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will you be my guide?

Chapter Text

Today is not a good day, James decides, groaning as he finds himself awake at too early in the morning, in an unfamiliar place and on a bed that isn’t his. There’s a constant ringing echoing through the air, bouncing off the walls and straight into James’ aching head.

He brings a hand to his face, shielding his eyes from the harsh stream of sunlight peeking through the crack in the blinds, and searches for the source of the hateful sound.

It’s his phone, laying accusingly on the bedside table where he must have left it last night before he blacked out on this bed. He reaches for it, reading the caller ID through narrowed eyes before turning it off and throwing it carelessly on the cover somewhere next to him.

Fucking Trevor. It’s way too early, and James’ head is hurting too much for him to have enough patience or energy to deal with whatever the little fucker is calling him for. He can leave a voicemail, and James will get to it when he doesn’t feel like someone is taking a baseball bat to his head.

The phone call doesn’t stop, though; this one ends only to be followed by the next. James squints his eyes at the bright ceiling and wonders what bad deeds has he done to deserve to be punished like this.

That pulls a chuckle out of him because, yeah, there’s just too many to count. He sighs, running a hand through his messy hair, and picks up the phone again.

“Trevor, this better be good because it is ass o’clock in the morning and I’m—”

“Is Aleks with you? Is he with you, James?” Trevor cuts in, and whatever threat James was going to say dies on his tongue, leaving behind a lump too big for James’ too dry throat to swallow down.

James could blame it on the alcohol he’s drunk last night, too much for his body to handle despite how much fun it had seemed in the moment. James could blame it on the headache he’s spotting, banging against every side of his head with a great vengeance.

James could blame it on a lot of things because today is not a good day, but it’s the tone of Trevor’s voice that makes him stop, makes him sit straighter on the hotel bed, feeling too sober despite the hangover clinging to his body. Trevor sounds shaky, his voice a bit frantic and laced with something like desperation, and fear.

James grips the phone too tight in his head, holding it close to his ear as he asks, “What are you talking about, Trevor? Why would Aleks be with me, huh? Didn’t you two go out last night?”

“Yeah— yeah, we did, but he dropped me off at my house, said he had something to do. I thought he would go home right after, but I’m at his house right now, and he’s not here.”

James can hear the tremble in Trevor’s voice, the uncertainty of it, the way his words tripped over each other as he tries to get them out as quickly as possible. James frowns at the plain white cover of the bed, his stomach churning as last night’s mistakes start to mix with today’s worries.

He knows it’s probably nothing, but there’s this dread forming at the pit of his stomach, the feeling that something is wrong—something is very, seriously wrong, and there will be no way to fix it. James trusts his guts; it’s got him this far, but for once, he doesn’t want it to be right.

“Have you checked everything?” he asks, throwing the cover aside and getting himself out of bed. The sudden movement brings a new sort of dizziness to his vision. He brings a hand up to rub against his eyes, moving blindly to the bathroom. “Maybe he went out for a coffee or something.”

“I don’t know, James,” Trevor replies, and James doesn’t have to be there to tell that he’s pacing, probably in Aleks’ bedroom, with a hand tangled in his hair, tugging and messing it all up. “I checked everything. His room, the bathroom, the garage, everything. He’s— he’s not here and— and his clothes are gone, his car is gone too and— I— I tried calling him but the number was disconnected. I tried every other number I have of him but—” There’s a little choked sound that Trevor makes, like a sob, and the pit in James’ stomach grows a few centimeters wider. “Fuck, James. Where is he?”

Calming Trevor isn’t an easy task; James isn’t equipped for it, isn’t known to be the one people would go to for this sort of thing, but he manages.

“I’ll be there in just a bit, okay?” he says, trying to keep the dread he’s been feeling out of his voice. “Just sit still, Trevor. I’ll be there.” The ‘okay’ in response is small and broken, and James can tell that Trevor is nodding along with the word.

That’s what happens when you’ve spent so much of your time with someone, working with them, hanging out with them and keeping up with all of their bullshit. You learn all their ticks and tells, and right now, James wishes that wasn’t the case. He can see Trevor so clearly in his head: sitting on Aleks’ unmade bed, gripping the phone too tightly in his hand as he tries to keep himself together just because James asked him to.

He waits for Trevor to hang up first; doesn’t take the phone off his ear until he’s heard the telltale click as the other line goes off. He puts the phone down next to the sink, staring at it in contempt, asking, “What the fuck did you get yourself into this time, Aleksandr?” as if the phone can give him some answers.

He looks up to the bathroom mirror, watching his reflection as its tired eyes stare back at him. Sighing, James turns on the sink, splashing his face with cool water in hope that it’ll be enough to clear away everything he’s feeling right now—the headache against his temples, the churning in his stomach, and the dread that’s slowly crawling its way to his throat.

James shakes his head once, clearing all the bad thoughts away, before shedding his clothes and stepping into the shower. He makes it a quick one, because he’s got someone waiting for him. James needs to get to Trevor quick before the kid do something entirely too stupid.

Walking out of the shower, James picks up his phone again and finally notices the little notification light blinking at him. There’s notification from Instagram, from all the posts he’s been tagged in, and there’s new messages from various people in is contact.

One threat stands out from the rest, catching his attention the moment he sees it. The message came from Backup #3. It takes James a moment too long to remember why he has it saved like that, along with the memories of a night that should have long been forgotten.

He clicks into it, and there’s two messages waiting for him.

Goodbye, the first one reads, succinct and simple, and that dreadful pit in James’ stomach grows into a black hole, threatening to swallow up his entire beings.

Tell everyone i’m sorry, the second one says, and it takes James everything to not hurl the phone at the farthest wall of the bathroom and watch it smash into pieces.

The timestamp tells him the messages were sent to him last night, minutes apart from each other. James was busy drinking and having too much fun with some friends from out of town to even pay attention to what coming to his phone. He tells himself that there was nothing he could have done to change this, but the dread clings to him like a second skin, tormenting him and reminding him that it was his idea, after all.

James rubs a hand down his face, breathing in and out, in and out like Lindsey had told him to do when he’s feeling too overwhelmed by emotions that he doesn’t know how to deal with. He breaths in and out, in and out, and tries hard not to think of that night, so fucking long ago.

It was one of those nights, where everything was too quiet all of a sudden, and the silence started getting to you, and you found yourself on the rooftop of your shitty apartment, sitting next to your best friend in this whole world as the two of you made too many mistakes to regret when tomorrow came.

Those nights used to happen a lot because Aleks had a tendency to get too caught up in his own head, and James never made a comment. In retrospect, maybe he should have said something, but they weren’t that kind of friends.

They didn’t talk about their feelings and then cry it out with each other. No, they were the kind to drink away their problems, to rant and yell at the empty night, hoping that tomorrow’s hangover would be enough to keep the demons at bay just for a while.

That night in particular, though, Aleks asked James a question.

“What would happen—” he said, stuttering on his words a little. James would’ve laughed at him, but the mood was too somber, too serious that he found himself biting his tongue, waiting for Aleks to finish his thoughts. “What would happen if one of us decided to call it quits?”

James remembers the way his heart turned heavy in his chest at that question. He remembers glancing over to Aleks, whose eyes were glazed over and too pensive that he looked more like a twisted parody of himself than the best friend James had spent too many nights drinking with.

“What do you mean?” James asked, voice low.

“What if one of us didn’t want to do this anymore,” Aleks said. “What if, one of us decided to just— leave everything behind and disappear?”

The way Aleks said ‘one of us’ was too meaningful, too serious that James didn’t need to ask to know which one of them Aleks was talking about. James said nothing though—not knowing what to say, rather. He opted to down the rest of his beer before settling the bottle aside and standing up, swaying a little and catching himself from face planting on the dirty floor of the rooftop.

They went out after that; they stopped at their apartment first, picking out of those untraceable phones that Eddie had made for them, before going out for a walk. Aleks had protested and James had told him to shut up and follow.

They didn’t go far, just to a secluded location in the neighborhood, somewhere only the two of them knew the address to, and they hid the phone there.

“There you go,” James remembers saying, triumphant and slurring over his words a little. “Now whenever one of us wanted to leave, to call it quit, to pull out, whatever. We can just go here and take this phone out and shoot the other a goodbye. Then, whoever is still left staying behind will know not to come looking. Easy peasy.”

Aleks giggled a little, because they had had more to drink on the way from the rooftop to here, too drunk now to think straight anymore. The night started to pour into day as they made their way back home, to the shitty apartment that they shared.

That was supposed to be it: a symbolic gesture that neither of them was going to actually use. Or at least, James has held onto the belief that neither of them would use it, because despite the doubts that Aleks had, the anxiety that James still sometimes feels, and the all the danger following this lifestyle of theirs, they both loved their job.

They loved the adrenaline rush after a successful heist, after a chase with the police and they somehow didn’t get caught. They loved it all too much just too call it quits.

Still though, James won’t lie and say that he’s never thought about using it once or twice since that night. He won’t lie and say that there weren’t times where the job was getting to him, where all the fear of being caught sunk their claws deep into his bones and made his body shake as he curled up in his bed at night. He won’t lie and say he’d never thought about leaving it all behind and disappearing forever.

The morning after that night was an awful one, with his aching head and a sick feeling in his stomach, first by the amount of alcohol he’s consumed the night before, and then some more by the realization that he could be getting out of bed, could be walking out of his room, and he’d find that Aleks was no longer there with him.

Then there was yelling outside, and James had never thought he could feel so much relief at the sound of Aleks screaming at their upstairs neighbors to keep it the fuck down.

And that was that, was supposed to be just that—just a dumb memory of a drunken night out with a friend, doing things they should never do. It was supposed to be a distant thought at the back of their heads, hidden away in a loosely locked box, acting as a sort of comfort, a second option that would never be chosen.

Now, though, looking down at his phone, reading through the two messages over and over because his aching head still can’t believe that it’s real. It is real, though; a goodbye and an apology that means so much and nothing at them same time.

They were drunk, yeah, and it was stupid, sure, but they agreed to it, and now James has to honor it. He has to hold up his end of the deal, of the one (one of many) that is left behind, and not come looking.

It takes his entire beings to not hit call, or send a message back asking where Aleks is right now, telling him that he should come back, that Trevor is worried, that James is worried, but he knows he can’t.

And fuck, Trevor. How the fuck is James going to break this to him?

How the fuck is he going to tell the kid that his boyfriend—someone who Trevor’s once told James, while they were both too drunk to see straight, to be the love of his life—is now gone, and probably gone forever? How the fuck is James supposed to pull that off without breaking Trevor into thousands of pieces?

Aleks means too much to James—Aleks was the closest friend James has ever had—and he means even more to Trevor, and the two of those things combined only equals to this: neither of them is going to get out of this unscathed.

James sighs, feeling older and more tired than he’s ever been in his life, and puts his clothes back on.

There’s two aspirins waiting for him on the bedside table that he didn’t notice when he’d first woken up, with a glass of water along with a note telling him to take them when he wakes up, signed by Dex.

James takes the pill, silently thanking his friend for being so thoughtful, before gathering his things and leaving.

The drive to Aleks’ house is a long one, and it leaves too much room for James to think, to wonder about what could have been.

James wonders how long Aleks had planned this, to call it quits and leave all of his friends behind like they were never more than that. James wants to think that it was a spur of the moment kind of thing, that old demons in his head caught up to him once again and he just had to leave. It’s easier to believe that, than the fact that Aleks had planned this, had had all the intentions to leave for God knows how long and still acted like nothing was wrong.

But no, James knows Aleks better than. He knows Aleks might let himself come off as reckless, impulsive and lacking of any control, but deep down, Aleks never does anything without thinking.

He wonders if Aleks had any second thoughts, when he took Trevor out for the last time last night, when he texted James those messages, and when he gathered up his things and disappeared into thin air. James wonders if Aleks ever thought about telling them, any of them, but James finds himself chuckling, morose and bitter.

That wouldn’t be like Aleks, James realizes. Aleks isn’t the kind to tell people his problems, despite how many times they’ve told him that he could, that that was what friends were for. No, Aleks is the kind to keep it all to himself, until the troubles he was running from finally catch up to him, and then he’s nowhere to be found again.

The sight of Aleks’ house soon comes into view, and it stirs up the churning in James’ stomach once again. At least, the headache is mostly gone now, James thinks to himself as he pulls the car into Aleks’ driveway and gets out.

He finds Trevor in the living room, sitting on the couch with his body leaning forward. His head is bent low, eyes caught on the phone held tightly in his hands. His legs are shaking, drumming up and down to a rhythm that James cannot hear, and for a moment, James wants to take a step back and run away.

He wants to, but he can’t. It would be too selfish of him, and he isn’t Aleks. He can’t just leave without saying anything, and he certainly can’t do that to Trevor, who’s suffered so much already even though the day is just beginning.

So in the end, James takes a deep breath, forcing himself to take the last few steps to the top of the staircase and into the living room, and braces himself for impact.

“Hey,” he calls, and Trevor’s head snaps up in an instance, eyes shining and lips ready to call out a name that isn’t James’. Realization sets in soon enough, though, that James isn’t the one he was waiting for, and his shoulders drop; the small, hopeful smile on his lips already fading away too quickly.

“James, hey. You’re here.”

“Yeah. Sorry it took me a while. Traffic was a real bitch,” James replies, stepping further into the room and looking around. “Where’s Mishka? I found Celia sleeping out on the porch but I didn’t hear Mishka when I came in.”

“I let her out into the backyard,” Trevor says, sitting back down on the couch with an exhausted sigh.

James takes a moment to watch Trevor, to see the hard lines in his features, the tension between his shoulder, and how he seems to age so much from the last time James has seen him. Aleks has meant so much to him, and now he’s gone, without a note, an explanation or a promise to return.

