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And He Wore His Mask

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Chapter 1

               They all tumbled in, happy as ever, laughing and yelling and playing and smiling. Michael grabbed Gavin’s neck, putting him into a tight headlock as he wrestled him to the ground. He said something that Gavin did not pay attention to, but it didn’t matter. They were having fun. They were playing. Jeremy came around and knocked Michael over, yelling to Gavin and hoisting him up. Gavin didn’t mind being yanked around, a plaything for the others. They were happy and safe in the high rise apartment. Ray lazily walked in behind them and lit up a dab. Gavin didn’t tell him that he hated the smell of weed, because even if he hated that smell he still loved Ray and he loved Michael and Jeremy too.

                And then the air shifted in the room.

                A dark cloud, rolling and heavy as he was. Vagabond. Big as a brick house and silent as the night. Never a word spoken, not even to the kingpin. His presence was easily forgotten by most, not because he was forgettable per say, but because their minds would be better off- safer- without ever remembering their encounters with him. Dangerous and cold he glared to others through the slits in his mask made for his eyes; the only bits of skin that he ever showed, and the only reminder that there was still a human left in the shell of the monster.

                “Gav?” Jeremy’s voice rang.

                A snap back to reality. By the time his eyes went from Vagabond to Jeremy and then back again the mysterious man was already gone. Ever an enigma to Gavin. The blond then turned his attention back to Jeremy, who had since moved to the other side of the room with Michael, both messing with something on the counter.

                Jeremy smiled, though less enthusiastic than before. His tone was calm and welcoming to Gavin. “You havin’ a drink?”

                Gavin nodded, getting up and grabbing whatever it was that Jeremy offered to him. But Michael, who had known Gavin for a long time and was always keen on his ticks, noticed the slight pause before Gavin decided to drink.

                “God, he sure knows how to take the mood down, huh?” Michael said, and noticing the questioning look Gavin gave him he gestured towards the hallway. And despite how the man in question was no longer around, Michael’s voice still lowered to but a whisper. “Vagabond. It’s like everything stops being fun when he’s around.”

                Jeremy replied, agreeing with Michael. But Gavin stayed quiet. He didn’t like to joke around about the Vagabond, not like everyone else did. Because he was scared, he supposed. Not many have been as safe near the Vagabond as they have.

                He was a mercenary, hired as an extra gun for them during a mission. Something happened, and Geoff had to compensate for an injury that the masked man had sustained on the field. However, much to the shock and horror of everyone around, as he was being stitched up by Lindsay and Jack in the warehouse’s makeshift medical ward he never even once flinched. In fact, he never even took off his shirt. He made the two work from the hole that the bullet had created. After his wound was hastily cleaned and stitched, he got up and made his way towards Geoff’s office like nothing even happened. A few hours later and bam, the Vagabond was a core member of the feared Los Santos gang: The Fake Achievement Hunter Crew. It happened years ago, but Gavin still remembers the look on everyone’s faces as Geoff told them about their new addition. According to Geoff, the man didn’t even speak throughout the whole meeting, forcing Geoff to ask “yes” or “no” questions that the man would gesture his head in response to. And even now, no one has heard his voice or seen his face, despite working on a close-knit team. He was an illusion, a puzzle, something Gavin never wanted to solve.

                Again, Jeremy’s voice caught Gavin’s attention from his thoughts. “Are you okay, Gavin?”

                “Yea,” He said. “Been wonderin’, though, do any of us even know his name?”

                There was a pause in the conversation, Michael and Jeremy both gaining an inquisitive and thoughtful look on their faces as they pondered the question that the Brit asked. Michael responded, “I actually don’t know.”

                Ray then chimed from his position on the couch, “Hey, do y’all wanna come take a seat and get out of the way of the TV?”

                Gavin laughed, forgetting his previous thought and taking a running start towards Ray, eventually leaping onto the sectional next to him. “What’re you playing now?”

                Jeremy and Michael sat then, picking up controllers from the coffee table and joining the match in the game that Ray had started. “It’s the new Halo game. I haven’t gotten a chance to play it yet so I’m gonna break in Geoff’s copy. Hope he doesn’t mind.”

                The blonde shrugged, debating on whether or not he wanted to play as well. But he was never any good at those games. He was an easy target, exploited for points by the other guys. “He’ll probably be fine with it. I mean he barely plays the games he has anyway.”

