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When Bad People Kiss

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“Bitter love, a violet with it's crown of thorns in a thicket of spiky passions, spear of sorrow, corolla of rage: how did you come to conquer my soul? What brought you?”

pablo neruda, 1959

i.

1988

Trevor is going to kill Jeremy Dyer. He’s a man who’s always made enemies, and Trevor is going to take great delight being the one to put the bullet between his eyes.

Murder will be another big step down the ladder of virtuousness, of course, and wasting his first kill on a low-life like Jeremy might be misguided - but Trevor is pissed. If a man tells him he’s going to get him rich, quick, and that their client is reliable, well. Trevor expects some fucking honesty about the whole thing.

The drug deal was supposed to be easy. Trevor’s knuckles turn white against his steering wheel. Easy and fast, foolproof. He was supposed to have more weed than even he could smoke tucked into his zip-up jacket and the man was supposed to meet him down the back alley of some smoke shop or other, pass him a subtle wad of cash, and walk off with the grass. Trevor’s first drug deal of any substantial sum would have been over, there and then, and he’d walk away with half of the takings, Jeremy wiping his fat ass with the other half.

Instead, the client was rude and obnoxious and already high. He’d pushed into Trevor the moment he’d realised who he was, and had proceeded to try and haggle the already agreed price. Trevor was under strict instructions from Jeremy not to budge from $400, but the guy had offered a measly $250 and then had gotten pissed when Trevor’s eyes flashed in refusal.

So, if Trevor had to put the guy on the floor with a punch to the gut, so be it. Some might say robbing him of all the cash he’d had on him was excessive, but Trevor had been kind enough to split half the unofficially-paid-for weed and tuck the man’s share underneath his unconscious chest.

If it was squashed and less smokeable, well, that had nothing to do with Trevor.

The lies of Jeremy, though -- they had something to do with him. He’d said the guy was trustworthy and would be no trouble. He’d promised it, in between promising Trevor that he wouldn’t get caught by the cops and would have a bright future in drug dealing ahead of him. Easy money, easy first job, easy time for a just-turned-twenty year old with an eye on the underworld of the city.

Jeremy, it turns out, has become the latest in a long line of liars in Trevor’s life. Trevor puts his foot on the gas and almost spins the car out completely with the force of it. Jeremy’s swift demise is worth the wearing of his tyres, though. He’s not entirely sure what he’s going to do when faced with the man and his stupid fucking goatee, but he’s damn sure it ain’t going to be pretty.

One hand leaves the steering wheel and pats the gun tucked into it’s belt. It’s served him well to scare people off, so far. The neighbourhood kids like to circle his trailer and ask where’s your momma tonight or I thought you were joining the army or even where’s your daddy gone, Philips? The cops have warned him more than once about his use of warning shots. Trevor spits out the window of his car.

The well-worn tyres screech to a halt at the end of the snow shovelled lane and Trevor plants his boots hard into the softness. “Dyer!” he yells at the unassuming bungalow, the last in a row. All of the curtains are closed and it’s only 3pm. “Dyer, get on out here! You might want witnesses with what I want to do to you.”

A net curtain twitches three doors down and Trevor gives the neighbour - probably some old, stinking woman - his best grin. Jeremy’s house stays silent, unconcerned. Trevor slams the door of his car behind him.

The bungalow’s front door splinters when his boot collides with it; Trevor struggles with his leg stuck before shoving forward and toppling the door completely. He topples with it, huge splinters of the wrecked door trying to stab through his jacket. The palm of his left hand is all raw, pink, curled skin. He dutifully ignores it and scrambles to his feet. Rage is hotter and more palatable than any pain. He can almost breathe it.

The bungalow is unlit and unmoving. Jeremy is probably hiding in a closet like the dickhead he really is, too scared to show his ugly face. Trevor might not be a killer, but he’s good at scaring people. Damn good at it. A leader in the industry, really.

Trevor takes a boot to every door he finds. It’s a small house and the noise will travel to every corner of it. The bathroom -- clear. The living room -- clear. The utility room, stacked conspicuously full of drugs -- clear. Trevor pockets some for himself and turns to the last surviving door; surely, the bedroom. Maybe Jeremy is sleeping off some high or other, maybe there’s a girl in there with him sucking his dick. Maybe there’s a guy.

Slowly, he takes out the gun from his belt. It’s a small thing, but it’s heavy and sure to pack a punch. It’s only a pistol his mom kept in her underwear drawer. He took it on the night he took off and went across the border, leaving that subdued American trailer park for grime and crime in Canada.

“You in there, you little weasel?” Trevor murmurs. If Jeremy is at the other side of the door and trying to keep silent, maybe with a clammy hand pressed over his nose and mouth, he’s sure to have heard him.

There’s no answer. Trevor grins, the devil polishing every tooth.

He grits his teeth and shoulders the door with all of his weight. The hinges snap clean off the plaster wall. He shoves it again and it gives in; shoulder sore, breathing heavily, forehead sweat sheened and gun raised -- that’s how Trevor storms into the bedroom of Jeremy Dyer, ready to exact sweet revenge on the man who lead him into what could have been a deadly drug deal.

It takes his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness, but once he does, he lowers his gun. There’s no use shooting a dead man, after all.

*

That night, Trevor finds a pretty couple in the back of the club he’s been frequenting in past couple of weeks and takes them both home. At first, the guy is reluctant to get his dick out when there’s another guy in the room, but once Trevor is fucking his mouth he seems pretty into it. His girlfriend, fianceé, wife, escort, whatever, kisses Trevor as his hands lose themselves in the other man’s hair, one of her hands between her legs.

Somewhere in the room, there’s some meth left. It’s almost all Trevor can think about.

Seeing Jeremy lying dead on his bed with a needle in his arm, puke and blood all over his shiny shitty shirt, should have put him off drugs altogether. It had seemed that way when he’d drove as fast as he could in the opposite direction without calling the cops, but once he’d pulled up at home he was craving a hit of some kind. Besides, Jeremy was into heroin, the real, dirty kind, and Trevor wasn’t going to touch that. Meth had fared him far better so far.

“Less teeth, more sucking,” he says, sharply.

The girl by his side laughs, touching her partner’s flushed cheek. “Listen to you,” she says, to Trevor, “how old are you? Seventeen? Eighteen, maybe?”

“Twenty,” Trevor grunts.

“You’re a bit young to be giving orders in the bedroom, sweetie,” she laughs, and he’s going to argue but she kisses him again before he can. Her mouth is hot and warm and inviting, and while she’s got him pinned there her partner moves away, Trevor’s dick left slick but untouched.

The woman straddles him and he slides in her without much thought; her movements are slow and deliberate, each roll of the hip measured perfectly to make him feel good. He doesn’t feel that good, though. He wants a hit. He wants an outlet, a real outlet, for all of his frustration. Dealing weed and punching a couple of guys doesn’t feel like much revenge on the society that cast him out of the seat of his military plane with such abandon.

He lifts his hips from the bed. The woman lets out a hum of approval, ginger hair hanging in her eyes.

What he really wants is a way out of such a menial life. Not death, not to end up like Jeremy with a needle in his arm and nobody much to mourn him. No, he wants blazing guns and screaming and someone to fucking understand how the corporate assholes have shaped his life so that he ends up here, high and fucking some random people in a trashy motel. Trevor knows he won’t go quietly, if that’s the life he has to have. He just needs a way to burst up and out of it, and there’s not much in way of propellants to a better life, not around here.

Of course, flying planes for a living was setting him all up for that, but that’s over now. He swallows the bitterness as the woman gets impatient with his lack of enthusiasm and ushers her partner over and murmurs something in his ear.

“You not having fun? Don’t you want me to ride you while Henry here squeezes your balls? Or maybe you wanna be on top of him, huh? We just want to make you feel good, baby.”

He’s pretty sure when she says that that she actually wants to rob him. There’s no reason for this pair of strangers to be so concerned with his pleasure and not their own.

“No,” he says, and she peers down at him questioningly, lips big and pouty.

“No?”

“No.” He pushes her off to the side somewhere, where she kneels, glowering. Her partner gets to his feet with a wariness borne from experience with robbing people blind. Maybe they wanted drugs out of this, or cash, but they’re not getting anything.

Trevor reaches for his baseball bat - not to kill, or wound, really, but to scare - when the phone starts to ring across the motel. Only a few people have his number here and for a moment he hesitates, but he answers it anyway.

Philips? I have a job for you” come through the phone, he finds himself smiling. The couple clears off pretty quickly after seeing that.

-------

The adrenaline makes Trevor practically shake as he waits for the delivery. The coke might have something to do with it too, but he’d like to think his tolerance is better than that.

He’d put out a few feelers after his unfair dismissal from the military, tried a few contacts. A couple had promised to give him a call if there was any work going. Until the call interrupting his not-so-brilliant threesome, there wasn’t any.

Now, though. Now. He’s on the verge of something great, he can feel it. Over the hill a truck is supposed to arrive, he’s to take their cargo, and deliver it over a black spot on the border and neatly into the lap of his well-paying employer - some low ranking thug called Eric who says he has all the contacts someone with flight training could possibly need. Hell, he even provided Trevor with the plane for the job. Probably expects it back before he pays out, but Trevor’s not so sure he’s going to let it work out that way.

Eric sounded like he knows what he’s doing. That’s something, at least.

The Canadian/American border is a few miles away, half-heartedly patrolled from both sides. The delivery guy - Eric had named him a simple ‘M’ over the phone - was already ten minutes late. Hardly stank of professionalism.

Trevor, though, is in a forgiving mood. He pulls himself up onto the rusty wing of the plane and swings his feet, whistling low through his teeth. The sun is setting and there’s nothing but fields around him, dying in the oncoming winter, but it’s cool rather than cold and he’s content to sit out with just a t-shirt.

He feels okay. Good, in fact. There’s a light breeze, an untouched joint in his pocket, and the promise of at least a thousand dollars when he lands his plane full of what Eric referred to as ‘sensitive goods’. Feeling for the joint, he considers it, but decides to save it for the victory - he’ll savour every puff, rich for the first time in his life.

Just as he starts to get a little pissed off at playing a fool’s waiting game, he spots a truck coming over the hill. It’s fast and aimed towards him and gaining speed. He throws himself off the wing, scratching at a scab on his arm. There’s the reassuring heaviness of his pistol at his waist. In his bag is his knife, a baton and a flare gun. He’s nothing if not prepared for trouble. Whoever this guy is, he better have a damn good excuse for his tardiness, or Trevor is going to --

Another truck rolls over the hill. It looks a little crazed, even from this distance, the driver clearly not fully in control of himself. Trevor frowns and takes a small step forward. The second truck honks its horn, but neither of them stop.

Eric had promised one truck. One.

Oh, Trevor is pissed all over again. Nobody is loyal in all of this, nobody seems able to tell the fucking truth. He rummages through his bag, weighing up his options. Just sell weed to this guy, he’ll be cool, no complications! Just have a threesome with us, we’ll make you feel good! Just fly these, ah, sensitive goods over to me, I’ll have a guy come just across the border with it!

His fingers curl around the flare gun, the other hovering near his pistol, just as the first truck skids to a halt just ahead of him and sprays him with mud. A guy gets out and raises his hands when he sees the weapons, face resigned rather than scared.

“Fuck, man, don’t point them at me! This asshole has been on my tail since I crossed the border. He’s either a cop or some idiot who thinks he can rob me, I can’t tell.”

The man’s American. Typical. He’s young, too, barely any older than Trevor himself, with a smart look in his eye and a sharp - but cheap - suit. Trevor suddenly feels very young and naive about this whole business, but he’s not about to let it show that this is his first real job.

“You ‘M’, then?”

“Michael,” the man corrects, and Trevor trusts him.

The second truck pulls onto the runway and the man gets out. Trevor steps in front of Michael, but the driver ignores him, eyes on the American. “You’re the fucker Eric got for this job, right? This was supposed to be mine! Mine! I’ve worked with that dick for years and in comes the new big shot with his big talk and tiny dick and Eric’s swooning all over you and I’m put on job worth $500!”

Michael raises a single eyebrow in the face of the man’s rage and Trevor laughs before he can stop himself. Michael glances at him and clears his throat. “Hey, look, I got nothing to do with who gets chosen for what job. You have a problem with the big man, you gotta talk to him.”

“With you whispering sweet nothings in his other ear? You’re a fucking ass kisser, there’s no way he can trust you -- look at the two of you, couple’a little boys playing a man’s game. You think he’s trusting you with this? You just wait until he screws you --”

Exactly what either of them are supposed to wait for, they don’t get to find out. Trevor’s sick of the man’s bloated belly and bloated face and bloated words, and he steps forward with the flare gun raised. There’s a look of almost comedic horror on the man’s face until the trigger is pulled and the burning flare goes right in his eye socket.

Michael’s hand is on Trevor’s arm in an instant, pulling him back. They watch in morbid fascination as the eyeball burns right away, turning sticky, separating, and the man flails wildly before falling hard onto his back, knocking his head into the dust. The flare worms it’s way into his brain and once the man’s screaming dies down, there’s just a fizzing sound and too much smoke rising, more than Trevor could have ever imagined.

He laughs, and then chokes.

“Jesus,” Michael whispers, staring between the dead man and Trevor like he’s never seen anything so sick or so fascinating in his entire short life. To be fair, he probably hasn’t.

“You have a problem with what just happened?”

“I -- fuck, no, of course not, the guy deserved it.” The smell of burning flesh hits them both and they take a synchronized step back. “I just wasn’t expecting all this from a small job, you know? It was supposed to be simple.”

“Most things aren’t,” Trevor says, as though he has all the experience in the world with jobs like this. He doesn’t mention it’s his first. He sniffs, and then regrets it.

“Not sure Eric is going to like this,” Michael says, running a hand over his face like he’s forty years old or something. He’s got to be twenty one at the most.

“Fuck him if he doesn’t,” Trevor says, and then thinks about it. “We just need need to get both our stories straight, that’s all. This guy was going nuts, right? He was going to kill us both?”

Michael lowers his hand. He looks guarded, now. “I don’t know if he was going to --”

Trevor gives him a look. “He was going to kill us, right? We did what we did in self defence, right?”

“Ah. Ah, yeah, yeah, sure. Of course. This guy rolls up and starts screaming, starts waving his gun around like he’s got something to prove, starts aiming it in my face and saying he’s gonna take what’s in the truck for himself - so you stepped forward with the only weapon on you and got creative, to stop the whole job from being screwed up. That’s what happened.”

Trevor likes this guy. He really likes him. Most people would be shrinking back in horror at the still-fizzling brains in front of them. Most people would favour honesty over strategy and common sense right now. Most people would run. Trevor is an honest guy, sure, and a loyal one -- but he’s not an idiot. He knows who to lie to and when. He has his head on straight, and it seems Michael does, too.

“Good,” he says. “I’m Trevor.”

Michael takes his hand, firmly, and shakes it. Trevor doesn’t tell him how he’s never actually killed anyone before now and he’s trying to keep himself from freaking out. He doesn’t tell him about how it was actually kind of a rush to aim the flare gun at the old creep trying to recover his glory days. He certainly doesn’t tell him that he’s only ever flown a plane in a supervised setting before, and he’s actually nervous about how this might go.

“You need a ride? We gotta dispose of the body and you might wanna lose this truck. We can just leave them both here. I can drop you off at Eric’s and he can get you some sort of transport.”

Michael eyes the plane. “You any good at piloting this thing, Trevor?”

“I’m the best,” Trevor says, and when Michael starts whooping in the seat next to him as he shows off a little in the air, he feels it, too.

*

Michael Townley is twenty one, it turns out, and already has an impressive crime career.

Eric had thanks them both and shakes his head in wonderment at his old employee who went nuts at them, and then offers Michael transport home across the border. Michael shrugs, though, and pats Trevor on the back. “I wanna buy a beer for this guy, pay him back for saving my life.”

It’s Eric’s turn to shrug. He pays them both one thousand dollars in cash and shuts his office door on them, probably eager to start shifting whatever illegal goods they’ve just delivered for him.

So Trevor does what any good host would and takes Michael out, and the moment he mentions the dingy old club at the back of the town that has a half-naked female dancer in the corner, Michael is sold. Trevor’s car as at his motel in the corner of town so they take a cab instead.

Michael is true to his word and buys them both beer, thick and foamy and dark in colour. “Here you go, buddy,” Michael smiles like a shark. Something creeps up Trevor’s spine at the sight of it, something he can’t quite place; he’s definitely impressed, but he’s also kind of overwhelmed, too. Michael is only a little older than him and he’s done so much already.

Trevor sips at his beer, glances over at the dancer in the corner. She looks bored out of her mind, but the men closest to her seem to be loving the show. “Best a little town in Canada can provide, I’m afraid. We ain’t got neon strips unless you head into some of the bigger cities. Out here this is as good as it gets.”

“I don’t mind,” Michael murmurs, watching the woman as she pulls up her skirt, teasingly. Trevor clears his throat and the attention is returned to him at once. “So, Trevor, you ever done any time?”

“Not yet,” Trevor says, and Michael laughs.

“Yeah, it’ll come, I’m sure. It always does. I just got out from a stint for robbing some asshole with too big a mouth. Only got out last month, and here I am again, watching strangers shoot other strangers and then buying the winner a drink.”

“You didn’t have to buy me anything,” Trevor points out, feeling the prickle of offense. “You could’ve told Eric the truth.”

“And get shot as well? Fuck that.”

“Hey, don’t get all moral with me now the body’s in the lake and you got your pockets full of cash.” Trevor’s voice has started to rise and he’s half out of his chair, before Michael looks at him with big, guileless eyes, and shakes his head.

“Hey, hey, no, man, it’s not like that. I’m pleased you popped him. Pleased as fucking punch. Asshole had tried to run me off the road for miles. I reckon you did the world a great service. I was just remarking on the strangeness of it all, that’s it.”

Trevor sits back down, swallowing the last of his rage. He takes a long, long sip of beer and then smacks his lips, noisily. The beer works it’s magic and his mind turns more slippery, turns over the events that have happened in the day. Bullshit events, unexpected events, yeah -- but he doesn’t regret a single one of them.

Killing was something Trevor has always known would one day have to happen. There was that time in the changing rooms at school where he’d pinned his teacher down and felt weeks of suspension slipping into pure expulsion as he’d got creative with his hockey stick. There was the incident with his neighbour at the trailer park who kept blasting out shitty American rock music at 6am as he got ready for work, and Trevor had to break into his trailer and smash his radio, shoving half of the broken pieces into the guys mouth and watching him swallow them.

He’d always known one day death would be the only way he could get out a situation, or give somebody exactly what they’d deserved. He’s not exactly sure why the nameless guy following Michael was the one that finally snapped his reserve but he doesn’t really mind. It got him introduced to a guy who seems to give as few a fucks as him, who sits across from him now and laughs about the fact the plane had smelt so damn bad. “I thought I was gonna have to parachute out or even have you crash just to make it end,” he laughs, and laughs, and Trevor starts to laugh too, until they’re drawing some attention from the other punters. Michael flips them off and shakes his head. “Fuck, it was disgusting. You were good at piloting that thing, though. How’d you learn?”

Trevor doesn’t answer straight away. For one thing, he doesn’t want Michael to think he’s some crazed patriot, wanting to join the army and fight for the good of his country. For another, he’s not sure the whole failing-his-mental -stability-test-episode will endear him, either. Then again, Michael has just watched him shoot out a guy’s eye and has stayed around afterward.

“Good old Royal Canadian Air Force,” Trevor says, tipping an imaginary hat.

Michael chokes on his beer. “You’re military trained? Why are you doing shitty jobs for guys like Eric, then?”

“I don’t have the right temperament, apparently. My assessor - some real asshole, she was, she fucking --”

He stops and presses the heel of his hand into his eye to stop the thoughts and memories. Beer has splashed all over the table as his hands shake; he wipes at it with his sleeve impatiently. He’s just giving her satisfaction by getting so angry, but he can’t help but wish it was her smug face splitting open via flare gun. He closes his eyes and imagines it in every beautiful, gory detail.

He breathes in deep. Takes a moment. Opens his eyes.

Michael is staring at him. He’s not freaked out, at least not visibly so, but he looks cautious. “Hey, look, I’m sorry --”

“Don’t. Wounds are still fresh, that’s all. Apparently my --” he lifts his fingers in exaggerated air quotes “-- “lack of ability to control my temper” meant I couldn’t fly, even though I was the the best they’d seen in years.”

“Fuck it. Their loss,” Michael says and Trevor starts. It’s not often people share his sentiment on this sort of thing. Michael just might be the honesty he’s been looking for in his life.

If he isn’t, well. Trevor is used to being disappointed.

“So, uh, with your talent and … temperament, have you …” Michael leans in close across the table, licks his lips. “Have you killed a lot of people?”

“No comment,” Trevor says, at once. Michael cocks an eyebrow at him.

“I ain’t gonna judge you. I did this job last year? Had to kill three cops. One of them was screaming for his family and bleeding out, it was rough.” He’s lost to the memories for a moment, before the shark smile returns. “Come on, how many?”

Trevor sucks at a tooth. “Well, counting that fucker on the runway, I’d say about … one. One kill.”

“One?” Michael’s eyes are big and round. “One and you managed to shoot him in the head without flinching?”

“One,” Trevor confirms. He can smell the putrid flesh again. He feels -- he feels not quite right. The music is too loud and his fingers are slippery against his empty beer glass. He can see and feel the flare go off again and again and again, sees the corpse rolling down the bank and into muddied water, sees Michael throwing up all over the grass verge and feels himself retch again, seconds later. He feels, he feels he feels he feels --

He feels great. Absolutely fucking on-top-of-the-world great.

There’s a hand on his shoulder, Michael’s. “You okay? The first kill can be rough. I know mine was.”

“I’m okay. I’m good. It’s just, uh, not -- I don’t regret it,” he says, lifting a defiant chin.

“Me neither,” Michael smiles and so Trevor does, too.

Trevor gets the next round in and Michael lightens the mood by talking about some movie that he loves. Trevor doesn’t care, exactly - to him, movies are for sell-outs, phoniness for phonies - but Michael looks so animated talking about the lighting and script and God knows what that Trevor can’t help but watch him, half-amused. He moves his hands as he talks, carving out the scenes for Trevors benefit.

After almost half an hour, Michael seems to realise that the topic is veering them into strictly one-sided conversation. He buys in the next round and watches the dancer, who one of the barflies is throwing dollar bills at. She picks them up and stuffs them down her bra with a wink. There’s a pause in which both men sigh appreciatively.

“So, what do you see yourself doing with your life, Trevor?”

The question comes so suddenly that it takes a moment for Trevor to answer, but when he does, he looks away from the dancer and looks Michael square in the eye. “More of this. More of the game. Fuck the government and fuck the military. I want to do something more than weed deals on street corners. I want to be in charge of myself, you know?”

Michael looks at him consideringly. He sips on his beer, cheeks getting red with the drink, and then reaches in his pocket for a pen and paper. “Here,” he says, sliding a page across the table to Trevor. “This is the number of a guy who can hook you up with the sort of jobs I do. His name’s Lester, and he works mainly in America so there might be some relocating or at least travelling involved. But he’s got all the connections you could ever need, and all the brains to set up his own work. He’ll sort you out. Just say I recommended you.”

“What sort of jobs do you do, exactly? You drive things around for people?”

Michael laughs. “No. Not exactly. Sometimes. Mainly, I rob. People, corporations, anything or anyone with a big sum in the bank. Call Lester, or better yet -- come with me when I go back to America. It doesn’t have to be for good, but it could be a good taster for you.”

Trevor breaks out in a smile, big and wide. They grin at each other, stupidly, before Trevor reaches for his beer and asks, “So, prison, huh? Any horror stories?”

Michael snorts. “Hardly. You should’ve seen what I did to my cellmate. Tattooed my name right across his left asscheek. He cried all night.”

Trevor laughs so hard it hurts his ribs. Later -- years later, after blunders and deaths and heartbreak and mourning, he gets an email from a prisoner that reminds him of this moment. It tells him how the male-on-male action never really happens in prison, unless you go looking for it. But now he just laughs, and watches the crinkle of Michael’s eyes as he laughs right back.

*

That night, they change Trevor’s single room in the motel to one with two beds. They stay up all night and talk and by the end of it Trevor is starry-eyed with potential, and tells Michael he knows a local postal office they should rob before they leave for America, as one last big fuck you to the country who didn’t want Trevor to serve it’s airforce.

Michael is reluctant, but Trevor is determined, and so they plan.

-------

The robbery goes smoothly, for the first ten minutes at least.

They keep their guns stashed in bags - bought with a fake ID of Michael’s in a back alley store, one that names him De Santa - and blend in with the other couple of customers in the store. Michael had the bright idea of cutting the phone lines and hoping nobody in the rural post office was a banker or an asshole or both and carried round a clunky cell phone with them.

