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Blood & Roses

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“Do you think he’s actually all that good?”

Ray lifted his head at the question, pulling his attention away from the task of fishing in his game. He’d just started up a new town in it and already regretted writing over his previous save. It’d been a dumb four in the morning decision all because he missed some festival for a special item. It shouldn’t have mattered so much, but—He quickly squeezed his eyes shut and gave a shake of his head to refocus on what his friend had said, “Who we talking about?”

“The Vagabond, Geoff’s new fucking fascination,”  Michael clarified from where he sat on the floor against the couch Gavin was currently stretched out on. From the looks of it, he was sleeping with his sunglasses over his eyes but Ray couldn’t be sure, he’d literally been talking about something not even five minutes ago.

Ray shrugged, looking back down at his game as he nestled further into the armchair he was sitting sideways on. His hoodie started to slip off his head and he reached up quick to catch it, responding with the action, “No idea. All I’ve heard about him has been from rumors, news reports, Geoff and then that one time I saw him by complete accident.”

“You saw ‘im?” Gavin’s voice piped up and Ray sighed, guess he wasn’t sleeping, “What do you mean you saw him?”

Ray glanced up from the conversation he’d started on the screen, looking over at Gavin who’d lifted his gold sunglasses to look at him, “I saw him one night when I was on the roof of my complex.”

“Why were you on the roof of your complex?” Michael shifted his gaze away from the multiplayer game he was playing on the Xbox, but only long enough to show the curiosity in his eyes.

Once more the Sniper gave a shrug, “Can’t sleep sometimes and I go up there with my rifle’s scope to just people watch.”

“That’s kind of creepy, Ray,” Gavin muttered, dropping his head back onto the armrest and settling his sunglasses back over his eyes.

“Says the guy who has an apartment with a fucking telescope in it,” Ray retorted quickly, a soft glare on his face. He looked back down at the DS in his hand, tapping at the screen as he continued, “I was watching some drug deal go down when some guy came barreling down the sidewalk yelling about how someone was after him. It was like two in the morning and nobody in this city gives a shit, but naturally, the drug dealers moved off the street and into an alley just as the guy got closer.” Ray sighed, recalling all of it so well despite it being more than a month ago, “The dude didn’t even make it to the alley before he was falling flat on his face.”

“Trip of his shoelaces?” Gavin asked.

“More like had a knife tossed into his back,” Ray corrected, “He hit the ground hard and I thought for sure he’d knocked himself out on the way down, but nah. This guy starts to try and drag himself along the sidewalk, but that’s when Vagabondage showed up and grabbed him by the back of his jacket. He was easily a foot taller than the poor idiot, ripped the knife out of his back and slammed him into the wall.”

“And you just kept watching this happen?” Gavin, again with the important questions.

“Well, no shit, Gavin,” Michael responded, “What do you expect him to do? Swoop in and save some random asshole from a guy in a mask that’s been all over the news?”

“I just meant like, you didn’t stop watching?”

Ray snapped the DS shut, deciding then he wasn’t going to finish his new start of weeding the damn town, “Why would I? At this point, I wanted to know if this guy was all the news said he was.”

“And?” Michael had finished his match, setting the controller down to stretch his arms, “What happened?”

“I had no idea a fucking knife could get a dude to near decapitation,” Ray responded, “He cut into the guy’s throat like it was a fucking cake and not once, but like three times! There was fucking blood everywhere and then like--that wasn’t fucking enough, he dropped the dude to the ground and just carved his face up until it looked like fucking swiss cheese.”

“This story got horribly disgusting fast,” Gavin grumbled.

“You asked about it,” Ray leaned off the chair a bit, dropping his DS onto the coffee table before settling back into his spot, “But yeah, so I mean, I guess after that I could probably go along with him being all that they say he is but like we aren’t going to really know until...well, y’know.”

“I don’t think I wanna work with the guy,” Gavin responded, shaking his head some, “I’m good not having to worry about someone slashing my throat open.”

“You have to worry about that everyday, idiot,” Michael frowned at him, “You’ve got a fucking bounty pinned to your head nearly every other week.”

“Yeah, but no one’s gonna try to do a damn thing about it,” Gavin hummed confidently, “Besides, I don’t have to worry about any of you pricks trying to kill me.”

“You say that,” Michael snorted, “But I’m pretty sure Jack’s got you on her ‘To Kill’ list.”

“What? No!” Gavin lifted his head some, glasses slipping to the tip of his nose, “Jack loves me!”

“I love one thing and one thing only, Gavin.” The intrusion of the voice startled the lads just slight and their eyes drifted quickly to where a woman in white shorts and a floral shirt stood at the top of the stairs. She had a paper bag tucked against her chest and her phone in the other hand, red hair tied up into a messy bun, “My helicopter.”

“Bloody where’d you come from?” Gavin had sat up more, sunglasses now on his lap from moving so quickly.

Jack looked around a moment, brows drawing together in slight confusion, “The store?”

Michael jumped up at the response, crossing the distance to stand in front of her with his arms out. When she handed it over easily he took it and wandered away to the small kitchen nestled off in the corner of the warehouse’s second floor. He made a quick exclamation about something, but it fell on deaf ears as Jack came to a stop behind the couch Gavin was sitting on.

“Geoff around?”

“Yeah,” Gavin jabbed his thumb over his shoulder with a nod of his head, “In his office, hasn’t left since he got here.”

Jack let out a sigh, shoulders slumping just slightly as a look of frustration came over her face. Ray recognized it well, hell they all did. She’d been worrying after Geoff ever since his wife went off to follow her own career path, one very far away from Geoff’s. No one had blamed her for it and Geoff had supported it, but since then he’s still seemed to have this air about him that was almost ticking away towards a breaking point.