                The match began, filling the once quiet room with the sound of echoed gunfire and running soldiers. Gavin watched, content with idly commenting on the match every now and again. It seemed as though Ray stopped trying halfway through, knowing well that the other boys would never be able to overtake his position in kill numbers. Soon the game became: “Let’s both find Ray and kill him.” And at that point the bickering and taunted increased significantly. Gavin never liked the bickering, especially not when it was once a calm environment. Out on the field, when tensions were high, Gavin could excuse the arguing every now and again. But in their own apartment in their own little corner of the universe that was supposed to be reserved for “good times” as Geoff put it, Gavin could do without the arguing. So in order to escape it, he decided to go and look around for Geoff.

                The sun was setting, which made for incredible lighting in the corridor leading to Geoff’s home office. Gavin couldn’t help but stop for a moment and admire the view. Downtown Los Santos, right outside this window. The orange of the sunset mixed with the pink and blue of the sky around it and created a heavenly painting. The clouds rolling noticeably yet also slowly, leisurely masking parts of the sky. Golden rays eventually shown through them, causing many of the grand towers to cast visible shadows on the shorter buildings. A fond smile flashed across Gavin’s face as he spotted the Maze Bank Tower. The seven main crew, idiots the lot of them, trying to rob that bank on a Wednesday. The only day it’s closed. Of course, after finding this out, they robbed a nearby convenience store and led police on one of the most fun car chases Gavin had ever been on.

                Gavin took his phone out from his pocket and faced away from the window, holding his phone up and preparing to take a selfie in front of the beautiful view of Downtown Los Santos. But before he could hit the button a hand clapped around his shoulder and a smiling bearded face appeared in frame. Gavin smiled wider and took the photo.

                “This one’s a good one.” He giggled.

                “I think you blinked, but whatever.” Geoff shrugged, chuckling lightly. “Hey, listen, go tell the other Lads that we’re having a meeting in the warehouse tomorrow morning; ‘round 9:30 okay?”

                Gavin nodded, and with that Geoff gave the Lad another pat on the shoulder before circling back and entering his office once more. Gavin turned back to the window. The sun, big and golden, continued to sink behind the towering, busy city. It looked like shit out there. It smelled like shit out there. The people were shit out there. But he’d be goddamned if he didn’t call it home. Gavin took the time to appreciate it, really pondering and looking out into the horizon before turning to make his way back to the living space. But as he turned he noticed a figure walking in his direction. Before he knew it, the Vagabond was pretty much directly in front of him.

                Time slowed down for Gavin. He never made direct eye contact with the significantly larger man. His gaze was locked onto the floor. But he felt his presence. Though it lingered for only a second in real time, it felt like ages. The Vagabond gently brushed past Gavin, a faint breeze on his shoulder. A ghost passing through the shadows. He didn’t know why, but he had the most pressing feeling that the Vagabond was staring him down. But Gavin didn’t dare look. Those milliseconds ticked by in Gavin’s head like years and the only thing Gavin could hear was the intense sound of his heart beating. Nervous and shy, but only around the one man that he ever truly feared.

                The world resumed, Gavin no longer frozen with fear. He slowly turned his head to look back at the beginning of the hallway, but saw nothing. No trace of the illusive figure that they all called the Vagabond.

~*~

                It was too early. Gavin’s coffee wasn’t even half gone by the time he needed to leave his apartment, causing him to barely keep his eyes open on the road. But he was still making his way towards the warehouse. A beachside shipment lot just outside the Pacific Bluffs that was long forgotten by the people of Los Santos. The crew had everything they needed: A large garage area for their vehicles, a dock for their getaway boats, and multiple warehouses on the lot used for medical bays, lodging, interrogation rooms, or any other purpose the boys needed from them. But Gavin needed to go to the conference room, located closest to the entrance. He parked his bike and made his way inside.

                “They still got you on that clerical work then?” He told Lindsay as he passed the reception desk.

                “I mean I can’t complain; it’s better than going out there and getting shot at. Can’t risk hurting the baby.”

                “Oh!” Gavin exclaimed, stopping in his tracks and seemingly waking up completely due to Lindsay’s remark. “Can I see?”

                Lindsay nodded, turning her chair and allowing Gavin to come around the side of the counter and see her stomach. Gavin happily pressed his hand down, trying to feel the kicking. She laughed and moved his hand away. “You’re not gonna feel kicking yet. Maybe in another couple weeks.”

                “Aw,” Gavin huffed. “Got me all excited. You know if it’s anything like its dad it’s gonna kick hard. Better be prepared for that.” This invoked another laugh from the redhead, who then put her head back down and continued typing on the computer in front of her, never losing the sweet grin she always sported.