Trevor causes the distraction by pretending to trip, knocking all of the papers from the counter and then getting pissed at the staff about it. While they try to calm him down - “This carpet isn’t even! I could have killed myself!” “Sir, if you’d just calm down for a moment, we can --” “Calm down? I oughta sue all of your asses!” -- Michael sneaks round the counter and snips all of the phone cords.

When he steps back around the counter he gives Trevor a meaningful look, and Trevor nods.

He turns back to the harassed workers, two women, and sighs at the most apologetic. “I’m afraid your sorries just aren’t good enough, sweetheart. If I’d have fallen and broken my neck, you think ‘sorry, Sir’ would have fixed me?” She shakes her head, biting at her lower lip. “No, I thought not. I think I should get a little compensation. Cash in hand. Now.”

At the last word, he pulls his pistol from his duffel bag and points it at the assistant, who screams and ducks. One firing shot at the far wall is enough to have the customers scrambling for the door, where Michael stands, assault rifle in hand. “Not so fast,” he says, all cocksure and steady, and Trevor fights a grin.

“On the ground, now!” he yells and the apologetic woman gets on her knees, one hand raised as though it could stop any bullet.

“Please, we’ll get you the money! Just don’t shoot, please!”

He motions to the still standing woman, all bleached blonde hair and big fake eyelashes. She’s seems to have more nerve; she stands her ground, arms folded across her chest. “We haven’t got the keys for the safe,” she says, pink lips pursed. “We can only give you what’s in the cash drawer. I don’t think that’s worth going to jail for.”

“Did I ask your opinion?” Trevor asks, and when she doesn’t reply he puts a hand to his ear, exaggerating the movement. “Can’t hear you, darling. Did I ask?”

“I -- no,” she says. Her eyes dart to the back door and Michael must be watching the exchange, because he moves from the door, keeping his gun trained on the customers to stop them fleeing.

“There’s someone in the back, isn’t there? Someone with the keys? Call them out!”

“There’s nobody there,” she insists, but she looks over there again and Trevor has no choice but to put the gun to her head, cocking it so she knows just how much danger she’s actually in.

“You heard him, fucking call him out! I’m sure you’re a lovely woman but I’m not going to go easy on you here.” At her hesitation, he presses the barrell of the gun into her skin and she lets out a shriek, trying to move away. “Call them the fuck out!”

She glares at him and he admires her defiance. But the gun is cold and hard against her forehead and so she gives a great shudder, shoulders slumping in defeat. “Paul! Paul, come out here, please! They’re- he’s going to shoot me, Paul, please just get out here!”

All eyes move to the door. There’s silence except for the young woman on the floor crying, and Michael breathing heavily through his nose. Then -- slowly -- the door opens, and a man walks out, hands raised.

“Don’t shoot!” he says, at the sight of the guns. “The cops are on their way.”

Trevor knows they didn’t account for any phones in the back office, didn’t even think that someone would have the chance to run in there. The man - Paul - has crumbs all over the lapel of his suit. He was probably on his lunch break when he heard the whole raucous.

Lowering his pistol from the woman, Trevor aims it instead at Paul, striding over to him. Their eyes meet and both pairs widen in recognition, Trevor’s stomach dissolving in panic. Paul. Paul Cox. Paul Cox, who sat behind him in history and once peed himself in front of the whole of gym class. Paul Cox who lived not five minutes away from Trevor back in their hometown at the very cusp of the border. Paul Cox in this tiny part of this tiny Canadian town, IDing Trevor. Trevor raises his gun meaningfully but before he can Paul shouts --

“Trevor Philips! Fuck, Philips, put the gun down!”

Michael’s expression is thunderous, but he’s on Trevor before he can shoot, holding him back. “Don’t,” he hisses in his ear, and Trevor stops struggling. “They all know your name now. We gotta get out of here - getting pinned for a massacre will make them hunt you down, but with robbery we can just run, come on!”

Trevor swears and gives in, following Michael the moment he’s released him. They’re heading for the door when the sirens start outside and the lights flash through the big open windows. They halt, look at each other, and Trevor swears again.

He was so close, so close, to getting out of here, out of the country that’s already shown him how much it hates him. So close to running away with this crazy Michael Townley and carving out a life for himself in the sort of world that might appreciate him. Now he’s going down, for sure, and dragging Michael right down with him -- all because of some stupid fucking coincidence, some stupid twist of fate.

“Go,” he says, quietly, and then more urgently, he shoves Michael towards the back office. “They’re gonna have a back door, go! They’re going to surround us if you don’t move fast!”

“I’m not leaving you behind,” Michael says, looking at him like he’s crazy -- and maybe he is, sure, sacrificing his freedom to let Michael get off scott-free, but it’s his fault he got recognised, his fault for not putting a bullet in the asshole that is Paul Cox before he could open his big mouth. “Trevor, you’re new to this, but brothers don’t leave each other, okay?”

“Get out of here,” Trevor repeats, and his eyes are blazing as they meet Michael’s, “or I’ll turn you in myself.”

Michael glares at him. “I’m not --”

“Fuck you, just get out of here! I’ll find you later, whatever, just go!” He grabs Michael’s shoulder and shoves him towards the door, where he lingers. “I mean it, M, go or --”

“You’ll go down for this. This is my fault, and you’re gonna suffer for it. I should’ve spoke up about what a bad idea this was, I should have --”

The people around them try to shuffle over to the door, but one look from Trevor quells their hopes for an easy escape. “Shut up, alright? Just go. Apologise to me in America, whenever I get there.”

Michael reaches over and squeezes his hand, tightly. Trevor’s not sure if it’s part of his ‘brothers on the job’ code but it makes him feel as warm as a glass of whiskey would, and when Michael runs off to safety he’s smiling despite the oncoming storm.

ii.

1989

He gets out after four months, and once Trevor’s given his old clothes back and ceremoniously kicked out of the front door he kind of misses it.

There was a routine to prison that at first drove him mad but then turned into child’s play; he delighted in disrupting it, unnerving guards and fellow inmates alike. His favourite past time was winding up one of the largest men in his cell block until he was being chased, and then darting past the prison officers’ office so that the man would get heavily punished.

At first he went to sleep on blue bruises and scarlet scabs, but by the end he was given a kind of grudging respect; he told them about his plans to rob America blind and about the flare gun incident, and there was such a look in his eye that he guessed people started to believe what he was capable of. He even made a few vague connections in there, people who promised to get in touch someday if they needed a pilot.

Now, though; now there’s just Canada, and no funds, and no hope for him getting into contact with Michael or the mentioned Lester. He wouldn’t even know how to start.

He expects to have to get a cab or hitchhike home. His car is probably still parked in that small town he tried to rob, gathering dust and rust in the rain. There’s not many in this country who will have missed him as he served his time, and there’s even less who will have in his promised America. Michael himself is probably out there right now earning himself a sizeable, stolen wage, without even a thought for his so-called brother across the border.

What he doesn’t expect is for an old truck to be parked on the snowy road outside of the prison, a woman resting against it with her arms crossed and her face a scowl in the mid-morning March light.

“Trevor,” she drawls, and he swallows, coming to a halt. “Ain’t you gonna give your mom a hug?”

He stumbles on his feet as he does as she says, drawn into a too-tight grip that leaves him red-faced. He hasn’t spoken to her since travelling to that small, fateful town months before, and even when carrying out his prison sentence less than five miles from their latest trailer park - this time on Canadian soil, one they’d spent almost a whole year on - he didn’t write to her. She’s here, though, scowls and vibrant prints included.

“You didn’t have to pick me up,” Trevor says, getting into the passenger seat.

“Don’t be ungrateful,” she snaps, starting the engine. “I know I didn’t. It’s not good for me, running around after you at your age.”

“I know. I -- I’m sorry, momma.”

He sinks sullenly in his seat and wonders if she’s enjoying this. She always has liked to martyr herself and expect the world in return, not that he’d ever say to her. He’s ashamed of even thinking it. She's had a hard life, his mother, what with his asshole father and the life she's had to scrape together for herself and her sons. He understands her, but that doesn't make her any easier to cope with.

The soft crunch of snow beneath the wheels is all that fills the silence for a while, that and his mom’s heavy breathing. Trevor rests his forehead against the window and closes his eyes in an attempt to keep warring temptations at bay. Part of him wants to talk about his time inside, part of him wants to get out of the truck - moving vehicle be damned - and part of him just wants to hug his mom and never let go.

He settles with none of the options, and pretends to sleep instead.

This truck has seen too much of Trevor for him to be comfortable enough to actually sleep. It’s seen fights between mother and father, between brother and brother, between mother and son and -- most violently of all -- between father and son. Living in motels and the back of his car for a month was much preferable to the prospect of moving back home to the trailer parks that have seen even worse, the absolute worst of his life.

He lets out a long sigh and his breath fogs the glass. From the driver’s seat, his mom laughs.

“What? Don’t you appreciate me coming to get you? Planning to run away to stay in dirty motels again, huh? Any other mother would disown her son for what you’ve done to me.”

He turns to stare at her, faux-sleep forgotten. “Motels? How did you know --?”

“A man came round, just after you were arrested. Young kid. Had all the stuff you left home with, said he got it from the motel you were staying in.”

Trevor sits up straight. His hands have curled into excited fists on his lap. “Who was it?”

“Never said his name,” she shrugs. “Handsome. Sort of stocky, but very handsome. American.”

Michael. Michael. He rescued all of his things after the robbery. Maybe he even saved his thousand dollars. Trevor’s not sure how Michael would have found his address from his name alone, but he guesses hardened criminals have their methods. His smile threatens to split his face in two and his mom is on it in a second.

“You can wipe that smirk off your face, you little shit,” she sneers. It fades at once. His heart starts to race. “Prison made you even more selfish, didn’t it, huh? Can’t you tell how much weight I’ve lost? How stressed I am?”

They’re nearing the trailer park now. He takes a good long look at his mom, all pursed lips and dramatic eyeshadow. She looks just how she always has -- beautiful, bright, a little sad. A hell of a lot less bruised since his piece of shit father left them to it. She’s got the same overwhelming attitude that sweeps him up and under, dragging him down until he’s as low as she is.

He loves her, but he’s not sure how to cope with her, how to cope with this life, not now he’s had a taste of something more.

“You look good,” he says, honestly. “If you’re stressed, you’re not showing it. You look great.”

For a moment, she smiles at him like she would have smiled when he was young. But then they’re pulling into the trailer park and she’s back to normal, shaking her head in disbelief. “Don’t creep around me, Trevor. I’m not buying it.”

“I’m not creeping. I mean it.”

She parks them neatly outside of the run-down trailer, last repainted a decade ago, and kills the engine. “I’m going to jail, Trevor,” she says, without preamble. “I got picked up on the street by an undercover cop as I was, you know, working. I tried to escape. He may have got hurt in the process, and his car may have got smashed up, too. Anyway, I- I’m facing two years. The trial is next week and what chance do I have?”

She gets out the car. He scrambles after her, reaches out her door to grab at her wrist. “You were on the streets again? Where the hell was Ryan in all this? He promised to support you until you got a job!”

“Your brother --” She hesitates, then wrenches away from him. “Your brother is having some problems himself. I have to do what I have to do to keep us both surviving, and he agrees with that.”

Trevor stops listening, and gets out of the car. His brother -- the spitting image of their father, with matching face and matching fists -- probably suggested she prostitute herself in the first place, so he could sit on his fat, lazy ass all fucking day. Trevor may have been busted for robbery but at least he was trying to do something with his life.

“Is he inside?” he asks, quietly.

His mother studies his expression, looking suddenly nervous. “Trevor, look, it’s not his fault. He’s still in between jobs, you know that.”

“He’s been in between jobs for three years! He’s twenty seven years old and he’d rather send his mom out to fuck strangers for a living then get a job himself.” He flexes his fingers. He longs for his pistol. “Get out of the way, mom. I’m going to teach him a fucking lesson.”

Her eyes flash. “Don’t you dare swear at me. Easy for you to judge him when you got kicked out of the air force, isn’t it? Where have you been? When did you last help me?”

Trevor pushes past her and up the steps to the trailer, slamming the door as hard as he can. The walls shake with it. The TV is on and there he is, watching the commercials, legs up. His swollen belly is coated with crumbs.

Trevor staggers at the sight of Ryan. His father sat in the same way so many times, only moving to silence his sons if their noise tuned out the television set.

“Oh. Hey,” Ryan says, raising a beer can. “Come here, you little fucker. Give your big brother a hug.”

Trevor walks over, sure, but he knocks the beer can out of his hand in greeting. Ryan leaps to his feet and towers over Trevor for only a moment; he’s barrelled over onto the sofa before he can retaliate, Trevor’s elbow at his windpipe.

Prison has taught Trevor more than just how to defend himself. He can attack pretty well now, too.

“Tell me, Ryan,” he says, easing back on the pressure when his brother turns blue. From behind them comes their mother’s screaming. She’s got her hands on Trevor’s shoulders but she can’t prise him off, not when he’s so fuelled by rage. “Tell me, are you happy like this? Happy doing fuck all while our mom works on street corners? Happy being a worthless sack of shit?”

Ryan could be shaking his head, or he could be struggling for breath. Trevor doesn’t care either way.

“She’s going to jail, so what are you going to do for money? Maybe you can sell yourself, huh?”

Ryan manages to choke out a “you’re the only one who likes fucking men, you --” before Trevor thumps him, knuckles breaking his nose in one swift movement.

Their mother is screaming again, begging Trevor. He spits at the half-unconscious Ryan, spread out across the sofa.

“You get this place painted up while she’s inside. You get a job and get a life, and you pay her back for taking advantage of her, okay? You give her the perfect life once she’s free.”

Ryan manages to pull off an impressive glare, struggling to sit up. “What about you?”

“I’m going to America,” Trevor says.

He leaves them to it and goes into his bedroom. It’s almost exactly as he left it -- untidy, to say the least -- except for the pile of stuff on his bed that Michael must have returned. There’s clothes, his duffel bag of weapons, a half-drunk bottle of whiskey -- and a brown paper envelope.

Curious, Trevor opens it.

Inside is his thousand dollars, Lester’s number from the bar, and a small note that reads:

T - I owe you one. Find me. M

*

The plane ride over the border and into the Midwest of America leaves him feeling a little sickly. The pilot is no good and he’s sure he could do better, but he guesses any suggestion like that to the air hostesses might be seen as an attempt to hijack the plane. So he keeps silent, looks out the window, and thinks about what’s to come.

Lester had sounded beyond cautious on the phone and had been a little affronted when Trevor told him to shove it if he couldn’t help, because Michael Townley told him to call this number but he’s not about to be played. After Michael’s name had been mentioned, though, Lester got a little more open with his information, and told him to fly down to meet him. He said there was work -- and good work -- in the area, and he was organising a job right now that he might be interested in.

The man’s voice had been raspy and kind of sickly, but he’d been helpful enough. Trevor hopped on the next available flight and here he is, touching down and feeling queasy.

“I’ll send someone out to fetch you. You can’t get a cab to my place. It might look suspicious. You’ll know them when you see them.”

The airport is full of all sorts of people, a lot of them obnoxious, and most of them annoying, miserable bastards. He pushes through a few crowds and gets dirty looks in response, but his glare quells any resistance. Airports are horrible at the best of times, and he misses flying solo, literally, nothing but the sky above, the ground below, and the plane all to himself.

He grabs his luggage and heads towards the entrance. If Lester is an honest guy -- and he’s doubtful, thanks to past experience with most of the human race -- the driver will probably be outside nearer their car. If Lester isn’t, well. Another phone call will be in order.

Outside, it’s even more of a mess. It’s raining lightly but the wind is hard; Trevor zips his jacket all the way up to his chin. Taxi drivers jostle for business and there’s a row of people with dumb placards. There’s someone with an Eddie Ward and another with a Shield Family and a Monica Tyler and --

Trevor stops short, duffle bag thudding to the concrete. At the end of them stands Michael, with his own dumb little handwritten sign that reads a simple Trevor. His stomach rolls over and somebody jostles into him. For once, he doesn’t push back. Michael is gazing at the floor, evidently bored out of his mind, and Trevor trips over his own feet getting to him.

“About you owing me,” he says, and Michael looks up.

“Trevor! You made it!”

Michael tosses the sign away and pulls him into a bone breaking hug. He smells of cheap aftershave. Trevor is reminded of the mob bosses he saw in a movie some time last year. Brother. That’s what Michael had called him once.

It’s foolish to trust somebody so much after so little, but Trevor can’t help it. He hugs him back.

“I wanted to come out personally and apologise to you,” Michael says as they break apart. Trevor rescues his bag before any pedestrian kicks it out of the way. “I should never have agreed to rob that place with you without planning it properly. I definitely shouldn’t have run away and left you there.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Trevor says, following him to the parked car. “What happened, happened. There was point us both going down for it. Anyway, prison, it was kind of …”

“Enlightening?” Michael asks, and Trevor nods. “Sure, it’s good to get the experience out of the way sometime or other, but you still took the fall for both of us and I appreciate that. You need something here, you just ask me.”

They get into the car. Trevor thinks for a moment as they pull out of their parking spot, and then clears his throat. “I do, uh, need a place to stay.”

Michael doesn’t hesitate. “Well, I guess you should know I don’t actually have a permanent residence right now. I kind of just go where the job takes me, you know?”

“Life on the road, huh?” Trevor asks. Aside from the month he spent in motels across the outskirts of Canada and his time in prison, he’s only ever been stationed in various trailer parks on either side of the border. The freedom of a criminal career sounds almost too perfect.

“Pretty much. Right now I’m renting out this shitty house in the corner of the city, but it’s only a month’s lease. It’ll do until I need to get out of the city again.” Michael quiets, changes the lane they’re in, and then glances at Trevor. “You’re welcome to move in until you’ve found your feet here.”

Once, Trevor might have coyly accepted, full of gratitude. But the army has happened to him, prison has moulded him. He doesn’t give a fuck what anyone might think of his manners, not anymore. Not if something’s being offered.

“Fuck yeah. We need to get some real alcohol in, maybe some meth, you know? Really christen the place. Maybe your guy Lester can join us.”

“Sounds good, man, except Lester isn’t always the partying type. It depends if he’s feeling well.” Michael rolls his eyes. “Or what girl he’s trying to hook up with. You wouldn’t guess it when you first meet him, but our Lester can be a real dog.”

“And I bet you’re a real paragon of virtue, Michael.”

With a toothy grin, Michael glances at him sidelong. His voice is oddly low as he says, “Sure. If you want to think that, go ahead.”

There’s a prickling across Trevor’s cheekbones at the heavy gaze so he looks away and out of the window.

The city seems busy, almost stiflingly so. Snatches of conversation he catches when they stop at the lights are spoken in accents similar to Michael’s. Trevor is sure to stand out, he knows, but fuck it.

“Like what you see?”

Trevor whips his head round. “What?”

“America.” Michael puts on a Southern drawl that makes Trevor laugh. “Land of the free, home of the brave.”

“It looks pretty shitty, actually.”

It’s Michael’s turn to laugh, now. He leans over to pat Trevor on the back. “You’re gonna love it. There’s way too many people with more money than sense. They’re just waiting for people like us to come along.”

Michael drives past Lester’s motel to show Trevor the bank they’ve been planning to rob. They’ve scoped it out fully, he proudly announces, as he parks across the street from it. He runs through the plans involving a lot of weapons, a lot of intimidation, and as much haste as possible, and he sounds smug, but Trevor thinks he has the right to be. His team could walk out with around fifty thousand between them if things go according to plan, maybe even more.

He’s not sure if he’s included in the plan himself. He’s kind of reluctant to ask in case Michael turns him flatly down. His track record, well … it’s one failed robbery that got him jail time, and one cargo delivery that ended in rash, cold-blooded murder. Trevor doubts they’ll let him in on this heist, but maybe next time, if he --

“I mean, Lester will brief you properly when we get to his,” Michael continues. “It’ll be good to have you on board, Trevor.”

Trevor almost tries to talk him out of it. This is a big job for a beginner, a huge one. One wrong move and they would all be thrown under the bus.

But then he thinks of some guy in jail, how he told him he needed a better outlet for his anger then just beating people up. He thinks of his brother, sat on his ass day in day out. He thinks of his father telling him he’s worthless. He thinks of Michael, so arrogant and so sure. Trevor wants this job, wants it so much it hurts.

“Sounds great.”

Some passing kids interrupt their shared smile by banging hard on the hood of the car. “Homos!” one of them yells, his voice barely broken.

Michael flips them off easily, but Trevor’s out of the car before he has time to think what he’s going to do. He has one of the kids face down on the hood of the car, somehow, and there’s shouts from pedestrians and a red tinge around his vision and the kid keeps on struggling even with the knee in his back and the hands on his arms.

“You think you’re smart, you little prick?” Trevor is shouting, the burn in his belly spreading through the entirety of him. “You fucking try saying that again.”

The kid’s friends are looking nervously at each other. One old man is staring at them and he starts brandishing his cane. Trevor couldn’t care less about the audience. His nails dig deep into the boy’s skin.

“I’m sorry!” He’s crying, the boy, all snotty and blubbering against the offended car. “I’m sorry, I was just messing around!”

“T, what the fuck?”

Michael is out of the car, pulling Trevor away with more strength than he has any right to have. Trevor shrugs him off and tries to lunge for the kid again, but Michael blocks him.

“Not until this shit apologises -- properly!”

“I’m sorry, I am!”

The boy scrambles upright and takes off at a run, his friends sprinting after hm. The old man tuts but says nothing as Trevor meets his eye.

“Get back in the car,” Michael orders, quietly. He sounds livid but Trevor ignores him, stalking off down the alley they’re parked next to. Michael locks his car and follows.

“Fuck off,” Trevor spits, and then Michael has him shoved up against the wall, none too gently.

You fuck off. What the hell’s your problem? The kid was just being an idiot. You didn’t need to attack him.”

“He needed to be taught a lesson.”

“I’m sticking my neck out for you here, don’t screw this up. If you lose your temper like that around Lester and he sees you as a liability, you’ll be off this job in a second. Fucking control yourself.”

“Big fucking deal,” Trevor sneers. His teeth are bared but Michael doesn’t seem scared; he keeps him held against the wall, face close. “He hit your car. You let pissy little kids get the better of you in America, huh?”

“I know what fights are worth having and some spotty thirteen year old boy who calls me gay ain’t one of them. I’d rather focus on my job, okay, and keeping out of trouble with the law.”

They glower at each other and Trevor is sure Michael is going to smack him, or that he’s going to smack Michael.

“You don’t know me,” Trevor says, but instead of a threat it comes out like some kind of sad warning, and his face burns with it. “You don’t know what I’m like, how I act. You invited me out here without knowing me. I don’t know who you want me to be but I can tell you I’m not going to be that person. Somebody tries to mess with me? I’m going to show them they can. Somebody tries to mess with you and- and its the same thing. I don’t care if that kid was thirteen or thirty, if he was an idiot or a fucking mob boss. I’m not going to take shit, and I’m not going to let you take it, either.”

Michael stares at him, breathes in deep through his nose. Trevor feels the exhale hit his face.

The other man lets him go and takes a step back, running a hand through his hair. Trevor straightens his jacket and tries to stop shaking.

“You’re right,” Michael says, suddenly. His voice has mellowed, his shoulders have slumped. “You’re right, I’m sorry. Those kids were assholes, but- I don’t want you to go to jail again. I thought we had a good thing going back in Canada, you know? We’re on the same level. I don’t want you to risk yourself, especially not for me.”

Trevor takes that in, pacing around the alley and biting his lower lip. He feels surged with adrenaline, all lit up, and he wishes Michael would look away.

“Okay,” he says, finally, and Michael breathes out in relief. “Okay. Apology accepted. I’m, uh- I’m sorry too. I’ll, you know, try.”

He doesn’t specify what, exactly, he’s going to try, but Michael nods anyway and they get back in the car.

*

Lester Crest isn’t what Trevor was expecting as the brains behind the business.

He’s nineteen and spotty and struggles to run thanks to a muscle wasting disease he briefly explains in the first thirty seconds of meeting Trevor. When they first walk through the door he’s shoving a pile of adult magazines under his bed, that Trevor dives for the moment his back is turned.

“Wow,” is all he can say when he opens one of them, turning his head to one side. “How does she fit that in there?”

“I’ll have that, thank you,” Lester says, snatching it back off him. Trevor raises his hands in surrender, but can’t keep the smirk off his face as Lester puts the magazine tenderly under his pillow. “Show some respect, please.”

“Sorry,” Trevor lies, and Michael grins at him before dropping down on the bed, motioning for Trevor to take a seat next to him.

“I should think so.” Lester limps over to the desk, peering out of the motel window. “You’re sure you weren’t followed, right?”

“I checked behind me the whole way,” Michael reassures him. He toes off his shoes and leans back. Where Lester is nervous and twitchy, and Trevor is waiting for something to go wrong as usual, Michael is as calm as anything, confident in himself and his friends and the job he has to do. Trevor envies him, but he can’t imitate him. Not until he has at least one success under his belt.