The lads didn’t fully see it, but Jack--Well she saw everything and she was doing her best to keep a level head with it all. This included forcing Geoff to cut back on his drinking and in turn making everyone else do the same. Of course, this didn’t bother Ray any. He hated drinking, hated the taste but everyone else was still grumbling about it. Even the second ring of their gang would bite a comment here or there when stopping by the warehouse only to find no beer in the fridge.

“Did he say anything?” Jack folded her arms across her chest, looking at Ray specifically as if he’d have the magic answer to the question.

“Not...that I know of?” Ray said it more as a question in response to hers, brow raising in slight confusion, “Why are you looking at me?”

“Because I assumed he’d talked to you already about the job.”

“Job?” Michael piped up from the kitchen, voice carrying easily across the way, “We gotta job?”

“No,” Jack looked over her shoulder then back to Ray, “Ray has a job, but seeing as Geoff hasn’t said anything I may have just spoiled that.”

“Spoiled it?” Gavin asked, “Was it a stakeout at Taco Bomb?”

“Yo, say it’s so,” Ray beamed, lighting up at the idea, “I don’t even care if it’s to spy on a shitty drug deal, at least there’ll be tacos.”

Jack rolled her eyes and sighed, mouth opening to say more only to fall silent at the sound of Geoff’s door swinging open and bouncing against the wall, “Jackie!”

The woman rolled her eyes once more, this sigh heavier than the last as she turned to look at her long-term career counterpart, “Geoffrey.”

Their boss strode out of the office, a grin on his face and mustache curled by a wax he’d been refusing to use for nearly a week. He wore most of the suit he normally donned, the jacket left behind to show rolled up sleeves and tattoos down both his arms. He looked happy, excited even. It was odd, especially after the small reminder of the mood he’d been in, “Where’ve you been?”

“Had to grab some groceries so you don’t all starve to death waiting for the next big thing.”

“Aw, you do care,” Geoff teased gently only to cross the room and sling an arm around her shoulders. He pointed a finger at her with that still present grin, “See, I told you that you’d start mother henning in no time.”

Jack chuckled, shaking her head, “Either I feed you or let you all return to a diet of booze and Hot Pockets.”

“I’d like to say I see your point, but really I’m just going to keep telling you that it still means you care,” Geoff seemed proud of himself at the response, turning his blue eyes onto the two lads still sitting in the area in front of them, “Speaking of making sure we’re fed while here, why are you guys here?”

“Um, because we work...here? Technically?” Gavin’s pitched slightly at the comment.

“That and we’ve got nothing better to do,” Michael added as he returned to the couch, dropping himself between Gavin’s stretched out legs and the couch. It got a squawk of a complaint, but he ignored it in favor of resting his legs over his and tipping his head back to look at their boss, “Not to mention Gavin texted us whining about how he’d be alone if we didn’t come to the warehouse.”

“The good weed’s here,” Ray covered the sound of Gavin’s protest at Michael’s comment and Geoff let out a laugh.

“Whatever saves me from having to text you assholes to get down here,” Geoff slipped his arm away from Jack, moving around her to make his way to the one other armchair across the way from Ray. He dropped himself down into it, “So, I’ve got news.”

“We’re finally getting the penthouse suite to live together?” Michael grinned wide and Geoff frowned.

“Fuck no,” Geoff snorted, “I can barely live with Gavin and I’ve been doing that for God knows how many years.”

“Seven,” Gavin responded easily and Geoff shot him a glare.

“It isn’t happening, besides,” he looked at Michael, “I thought you liked living with just Jack.”

“It ain’t bad,” Michael shrugged, “It’s like living with your cool Aunt who only checks in on you when she hears something fall.”

“And I’m still okay living alone,” Ray added in, smiling at the group, “Can’t really jerk it where I want if I’m living with you assholes.”

“Really painting an image for us there, Ray,” Michael snorted and Geoff rolled his eyes.

“Anyways!” His voice pitched at the word as he leaned forward onto his elbows, “I’ve been looking into possibly picking up a sixth.”

Without hesitation Gavin spoke up, “Wouldn’t it be like the thirteenth or something?”

“For the main crew, dumbass,” Geoff hissed, “We’ve been missing some amazing chances and opportunities because of it.”

“Then why not just drag Kerry along on something or that short dude over at the garage?”

“Because that isn’t their jobs,” Geoff frowned, shooting a heavier glare at the lad, “Would you stop fucking interrupting me?”

Gavin tossed his hands up in defense, but said nothing more.

“No, what I meant is we need more muscle than what we got. Someone who can get in and get a job done--”

“So you mean your new man crush?” It was Michael this time and Geoff groaned, letting out a long whine in response.

The back of Jack’s hand smacked the side of Michael’s head and the lad let out a sharp curse at the action, shooting her a glare only to be shot down by one of her own. He grumbled something, but looked back to Geoff who was staring at the ceiling.

“Anyways!” He tried again, “I’ve been looking into the Vagabond, as you all know. At first I was doing it out of concern, but then I was doing it out of curiosity and honestly that sick son of a bitch might be good for us.”

There was a silence and Geoff brought his head straight, smiling at them with a glint of relief that no one had spoke yet, “He’s a genius from what I’ve learned and can snap a dude’s neck with his bare hands. He doesn’t fuck around and he gets shit done without distraction.”

Ray couldn’t stop the small smile of amusement that crept onto his lips. He knew exactly what Geoff was talking about, knew exactly what he was aiming at with the comment. They got shit done as a crew, yeah, but there was always something that would go not according to plan because of a mess up here or there. Be it a distraction or just pure forgetfulness, something always happened that caused their plan to slide away from that perfect mark.