                “They’re all waiting for you in the conference room.”

                “They’re all here?!” Gavin yelled, immediately booking it down the narrow hallway.

                As he burst through the door he realized that yes, they were all, in fact, waiting for him. And the minute he came through the door like he was the LSPD he received six pairs of eyes glaring at him. Michael was the first to speak, screaming something about waiting for half an hour. Gavin could only help but think about how doomed that baby’s temper was gonna be. He made his way towards an empty chair and by the time he sat down the whole crew was poking fun at him. Well, aside from the ever-silent exception.

                Geoff eventually calmed them down, raising an eyebrow at Gavin. “Listen, as much as we all love to make fun of him, we have actual important things to talk about today.” He turned and flipped a page over on the presentation board, revealing a map of Los Santos, specifically a map of the Vinewood area. “Anyone wanna tell me what this is?”

                “Vinewood!” Jeremy shouted.

                “Good. Anyone wanna tell me what this is?” Geoff slapped an area on the map with his extendable pointer.

                “A map!” Ray shouted, causing a laugh from the table.

                Geoff rolled his eyes, trying to suppress a smile that they could all see anyway. “Alright smart ass, what’s the location I pointed to?”

                The group remained quiet for a moment, but then Jack answered with, “Is that City Hall?”

                Gavin squinted at the map, but it was no use. He had no idea how to read maps. So to him, it all looked like random lines and bullets and jargon that may as well have been an abstract painting in a museum. But Jack seemed to understand.

                She was always one of the smarter in the bunch. A well-rounded woman with years of experience in many different fields. She was unlike all of them in that respect. Many of the crew had expertise in specific fields; Michael was the demolitions expert and a bit of a gun nut. Him growing up a scrappy teen in Jersey made him especially akin to violence. Ray was their designated sniper. Geoff actually picked him up after a recommendation from Michael, and after asking about his experience with organized crime Ray simply answered: “I played Hit Man: Blood Money a while ago.” Jeremy handled most vehicles, except airborne ones. He particularly enjoyed monster trucks and was the kind of guy to go over the top when making a getaway from police. Gavin himself was the tech expert of the bunch, hacking and sabotaging from the inside. Jack was around when needed, and boy was she needed a lot. She could find her way around a computer or a gun, it didn’t make a difference to her. But her favorite and most valuable skill was in piloting. She was a pilot in the air-force, at least to Gavin’s knowledge. She was also the earliest crew members, save Geoff. He was their leader, their commander, their rock. He was a good man and a smooth talker. He could convince a king out of all his coin, which was what made him top boss.

                Then there was the Vagabond.

                Gavin took a glance in his direction, just a single second to look. And somehow he was already looking Gavin down with his icy, lifeless eyes. Creepy bastard. Gavin thought. But they needed him. He was their muscle. Their heavy lifter. He was the fear and the bones and the blood. Gavin had no idea where he was from, or even how Geoff found him. The crew liked to spread their own outlandish theories, one of Gavin’s favorites being the most simple “Craigslist.”

                “Gavin, pay attention,” Geoff said, tapping the table. Gavin shook his head, trying to focus on what Geoff was saying. “This is important, guys, really.” Geoff took a position at the front of the room, taking a second to glance in between all of the members of the A team.

                “This is our next heist, and it looks to be our biggest one yet.”

                Everyone went wild. Immediately hands flew in the air, five people talking over one another to try to get more information out of Geoff instantly because how big could this heist really be? When will this heist take place? What’s so valuable at City Hall? What is going on?

                Geoff rose a hand, and almost immediately the room calmed down back to how it once was. “Please, just let me get through this. I’ll answer questions after, okay?” Everyone began to nod, bringing themselves closer towards the edges of their chairs and eagerly awaiting what Geoff had to say.

                “Does anyone have any idea what event is happening at City Hall in precisely a month?” Geoff asked, already aware that no one knew. “No? Well, none other than a ball hosted by our one and only Mayor, Mister Tony Jay Garcetti. And what do you know? We weren’t invited.”

                Jack laughed at Geoff’s inflection, obviously a mocking and condescending tone. “What’re we gonna do about that, Geoff?”

                “Well, Jack, thank you for asking!” Geoff comically flipped over the next page, revealing a detailed bullet point list with side information that Gavin assumed was not relevant to him. “We’re going to teach him a lesson. But not our usual guns a-blazing act.” Michael and Jeremy both sighed at this. “Don’t worry, there will be guns, but not for a while.”