The talk moves away from pornography and stalkers and into the territory of the heist; they discuss technical moves to get into the bank and, more importantly, speed and precision. They toss out names of people Trevor’s never heard of and then cross them firmly off the list, or consider them more carefully. They talk of exit strategies, of weapons, of possible complications with civilians or law enforcement.

Trevor watches them, eyes flicking back and forth between them, hungry for all the information he can get. If he wants to be in this for the long run -- and he wants to -- he’s got to learn all of this, and fast. It’s okay to have Michael holding his hand through it, and to have Lester guiding him, but if he wants a real career, well, he needs to plan for the possibility that at some point he may be on his own.

So he listens, and he devours their words, keeping silent but to occasionally offer an outside opinion on the few flaws he finds in their planning. They actually listen to him and incorporate his ideas. It’s kind of heartening. He just wants to get out there and get on with it, but he knows how vital this careful planning must be.

His postal office job and subsequent arrest is proof of that.

The only obstacle comes when Lester gives Trevor a nervous look and says, in a voice hushed but hardly unheard, “Are you sure you want him as your gunman? I’m sure he’s good, but I have a lot of really experienced people practically begging for work, and I think they might be better suited to it.”

Trevor’s half standing up already when Michael puts a placating hand around the crook of his elbow and stands himself.

“Hey, look, I get what you’re saying,” he tells Lester, and Trevor prickles all over, even as he retakes his seat on the bed. “Trevor’s untested by you, I know. But I trust him. I trust his ability and I trust his loyalty. He’ll do great out there and if he doesn’t, remember that I vouched for him and it’ll be on my head.”

Lester struggles with himself, and then gives in with a half-hearted shrug. He starts talking about where they’re going to get untraceable ammo from most easily, and Trevor grins at Michael. Michael’s smile in return is big and bold and brilliant.

-------

There’s too many people everywhere and too much noise. Pedestrians leap out of the way of the shitty Ford inexpertly driven by some cheap driver Lester hired from down South. The man, Tony, is sweating profusely as he tries in vain to lose the cops. The whole car stinks of him.

Out of the back windows, Michael and Trevor try to do damage control on the streets they speed down; Michael has shot at least two cops already, but Trevor’s bullets keep hitting the ground or the bumpers of their black and white cars.

“Fuck!” he yells, as the car hits the curb and makes him shoot the sky instead. “Can’t you keep this thing still?”

“I’m trying!” Tony yells from the front seat. He swerves out of the way of a roadblock set up just for them. “The suspension is fucked!”

“Just get us away from this heat!”

Tony listens to Michael, but maybe that’s just because Michael is the one with the bags of money tucked under his arm.

Aside from the botched getaway, the heist has been going well. They went in, got the money, got out. Lester has planned for every complication with almost frightening accuracy, especially for a man never on the field himself. If Trevor weren’t otherwise preoccupied, he might be awed by it.

The most persistent of the cop cars get up close to them and brush them with their bumper. Michael swears, and Tony pretty much screams, and Trevor grits his teeth and can hear only his heartbeat as he hangs half out of the back of the car. If any of the police are crack shots, he knows his blood will splatter the sidewalk.

He swallows any stray fear -- he has no time for it, he never has -- and raises his gun.

The front window already smashed by Michael’s well-aimed bullets means there’s no obstacle. The driver gets a bullet to the neck and lets go of the wheel. Trevor can’t see anything more than blood.

“Shit! Good one, T!” Michael yells, cheering.

Tony takes them down the back alley of a car dealership as the cops spin dramatically off the road. They clamber out of the Ford and pelt full speed into the second getaway car, stashed neatly at the side of the road. It looks like something a soccer mom would drive but Tony takes to it like it’s a sport car, some colour coming back into his cheeks.

When they rejoin the busy high street seconds later, they blend straight in with the traffic. No other driver gives them a second glance.

Tony is whooping in the front seat and Michael is punching the air, but Trevor keeps an eye behind them just in case. It’s been too simple, far too easy. He knows the cops will track them down once they find the empty car in the alley. They’re going to get arrested, he’s going back to jail, he’s going to --

“Trevor, hey,” Michael says, and he refocuses to find Tony staring at him in the rearview mirror. “Relax. It’s almost over and we can start counting our takes. Don’t worry so much.”

“It’s pretty hard not to worry when we’ve just been chased halfway across the city!”

It’s a stupid time to freak out, he knows that. Jail wasn’t even so bad. It’s the thought of letting Michael and Lester down that panics him, though; to lose them would be to lose any real way into this line of work, and then he’d have to go home to his sack of shit brother and try to start over again near the border.

But panicking, well -- that, too, is likely to make the others let him go. He did well. He did fucking brilliantly.

Michael is obviously thinking the same thing. “You’re a natural. The way you got that driver? Shit, I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of you.”

“Well, carry on like you are and you won’t be,” Trevor says, and they share a grin for a long moment.

Tony looks at them in the rearview mirror and clears his throat, purposefully.

“We’ll be at your place soon. I’d like my cut before dropping you off.”

“Right, right,” Michael says. He looks distracted as he unzips the bag of cash, counting out the stacks of notes. Trevor tears his eyes away and resumes watching behind them again. In the distance, sirens blare, but the traffic around them trundles on bumper-to-bumper.

Nobody looks oddly at them.

Nobody runs away screaming.

Nobody cares.

“We did it,” he says, quietly, and then laughs so loudly Tony jumps. “We fucking did it! We’re geniuses, I swear, we did it! Where’s Lester? I need to kiss that piece of shit.”

“He’ll love that,” Tony snorts.

Once they’re free of the busy high street, they take a quieter route towards the run-down house Michael’s got rented for the month. Michael shushes them so he can concentrate on counting out Tony’s take. Trevor watches him for a while, thinking of how he’ll be able to afford all of the meth he wants. The good stuff, too, not the shitty diluted stuff that he used to get back in Canada.

Tony drops them off with his take tucked neatly in the passenger seat.

Michael heads straight for the fridge when they get the door locked behind them, throwing Trevor a beer. It’s disconcertingly quiet without the police sirens or Michael’s yelling at scared bank employees or Tony’s colourful swearing. Trevor takes a large swig of beer with some difficulty. He’s bouncing on the balls of his feet with adrenaline.

He can do this, live this life after all.

“Drink up,” Michael says, and they clink their beer bottles together. “We have a lot of celebrating to do.”

Trevor kneels and unzips the bag. He can’t help but rub one of the notes between his fingers, savouring the feel of the paper.

He looks up to see Michael grinning down at him, shaking his head. “So, you addicted yet?”

“You could say that.”

Trevor stands back up. They look at each other and Trevor is bursting to ask if he can do this with him full time, if he can worm himself into his life of crime, and he opens his mouth to speak just as Michael says, “So, do you want --”

They both fall silent.

“Go on,” Trevor prompts, feigning impatience. His mouth has gone dry.

“I was just gonna ask -- I mean, you can say no if you want, it’s all good, but --” Michael adjusts his collar and shrugs one shoulder “-- but maybe, if you want, we could partner up. Lester’s a good guy, real smart, but he’s never actually out here with me. It’s just changing faces. Nobody ever sticks, you know? But you’re a natural, Trevor. I think we click out there, on the job, so --”

Trevor downs half his beer and wipes at his mouth, all put-on cockiness. “You don’t need to ask. I’m fucking good at this. I’m not going anywhere, Mikey.”

iii.

1989 - 1990

In the criminal underworld, Michael and Trevor start to earn themselves not only a small fortune, but a reputation, too.

They’re heartless and precise, taking down bank after store after storage locker after houses of the rich and famous. They never stay still; in one month they live nearer new New York, and then they’re in Texas - where Trevor hurries them on, after getting into a murderous altercation with a racist man in the parking lot of a bar - and then, before they know it, they’re back near the Canadian border.

Michael suggests they go visit Trevor’s brother. Trevor doesn’t dignify the suggestion with an answer.

Life on the road with Michael proves an exhilarating addiction that Trevor could never have prepared for. After his nervousness on the first job, he instead gets arrogant. The gun in his hand and the money in the safe gives him the excuse he’s always needed to tell people just how annoying, fake and fucking ridiculous he finds them.

They live a life on quick cash and changing casts; Lester stays, for the most part, helping them to plan, and -- more importantly -- he wipes their slates clean in several states, intercepting police reports with his inside allies. Tony refuses to work with them after Trevor shoves him out of the car after some spectacularly crap driving, but others readily fill his shoes.

It’s a changing cast of faces. The only constants in Trevor’s life become Lester’s voice and, occasionally, physical presence, Michael by his side at almost every moment, and meth.

Meth proves where Michael and Trevor’s similarities truly end; Michael refuses to touch the stuff, though he doesn’t mind Trevor smoking it around him providing he does his job as well as he can, and doesn’t puke his guts out all over their rented accommodation,

Michael, on the other hand, spends his money on alcohol -and sometimes coke - and does puke his guts all over the floor. Trevor mostly helps him clean it up, but sometimes he gets kind of a kick out of seeing a hungover Michael realising just how wild he got last night. The rest of his money gets splashed on girls, whether it’s snobby girls in high-end bars who just want to get free drinks and then leave, or prostitutes on street corners who are amazed with how much they get paid, Michael adores them. Trevor can’t blame them, and he brings home his own fair share.

He doesn’t bring home any guys. That’s a topic not yet broached and while he doesn’t give a fuck what might be said, he doesn’t want to ruin this good thing they’ve got going.

And sometimes, late at night, when the motel rooms are quiet except for Michael’s ridiculous snoring, Trevor thinks about the body so close to his. He thinks, and doesn’t act, and when he wakes in the morning and sees Michael’s sleep smile, he wants.

*

“Can you tell that asshole in the background to shut his mouth? I can hardly hear you.”

He hears her yell at the prison guard and then come back to the phone. “Trevor, you know I don’t like it when you swear at me. Hold your tongue when you’re talking to your mother.”

Trevor literally bites his tongue. He’s kind of high so it’s mostly numb. It’s the only way to stop himself saying something crude and sarcastic to the woman who bore him. He tastes blood.

“I wouldn’t say asshole is --” he stops as his mother clears her throat, pointedly, and he’s glad she can’t see the roll of his eyes. “Okay, sure, I’m sorry. I just couldn’t hear you. What did you say?”

“I said that it’s about time you called me. I been in here months already and not a word from you. Your brother’s wrote and called, and he’s come by to see me three times. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me.”

“I couldn’t forget about you.”

He raises the glass pipe to his lips and lights it. He wishes he could forget her, sometimes. There were times when he was younger that she could be so kind to him. When his father turned out completely rotten, though, something soured in her too; gone is the sparkle in her eyes and the softness in her tone. In her place is a cheap imitation. He can’t blame her, but he does mourn her, sometimes.

“Whatever you say,” she says. “What’s your excuse for not even checking up on me, then?”

“I’ve been busy, mom. I’ve haven’t been in the area.”

“Where are you? Ryan says he’s not seen you since you attacked him.” She sniffs over his protests and he gives up on them. “I hope you’re staying out of trouble.”

“I’m in --” His mind is foggy, drug-soaked. He thinks about it. “Uh, America, I- North! That’s where. I’m in America.”

“Alone?” she asks, suspiciously.

“No, with a friend. Michael. The American. He --”

“Oh, the one who dropped your stuff off.” There’s a heavy sigh on the line that Trevor ignores to take another hit of his pipe, breathing the smoke in as deep as he can. He’s exhaling when she says, “The one who got you sent to jail.”

“I- no, he didn’t --”

“You haven’t even asked me how I’m finding jail. I suppose that would be too normal for you. You always did like to be the rebel.”

It’s a fair comment. He takes a last hit of the pipe. It’s with a smoke-thickened voice that he laughs and replies, “I’m just taking after my dear mother. After all, Ryan’s never been to jail. He probably wouldn’t have balls big enough to.”

There’s a stifled laugh on the other end that turns into a hacking cough. She’s still chain smoking, clearly. “Don’t be a brat. He’s still your family, though clearly such things don’t matter to someone living the fancy life.”

“It’s not the fancy life, mom. It’s just --”

“I haven’t finished, Trevor. What I was going to say is that he’s still your family and right now, he’s struggling. Payment for our trailer can’t come from him when he can’t find work. Now, I don’t know what you’re doing out there but I’m guessing it’s not legal and I guess it’s earning you enough to survive in a whole other part of the country on your own two feet. I want you to send Ryan some money.”

If Trevor were sober, he might listen to his mother. He might bow his head and fight it but still give in to her every demand. He’d probably even cry a bit, too.

Against anyone else, he’d be fine. But his mother? She’s a different matter altogether.

The meth, though, gives him courage he never would have found by himself. He rests back on his bed and snorts with laughter. “Fuck that. He’s not getting a single dollar from me.”

A pause.

Then the screaming starts.

The motel door opens at the same time and Michael comes in, arms full of freshly-bought beer and a pathetic amount of groceries. He starts to say something and then sees the look on Trevor’s face, hears the screaming voice of Trevor’s mother coming loudly through the phone speaker, and smells the meth in the air. He stops short and dumps the beer on the counter, raising a questioning eyebrow.

Trevor isn’t listening to his mom, for the most part, as she rants and rails about how awful a son and brother he is. He instead rolls his eyes at Michael, who throws him a welcome beer.

“If you had any sense of loyalty, any at all, you’d help him. He promised me he has work waiting for him next month! But no, you just want to see the worst in people, even your own brother, you always --”

Michael disappears into the kitchen and Trevor holds the phone away from his ear. He can hear his mom’s every word, regardless. She goes through the usual rounds of cursing and insults and threats, and by the time she’s moved into trying to guilt trip him, Michael’s returned with a couple of plates of cold burgers.

Trevor puts the phone back to his ear and immediately winces.

“-- could have told me where you are, leaving that day without saying one goddamn word, and I have to --”

“Mother,” Trevor interrupts, calmly. “Ryan isn’t getting one single cent from me. He’s getting fucking nothing.”

“But --”

“I have to go. I- I’ll talk to you soon. Take care, Ma.”

He hangs up. Michael frowns at him and lifts a questioning eyebrow.

They’ve worked together for almost seven months now, he and Michael. They know when beer is needed or when to leave each other well alone to wallow, and Trevor knows that when Michael knocks his knee against Trevor’s, he’s doing it with affection.

Trevor knows a lot about Michael these days. Things slip out when high on the success of a job or high on, well, drugs.

Michael, for example, once smoked a joint and a half to himself and told Trevor about his success as his school’s quarterback and how his parents were always too drunk to get to any of his games, but that the prestige he got throughout the school was better than any parental pride. He talks about dreams of the big screen that they both know will never, ever come true. He talks of how he hasn’t seen his father in five years, and his mother in four, and he doesn’t miss them in the slightest.

Trevor hugged him that night. He was a little high, too.

“She sounded pissed,” Michael notes with a nod to the phone. “She okay?”

“Okay as a woman serving time with nobody but her two piece of shit sons waiting for her on the outside can be, yeah.”

Michael’s frown deepens. He knocks back his beer while Trevor devours his burger. It twists nastily in his stomach, fighting with the meth that’s flooded his body. Michael, to his credit, has said nothing about the glass pipe on the small stretch of bed sheets between them. They sit in a companionable silence that Trevor is all too thankful for.

He doesn’t quite idolise Michael as he did seven months ago, though he’d never admit to anybody quite how much he did back then. Thanks to their constant close quarters and one too many alcohol induced moments of vulnerability, he’s started to see Michael as an equal such as he’s never had before.

The last thing he wants to do is discuss his mother his best and only friend.

“I’m bored,” Trevor announces, dropping his plate to the bed, crumbs be damned. “We need to get something to really plan or at least something to do. Anything.”

He stands up and looks down at Michael. He remembers the tears in the man’s eyes as he talked about the voice of his mother unheard for years. “Well,” Michael says, slowly, considering. “We’re only a couple of hours from Vegas.”

*

They skip the casinos and go straight to the strip clubs, making a beeline for the biggest and busiest they can find. Trevor doesn’t care about the gambling and Michael is nervous he’ll blow every cent he has so they settle for watching girls.

The security is tight here, too tight to try anything. Bouncers are at the doors, front and back, and from what Trevor can measure from a quick glance around, there’s enough security personnel and alarm bells to staff a whole government building. His guess is there’s somebody important in their midst.

While the thought of robbing them blind is inviting, he’s heard all the stories about Vegas. The Álvarez family have run the place for years and pay every establishment in and around the Strip extortionate fees to keep other gangs, criminals and vigilantes from trying to take over. Even a mugging on the street would get him and Michael noticed, and sure, that sounds like fun, but this is supposed to be some kind of peaceful break for the both of them.

He’s not going to ruin that for a couple of handfuls of cash and a wall of relentless gunfire.

The girls in the place more than make up for it, anyway. They are more daring, beautiful and dangerous than any dancers he’s seen before. They walk right up to clients of their choosing and drag them in the velvet curtained back rooms where bouncers stand and uneasily guard, clearly listening to every moan and groan behind them. Trevor is transfixed by one redhead in the corner but Michael eyes the brunettes.

“What’re you having?” the woman at the bar asks them, her voice clipped, her hair clipped even shorter.

“Uh, drinks? Obviously,” Trevor says, and she looks affronted.

“If you don’t order, Sir, you can’t be here. This isn;t a zoo.”

“Sorry, darling, he’s had a rough day,” Michael says, and she tears her glare away from Trevor. She melts at Michael’s immediate charm and puts an extra shot of vodka in each of their glasses that sets their heads spinning at once.

“You gotta stop flirting with every woman who crosses your path,” Trevor warns, as Michael leads them into a corner where they can watch the stage set in the middle of the club without being overheard too much by the other patrons. “One day you’re gonna fall in love when one of them shakes their ass a bit too well at you.”

Michael snorts into his drink. “You afraid of that happening, T?”

. Trevor elbows him. “In your fucking dreams.”

“What happens in my dreams is between me and my duvet,” Michael grins. Something ghosts over his expression, darkening the edges of it. “Anyway, that’s not for me. Wife, kids, picket fence house? Just give me the money and the road in front of me and we’re golden.”

Trevor’s feels golden, too. He doesn’t mention how easier it would be to face that life with Michael by his side, because Michael is by his side, and will be, and if golden sounds like a pathetic word to describe that then fuck it, they’ll be golden together.

“Maybe you’ll meet the right woman,” Trevor muses, just to fill the silence.

They both watch a woman in such little clothing she might as well be naked walk past, mesmerised by the purposeful sway of her hips. They look at each other, and Michael is laughing. “The right woman who’ll take me away from all of this? Please.”

Most of the people around them are beyond fake; fake tits, fake tan, fake gold, fake charm in the dead eyes of the men. Trevor hates them for it, each and every one of them. Even the prettiest dancer, all wild red hair and wilder green eyes, can’t escape his loathing as she straddles the lap of a greasy businessmen.>p> It’s not like Trevor is wishing people would fall in love instead, or commit to each other, or even fucking tell the truth. He’s a piss poor paragon of virtue himself. But when these people leave this Vegas club and get on with their day to day lives, they’ll be different, they’ll withdraw or come out of their shells or lie to their tired wives about where they’ve been all night.

If people would just embrace how fake they are, the world would be all the better. At least Trevor doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not. At least there’s that.

Michael goes to get them more drinks and Trevor takes to watching him instead of the redhead. He’s all suave charm, ducking his head to coyly accept the compliments of the bar staff or grinning cockily when another man compliments the cut of his suit. Around him, people fade to black and white or something equally ridiculous, and Trevor hates it. He wishes he could hate Michael, sometimes, because Michael slips into roles that aren’t natural, betrays everything that Trevor believes about him.

And then -- at the end of it -- he’s Michael again, affable and dependable and sometimes wild. Trevor can see that even now, as a dancer starts to circle him.

She’s small and blonde and smiling big and bright, and Michael is clearly hooked from their first shared look. She walks right up to him and takes one of the drinks from his hand, taking a little sip. “Hi,” she says, practically purring. “I’m Celia. What’s your name?”

“Michael,” he says, with half a grin.

Trevor watches from the corner. He feels a little nauseous.

“Michael? Huh.” She has candy pink lips. “You’re not from around here, are you, babe?”

“Nah, I’m from --” He clamps his jaw shut, sensibly. Her eyebrows shoot up. “It doesn’t matter where I’m from. I’m here now.”

She takes his arm. “You are,” she agrees. The sound of her voice makes Trevor stand up. “How about a dance, honey? Somewhere quiet, just you and me.”

Michael laughs, and glances over to where Trevor is glowering. He looks genuinely sorry as he says, “I want to, I do, but I’m with a friend and I gotta keep him company. It’s been a rough day for him.”

Celia looks at Trevor for only a second before pouting up at Michael, who is already moving away, drink and a half tight in his hands. Trevor takes the full one.

His stomach is churning as Michael claps him on the shoulder. “I’m yours tonight. No sweet ass for me.”

Feeling dizzy, Trevor downs the entirety of his drink and pushes past Michael, grabbing Celia’s forearm before she can find another, more eager customer. “Hey, sweetheart, how about that dance for me instead?”

She looks skeptical until he slips a twenty dollar bill into her hand and then she’s all sweetness and light again, leading him across the club into the shadows. Trevor looks over his shoulder at Michael only once, and his insides bunch up together. Michael is watching him with a sour expression that makes Trevor grit his teeth.

He tries to think of Celia as she dances over him, grinding down, but all he sees is the hurt that followed him as he left with her.

*

If Trevor were to describe to the uneducated how smoking meth makes him feel uneducated, he’d describe it as twist of pleasure seconds before coming.

He feels like he can do anything, like he’s on the verge of unimaginable pleasure and glory. It’s always just out of reach, though, an itch he can scratch no matter how much he inhales, but he’s always sure that the next time he loses himself to it will be the time he reaches that nirvana. So he keeps smoking, and keeps reaching and- and keeps falling short.

Still, the highs are good, more than good, he thinks, breathing out perfect smoke rings as he lies back on the motel bed. Celia had given him a nice enough dance and he’d thanked her with too many bills, and then had got out of there as fast as he could. He had left the car and got a cab. He was itching too much to drive.

Michael can drive home in it, anyway, if he’s not busy letting some dancer suck him off in the alley behind the club -- which, now Trevor thinks about it, is probably exactly what’s happening. He can see it. He can even hear it; he thinks Michael will make guttural, filthy noises as he tangles his fingers in the woman’s hair.

The glass pipe, all burnt out, falls from his hand and shatters on the floor. There’s something stuck in throat, he swears, and he can almost see nirvana swirling as far from him as possible. His high cuts an edge that scrapes at the inside of his skull.

He wishes he’d stayed at Michael’s side. He wishes Michael were here now, high or not.

It’s as he thinks this that the door opens and Michael stumbles into the room. He’s drunk, that Trevor can tell immediately. Drunker than Trevor’s seen him yet. His eyes are bloodshot and his clothes crumpled, stinking of whiskey, and he slams the door shut behind him with more force than strictly necessary. Trevor jumps, seconds too late to pass as fully sober. Michael isn’t likely to notice his delayed reactions, though, stumbling across the doormat.

“Hey,” Trevor says, quietly.

Michael looks up at him. He’s a deer caught in headlights; he sees the oncoming storm, but he’s frozen with it. Trevor sees his own reflection in those big eyes. He hates it. He can feel the ghost of the flare gun from that fateful meeting between them, he can feel his fingers tight around it; for a moment, only a moment, he wants to burn those big eyes right out of his skull. At least he wouldn’t see himself in them anymore.

“Hey,” Michael returns. He sounds confused. “Uh, where- where’d you get to tonight? We missed you.”

“We?” Trevor asks. His whole skull reverberates with the words, jaw clicking too loudly for his drug-pickled brain. “Who, you and some girl?”

“Mmm.” Michael, to his credit, manages to walk over to the bed without falling flat on his face. It seems like quite the feat, and when he’s reached it he’s smiling, wobbly and proud. “We. Me.”

“You,” Trevor says, stupidly.

He rubs his hands over his face. Every nerve ending is too intense, and he suddenly can’t swallow. The good feelings, the feelings of tomorrow, have definitely gone now, and he can’t get them back. He reaches out a hand as though they’re tangible. It brushes Michael’s wrist, instead, and Michael sluggishly pulls away.

“You’re, uh …” he eyes the smashed glass pipe. “You’re high.”

“And you’re drunk,” Trevor says, and then he’s laughing so hard he has to grab his sides. “You’re fucking pissed, Mikey. Look at you. I leave you for an hour and you can’t even see straight.”

“You leave me for an hour and you’re so high you’re in hysterics over nothing,” Michael counters. He only slurs a little. “I guess the moral is that we gotta stick together, right? Stick close together.”

Trevor kicks his boots off and brings his legs onto the bed, crossing them. Some of the itching has gone. His body melts against the blankets. “If you say so, cowboy.”

Michael snorts. He throws the covers back and gets into bed, clothes and shoes be damned. “This is my bed, right?” he mumbles against the pillow.