“That said, I’ve done what I had to in order to reach out to him,” Geoff turned his gaze then to Ray, slow smirk building onto his face, “And that Ray, is where I’m going to need you to do something for your boss.”

Ray’s once nearly their smile dropped into a frown, shoulders slumping, “You’re not going to make me try to seduce some random dude in an alley again, are you?”

“What?” Geoff’s face scrunched, nose wrinkling up, “No! That was one time and you didn’t even have to touch his dick.”

“No, but I definitely saw it,” Ray commented under his breath.

“Good thing you're fucking gay as dicks then, yeah?” Geoff quirked a brow and Ray grumbled something under his breath that the older man ignored, “As I was saying, I need you to do something for me. I need you to follow him.”

“You want me to follow around a serial killer?”

“He’s not a serial killer.”

“Actually,” this time it was Jack who spoke, “Liberty City referred to him as one of the most sadistic serial killers of their time. Went by a different name then, but still--new place, new image and he’s still very capable of going on a rampage again.”

“Thank you, Jack,” Geoff snapped his head towards her, “for your input.”

Jack only grinned smugly, glancing at Ray after to wink quickly, “I’m sure he’s gotten bored of that and prefers what he does now.”

“Which is still killing people,” Ray frowned at her, eyes mirroring the expression, “I watched the dude nearly cut a guy’s head off once and I wasn’t even tailing him then.”

“So you should be fine,” Geoff pointed out.

“No, I should be asking why me,” Ray looked back to his boss, swinging his legs off the armrest of the chair to set his feet on the ground.

“Because you can be on a rooftop without me worrying about you falling to your death unlike two other idiots.”

“I’ll have you know,” Michael cut in, “I only fell off a roof once and it was because of Gavin.”

“That’s a lie,” Gavin bucked his legs up slightly, knocking Michael’s up in response, “You fell off the roof because you couldn’t catch a damn bag of cash.”

“My other point,” Geoff ignored them, “is you’re quieter and better at staying at a distance. You’re used to it. Being patient.”

“That’s because I had to be to get noticed by jerks like you,” Ray countered, “And there’s a difference between being patient and just accepting your fate of being bored.”

Geoff’s lips quirked at the comment, smiling in amusement, “So then it’s settled.”

“I guess so,” Ray sighed, “Just tell me where I need to be and what I need to do.”

“Don’t bring your rifle,” Jack spoke this time and Ray threw her a look of dismay, she only lifted a brow with, “It’s too damn noticeable.”

“Can I at least borrow one then?” Ray looked back to Geoff and the boss shook his head, rising out of the chair.

“Go see the Wonder Twins down at the garage, pretty sure Matt’s got something you can use in place of it,” he waved a hand at Ray, showing he was done with the conversation as he started to make his way towards the kitchen.

Ray called after him, “You still haven’t told me where I need to be and when!”

“Tonight,” Geoff answered, pulling the fridge open, “Across from the Unicorn. He’s taking out some dealer that goes by Shadles.”

Ray groaned, “Aw, c’mon, man. That’s my guy.”

Jack snorted, shaking her head, “That’s why he’s getting taken out. If we can get this guy to come in, we can finally start focusing on the other half of this crew we’ve been ignoring.”

“We gonna start selling drugs?” Michael asked.

Again ,” Jack clarified, “Gavin, Geoff and I used to have a small thing over in Liberty, but once we got to LS...well, you can only imagine the competition.”

“So we’re hiring the Vagabongalow to take out the dealers with the most umph ,” Ray commented and waited for a nod from Jack, “Fine, but I want a head in this stupid drug business we’re going to be starting.”

Geoff let out a loud laugh of amusement from the kitchen as if it were to clarify he already knew that, but rather than responding he gave a quick order, “Get out of here, Ray! You’re wasting daylight. I’ll text you later when things are going down.”

Ray sighed, but stood from the chair grabbing his DS to shove into his pocket, “So, who wants to give me a ride to Customs ?”

Michael narrowed his eyes at him, “Didn’t you drive here on the Faggio?”

“Yeah, so?” Ray shrugged, “Maybe I don’t wanna go by myself, have you thought of that?”

“Aw, Ray,” Gavin teased lightly, “You want some company before you stalk a murderer?”

Ray mirrored Michael’s look to point it at Gavin, “On second thought, I’ll go alone.” He stepped around the coffee table and made his way to the stairs, not bothering to pay attention to what was yelled after him by the Brit. He took the stairs in two, hurrying down them until he was at the lower level of the warehouse where their vehicles all sat glinting rays of light from the sun that shone through high windows.

And by glinting vehicles, he really only met Michael’s obnoxious Adder. At this point the vehicle was a token piece to the crew and everyone around the city knew who it belonged to. At first, Geoff was annoyed but then he enjoyed it when lowly thugs would scramble to leave an area as soon as the plated 00Mogar made its appearance. It could be helpful, but also the opposite and therefore was quickly banned on big jobs that they knew cops would be tailing them. The fucking Roosevelt hid better in the public eye than some chrome sports car.

Ray rolled his eyes and wandered past the car, going to the furthest stall where his Faggio sat leant haphazardly against the wall. He grabbed his DS from his hoodie’s pocket, shoving it into the backpack he’d left laying on the floor beside the moped. He slung the pack over his shoulders and started up the vehicle, backing out slowly as the door to the garage opened for him. He awkwardly shifted it around until he was able to buzz out, annoyance still grumbling inwardly at the idea of the job altogether.

He didn’t really like the idea of literally stalking a mass murderer, as Gavin had put it so kindly, but he knew why Geoff had asked him to do it. No one else was quite as capable of tracking a target and choosing the right moment to strike than a sniper. Granted there wasn’t going to be any striking, but his point still stood. Being bored and patient kind of fell into the same lines with Ray, following this guy would be easy. Afterwards he could report to Geoff then go home and smoke, maybe he’d catch up on the recent Los Santos Most Wanted . It was always fun being high and watching the city try to figure out how to stop the Fake AH.