Sure, the two of them began with a drunken hookup, something meaningless and too stupid to even acknowledge in the following days, but it has grown so much since then.

James was livid when he first found out, mostly because it was 3 AM in the fucking morning when Aleks called, but it was also the kind of bullshit that made them leave the hub in the first place, amongst other things. It was stupid, and Aleks knew this, apologizing and promising that it would never happen again, that it was a one-time thing, a mistake that neither he nor Trevor was dumb enough to repeat.

It did happen again, though, becoming more and more frequent only, and the drunken part was soon left behind. James wouldn’t mind much because they didn’t let it interfere with their job, but there were too many late nights calls that James can only half-recall, too many hours that he had to listen to Aleks apologize and promise things they both know he couldn’t keep.

One night, when Aleks was whispering about how soft Trevor’s hair was, and how sorry he was for falling for it, yet again, James told him to just pull his head out of his ass and ask the kid out. James told him that he didn’t care, that what happened in the past didn’t bother him anymore.

He practically gave them his blessing, and the next morning, they arrived together instead of separately like they’d always done. Aleks sent him a grateful smile when their eyes met, and James just rolled his eyes, telling them to quickly get to work.

They were happy, and fucking in love, and James really thought that was enough.

“How’re you holding up?” James asks, rounding the coffee table to take a seat next to Trevor, mindful of the space he should leave between them.

“I’m fine,” Trevor replies, but the way his voice trembles slightly tells James different. He looks up when James settles down on the couch, a candle of hope burning behind his big brown eyes, bright and strong. “Were you able to reach him? Did— did you figure out where Aleks went?”

James tries to ignore the way his phone becomes so heavy in his pocket. The messages are so simple, just a few words that are so easy to relay back to Trevor. He finds the words stuck in his throat, caught in the lumps of dread forming the moment he found out Aleks was gone. James tries to say something else, anything, just so this silence doesn’t have the chance to grow too big and swallow them both, but he comes up empty.

“James?” Trevor urges, and James sighs.

Looking at Trevor now, with red-rimmed eyes and a spark of hope still lurking behind those pupils, James wonders how Aleks could be so cruel.

“No, Trevor,” he says at last, keeping his eyes on the floor. “I— I don’t know where Aleks went, and—” he chokes on the word and hates himself for it, “—and wherever he may be right now, I don’t think he wants to be found.”

“What?” Trevor snaps, incredulous. “James, that’s insane. Aleks wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t just up and leave like that.”

“Trevor,” James says, looking up at the kid and feeling his heart burn along with the spark of hope behind Trevor’s eyes. “Listen, I’m telling the truth, okay? He’s gone and I don’t know where he is. I don’t know why he left, and— and I just—” His voice breaks again, and he hates it so much, hates that Aleks is the cause of it, hates him for doing this to the both of them. “I just— I don’t think he’s coming back.”

It takes a moment for the reality of it to sink in, and when it finally does, James can almost pinpoint the exact moment Trevor’s heart breaks; the spark of hope dies behind his eyes, and the light drains out from his body.

“No,” he says, standing up and taking a step back and shaking his head. “No, that’s not true. He’s— Aleks is just out for a coffee or something. Or maybe breakfast, or a smoke. Maybe he’d just dropped his phone somewhere and— and—”

“Trevor,” James repeats, gentler this time, eyes watching the way Trevor’s eyes shine with fresh tears, the way he’s hastily wiping away the ones that he can’t hold back. James wants to cry too, because the closest friend he’s ever had in this world just left without a word and it hurts like hell, but he can’t.

He isn’t selfish; he isn’t Aleks, and he needs to be here. He needs to be strong for Trevor. The kid needs someone to lean on, to hold him back and help put him back together again.

Trevor,” James says once more, standing up and taking a step towards him. Trevor just shakes his head, taking a step back with each step forward from James, as if he’s afraid of him; as if just one touch from James could break away whatever he’s got around himself and there would be no way to put him back together after that. “Trevor, listen to me. Aleks, he’s— he’s gone, okay? That’s it, that’s the truth and I know that it’s hard to take—”

“No, I don’t believe you.” Trevor is shaking his head again, voice frantic and broken, choking on the tears he’s still trying to hold back. “Alek wouldn’t do that. What about Fake Chop, huh? We— we’re planning for the biggest heist, the heist of the century, he can’t just— he can’t just leave everyone like that.”

He can’t just leave me like that, James hears the words even though they weren’t spoken. He can hear them through the crack in Trevor’s voice, through the tears streaming down his cheeks and the way he’s still trying so very hard to keep it together.

James looks at him, and he doesn’t know what to do.

He’s not good with people like Aleks is, doesn’t have the ability to give good speeches like Brett does, and isn’t as soft and persuasive like Lindsey is. He isn’t any of that, so in the end, he has to be himself. It’s not the best thing because James is loud, and obnoxious, and too quick to anger, but it’s the only thing he can give right now.

“Trevor!” he snaps, causing the boy to stare at him with wide eyes. “Listen to me. He’s gone, alright? Aleks is gone, and he’s an asshole for leaving like this, but— but that’s the truth, the only truth, and you need to accept it.”

“No,” Trevor says, shaking his head. “No,” he says once more, but it’s smaller this time, barely a whisper, and James has to bite his tongue to hold back the wince at how broken Trevor sounds.

“I’m sorry, Trevor,” James says, and Trevor falls into his arms so easily when James tugs him in, James feels so fucking angry that all previous hurt no longer surrounds his heart.

He’s angry at Aleks, for leaving, for abandoning them with nothing but those goddamned messages; the motherfucker didn’t even bother to give them time for a proper send-off.

James is angry at himself too, for coming up with the whole thing, for making the little promise. He hates himself the most for not being able to break it.

James has never been an affectionate guy, but he keeps Trevor close in his arms, letting the boy rest his head on his shoulder. Trevor needs this, James tells himself, needs it more now than ever.

No,” Trevor mumbles against the material of James’ jacket. “Aleks isn’t gone. He’s just out for a coffee, and he’ll— he’ll come back. He will come back.”

He’s trying to convince himself more than James, and the anger makes room for the old hurt to return. It digs its sharp claws into James’ heart, drawing blood not enough to kill him, but just enough to keep the pain present.

“I’m sorry, Trevor,” James says, whispering the words into Trevor’s hair as the kid lets out a broken sob. “I’m so fucking sorry.”

Chapter Text

Brett is tired.

He’s been up for most parts of the last few days, working his ass off to fix all the problems Aleks had left behind when the fucker decided to leave without so much as a warning to the rest of them.

It was out of character and it felt as though he didn’t care at all, but Brett is too fucking exhausted and wound up from all the hours he’s stayed awake to actually give it a second thought. The Fakes offered to help, and even though it’d be nice to have an extra hand in a time of crisis like this, Brett declined.

It doesn’t feel right bringing in someone from the outside—from another crew, no less—because this job is theirs. They’ve spent months after months planning for it. It’s supposed to be their big break, the one to put the name Fake Chop onto the golden board with all the big guys, and the one to set them up for life—not that any of them has any intention to leave. Except for Aleks, it seems.

The last few days passed by so quickly, almost like a haze—a nightmare that Brett was stuck in for too long. He wouldn’t have thought that any of it was real, if not for the way his body slumps from exhaustion, his shoulders drooping and his eyes too heavy to keep open. There’s also this buzzing in his head, a constant reminder of how fucking tired he is.

Time alone these past few days has been hard to get, with members of the crew bombarding him with questions about changes in the plan, but he manages. Lunchtime is when things settle down for a bit; one short hour where people either eat their lunch/the rest of their breakfast, or hide away to a dark corner and get whatever sleep they can before the hour is up and it’s working time again.

Brett has his own office, and it’s the only safe space left he’s got in these hectic times. It’s a bit claustrophobic, yeah, but it’s still better than the chaos going on outside the door. He sits down the ratty couch that he’s managed to cramp in here somehow, once upon a time, and rubs a hand down his face to clear away the blurry edges around his vision.

It’s quiet moments like this that Brett finally has the time to think about what Aleks has done to them.

Fucking Aleks. The asshole didn’t even leave a goodbye, and despite what James told him—what he explained when Brett had pulled him into his office the day after and demanded answers—it wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t make up for all the lost hours where Brett could have spent sleeping instead of trying to come up with a new plan that didn’t include Aleks. It wouldn’t make up for the tension plaguing up their workplace, for the frustration, the exhaustion, and for the one person who’s hurting the most out of them.

Sighing, Brett lies back on the couch, eyes watching the ceiling as he finds himself unable to sleep despite how much his body is screaming that he needs it. His mind is too loud right now, telling him they’re still missing one major piece of the puzzle to make their plan work. Aleks was supposed to get it for them, but the asshole is gone now, and that adds one more bullet point to the ongoing list of issues that Brett has to face in his wake.

For right now, though, Brett will try and close his eyes, willing his mind to shut the fuck up and let him get some rest. Then later, when he’s more awake and a bit less sleep-deprived, he’ll figure out a way to deal with it.

He makes a note to himself to get a better couch as he tries to shift his body to a position where the springs won’t stab him to death in his sleep. After finding that perfect position, and he falls asleep within seconds. Which, is what Brett wish he could say.

He should be asleep, he knows. He should be using what little time he’s got left of the lunch break to lose himself in slumber, to get the rest that he so very much deserves, but life ain’t a dream.

Life ain’t a fucking dream, and so, instead of sleep away the exhaustion that’s been crawling under his skin, Brett finds himself wide awake, eyes opened and staring at the dark ceiling of his office, praying to whatever gods up above to just come down and smite him to death.

There’s yelling right outside the door of his office—a fight—and Brett doesn’t make an effort to listen closely to hear what they’re fighting about because it’s always the same bullshit nowadays. Either someone has finally broken under the pressure and/or exhaustion—and really, Brett can relate—and snapped at the closest person, or their office current asshole is letting his anger loose again.

Or, even worse, it could be the combination of those two, and Brett just doesn’t want to deal with either of those cases right now.

He closes his eyes again, closing them real tight for one, two, three, four, five seconds, with the hope that the little ritual will be enough to transcend him into another world—or maybe another dimension, he isn’t picky—and he won’t have to deal with the train wreck that his life has become.

When he opens his eyes, imagine his disappointment when he finds himself staring at the same ceiling of the same confined space of his office, lying on the same uncomfortable couch that he should have burned a long time ago instead of cramping it in here.

Brett closes his eyes again, not to perform another transcending ritual, but to consider his options. He can either stay still, very still, and hope that sleep will eventually come and capture him in its cold embrace. Or, he can go out there and give whoever the fuck is yelling an ass kicking.

The second option seems like a lot of work, and he would have been so successful at the first one too, if not for Lindsey bursting through his office door and demanding his attention.

“You need to go out there and fucking do something,” says Lindsey, face set and tone angered. Brett sighs, praying once again for some gods to just please come down and put him out of his misery.

“What do you want me to do, Lindsey?” he replies, starting to sit up again because sleep is no longer a viable option for him, not with Lindsey having that look on her face—the one that drew him to her in the first place, in that bar back then. “It’s not like he’s going to listen to me. Not when he’s like that.”

He gestures vaguely out his office door, at the yelling that’s still going on, and Lindsey lets out a frustrated groan. “I don’t know, Brett, just— do something, alright? If he keeps this up, I’m afraid I might have to kill him myself.”

Brett sighs once again, standing up from the couch.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he says. Lindsey nods, and it’s then that he notices the defeat in her posture, on her face, carved deep into her eyes. Fucking Aleks. Brett hopes the fucker never comes back because if he ever did, Brett would murder him for all the shit he’s put them through. “Take the day off, okay? And tell the others too. God knows we all fucking need it.”

“But Trevor—”

“I’ll take care of him, don’t you worry,” he says, cutting off Lindsey’s protest. “You’re right. This has been going on for too damn long now, and it won’t be long before he pisses off the wrong people and get himself hurt, or something worse. We’ve already lost one member; I don’t want to have to go through that again.”

Lindsey nods, sighing a bit and with it, Brett can see some of the exhaustion and tension seeping out of her body.

There’s no more yelling when Brett finally leaves his office, walking out of to the main area of their warehouse to find the members of his crew scattering around. Jakob and Asher are standing at one side, talking in a hushed voice while Trevor is huddled at his own desk, violently arranging the objects on his desk. The sight alone is enough to let Brett know who was involved in the fight moments ago.

James sends him a significant look from his own workstation, as if to ask what Brett’s going to do. Brett only answers him with a shrug.

He looks over to Trevor, who’s mumbling something angry and mean under his breath, and clears his throat, catching the kid’s attention.

“You,” he says, voice echoing off thick cement walls and finger pointing to make sure Trevor knows exactly who Brett is talking about. “Come.”

He doesn’t wait for an answer, already making his way out of the warehouse and getting into his car. It takes a while but Trevor follows—the kid still has some sense of rationality left in that thick head of his, it seems—and gets into Brett’s car.

Trevor’s face is set, a question already forming on the tip of tongue, but Brett shoots him down with a hard glare, not in the mood for talking.

“Relax,” Brett says after a while, when Trevor looks about the burst when anxiety, taking one hand off the steering wheel to massage at his temple. “I’m not taking you to an empty field to kill you of or anything. We’ve been overloaded with enough work as it is; I’d rather not lose another member if I can help it. ‘sides,” he says, glancing intently over at Trevor, “if I’d wanted you dead, I would’ve let Lindsey finish the job for me. You really pissed her off back there, you know that? I haven’t seen her that angry since we first met.”

Brett smiles fondly at the memory, back when he was still a common street thug with too much ambition clouding his mind. He’d come over to say hi, with all the intention to take Lindsey home with him and showing her a good time. What he ended up with was a black eye, a cut on his lower lip, and a best friend that he wouldn’t trade for the whole fucking world.