It takes a moment, but Trevor realises it is; his own stuff is piled on the bed across the room, haphazardly strewn. “Yeah,” he says, still grinning. He doesn’t move from his spot on the bed, and he feels Michael shifting to get comfortable, he knee bumping into Trevor’s elbow.

“You’re on it. My bed.”

“Yeah,” Trevor agrees, easily.

“Right.”

Michael says nothing more, and Trevor doesn’t make him. It’s warm here, just next to the desert, and as the meth does it’s magic Trevor imagines lying on hot sand, falling through it, feeling it slip through his fingers. He doesn’t suffer, he doesn’t sweat; his brain swells and swells, and he sleeps.

*

When he wakes, hours and hours later, Trevor has his arm slung around Michael’s waist, and Michael sleeps soundly on.

-------

Trevor scratches at his arm and watches Michael disappear into the convenience store.

Michael wanted cigarettes, and Trevor had tried to tell him how those things were no good at all. It fell on deaf ears however as Michael had pulled up to the curb, flipped him off and wenti nside. With a grin and a shake of the head that made his hair fall into his eyes, Trevor had let him go.

The months have melted into one another, and suddenly they’ve been partners in crime for over a year. The amount of trust between them that’s enable them to work together for so long with the bare minimum of arguments doesn’t mean that they’ll listen to each other about their vices, however -- Trevor still smokes meth when the itch gets too much, and Michael still smokes.

Trevor has, though, tried to stop taking undue risks now that there is another life at risk than his own. He’s not sensible and he’s not necessarily stable, but he’s stable enough to keep Michael alive.

Providing Michael doesn’t get himself killed without Trevor’s assistance.

He watches Michael chatting to the cashier, easy and friendly, as though he hasn’t pointed a gun at dozens of others working behind such a counter. She has strands of her hair twisted around her finger and is blowing gum, like a caricature from some dumb movie Michael likes to watch whenever they get a room with a television set. She’s pretty, too. Michael is laughing.

Trevor sighs, heavily, and crosses his arms where he’s rested against the door of the car. He watches an elderly couple shuffle past, followed by a group of young mothers with pushchairs, and then a man a couple of years younger than him who --

“Asshole,” the man mutters, noticing Trevor’s stare. He has big lips and tousled hair and a square, firm jawline, and he’s just the type of guy Trevor would like to meet at a club and fuck in the alleyway, holding him up against the grubby brick wall.

He’s irrationally turned on, and rationally pissed off, all at once.

He pushes himself off the side of the car and strides in front of the plan, splaying his feet wide on the pavement and arching an eyebrow. “Asshole? Do you mean me, friend?”

“I don’t see any other assholes here,” comes the sneering response, but there’s a heat to the gaze that sweeps up and down Trevor. He feels a prickling at his lower back, his cheekbones, his neck.

The tips of the other man’s ears are turning red. It’s obvious where his eyes are lingering now, and it’s at the firmness of Trevor’s chest beneath his shirt. “Riiiiight,” Trevor drawls, glancing at the shop to see Michael still thoroughly preoccupied with the giggling cashier. “You wanna take this down there?”

He nods at the alley by the side of the convenience store. The man licks his lips, hesitates, and Trevor’s pang of longing threatens to double him over.

Since he took his place at Michael’s side, there haven’t been any encounters like this. Michael still doesn’t know about his attraction to guys, and the clubs they go to aren’t exactly guy on guy friendly. He’s tried to slip out while Michael is sleeping and go to the sort of dark corners that men like to lurk in, but he feels like an unfaithful wife letting the delivery man plough her.

So he’s looked, and he’s wanted, and he’s done nothing about it.

He’s not surewhy he feels like that around men and men alone. He’s fucked women all across America since flying over the border, and he doesn’t usually think about Michael while on top of any of them. But when he thinks about flat chests and rutting hips, he gets too uncomfortable, too sick. He’s not ashamed, he’s never been ashamed of himself, but -- well. He can’t risk seeing the hatred or disappointment in Michael’s eyes when he learns he likes dick, too.

This man, though, looks all heat, and Trevor just wants to burn.

The man’s voice lowers as he says, “Fuck you. Too scared to take me on the street?”

“If you’re into that kind of thing,” Trevor says, easily, “sure”.

It’s a test, a tease, and they are both ready to fold like cards and fuck each other’s brains out and then --

-- and then Michael comes out of the store and stops short, looking between the two of them.

He must see the tenseness in the stranger’s shoulders and the firm line of Trevor’s mouth, because he’s immediately on the defence, one of his hands going to his waistband where his gun is stashed. “Everything okay, T?”

The man looks at him. Trevor sees and recognises the look in his eyes; it’s panic, pure panic, caught in the act of getting ready to shove his hands down another man’s pants. Instinct takes over him and before anyone can react, he’s pulled a gun from the inside of his jacket and he’s got it pointed at Michael.

“Who’s this, faggot?” he asks Trevor. “Your boyfriend?”

“Fuck you,” Michael says, as Trevor clenches his right fist. He looks at Trevor with more fervour. “Everything okay? You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

If Trevor’s short with Michael, it’s because the bulge in his pants has started to soften and he’s so damn frustrated and pissed off with people hiding, with himself having to hide just in case he offends somebody else’s ridiculous delicacies. He’s never hidden himself like this before, even from the brother who used to beat up any kid at school he thought might be gay.

The other man still looks nervous but his hand is steady as he aims the gun squarely at Michael’s face. Trevor doesn’t know how itchy his trigger finger is. He might be able to knock the gun from his hands, but a bullet might make Michael’s cheek explode regardless.

“Put the gun down,” he says, instead, and he can’t keep the anger from rocking his voice. “Put it down, or I’ll shove it so far up your ass you’ll be shitting out --”

“Shut the fuck up!”

Trevor looks around. The cashier hasn’t spotted them through her window, on the phone and laughing. Nobody is on the street with them anymore, but Trevor thinks he can see the vague silhouette of somebody in the distance.

Michael looks at Trevor and then swallows, hard.

“Look,” he says, placatingly. He steps forward and reaches, slowly, for the butt of the pistol, and presses his palm gently against it. “Look, I get it. You don’t want to lower your gun, but you don’t want to go to jail, either. We got places to be and I’m sure you do to. So just hand it over, slowly, and we’re gonna all walk away from this without the cop’s on our asses.”

Trevor’s heart lurches. All it would take is one squeeze of the trigger. One squeeze, and he’ll be alone again.

Michael smiles. “Come on, kid. Let it go.”

If Trevor was the one pointing the gun, he’d shoot right now just to get rid of the smug asshole trying to tell him what to do. He’d let blood wash over him and escape the cops with ease.

But Trevor isn’t pointing the gun, and the stranger is clearly all talk and no guts. Michael closes his fingers around the gun and takes it, and without hesitation slams it into the man’s head so he crumples into an unconscious heap on the floor.

“Fucker,” Michael says, and spits on him.

Trevor mourns, briefly, the fuck that will never be. Then he gives Michael the darkest look he can muster and storms back into the car, slamming the passenger door behind him.

Michael drives them back to their motel in silence. It’s dingier than most of the others they stay in, with mildew on the windowsills and stained sheets on the bed. It feels more like home than Trevor would ever to care to admit. Michael looks curiously over at Trevor throughout the journey but Trevor stares determinedly out of the window and grinds his teeth.

He’s still half horny and still pissed as fuck that Michael would take such a dumb risk. What if the man had shot him? What if Trevor had to watch his one and only friend bleed to death at his feet? He would have ripped that pretty boy limb from limb and then fucked his way all the way back to Canada, maybe burning down each state to the ground as he passed through.

Michael, though, is still very much alive, and Trevor is very much pissed with him for ending what could have been a beautiful and brief relationship.

They get into the motel in just under twenty minutes and Trevor’s slamming around at once, getting a good bottle of whiskey from the freezer and a single glass. Michael watches from the doorway to the kitchen, folding his arms and frowning.

Trevor pours in some ice and then downs it, the cubes clacking against his teeth.

“Not getting me a drink, then?”

“No.” Trevor pours himself another.

“And why not?”

“I don’t fucking want to, Mikey.”

Michael uncrosses his arms and gets a little crease between his eyebrows as he takes a cautious step forward. “You’re angry.”

“No shit.”

“You’re angry I knocked that guy out, right? Or is it because you wanted the privilege?”

. Trevor knocks back his second whiskey, and then a third. The words are sour on the tip of his tongue. I’m angry because I wanted to fuck a guy for the first time in over a year. I’m angry because I almost lost you today and I don’t want to be alone. I’m angry because you’re the reason- you’re the reason --

“How about you assume whatever the fuck you want, and I’ll get drunk.”

He pushes past Michael as he goes into the bedroom, but Michael grabs his elbow. Some of the whiskey spills over his fingers and just like that, in that second, Trevor is livid.

He jerks away. “Don’t fucking touch me.”

Michael raises his palms in submission. “You’re a fucking mystery sometimes. Anyone would think you were in love with that cocksucker.”

The whiskey falls onto the carpet somewhere along the way but all Trevor can think of is the way Michael’s cheek feels as his fist connects with it. It doesn’t quite crunch, but it’s close to it, and Michael swears in a satisfying kind of way.

“What the fuck?”

He’s panting as he rights himself, wiping at his mouth. Trevor stands with clenched fists and a heaving chest, ready to strike again at the first sign of any acidic retort. Michael, though, bypasses his wit and goes straight for strength; he has Trevor against the wall in a second, elbow at his windpipe.

“What the fuck is your problem, Philips? I should fucking shoot you right now.”

“Just fucking try it,” Trevor sneers, as best he can with Michael’s arm pushing into his throat.

Michael lets him go, out of pity or to go for his gun, Trevor’s not sure. He’s ready, though -- the moment he’s free, he kicks Michael square in the gut and sends him hard against the opposite wall. His head hits the yellowed wallpaper and he grunts, but his eyes are alive and clouded with fury.

“You sack of --”

Trevor grabs the lapels of his jacket, shakes him hard. His head knocks into the wall again. Trevor can smell the tobacco on his breath and something squeezes tight in his stomach, muscles out of his control. “Fuck you, Michael Townley. Fuck you.”

They’re close. Too close. Michael’s radiating warmth beneath his fingers, and Trevor’s whole body abruptly aches with want.

Michael’s eyes flicker down to Trevor’s lips. His breath hitches.

“Fuck you,” Trevor says again.

There’s a spot of blood at the corner of Michael’s mouth and Trevor swallows, curling his fingers tighter into the fabric of Michael’s jacket.

He wants to. He wants him.

Michael leans forward and the feeling of his lips is featherlight. They’re too dry and too hesitant, but Trevor kisses them hard all the same, leaning into it with all of his weight.

It’s not like any kiss Trevor has had before. He knows Michael, or thought that he did. He knows how he smells after not showering for a couple of days. He knows how he takes his coffee. He knows what his perfect day would be like. He knows what his perfect partner would be.

He knows it’s not him.

He kisses him, and when he pulls back to see blown pupils and red cheeks, he starts to drown.

“I need- I have to get some --”

He tears himself away, stumbles backward. He’s itching all over. He needs meth, and he goes to buy some without looking back once.

iv.

1990

Trevor hungers, and most nights he crawls into Michael’s bed, or Michael crawls into his. They fumble and never fuck and never kiss again, and Trevor tries not show any emotion when Michael gets out of bed the moment the morning light reveals them.

v.

late 1990

As winter starts to creep over America, Michael gets a call from Lester at 2am.

He knows where they’re staying - he always does, one way or another - but he’s never called them without a job in the works before. Michael reaches over Trevor’s half-asleep body to answer it, smoothing a hand across his bare stomach as he does so. Trevor’s grinning even as he hears Lester’s nervous, sleep-thick voice.

“Lester. Hey.”

Trevor rarely gets to see him like this, all sleepy and warm. When they aren’t sleeping, they are only ever in close proximity when the job demands it, or when they’re jerking each other off under the covers. Now, Michael is almost a lover, with roaming, too-gentle fingers that make Trevor bite at his lower lip to stop from laughing.

“No real names,” Lester snaps, and breathes hard. “Have you heard anything from anyone tonight? Anything at all? Has Tony tried to contact you?”

Michael looks down at Trevor, blinking in confusion. His hand stills at the dark fan of Trevor’s pubic hair. “Tony? That shitty driver T pushed into traffic?”

“The one and only.”

“No. I haven’t seen him since then, and nobody else has called today but you.” They both hear Lester sigh, heavily, on the line. “Hey, L, everything okay? Are you- are you safe?”

“I’m fine. I’m fine, I--”

There’s nothing but heavy breathing for a few moments. Trevor sits up and takes the phone from Michael, feeling rather more awake.

“Lester, man, come the fuck on. Tell us what’s happened.”

“If your phone has been tapped, I --”

“We’re the only ones who’ve been in this room, we checked in like four hours ago with fake names, and we haven’t left. Fucking spit it out.”

Lester audibly struggles with himself for a moment. “I- no. I’m sorry, Tr-- T. I can’t take that risk over the phone right now. You’ll understand when I can explain everything. Get over here as soon as possible.”

Trevor is furious, and must look it because Michaels the phone quickly back from him. “Hey, Lest -- sorry, uh, L. You need to calm down. We’re in New Mexico right now, and last I knew you were in --”

“North Yankton. Yeah. You know the address. I don’t care how you do it, just get here. This is really important.”

Michael and Trevor look at each other. Trevor just wants to blow him, Lester’s panic be damned. Maybe he could even dare to kiss him again. Michael licks his lips.

“I don’t know.” He hesitates, running a hand over his heavily lidded eyes. “That means a lot of travel. You sure you can’t say whatever you’ve got to say over the phone?”

“I’m sure,” Lester says, firmly. “I’ll see you both soon.”

He hangs up, and Michael does, too. Trevor is on him in a moment, keeping his lips still and far away, but his hand curls around Michael’s cock instead. Michael lies back with a big, shit-eating grin, and when he comes ten minutes later, he’s still smiling.

*

They get to Lester’s in little over 30 hours and he pretty much drags them through his front door.

“You took your time. Do either of you know what urgency is?”

Trevor shrugs off his jacket. “If you want, I can urgently shove my boot up your --”

“Sorry,” Michael cuts through him. It’s cold outside, and his cheeks are patched with pink. “We got the first flight we could, then we had to drive all the way out here. Couldn’t you just settle down, preferably somewhere near an airport?”

“I’ve been looking at properties, actually, but I’m not staying in the state of eternal winter,” Lester says, leading them through to the barely-lived-in dining room. “Anyway, my whereabouts are not important right now.”

“Something better be,” Trevor mutters. It’s kind of pathetic how much pleasure he gets from trudging dirt and snow through the house when Lester’s only renting this place. It’s going to mean a lot of cleaning for the dick. If he hadn’t called and interrupted their sleep, they could still be curled up in bed, or at least getting high.

He and Michael take seats at the table and Lester stands at the head of it. He always looks rough, but now he looks about three days from his last good sleep. His hands are practically shaking.

Michael leans forward, elbows on the table. “Lester, maybe you should sit down. You been taking your meds properly?” “I’ve been taking them just fine, thank you,” Lester snaps. Michael raises his eyebrows and the man’s shoulders sag, the life going out of him. “Well, fine, maybe I’ve forgotten a couple this morning. I don’t know. I can’t remember.”

“That’s pretty dangerous, shouldn’t --”

“Can we please stop talking about me? I’m fine. It’s you I’m worried about.”

Michael looks at Trevor. They mirror each other’s confusion. “Uh. Me? Why? I ain’t got any life debilitating conditions. I’m fantastic right now.”

“Tony. The driver.” Lester breathes out hard through his nose. “He’s been arrested doing some stupid high-risk, low-pay job. The others got away, but they got him.”

“Shit,” Trevor comments, dryly. He never liked the man, always too jittery and nervous in the middle of a chase. His capture is no great loss to the world of criminality. “So what? Guy was a jerk.”

“That may be so, but he’s also a goldmine of information for the cops. He knows names, faces, he knows the system. He’s worth a hell of a lot more to them than one more jail cell being occupied. He could hand us all in.”

Michael frowns. “But people must get caught all the time. Not everyone’s cut out for this life. There have to be like, I dunno, unspoken rules in place? I’ve been to jail, Trevor’s been, we never blabbed. You don’t sell out your brothers, not least ‘cause you’d get killed by them the second you’re a free man.”

Trevor nods, because it’s all he can do when he’s watching Michael, studying how emphatic he is. It’s a ridiculous time to get turned on but all he can think of is two nights ago, when he took Michael in his mouth for the first time and got to look up and see those eyes staring down at him, pupils blown, mouth hanging half open with a sliver of pink tongue wetting his lips.

He had wanted to kiss him then, but he didn’t want to push his luck, so he swallowed his come in thanks instead.

“The rumour is that our dear friend Tony doesn’t quite agree, Michael. The rumour is he’s going to talk, and talk a lot, for a big of a payoff as he can bargain for.” Lester literally wrings his hands together. “He’s worked with me. He’s worked with both of you. He knows us, full name knows us. We could be hunted down before the week’s end.”

A silence meets the announcement. Slowly, Trevor lowers his head and then bangs it on the table. It’s easier than seeing the worry on the other’s faces.

Michael is on his feet after a beat. Trevor can’t see him, but the tone of his yell is enough for him to picture the look of pure fury he must be wearing. “What the fuck? That little shit is going to get himself killed, you mark my fucking words. If he dares, dares, gives our names in, that’s it -- I’ll kill him myself if nobody else does. I’ll fucking end him. He can’t do this.”

“He can, and he most likely will. Now, in the event of one of our names getting out, it’s going to be a mess, but we can deal with that. Fake names, new identities - leaving the country, if we have to. Trevor, of course, you have Canada, but they’d find you pretty easily. Maybe South America, or --”

“We’re not running, not because of him,” Michael snaps. Trevor, head still against the hardwood, groans in agreement. “What a fucking scumbag. You don’t do this, you just don’t - you don’t betray people in this game. We’re supposed to be, fuck, I don’t know - companions, brothers, together forever and all that shit. You can’t sell out, not like that. We’re in this for life.”

Trevor raises his head again.

Something is swelling inside of him, big and painful. Michael is voicing every thought Trevor has on the subject; his eyes are burning, his fists are clenched, he looks so alive alive alive. Trevor can’t help the smile that starts to grow. If he ever had any worry that Michael might one day leave their life together, it’s gone now.

In the long run, it’s all Trevor really wants. The money is nice, but incidental - just a reminder of the power they can get if they really work together. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where he ends up, in a mansion or another trailer park, as long as he can stay in this life, in this game, with Michael as his so-called brother who he gets to sleep next to every now and then. That’s where his dreams begin, and where his dreams end. Michael fucking Townley.

Michael’s only getting better with age, too. Twenty two, nearly twenty three, and finding his drive. He was cocky at first, sure, but nowadays he has reason to be - he’s a crack shot, for one thing, and he’s more determined than ever to succeed, more determined than ever for them both to succeed.

If the little rat really does squeal in prison, Michael won’t have to lift a finger to hurt him. Trevor will tear him limb from limb with pleasure.

Lester gives Trevor’s smile an odd look, but Michael doesn’t seem to notice it. He’s probably seeing red, anyway.

“We need to calm down and think about this rationally,” Lester says, in as soothing a voice as his rasp can be. “Relax, Michael. Sit down before you hurt yourself.”

“Fuck off,” Michael replies. Trevor snorts with laughter, and they both look at him funny. “I’m going out to get- god, I need a smoke and some beer. I’ll bring some back or- or something.”

He’s gone before anybody tries to stop him, a storm of cursing and fury.

Lester sighs and runs his hands over his face. He disappears into the kitchen and returns with two shot glasses, and a bottle of vodka. Trevor takes it eagerly, pouring them both one. He feels a little awkward, a little on edge, and he hates it; he and Lester are rarely alone together, especially in tense situations.

They clink their glasses together and down their shots, and as Lester is pouring the second round he says, quietly, “Don’t you ever dare betray Michael, Trevor Philips.”

The warm buzz that Trevor has been feeling since Michael got so enthused with the imminent betrayal fades. He takes the offered drink and when he puts it to his lips, he’s watching Lester. The drink doesn’t go straight down; he swills the vodka around and through his teeth, savouring it.

“Noted,” he says, swallowing, and then he grins, all teeth and malice. “Noted, Lester the Molester.”

Lester blinks at him. “That doesn’t even make sense, I’m not --”

“Lester the Molester,” Trevor repeats, firmly, and Lester glowers at him.

“I’m glad you learned to rhyme.” He pours them a third shot. “I’m being serious, though. You saw how seriously Michael takes trust in this job, and you’re the only person I’ve ever seen him really depend on.”

“And you think I’m the sort not to take that seriously.”

“I think you’re a liability. I think you go off the rails too much. You pushed Tony out of a damn moving car, and he was supposed to be your ally. If you lose your temper with Michael on a job, what will you do? Shoot him in the face?”

Trevor nearly knocks the table right over as he jumps to his feet. He surges around it, his hands at the collar of Lester’s shirt, and he shakes, shakes as hard as he can, shakes as though he will knock those thoughts right out of the man’s head.

“You piece of shit! What are you trying to do here, huh, force something from me? You want me to say my hearts not really in this? You want me to get out of the fucking way so you and Michael can be the awesome duo again? Fuck you, you creepy little --”

Lester looks terrified. He struggles but can’t get out of Trevor’s iron grip. “You’re being ridiculous. I- I’m only trying to protect him, protect all of us. If he gets hurt, our cash flow gets hurt.”

“Our cashflow,” Trevor spits, and shakes him again. “I should’ve known you don’t give a shit about Michael, or me.”

He pushes Lester away from him. His heart is beating in his ears, pumping too fast, and he wants to punch something, anything. Instead, he goes into the bathroom and slams the door behind him.

If Michael were to come home and find Lester bruised and battered, he might start to think Trevor capable of betrayal, too. Trevor, who values nothing more than honesty, who has never trusted anyone the way he trusts Michael, who wants to snap the neck of anybody who might harm a hair on his head.

When his breathing has evened out, he comes back into the dining room to find Michael walking through the door with a six pack and Lester on the phone.

Lester has regained composure; he looks completely unperturbed, but he does give Trevor a nervous look when he notices he’s returned.

“Who’s he talking to?” Michael asks, and Trevor shrugs.

“Beats me. You feeling any better, cowboy?”

Michael snorts at the nickname. He looks a lot better, anyway and there’s less heat in his gaze. “I’m fine. I’m still pissed off, and I’m still going to murder Tony if he says anything, but I’m fine. Are you okay? You look a little, uh, red.”

“We started on the vodka when you were out,” Trevor says, shortly.

Michael raises an eyebrow and opens his mouth, but then Lester is hanging up. They turn to him and see death personified; Lester is pale, trembling, his knees clearly close to crumbling beneath him.

“He talked,” he says, and sinks into his chair. “He- he’s dead, but he talked first. They let him go and someone took him out, but- but he talked, he’s given them names, and now he’s dead.”

“Names?” Trevor asks. “Our names?”

“Some acquaintances of ours. Some people I’ve never heard of. And- and one more, one more name.”

Who’s? What name?”

Lester looks up, swallows. “Michael Townley.”

*

“Fuck,” Michael gasps.

His bitten-down nails dig into the flesh of Trevor’s ass as he lifts him almost entirely off the bed. Trevor steadies himself with one hand at Michael’s shoulder and one on the messy sheets beneath him. Fuck is kind of an inadequate word; they haven’t quite fucked yet, if fucking really means dick in ass. For Michael to say it now is too cruel. Trevor’s hard, achingly so, and the friction of Michael grinding against him just doesn’t feel enough.

It’s good, though. It’s real good.

It’s usually Trevor who grabs so hard he leaves bruises, but tonight it’s Michael who controls their bodies. The heat of his anger seems to go straight to his cock and he’s grinding it down against Trevor’s hip, his stomach, his cock, his thigh, anywhere he can get good friction.

If Tony wasn’t lying dead on a slab somewhere, Trevor would have to call him up and thank him.

There is a strength to Michael that Trevor’s not really seen before now. He lifts his other hand from the bed and puts his arms around Michael’s neck. Michael holds him, holds the entirety of his weight, with nothing more than a groan.

Lester is in the next room and they both it. Trevor doesn’t care, of course; he’d tell anyone, any passerby or friend or family member, who he is and who he’s fucking. But Michael -- Michael hasn’t offered a single kiss since their first, fateful night together. He hasn’t ever talked about whatever it is they do the moment the lights are off. In the day, he’s Michael Townley, straight and transfixed by any pretty girl who walks by. At night, he’s Trevor’s. Trevor would shoot the sun down the moment it dares rise, if he could.

But the secrets are spilling tonight, anyway. Tony has given away Michael’s real name to the cops and though Lester had shakily assured him they’d keep the heat off his back, get him a really good fake identity if they had to, Michael is wounded. So if Lester hears them fucking -- which he has to hear, they’re hardly being quiet -- so what?

The thought kind of makes it all hotter for Trevor, anyway. Honesty always does.