Ray snorted at the thought, focusing back in on his short drive to the auto shop just down the road from the warehouse. It’d been marked several months back as being on Fake AH property and in no time at all Geoff had convinced the two running it to do their bidding. Of course that came with subtle threats and money, but who was really paying attention to that? Being in the crew, even if you weren’t in the main of it meant you were safe. Meant you were protected . Passing that up would be stupid.

Ray almost made that mistake. He had Michael to thank in the end for that.

Not the point right now .

The Faggio puttered to a stop just outside the open door of the auto shop. He killed the engine and climbed off, letting it fall to the ground without care. The moment it hit the ground in a gravely thud a man popped his head out from under the hood of a Zentorno. His brows furrowed and he stepped back from the car, pulling a rag from his pocket to wipe at the grease on his hands, “You do realize how bad that is for your moped, right?”

Ray looked down at his brown Faggio then back up, shrugging, “That’s your problem to worry about, Little J. I just drive it until it dies.”

Jeremy Dooley, personal hired mechanic, rolled his eyes and chuckled lightly to make his way out to Ray. He leaned down and picked the Faggio up despite knowing Ray did it to just get under his skin. He got it to rest on its wheels then smiled at the sniper, “So what do we owe the pleasure?”

“I need to speak to your boyfriend,” Ray responded with a large grin and once more the mechanic was rolling his eyes.

“He wishes,” Jeremy shook his head, chuckling as he made his way back into the auto shop, “C’mon. Matt’s upstairs, working on something for you guys.”

Ray followed after him, hands going into the pockets of his purple hoodie. He glanced about the large garage, eyeing the different workbenches filled with either autoparts or random scrap he recognized from Matt’s scavenging...or his lesser methods of gaining new things. Though the thought alone made Ray smile slightly; half the reason Geoff liked Matt so much was the guy swiped his watch like it was nothing in their first meeting.

Jeremy had nearly gone pale permanently at the interaction, but Geoff? Geoff fucking loved it. Told the kid he had balls of steel and that he’d be perfect for odd jobs here or there. After that, the crew learned about Matt’s uncanny ability of making weapon mods or any other odd piece of equipment they needed. Jack had called him their personal Q at some point to which Jeremy had said not to, “I’ll never hear the end of it” .

“Matt, you got a visitor,” Jeremy was already at the top of the stairs by the time Ray reached the midway point. He’d tossed open the office door, leaning against it while still rubbing at the grease on his hands.

Ray rushed the last few steps, getting to the landing to round the corner quickly with a grin, “Sup, Swiper?”

Matt turned away from the scattered mess on the desk, long hair pulled into a bun and grin already in place surrounded by an unruly bear. He laughed and gave a shake of his head, pulling his glasses off to rub the back of his hand across his brow, “Does that make you Dora?”

“Fuck no,” Ray walked into the office, dropping his backpack by the door so he could flop down into one of the red plastic chairs, “I’m her cooler cousin that lives in the jungle, Diego.”

Matt laughed at the comment and Jeremy echoed it only to add a comment about being downstairs before leaving them. The door fell shut and Matt leaned back in his chair after placing his glasses back on his face, arms folding across his chest, “I take it you’re here for the scope?”

“Am I?” Ray asked, “Because honestly Geoff just told me to come down here and talk to you about it. I’m assuming he’s told you what’s going on.”

“About as much as he normally does,” Matt responded, “Said you needed something to be a peeping tom that wouldn’t gather much attention.”

Ray rolled his eyes. What a way to put it, Geoff.

Matt stood up though despite Ray not responding, wandering over to a set of lockers opposite the sniper. He popped one open and grabbed a case out of it, slamming the metal door shut then walking back over to Ray. He held it out, waiting for it to be taken before going back to his chair. He sat down quick and it rolled further from his desk, “That should do the job.”

Ray sat up in the chair, fingers working to flip the clasps of the case. He propped it open and made a small noise of instant approval, “You shouldn’t have.”

“It’s from a rifle similar to your model,” Matt started, “Already knew you preferred taking that with you whenever you had stakeouts, but Geoff was always grumbling about it being too bright or not doing the job correctly. So I modified this to be a little better.”

“You telling me you made a scope better for something that isn’t my gun?” Ray scoffed despite already enjoying the idea of this new toy, “I should be offended.”

“All you have to do is bring me your gun, Ray,” Matt threw his hands up, “I’ve said it before.”

“Yeah, and I’m pretty sure I’ve told you not to touch my gun,” Ray was smiling despite it, “I like her just the way she is. Somewhat okay scope and all.”

Matt chuckled, “Yeah, so you’ve said.” He cleared his throat, leaning forward onto his knees, “Anyways, it’s a really simple thing. Just a scope with a zoom better than you’ll find on most rifles. It’s got a built in night vision mode you can flick on whenever if need be and can collapse for easier carry.”

“Oh shit, what?” Ray plucked the scope from the case, holding it between his palms. It couldn’t be more than eight inches long, but still he gave a small press of his hands and it collapsed in like one of those pirate telescopes. Once settled it sat at about four inches and it made him grin, “Looks like I’ll be traveling light.”

“You’re welcome,” Matt turned in his chair, rolling closer to his desk once more, “Just don’t break it.”

“Please, Matt,” Ray placed a hand to his chest, “I’m offended that you’d assume something of me.”

“What I meant,” Matt looked at him, fighting a grin, “Don’t give it to Gavin.”

Ray let out a laugh.