“Where are you taking me, then?” Trevor asks, still watching Brett through dark and seemingly blank eyes.

“You’ll see,” Brett answers, keeping his eyes straight ahead.

They say nothing else for the rest of the drive, and Brett enjoys the silence, turning on the radio only when the buzzing between his ears become too unbearable.

When Brett pulls into the parking lot of The Devil’s Palace, it draws a reaction from Trevor: a twitch of his lips as his eyes widen for one short second before returning back to their previous neutral state. Brett isn’t surprised that Trevor would know this place. Even without the attraction beneath the building, this place is still the hottest strip club in town.

Most of the Brett’s been here was because of a phone call too late in the night from the Devil himself, telling Brett to come and pick up a certain member of his crew before the idiot went too far and got himself killed.

There were too many nights where he had to pick Aleks up off the curb in front of the strip club, bruised and bloodied and drunk out of his mind. It was even worse around the first days of Aleks and Trevor’s relationship, back when it was still just drunken hookups that neither of them was ready to admit was even real.

It was hard, and rough, and it left Aleks going out and picking up the old habits of starting more fights than he could finish.

There were nights where Aleks would spend lying on the back seat of Brett’s car, staining the leather with his blood and God knows whatever else he’d picked up from sitting on the curb before Brett came for him. Aleks would groan and moan at every bump on the road, either because of all those bruises and cuts evident on his skin or the internal damage beyond what Brett could see.

Aleks would mumble too, talking nonsense to himself about things that are weren’t meant for anyone else to hear. Then he got real quiet all of a sudden, and it made Brett look back, taking his eyes off the road for just one short second to turn his head around and make sure that Aleks didn’t just die on him.

“Still with me there, buddy?” Brett said, and Aleks laughed, a painful sound drawn from his wounded lungs.

Aleks responded with reassurance, that he was fine—really, he was—but the bitterness and the sorrow plaguing his voice told Brett different. Aleks went silent again after that, and Brett didn’t ask if he was okay this time; a glance over the rear mirror let Brett know Aleks was still awake, eyes staring up the ceiling of Brett’s car.

He talked about Trevor, then, after a moment too long of silence. He talked about the softness of Trevor’s hair—”It’s just so fucking soft, man, you don’t even know.”—and his big brown eyes, and the little freckles on his face that you could only see when you got close enough. Brett said nothing, as Aleks continued on about how sorry he was, for falling so hard for Trevor that he wasn’t sure he could get back up again, and for making things complicated for them.

Brett would have told him that it was alright, that it would be soon, if it didn’t feel like that then. He would have said that it was sweet, how much affection Aleks felt for Trevor, that they should be together, despite all the hardship and complications it would bring.

If they had been boring accountants working for some big company with a boss who never bothered to learn their names, Brett would have said all those things.

They weren’t just some boring accountants working for some big company with a jerk for a boss, though, they were criminals. This lifestyle of theirs, it was—still is—full of danger, of too-close moments where one bad move could take away everything. With the life that they’d chosen, there isn’t any room left for something as innocent and far-fetched as love.

Looking at the road in front of him, dark and eerie with only street lights for company, Brett thought about telling Aleks to call it quits, to cut Trevor out of his life—do it lightly or not, just do it. But then again, who the fuck was he to judge?

They were criminals, yeah, and they led a life of danger, and that life could end at any moment without so much as a warning, so why the hell didn’t they just take the chance and go for it, shooting for that big, happy ending that all of them had dreamt of.

In the end, though, he said nothing, pulling the car into the empty spot in front of Aleks’ house and announcing their arrival. He watched in silence as Aleks stumbled out of the car, one hand clutching at his chest as he breathed out a thanks to Brett, before walking the distance and disappearing into the darkness of his house.

Brett knows he wasn’t the push that Aleks needed; didn’t even care enough to make the effort because he’s got issues of his own to tackle too, but he did notice the change between Aleks and Trevor; the moment the two became happier, their smiles were sincerer as they grew closer to one another.

He asked James about it once, and the man huffed, rolling his eyes and saying that those morons deserved each other after all the shit they’d been through. Brett couldn’t find it in himself to oppose him.

After everything—all the pinning and nights losing sleep over one another—they’ve finally got the happiness that others could only hope for. After all of that, and then one day Aleks just decided to leave it all behind, cutting himself off as if it never mattered at all.

Looking at Trevor now, who’s tilting his head back just a little to stare at the big sign hanging above the building entrance, Brett tries to look for the anger in Trevor’s eyes. It’s still there, lying dormant and ready for a signal to blow up.

Fucking Aleks. Brett hopes he’s unhappy wherever he is right now. As childish as that may sound, Brett just wants him to be as miserable without them as they are without him.

“C’mon, kid,” Brett says eventually, leading the way inside the building.

The interior of the club is as you’d expect from an establishment such as this one. Dimmed lights and stripping poles located around the room; the main stage at the far right and the bar on the left. It’s still early in the day so there aren’t many patrons here, but all seem too entranced by the dancers moving their body to the music playing overhead to notice the two men walking passed them.

Brett leads Trevor through the whole room, not stopping until they’ve reached the door in the back corner, hidden by the dark lights and kept from public use by the two men standing guards.

“The show is back that way, gentlemen,” Left Guard announces, pointing off behind them.

“We’re not interested in that,” Brett says, keeping his voice neutral. “Tell your boss that Mr. Hundar is here to see him. With a friend.” Brett gestures to Trevor, who’s looking grim and unlike himself under the dimmed lights.

Right Guard brings a wrist up to his lips and mumbles something into the sleeves of his dark suit, while Left Guard stares them down.

It takes a moment, but Right Guard finally nods, before opening the door for them. “I’m sorry for the hold up, Mr. Hundar. The Devil will see you now.”

“He really make you guys call him that?” Brett scoffs, just out of sheer spite, and Right Guard shrugs, saying he’s quite fond of his job—and his life too, thought that part left unsaid—so he will refrain from making jokes about his boss’s name.

“Smart,” Brett comments before walking through the door with Trevor in tow.

Ahead of them is a narrowed corridor, with gray cement walls flanking both sides and white lights hanging overhead. The lights are too bright for such a small space, and they make the buzzing in Brett’s become that much harder to bear.

“Why did you bring me here, Brett?” Trevor asks from behind him. Their footsteps are in sync, echoing off the blank walls. Brett tries to focus on that more than his own headache.

“Patient, Trevor,” he replies, biting back a groan as he turns to look at Trevor. Bad move on his part; now his head is pounding harder than the bassline hitting on the door behind them. “You’ll find out in a minute.”

Trevor still has more questions, Brett knows, but fortunately for him, the kid knows to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the way—a right turn at the end of the corridor and a stair leading down.

The lower they go, the lights become more bearable; the white lights paint themselves in a new coat of red, dimmer than what could be found in the previous corridor, and Brett’s more than grateful for them. A chuckles escapes from his chest—The Devil and his dramatic ass. The only thing missing here is a burning sign with bold letters spelling ‘Welcome to Hell.’

At the end of the stairs is where Brett wanted to take Trevor, and once their destination is in sight, they find themselves facing the real attraction of The Devil’s Place.

People might have come here to gawk at attractive people grinding themselves against a pole, but the thing that keeps this place thriving is what lies underneath the building. It’s the best kept secret of their world, mostly because people like it and don’t want to see it be destroyed once the authority finds out. More than that, though, they are too scared of what The Devil might do to them if they say anything to anyone who doesn’t need to know.

They’re standing in a large room, blank for the most part, with a large pentagon cage standing solemnly right in the middle. Brett recalls all the nights he’s spent here, back in his much younger days, either inside or outside of the cage, fighting his heart out or cheering for the fighters until his blood pumped harder than the music playing overhead.

It’s been so long since he first took Aleks here. The fucker was still just a kid, back then, around Trevor’s age, with too much anger in his body and hate against the world. This is a good place to beat the anger out of you, Brett’s learned, and maybe it’d proven to be so again today.

“You ever come here before?” Brett asks, turning to look at Trevor. The kid is observing the vast space in front of him, both hands hidden in the pockets of his jeans jacket. He’s keeping his expression neutral, but Brett knows better than that, can see the curiosity behind his eyes clear from where he’s standing.

Trevor shakes his head. “I only heard about it,” he says, working his jaw. “Aleks told me some stories about this place. It’s a fight club, right?”

“Yeah,” Brett replies, watching Trevor’s face closely. “I was actually a bit surprised that this wasn’t the first place you came looking for him.”

There’s a fraction of a second where Trevor widens his eyes, caught, but he composes himself quickly. He’s trying so hard to make himself seem strong, that it doesn’t bother him anymore that Aleks left. The tension in his shoulders and the way his eyes become so hurtful at the mere mention of Aleks betray him, though. For the first time this whole long week, Brett doesn’t see the anger in him.

He looks at Trevor now and he sees a hurt little boy, with hollowed eyes and exhaustion clinging to him like a vengeful ghost. For some unnamed reasons, Brett feels anger rising in him.

“Why did you bring me here, Brett?” Trevor asks again, defeat bleeding into his voice.

Brett looks at him for a moment, then sighs, fingers rubbing at his temples. “You wanted to fight, so here we are.” He gives Trevor a hard look. “You’re allowed to be angry, Trevor. You’re allowed to be mad at Aleks for leaving like that, but you can’t lash out at people, at your friends who are just trying to help.”

Trevor looks at him, incredulous, his guards already coming up again and that so familiar anger behind his eyes. “That wasn’t them trying to help, they were—”

“I don’t give a fuck what did and didn’t happen earlier, Trevor. Or this whole week for that matter,” Brett says, frowning hard and folding his arms across his chest. “You obviously have issues, and the best place to work that all out is in that cage.”

“But—”

“No buts, Trevor,” Brett cuts in, impatient and too fucking tired for this. “I don’t care if you win or lose, you either get in that cage and fight, letting out whatever the fuck you’re keeping so much inside. Or, I’m going to take you off the job because you don’t seem to be able to work with anyone anymore.”

It’s a bluff, sort of, and Brett knows that Trevor can see through it, that kid knows full well that they can’t afford to have another man down. He says nothing, though, looking at Brett with fire burning bright behind his eyes, like wildfire in the middle of the hottest summer month.

Still, there’s one short moment where Brett thinks that Trevor will turn him down, saying ‘no, I’m done with all this’ before turning around and walking away, disappearing like Aleks did. But he opens his mouth, and the word seems to die on his tongue. He closes it again, throat clicking as he looks down the concrete floor beneath their feet.

“What’s in gonna be, Trevor? You want to stay and fight it out, or leave and continue to be an asshole to all your friends?” Brett asks, an ultimatum that they both already know the answer to.

Trevor mumbles his answer, still looking at the ground.

“I can’t fucking hear you, Trevor.”

“I said I want to stay,” Trevor snaps, looking up, his eyes burning.

Brett nods his head and turns to walk towards the cage. The Devil is already there, with that charming grin on his lips and hands crossing over his chest, eyes shining as he watches Brett march towards him.

“That looked intense,” he says when Brett reaches him. “Thought I’d need to call security down to break up a fight.”

Brett suppresses the urge to roll his eyes, even more so when Khail smiles bigger, taking steps towards them with his arms out wide. He engulfs Brett in a tight hug, almost squeezing the life out him, and Brett hugs back with as much force as he’s given.

“Long time no see, man,” Khail says. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been good,” Brett answers, pulling away. “A bit busy lately, which is why I haven’t got the time to visit. How about you?”

“I’m good, I’m good. Business is booming as usual, both upstairs and downstairs,” Khail replies with a wink. He diverts his eyes to the space over Brett’s shoulder, though only for a short second, before turning back to look at Brett. “You brought a friend, I see.”

“‘A friend,’” Brett mimics. “I thought we’re passed the phase where you pretend you don’t know who everyone is.” Khail laughs guiltily as Brett takes the place next to him, leaning his back against the cage as the two of them observe Trevor.

“He’s cute,” Khail points out, tilting his head as he watches Trevor looking around the room and pretending he isn’t aware he’s being watched. “I can see why Aleks loves him so much.”

“Yeah,” Brett says, thoughtful. “He’s the reason why I’m here, actually.”

Oh?” Khail says, an eyebrow raising. “And here I thought you were just here because you missed me.”

“Like I’d ever miss your dramatic ass,” Brett replies, glaring at Khail though the effect doesn’t hold; the man only smiles in face of Brett’s faux hostility. Brett can’t help but smile in return, though small, facing the ground. “I need a little favor.”

“‘A little favor’,” Khail repeats deliberately, rolling his eyes “Of fucking course. What is it?”

“I know it’s not opening time yet, but can you prepare the cage for a fight?”

Khail looks surprised, shifting his eyes between Trevor and Brett. “For you two?”

Brett lets out a snort. “No, dude, I’m too old for that shit. It’s just that one.” He jerks his chin towards where Trevor is standing.

Khail regards Brett, eyes thoughtful as he senses the tension between him and Trevor. Brett can almost taste it in the air, that tension, thick and suffocating. If Khail can too then he doesn’t say anything, and Brett is grateful for that; he doesn’t have the energy to relay the events of today back to him right now.

“Sure,” Khail says at last, having found whatever he was looking for in the empty space between them. “I can prepare the cage for him. But the only fighter I have present at the moment is Kane, and he’s one of my best. You sure your boy can handle that?”

Brett shrugs. “Maybe.”

“Alright then,” Khail says, “I’ll go tell my guys to get ready.”

“I’ll go tell mine.”

Khail gives him one last trademark Devil smile of his before turning around and walks away. At this point, Trevor has stopped pretending, and he catches Brett’s eyes with his eyebrows raised. Brett motions for him to come over.

“So,” Trevor says, stopping right in front of Brett, “who’s I’m fighting?”