Trevor groans. “I want to suck your --”

Michael drops him onto the mattress before he can finish. He looms over Trevor with burgeoning muscles and a reddened collarbone and a look in his eye that reminds Trevor of looking into a mirror. He barely recognises the man above him at all.

Frowning, he licks at his lips. “Uh, you okay?”

There’s no reply. At least, Michael doesn’t say anything. Instead he moves down the bed and curls his hand around Trevor’s cock, and when it’s flushed and ready in his hand he ducks down. He takes him into his mouth.

He’s not slow or loving and gentle, but Trevor doesn’t mind, doesn’t mind at all. He’s downright dirty with his tongue, slurping and licking a wet path from base to tip, before swallowing him whole again. One of his hands is at Trevor’s hip, scratching lighting, holding him in place.

Trevor is under no illusions that Michael is magically great at giving head. He’s clearly got experience, and while he’s kind of annoyed Michael has never mentioned his preference for men before now, he gets it -- he’s not been quite honest about it, either. Besides, he’s not complaining; it’s been a long time since any man did this for him, and did it so damn well.

When Michael lifts his head for breath, he jerks Trevor instead, hand slick with spit. Michael watches him unravel on the sheet. He’s breathing heavily himself. “Good, yeah?”

“Y-yeah. Until you stopped.”

Michael barks out a laugh. He looks a little more like himself, now, more recognisable as a somewhat level-headed Michael Townley. Trevor starts to smile, even as his whole chest heaves and his stomach twists with each of Michael’s firm jerks.

They look at each other, just grinning, until Michael dedicates himself again. He’s got his own cock in hand, too, and as his movements become more sporadic, they’re both groaning. Michael leans over and presses their foreheads together, tongue wetting his own reddened lips, and if Trevor weren’t otherwise blissed out he might try to kiss him or at least --

He comes between them, with a strangled sound that he muffles, biting his lips so hard skin threatens to break.

“Shit,” he mumbles, when he’s done, and lies bonelessly back against the bed.

He’d return the favour, but Michael seems close, anyway, bucking his hips into his own hand, his cheeks flushed pink. Trevor is content just to watch him and the way his neck gets exposed when he raises his chin, the way his free hand grabs Trevor’s arm as though to ground himself, and the way -- when he finally comes, with a moan -- he moves to squeeze Trevor’s hand, instead.

Trevor moves obligingly to let Michael slump face-down next to him. They don’t bother cleaning up. They move closer together until sweat-licked skin meets sweat-licked skin, and Trevor slings an arm around him.

It’s not quite a kiss, but it makes Trevor shiver all the same when Michael presses a closed mouth against the back of his neck.

He mumbles something incoherent.

“Huh?”

Michael swallows. “Don’t leave me, T. Don’t you ever leave.”

*

Hours later, when Michael sleeps soundly and Trevor’s kept wide awake by his last words, the streetlight outside starts to give way. It sends the bedroom into some lazy kind of rave; it glows orange, and then doesn’t glow at all, and then they’re bathed in light again. Trevor lies there and watches Michael’s peaceful expression as it changes colour.

The urge to kiss him becomes too much and he gets out of bed. He has no drugs on him, none at all, but there’s beer and vodka in the other room and it’s calling his name.

He will never leave Michael. At least, never by choice. The cops might shoot him down, but he will never, ever intentionally leave his best friend’s side.

When he pads quietly into the dining room, he finds Lester sat at the table, wide awake. The bags under his eyes seem heavier than ever. In front of him is the vodka, half empty.

“Hey, T,” he says softly, sadly. “Come to finish me off?”

Trevor seriously considers it. There’s no horror or scorn in Lester’s gaze, no judgement over what he’s obviously just heard from the bedroom, and Trevor is still pretty spent. All he does is walk over to the table and take the bottle of vodka by the neck.

He pauses, meets Lester’s eyes. “Don’t you ever betray him either.”

“I won’t,” Lester says, and the look they share is a promise.

-------

It’s decided between the three of them that they should take a brief break from the game. Michael decides to go home and make sure his piece of shit family is safe now his real name is known to the cops down in Arkansas, and Trevor hardly wants to spend anymore alone time with Lester.

Michael suggests he goes to see his family, too, and Trevor reluctantly agrees.

The moment he’s off the plane and steps foot on Canadian soil he starts to feel sick. It’s not a place he’s ever thought about returning to; it’s a place so entrenched with the past and unwanted nostalgia that he’d rather burn it to the ground then let it get back into his bloodstream.

He gets a cab straight out to the trailer park. He can afford that sort of distance, now, and the cabbie is happy enough when he says he has to pay in American dollars, but he’ll pay extra for the trouble.

The past year and a half have been so far removed from what he’s known in Canada that at first he’s not sure how to feel as the expanse of it whizzes past. It’s Christmas in three days and he hasn’t bought any presents. He hopes his mom will be happy with his company instead.

He hopes, but he doubts.

As far as he knows, his mom should be out of jail now if she’s been well behaved, and Ryan is definitely still at home and still sponging every cent he possibly can from her. Trevor knows full well that the trailer won’t have changed like he once asked of his brother. Nothing will have changed, let alone Ryan’s fucking deadbeat attitude.

It’s the first time he’s been away from Michael for more than a day and it’s worse than any time he’s tried to kick meth right out of his life - he positively itches for his company. He shifts in the back of the car and glares out of the window when the driver gives him a strange look in the rearview mirror.

Since leaving the border of the country that wouldn’t even let him defend it, he’s moved around more than he ever did in his turbulent childhood. Cops need outrunning a hell of a lot more than deadbeat fathers, and he and Michael are a bit too talented in attracting their attention.

It’s good, though. It’s been a real good journey. When he looks in the mirror these days, he sees eyes much more manic and laughter lines that much more defined.

There are days when he’s smoked so much meth he feels like his jaw is about to rip right away from the rest of his skull. There are hours where he’s so fucking pissed that he wants to murder the jackass who just overtook him on the freeway. There are times when Michael makes him so damn frustrated and so mad with the way he puts on a facade, the way he idolises the assholes in the movies they sometimes catch on TV, that he wants to leave him for good. There are seconds when he thinks his heart might just explode in his chest when Michael smiles at him.

Things are good, all things considered

“Left here,” he tells the cab driver. In too short a time the sign for the trailer park is looming, and there’s a grey cloud ominous on the horizon. His mother and his sack of shit brother are here. He could kill that asshole right now, beg for his mother’s forgiveness, and be out of here before the taxi has even driven away.

He pays the man and gets out, and- and it’s ahead of him. Still run down, still a goddamn piece of shit, still his fucking home.

Trevor is itching again. He wishes Michael was here.

But Michael isn’t here, and Trevor has to grow up and start facing all this shit alone again. He’s not some weak, co-dependent asshole. He’s Trevor Philips, and if he can’t fight this queasy feeling in his stomach and enter what’s supposed to be a safe haven for him, what can he do?

Swallowing bile, he goes up the few steps to the door, and kicks it open.

There’s screaming at once, but it’s not deepened by too many cigarettes. It’s high-pitched and ridiculous, and when he stops and focuses on the scene in front of him, his eyes widen.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

The woman, clad in some old dressing gown as she irons a well-worn pair of pants, screams again, and brandishes the iron like a crucifix. “This is my home, asshole! What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I--” he thinks about it for a second, but no, this is the right trailer -- there’s still that tired old pink striped wallpaper in the kitchen, and the dent in the side of the cabinet he made when Ryan stole what little savings he had two years ago. “This place belongs to my mom. What, she out of town and you thought you’d try your hand at squatting?”

She shakes her head. There’s defiance in her gaze, and she’s kind of pretty even without any make-up and her red hair in curlers. She can’t be any more than thirty. Everything about her screams domesticity, left all day, bored in this place, while her husband is out working and fucking his way through every stripper in town. She is just like most of the other women on this park. She doesn’t seem like the type to squat or steal, and Trevor grits his teeth.

“Are you alright?” she asks, but doesn’t lower the iron. “You look awful.”

“You’ll look awful after I’m fucking done with you,” he says, but without any real heat. She winces nonetheless. “Where’s the people who own this place, owned it, whatever? The Philips?”

“We bought this place four months ago from a man called, uh, what was his name?” She’s clearly terrified, eyes darting all over the trailer and more than once to the phone. “Ray. Uh, Ray, no, something beginning with R, I think. Yeah, definitely.”

“Ryan?”

“Ryan! Yeah, that was it. A bit older than you. My husband bought it from him and we ain’t seen him or the old woman he had with him since.”

Trevor starts to pace. The floor is worn with his mother’s footsteps. “They leave anything behind? Any forwarding address?”

“Nothin’.”

“Nothing for- no message for Trevor?”

She shakes her head again. “They never mentioned no Trevor.”

He stares at her without really seeing anything but red. His piece of shit brother and his darling mother have cleared off without a backward glance at him. They’ve left without any sort of care, any sort of concern. He could be dead in a ditch or trying to find them to tell them he loves them or be on death row, and they wouldn’t give a single shit about him. First his father, and now his mother.

It’s hard to breathe. He only realises he’s on the floor when the woman has her hand on his shoulder. “Hey, honey, were you family? I’m sure you can find them. Maybe they left a number with some friends?”

His chest is tight as he stays there, on his hands and knees in this shitty little trailer that isn’t even his anymore. When he lifts his head to fix the fussing woman with a glare, his eyes are filled with tears.

He hates it. He hates himself. He loves and misses his mother so much that when he stands and puts his fist through the window, he’s still crying. The woman starts screaming again and he leaves her to it, stumbling back out and down the stairs.

Venturing this close to the border had never been a good idea. Canada has been nothing but bad luck for him and he can feel it’s influence already; the blood runs thick and fast from his fingers, down his wrist, and his whole face is wet from crying.

The woman’s screams only die down when he’s close to the edge of the park. Only one person passes him, an ex-neighbour who he vaguely recognises, but he keeps his head down when he sees the state Trevor is in. His mother, his mother -- if he never went further into America, maybe she wouldn’t have disappeared. They’re a family of few friends, and they have none so special that any contact details would have been left. His mother has gone, gone god knows where, and if Trevor had only tried to stay and fit in, maybe- maybe --

He stumbles when he reaches the payphone. His hand is cut up bad, real bad, and he’s lightheaded with it.

Trevor forces himself to focus and fumbles in his pocket, pulling out wrinkled paper that’s soon wet with blood. The handwritten number of Michael’s parents’ house is only just legible, and Trevor it in with shaking fingers. He needs some sort of anchor. He needs to know where his mother is. He needs to stop crying.

“Hello?” comes a female voice, and he takes a big, gasping breath.

“Is Michael there?”

“Michael? Yes. Can I ask who’s speaking?”

The woman has Michael’s accent, though it’s softened with pretension and airs. Michael’s mother, Mrs. Townley, a woman who can be found with just a phone call. Trevor closes his eyes and tries to regain some semblance of balance, of stability.

“Trevor.”

“Oh, yes, he’s mentioned you,” she says, her voice getting suddenly colder. “You’re his friend, aren’t you? One moment, please.”

He wipes at his face in the silence, probably smearing blood all across his cheeks. It’s been two days and he’s already giving in and calling the number Michael gave him for emergencies. What’s his emergency, exactly? His mom has run away from him, clearly not wanting to be found? Michael is going to laugh down the line at him and tell him not to bother flying back down.

There’s an argument in the background, and then Michael’s on the phone. “Trevor? What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

Trevor takes a big breath and clenches his free fist. “Yeah. Yeah, I- I’m fine.”

“You sound goddamn wrecked. What’s happened?”

He looks down at his hand, at the deep cut across his middle knuckle. There isn’t much need for stitches, but it hurts like hell nonetheless. “Not much. I don’t really know why …” he pauses, for a moment, and laughs, the sound short and sharp. “I don’t really know why I’ve called you.”

“Well, I’m damn glad you did, T. I’m fuckin’ exhausted already. I remember now why I never come back here.” His mom starts yelling in the background again. “Shut the fuck up, alright? You always told me to be honest, mom.”

Trevor feels sick. “Don’t talk to her like that. She’s your goddamn mother.”

He misses his own mother so much. He can practically smell her cheap perfume and see the vibrant print of her cardigan and feel the sharp sting of her palm. The thought of those painful slaps has him crying again, all snotty and pathetic, and he clings onto the phone like it’s the only tangible thing he has left.

“Uh. What did you say?” Michael hesitates on the line and Trevor envisions him, all worried eyes and pursed lips. “Trevor, buddy, are you- are you crying?”

“I cut my hand,” Trevor says, stupidly.

“Did you find your family okay? Where are you?”

Trevor manages to laugh. “My family? No. No, I didn’t find them okay. I’m at a payphone.”

“Are you okay> Are you safe?”

“Yeah.” He sighs and sinks down to the floor, kneeling in the dust of the trailer park. His paid time is almost out and he’s out of change. “I’m safe. I’m fine.”

He wants to go back to his old trailer and burn it to the ground. He wants to hunt down his mother and hug her and never let her go. He wants to get higher than ever before, so high he never has to come down and face the fact that he’s lost the only woman he’s ever really cared about, the woman that clearly no longer cares for the son she once tried to shield from everything.

“Good,” Michael says, uncertainly. “If you’re not with your family, how about getting back to the airport?”

“Huh?”

Michael lowers his voice. “I can’t stand another goddamn second in this house. I need to get out. We should celebrate the holidays together in the style. Get some good stuff in and, fuck, I don’t know, try to forget everybody else’s bullshit. Just the two of us, yeah?”

“Us against the world,” Trevor laughs, weakly.

“Us against the world,” Michael confirms.

The blood starts to dry at Trevor’s cheeks and he wipes some of the flakes off. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.”

*

The journey from the border region down to the midwest is almost a disaster - his flight gets delayed three times, and he almost loses his temper with the kid sat next to him who won’t stop screaming about how they’re going to crash. But they land just on time and the kid is soon hurried away by his parents when they notice Trevor’s twitching eye.

When he’s back on solid ground, though, and pushing his way out into the parking lot, he starts to breathe a little easier. He’s still dressed in the same, bloodied clothes he left in but he at least cleaned up a little in the airplane bathroom. The cuts on his fingers are scabbed over and most of the blood has been washed away, but every time he flexes them a certain way they sting again.

That housewife is probably still screaming and trying to clear up the glass. Trevor tries not to think of his rage, or the reason for it.

He tries most of all not to think of his mother.

That’s easier to do when he scans around for Michael’s car, some old Datsun he’s taken to driving while laying low, and thinks of how Michael practically begged him to fly back. Never mind the expense of the plane ride, never mind the frustration of travelling, never mind the time he took to get all the way out to the border again. Never mind his mother, and never mind the abandonment he’s been forced to suffer again.

Never mind anything but Michael, who Trevor spots in the corner of the parking lot, leaning against the pale grey Datsun door and waving over at him. Trevor pauses, and just stands there watching him for a moment, composing himself. At least the blood has gone from his cheeks. At least he’s stopped crying.

Michael looks up at that moment and their eyes meet. That’s all he needs; Trevor just melts, his stomach just tugs in all directions. He is - madly - flooded with warmth. He can’t form any real thoughts except that he’s vaguely aware of stumbling forward, mouth dry.

He’s completely and utterly fucked.

“Mikey,” he says, when he gets to him. “Long time no see.”

Michael rolls his eyes. “It feels like it, man. My parents are the fucking worst. Remind me never to try and visit them again.”

Trevor resists the urge to tell him to appreciate them again. It's not like he has any room to talk after driving his mother from his life. "That bad, huh? Now I get why I wasn't invited for Christmas dinner."

"No, you weren't invited to Christmas dinner because you'd probably try to stash a body under the table," Michael laughs as they get into the car, and after a pause says, "I've told my parents a little bit about you."

"Yeah? What do they think about this life of yours?"

"I didn't tell them what it is we do, exactly," Michael shrugs, and Trevor's not sure if he's talking about the robbing or the fucking. "I told them I was travelling with you."

“Yeah, and? They take kindly to it?”

Michael snorts. He concentrates on getting them out of the airport parking lot and then glances at Trevor sidelong when they hit the highway. “Honestly, I don’t think they gave two shits. I mean, don’t take that personally, they never gave two shits when I was running around the football field as quarterback. They ain’t ever gonna give two shits about anything I do.”

He doesn’t sound particularly pissed off about it, or even that sad. He’s so matter of fact about his parents truly not caring what - or who - he does, that Trevor has to stop himself getting mad all over again. Michael deserves more. Trevor deserves his mother’s cold shoulder, but Michael deserves his mother’s love.

“Fuckers,” is all he says, and Michael barks out a laugh.

“You got that right.” He changes lanes and gives Trevor a fleeting, nervous look. “Enough about them. What about your family? That phone call --”

“Zzzzzzzzip,” Trevor interrupts, loudly, and mimes zipping up his lips just in case Michael doesn’t get the idea. He gets a scolding look for being such a smartass, but Michael obeys, anyway. It’s the last thing Trevor wants to talk about, now firmly back in the Midwest and away from that goddamn trailer park.

When they stop at a set of lights, Michael lights a cigarette. Trevor opens a window, but it’s mostly for show. He’s missed the smell over the past couple of days, although he’s loathe to admit it, and now it’s nothing short of intoxicating. He knows just how Michael’s mouth will taste because of it. He knows that he is lost.

Michael breathes out great plumes of smoke. Trevor breathes in deep. His eyes close.

He lifts a hand, meaning to put it on his knee or his shoulder or his cheek, just to be able to touch him, but he fumbles on thin air. When he opens his eyes, Michael is watching at him, motionless but for the slither of pink tongue that wets his lips. Trevor’s throat feels suddenly too tight.

The lights change and the moment is gone. Michael focuses on the road, changes gears, and laughs far too loudly.

“I gotta say, T, being a wanted man is fucking boring. I keep thinking about what I’m gonna do until it all dies down and, Jesus, the only thing that’s appealing is getting back in the game.”

“If it were up to me, I’d say do it,” Trevor shrugs. It’s been only a couple of weeks since their last job, but he’s missed the thrill of the chase, too, and the sounds of the sirens. “Who cares if they’ve got your name? That’s why you call yourself Rogers or De Santa or Smith or what the fuck ever. You can’t let one asshole ruin your whole career, even if he is dead.”

Michael hums, and then heaves a great sigh, shoulders sagging. “Maybe,” he agrees, slowly, “I mean, not maybe, yeah. Yeah, I agree. But it’s not just me, is it? I risk giving out my name and I risk Lester, Moses, all the other guys. I risk you.”

Trevor snorts. His knuckles are white against the dashboard. “Then risk me.”

Michael flashes him a light bulb grin, a thousand watts bright. “Sure, and have Lester come after me?”

“He’s gotta have some sort of contingency plan.” Michael doesn’t look all that convinced, so Trevor gives in and touches Michael, at last - just his jawline, briefly, with a knuckle. “Cheer up. He’ll work something out. That’s what we give him a cut for, right?”

“Right,” Michael says. If his voice is lower than usual, Trevor tries his best to ignore it.

The next set of lights is red, too, and Michael swears under his breath, turning fully in his seat to look at Trevor. “Hey, look. Shit man, I’m --” He runs a hand through his hair and goes kind of red. “Do you wanna, uh, go back to the motel and - I mean, I can’t -- fuck, Trevor, I’ve been thinkin’ about fucking you since I saw you in the parking lot, so, do you - yeah?”

Trevor tries to act suave, but he says, a beat too quickly, eagerly, “Yeah. Yeah, I-I do.”

At least Michael has already booked into this motel, with one double bed just big enough for the two of them. It means that Trevor is saved from booking it at the front desk managed by some strange little man with clammy hands that leave wet marks on the pen he’s scratching away with when they burst through the front doors.

It means easiness, it means convenience; it means they can go right up to their room and Trevor can be kissing Michael in a second.

He tastes just how he remembers, tobacco-tinged and goddamn terrific. It’s all tongue and teeth and it becomes a battle of strength; Michael has him pinned to the door, fingers wrapped around his upper arms, but Trevor pushes back and controls their mouths.

It’s a fight and a struggle, but instead of trying to burn his opponent, Trevor’s trying to get as close to him as possible. Michael has him matched at every turn. When he drags Michael’s lower lip roughly between his teeth, Michael’s bitten-down nails dig right into the flesh of his arms. There will be marks there in the morning. Trevor can’t wait to show them off.

He bites into Michael’s lip and a breathy moan hits him square in the face. He groans in response. He’s been hard since Michael turned to him in the car.

Michael pulls back - lip snagging between Trevor’s teeth - and stares at him with flushed cheeks and wide, wide eyes. “I missed you,” he says, and drops his head a moment to rest their foreheads together. Trevor gets a wrenching feeling in his gut that threatens to consume him and he closes his eyes tightly.

“You too,” he says. “I always do.”

The confession gets a shaky laugh from Michael, who dips to kiss him, just once, gently, on the corner of his mouth. The wrenching feeling gets worse.

The moment is gone as soon as it came, with Michael dropping to his knees and fumbling with Trevor’s belt buckle. He doesn’t plant kisses all over his hipbones like some of the more eager strippers do. He doesn’t feather his lips across his thighs, doesn’t spread his fingers down his back and urge him gently forward. There is no tenderness in his movements anymore; he takes him in his hand and he starts to jerk him off.

“Fuck,” Trevor says, glaring down as Michael grins widely back up at him. “You wanna give me some warning next time?”

“Next time?” Michael asks, eyes glinting. “Who says there’s gonna be a next time?”

“There had better fucking be.”

Michael’s laughs. His hands are kind of dry and Trevor tells him, so he unceremoniously spits on his palm. When Trevor thrusts his hips forward, he slides right into Michael’s wet fist.

When they first started fucking around like this, Michael hadn’t got a great technique down. He was enthusiastic and gave it his all, and jerked him until his wrist surely burned, but Trevor never really felt him all the way through his body, through his gut and rushing through his head and down to his toes.

Michael has improved a lot since then. He’s had a lot of practise.

The door groans behind Trevor as he leans heavily against it. He keeps his eyes open and fixed on Michael, just grinning, watching the hand that smoothes all the way up him only to squeeze all the way back down, watching the other hand slip to his balls, knuckles kneading and teasing.

“What happened to your hand?” Michael asks, absently, as his hands keep moving.

“Huh?”

“Your hand. It’s fucked up.”

Trevor flexes his fingers and instantly regrets it. They’re still all cut up from the window of the trailer, and there’s a few flakes of scaly, dried blood dotted over his wrist. He’s should probably get it all cleaned up in case it gets infected.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it fucking matters.” Michael tilts his head consideringly and pauses his movements for only a moment before starting all the more aggressively. Trevor’s hand turns into a fist and he lets his head drop back, pushing his hips forward. “Who did you hit?”

“I didn’t hit anyone. What do you fucking take me for?”

Michael gives him a look. Trevor doesn’t see it, but he feels the burn of it, and it turns his belly into white hot rage. “What I take you for,” Michael says, and he must have moved closer because there’s hot breath against his cock now, “is a guy who needs to relax. You know you can trust me. I just want to know what happened. Did you get to see your family?”

Trevor lifts his head and looks down at him. “Don’t fucking start about my family. I told you I didn’t want to talk about it. I told you.”

“I know,” Michael says, insolently, and before Trevor can push him off and maybe punch him, he’s taken into the heat of Michael’s mouth, sliding past his teeth and against his wet, eager tongue. He hisses in a breath and tangles his stinging fingers in Michael’s hair, yanking him closer.

“You’re a real fucker, you know that?” Trevor mutters, and Michael looks up at him with guileless eyes. The white heat of fury leaves him with one glance into them and he slumps against the door, closing his eyes. “I didn’t find them. They’ve gone somewhere, fuck knows where. I punched out a window. That’s all.”

There’s no response, but for Michael drawing his head back, dragging reddened lips across the length of his cock. He swallows him right back down again, noiseley, obscenely. Trevor is lost in him.

When Trevor is sweating and tugging so hard on Michael’s hair it surely hurts, he pulls back, licking his lips and standing up. He’s kissing Trevor in a second, strong arms moving around his back, his cock straining against his jeans, against Trevor’s. “Fuck them,” he says, and Trevor should feel so indignant on behalf of his beloved mother, but now his mind and his loyalty have clouded over. He is lost to this arrogant American. He is lost.

“Fuck you.” He smiles and leads Michael over to the bed.

*

“So - supposing you do get back in the game, what should our next move be?”

“Supposing? It ain’t a matter of supposing. Of course I’m going to get back into the game.”

Trevor throws his beer bottle off the top of the car. In the next field over, a few of the cattle shift nervously at the smashing glass. He leers at them and doesn’t feel at all childish.

“Glad to hear it. Who else would I partner up with? You imagine me and Lester holding up stores together, huh?”

“I dunno, man, that man’s full of surprises,” Michael laughs, and then sobers, looking down at his knees. “I thought about it, when that motherfucker named me. I was thinking maybe- maybe if you wanted to carry on, you could’ve teamed up with Moses. He’s the best of the lot of them, and you’ve not tried to murder him. Yet.”