 

{\}

 

It was cold. Cold, dark and smelled like really bad weed. Definitely not an ideal time or place to be stalking-- observing someone of potential for their crew. Yet, here Ray was in a beanie and bundled up as much as he could be in his hoodie. He had Matt’s Zoomiescope ™ (Ray’s choosing) hovering just over his right eye, looking through it from where he sat on the Laundromat roof. He’d been waiting for a good hour now, just watching Shadles trying to coerce every person who entered or exited the Unicorn . Ray knew the shtick. He’d heard it enough times, Hell he’d been in part of it once or twice. In fact, Ray was convinced the guy was a car dealer in another life. Regardless, Ray didn’t really know him all that well and the more he thought about this guy getting done in the less he cared. Though really that could be his missed dinner talking.

The sniper let out a soft groan, settling a hand over his stomach as it let out another grumble of complaint. He should’ve grabbed a burrito or two before crawling his way up to a rooftop for the night. Geoff had given him an estimated time, not an actual time and really Ray had no idea if this guy worked on that time or his . Judging by the time lighting up on his watch it was the latter.

“Fucking prick,” Ray sniffed in a breath, “Can’t even show up to murder a guy on time.”

Another hour passed and Shadles had made his way to the side of the building, talking to one of the strippers in a hushed tone. He was holding a bag at his eye level, waving it at the woman who seemed to be trying to work him out of it without the cash to exchange. Ray knew the tactic, knew the ol’ trade for a blowjob in hopes of some of the best weed. He’d been there, done that and was never doing it again. He had the money now and sucking some dude’s dick in the alley because you wanted a blow (ha) later wasn’t worth it. Not anymore at least.

Ray gave a short shake of his head, leaning away from the Zoomiescope ™ to lift his glasses and rub at his eyes. A sigh slipped from his lips and he leaned forward to settle his forehead on the edge of the roof. God he was fucking bored. At that point he was starting to consider this Vagabuddy wasn’t ever going to show. It was fucking annoying, but it’d save him the time of having to explain to Geoff what he had to sit through and watch.

He lifted his head, fixing his glasses back into place then bringing the Zoomiescope ™ to his right eye. He squeezed his left shut and pressed one of the few buttons to flick night vision on, it lit the area green and gave him a little more line of sight to under the highway. It was under there that he noticed the figure that stood in what had to be one of the darker shadows. He flicked back to normal to confirm it before reverting back to night vision, focusing in on the man that stood there in a skull mask. Ray swallowed a breath, how long had he been there?

“Fucking should’ve used night vision sooner, idiot,” Ray muttered, but he let himself go for that since he forgot dinner. Focus .

Ray’s attention stayed on the mercenary, watching as he stood still in his spot unmoving. It was creepy, honestly. The guy was like a statue and the mask just made it worse. What the hell was he waiting for? An invitation?

At the thought, he walked out from under the highway’s overhang. He made his way towards Shadles and the stripper, moving calmly and almost weightless. It reminded Ray of a predator eyeing up their prey before they pounced and honestly it was kind of interesting to watch. He approached them in silence, moving slowly until he was hovering over the drug dealer who still stood with the stripper between him and the wall. She caught one glance of the mercenary before letting out a short scream and darting away.

Shadles turned and Ray couldn’t make out what was said, but it didn’t matter. It happened so quick that Ray nearly missed it. One moment Shadles was in the midst of yelling something and then the next he was slouched forward into the killer, hands clinging to broad shoulders as his eyes were widened in horror. He lurched a bit and Ray clicked his magic stick once more to zoom in further, now catching the blood pooling at their feet. He swallowed a hard breath as Shadles was pushed back into the wall, slipping off a knife. He hit it with a sputter of blood, sliding down slowly with his hands attempting to cover the wound that started at his waistline.

The Vagabond took a step forward, crouching down and using his knife to prop open Shadles’ jacket. He grabbed out the bundle of money to pocket then went next for the bag of weed that had fallen from his hand earlier. He pocketed it as well then dragged the tip of the knife along the drug dealer’s chin. He tilted his own head and Ray did his best to erase the image of what was probably a sadistic grin underneath the mask, a grin that said the man enjoyed this more than sex.

What a comparison, Ray .

Ray didn’t even have time to roll his eyes at himself as the knife slid with ease straight up under the dealer’s chin. It came back down and blood drained down along his shirt. It made the sniper twitch a little, unease settling over him. Sure he could shoot a guy between the eyes without thinking about it, but that was it. That was all he ever did. Geoff dipped a little more into the torture side if they needed, but it was never anything so...well, sadistic.

There wasn’t much time to process that thought as the mercenary dragged his knife with ease along the forehead of the dealer, slicing into the flesh. He cut down along both cheeks, carving ‘V’s into each before pressing the knife to Shadles’ neck. The merc’s head tilted to the other side and in one motion he split flesh. Blood sprayed for a moment, hitting the Vagabond who didn’t even flinch at the act.

It was, again, unnerving to watch.

Ray lowered the Zoomiescope ™, bowing his head once more to rest it against the edge of the roof. He sighed wishing that he’d fought Geoff a little more on this. It was one thing to tail a guy, but to watch him cut a dude up just because he could? That was a complete ‘nother thing that Ray didn’t want any part of. What kind of dude was this guy to be able to--

“Oh my god! Someone call the police!”

Ray’s head snapped up at the voice, Zoomiescope ™ raising to look through as a woman and two men stood a few feet off from the body of the dealer. He frowned, turning his gaze quick to try and find where the mercenary had gone. Fuck . Ray was meant to tail him a little longer than just that, right? He was supposed to make sure the dude didn’t get caught. Sure, he could just watch the news in about ten minutes to get that answer and then catch it in the morning but he knew Geoff didn’t want that. He wanted to make sure this dude got away clean and without a problem.

Though knowing this guy’s history: he should do that just fine, right?