Brett looks around and catches Khail talking to a muscular man at the far corner of the room. One of his best, Khail has described, and Brett can see it. Even with his shirt on and from this distance, Brett can still detect the amount of muscle mass on him, the way he holds his body strong and upright like how a good fighter would.

“That one,” Brett says, pointing to Khail’s direction, eyes watching Trevor in search for his reaction.

Trevor, for his part, remains impassive. “I thought you didn’t want me to die.”

Brett scoffs. “Like Khail would ever allow that. It’d be very bad for business if someone died in his cage out of working hours.” Trevor hums thoughtfully at his response, and Brett raises an eyebrow at him. “You sure you don’t wanna leave?”

Trevor’s answer come in the form of silence, of him taking off his jacket and pulling his phone and wallet out of the pockets of his jeans and throwing them to one side. He walks to the cage’s door with a purpose, head held high and anger present in his eyes.

Brett observes from outside the cage, watches as Trevor psyches himself up, doing some shadow boxing as practice. The view from here reminds him too much of Aleks, back in the day, of that very first time he went into the cage, with the same burning in his body, the same sort of anger—at the world, at himself, at a certain somebody.

Aleks didn’t win his first fight here—or the second, or the third, for that matter—but looking at Trevor now, with that rage eating up his insides and fueling him, Brett thinks that maybe it’d turn out differently.

“He won’t last more than a minute,” Khail says as he rejoins Brett at his side.

Brett watches as Trevor’s opponent, Kane, enter the cage, his shirt abandoned and muscles in full view. Trevor doesn’t look intimidated, though. If anything, he looks even more angry, and Brett can’t help but chuckle. Idiot, he thinks, just like Aleks. The two of them really were perfect for each other.

Only if they were boring accounts.

“I’ll take that bet,” Brett says after a moment, meaningful, as the bell rings overhead and the fight begins.

They watch the fight in silence, and Brett finds his feelings jumping from one opposite end of the polar to the other. He feels so proud as Trevor throws the first punch, making Kane stumble on his feet slightly. He feels disappointed when Trevor is knocked down to the ground, where he rolls around a bit as he groans in pain. Pride swells in Brett’s chest again as Trevor pushes himself off of the ground, breathing hard and out of rhythm, still holding himself strong and ready for more.

Once Trevor’s punched square in the face, falling down to the ground in an immovable heap, Brett gives Khail a meaningful look.

“You know the rules. Tap out or knocked out,” the man explains, eyes unmoving from the fighters inside the cage.

Brett shifts his eyes back ahead to find Trevor trying to get up. When their eyes meet, Brett can see the fight that is still burning too strongly behind Trevor’s pupils, and he gives the kid a challenging smile, eyes sharp and expecting. It’s delightful to watch Trevor’s jaw tense as he pushes himself off the ground and getting back on his feet once again.

The fight ends with Trevor unsurprisingly loses, caught in a rear naked choke on the ground. Brett lets it go on for a moment too long, watching the way Trevor struggle, trying to get out of the professional hold Kane is having on him.

Only when Trevor is about to pass out, does Brett turns to The Devil at his side, telling him to call it off. It’s against the rules, he knows, half-expects Khail to turn it down, but The Devil only quirks his eyebrow in amusement before signaling for his people to intervene.

“One minute and thirty-four seconds,” he announces after taking a looking at his watch, not even bother hiding how impressed he is at the result. Brett takes the dollar bill when Khail offers it to him, a winning smile on his lips.

They retreat to Khail’s office in the back as Khail’s guys peel Trevor off the floor of their fighting cage and drag him off for a check up by one of the medics they have on call.

Khail’s office is different from how Brett remembers it, the last time he was here. Granted, that was so long ago now, months away, because planning for a heist eats up your time—and also your energy and will to live—like nothing else.

The room seems bigger than what Brett can remember, with an elegant oak desk at the back wall, with a black leather chair behind it. Brett tries not to roll his eyes—it’s not good for his headache—as Khail proudly introduces the chair as his throne before taking a seat down on it. Brett takes one of his own on the other side, a mere peasant here in the kingdom of The Devil.

God, it feels like just yesterday when they were still Anonymous and Hungry Hundar, with dreams so big their eyes got hazy just thinking about them. Look at them now, a king in his own elements and a leader of one of Los Santos’ infamous heist gangs.

“So,” Khail says, sitting back in his chair, “how have you been? Like, really, how have you been?”

Brett sighs, rubbing a hand up and down his face. “Tired, man,” he answers. “It’s been one hell of a week. Aleks really fucked us over when he left like that.”

“He did, didn’t he?” Khail says thoughtfully, then smiles, not his usual Devil smile Brett’s grown used to. No, it’s an actual smile—one that’s earnest and too pensive for his Devil persona. “Or maybe he didn’t.”

Brett opens his mouth to ask but Khail is no longer looking at him. Instead, his friend is busy with something underneath the desk, out of Brett’s view. Brett waits for a second, then two, and a few more while Khail works on the lock of his desk drawer. Once it’s opened, he pulls out a manila folder and hands it to Brett.

There’s more questions in Brett’s mind right now than answers, but Khail motions for him to look inside and find out for himself.

Brett takes a deep breath, closing his eyes and praying for this day to end sooner, and unwinds the string holding the lid of the manila down. There’s a stack of paper inside, and Brett takes good care looking over them, feeling more awake than he’s been this entire week. It’s the last piece of information they need for their plan to work. Aleks was supposed to get it, and now it’s in Brett’s hand.

“Aleks gave these to you?” he asks over the edge of the page he’s reading, voice sharp and serious.

“Yes and no.” When Brett gives him an unimpressed look, Khail elaborates, “He came to me with only half of what’s in there. He asked me to look for the rest and give it to you guys when I’ve got all of it. I was going to drive down the warehouse and hand it over tomorrow, but since you’re here… it should save me a trip.”

“He made a deal with you?” Brett asks, feeling his shoulder tense and his hands gripping too tightly on the papers in front of him.

For all of his boyish charm and cheerful grins, Khail is much more than his looks, more than his name; Brett wasn’t kidding when he said that people were too scared of him to say anything about what he does.

Khail’s ruthless, when he wants to be. Brett’s seen it himself, seen the transformation from Anonymous to The Devil; from a nobody to the king ruling over the underground fighting world, with people who fear and admire him in the same measures.

He makes deals with people—people who are desperate, who have nothing left to lose until Khail finally gave them some. People like to joke and laugh about the ones who are stupid enough to fall for The Devil’s fancy promises of a better life. Brett’s had the honor of watching those same people fall into the same trap. He’s watched as they burned and bled dried and worked to their fucking bones because The Devil would never let them out of his contract.

Brett has laughed too, at those people, and it’s such a twisted sort of karma that now one of his friends might have gotten the same fate.

“No,” Khail answers, and Brett doesn’t try to hide his sigh of relief. “He wanted to but I wouldn’t let him. I reminded him of a favor I owed him from a while back, and he was okay with cashing it in. Don’t get me wrong, though. Any other day and I would have accepted his deal.”

Brett sighs, once more, feeling his body slump, what’s left of his energy escaping through one swoop of breath. He puts the papers neatly back in the folder before setting it on his lap.

“What stopped you then?” he asks, keeping his voice passive.

Khail shrugs, eyes looking at the space over Brett’s shoulder, and his voice is solemn as he speaks, “He didn’t look like himself when he came here. I know we barely saw each other over the past few months, but— he looked off, you know.” He looked at his lap, then, contemplative. “I asked him about it. It wasn’t very professional of me, I know, but Aleks was a friend. He didn’t give me much of an answer, but he did look… conflicted.

“I didn’t know that he was going to leave. No, really, I didn’t,” Khail explains when Brett gives him an incredulous look. “I didn’t know and Aleks said nothing about it. I asked him about Trevor, about how was things between them, and God, Brett, he looked so pained. He gave me some generic answers, but he sounded like he was on the verge of breaking down.”

He looks at Brett, eyes too somber and honest that Brett almost didn’t recognize him. “I can’t tell you much about why he left or why he didn’t say anything, but I can tell you this: whatever drove him to it, I don’t think it was a decision he wanted to make.”

Brett turns his eyes down to his lap, gaze caught on the manila folder Aleks has left behind before leaving for God knows how long, and the anger leaves him. Exhaustion is more than ready to take over its place, crushing down his shoulders and crawling deep in his bones. Fuck, he really needs some sleep before his brain melts out of his ears.

Khail takes on look at him, and bless him, changes the subject. They talk about lighter things—things that don’t make Brett’s skin itch with something he cannot scratch away.

They talk about the good ol’ days, about the time when Khail was a dweeb who thought too much of himself and scoffed at spicy food. That was before Brett found him in the bathroom later in the evening, bending over the toilet with tears smeared over his face, going off about why Brett didn’t stop him from making the biggest fucking mistake of his life.

Those were simpler times, and they talk and talk until Khail’s medic knocks on the door before letting herself in at Khail’s order.

She gives them a short report on Trevor’s condition—”A few cracked ribs, a bleeding nose and bruises all over. Nothing too permanent and can’t be fixed with some rest and a lot of painkillers.”—and Brett thanks his friend, then the medic, before making his way out of the room, manila folder in hand.

“Hey,” Khail calls before Brett can close the door behind him. “If you need another favor, just ask, okay?”

If you need help, from a friend, not The Devil, then I’m here for you, Brett heard it through Khail’s words, and Brett is so grateful for the friends he’s made.

He nods, lips smiling against his knowledge. “Thanks, man. I’ll keep that in mind.” Brett bids his friend one last goodbye before closing the door behind him.

He finds Trevor leaning against the wall next to the entrance where they’ve come in from. There’s blood-stained cotton balls jammed up one of his nostrils, and a whole lot of bruises where his clothes aren’t able to cover up. Trevor’s got his jacket draping over one arm, hand holding a brown paper bag that’s no doubt containing all those painkillers the medic has told Brett about.

“How are you feeling?” he asks once he reaches Trevor.

“Like I just got my ass beaten up,” Trevor wheezes through his lips, cracking an eye open to look down at Brett.

“Sounds about right,” Brett quips, reaching out a hand and taking over some of Trevor’s weight because the kid doesn’t capable of standing on his own anymore. “C’mon now, buddy. Let’s get you outta here.”

This is too reminiscent of how Brett used to carry Aleks out of this place, as Trevor groans and holds one arm over his chest as every movement must have hurt. Brett presses his lips tight, pushing the memories away as he settles Trevor in his car, in the front seat instead of the back.

“I’m sorry,” Trevor says—mumbles it, rather—as Brett pulls away from the parking lot, head leaned back against the backrest, cracking one eye open to look at Brett.

Brett snorts, can’t help himself because of how ridiculous Trevor looks. Trevor, with those big eyes of his, bruised so badly on one side that it’ll take him days to see clear again. Too fucking much like Aleks.

“Save it,” Bret says, looking back on the road. “Just try not to lash out on your friends again, okay?” He pauses, considering if he should ask before deciding that fuck it, might as well. “What were you and Jakob fighting about anyway?”

Trevor lets out a laugh, a breathy one that’s soon replaced with a groan, hand coming up to hold his chest again. “It was a prank he pulled, moving all the stuff on my desk over to the right a little or some such shit. He was trying to cheer me up, but I was— you know.”

Brett hums thoughtfully, turning on the radio again as silence comes and drapes over them. It doesn’t feel thick or uncomfortable; Brett just wants something to drown out the buzzing between his ears.

“Did you look for him?” Trevor says after a while, voice small, barely a whisper as if he’s not sure if he should say it. “I— I know what James said about the phone and the, the messages but— don’t you want to know why?”

Brett looks at him through the corner of his eyes, sighing. “We did look, Trevor. He was our friend too, you know, but he didn’t leave any trail to follow. I know it’s hard to accept, but he’s really gone. I know you will try and keep looking, but it’s a fact that you’ll have to face sooner or later.”

“I— I know, it’s just— I was so caught up in it, you know. I was so angry at him for leaving and I couldn’t think about anything but— I just wanted to know why.” Trevor’s voice breaks a little at the last word, and Brett can almost hear the sound of his heart breaking a little bit more.

He doesn’t know how to respond to that, so he opts to say nothing at all. For a moment, Brett half-expects Trevor to talk about how beautiful Aleks is, then ramble on about how sorry he is for falling for him.

Trevor says nothing, though, leaning his head against the window and closing his eyes. Brett can’t see all of his face, but he makes this little sound that’s too much like a sob. Brett pretends to not hear it, and they don’t say anything else for the rest of the drive.

“I’m sorry, Trevor,” he says as he pulls in front of Trevor house and Trevor makes to get out.

The kid gives him a look, exhaustion and week-old heartbreak carved deep into his eyes. He nods, thanking Brett for taking him home before shutting the car door closed and turning to leave.

There’s a speck of blood Trevor has left behind on the glass of the passenger window, too similar to the ones staining the leather of his back seat. Brett stares at it and thinks that, unlike Aleks, this probably won’t turn into a habit.

The fight, the anger, the wildfire burning in him—they seem to have all evaporated from existence, no longer clinging to Trevor’s body, to his retreating form, limping in his steps.

Brett sighs and puts the car into drive again, starting the journey back to his own home. He craves for the comfort of his bed and the few hours of sleep where he can pretend that life was better than it truly is.

Fucking Aleks. Once again Brett finds himself cursing the fucker’s name, hoping that where he is, he’s just as miserable, and unhappy, and heartbroken as Trevor must be.

Chapter Text

“Hey, man,” a voice calls from behind him, almost making Asher jump out his skin.

He quickly turns around, one hand settled over his chest to prevent his heart from bursting right out of his ribcage and run off into the unknown. His other hand is hidden inside the back pocket of his pants, fingers tightly wrapped around the Swiss knife he always carries with him, in case of situation not unlike this one.