“Yet,” Trevor confirms, happily. He actually quite likes the stoic, ruthless Moses, but he’d be a piss poor replacement for the man sprawled out next to him. “I’d find someone, that part is easy.”

Michael looks hurt. “Hey, thanks a --”

“Fuck off,” Trevor says. He twists off the cap of his next bottle with his teeth. Michael grimaces. “I’m not saying what you think I’m saying. There’s no need to throw a hissy fit.”

Michael elbows him and nearly knocks him clean off the hood of the Datsun. Trevor grabs Michael’s thigh for support and leaves his fingers there longer than strictly necessary. He’s nudged off, but Michael’s eyes are soft.

It’s New Years Eve and the thought of entering 1991 with no commitments and an ever growing, ever hidden-by-Lester bank account is a fantastic prospect. With Michael bored out of his mind hiding away in the Midwest while stores and banks go totally untouched or get robbed by half-rate criminals, he’s raring to go in the new year. Trevor and Michael will get back out there, back to the top of their game, and if Michael has to live under a pseudonym for the rest of his life, so be it. It’s just a name.

Instead of hitting the local bars full of drunken, happy people, they’ve come out into the outskirts of the city, well into the farmlands, and parked up. They can’t see any fireworks from out here, but the stars they see when they lie back on the roof of the car are real pretty and it’s enough.

“Where to first, then? After this?”

“First, I think we should get out of our fucking heads in the nearest strip club. Get a bit of blow and some shots, maybe,” Michael grins. Trevor rolls his eyes but he’s secretly pleased; laying low means a lot of nights drinking together and fumbling, which is great, sure, but he’s missed the vibrancy of what the world has to offer. He’s missed the feeling of bone cracking beneath his fist, too.

“Well, yeah,” he says. “I mean after that.”

“I dunno, man. Anywhere. I’m sick of this place. My parents live in this city, I hate it.”

Michael has been itching to leave ever since Trevor’s plane landed. It’s nothing new. He’s always wanted to move away almost as soon as they get to a place. Trevor’s never been sure if it’s to avoid getting caught by the cops or if he just hates constancy, but he doesn’t mind. He’s used to it. His parents moved enough times when he was a kid and he’s never really been bothered about having a place to call home.

“We could go see Lester again. It’d be good to get straight back into the game.”

“Yeah,” Michael sighs, happily. “Yeah, it fucking would. Man, I can’t wait. It’s gonna be fuckin’ perfect. We should do something big, too, not some corner shop with one security guard. We should do something that we remember for the rest of our lives.”

Michael’s enthusiasm is infectious, and Trevor’s laughing as he shakes his head. “You’ve had too many beers, Townley. What exactly are you suggesting here?”

“Just something huge. Like- fuck, not a few thousands in cash, something important. Gold, maybe. I dunno.”

“Gold? You fancy lifting that on our backs as we run? Come on.”

“Since when have you been sensible?” Michael asks, and Trevor aims a kick at him. “I’m not saying we have to do it tomorrow or with just the two of us. It’s just something to think about in the long term, maybe.”

Trevor thinks about it, just a little. It’s dumb and impossible but he meets Michael’s eyes and grins, wide and bright, imagining gold glinting off them. “Yeah. It’s something to think about, alright. It’s something to fucking think about. The big one.”

“The big one,” Michael repeats, and it sounds golden on his tongue. Once, Trevor might call Michael an optimistic asshole and walk away from him, but now he’s consumed with his energy, now he thinks that they might be able to pull off anything. There’s no fear in either of them.

Fingers wrap around Trevor’s wrist. Michael shifts closer and presses into him, hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder. Trevor glances at his watch; it’s five minutes until midnight, and he’s already wishing this year would end so that they can begin again.

He settles back on the car, crossing his arms over his chest and staring up at the night’s sky. After a moment, Michael joins him and let’s out a long, satisfied sigh. The car radio blasts out some god awful, cheesy shit that Michael insisted they listened to and it’s interspersed with low groans from the cattle, and the air smells kind of like shit, and Michael is wanted in two states, but that doesn’t matter.

Trevor grabs Michael’s hand, roughly.

It doesn’t matter at all.

He thinks, for a moment, of what his mom might be doing at this moment. She’s probably drunk or high, maybe sitting in a trailer with Ryan, maybe sitting all alone, maybe sitting with some strange man who is paying her for her company. Wherever she is, she is not with Trevor, and that’s her choice. Michael squeezes his hand tightly and brings him to this shitty old field.

“You okay?” Michael asks, carefully.

“I’m fine.”

Michael watches him, consideringly, and then sighs again. He presses a rough kiss to Trevor’s jaw and settles right back down. Trevor rolls his eyes and tries not to smile.

They lie there together for a couple of minutes longer, before Trevor thinks to look down at his watch and he jumps. “Shit. It’s three minutes past midnight. We fucking missed it.”

Michael sits up, grimacing, and Trevor kisses him full on the mouth.

“Happy New Year?” Michael asks, when he pulls back.

“Happy New Year, cocksucker,” Trevor agrees, and kisses him again.

Chapter Text

vi.

early 1991

They relax for a week longer, visiting every bar in a five mile radius. Trevor scores more meth than even he can reasonably manage, and Michael gives in to the kids in the corners of the club who offer him coke at extortionate prices. It’s a breezy, easy week that passes mostly in a blur, and only sharpens towards the end, in the shape of a smiling, dark-haired young woman.

When Trevor first sees her, he’s taken some pill the man in the bathroom swore by and he’s five beers into a good time. She’s resting against one of the fake-marble columns in the centre of the strip club. She wears strappy, tall heels. Her toenails are painted devil-red.

“Hey,” she says, pushing herself away from the column and smiling at him. He stands like a deer in headlights, eyeing the bra she’s wearing. It pushes up her chest pleasingly, but can’t quite hide the disappointing size of her tits.

“Uh. Hey.”

He can’t stop grinding his teeth. It’s distracting, more distracting than the pretty fall of her hair or her glittering eyes. His jaw aches, and pain splinters all the way up to his cheekbones. His knuckles turn white around his two beers and he casts around for Michael, who’s gone from his spot in the shadowy corner of the club.

“I’m Krystal.” She takes a step closer to him. “What’s your name, sugar?”

“Uh.” He has to think about it. The rooms knocks off it’s axis and he almost stumbles with it. “I don’t think I should tell you that.”

His name, of course, isn’t known to the cops; they know of him, they know he knocks around with Michael Townley, but they don’t have a face or a name or any kind of hint of who he is. But right now, with the darkness of drugs cloaking his vision, he daren’t trust any stranger with it.

“Hm.” She looks momentarily frustrated, but then shrugs, easy smile coming right back. “That’s okay. One of those drinks for me?”

He stares at her. She’s got a hand on her hip and is tilting her head to the side. Her make-up under these dimming lights looks perfect. He could have her for any price, he knows that, could kiss those lips until they’re swollen, hold her, fuck her, bend her right over in the alley outside and do whatever he pleases. His cock tries to twitch in interest but lays motionless; he shakes his head and thinks instead of Michael, somewhere nearby.

“What,” he laughs, “the sleazes in this place don’t pay you when you suck them off? Buy your fucking own drink.”

Krystal blinks and her eyes narrow, arms crossing across her chest. “Fuck you. I could get you kicked out right now, you know.”

“Fucking try it,” he sneers, “and see if you make it home tonight.”

To her credit, she doesn’t look scared, but she does stalk off across the small dancefloor and disappears into the shadows. He scoffs in her wake and downs half of one of the beers.

It’s not like he hasn’t slept with anyone since he and Michael fell into bed together, and the same is true for Michael. The girl wasn’t really his type, but he’s fucked girls like her plenty of times, and much uglier ones, at that. The pill he was sold under the cubicle door disagrees with every part of him and she got into the middle of all that. It’s her own fucking fault for being so assuming.

Instead of waiting around for security to come and kick him out, he ducks into the bathroom to piss. He half-expects to find Michael in the bathroom, but he’s not there, either. Maybe he’s headed out for a smoke, or another line.

When he returns into the hustle and bustle of the club, he goes to sit down in the corner, planting both beers on the table. Girls pass and wink at him, but he ignores them all. His head is still spinning and he’s still keeping his jaw tightly shut. The pill is shooting off sparks behind his eyes. He sits shock-still and lets the sparks bore right into his brain.

He remembers the beginning of all of this, the first time he met Michael; that flare gun had gone off with such easiness. Maybe it was fate or some other destined bullshit that made him pull that trigger.

He lowers his head and presses the heels of his hands into his closed eyes, seeing stars. They rain down on him.

When he opens his eyes, the stars clear right away. He sees Michael at once, stood in the centre of the dancefloor. He’s holding someone tightly, mouth locked against theirs, and when he sways and turns, Trevor can see her clearly.

It’s Krystal, and her eyes are closed, blissfully. Michael’s hands slide slow and low down her back.

Trevor nearly chips a tooth as he slams his jaw shut, a sharp wave of drug-induced nausea. He can’t look away. He can’t miss a second of seeing how their bodies curve so well against one another, how Michael has dropped the act he always puts on around women, and how he’s just dumbly grinning and keeping her close. He can’t unsee the smile that’s usually meant for only him, when they’re breathless and tangled or breathless and running from the scene of a crime.

He’s seen Michael with girls more times than he can count. Only last month Michael bought a girl home to their motel and Trevor had to listen to them fuck all night. He hadn’t cared, and he’d been over the moon when she was kicked out in the morning.

But Krystal- Krystal, well. There’s something different in the air tonight. There’s a bad, bad feeling in Trevor, one that soaks all the way through him, and he’s not sure it has anything to do with ecstasy. He drinks his beer, and then - he drinks Michael’s beer, too.

At no point does Michael break away and cast a look around in search of his friend. At no point does Krystal seem to ask for any money. They could be any young couple at any club in any city, rather than a wanted criminal and a stripper. Trevor could be any jealous lover, not a man who wants to snap someone’s neck right in two.

A red-haired girl with big, grabbable hips sways past. He tries to get her attention, leering at her and sloshing beer all down himself. She gives him an odd look and walks fast in the opposite direction.

“Fuck,” he mutters, “what a fucking - fucking hell.”

He can’t even get a stripper to sit with him. He is becoming undone.

He goes to the bathroom again and finds the kid in the end stall who has drugs stuffed in every pocket. “Back again?” he asks, with wide eyes that dart all over, anywhere but at Trevor’s face. “You liked that stuff, huh?”

“Ecstasy is for pussies,” Trevor decides, out loud. “Fucking pussies. Do I look like a pussy to you?”

“Uh- what? No, no, man, not at all. You don’t.”

The kid backs against the mildewed, tiled wall, hands raised in surrender. Trevor advances, grinning. “No? Good. Correct answer. 100% correct.”

He laughs. The boy swallows. “Look, man, I don’t want any trouble. Please. I just want- you want more, that it? You want something different?”

“I want --” The man out on the dancefloor, he thinks, suddenly, painfully. “I want some meth. You selling?”

“Keep your voice down, dude!” he replies, craning his neck to make sure the bathroom is empty over Trevor’s shoulder. Satisfied, he nods. “Sure. Sure I do. Really cheap for you, too.”

Trevor licks his lips and goes for the pipe in his pocket.

It takes a few minutes, but soon he’s stumbling out of the bathroom in a daze - almost pushed by the panicked kid who was eager to get away from the telltale smell. He feels like a hundred men in one, feels stronger, surer of himself. So what if Michael plans to fuck some stripper. They’ll be out of this city and back on the road before he knows it. Michael hates staying in one place. He hate settling. Once he’s had his way with her, he’ll be ready to leave this place forever.

Trevor makes his way over to the table, only to find Michael sat there with a big, dumb smile on his face that makes Trevor feel all warm and sick. At his side sits Krystal, holding his big hand in hers and toying with her hair. Trevor stops, unsteadily.

“There you are,” Michael says, happily. “Amanda, this is Trevor. Trevor, Amanda.”

“Amanda?” Trevor asks, stupidly. “I thought her name was --”

Her name is clearly not Krystal,” snaps Krystal, Amanda, whoever. Her smile slips away in an instant. “Michael, you really know this guy?”

She looks him up and down like he’s nothing and, for a moment, he feels it. Michael frowns, glancing between the two of them, and it’s only then that Trevor realises he’s given her his real first name. He’s about to tell him off for being such a dumb asshole, when Michael shrugs.

“Of course, yeah. Yeah, Amanda, this is Trevor. He’s my, uh,” Michael hesitates, and doesn’t meet anyone’s eye, “best friend. We work together.”

“Oh,” Amanda says, unhappily, but she doesn’t let go of Michael’s hand. “I guess I’m … pleased to meet you, Trevor. I’m afraid Michael hasn’t told me anything about you yet. Are you high?”

It’s a daring, sudden question and if Trevor weren’t so venomous right now, he might actually respect her for it. Instead he laughs, too loudly, and copies Michael’s shrug. “Uh, yeah, Amanda. Of course I fucking am. I’m in a cheap strip club with ugly strippers, what else is there to do?”

“Hey,” Michael says, and Amanda’s eyes narrow.

“Fucking asshole,” she mutters. Trevor could murder her right now. He could pull his gun from his belt and plant one right between her eyes, and blame it on the drugs, and Michael would be over her in a second and they’d be on the run all over again, happy and together. His fingers itch. He doesn’t shoot her.

Instead, something else snaps inside of him, and the drugs roll over him in another, sweeping wave. He smiles, and Amanda blinks, for the first time looking a little nervous.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m really sorry. Some little shit in the bathroom gave me something weird and I’m not sure it agrees with me all that well. I didn’t mean to imply you’re one of the ugly ones. Not at all. You’re gorgeous, sweetheart.”

“Um,” Amanda says, looking nervously at Michael, who just shakes his head.

“This is why drugs are illegal,” he laughs, and Trevor laughs right along with him. Michael sobers and shoots him an odd look. “Hey, T, how about trying to get another room at the motel tonight? I was thinking about maybe bringing Amanda back for a couple of drinks.”

Amanda smiles and they both look a little shy. Trevor grits his teeth and nods. “Yeah. Yeah, why not. I’m not sure why you both can’t just drink with me around, but sure. Anything for young love.”

“Um. Thanks. Great.” Michael stands and Amanda does, too, in perfect time. It’s fucking sickening to see. As they pass, Michael touches Trevor’s elbow, briefly, and gives him a smile.

Then, he’s gone, disappearing into the crowd near the doors, hand in hand with Amanda. Neither of them look back, but Trevor watches their every step until the group enfolds them entirely. He stands there for a long time. The meth doesn’t help.

*

When he gets back to the motel, he glares in the direction of door number 4, where Michael is surely fucking Amanda’s brains out. Instead of rudely barging in and interrupting them like he’s desperate to, he instead marches over to the owner’s office.

A separate room. A separate fucking room. They haven’t slept in separate rooms since they first teamed up in America, except for when Trevor tried to find his family and Michael was miserable with his own. No matter who they brought home from the bars and the street corners, they were close enough to keep each other in mind.

Separate rooms, all because of some jumped-up stripper with blowjob lips. He could put his fist through a wall, or through her.

Even though it’s three in the morning, he doesn’t bother to knock. Slamming the door gives him a certain satisfaction, as does the way the snoozing owner of the motel jumps up from his chair, eyes wide and scared. When he sees it’s a paying customer, he relaxes, a little, but there’s still a vicious edge to his voice.

“What are you playing at, barging in here like that? You drunk?”

“Something like that,” Trevor sneers. He walks right up to the man - young, Asian, kind of attractive - and plants himself on his desk, legs spread and boots planted firmly on the ground. “I need another room.”

The man adjusts his glasses and frowns. “It’s - god knows what time it is, but it’s too late to be asking for a room. You got a room. I got you one for the night already. Number, uh, number four, right? You and that other man. You paid already.”

“I’m not a fucking idiot. I know that. I said I need another room. Specifically, I need number three or number five.”

“Um, no,” comes the quick reply, after the owner checks a sheet on his desk, right next to Trevor’s thigh. “They’re taken. You can have number eight or number seventeen. I can’t offer you anything else at this time of night. Take it or leave it, I don’t care either way.”

Trevor glares at him. Number eight or number seventeen won’t do. They’re too far from Michael, however pathetic he feels realising that. What if the cops come in the middle of the night, for either of them? What if Lester calls and their first job of the year comes up? What if Trevor gets the urge to fuck Michael, then what? He’s gotta jerk himself off, halfway across the parking lot? No way. No fucking way, not after everything else they’ve been through to get this far, to get this close.

“Um, yes,” Trevor counters. He leans forward, bending right down so that the two of them come face-to-face. His opponent swallows, audibly. “You listen very fucking closely. You get me room three or room five, or I will end your fucking life.”

“You cant come in here and threaten me, Sir,” comes the shaken reply. Trevor doesn’t move away. He doesn’t even blink. “This is my business. If you don’t leave and go back to number four, I will call the cops. Don’t think I won’t.”

“I don’t doubt it for a second,” Trevor laughs. The man winces, and Trevor at last straightens, crossing his arms tightly across his chest. Somewhere out there, too close by, Amanda is probably riding Michael and moaning in all the right ways. He tastes vomit in his mouth and swallows it. It burns all the way down.

“You have to leave,” the man says, and he stands up and marches over to the open door, pointing out of it. “Please. Now, or I really will call them. I won’t be spoken to like that.”

Trevor grins at him so wide he can surely count every tooth. He steps past him and the door is slammed behind him. He stares up at the soured stars and breathes in deep, trying hard not to strain his ears to hear the telltale moans four doors away.

He wonders if Michael is thinking of him. He wonders if Michael has thought of him even once all night.

He’s going to find out.

As he marches towards door number four, his foot clangs loudly on something and he comes to a halt. He glances down to see a bent, broken piece of piping on the ground, surely lead or something similar. He considers it, but then steps over it, back on track.

The curtains are drawn but there’s a slight gap to them, and he steps right up to the glass and peers through. He doesn’t care if he’s seen by those inside, or those outside. This is his room, his and Michael’s. He’s paid for it. He booked it. He deserves what’s inside it, too.

His breath fogs up the window as he sees exactly what he expected. Even so, the sight of Amanda’s legs spread wide, held high, as Michael pushes deeply into her, well - it twists him and he stumbles back, breath catching horribly in the back of his throat. He could kill her. He could kill the both of them.

Trevor wishes it was New Years Eve again. He wishes they were lying in that smelly, cattle-filled field. He wishes he had kissed Michael so well he’d never want to kiss anybody else again.

Bringing her back for a couple of drinks. That’s all Michael had claimed. Trevor itches all over and spins on the spot.

The lead pipe is heavy in his hand when he swoops to pick it up. The wooden door splinters easily beneath his boot. The owner of the motel jumps again to his feet.

One smack to the side of his head sends him sprawling to the ground, moaning low and deep. Trevor tosses his head back and laughs. “Call the cops, will you?” he asks, bending to hiss in the man’s bleeding ear. “Snitch on me, will you? Fuck you. Fuck this fucking shitty motel of yours, too.”

He lifts his boot again and stamps down, landing another blow with the pipe a second after. The man’s groans are guttural, now, choking, inhuman.

As Trevor works to make that dark skin and hair pure pulp, he feels something damp and rotten on his cheeks. It isn’t blood.

*

The next morning comes on bright and chilly. Trevor uncurls himself and half-falls out of the back of the car he’s slept in. His mouth is dry and tastes like shit, but he’s in good spirits as he stretches towards the sky. His back cracks and he yawns, widely. From somewhere deep inside his gut comes a rumble, and he heads over to the vending machines at the edge of the parking lot, right by room number one.

He gets himself a strong coffee and Michael a milky one, and a couple of bags of chips for good measure.

“Rise and shine, lovebirds!” he shouts as he kicks open the door to room number four, throwing the chips down noisily and flicking on the light. From the bed, from the tangle of sheets, come groans and curses, and Amanda’s head pokes out from beneath them.

“Oh,” she says, after a moment. “It’s just you.”

“Yep. Just me,” Trevor says, sitting down at the end of the bed with the coffees. “It’s time to get up and out of here.”

“You bought coffee,” she says, gratefully, and sits up to reach out for one. The sheets fall from her and reveal her bare chest, which she doesn’t care to cover. He stares at her breasts for a moment and then meets her gaze. She’s smiling at him now, sleepily, even a little seductively. He hates her for it.

“This coffee ain’t for you, sweetheart. It’s for me, and for that fat lump still pretending to be asleep.”

“Fuck off,” Michael groans, and finally unearths himself. He sits up and rubs at his eyes.

Amanda looks at him for the first time in the morning light, and her smile softens; her eyes go all puppydog and her cheeks go pink. Trevor watches her through the transformation, and recognises the look in her eye. Michael seems to recognise it too, and instead of scorning it, he mirrors her. His hand goes up to brush dark hair away from her eyes, and she bites her lower lip, laughing a little.

Michael smiles, big, and shakes his head. “Morning,” he says, and she kisses him boldly on the cheek.

“I brought you coffee,” Trevor says loudly and holds it out right under his nose. “Lots of milk.”

“Oh. Oh, hey, thanks, T,” Michael says, taking it without looking away from Amanda. “Thanks.”

“He didn’t get me any,” Amanda says, stiffly. “Just you. You and him.”

Michael tuts and just smiles again. “That’s okay. You can have mine, babe.”

“Um, no she --” Trevor starts, as Amanda takes it with a happy, “Thanks!”.

Michael gives Trevor a stern look and delicately lifts the sheets so they cover Amanda a little more. She giggles and kisses him again, and when they break apart they’re like fucking teenagers, all coy and ridiculous. Trevor flexes his fingers in and out of fists and remembers what his school counsellor told him; count to ten, she’d said, through lipstick-stained teeth. Don’t lash out. Count to ten, hold in a deep breath, exhale it gently. Don’t hurt them. Don’t hurt her. Don’t hurt her.

Don’t lose your mind. Don’t hurt her.

Michael stretches, groaning loudly, chest dusted lightly with dark hair. Yesterday morning, Trevor kissed his chest all over, licked a wet stripe down his belly, took him deeply into his mouth.

“Looks like it’s gonna be a nice day,” he says, lamely. “I was thinking of calling Les-- uh, you know. L. I was gonna call L.”

“L?” Amanda asks. “Who’s L?”

“I don’t think that’s any of your fucking business.”

“T,” Michael warns. He gets out of bed, completely naked. Neither Trevor or Amanda look away. “Enough talk about that. Not now, alright? We’ll call him later.”

“Who’s L?” Amanda asks, again, and Trevor is stunned by how fucking obnoxious she’s being. “Michael, baby?”

“Nobody,” he says, quickly. “Forget about it. Trevor’s just running his mouth.”

Trevor stands, too, his blood pumping too fast. He’ll run his fucking mouth, alright. He’ll tell this woman just how good Michael sucks cock. He’ll tell her how many people Michael has murdered over the past year. He’ll tell her how she’s bound to be tossed in the dirt in a matter of hours, and how he and Michael will be on the road together, just the two of them, and how she’ll never see either of them again.

He opens his mouth. Michael catches his glare and manages to shut it with a look.

Amanda pouts on the bed. Trevor should give them their privacy, he knows; she probably wants to get dressed in peace. They probably want to fuck again or something. Knowing this, he leans against the wall and crosses his arms, perfectly content to outstay his welcome for as long as possible.

Michael starts getting dressed, bending to fumble with his pants crumpled on the floor. Trevor watches him and longs for him and hates him all at once. He bites his tongue.

Amanda fades straight away in the wake of the feelings. It really doesn’t matter that a beautiful girl warmed Michael’s bed all night and that Trevor’s back is sore from lying on the back seat of the Datsun. Barely a week ago he walked through the sun-dappled airport and found Michael waiting in the car park. He’d never felt such a shock, such a squeeze, such an insanity; all of the rage at losing his mother and all of the guilt at letting her get lost faded in the simplicity of the thought that Michael was there, and Michael was his. One woman, one anyone, they’re not going to change that.

He pushes himself off the wall and feels the fight go out of him. Maybe he’ll let them have their morning together. Amanda should make the most of it. Michael is a hell of lot to lose.

“Sorry,” he says, suddenly, making them both jump. He doesn’t really mean it, but the lie is worth Michael’s smile. Amanda’s smiling, too, but he cares a little less for that. “I won’t, uh, I won’t run my mouth again.” “That’d be a fucking miracle,” Michael says, but he’s grinning. “Anyway, you think you could give us a --”

He falls silent at the sounds of screaming that engulf the shitty motel. Amanda jumps, but Michael and Trevor are on the defensive at once, Trevor going for the gun stashed in the top drawer. Michael shushes Amanda with a quick wave of a hand and heads over to the window, inching the blind sideways to peer nervously out. Trevor finds the gun and holds it loosely in one hand, finger hovering on the trigger.

Amanda looks at it with wide eyes. She clambers out of bed, stark naked, and gathers her clothes up from the floor.

Trevor walks up behind Michael and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Everything okay out there, cowboy?”