“Fuuuuck,” Ray collapsed the Zoomiescope and shoved it into his backpack before slinging it over his shoulders. He kept low as he spun around to run his way over to the fire escape he’d come up. He swung himself over and quickly climbed his way down. Once close enough he let go and dropped the rest of the way, hitting the ground with a soft thud. He straightened his hood back over his head, turning to start his way towards the sidewalk trying to figure out his next plan of action. He had to figure out where this dude went or Geoff was going to chew his ass out.

The moment he stepped onto the sidewalk he could already hear the approaching sounds of sirens. He cursed in a whisper and tossed his hood back, straightening his stance as he shoved his hands into his pockets. He’d prefer keeping his head low, hood risen but that just looked more suspicious when the cops rolled up to a murder scene. The last thing he needed on top of losing Vagabowser was being arrested for being considered a suspect in something he only got hired to watch .

Yeah, he didn’t think that would hold over well in court.

Ray glanced over his shoulder as a cop car blasted through the lights and picked up his pace, jogging just slightly to make his way to the bus stop just a bit off from him. He ducked into the overhang of the seats, dropping onto the bench and keeping his gaze towards where the cops were still streaming in towards the Unicorn. His phone buzzed in his pocket an he pulled it free, opening the message.

 

From: Shannon // 1:23AM

 

Police Radio is going wild about a murder at the Unicorn. You still over there?

 

Ray’s leg started to bounce, tongue lashing out to wet his lips as he suddenly felt his stomach flip with nerves. He’d had the cops after him hundreds of times, but there was always a plan to follow the getaway even when he worked alone. This one? This wasn’t his plan, this wasn’t his crime. He’d lost the person he was meant to be tailing and if he hadn’t been such a prude in watching a murder, maybe he could’ve followed and gone wherever his target went knowing the dude had a plan.

 

To: Shannon // 1:27AM

 

At the bus stop around the corner. Lost the guy. Don’t tell G. Trying to figure it out.

 

It didn’t take long for Jack to respond and honestly it didn’t surprise him. If anyone in the crew was actually concerned about the full happenings of someone, it was Jack.

 

From: Shannon // 1:31AM

 

You better figure that out quick. He’s going to be pissed if you don’t find where this guy went. It was one thing to make sure he carried it out, but we need to know if the guy knows what he’s doing.

 

Ray rolled his eyes. Tell me something I don’t know, Jack . He sighed and pocketed his phone, folding his hands in front of him just as more cops sped past where he was seated. He looked down at his bouncing leg, frowning at the obvious nervous action before dropping both his hands to it to stop the motion. He drew in a deep breath, looking down the street once more just as he saw a set of cops round the corner of the street. They were checking the alley that Ray had come from and only just a few buildings away.

He shot a look at his watch then up at the bus stop sign. It was another ten minutes before the bus showed up. The cops would be over by him in less than five. He had to think of something and getting up to just walk away would look worse than just sitting there. It was time to think of a plan and one that didn’t include searching his backpack where his pistol and Zoomiescope ™ sat.

The sound of a pricey engine lit up his ears and he turned his head the opposite direction of the cops, catching sight of a black Jester driving towards him. He kept his gaze on it, a little surprised to see such a nice vehicle down this way on a weekday. Every so often you’d see one by the Unicorn , but that was on the weekends and sure as hell not when there’s cops lining the street just up the road. No business guru wanted to be caught this side in those cases.

Ray had expected it to make a U-Turn at the sight of the cops, but instead crossed the lanes to come to a stop in front of the bus stop. The engine revved and Ray’s stomach dropped. For a moment nothing happened, but then the passenger door was pushed open. At first, he expected a gun to be pointed at him by the hand of some rival gang member but instead there was an empty seat and the overhead light revealing a black skull mask speckled with the shine of what he knew to be blood.

The man wasn’t looking at him, just staring forward with both hands on the wheel. It was unnerving and Ray couldn’t move, he felt frozen to the bench. Frozen and unsure of what to do, but then he heard the sound of the approaching cops talking and he decide to take his chances. The guy had talked to Geoff, right? He wouldn’t try anything funny...right?

Ray jumped up, launching himself quickly into the car and before the door could even be shut they were speeding off to U-turn away from the cops. The vehicle bolted quickly down the street and the sniper pulled his backpack off to drop at his feet. He fixed himself comfortably then grabbed for the seat belt, buckling himself in without looking at the other. Safety first, right?

He let out a sigh of relief, shutting his eyes and reaching up to pull his beanie off. He tousled his hair and sat in the silence for a long few seconds, unsure of what to say or what to even do. Finally he braved it and opened his eyes, turning his gaze to the driver who was still looking forward. Ray couldn’t make out much in the dark, but anytime they raced under a streetlight the mask would illuminate and the blood splatter would shine across the material and leather jacket he wore.

“Uh,” Ray started, “So...do you normally pick strangers up at the bus stop?”

Nothing. Not even a look.

“Okay, good talk,” Ray rubbed his hands along his jeans, looking out his window to avoid engraving the site of the bloodied mask into his mind. He started to feel nervous again. Maybe he should’ve just stayed with the cops and possibly got arrested. Who the fuck willingly gets into the vehicle of a guy they watched carve someone else up?

Ray did his best to watch where they were going, did his best to keep track of the location so that he could figure out how the fuck to get home after. But they kept driving. Kept going until they were up near North Vinewood, a place Ray only went to when he felt like swimming in some rich dipshit’s pool when they were out of town. It made him nervous again, made him actually kind of scared. The only reason someone like the Vagabyebyeman went to North Vinewood was to possibly bury a body.

Ray didn’t feel like dying tonight.