                Geoff straightened up, fiddling with his cufflinks and taking time to look each person in the eye. “We’re all needed for this mission, aside from B team. So it’ll be just the A team for now. This party is a big gala event, lots of big names will be here. And not just Vinewood celebrities. We’re talking major delegates from not only American cities, but countries in Northwest Europe and East Asia. I have no idea why such high officials are meeting here, or what this party is even about, but we’re going to find out. And, while we’re at it, we’re going to steal a big portion of that son-of-a-bitch’s money.”

                Michael raised a hand, to which Geoff gestured towards him. “Wait,” Michael began, “Why can’t we just go in there and shoot ‘em all? Who cares?”

                “We don’t want international trouble, Michael.” Their kingpin sighed. “We’ve been lucky enough that the police here in Los Santos and the surrounding areas can’t tell their elbows from their assholes, but mixing in other outside government forces isn’t going to pan out well in our favor. And I don’t suppose the Japanese government is gonna take a bribe from a Los Santos gang anytime soon. Besides, they’re probably going to have major artillery set aside just in case we decided to show up in that fashion. The Mayor knows us well enough by now.” Michael nodded at Geoff’s explanation, content in the reasoning. That was one of the biggest reasons why Geoff earned Gavin’s respect so quickly. Other bosses Gavin had worked for had all been hard-heads, money hungry, and disrespectful towards lower ranking employees. But Geoff treated everyone he encountered with respect, so long as it went both ways. God help anyone who dared disrespect him, though.

                “We need to take a more cautious approach to this heist, at least in the early stages. Take out their reinforcements slowly and in certain areas.” Geoff then flipped the paper again, revealing a close-up map of City Hall and a few surrounding areas. Gavin had no idea how Geoff could have gotten his hands on this, but Geoff was a man of high regard in this city. Anything was possible with him. “But what’s most important is getting inside. We need access to his information on these delegates and party, as well as bank and safe information. We’ll also need airborne and land vehicles for safe transportation of those who infiltrate the party. We’ll need distractions, too. But let’s go step-by-step.” Ray quietly hummed the Step By Step theme beside Gavin, causing a slight chuckle from the blond.

                The paper was folded back over to the detailed plan, which Geoff then promptly ripped off and pinned to the bulletin board on the wall behind him. He then switched the paper on the presentation board back to the City Hall map. “First, let’s start off with pre-heist requirements,” He began, “We’ll need to secure invitations to this party. Two, to be exact. One for Doctor Howard Chamberlain, a renowned surgeon from England, and the other for his bodyguard, Richard Cole.” As Geoff said these names, he gestured from Gavin, who would obviously be playing the part of the British surgeon, to someone sitting behind Gavin. And as he turned to look, expecting Jeremy to play the bodyguard, to his horror Vagabond was the one being pointed to. The room stopped cold for a moment, and then another outburst occurred.

                “No!” Was the first word out of Gavin’s mouth.

                “Wait, why not me?!” Jeremy cried.

                Michael grabbed his hair. “What in the fuck is going on?”

                Even the Vagabond looked visibly upset. His usually cool and mysterious demeanor replaced with wide eyes and a defensive position. He was also slightly shaking his head “no” and staring daggers at Geoff. He even went as far as to look at Gavin, look at Geoff, and then wildly gesture his hands in confusion. Honestly, if he didn’t absolutely scare the shit out of him, Gavin would have found that pretty funny.

                Not even a raise of Geoff’s hand could stop the group from rambling on. Jack’s voice raised above everyone’s, “Why are we sending the Vagabond on a mission that relies heavily upon socialization? Why don’t we send Jeremy or I to be the bodyguard? Hell, even Michael would do a better job.” She turned to the Vagabond. “No offence.”

                Bold of her. Gavin thought. She’s always been pretty fearless though.

                “If we’re all done?” Geoff looked pretty annoyed as he waited for the group to finally settle down and let him talk. “All of your specialties are needed for later parts of the mission. I’ll explain more in detail when I get to them, but basically: Jeremy, we’re going to need multiple escape vehicles on ground set in different locations, as well as arms on ground in case things go bad. Jack, we need airborne vehicles to airlift anybody that gets caught. Ray is going to be set near City Hall a block or two away, sniping anybody who gets too close to Michael or Jeremy. Michael, we need you to secure at least three and a half dozen sticky bombs and plant them in sensitive areas near city hall.”