“I don’t-- I can’t tell. There’s a crowd a few doors down.”

“A crowd?”

“About six people at the office. Some bitch is screaming, I can’t see why.”

Trevor tries not to smile. His finger twitches at the trigger but he keeps the pistol lowered. “Trouble?”

“Trouble,” Michael confirms. He glances back at Amanda, fastening her bra, and then mutters, “Maybe we should get out of here.”

“Huh? This has nothing to do with us.”

“What if the cops show up?” Michael asks, barely above a whisper. “I’m not getting caught here with my pants around my ankles and a stripper in my bed just to get arrested and sent to jail. I think we should go.”

He looks out the window again. Trevor bites at his lower lip to suppress his smile. He can’t give himself up right now, even if the blood has barely dried underneath his nails. “Sure, if you feel safer that way. Sure. What do you wanna do, sneak out of the back? Or I could get the car, you go round back, and I’d drive round to meet you?”

“Our car is out there, anyone could have noticed it.”

“So what then? We call a cab or jack a new one?”

“I don’t know.” He glances back at Amanda again. “We gotta take her with us, though. We can’t just leave her here.”

Trevor sighs, heavily. He damn well hope Michael just means that they can’t leave someone who’s seen their faces, and nothing more sentimental. “If you say so.”

“I say so,” Michael says, firmly, and then draws back from the window in a second. “Shit. They’re pulling out a body. Shit, shit.”

He backs far away from the blinds and starts to gather together what little shit they have, stuffing it all into a backpack. Trevor just stands there, tossing the gun from hand to hand, watching. Amanda laces up her heels and stands by the back door, biting at the inside of her lip. In the morning light and without the sleepy, morning haze that surrounded her, she looks a little vulnerable.

“We have to go,” Michael’s saying to her, as soothingly as he can. “It’s a long story, but I think there’s some trouble outside and the last thing we need is the cops on our asses. We need to get out of here.”

“The cops are after you,” she says, half-awed. “What did you do?”

“Nothing, we did nothing,” Michael assures her, but then he stops still, shoulders tensing up. He looks back at Trevor. There’s a glint in his eye that’s accusing - he looks like he’s seen the light, at last. “Um. Where’d you sleep last night, T?”

“In the car,” Trevor says, squaring up defiantly. “You gave me no other choice, and the jackass who looks after this place wouldn’t give me another room.”

Michael’s eyes go big and wide, and then they narrow. “For fuck’s sake. What part of laying low don’t you understand? What did you do?”

“Calm down, champ, and stop jumping to conclusions,” Trevor says, though he’s feeling pretty hot around the ears. Amanda is looking at him like he’s a maniac, and Michael is shaking his head in disgust or disappointment or something even darker, and his knuckles whiten against the gun.

They can’t abandon the car, he realises, suddenly. The lead pipe is in the trunk.

“Don’t tell me not to jump to conclusion,” Michael snaps, running a hand through his hair. “I’m not a fucking moron. Some guy refuses to give you a room and you gotta sleep in the car? You’re not going to take that. Fuck, I wouldn’t take that, either.”

Trevor rolls his eyes and turns to Amanda. “Ignore this piss poor excuse for a criminal. He likes to think the worst of people.”

Criminal?” she repeats, eyes still glued on the gun in Trevor’s hand. “Trevor!” Michael groans. Now he runs his hands over his face, looking more than a little worse for wear. “Just- ignore him, babe. This is ridiculous. We’re not fucking criminals. Trevor’s just a little --”

Trevor takes a big step forward. “A little what, exactly?”

“You know what,” Michael says, darkly. “If you’re not involved in all this, then fine. Get the goddamn car and meet us around the back, quick. I don’t want anyone noticing, especially the fucking cops.”

Amanda steps forward before Trevor can even counter him, a placating hand on Michael’s arm. “You think that’s a good idea? If Trevor really is involved in all of this, whatever this is, you’re sending him out there in front of a shit load of witnesses. You’re sending him out to the slaughter. Don’t be so stupid.”

They both blink at her and she goes a little pink, but keeps her chin held high. A small, half-dreamy smile creeps over Michael’s lips, and Trevor feels sick. “What the fuck do you know?” he asks, sneering. “You have a lot of experience sneaking out of your clients’ rooms every morning?”

She goes even more red. “Hey, fuck you, buddy. You don’t know me, so don’t talk to me like that. I was just trying to help you. You wanna go out there and screw yourself over, be my guest. I was just gonna suggest that maybe you let me bring the car round instead, and that way nobody sees either of you.”

“What, you want us to just hand over the keys so you can drive off with it?”

“Right, all I’ve ever wanted is a beat up piece of shit like that to drive. You clearly have me all figured out.”

Trevor glares at her, and she glares just as good back. Michael looks between them and chews at his lower lip. “Um. Look, both of you, just chill, okay? We can talk about this later, but- well, Amanda has a point, T. She’s making sense.”

“We don’t need her to make sense! We need to get the fuck out of here.”

Somewhere in the distance comes the sound of a siren, and then another. Michael goes straight into autopilot, grabbing their rucksack with one hand and Trevor with the other. “The keys are by the door,” he says to Amanda, all but shoving Trevor out the back. “Come round and meet us, and- be careful, and thanks.”

She kisses him deeply, briefly, and then she’s gone in a storm of long, dark hair and swaying hips. Michael watches her go and then joins Trevor outside, pulling the door quietly to behind them. Trevor shoves him away.

“Jesus fuck, Mikey. Why don’t you just cut your balls off right now and hand them over to her?”

“Shut up, fucking shut up!” Michael is pale, running his hands through his hair, across his face, down his shirt. “Do you have any idea how screwed we are here? If we get caught - if I get caught --”

“Relax,” Trevor says, leaning against the back wall of the motel and scuffing his boots in the dirt. “You think every cop in this country has a picture of you on his windshield or something? We’re two states over from where Tony got caught. Nobody cares.”

“Somebody’s gonna care when a dead body shows up. I assume you did the job properly and actually killed him?”

“Oh, come on.” He heaves himself from the wall and slaps Michael on the back. “Stop panicking. Let’s just go meet Amanda and get out of this place. We’re fine.”

“You’re no fucking good for me,” Michael says. He walks ahead, a storm brewing inside of him that Trevor can feel the prickle of. Trevor stands still and just watches him go, winded by his words. He meant them flippantly and probably won’t give them another second’s thought, but Trevor feels sick with them.

Michael is a fucking idiot. Trevor is the best for him. He’s helped him get rich. He understands him. He’ll hold him no matter how many people he’s killed.

They get out onto the road just as the Datsun screeches around the corner. Trevor is almost disappointed; if she’d have driven off without them, Michael might have got these stupid fucking notions out of his head.

Amanda pulls up to the curb alongside them and reaches across to throw open the passenger door. She’s smiling widely, high heel against the brake pedal, dress riding high on her smooth thighs. Some of the storm lulls; the tense lines of Michael’s shoulders relax, he smiles. Trevor, though, has thunder in his brain.

“Come in then. Let’s get you boys out of danger.”

Michael couldn’t look more sycophantic or pathetic as he laughs and clambers into the passenger seat. Trevor feels like a little kid as he sulkily climbs into the back. He even crosses his arms and glowers out of the grubby window.

Neither Amanda or Michael pay him any attention.

They get out onto the open road. Two cop cars speed right past them, and Michael flinches but manages not to duck. Trevor sticks his middle finger up at them. They don’t notice, sadly; Amanda, though, gives him a dark look in the rearview mirror. He glares right back.

“Where exactly are you taking us, huh? Your pimp have a nice big house with lots of room for us?”

She puts her foot down on the accelerator. Trevor jerks with the force of it, bashing his head on the ceiling. “Jerk. I don’t have a pimp.”

Trevor rubs at his head and laughs, disbelievingly. “Riiiiight. You work in a place like you do, and you don’t have a pimp.”

“Trevor,” Michael says, sharply. “Cool it, man. Now’s not the time to be an asshole.”

“Where do you want to go?” Amanda asks, pointedly aiming the question to Michael and Michael alone. “Do you have another motel? Maybe a friend in the city?”

Trevor snorts, and Michael shrugs. “Uh, no. No friends. My mom lives a little while away but-- no. I’d rather go back to that motel than back home.”

“Oh.” Amanda sucks on a tooth, thoughtfully, and concentrates on the road for a little while. Trevor slumps further down in his chair, the top of his head kind of sore, and flexes his fingers. He can almost feel that lead pipe back in his hands, turning flesh into pulp. He wonders how red Amanda’s blood will be.

“It’s okay,” Michael sighs. “We’ll find somewhere.”

“We’ll be moving on, anyway,” Trevor interjects, loudly. “We said so yesterday morning, right, M? We’ve been here too long.”

“Oh,” Amanda says, again, more quietly. Trevor watches her in the mirror, seeing the way her eyes flicker to Michael and then sadly downwards. Michael shifts uncomfortably and looks out of the window. Trevor’s smile threatens to split his face in two.

“Yeah,” Michael says. “We did agree-- that’s our plan, yeah.”

Amanda swallows and, without warning, swings them over to the curb and parks unceremoniously. A truck behind them honks. “Don’t,” she says, urgently, breathlessly. “You don’t have to. You can stay with me, at least for a little while. What’s the rush?”

“Stay with you?” Michael asks, slowly.

“Well, with my parents,” Amanda says and goes promptly pink. “We live in a trailer park just outside of the city. Maybe you could stay with us as you work out where you’re going next.”

“With your parents?” Michael licks at his lips. His voice is hushed and ridiculous. “With you? I don’t- I mean, I appreciate the offer, but we’ve known each other like- I mean, it’s been one night, don’t you think --”

“I’m not suggesting we get married or anything,” she snaps. “I’m just saying, if you want to lay low for a bit, why not stay with me? Nobody knows me. I’m not in trouble, and my parents won’t care as long as you don’t make a mess.”

“We don’t want to lay low,” Trevor says. He leans forward and places his elbows on the front seats. “We’re getting back in the-- uh, we’re getting back into work. We have stuff to do.”

Amanda turns and looks at him. There’s something lurking in her eyes, something that almost looks like pity. His skin starts to crawl. “I didn’t mean you,” she says, softly, apologetically. “I don’t really have room for two people. Michael could share my bed.”

“No,” Trevor says, at once. “Bullshit.”

They both turn to look at Michael, who starts. Trevor shakes his head incredulously in Amanda’s direction. She was probably a great lay, sure, but Michael’s been itching to get back into the game ever since Tony blabbed.

If Michael has one fault - and Trevor knows he has many, but this is perhaps his worst - it’s that he can never stay in one place for too long. Before now, it’s fucked Trevor over; he once found a nice little bar that served his favourite beer, and he only got to sample it twice before Michael had them driving for their lives right into the next state; they once found a motel with staff that didn’t even care when they fucked so loud the people in the next room started banging on the walls, and Michael said they had to go within a week before he started getting claustrophobic. Now, though, now he can’t wait to hear Michael turn her down and say how they really have to be going, they really have to get out of here before they get anything close to settled and he really has to leave.

Michael glances at Trevor. He looks sorry.

“You’re sure I wouldn’t get in the way?” he asks Amanda, and she leans forward in a second to kiss him.

Trevor stares at him. He doesn’t spare Amanda a look, but he stares at Michael. Every smug retort he had lined up dies on his tongue. Michael doesn’t meet his eye, but instead closes them as Amanda pulls him into hug. His mouth is flat and thin, miserable, but when she leans back and smiles at him he smiles right back.

The car feels too crowded. Trevor sits back, throat tight, and burns right up.

---

“$10,000 a piece,” Moses gloats, turning the bag upside down. The wads of cash, bundled into thousands, thump heavily on the table. Lester cackles. Trevor reaches forward to grab some of it, bringing the notes to his nose and inhaling deeply. Moses, with his brilliant white teeth, grins at him.

“Fuck, I’ve missed this,” he groans, blissfully. “This is the fucking life. This is it, right here.”

Across the table, the young girl they had on getaway laughs meanly.

He pays her no attention and throws the money back on the pile. The two other men, Irish and stocky, start divvying the cash up. Nobody bothers to check they’re being fair; if any of them get short changed, there will be hell to pay no matter how carefully they’ve counted.

In the corner, Lester lurks. It’s rare to see him actually travel out for a job, but he’d complained that he was getting restless in North Yankton and wanted some fresh air. Trevor’s not sure the bank they robbed near the sewage works is exactly fresh, but it’s kind of reassuring to see a face he recognises out here.

He knows Moses, but the rest of them are strangers and he hates them all.

His mind replays the phone call he’d had the night before. The line had been fuzzy and distorted, but he’d heard Michael’s answer loud and clear. No. No. He was too busy with Amanda, he’d insisted, to come down and rob a bank. He was on a break. He would be back soon. Trevor had hung up and spat on the floor.

The job, regardless, went smoothly. Trevor was on intimidation, Moses on watch, the Irish brothers focusing on keeping their guns well-aimed and Mary driving and keeping her cool even when they almost swerved into the river. They worked well together. Trevor should be laughing right now and planning the next one with them.

Moses walks around the table and slaps him on the shoulder. Trevor flinches and slides his gaze down to the floor.

It’s fucking pathetic, this camaraderie. There’s no connection between any of them. There’s none of that aching, burning heat in Trevor’s belly that he’s grown so used to.

Once the money is split, the night starts to dwindle down. Mary goes to lie down on the couch and smoke a joint, bouncing her foot along to the radio. The Irish brothers leave after a few quiet words with Moses, who takes a seat at the table and starts recounting his takings. Lester comes over and sits next to Trevor, sighing in relief as he takes the weight off his feet.

“Philips,” he says, adjusting his glasses. “You haven’t counted your money.”

Trevor grunts. “It’s fine. I’m sure it’s fine.”

“It’s not like you to trust someone else’s math,” Lester observes. He scratches at his elbow and looks thoughtful, slither of pink tongue caught between his teeth. “You know, you don’t look like a man who’s just outrun a city full of cops.”

“Neither to do you.”

Lester pulls a face. “Alright, point taken. Forgive me for being concerned.”

“Concerned? Fuck you,” Trevor snorts. Moses finishes counting his three thousand and starts to watch their exchange with mild interest, fingers crossed on the table. “I did my job, didn’t I? You’ve got your overly large cut, I’ve got mine, and that’s that. Maybe you should be more concerned with the fact you can barely drag your ass across a room these days.”

He stands up and walks over to the window. They’re five floors up in a shady little apartment, and outside the street is empty. Far away, sirens still blaze on. Trevor rests his forehead against the glass and fogs it up with his breath.

In the misted reflection, he sees Moses and Lester share a nervous look.

“It’s probably tough,” Moses says, booming voice turned soothing, “you know, the first time out there without your mentor? It’s gotta be hard. I was introduced to the game by this guy called Marcus. We worked together for nearly a year. When he moved down South, it damn near broke my spirit.”

Lester hums. “How sweet. The sentimental hearts of hardened criminals. I never would have guessed.”

“It’s true,” Moses insists. He shrugs a shoulder. “You build up friendships in this thing. I know you’re a lone wolf, Lester, but not everyone is wired that way. Sometimes certain people just gel.”

“Get a load of this philosopher,” Mary snorts from the sofa. She sits up and brushes short strands of dark hair from her forehead, breathing out great plumes of smoke through her nostrils. “That’s fag talk.”

Trevor carries on watching them. It’s easier this way to pretend he’s far removed from the room. It’s easier to keep his temper in check. Lester shoots a nervous look at him at Mary’s words, surely replaying that night at his house when he heard them through the wall.

“Fag talk?” Moses asks, and laughs. “That’s not what I’m trying to say. All I’m saying is Trevor’s gonna be low, his first robbery without Michael.”

Trevor connects his forehead with the window again, this time hard enough to hurt. Lester give him another look as the stars start to reign down from the heavens.

“Fag talk,” she says, again, sing-song voice prickling across the room. She relights her joint and lays back. Moses shakes his head, dark dreadlocks falling down his back. He stands and walks over to Trevor, flashing his teeth again.

“Ignore her,” he says, leaning close and putting a placating hand on his shoulder. “I get it.”

Trevor yanks away from him. “Fuck off. There’s nothing to get. I’m fine. What the hell is the matter with you all?”

Moses backs off. He keeps his hands raised, palms revealed in surrender. Trevor must look pretty damn pissed off, because even Mary looks a little on edge when he turns to glare at them all. Lester pulls himself back onto his feet, holding onto the table in support, and tuts.

Trevor can’t understand why they’re all over him, all talking about him, all soothing and concerned as though he can’t last two fucking seconds without Michael by his side. Nobody in this room is supposed to even notice his absence. Trevor is so much more than somebody’s best friend. He did his job well, didn’t he? He didn’t need his hand held and he certainly doesn’t need his dick sucked in the aftermath of the robbery like he’s been used to.

“It’s nothing, man,” Moses says. “It’s nothing.”

“Damn right it’s fucking nothing,” Trevor says, and pushes against Moses as he walks back to the table. His forehead stings as he throws himself into his chair.

Of course it’s nothing.

Michael should be sat at this table with him, rolling his eyes at the sarcastic Mary and joking around with Moses. He should stand up any moment now and stretch and say how tired he is, and he should hail a cab outside that will take them both to the nearest hotel. Then, face flushed in the wake of their successful robbery, he should let Trevor suck his cock. They should get dinner in some seedy little diner, tipping the waitress $100 if she’s got a nice smile. They should wake up entangled and then go back to the diner for breakfast, where Trevor will spill ketchup all over his lap and get mad when Michael laughs at him.

That’s how this should all pan out. Trevor should not be furious with his brothers and sisters in the game. He should not want to tear them all limb from limb and post the messy remains straight to fucking Amanda’s parents’ trailer so that she’s scared off for good.

“Where are you staying tonight, T?”

Trevor shrugs. “I haven’t really thought about it. Maybe I’ll go and stay in some swanky as shit hotel.”

“Massages and room service and all that shit?” Moses snorts. He leans against the wall, stretching out his long legs. There’s a sliver of dark skin revealed between his sweater and his pants. Trevor glances at him, and then again, and then away. “Waste of money, man. You could always stay here.”

“Won’t it be a full house?”

“I ain’t staying here,” Mary says, at once. She sits up and stretches. “I got places to be. It’s been a fun one though.”

“I won’t be staying, either.” Lester smoothes down his dinner-stained shirt. “It’s a long way back to North Yankton and I’d rather get there sooner than later.”

The two of them start to get their things together to leave, Lester carefully tucking his cash share in his rucksack. Moses smiles at Trevor, who can’t help the twist of longing in his gut. It’s not his fault that he likes to cool down from this job by fucking someone’s brains out, man or woman.

The door is shut and locked behind the limping Lester and the headstrong Mary. Trevor goes over to the fridge and gets them both a beer.

It’s remarkable how quickly the atmosphere has swung from sharpness to seduction. Trevor stops thinking he could be misinterpreting the signals when they settle on the sofa together and clink their bottles. Moses sits awful close. It ought to be fucking worrying that the man can want sex so suddenly, but Trevor does, too, and so he doesn’t dwell on it - he just clutches at his beer and downs half of it in one, smooth gulp.

“Damn,” Moses says, making a great show of wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “That’s good. All you need after a job, isn’t it? Good company and good beer.”

Trevor barks out a laugh. “Yeah? That all?”

There’s silence for a long time. Moses busies himself with switching the TV on and finding a football game to watch. Trevor has next to no interest in the meatheads running around on the screen and feels a prickle of irritation at being ignored. He swallows his anger, this time, in favour of what is sure to happen between them.

“What’s your team, T?”

“Fuck off. Why would I like this shit?”

Michael once told him all about his glory days as star quarterback, running across his school’s field with a gaggle of girls watching from the sidelines. Trevor watches the muscled quarterback on TV and feels sick.

“It was just a question,” Moses says. He laughs good-naturedly and shrugs. “If you’d prefer it off …?”

“I don’t care either way.”

Moses fishes in his pocket for a cigarette. He offers Trevor one.

“That shit will kill you,” Trevor says and shakes his head. Moses laughs, again, always laughing, and lights it. The smell makes Trevor’s eyes flutter closes as he inhales, deeply. He doesn’t know all that much about tobacco, but Moses must smoke the same brand as Michael.

Somewhere out there, miles and miles away, Michael is probably smoking, too. Maybe Amanda is stepping outside in a thin nightdress and huddling next to him to share a light.

Trevor grabs the cigarette, nearly burning the both of them in the process. He takes in a big, throat-charring drag, and exhales long and slow. It doesn’t agree with him - he suppresses a cough - and he passes it straight back. Moses doesn’t seem all that pissed though. He’s just watching him, kind of strangely.

“Something the matter?” Trevor asks, hoarsely.

“No, man, no. Just …” Moses tilts his head like a fucking dog or something. “You can tell me, you know. If something really is the matter. I ain’t going to judge you like those other assholes.”

“Oh really?” Trevor sneers. “How do I know that, huh?”

“I don’t know. I guess you’d have to trust your gut instinct.”

It’s then that Trevor feels a pressure against his thigh. He looks down and, sure enough, Moses has his hand there, fingers firmly exploring. Trevor swallows, audibly. He does not move away.

Their eyes meet. Moses’ eyes are big and brown and in them lurks all the adrenaline that comes from robbing a bank blind. There is no affection in them and that’s a relief; Trevor feels nothing but primal urges right now. He has even forgotten the buzz of anger he felt at Mary’s patronising voice. He is flooded by carnality. He is drowning in it.

“My gut instinct is that you’re gonna suck my cock pretty fucking well.”

The hand creeps up to his cock, knuckles kneading down as Moses considers him. “Is that right?”

Trevor leans over to kiss him. The cigarette burns away between Moses’ fingers as he brings his other hand up to grab at Trevor’s jaw. It’s not gentle and it’s not kind; Moses sucks on his lower lip as though to rip it right off, and Trevor grabs his upper arm and squeezes so hard it’s surely going to leave marks in the morning. It’s good though, real good, and the thousands of dollars they’ve made between them mean nothing in comparison.

He finds himself grateful that Moses is down with fucking guys. He can’t imagine anyone else in their little group kissing him like this tonight, with Mary too fucking stubborn, Lester out of the question and the stocky Irish brothers looking like nothing in the world would matter to them but money. It’s saved him the chore of going out and finding someone to take home to the nearest motel.

Moses is a good kisser, too. Quick and nasty and brutal. He draws back for breath, grins wickedly, and dives right in to the next kiss. Trevor groans.

He tastes familiar. He tastes like- like tobacco.

As Moses starts unzipping Trevor’s pants with one, sure hand, Trevor starts to freeze up. He remembers that night in the shitty old field on top of that shitty old car, Michael’s warmth the only thing stopping him from shaking. Michael had told him that if he didn’t return to the game that Moses would be the best replacement for him. Trevor had scoffed. Trevor had laughed at the thought of ever needing a fucking replacement.

If Michael knew, even with that witch wrapped around him, if Michael knew -- Trevor’s fingers twist into the fabric of Moses’ shirt and curl into fists. He shuts right down, jaw clamping shut, a quick, hot burst of anger overcoming him.

Moses makes a wretched sound that would be a scream if it weren’t for the cause of it. He shoves Trevor away with all his strength and falls back off the sofa, landing heavily on the ground. Trevor jumps to his feet.

“What the- what the fuck?” Moses asks, thickly, voice slurred thanks to his torn and bitten tongue. “What the fuck?”

He spits out a great glob of blood at Trevor’s feet. Trevor’s seen more than enough blood in his life but it’s still a startling shade of red red -- he steps on it, mushing it under his feet, getting the sole of his boot all stained. He’s not sure why he does it, but he leans down to Moses and grabs him by the ear, yanking him up. All he can see is red, and a terrified face, and Michael.

“Fuck you,” he says, and pushes Moses away from him. “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!”

Moses wipes at his mouth, wincing. He has no retort but he watches Trevor’s boot-stomping chanting with wary eyes. His hand goes uselessly to his belt, but his gun is on the table next to his takings, and when he realises this he presses against the nearest wall as though that will somehow protect him. Trevor glares without really seeing.

His hands are shaking. His voice is shaking. His whole body is shaking.

Without another word he turns to grab his cash and stuff it in his backpack. Moses stays silent. Trevor leaves him to it, and heads out into the hallway. He takes the stairs. When the night air hits him, it’s a second before the rain does; he’s soaked almost instantly. It does nothing to clear his head.

His t-shirt sticks to his skin as he stumbles through the night. Goosebumps shoot up his arms, down his back, across his neck and he wants to scratch at his skin to get them off. When he tries, his fingertips are too damp to leave any sort of mark and so he gives up, tripping over his own feet, tripping over thought after memory after fucking regret.

In his pocket, safe and dry, is the number Michael had hastily scribbled out for him, saying, “Remember, this is Amanda’s parents’ number, okay? So don’t call me when you’re dick-deep in a whore or something, save it for- well, don’t call at all, okay? Unless there’s an emergency. Call me then, okay? Stay- stay safe. Don’t let Lester rip you off.”