“Look, man,” Ray tried again, “You’re probably pissed that I was following you around and I’m not surprised you figured it out. Not sure how you figured it out, but regardless I was only doing it because my boss asked me to.”

Nothing.

Ray swallowed nervously, “I can honestly tell you that Geoff would be pretty pissed if anything happened to me, so not to tell you how to live your life or anything but like could you drop me off here? We can go our separate ways and pretend I wasn’t like stalking you or something.”

Nothing.

“To be fair, dude, I’m a big fan of the mask,” Ray tried, “It’s actually pretty cool. Definitely a trend I could see taking off, but like not in the way where it’d get too common but in the way that people would just aspire to be you.” Okay, maybe not that . “Well, not like be you, but like look to you for murder guidance. You know your craft, dude, and that’s cool. It’s good to know what you do and the mask just gives it that nice touch. It’s cool, I like it. Mysterious, dark, sinister.”

Nothing.

Ray let out a nervous laugh then, feeling now at this point he couldn’t stop. He had to keep going, “Seriously, dude. If you could just drop me off, that’d be great. I appreciate the bail out from the cops and I’ll be sure to let Geoff know about it, but I gotta get home. Past my bedtime, y’know? I’m a growing boy and I need my sleep.”

The car came to a stop then, the parking brake getting yanked into place. Relief flooded the Puerto Rican and he grabbed his backpack, unbuckling with a fumble of his hands. He grabbed the handle only to find it pulling without the door budging. Another nervous laugh left his lips, “Uh, door’s a little locked.”

He turned his head back towards the Vagabond just as the overhead light was flicked on. He felt a chill hit his spine at the sight of the mask looking towards him, the light hitting it to where the eyeholes were nothing but darkness. Scratch any nightmare of a dude being carved up, he was going to be stuck dreaming about a skull with no eyes covered in blood.

The Vagabond leaned towards Ray and the lad froze in his seat, watching as the leather covered hand grabbed the handle of the glovebox. He opened the compartment and pulled out a paper bag, dropping it into Ray’s lap. It was at this angle the sniper could see a short glimpse of blue eyes shrouded by darkness, but as soon as he did they were gone with the compartment being snapped shut. The merc sat back in his seat then clicked a button on his door to unlock the vehicle.

Ray glanced down at the bag and let curiosity get the better of him. He unrolled it, peering inside to see a roll of money, bag of weed, a pistol, and a worn leather wallet. It only took a moment for him to realize that the items had been Shadles and he glanced at the masked man beside him, “I’ll...uh, give this to my boss.”

A nod was his response and Ray didn’t waste any time to shove the bag into his backpack. He popped the door open and scrambled out, pulling his beanie on once free of the car. He drew his hood up and threw his backpack onto his shoulders, leaning down after to look back into the car, “Thanks again for the save, dude.”

The Vagabond turned his head towards him and gave another nod which made Ray bite back a smile somewhat.

“And I meant what I said about the mask,” Ray said it lightly, nerves still dancing at the thought of how the guy could kill him without pause if he kept talking, “It’s pretty sweet.”

There was a pause, but then Ray watched as the man turned his head back forward with shifting shoulders that resembled a chuckle. His head shook slightly and Ray convinced himself the merc was silently laughing at the comment. He’d take it.

Ray shut the door and took a step back, watching as the car sped away leaving Ray where he stood just outside some house. He glanced around, frowning just a bit to himself and coming back to the realization of just how far away he was from his own apartment. He sighed and retrieved his phone from his pocket, finding several more messages there from Jack.

 

From: Shannon // 1:44AM

 

Can I get an update?

 

From: Shanon // 1:58AM

 

I swear to God, if you got arrested.

 

From: Shannon // 2:17AM

 

Seriously, Ray. You’re making me nervous here.

 

From: Shannon // 2:26AM

 

I feel like a mom whose kid forgot about curfew. Where the hell are you?

 

Ray turned and started walking as he flicked through them, looking at the times and frowning to himself. He was debating sending back a text, but decided it’d take too long and by then she’d already have considered calling Geoff to let him know Ray was either dead or arrested so he settled for calling.

“Where the fuck have you been?

“Glad to be alive too, Mom.”

“Cute, now answer my question .”

“I got a ride from my new best friend,” Ray stuffed his free hand into his pocket, stepping up onto the curb to walk along it in a balancing act. He swayed some with the steps, but overall stood straight and enjoyed the further distraction from the fact he was still cold, starving and miles from home.

“Am I supposed to know who that is?

Ray sighed, lifting his head to look in front of him, “I’ll give you a hint. Geoff had me watch the guy carry out a passionate hobby of his.” A pause, “The guy’s, not Geoff’s.”

The silence that followed was unsettling, but then finally Jack was speaking in a tone he recognized all too well to go along with her pinching the bridge of her nose and shutting her eyes, “ When Geoff said to tail the guy, I’m pretty sure he meant to do it discreetly and without being seen .”

“Yeah, no shit,” Ray snorted, “What’d you think I was trying to do? It’s not like I stood up and yelled ‘Hey, I’m over here spying on you!’, the guy just knew. He drove up at the bus stop I told you about and more or less hinted to get in.”

“Hinted?”

“He opened the door. Didn’t say shit about getting in, just kind of had that air around him that said I had to or the cops would be on my ass.”

So he knew?”

“That’s what I said,” Ray turned then, cutting through a yard between two houses, “He gave me a lift to bumfuck-North Vinewood and gave me Shadles’ shit.”

Why did he take you out there?”

“Honestly, I thought he was going to kill me,” Ray admitted, “The guy kind of has this thing about him that just screams he’s going to carve you up like a steak, but that’s probably because I watched him do that not even an hour ago to my drug dealer.”