“Jakob, fuck! You scared the shit outta me,” Asher squeaks—not entirely proud of it—and relaxes his hands once it’s clear that he’s in no immediate danger.

Jakob has the quietest footsteps Asher has ever heard—or well, has never heard. He walks like a mouse, so quiet that only once he’s revealed himself did you realize you’d been followed all along. It’s also really unnerving, even more so when Asher has to live with Jakob and his tendency to sneak up on people.

Jakob smiles. “Sorry, dude, didn’t mean too.”

Asher pulls his hand out of his pocket, keeping his voice neutral. “Did you need something?”

“Oh, yeah, I want to ask if you could do something for me.”

Asher raises an eyebrow at him. “Can’t we talk about it at home?”

“I’m not coming home tonight.”

“You’re going out?” Asher asks, incredulous, as he stares at Jakob’s smiling face. It feels insincere when he keeps smiling like that—doesn’t his face hurt? “Didn’t you hear Brett say that he wanted us here first thing in the morning to start prepping?”

“I’ll be here on time, don’t worry,” Jakob replies, not an ounce of care in his expression. “I just need you to watch Trevor for me tonight.”

Asher makes a face at him, confused. “Why do I need to watch Trevor? Trevor is a grown man; he can watch himself.”

“Yeah, I know that but—” Jakob sighs, looking at the ground where his foot is scrubbing at the cement floor. “Look, I know you probably haven’t noticed it but Trevor’s not— he’s not in a great place right now, and I just— I don’t want him to be alone, okay?”

Firstly, Jakob is right; Asher hasn’t noticed. It’s not because he isn’t close with Trevor like Jakob is; Asher just isn’t the kind of person to mind anyone’s business but his own. With the way he’s lived, Asher has learned to keep his head down and mind his own business, only pay attention when someone calls for him.

He’s been fine with that, and now isn’t the time to change.

Secondly, “Why don’t you watch him yourself, then, if you’re worrying about him so much?” Asher asks, narrowing his eyes at Jakob.

“I was going to, okay, asshole?” Jakob says, rolling his eyes like Asher’s the crazy one in this conversation. “But I, uh, I got some stuff I need to do, so— you know, I can’t watch him tonight.”

“What stuff?” Asher presses, feeling more interested in this conversation than before.

He leans against the edge of his desk and crosses his arms over his chest, eyes watching the way Jakob looks left and right, sighing as though this—asking Asher for help, or just be in his general vicinity—is the last thing he wants to do. “My girlfriend’s flying back to her home country early tomorrow. I just want to spend some quality time with her before she leaves.”

Asher can’t help but grin at that, amusement glinting in his eyes. “So, what you’re telling me is...,” he says in faux contemplation, dragging it out as long as possible while Jakob stares at him in contempt, “...you’re ditching you best friend to go get laid?”

Jakob’s face goes through a wide range of emotions. From long-suffering to sheer spite to utterly flustered, mouth gaping like a fish caught on land as he tries to come up with a witty comeback. Asher tries to hide his laugh behind his hand, but seems to fail miserably judging by the look Jakob is giving him—like he’s ready to take the lock pick he always keeps on his person out and jams it in Asher’s neck.

“Alright,” Asher says after a moment, letting the word mix in with the last bit of his laughter. He’s going easy on Jakob, Asher knows that, but he’s in a good mood today. “I’ll do it.”

“What? Really? Dude, that’s great, thank—”

“In exchange for a favor,” Asher says, biting back another smile as the grateful grin falls off Jakob’s face, turning to something spiteful again as he gives Asher a hard stare. Asher pays him no mind, continuing, “no question asked.”

He can see the gears turning in Jakob’s head, as the man weighs his options. “Fine,” he draws out eventually, rolling his eyes like a petulant child. “But I’m not going to do anything illegal.”

“Our job is illegal.”

“Yeah, well, illegal as in murder,” Jakob quips. “I don’t want any of my clothes ruined by blood stains.”

Asher accepts his condition, only because he isn’t planning on murdering anyone; it’s not his thing and dead bodies are hard to get rid of, even with extra help. They shake on it, and Jakob finally leaves Asher alone to gather the rest of his things in peace.

Today has been one hell of a day, but better than Asher could have ever hoped for.

For the most part of it, Asher had to spend time in a car, driving around town and picking up all the supplies they needed for their upcoming heist. Aleks was supposed to go with him, but he’s gone now, Asher can’t say that he was affected much by it.

They weren’t close—like Asher isn’t close with Trevor, or anyone else in Fake Chop, for that matter—and Brett has jumped in to take over his spot. Asher could tell that his boss wasn’t too happy about it, but there was no one else free—they were all too busy going through the last, last details of the plan—and Asher couldn’t go alone.

He isn’t good with people—interacting with them and not freaking them out in some way. That was Aleks’ job, and it wouldn’t be good for them if Asher left a bad impression on any of their suppliers and they had to find a new one in replacement.

It was uneventful for the most parts, just the two of them sitting in a car, keeping to themselves and stopping at places to pick up what they must. The highlight of it came when they got to the arms dealer’s place—a dinky warehouse that was much worse than Fake Chop’s, which Asher didn’t think was possible.

They had to wait while the dealer’s men went in the back to prepare for the order that Brett had put in. Asher browsed around, entranced by the guns they kept on display.

There was one gun that he made him stop in his step, a hunting rifle that looked so much like the one his granddad used to let him use. It was beautiful, and Asher could almost feel the weight of it in his hands, his grandfather’s voice whispering in his ear on how to use it to aim and take down the deer in the distance.

“You like it?” Brett asked, with that husky voice of his, startling Asher out of his daze.

Asher only shrugged, because it didn’t matter if he did like the gun or not anyway. As beautiful as it was and as much as Asher wanted to have it for his own, he couldn’t afford it—not with the kinds of debts he’s got attached to his own name. Still, that didn’t stop his mind from providing him with visions and images of how he could modify the rifle for better.

It made his blood boil, pumping fast through his veins. His heart quickened—thump, thump, thump, in his chest, making his head spin with all those fantasies. It’s strange, he’s been told—strange and weird and something he should learn to get rid of. He’s tried and it didn’t work, and he’s long accepted that it’s just a part of who he is.

So it was a surprise, albeit a very pleasant one, when Brett presented him with the same gun just moments later, when they were back at their own warehouse. Brett told Asher that he liked to keep the members of his crew happy, and that Asher could pay him back by doing his job and doing it well.

See, that’s the kind of familial bullshit that keeps Asher from leaving Fake Chop like he’s done so with so many crews he’s worked with before. He’s accepted this job on a whim. A friend referred him to it, and it was better than washing dishes in an unknown restaurant. He’s come to learn that Fake Chop is a good place for him, and the people are nice and treat him well enough that the thought of leaving and finding a new gang to work with never crossed his mind.

Asher doesn’t think that even the Fakes, his personal idols, could make him leave. He isn’t close with anyone in Fake Chop, true, but they still feel like family to him; something of which the emotional part within him that he tends to forget he possess doesn’t like the idea of letting go.

He’d stuttered in his thanks to Brett, still half-expected it be a prank of sorts, but the gun was there when he opened up the case; neither James nor Jakob jumped out from around the corner with cameras pointing at him and calling him an idiot for actually falling for it.

Brett patted him in the back once, before returning to the confine of his office and Asher was left standing there with half his mind on the cloud, eyes wide as he stared down the hunting rifle in his hands.

And now he is about to leave for home and he couldn’t be any happier.

James and Lindsey are the only one left in the warehouse once Asher’s done gathering the rest of his things, still tinkering on some certain things at their respective workstation. They look up and wave him goodbye when he calls for them, which he returns in earnest and with a smile. James raises an eyebrow at him but doesn’t comment, and Asher turns to leave.

He finds Trevor in the parking lot, standing with his back against the wall outside the warehouse, completely engrossed in his phone. He looks startled, when Asher calls for him, eyes wide and breathing a bit out of rhythm as he fumbles to put his phone in his pocket.

“Asher, hey,” he greets, still catching his breath. “Ready to go home?”

“Yeah, all set. Where’s Jakob?”

“Oh, his girlfriend picked him up a while ago. It’s her last day in the US so he wanted to spend some time with her. He said not to wait up.”

“Good for him, then,” Asher comments as he makes his way to the driver seat, dropping his gun case and backpack in the back seat.

Trevor gets in after him, and they don’t say anything as Asher turns on the engine and pulls out of the warehouse parking lot. The silence between them isn’t exactly awkward, but it isn’t like the kind Asher shared with Brett this morning. The empty space is filled only by the sound of the city pouring in from the window left opened on both their sides, to allow the evening breeze in because the AC in Asher’s car has long stopped working.

Jakob and Trevor like to complain about it, but Asher would frown and tell them to use the bus or the train if it bothered them so much. They would roll their eyes, then, and exchange a meaningful look that Asher could catch through the rear mirror.

It feels so long ago, since the last time they joked around like that. Asher watches Trevor through the corner of his eyes, and he suddenly understands what Jakob meant, when he said Trevor wasn’t in a great place.

Under the changing hue of sunset orange to evening violet, with the passing street lights outside, Trevor doesn’t quite look like himself. He looks like a ghost, an empty shell left behind by someone who doesn’t want it anymore.

He’s looking outside the window, watching the view going by. He’s right there, but he doesn’t seem present. He’s sitting right besides Asher, but his eyes are distant, lost and so, so empty. The bruises on his face are healing well, but they are still there, along with the dark circles from sleepless nights buried in work.

Asher looks at him now, and he feels as though he’s looking at his own mother. He feels like a child again, curious and asking too many questions, as his mom hugged him tight and told him in a broken voice that everything was going to be alright.

It’s the only reason that compels him to ask, really, even though he and Trevor aren’t close—aren’t friends beyond the budding coworkers relationship they’re bound to have with the amount of time they spend together. He doesn’t need to ask, he knows, despite the deal he’s made with Jakob. He can just drive Trevor home, and they can spend the rest of the night in their own respective bedroom.

He really doesn’t have to ask, but Trevor is sitting there, looking out the window with soulless eyes, and the emotional part within Asher tells him he must.

“You got any plans for tonight?” The question sounds so awkward on his tongue, and it’s even worse, hanging in the air between them.

Trevor turns to look at him, surprised. “Uh, no. No plans for tonight.”

“Wanna watch a movie or something?” It’s another simple question but it makes Asher’s palm sweat and his heart race in his ribcage.

Trevor watches him through narrowed eyes, head tilted slightly to the side, unsure of what to make of Asher’s sudden interest in spending time together. “Sure,” he says after a moment, turning his head back to the view passing outside the car. “Beats wallowing alone in my room, I guess.”

The air is quiet again, and Asher considers turning on the radio before remembering that that is also busted as well. In the end, they just sit in silence; no one says anything and the city passes outside the window until their house slowly comes into view.

When the car is safely parked inside their cramped garage, they retreat to their respective room to put away their stuff and change into something more comfortable for their impromptu movie night. Trevor leaves without saying much else, as Asher does the same.

He sets the gun case besides his work desk before going to the adjacent bathroom for a quick shower. It’s been a long day, and the Los Santos weather is so unforgiving.

When he’s done, he puts on a faded t-shirt with a small hole under one armpit and a pair of sweatpants, before making his way downstairs. His footsteps are quiet down the wooden staircase, and maybe that’s why Trevor doesn’t notice him.

Asher finds him in the kitchen, with fluorescent lights shining gently down his head. He’s petting Celia—Aleks’ cat that he’d left behind. Trevor’s eyes are blank as he watches the cat drink her milk.

Adopting Celia wasn’t a part of their plan. James was supposed to take her in, but there was some age-old qualm between her and Ein that makes them unable to stand one another. Allegedly, they couldn’t even be in the same room without a fight breaking out.

Trevor has jumped in when James mentioned it; he didn’t even consult Jakob or Asher about his decision before taking the cat home with him. Asher would’ve complained but he liked cats, not as much as he liked playing with guns, but more than he does people. They’re just nice and smart creatures that don’t tend to judge him as much as people do.

“Do you miss him?” Trevor asks quietly, just as Asher is about to speak up and make his presence known. The question makes him stay back in the shadow where the kitchen lights couldn’t quite reach, observing the scene in front of him in curiosity.

“I do,” Trevor continues, hand still gently petting the cat. “I know I shouldn’t. I know he doesn’t deserve it but— I just can’t help myself.”

In the quiet space of their kitchen and the dead of night where most people have gotten ready for sleep, Trevor sounds so small. He sounds small and broken and sad beyond what words can describe, and Asher thinks about how wrong he was to compare Trevor to his mom.

Trevor is nothing like Asher’s mother. Trevor is like him.

Asher looks at Trevor now, and he sees his ten-year-old self, curled up in the corner of his closet while his father yelled obscenities at his mother, saying words too crude for any child to hear. He looks at Trevor, and he finds his heart aching for the first time in years. He wants to reach out, hug him tight and tell him in a quiet voice that everything’s going to be alright.

He doesn’t do any of that, though, because they’re not friends and it’s not his place. Instead, he takes a few steps back out of the room, and stomps his feet harder when he returns to the kitchen once again, stepping into the light and revealing himself.

“Hey, dude,” he greets Trevor, who’s standing straighter now, with his hands hidden in the pockets of his sweatpants and some semblance of a smile on his face. “Ready for our movie night?”

Trevor nods. “Yeah. You go get the movie ready. I’ll make us some popcorn.”

Asher does as told, nodding his head and turning to leave without saying anything else, or commenting on the way Trevor’s smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

He turns on the TV and listens to the sounds coming from the kitchen—of cabinets being opened then closed, of the microwave turning on and the telltales sound of kernels popping. He strains his ears to catch another word from Trevor but nothing comes, or perhaps it’s buried underneath everything else.

