dammit, hang on,” Gavin pulled his phone out of his pocket and started tapping away.  Everyone was perplexed.  There was a knock on the penthouse door.  Everyone but Gavin could be seen trying to subtly count how many of them were already there, thus trying to figure out who was at the door.  “You may want to get that, boi,” Gavin threw out, still texting.

Michael, perplexed, put his empty box down on the coffeetable, got up from the couch and jogged up the few stairs to the penthouse door.  Throwing open the door, he saw –

“Lindsay.”

“Ayo,” Lindsay and Gavin said almost at the same time.

“You’re here,” Michael said, shocked.  “Oh my God, I can’t believe it.”  He hugged her tightly, still standing in the doorway.

“As it turns out, breaking someone out of prison is harder than it looks on paper,” Gavin told the rest of the crew.  Lindsay had been in federal lockup for months on a (mostly factual) counterfeiting charge.  Of all the things the feds were going to get on the Fakes, of course it was a fucking counterfeiting charge.  Instead of keeping her in Los Santos where the crew could easily have broken her out, they’d taken her to Washington, and every attempt at hacking even the security system at the place they were holding her had resulted in a completely fried computer on the Fakes’ end.  Michael had pretty much given up all hope of ever seeing her again.

“How the fuck did you do that?!” Geoff asked Gavin, voice cracking in his shock.  Gavin just gave Geoff a smug look of ‘do not try to one-up me for the best present of the year, Geoffrey’.  Michael and Lindsay were still hugging in the doorway, having a whispered conversation no one else could hear but everyone assumed it was something like ‘I love you so much don’t you fucking dare ever get arrested again I’m so sorry I couldn’t get you out we tried so hard linds I love you never leave me again’.

“Only one gift left, lads, who’s it for?” Gavin changed the subject.

“It’s from Michael to Ryan,” Ray said, sliding onto the couch from Ryan’s lap so he could retrieve his present.  “I’m guessing he won’t care if he’s not here to see you open it.”  Ryan picked up the box to put it on his lap.

“It’s heavy,” he commented.  Ray nodded, rolling his eyes.  Ryan pulled the paper off and started laughing.  The box was a 24 pack of Diet Coke.  Nothing else, just that.  “Wow, this is the best present anyone could get me.  Seriously.  It’s perfect.”

“No one knows what to get you!  You don’t have favorites!” Ray exclaimed.

“Diet Coke!” Ryan protested.

“Yeah, Diet Coke and Ray, that’s all anyone knows about you,” Geoff said.  “I’m fine with it.  The longer I don’t know what’s going on in your head, the longer I can continue sleeping at night.”

Michael and Lindsay finally joined the rest of them in the living room, but not willing to separate themselves, as they sat down on either side of Gavin still holding hands.

“Thanks boi,” Michael said to Gavin.  Gavin just nodded.  He already knew Michael was grateful.  No thanks required.  It’s not like he’d worked on it double triple extra overtime for a month.  Michael spotted the case of Diet Coke still in Ryan’s lap.  “Really, Ray, Ryan’s entire life story at your disposal and Diet Coke was in that box?  I could have fucking come up with that.  Last time I trust you to do anything.”

Everyone started sending accusatory looks and phrases at Ray for helping Michael cheat at secret santa.

“Really?  I’m the one who gets yelled at for cheating at secret santa?” Ray asked.  “Geoff had to call Gavin and ask him about, and I quote, ‘Rimothy Timothy’ colors.  Jack had Jeremy help her steal that whiskey.  I’m willing to bet Gavin didn’t fucking break Lindsay out of prison without a substantial amount of help.  Ryan gave me this necklace four fucking days ago.  Michael was the one who begged me to help him, but no, I’m the one getting the blame.  Sure, fine.”

“It’s a great present and it doesn’t matter if it came from you or Michael,” Ryan told him.  “And you keep me out of this.  I 3D printed that necklace myself.”

“When are you guys gonna get married already?” Gavin asked them with a frown.

“Yeah, Matt and Trevor started a bet about Ryan proposing for Christmas,” Jeremy said.

“Shh, that’s New Year’s,” Ryan joked.

“Christ,” Ray declared.  “At least take me to dinner first.”  The joke confused everyone else in the room, but Ryan laughed, pulling Ray back into his lap, the Diet Coke banished to the floor.  “Okay, maybe I’ll settle for delivery.”

Geoff Ramsey prided himself in being a very observant man.  When Geoff Ramsey observed something, it was observed.  Boom.  Immediately.  Nothing gets by Geoff.  Except, apparently, Gavin breaking Lindsay out of prison, and the fact that Geoff couldn’t for the life of him name one other time he’d ever seen Ray and Ryan actually kiss.  He knew they must have, he had memories of it, but they were probably clouded over with alcohol or something that was preventing him from accessing them.

Geoff knew.  He’d observed it.  It had been observed.  Maybe he sometimes forgot stupid shit like who the fuck Rimmy Tim was, or where he left his car keys, but he knew exactly three things about Ryan Haywood:  1, Gavin was absolutely not allowed to ask him questions anymore, 2, Ryan was on this earth to drink diet coke and kick ass (watch out when he runs out of diet coke), and 3, Ryan Haywood, the Mad King, would ride or die for that punkass sniper with the pink guns and checkerboard vans.