Jack paused for a moment, but then Ray heard the shuffling of her moving over the phone and the sound of keys being collected, “ Find a street crossing and text me the location. I’ll come and get you.

“Can we swing by Burger Shot? I haven’t eaten since lunch.”

Jack chuckled softly on the other end and Ray knew he was off the hook for any stress he’d caused, “ Sure, but I’m not paying for it.”

 

{\}

 

“Do you think he can actually talk?”

Ray glanced up from where he was carefully cleaning the barrel of his rifle, trying to ready it for their next hit. Geoff hadn’t said what it was, but he’d promised something big and he’d promised it soon. With it having been sometime since they’d hit anything, Ray was rather looking forward to making an extra buck for his bang. The shooting kind, not the sex kind. With a shake of his head, he was looking back at the swab he was using on the pink tinted carbine, “Who we talking about?”

Michael was leaning across from him, arms folded on the counter and hands hugging an energy drink, “The Vagabond.”

“Oh,” Ray said it with emphasis. Of course that’s who Michael was talking about, it was all that him and Gavin were talking about since Ray gave Geoff the paper bag three days ago with an a-okay on the Vagablade.

“Oh?” Michael echoed it, the presence of annoyance in his tone.

“Yeah, oh,” Ray shrugged, he looked up to meet the frown of his friend, “I don’t have anything else to comment with. I don’t know that guy. He could be mute for all we know.”

“What, like doesn’t have a tongue?”

Ray rolled his eyes, sighing, “You can have a tongue and still be mute, dude.”

“Yeah, but where’s the fun in the thought of that?” Michael admitted and Ray had to battle a small grin at it. He wasn’t wrong there and with a reputation like the merc had, who would it surprise?

“Don’t look now, but we have a visitor,” Gavin slid quickly into the seat beside Ray, grabbing for the stock of the rifle to busy himself as if he wasn’t just spying.

Ray frowned and snatched it out of his hand, “Play with something else, asshole.”

Gavin reached out then, snatching Michael’s pistol that was resting on the counter. He popped the mag out and began removing the bullets, ignoring the glare he was getting from the Wild Card as Geoff’s voice came from the staircase.

“--really glad you had the chance to come and actually talk with me,” Geoff came to a stop at the top of the stairs, hands in the pockets of his trousers. He was grinning somewhat, turned towards where he’d come from just as the all too familiar skull masked mercenary joined him on the landing, “It’s been a bit annoying trying to send messages to you if I’m being completely honest.”

There was no response, but the man still turned his head to look towards the kitchen at where the lads were all huddled at the counter. Ray didn’t have to look at his friends to know they were looking back and for a brief moment that same chill from last night racked his spine. He rolled his shoulders and gave a shake of his head, focusing back on cleaning the barrel of his rifle.

Geoff continued talking, “I appreciate you taking out that drug bozo down by the strip club, wanted to thank you in person for that one.” Ray could hear them getting closer, Geoff’s voice getting louder as he led the merc deeper into the warehouse, “The next step in this would have you tag along for a job, a group one. From what I’ve read and what you’ve explained, that isn’t much your style...but I figure with you showing up that you’re kind of interested in the idea of it, right?”

Ray dared another look, glancing up in time to see the Vagaboogeyman nod his head towards Geoff. He wet his lips then flicked his gaze to Michael who was already looking at him, he mouthed something to the sniper but he couldn’t catch what it was. He frowned then brought his attention back to what he was doing, twisting the swab deeper into the chasm.

“Got the rest of my clowns here ready to go if you got the time for a meeting,” a pause and then Geoff was clapping his hand together, “Perfect! Jack, round the kids up! Right this way.”

Ray listened as Geoff walked past them, heading towards their heist room with the merc in tow. He head the door shut and then lifted his head to look up as Jack came up beside Michael, she let out a soft sigh and laid a hand on the counter before leaning in to speak in a hushed tone, “Be on your best behavior, yeah? Don’t piss the guy off who could probably kill us all before we even got a gun on him.”

“I’m always on my best behavior,” Gavin responded, setting the last of Michael’s bullets down into a neat little row.

Jack rolled her eyes, but said nothing as she stepped away from the counter to make her way to the room. After a few moments the dynamic duo followed. It took at least a full minute for Ray to finally remove himself from the stool, grabbing the detached scope of his rifle and the lens wipe. He started gently cleaning the view; entering the room to find everyone sat in their usual location with Geoff standing at the head of the table.

Ray glanced to his spot next to Jack only to find the Vagabond seated on the other side. He swallowed a nervous breath, again feeling that chill of first hand knowing what the guy could do. He made his way around the table and plopped down in the chair, clearing his throat and sitting up straighter as he kept his focus on the scope in his hand.

Geoff was in a hushed argument with Jack, ignoring Ray’s entrance in favor are trying to win on some matter involving the job. Michael was on his phone, browsing something with Gavin against his arm to watch. The Vagabond? Well he hadn’t moved from his statue position of head slightly tilted down and arms folded across his chest, if Ray didn’t know any better he’d think the guy sleeping.

“Nice mask,” Ray commented and the merc lifted his head, turning it to look at the sniper with bright blue eyes. He offered a nervous grin, trying to find that ease he’d been in for a few seconds last night.

The merc blinked slowly at him, then shook his head as his shoulders once again shifted in the form of a silent chuckle. Relief flooded Ray and he watched as the man lifted his hands to slide palms against one another once then proceed to make a few different shapes with just one hand. Ray had no idea what it meant, no idea if he even was meant to but regardless he knew saying nothing would be rude in the end.

“Yeah, sure,” Ray cleared his throat once more and looked over at Geoff who was now rising to move to the board pinned with papers, strings and photos.

The crime boss pressed a finger to the photo of a bald man, holding it there as he spoke, “Okay, assholes. Here’s the plan.”