Asher opts to browse through the movies on Netflix before settling on the one he’s been wanting to watch for a while. Trevor finally enters the living room with a big bowl of popcorn in one hand and two beers held by the necks in the other.

He hands Asher one, which Asher accepts with thanks, and settles besides him on the couch, asking, “What’re we watching tonight?”

“A documentary about World War II,” Asher replies around a mouthful of popcorn.

“Oh…”

“We can watch something else if you’re not interested,” Asher says quickly.

Trevor chuckles, and it sounds sincere enough. “Just thought we were going to watch a comedy or something. This is fine, though. I’m all up to be educated about the war.”

They sit and watch in silence, the empty air between them doesn’t feel so awkward anymore. Asher is mindful of Trevor in his peripheral, who’s interested in the documentary like he’d said, though only for the first part.

After that, Trevor takes out his phone, typing something then erasing it and returning his attention to the TV again. It happens a few times before Asher’s curiosity gets the better of him, forcing him to ask, “Waiting on someone?”

Trevor flinches, eyes wide and startled when he looks at Asher. He looks as though he was just caught doing something he shouldn’t. “No one who would answer,” he replies, voice heavy, sighing as he trades the phone in his hand for the beer on the coffee table in front of them.

Asher wants to ask more, but he finds the word stuck in his throat. He’s not good with people—interacting with them and making sure they’re okay. When Asher still tries to come up with anything to say so the silence doesn’t have the chance to strangle them both, Trevor opens his mouth.

“Can I ask you a question, Asher?”

Asher frowns, unsure. “Yeah, dude.”

“Did—” Trevor starts, then sighs again, looking too old for his age. “Did Jakob ask you to hang out with me?” When Asher doesn’t answer, only staring at him with confused eyes, Trevor elaborates, “I saw you two talking at the warehouse. Did he tell you to sit with me tonight?”

Asher considers lying, but there’s no point. “Yeah.”

“God, I don’t know why he keeps doing that,” Trevor groans, putting his head in his hands in irritation.

“Worrying about you?” Asher asks, and Trevor lifts his head to stare at him with dark eyes.

“Treating me like a child,” he corrects, sighing as he sits back on the couch, head leaning against the top of the backrest. “I told him I was fine, but he wouldn’t believe me. I don’t know what he wants me to do to prove it to him.”

“Have you tried actually looking fine?” Asher says, and that earns him a harsh look from Trevor. Asher ignores him, continuing, “No offense, dude, but you look like shit. I don’t blame Jakob for worrying too much about you.”

Trevor looks away, back to the TV screen but Asher doubts he’s paying attention to what’s going on in the documentary. Asher tries to find something to say to break away the ensuing silence, but he doesn’t know what would set Trevor off and what wouldn’t.

In the end, Trevor sighs once more, rubbing a hand up and down his tired face before looking at Asher through his peripheral. “You don’t have to hang out with me tonight if you don’t want to. Despite what you might or might not have promised Jakob.”

One hour ago and Asher would have taken Trevor up on that. He would have stood up and left for his room so he could start tinkering with the hunting rifle currently Brett has bought for him.

As it is, he only shrugs, returning his attention to the documentary, and says, “It’s cool. Beats wallowing alone in my room.”

Trevor chuckles, a joyful sound that lifts up the mood in the room. “Yeah,” he says, contemplative.

He’s looking at his phone again, and it gives Asher a moment to think back at what he’s heard in the kitchen, before Trevor realized he was there.

“It really sucks when Aleks left, huh?” Asher asks before he can think better of it.

“Yeah,” Trevor says, voice quiet and small like how he sounded talking to Aleks’ cat in the kitchen.

“Weren’t you with him the night before he left? You two went out, right? Did he say anything about leaving?”

The question catches Trevor’s off guard, and he looks Asher in surprise. “You remember that?” Asher shrugs, taking a sip of his beer. “Wow, I didn’t think you were even paying attention when I told you about it.” Asher shrugs again, and Trevor looks down at his phone.

“And no,” Trevor says after a quiet moment, “he didn’t say anything. I didn’t know he was going to leave.”

Asher watches Trevor’s profile, with the TV screen as the only source of light illuminating his face, and Trevor looks so small. His face is carefully blank but his eyes betray the neutrality he’s trying to maintain. He looks like how he did in the car: tired, soulless and lacking of any real purpose other than just existing.

Asher never realized Trevor and Aleks were that close, that Aleks leaving affected him more than he ever did Asher or anyone else in the gang.

Celia joins them some moment later, meowing sleepily as she crawls into Trevor’s lap and claiming the space as her new bed. Trevor stares down at her, hollowed eyes watching the movement of his hand petting on her head.

One beat then another, Trevor opens his mouth then closes it again, unsure of how to voice his words.

In the end, he settles with: “I keep thinking about it, you know. About that night.”

“The night you and Aleks went out?”

“Yeah,” Trevor answers, voice tired, reaching for his beer without disturbing the sleeping cat in his lap. “I keep wondering… if it would’ve made any difference, if I had told him I loved him.”

Asher stares at him in disbelief, because oh. Oh, that was the kind of relationship between them. That was why Aleks leaving affected Trevor than it could ever did for the rest of the gang.

He’s never one for office gossip—or any kind of gossip, for that matter—because engaging in it means he has to share as well, and Asher prefers to keep his business as his and his alone. He stays quiet and pays attention to things, though it seems he’s not paying as much attention as he could be since he never realized Trevor and Aleks were even dating.

That being said, though, it makes sense when he thinks about it.

It makes sense the way Trevor and Aleks were always so close to each other, always in reach. It makes sense the way Trevor was barely home anymore, that Aleks was over more often than not. It makes sense their relationship never felt to Asher the way Trevor and Jakob’s did.

Asher looks at Trevor now and sees the bitter smile on the boy’s lips, his eyes are red around the rim, tired and burnt out, looking like he’s trying so hard not to cry.

“You think that would help?” Asher asks, just to have something to fill up the silence.

Trevor laughs—a small, broken sound that makes Asher’s inside churn. “Maybe, I don’t know,” Trevor says, sighing. “I was going to say it, you know. That I loved him. The words were already there at the back of my throat, and I— I just couldn’t say it out loud. I was afraid that it was still too soon, that it would scare him off. And now— fuck, now I can’t help but wonder if I had let him know how much he meant to me, would he have stayed? Would he have realized how much he was needed here and—”

Trevor cuts himself off with a sob—a broken sound that’s almost drown out by the gunshots coming from the TV.

Asher watches Trevor, watches the lights flashing across the features of his face as he tries so hard to bite back another sob, to will the tears not to fall so Asher doesn’t have to witness him break apart.

Asher watches him and thinks back to when Aleks was still here, when he’d come over and Trevor would greet him at the door every time, a smile on both of their faces that Asher didn’t think too much of at the time.

He thinks back to the warehouse when Aleks would stop by Trevor’s desk from time to time just to ask him how his day was. Trevor would do the same, and their smiles were bright and full of life.

He thinks back to lunchtime, on one particular day where it was just Asher, Aleks and Trevor left in the warehouse; everyone else opted to go out for lunch. Trevor was sleeping on one of the couches they’d had scattered around the warehouse. He was curled up into a ball, face unguarded and peaceful. Aleks had stood up from behind his workstation, looking around the warehouse for a blanket before walking towards Trevor’s sleeping figure.

Asher didn’t think Aleks realized that Asher was there, that his action was being witnessed by someone else, as he draped the blanket over Trevor’s body. There was a certain look on his face as he stared down at Trevor; his eyes were soft, and there was a smile catching at the corner of his lips.

Asher couldn’t quite describe it in that moment, but only because he didn’t have all the information. Now that he does, though, it’s clear to him that Trevor meant to Aleks just as much as Aleks meant to Trevor.

It’s almost ridiculous how Asher didn’t see it before, but now the curtain has been pulled back and everything was revealed, it’s hard not to see. Aleks and Trevor—they were in love, were very much in love but circumstances pulled them apart, and Asher wondered how hard it was for Aleks to decide one day to just leave it all behind.

It doesn’t matter now, as Trevor makes another broken sound at the back of his throat that cuts through the air like a knife. Asher is not good at this—at human interaction, and maybe he shouldn’t have gone in alone. Aleks should have been here, but he’s gone now, and it’s affecting Asher more than he could have expected.

In the moment, Asher wishes he knew how to comfort, how to chase away someone else’s sadness. It’s a nice, comforting thought, but Asher has learned a long time ago that wishes don’t tend to come true. So he sits still, turning the volume down on the TV as Trevor goes on after his sobs become more manageable.

Asher sits and listens to Trevor talk about all the possibilities, all the ‘maybes and what if’s. He talks until their beer are near empty, credits are rolling on the TV screen, and their bodies are screaming at them to get some sleep.

If today had been any other day, Asher would have just told Trevor to go to sleep, that he’d probably feel better tomorrow. It’s none of his business what Trevor and Aleks used to be, after all.

As it is, though, Asher finds himself wanting to ask questions—about how Trevor is feeling and does he need any help. He would’ve opened his mouth and asked, but he thinks of his mother, whose body was always covered in bruises—on her face, her neck, her arms and everywhere else that Asher’s eyes couldn’t reach—and the way she could barely look at him when he asked her too many questions.

He thinks of himself, at school, wearing a long-sleeved shirt to cover up his own set of bruises, keeping his mouth shut and his eyes focused somewhere over the student counselor’s shoulder as she asked him about his unfortunate home life.

Questions weren’t what his mother needed, weren’t what his younger self would have wanted, and right now, it’s the last thing Trevor would want to hear. His mother, his young self and Trevor too—they all need a friend, someone who’s been there and could understand.

Even though that’s not he and Trevor are, not right now at least, Asher has a feeling that they’re getting there.

In the end, he takes the last sip of his own bottle of beer, finger picking at the label as he says, “You know, Trevor. For what it’s worth… I think that Aleks might have loved you too.”

Trevor has gone quiet, handing petting absently at Celia still sleeping in his lap. He looks up at Asher, sniffling. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Asher says, rolling the empty beer bottle around in his hand. “I don’t know why he left. I don’t think any of us do, except for maybe James or Brett, but— I don’t think he did it because he didn’t love you.”

Trevor sniffles again, ducking his head down as he wipes at his cheek. “Thanks, dude,” he says, “that— that means a lot.”

“You’re welcome,” Asher replies, standing up and gathering the empty beer bottles from the coffee table. “It’s late. We should get some sleep so we can sit through Brett’s grilling session tomorrow.” That pulls a chuckle out of Trevor, though it doesn’t quite hold with the sniffle that comes right after. He reaches for the half empty bowl of popcorn, but Asher gets it before he can touch it. “It’s okay, I’ll clean up. Go get some sleep, dude.”

“You sure?” Trevor asks, and Asher nods. Trevor then stands, picking Celia from his lap and into his arms as he goes.

When Trevor makes to leave, Asher finds himself asking, “You sure you alright, Trevor?”

Trevor stops. His gaze is caught on the ground for a moment, then up to Asher. There’s that sad smile on his lips again, his face mostly obscured by the darkness of their house. “Yeah,” he says, voice isn’t broken anymore but the somber edge is still there. “I will be.”

Asher doesn’t comment and Trevor doesn’t elaborate. He’s gone in the next second, and Asher stands still until he hears the sound of Trevor’s door closing, effectively separating him from the rest of the world.

Asher takes the empty bottles along with the popcorn bowl into the kitchen. He puts the bottles into the trash can and the bowl on the kitchen counter. He takes a few pieces from the bowl and pops them into his mouth.

His job is done, he tells himself. He’s watched Trevor for tonight like Jakob had asked. He’d made sure the boy wasn’t alone. He’d kept him company and listened to him talk about how much he missed Aleks.

Asher wonders why that pit in stomach won’t go away.

Chapter Text

It’s getting late. Lindsey’s back hurts, and she’s too exhausted to keep this going. Brett, on the other hand, is a meticulous asshole who doesn’t know how—or when—to stop.

It’s been a while—a long while—ever since Brett dragged Lindsey into his tiny office and demanded that they take a look over the game plan again because something was definitely wrong with it. They did, and the plan was perfect.

It was perfect when they finalized it two days ago, and it was perfect when they looked through it again, and again, and again because Brett can get paranoid like that. Lindsey has looked at the game plan, at the whiteboards detailing everything within it, more times than she’d care to say out loud, but Brett still wants to do it one more time.

“It’s good, man,” Lindsey tells Brett, for the umpteenth time now, hoping just like the last time she’s said it that her friend will finally get it through her head this time. “We’ve been through this a thousand times already. It’s fucking perfect, Brett, so can you stop obsessing over it?”

“Nothing is ever perfect,” Brett says thoughtfully, still staring at the whiteboard outlining the entry details. Lindsey doesn’t even try to suppress the groan escaping her lips, head leaning back to rest on the wall behind the ratty couch Brett still hasn’t thrown out of his office.

For a moment, Brett doesn’t say anything, just turning to look at her through exhaustion-heavy eyes. He sighs, eventually, rubbing a hand down his face before taking a seat next to her. “It’s just— I just want to be one hundred percent sure, you know? We can’t afford any mistake with a job this big.”

“I know, man,” Lindsey says, turning her face to match Brett’s gaze on the whiteboard. She tilts her head and watches all the lines and writings in red and blue markers begin to blur into one another in front of her eyes. It’s almost exquisite to look at, almost hypnotizing, but that could just be her exhaustion rearing its ugly head. “The plan is perfect, though. I promise.”

“Yeah?”

“You never doubted yourself so much before,” Lindsey points out. “Old age finally caught up to you?”