                Michael laughed out loud, a gut reaction that seemed to stem more from shock rather than humor. “Three and a half dozen?! What, are we blowing up half of Los Santos while we’re at it?!”

                “Wait, then what about you?” Ray asked.

                “They know me too well by now. Even though this party is apparently a masquerade ball, my voice and tattoos give me away in a second. Besides, I doubt I’m as quick on the draw as Vagabond is, and he’ll need to be on the ground floor protecting Gavin as he tries to access high-security rooms. Also, he doesn’t even need to speak. Gavin could just say he’s mute. All they need to do is socialize for a while, establish a few major names, and then slip out of the party somehow.”

                Jack nodded, followed by Jeremy and then Ray. Michael still seemed to be annoyed by not being chosen to bodyguard his friend. Gavin just sat in disbelief. How in the world was he going to spend the majority of the evening at a social event with a man whose body count is probably in the thousands? Gavin looked to the Vagabond again, whose mood was actually quite different than it was moments before. He was leaning back in his chair, arms folded, looking to Geoff with a glint in his eyes. What was it? Disdain? No, it was softer. Was it trust?

                Before Gavin could form another thought, the Vagabond flashed a look to him. It was cold once more. Gavin let out an audible gulp and raised his hand. “I don’t think I like this plan.”

                “He’s not gonna kill you.” Geoff laughed.

                “You don’t bloody know that!”

                Geoff looked to the masked man. “Vagabond, you’re not gonna kill him, right?”

                The Vagabond didn’t move.

                “See?” Geoff grinned.

                Gavin groaned and leaned back in his chair. Geoff then continued on with the plan, talking more about vehicles that needed to be secured and who goes where and why. But Gavin couldn’t pay attention. His stomach became tied in knots and the feeling of dread that overcame him was a feeling he couldn’t shake. Normally during heists he and the Vagabond weren’t near each other. And the last few times they were it was a disaster. But Gavin didn’t like to think about that last heist. It was still a major point of contention between him and the crew.

                Gavin snapped back to reality right as Geoff’s speech was coming to a close. “Now, remember, the information we're going to obtain from this party is still unknown, but we'll also be hitting the mayor in his wallet and we all know how rich he is. So I expect us to make a total of a near half a million. This means that, split up between us and the B team, we’re looking at around $60,000 per person.” This caused a couple different people at the table to whistle and Jeremy to fan himself with his hat. But Gavin was still weighing the pros and cons. Sixty thousand dollars was a lot of money. But in order to receive that money he’d have to spend hours on end with the Vagabond. So he was conflicted, to say the least.

                Geoff cleared his throat. “Now guys, if this heist goes south for some reason, your main goal is to protect yourself and whoever you’re with and get to the nearest safe house. We don’t want a repeat of last time.”

                Though he stared at the floor, Gavin could feel the stares. Not stares of judgment, but pity. Gavin did not need their pity, nor did he want it. He wondered why they all just wouldn’t drop it. It was months ago and they still brought it up. The Brit just wanted to forget about the past and move on to the next heist with no complications.

                Geoff gave a few more details on the plan before clapping his hands and retracting his pointer. “That’ll probably do it for this meeting, but we have many more over the next month. We’ll have to work fast, call who we need, and get things ready in advance because City Hall will be swarmed with police at least a day or two before the event to secure things.  I’ll be calling you in my office individually in order to prepare you and then in your teams to give you the final run down.” Everyone began to get up and leave then, filling out individually. “Hey, keep your phones on you! And you better answer me immediately once you get a text from me! I’m lookin’ at you, Ray!” Ray was on his 3DS, walking out the door, but gave a yell of affirmation that he understood.

                But Gavin couldn’t get up. He didn’t want to get up. He wanted to skulk in a corner until he died. How could Geoff knowingly pair up little ol’ Gavy with the biggest, meanest, scariest member of the FAHC? Gavin would have preferred taking someone from the B team over the Vagabond! Gavin took a quick glance over his shoulder to see that the big guy had already left, despite Gavin never hearing him get up. But the weight that was weighing on Gavin’s shoulders let up almost immediately. Maybe the brute was off to go tell Geoff (in his own silent way) that pairing him up with Gavin was a big mistake. The Vagabond never really did care for his presence, and Gavin assumed that his distaste for the golden boy only tripled after the last mission. Yes, Gavin was sure that the Vagabond was giving Geoff a piece of his mind right at that very moment.

                At least, Gavin hoped he was.