Brett elbows her in the arm playfully, and Lindsey would retaliate but she’s just so tired right now to even muster the strength. The air in the room becomes an edge more somber when Brett sighs, putting his head in his hands as he leans forwards. “Fuck, I probably aged a hundred years in the last few weeks alone, dude.”

There’s more that Brett wants to add after that sentence, but he doesn’t say it out loud. Lindsey hears it anyway. She hears all the things that have been spoken so many times these last few weeks, repeated over and over again until it became a dreaded weight hanging over all of their heads, waiting for a moment to drop and crushing them all.

They would have probably talked about it more too, adding more to that weight, but they’ve all grown tired of it. It’s no use talking about and placing the blame on someone who’s not there to hear it and take responsibility. It’s tiring to keep talking in the past tense about how Aleks was this and Aleks did that, and all of them just want to move on from it.

Lindsey sure does, blinking once, twice, to bring herself back to the present. She finds Brett no longer sit with his head in his hands. Instead, they’re both leaning back on the couch, eyes staring aimlessly at the wall across from them.

Brett stands up suddenly, after a moment, startling Lindsey with the motion. He stretches a hand over his head to work out all the kinks in his spine from the lack of moving beyond going from this whiteboard to the one next to it in the last few hours. Lindsey accepts Brett’s hand when he offers it to her, allowing him to pull her up as well.

“C’mon, let’s call it a day, yeah? Let’s just go home and get some fucking rest,” Brett says. “We’ll can come back to it tomorrow.”

Lindsey groans again, leaning her head back once more to look up to the ceiling, praying to some unnamed god to just come down and smite Brett to death for her. Brett laughs then, lifting the mood up marginally with it, and Lindsey stares at him, unimpressed.

“Kidding, dude,” Brett says, patting her on the shoulder. “You really think it’s perfect.

“I do, man. We made sure of that.” Lindsey watches her friend for a moment, finding only exhaustion clinging to his figure, same as her. Brett’s reply comes as a nod, still too tight and unsure, but at least he’s starting to accept the fact for what it is.

Lindsey moves to Brett’s office door, the one leading back into the main area of the warehouse, and putting one hand on the handle. “See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Brett replies, smiling guiltily at her. “Tell Steve I’m sorry for keeping you so late.”

“Eh, he knows it’s part of the job,” Lindsey shrugs, opening the door. “Drive safe, old man.”

Brett makes a shooing motion and Lindsey smiles as she closes the door behind her.

It isn’t a surprise to find the rest of the warehouse in complete darkness. It’s way past working hours—for Fake Chop’s standards, at least—and the fluorescent lights have automatically set to turn off some time ago.

Lindsey can only see what little the lights pouring through the glass panels of Brett’s office door can illuminate, and it’s clear that everyone else has gone home already. There’s only work desks and equipment scattering around the warehouse. It makes her feel so lonely and claustrophobic all at the same time, because and despite the vast space in front of her.

She looks around, and her eyes traitorously linger on Aleks’ workstation. Drown in darkness, it looks even more dismal than usual. She can only see the vague outline of the things still remaining on the desk, but her memory jumps in to fill in those blank spaces quick enough, recalling them from when she last saw them earlier: a red fidget spinner sitting at one corner that they liked to tease Aleks for but knew it truly helped with his ADHD, and a copy of the old plan with sticky notes all over it, written in Aleks’ scrawny letters, about what to fix and what to fix.

They’d had plans to clear it out a week after Aleks’ untimely departure. It was one long week of them trying to ask around for any news involving Aleks, for any information that he might’ve left behind, any clues that might lead to him. Two whole week of nothing, is what Lindsey means.

James had been the first to speak about the matter, because Aleks’ desk is across from his and he needed more space to work on. That was his reason, but Lindsey can read between the lines.

More than once, she’s caught James leaning over his laptop to ask Aleks something, mouth half-open with a question already on his tongue, only to catch himself halfway when he realized Aleks wasn’t there anymore. That he would never be there anymore.

James would stare at Aleks’ desk then, stuck in the space between realization and acceptance. He’d stare at it for a long, long moment before shaking his head, silently berating himself for his action. Then he’d go back to work as if nothing had ever happened.

Lindsey has also caught Trevor doing the same thing. Staring at Aleks’ desk, that is, and more often, lately. He’d get this expression on his face, sad and beyond broken, made even worse by his big empty eyes and down-turned lips. He didn’t shake himself out of it like James would do. Instead, he’d stare and stare until he’d realize Lindsey was watching him. She’d give him an encouraging smile and Trevor would smile back, guiltily, before turning back to his own desk.

When Aleks left, he didn’t just leave them. No, he left behind an empty space; an Aleks-shaped dent in all of their lives for them to stare and be mad at, to wonder about why and how and wish that they didn’t have to in the first place. He left too much of himself behind here, and still, it isn’t enough.

They have wanted to clear it all away, from the warehouse at least. But things have been so busy, with them trying to find Aleks, trying to accept that he’s not coming back, and trying to fix the mess he left behind. None of them has really had the time to do it yet.

It’s fine, really. They’ve grown used to it by now; have learned to navigate around the desk, around the things that Aleks left behind and have no use to them anymore, just like they’ve learned to no longer talk about Aleks himself.

Lindsey sighs, shaking her head lightly to clear up her mind. It’s too late and she’s too exhausted to deal with thoughts about a friend that’s no longer there, about all the things he’s left behind and the people he couldn’t bother saying goodbye to. She needs to gather her things and go home, get some fucking rest like Brett had said.

She turns on the light switch next to Brett’s office door, catching a glimpse of him at his desk and on his computer as she does. Workaholic, she thinks, rolling her eyes and turning to walk to her own workstation. Brett will leave when he wants too. She knows he’s not crazy enough to stay at the warehouse overnight; definitely not by himself and not with that janky couch as his only resting place.

Lindsey focuses on gathering her things into her bag and tries not to look over to her right where Aleks’ desk is located at. She’s got enough of bad thoughts to last her for the week; she doesn’t need more now that the lights have been turned on and Aleks’ presence—or the lack of thereof—is too clear to ignore if she looks over.

Brett’s left for home by the time Lindsey is done; the lights in his office has turned dark, and it feels lonelier now than it did before when she first stepped foot out of his office. Lindsey purses her lips, throwing the one of the straps over her shoulder as she bids a silent goodbye to the vast space of the warehouse, and sets to go home.

Walking into the kitchen area, she’s surprised to find that she’s not the only one here after all. Someone is still sitting on one of the picnic benches, with his back to her and head bowed low and focused on something in his hand. His laptop is opened in front of him on the table, emitting soft lighting onto his hair.

It takes her more than she needs to—who can blame her, she’s tired, alright?—to recognize who it is. She feels her heart twist, like it tends to do whenever she looks at Trevor these days.

From this position, Lindsey can’t see his face, which is a blessing on its own because Lindsey isn’t sure she can handle it right at this moment. It’s too late and she’s too exhausted, but Trevor is still here, all alone, unaware he’s being watched. He would have been sitting in the dark too, if Lindsey hadn’t turned on the lights to find her way to her desk.

Lindsey watches Trevor through tired eyes, and she finds herself wonder if he’s going through the five stages of grief. It’s one of the things that still stick with her from her college days, before her dad decided to flush away her tuition fund in an unfortunate game of blackjack.

There had been denial; the first week after Aleks left, of Trevor kept coming to Brett, or James or Lindsey, to ask if they had any news of Aleks, if he had even called at all, if he had said anything else. There was Trevor who still couldn’t grasp the idea of someone who has loved so damn much, completely gone over a night.

After that, anger. Lindsey herself had been at the receiving end of that more than once, and Jakob and Asher too. James as well, when he first mentioned the plan to clear up Aleks’ desk. Trevor had been upset, frustrated because there were no answers for his questions. He was pissed that Aleks had left, pissed at them too for not doing—not able to do—anything to bring him back. Above all, he’d been mad at himself, for not realizing the signs, and for not being enough to keep Aleks from leaving in the first place.

Anger came and left after that little trip with Brett, and then came bargaining. Lindsey wonders if Trevor is at that stage right now, where he’s tearing himself up with all the what ifs and maybes. She wonders if he’s torturing himself with all the right and wrong decisions in this whole thing, in Aleks leaving the way that he did.

But no, Lindsey decides. She stands in place, away from Trevor’s field of vision—not that it he’s even paying attention, anyway; he’s to focused on the phone he’s holding in his hands—and watches the kid and the things surrounding him.

His laptop is on the table, opened with some programming software running with a half-written line of code. The text cursor is flashing stoically on screen, waiting for the writer to come back and finish what he started.

Besides the laptop is a sandwich, untouched and left forgotten like everything that Aleks left behind. Jakob must be the one to put it there, because he cares about his friend, and because Lindsey hasn’t seen Trevor buying himself food in a while now. He’s forgotten how to take care of himself, or maybe he just doesn’t have the energy to do so anymore.

Either way, Lindsey stands in place, and it doesn’t take her long to realize what this is. This is depression, the darkness before dawn breaks over.

She’s been through it herself, more times than she’d care to count. There were moments where she’d been so down that she barely wanted to be a part of this living world anymore. It’s rough and it’s horrible, and above all, it’s lonely as all hell even with all your friends surrounding you.

Keeping that in mind, Lindsey walks towards where Trevor is sitting. Her footsteps are quiet despite the silence of the night, and Trevor still isn’t paying attention to anything else but his phone. Lindsey takes a peek at it over his shoulder, when she’s close enough to do so. Trevor is writing a text—or rather, trying to write it. He writes out a few words, then erase them, then rewrite them, then erase them again. Rinse and repeat.

Lindsey decides to save him from his second-guessing with a tap on his shoulder, causing Trevor to startle, almost jumping out of his skin as he turns and faces her finally.

“Lindsey, hey! You’re— you’re still here. I thought you guys all went home already,” Trevor says, surprised. There’s a sort of tiredness on his face that isn’t quite like what Lindsey is feeling. It’s heavy, and it’s clinging to his features like tar, thick and unforgiving, making his movements slow and his words emotionless.

“I got held up with something in Brett’s office,” Lindsey replies with a noncommittal gesture of her hand. She bites her tongue on all the things she wants to ask and comment about how Trevor looks and how he’s feeling. It’s not the time yet, and nobody likes to be pointed out of how shitty they look. “How about you? Why’re you still here? Where’s Jakob and Asher?”

“Oh, they left a while ago. Not to go home, from what I could gather, and they invited me to come with but, you know, I have this code I need to finish by tomorrow.”

“So how are you getting home now?”

“By calling a Lyft, I guess,” Trevor says, then turns his head to look at the time in the small corner of his laptop screen, ticking a little over nine. He lets out a little groan, one hand coming up to scratch behind his head. “Shit, I didn’t realize it was that late already. Guess I should be going home now, huh?”

Trevor heaves a sigh as he closes the lid of his laptop, uncaring for whatever program was still opened inside. He places it in his bag which was left on the floor. He zips it up after the laptop is safely put inside before standing up, taking his phone with him.

Now, Lindsey can’t hold it back anymore, she nods her head to the sandwich that is still left abandoned on the table, asking, “You forgetting something?”

Trevor follows her eyes, looking perplexed himself to find the sandwich there. “Oh,” he says, expression fallen as realization dawns on him. He doesn’t say it out loud, but Lindsey could. Trevor must have realized that he had forgotten to eat, that he hadn’t wanted to, that it had been like that for a few days now—even a whole week—because everything had been so tasteless these days, so bland and dreadful.

“Jakob must have left it there even though I already told him I wasn’t hungry,” Trevor continues, hitching his bag a little higher on his shoulder, eyes caught on the ground. “I guess I’ll take it home with me.”

Lindsey wants to reach out to him, pulling him in a hug so tight that both of them can barely breath, and tell him that it’s okay, that it will be soon even if it doesn’t feel like that right now. A lie and a semi truth, but it would soothe some of Trevor’s nerves.

Before she can, though, Trevor is already moving, focusing himself on doing what he’d said while Lindsey can only stand still and watch. Once he’s done, Lindsey decides to just go for it.

“Let me give you a ride.”

Trevor stares at her, incredulous. “I— you don’t have to do that, Lindsey. It’s late and our houses are at the opposite ends of town. You must be so tired, too, from holding up in Brett’s office all evening. I can just call a Lyft. It’s fine, really.”

“I can make a detour.”

“I—”

“C’mon, Trevor. Like you said, it’s late. It’s dangerous to go alone at this hour. Haven’t you read about all those Lyft guys who rob people blind and leave them on the curb for death? I don’t want that to be you.”

At that, Trevor chuckles, sounding a little more genuine than his smile had looked moments ago. “Thanks for the concern, Lindsey, but I can take care of myself.”

“Well, do it for me, then,” Lindsey proclaims, smiling as bright as she can in the face of Trevor’s impassive expression. “It’ll be nice to have some company on my way home. Even if it’s only for half of the way.”

Trevor chuckles again, putting his hands in his pockets. “One third of the way.”

“Huh?”

“It’ll only be one third of the way. You’ll still have to turn around and get through the rest of the way home.”

“Yeah, well, it’s still better than alone all the way, isn’t it?” Lindsey quips, and trying not to cheer at the small smile tugging at the corner of Trevor’s lips, looking as sincere as Lindsey can hope for.

“I guess,” Trevor shrugs, then looks at her before sighing, admitting his defeat against her persistence. “Okay, I’ll go with you. But only if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t,” Lindsey says quickly, still smiling.

It really is late in the night; Lindsey realizes it once again as the night breeze catches on her cheek the moment they open the front door. The moon is crescent tonight, and barely visible as Lindsey takes a look up at it. This part of town is less active than the rest, which was why they chose to base here in the first place, and right now, Lindsey takes a moment to admire the quiet, the wistful yet serene feeling of the empty parking lot, lacking of any presence except for hers and Trevor’s.

They don’t talk much at the start of the car ride, with Lindsey pulling out onto the street, and they sit silently as they watch the door close and listen to the lock engage itself. Then she starts up the car once again, starting the ride to take them back home.

Lindsey has too many things that she wants to say, to ask, but she doesn’t know how to voice it, how to say the words without setting Trevor off. She opens her mouth and closes it; does it a few times before sighing, deciding to start small. Trevor, on his part, doesn’t seem to notice. Instead, he’s looking out the passenger window, eyes lost in between the glass and the view outside.

“So, how’ve you been?” Lindsey asks, glancing over to see Trevor startled out of his daze, sitting up straighter and looking at her. “I feel like we’ve barely talked these days. Things have been so fucking hectic, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Trevor agrees, shifting his eyes to his lap, where his fingers are picking at a loose thread at the hem of his jacket. “And I’ve been good. You?”

It’s the most generic answer to her question, but it’s what she was given, and she can’t complain as long as Trevor keeps talking to her. “Been good, too. A bit tired right now. It has been a long day.”

“Yeah,” Trevor says again, in the same passive tone as before. Just as Lindsey thinks that that is the end of their conversation, Trevor says, “What were you doing in Brett’s office anyway? You guys were in there for quite a bit.”

Lindsey snorts, cursing Brett’s name while wondering if her friend got home already. “He wanted to look over the game plan again. Then again, and again. We must have looked through it a thousand times by the time he let me leave. I’m pretty sure I can recall all the smudges on the whiteboard at this point.”

Trevor laughs. It’s small and lasts only for one short second, but it’s there. Lindsey can’t help but break a small smile on her face as well.

The conversation trails off after that, just mindless questions about the plan, about the little store in the street corner that they used to get their lunch at, and about anything besides the things that Lindsey wants to talk about.

It’s fine, she decides. It’s better this way, with Trevor engaging in the conversation, though passively at times, awkwardly at others. Lindsey wants to help him, yeah, but she can only nudge, not push him into the right direction. It’ll be too much for him, and forcing things never works, in Lindsey’s experience.

The last stage of grief, the light after dark, is acceptance, and it will come to Trevor on its own. Trevor has to realize it for himself, for it to work. He needs to know it, once and for all, for himself too above everything else, that Aleks is gone, that he is never going to come back, and that Trevor is allowed to be hurt because of it. He’s allowed to grief and mourn for a love that’s lost, and from there, he can grow from it, move on and live his life for himself once again.

So, nudge, Lindsey will.

“You know,” she says, when the conversation has died off and Trevor is caught on the view outside the window again. She keeps her tone light and her eyes settled on the road in front of her, illuminated by the headlights of her car and the passing streetlights on both sides of the road. “Whatever you’re going through, now or any other time, you don’t have to suffer through it alone.”

Trevor doesn’t respond. Not right away, anyway. Lindsey doesn’t have to look over to know that Trevor is looking at her now, with his big and empty eyes, dark circles making home underneath them, blending in with what’s left of the bruises on his face that he’s obtained from that trip with Brett.

He’s trying to search for the meanings hidden behind her words, and she knows that he will find it, maybe has known it already, but sometimes, you get too caught up in your own head and you forget that you’re not actually alone. Her words only serve as a reminder, something to wake Trevor up from his hibernation, to take the first step out of the dark cage he’s been lost in.

“Okay,” he says, a moment later, and Lindsey hums thoughtfully, not expecting anything more.

They return to the previous silence before Lindsey spoke up, and Lindsey doesn’t mind it. She turns on the radio to fill the empty air where her presence can’t reach. The song that comes on is slow and gentle, carefully leading their mood to a more peaceful feeling of resignation to their own fate.

When Lindsey turns left at the red light, knowing full well that that’s the wrong way to Trevor’s house, Trevor jolts awake, staring at the passing street sign in confusion.

“Uh, Lindsey? Did you forget the way to my house already?” he asks, tentative. “It’s the other way. I guess you can take the turn up ahead and go back—”

“I’m not taking you back to your house,” Lindsey cuts in, keeping her tone neutral, casual, eyes still glued to the road in front of her. “I have a feeling that that’s not where you want to go for tonight.”

Finally, she shifts her eyes away from the road, glancing over to Trevor and watching the way confusion takes up his expression for one moment and then two, before realization breaks over and he says, “Oh.

He glances at the street in front of them, at the houses besides them, at the view that’s becoming more and more familiar now.

Trevor is quiet again, and the street keeps passing by, the houses keep on disappearing out of their views before the next one comes in and takes its place.

It brings to Lindsey this strange nostalgia, making her reminisce on almost forgotten memories of her childhood, of daydreams and innocent wishes she used to carry with her once upon a time.

She had wished for a better world, for a fantasy land where everything was great and happy and perfect. She doesn’t do that anymore, obviously, because she’s lived and she’s learned, and it’s best not to get caught up in fantasies that could never be real.

“How long have you known?” Trevor asks, when Lindsey takes the last turn to Aleks’ house. Trevor is staring down at his lap, finger still pulling at the loose string at the hem of his jacket. There’s a shameful look on his face, when Lindsey watches him through her peripheral.

“That you’ve been staying at Aleks’ house? Just recently,” she says when Trevor nods. “Your roommate came a few days ago maybe, and told me about it.”

Trevor sighs, rubbing a hand down his face in frustration. “Dammit, I need to talk to Jakob about keeping—”

“It was Asher, actually,” Lindsey corrects him, looking over to see the stunted look on Trevor’s face. She would have laughed at how ridiculous he looks, but the mood is too somber for that right now, so she just settles for a teasing smile.

“Oh…”

“He’s worried about you,” Lindsey says, giving Trevor a significant look. “We all are.”

“I—” Trevor starts, but the words seem to be caught inside his throat. His eyes are shiny now, fresh tears swelling up at the corners that he tries to hide away by turning to the window again. Lindsey knows he’s trying to be strong, and thus, she will pretend not to notice. “I didn’t mean to make anyone worry. I’m sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about, kid,” Lindsey assures him, giving him the most encouraging smile she can muster when he turns to her. It’s the best she can give right now, and it seems to be enough for Trevor because he smiles in return, though it’s more hesitant than Lindsey would like.

It’s there, though, so that’s a start.

“He puts it up for sale, you know,” Trevor says, when Aleks’ house finally comes into view, just a short way left to go. “Two days after he left. I came over to find the For Sale sign on the yard.”

Lindsey stays quiet. She found out herself closer to a week after Aleks left, when a realtor friend of her came to her and asked if she was looking for news on one of Aleks’ alias. It wasn’t the news Lindsey was expecting but a part in her didn’t feel surprised as it should. Aleks was gone, and it was insensible to keep a house that he wasn’t going to come back to.

“Someone already bought it,” Trevor continues, a beat later, eyes caught on the house in question slowly coming closer and closer into sight. “I couldn’t figure out who, but they haven’t come to claim it yet, haven’t even changed the lock, and the For Sale sign is gone.”

“It’s me. I bought the house,” Lindsey says, then tries not to be crushed under the weight of Trevor’s eyes, strained on her like a gun to her head. They’ve arrived now, at Aleks’ house, as Lindsey puts the car into park but doesn’t turn off the engine.

She came to Brett first, after she’d found out about the sale. Brett didn’t say much, only shrugged once and asked her with a bored tone as to what did she want him to do with the information. That frustrated her more than anything, but she knew she couldn’t ask more of him, not after what he’d gone through to keep them afloat in that first week.

She came to James next, and James, being James, didn’t want to talk about it, and she didn’t have to heart to force him. She’d wanted to bring it to Trevor, but Trevor was angry and she couldn’t find the patience to talk to him. So in the end, she bought it. It took a chunk out of her saving but…

“It didn’t feel right letting it fall into the hands of some stranger,” Lindsey explains, staring past Trevor and into the house right behind him. It stands there solemnly, with its window eyes looking out the street, waiting for its owner’s return. “I don’t know what to do with it, though, after I bought it. So I just kinda let it sit there.”

Lindsey has done a swept of the house, to look for anything Aleks might have left behind, either accidentally or on purpose, but Aleks was thorough, she’ll give him that. There’s no trace left of him there; no pictures, no forgotten sock at the back of the washing machine. When she was done going through the interior, and if she hadn’t known any better, she wouldn’t have guessed that the house was lived in at all in the recent years.

It was so empty, save for the few furniture that Aleks couldn’t take or decided not to take with him. The pantries were empty as well, and the fridge and the small closet at the end of the hall on the second floor. It was all empty because Aleks didn’t want to leave anything behind; because Aleks was gone, for real this time, and he isn’t coming back.

“Hey,” Lindsey calls gently, after a moment passed and neither of them said anything. Trevor is looking at his lap again, eyes blinking slowly to match the pace of this entire night. “You okay?”

Trevor gives her a look through the corner of his eyes. “Yeah,” he says, shaking his head a little as he takes one hand up to rub at his eyes. “Just tired, I guess.”

They sit there for a bit longer, unmoving and unsaying of anything because neither know what to do or say to fill up the empty space around them now. The radio is still playing the soft, gentle music, but the peaceful feeling has disappeared and been replaced by something more somber, more solemn and dire.

“Thanks for the ride, Lindsey. I appreciate it,” Trevor says in the end, giving her a smile that still doesn’t reach his eyes. Lindsey nods, saying nothing else as Trevor reaches out to the back seat for his bag.

Just as he makes to leave, though, Lindsey finds herself unable to hold on to her words anymore. “Trevor?” The boy turns his head to face her, exhaustion clear in his features. “I meant it, what I said before. You don’t have to go through this alone. No matter how lonely it feels. We care about you, and we want to help. So let us, yeah?”

Something passes by Trevor’s eyes, too quick for Lindsey to decipher, and he nods, hitching his bag on his shoulder before opening the car door. “Thanks, Lindsey. I’ll keep that in mind. Night.”

“Night,” Lindsey replies, then uselessly sits and watches as Trevor climbs out of the car and walks towards the darkness of Aleks’ house.

She wants to reach out and pulls him into a hug, and keeps him in her arms until all of his pain dissipates, but knows it’s an impossible thing. Trevor’s not a child that needs to be coddled, or a fragile little flower that needs extensive care for. He’s all grown up, and there’s only so much that Lindsey can give and Trevor can receive.

She’s done what she could, and now, she thinks Trevor needs to be alone more than ever. To let all that emotions and feelings and hurt overflow out of their cages that can no longer hold them. She only needs him to know that she will be right there if he needs her, just one phone call away.

Shifting the car back to drive, Lindsey starts the drive back to her own house, the view of Aleks’ house getting smaller and smaller in her rear view mirror. Steve is already asleep by the time she gets home, which is nothing unusual. She always comes home late these days, and it’s unrealistic to make her boyfriend wait up for her every night.

There’s leftover in the fridge, with a note to remind to shower first, before eating, and a little goodnight at the end. Signed Steve, with a little heart next to the name.

She smiles, feeling the weight on her heart lift up lightly, and does as told.

Her phone rings, while she’s sitting at the kitchen counter and eating the meal Steve has saved for her. Trevor’s name flashes across the screen, and Lindsey has to force herself from picking up too quickly.

When she does, though, the first thing that comes through the line is a contained sob that breaks through her soul like a hammer. She stays quiet, waiting for Trevor to speak first.

He starts with an apologize, for calling so late, for ruining her night with his problems, but she assures him it’s alright, that he has nothing to be sorry for, that she wants to help.

What comes next is a long phone call about all the things Trevor has wanted to say, ever since the beginning of this, of Aleks leaving, of the lack of communication from him since. Trevor pours his heart out in waves, a whole ocean of feelings that he’s been keeping for himself all these weeks.

He tells Lindsey about all the things he misses about Aleks, even though he shouldn’t. He talks about the things that Aleks have left behind, in the warehouse and in Trevor’s room—all the pieces of him that Trevor isn’t sure he can rid get off for good.

Lindsey sits in her kitchen and listens until Trevor’s voice begins to fade, exhaustion finally takes over, mixing in with the weeks-old pain he’s been carrying. She sits until the sobs reduce to soft little breathing sound; until the other line becomes completely silent, save for Trevor’s gentle breaths as slumber has taken over him.

She hangs up the phone then, taking a moment to look at the time before turning it off and putting it besides her half-eaten dish on the counter. It’s a little over three in the morning; too early for work, but too late for her to get a good night sleep.

Despite that, Lindsey sighs, pushing up from the kitchen stool and gathering up the dirty dishes and putting them in the sink. She’ll wash them tomorrow, when she’s rested and feeling less like her heart weighs more than her ribcage can hold.

She turns off the lights in the kitchen before going straight for her bedroom. She’s going to bypass brushing her teeth tonight—there’s no point if she’s just going to wake up in a few hours, anyway—and climbs into bed next to her boyfriend, mindful not to disturb his sleep.

Lying in bed, Lindsey finds herself unable to sleep, despite the exhaustion clinging to her like a second skin. She can’t help but think of those innocent wishes, back when she was still too young to learn of how things work in the real world.

She thinks that maybe, in a perfect world—a fantasy land somewhere beyond the human’s grasp—Aleks would still be here. He and Trevor would still be together, in love and happy. James would have his best friend back, and Brett wouldn’t have to obsess so much about the new plan not working. Asher and Jakob wouldn’t have to worry about their friend being alone, not able to move on, and Lindsey wouldn’t have to stay awake at 3AM in the morning, pondering about a world that doesn’t exist.

That perfect world doesn’t exist, but this one does. This world that they have to live in, it’s dangerous and hateful, and the one where Aleks chose to leave them all behind without any explanation.

In this world, Aleks is gone, and they’re left behind to deal with the aftermath.

This isn’t a perfect world, and for the first time since forever, Lindsey finds herself wishing that it would be.