Amanda’s parents’ number. That’s all Michael could afford to give him. He didn’t even give him the address of the trailer park. He didn’t say how long he might be laying low there, even though he said he was ready to stop laying low right the second the year turned 1991. Trevor doesn’t care, though, he forgives him; he just wants to hear his voice. Maybe that will settle his flighty stomach. His skin is fucking crawling.

It takes a few minutes of wandering around the city with sirens still sounding through the streets, but he comes to a pay phone that doesn’t seem too beat up. He steps over the shattered glass of its window and fumbles for the scrap of paper. He’s nervous, for a moment, that his wet hands will make the ink run.

Something is not right inside of him. He knows that. He knows that biting the tongue of a man who only wanted him, and who he wanted moments before, wasn’t right -- but neither was robbing that bank. Neither was shooting that security guard in the neck. Neither was the way that Michael told him he was going to be indefinitely staying with some stripper he’d just met.

He should call. He really shouldn’t.

He punches in the numbers.

It rings. It rings on for so long he starts to think that maybe nobody’s gonna answer. Maybe Amanda and Michael are having wild, athletic sex while her parents put earplugs in. His damp fingers clutch at the phone and he squeezes his eyes shut in prayer.

“Fuck, fuck, come on, come on, pick up,” he mutters, pleads.

Finally, when he’s on the verge of giving up, the ringing stops.

“Hello?” comes a sleepy, time-worn voice. “Who is this?”

“It’s Tre -- never mind who this is. I need to talk to Michael.”

“Michael? Amanda’s boyfriend?”

His blood is an acid that burns right through him. “Michael,” is all he can say.

“Just a minute.” The voice is cautious, and then is silent. He hears movement, a hushed discussion. He is winded with the woman’s words.

“Hello?” comes another, younger, nastily familiar voice.

“You’re not Michael.”

There’s a pause. “Trevor? How did you get this number?”

“Well, Amanda, Michael gave it to me. I ain’t fucking stalking you, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Oh. He told me …. oh. Well, what do you want?”

“I want to talk to him, I need --” He tries to steady his breathing. “I need to talk to him.”

“He’s asleep,” she says, simply, like that ends it.

“Do you really think I give a fuck? Wake him up. I have to talk to him.”

She goes quiet for a moment. “Are you in danger?”

“No. I’m fine. I just have to --”

“You sound … strange. Are you crying?”

“Fuck off am I crying. Just --”

“I’m not waking him up. He needs his rest. We’re going to the hospital tomorrow.”

“The hospital? Is he okay?”

“He’s fine.” She audibly yawns. “I’m fine too, thanks for asking.”

“I don’t give a shit if you’re fine or not. If nothing’s wrong with him, why --”

“It’s not that kind of hospital. It’s, uh, surgery, it’s -- whatever, I don’t know why I’m even explaining myself to you. He’s asleep, I’m tired, I’ll let him know you called, okay?”

“Can’t you -- just, wake him up, or I swear to God I’ll come down there and kill --”

She laughs. The sound snaps something in him, and before he knows it he’s screaming down the phone at her. It’s not until he’s finished called her a selfish, bitter old whore that he realises the phones gone dead. He stares at it, breathing heavily through his nose, and then rips it right from the wall. The rain pours on.

He throws the phone to the ground and throws the door open, stepping back out onto the sodden street. He barely feels the rain now.

What the fuck is he supposed to do now? Sure, he’s got enough money for a motel, or a hotel, or even a fucking apartment - but after that, then what? He can’t show his face in the old group again, not after what happened to Moses. He could maybe get his own gang together, maybe call Lester and see if there’s anything in the pipelines, maybe just get his fucking shit together and carry on in the game without Michael holding his hand every step of the way.

He’s damn good at what he does, after all. He doesn’t need Amanda’s boyfriend by his side.

His body gives a big violent shake as the rain gets even heavier. It doesn’t stop shaking either; his hands bury themselves in his pockets and he starts to run, past rundown shops and crumbling apartment blocks.

There’s a girl on the corner of the road, umbrella held high, and she turns to look at him as he crosses towards her. Her expression is one of terror, and he’s about to ask her what the fuck she’s looking at, when the cab screeches and slams right into him.

---

“Two fractured ribs, a broken wrist and a blow to the head. That’s not to even mention all of the bruising. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

Lester throws the notes down onto the bed none too gently. Trevor glares at him. If he could get out of bed without excruciating pain, he would get up and rip Lester’s eyeballs right from their sockets. Lester looks supremely unconcerned and glares right back, crossing his arms tightly.

“Oh, yeah, I’m fucking thrilled with myself. You think I wanted to end up in hospital, huh?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe you just wanted to get hurt.”

Trevor snorts in disgust. “I think maybe you want to get hurt.”

Lester sighs heavily and pulls up a chair at the end of the bed. He’s the first visitor Trevor has had since the accident last night. Trevor doesn’t imagine many more will appear. He’s not sure how Lester even knows about him being here, but he can’t do anything to get rid of him when he can barely move.

“You’re lucky I’m here,” Lester sniffs. “I got your insurance sorted out with the front desk. Your name is Adam Smith while you’re here. Apparently you were in no state to give your name last night and this morning you were … less than cooperative. I’m glad.”

“Adam Smith?” Trevor sighs, and instantly regrets it as his ribs swell despite their splintering. He grimaces and Lester winces in sympathy. “Well. Thanks for sorting that out, I guess, though you could have given me a better fucking name.”

Lester gives him a brief, rare smile, and picks up the hospital notes again. He busies himself with flicking through them and reading the exact extent of Trevor’s injuries. In the next bed along, a young man shakes and shivers. Trevor’s not sure why they’ve put him on a ward with someone going cold turkey. Maybe they think the same as Lester and that he’s some pussy who walked into traffic on purpose. He watches the man sweat, mildly interested, and then the door to the ward swings open.

Trevor’s eyes flick over to it instantly. It’s an aging nurse, walking briskly to the other end of the ward. Trevor’s not entirely sure who he expected.

“You might be pleased to know that Moses is okay,” Lester says without looking up. “He’s a little angry.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Lester gives him a look. “I don’t know exactly what happened and, frankly, I don’t want to. I know about certain … persuasions you and other members of our group have, and that’s fine, none of my business, no problem at all. But from what I could gather, you, uh, you biting him? That was unwarranted, and that is a problem when we’re all supposed to be in this together.”

“What are you, the fucking leader of this shitty ragtag group of merry men?”

“No. I’m just the one who busts you all out of jail when you need it or, I don’t know, plans every single one of these heists before you could even consider them.”

Trevor glowers at him. Certain persuasions, sure, persuasions that Lester can’t even be bothered to voice. He plays with the edge of his blankets and tastes Moses’ blood all over again. He doesn’t feel any regret for but he does kind of worry about his position in the group; it’s over for him if Lester decides he’s out. Without Michael to vouch for him, who in the game is ever going to trust him again?

Never mind. He can do this by himself. He can make something of himself without all of these assholes. Maybe he could even start up his own drug business, just like his mom always said he was destined for. It doesn’t matter that she said it in disgust when he told her, sobbing, that he’d been kicked out of the air force, and that he felt it like a slap around the face. It’s a distant, stupid dream that tends to grip him on long nights when he can’t sleep but maybe it’s something to consider.

“What happened, happened,” is all he can say. He can’t apologise for something he doesn’t feel sorry about, and Lester - to his relief - just nods.

“Yes, it did. It was regretful but … perhaps we can just let you and Moses work apart for a while. For a long while.”

Trevor grunts. The kid in the next bed lets out a low moan. His face is slick with sweat. A feeling lurches through Trevor; he winces with it, as much as he winces over his ribs. It dries his mouth right out and he licks his lips, not meeting Lester’s eye as he rasps, “Does Michael know I’m here?”

The question takes them both by surprise. A shadow comes across Lester’s face as he nervously adjusts his collar. “I-- no. I’m the only one who knows, and I haven’t spoken to him. I don’t know where he is.”

“You do. You know who he’s staying with. Anyway, I have their number- you could call him, maybe, let him know. He’d want to --” He cuts off his rambling. The swell in his lungs and the tightness of his throat is fucking humiliating, and his cheeks flush. Lester looks fucking sorry for him. “You could call him, just to let him know.”

“Is that really a good idea?” Lester asks. “You want me to tell him you bit Moses in the middle of kissing him, ran out into a storm and nearly got yourself killed?”

“You could leave the bit out about Moses. It’s not- he’s with some prostitute, it’s not like he’s being a paragon of virtue himself. I don’t know what you think is going on between us but I can tell you you’re fucking wrong.”

Lester raises his hands. “I’m not thinking anything about the two of you. What I may have heard through certain paper-thin walls in my own home is none of my business.”

“Damn fucking right.”

Trevor, surprisingly, doesn’t feel ashamed at this frank conversation. He’s lied about fucking guys for so long around Michael, and before that, his mom, and he’s always been sick to the stomach with the dishonesty. It doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate a good looking woman, too, and it definitely doesn’t mean he can’t play this game as well as the rest of them - if not better. He doesn’t give a shit if anyone has a problem with it. Michael, though -- Michael he’s not so sure about. He can’t imagine him shouting out in the street that he’s been sucking cock.

Lester gets up and drags the chair around the bed so that he’s settled right next to him. Trevor would inch away if he could. “Look, T, I’m not saying that Michael doesn’t care about you, okay? I’m sure if I told him, he would be here as quickly as he could.”

“So, what’s the hold up, huh? Call him.”

“Don’t you think it’s fair to him to let him … have a break from all this, at least for a little while? He’s been named. Sure, we’re all wanted men, but they don’t know who we are. They know him. That’s gotta be terrifying. We should let him get settled before dragging him back into all this.”

“Fuck that. At New Year, he told me he was itching to get back into it. He was miserable hanging around and doing nothing. He wants this life, it’s all he has. We’re all he has. You should have fucking heard him talk about it.”

“That may be so, but he’s with someone, right? Prostitute or not, he chose to sit out on this job. Clearly, he’s enjoying himself.”

Trevor takes deep, steadying breaths and tries to ignore how much they hurt. It’s penance for the anger coursing through him, or some shit like that. He tries to remind himself, again, again, again, that Michael will grow bored of her like he grows bored of everything but Trevor, and that he will leave that trailer park with renewed vigor, ready to rob the world blind.

“He’ll be pissed if he doesn’t know,” Trevor says, quietly.

“Fine. Call him yourself. I’m not getting involved in anymore of your drama.” Lester gets to his feet and smoothes down his shirt. “Just stay away from Moses, okay? And maybe consider having a break yourself. You surely have enough saved for a good vacation.”

“I don’t need a vacation,” Trevor dismisses. He adjusts his position, slowly, as Lester heads for the door. His wrist - bound tightly in position - throbs with pain. It’s true; sunny beaches and deep blue seas hold little appeal to him. What he wants right now, the breath of fresh air he needs, would be Michael walking through the door and calling him an asshole. That’s the only break he wants.

It’s been three weeks since he last saw him. Twenty one days and he’s already a fucking mess. He needs to get to a grip.

Lester pauses by the door, casting a long look up and down the ward at all of the struggling men. His eyes settle on Trevor and soften, just a little. “Get better,” he says, firmly, “and maybe when you’re well, Michael will be ready to start all over again. For now, just focus on yourself, okay? You’re lucky to be alive at all.”

“Focus on myself, sure,” Trevor says. His throat starts to tickle but he tries his hardest not to cough to save his chest the pain. “I’ll be kicked out of here before tonight and then it’s back into a motel.”

“You could stay somewhere a little more expensive, you know. You have the money for it from our latest job alone.”

“Like I want to get some nosey do-gooders getting all suspicious when someone like me flashes the cash.” The truth is, of course, that he doesn’t feel at all at home in such luxury. One night, after robbing a liquor store and finding a surprising amount of cash in the safe in the back, he and Michael stayed at the most expensive hotel they could find in Missouri. One night alone took half their takings, and for all the heated floors and fluffy towels, Trevor just couldn’t settle down. He felt like a fucking fake. Michael, on the other hand, loved it.

“Well, you’ve got to look after yourself. No moving around a lot or anything until your ribs have healed. That’s a month at the very least.”

Trevor lifts his hands and gestures to his prone body. His legs have gone to sleep. “This? This is nothing. I’ve had worse, and besides, I can lay low if I want. I’m not going to get myself in anymore trouble, okay?”

Lester looks thoroughly unconvinced and visibly struggles with himself for a moment, before limping determinedly back into the room. “I don’t know if you’re capable of that, actually,” he says, dryly. Trevor starts to take offense, but Lester pushes on, “I know that neither of us actually want this, but I think I’d feel better about this whole thing if you just stayed with me. At least until you can breathe without looking like you’re about to pass out.”

“Lester! I always knew you had a big heart, you old softie.” Trevor grins at him. Lester looks like he’s already regretting his offer. “Freezing my ass off with you in North Yankton, huh? I can’t imagine anything I’d love more, pal. You are too kind.”

“Well, I-- it’s not out of kindness, so don’t start getting any funny ideas. If you get yourself into anymore, hm, predicaments and you can’t escape them because you’re not well enough to even run … I’m saving my own ass here, as well as yours. There is far too much at stake here for one of us to get caught.”

“You keep telling yourself that, Lester the Molester. We’re gonna have a real good time huddled up there, just the two of us.”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t call me that.” Lester sweeps a hand through his thinning hair and gives Trevor another stern look, one that he’s close to perfecting. “If that’s a yes, then, I’ll be back in a few hours. I need to sort out flights. Try not to bite any of the nurses, will you?”

“No promises,” Trevor says, eyeing one who walks past. Lester shakes his head with a sigh.

He’s gone, then, and is replaced almost instantly with a harassed-looking doctor. She checks the scabbed-over cut on Trevor’s forehead, dabs at it with a stinging cloth, and asks him a few, sharp questions about his pain. He tries to be as forthcoming as possible, but when she pokes him a little too much, he snaps at her.

She moves onto the next bed quickly after that.

Left alone, Trevor tries to get some much-needed sleep, but the dull throbbing of his ribs and the ache in his wrist and the stinging of the gash across his forehead keeps him from settling for more than a couple of minutes. He vaguely realises that he’s agreed to stay with someone who he knows hates him, who the last time he spent any real time alone with he almost strangled just for saying the wrong thing. But Lester seems to genuinely care, at least a little, and if he’s offering a bed and some decent food, so be it. Trevor can swallow his pride until he’s licked his wounds entirely clean.

Sleep comes in dribs and drabs, and three hours pass before he gives up entirely. One of the kinder nurses brings him his dinner and some much-needed water and he tries his damn hardest to be charming, but she just smiles pityingly and moves on to the next guy. He’s still sweating and shaking and making all sorts of pleas with anyone who passes, like they’ll go out and get his next fix for him.

Hospital is damn boring, it turns out. There’s nothing to occupy Trevor with except pain and the embarrassing realisation that it wasn’t some incredible shootout that’s landed him here, but the sight of a pretty woman that distracted him from the oncoming taxi. He hopes, when the news eventually gets out to his friends, that they think he at least got run over by a gang member or something.

The kind nurses returns after making her dinner rounds. She frowns at him as she takes his blood pressure. “No more visitors, hun?”

“Um. No, I don’t think so.”

She sighs. “That’s a pity. Well, if you need to call anyone, you know there’s a phone by the office, right? Fifty cents for three minutes.”

“I didn’t know that,” he says, perking up. He gingerly presses the palm of his hand to his ribs and winces. “I should be able to walk, right?”

“Sure. Just take it slow and steady. I can get you a stick if you’d like.”

He shakes his head. She feels his forehead and smiles at him, and he musters a smile back. “Thanks,” he says. It’s the first time in a long, long time that he’s genuinely said that, and it feels foreign on his tongue. She kind of reminds him of his mom before his dad left, all soft curves and softer smiles. “I think I’ll give it a go.”

She nods at him. The kid in the next bed starts to cry and her forehead creases with worry. “Give me a shout if it gets too painful.”

As she tends to the poor, shaking soul, Trevor throws back the covers with his uninjured hand. The hospital gown he’s wearing is a sick-green colour and barely reaches his knees, meaning he sees all the scabs across them in their full glory. His calves are an ugly purple.

“Shit,” he mutters and shakes his legs to try and wake them up a little.

When he’s slowly and carefully heaved himself out of bed it takes him a while to get used to how light-headed he feels. A quick rummage in the clothes next to his bed and he’s pulling out the slightly-smudged phone number. Lester’s words reverberate around his skull. He tucks them away and pretends they were never spoken.

Navigating to the nurse’s office proves a little more difficult. Every step makes him feel like he’s being slammed into all over again and he hates himself for it. A couple of fractured ribs and he’s feeling like it’s game over. Gritting his teeth, he pushes through the pain, hospital slippers padding around the corner and down the hustle and bustle of the corridor.

There’s a nurse in the office with grey, flyaway hair. She ignores Trevor, and Trevor ignores her, gripping onto the top of the payphone with his free hand to steady himself. This time, Michael has to answer. He just has to.

After some difficulty, Trevor has the number punched in and the phone pressed so hard to his ear that it hurts. His mouth feels stuffed with cotton wool and he licks at his sore lips.

“Come on,” he begs, broken. “Come on, please.”

“Hello?” a man’s voice asks, and Trevor’s stomach floods with relief.

“Michael,” he says, quietly, “Michael, thank God, I need to see you, I’m hurt, you need to --”

“No, no, this isn’t Michael,” the voice interrupts, and that fact becomes obvious. The man sounds older, gentler, kinder. “This is Randall White. Can I help you?”

“Randall- Randall White? Who the fuck is Randall White?”

Randall clears his throat. “I assume by Michael you’re looking for my daughter’s new … friend?”

“Friend, yeah, Amanda’s friend. Is he there?”

“No,” Randall says, and Trevor curses. “I’m sorry, son. I don’t know if he’ll be back today. He’s taken Amanda out for some … well, for something I’m not entirely sure I approve of.”

“Where? Where, exactly? Maybe I can find a number for the place. I have to talk to him.”

“They’re at --” Her father draws in a great, exasperated breath. “They’ve gone to see a plastic surgeon. Apparently, my little girl thinks it’s acceptable to be bought a- breast implants by a man she barely knows. I could try to find you the surgeon’s number, if you’d like.”

“He’s buying her new fucking tits?” Trevor asks. He starts to laugh, bitterly, a laugh that soon turns into a hacking cough. He wraps an arm around his ribs and closes his eyes tightly through the pain, shoulders shaking with it. The line goes quiet for a while. He expects her father to hang up on him like she did last night.

Instead, more gently, the man asks, “Son, are you in trouble? Is that why you need him so badly? You said you were hurt?”

“Son. Don’t fucking call me --” Trevor is ready to fight despite the battering he’s taken. But then he thinks of Michael, probably in the waiting room of some filthy clinic, flicking through a newspaper as his new darling gets her tits swollen with silicone. He thinks of Michael and how Michael is not thinking of him.

He sags. His whole body threatens to fall to the ground. His lips turn downward. His eyes, once filled with fire, slip closed and his lower lip fucking quivers. He can’t remember the last time he felt so alone, or so goddamn useless.

“No,” he says, quietly, after a long moment of trying to pull himself together. “I’m very sorry for bothering you, Mr. White.”

“No, it’s okay,” Randall says, still sound concerned. “Can I give him a message? Maybe I can get him to give you a call.”

“No, no, it’s not urgent. I’m not urgent, I’m-- just, please tell him that Trevor has called for him again, and that I’m staying with, uh, with L, but that I’m fine. Tell him I’m fine. He might’ve worried, right, he might be worried and not sure where to call me, right? Tell him I’m doing just fine.”

“I will. You take care now.”

The line goes dead. This time, Trevor doesn’t rip the phone from the wall. He hangs up and swallows hard and, still shaking, turns to shuffle back to bed.

---

After three weeks, the pain is almost gone, mostly thanks to painkillers of the legal and the not-so-legal kind. He hides the illegalities from Lester, of course; lighting his pipe in the back yard is a real chore in the cold-ass North Yankton weather, but it’s the best he can do.

Lester’s house has rules. Trevor hates it.

No drugs. No women or men or sexual partners of any kind. No illegal activity anywhere in the city. Only one cab ride to and from the house a day. Every phone call must be in the best code possible. No answering the door without being sure who is on the other side. No violence of any kind.

He’s a paranoid bastard, that much is clear. More than once Trevor limps downstairs to find him peeking around his thick blinds and more than once Lester holds up a hand before he can question it. “My house,” he keeps reminding him, and Trevor does his best to hold his tongue.

At least one area that Trevor feels comfortable with is the food situation. Lester is no great cook and makes barely any use of his reasonably sized kitchen - he sticks to canned food, packets, anything that can just be heated up in the microwave. It’s all Trevor has ever known so he doesn’t complain when he’s told he has to get his own stuff and clean up his own messes.

The worst part of living with a very ill, very boring and very often perverted man is that the phone always rings, and it’s never for him.

Lester works with a lot of people. He says that Michael and Trevor are his true group and the one he’ll reserve the best opportunities for, but there are people he helps in their heist-planning, connections he sets up and friendships he forges, all with a few phone calls. For a young man living a secluded, lonely life, even Trevor has to admit that he’s worth some kind of grudging respect. Taking Trevor in off the almost-literal street was kind of decent of him, too.

People call him a lot. A ridiculous amount, actually, for a man living so far removed from everyone in the business. Trevor sometimes tries to go to the phone first, just to be an ass. He’s never succeeded; with surprising speed, Lester beats him to it every time, and then shoots him a dark look as he whispers away. One time, and one time only, Trevor gets so pissed off he unplugs the phone.

His problem with hearing all of these new jobs getting organised is that he should be out there on the frontlines of criminality. Until his wrist has healed, he’s got no chance firing any reasonably sized gun, but it’s not that that’s bothering him - it’s the fact that even if he was fit and well, he wouldn’t want to be out there. He just doesn’t feel that same urgency without Michael Townley by his side.

Whenever he starts to think about him, he bangs the heel of his hand against his healing forehead. He tells himself that the phone call will come soon.

It never does.

Instead, five weeks after Trevor’s shaken phone call to Amanda’s father, five weeks after he limps bruised and battered out of the hospital, five weeks after he needs Michael and eight weeks after he last saw him, there is a knock at Lester’s door.

*

Trevor is lying down on the sofa when the knock sounds out through the house. The TV, muted, plays some black and white movie he can’t be bothered to pay any attention to.

It’s all he does, these days. He has his hand on his belly, fingers fanned across the dark hair there. Since his accident, he’s lost a lot of weight, and the feeling of his slightly sunken stomach is strange to him. When he draws in a great breath and exhales slowly, his ribs ache dully. He’s fucking fed up.

The knock makes him jump. In the office next door, Lester must jump too; there’s a crash and he curses, loudly.

Trevor stretches out, boots hanging over the arm rest. There’s another, more impatient knock, and Trevor groans.

“Are you gonna get that, you lazy fuck?” he shouts, scratching at his belly. “You gonna make an injured man stand up, huh?”

Lester sighs loudly enough for him to hear despite the wall between them. Trevor shifts to look out of the room towards the front door. Muttering about lazy, ungrateful, unwelcome guests, Lester limps towards it. He glares through the peephole and Trevor watches as every line of his body goes still.

“Oh,” he says, quietly. Trevor sits up. “T, I think it’s time you cheered up.”

“Uh, what?”

“You’ll see,” Lester says, and there’s a smile in his voice.

He opens the door.

“Lester, buddy, hey!” the newcomer says, warmly, and Trevor’s mouth goes dry as Michael walks through the door. He is standing with his shoulders back and his jaw held high. He looks a little fatter than he used to, and that makes Trevor sick - he doesn’t care about it, not really, he could not care less, but it means that Amanda and her family have been- they’ve been fattening him up like a pig to the slaughter. He’s been living a peaceful life of food and sex and rest and he’s not been here, not been where he’s supposed to be.

Michael, though, seems to know none of this. He just pulls Lester into a one-armed hug. “Long time no see! How’re you holding up, man?”

“Oh, um, I’m --” Lester is clearly uncomfortable with the contact. He pats Michael’s back gingerly. “I’m okay, I’m fine. There’s no need to get carried away with our hellos.”

When Michael pulls back, he’s grinning. Trevor wants to topple right off this couch and try to crawl behind the TV stand or something, as though that will stop the ache in his belly and the reunion that he’s wanted so desperately. Michael looks so … unscathed from his time away from the game, from Trevor. He looks happier than he ever has before. Trevor would rather seem him broken on the doorstep than smiling like a fucking lunatic.

“Sorry,” he laughs. “I’m a little hyped up. Too much coffee on the plane, I think. This real bangable air hostess kept pouring it for me.”

“That’s- that’s great. Get in, get in, before someone sees you,” Lester snaps, stepping back to let him through. He takes a quick glance out onto the street before firmly shutting and locking the door. “I don’t want to be rude, but please tell me you’re not here to stay. I’m not sure I can stand taking in anymore strays.”

Michael laughs again. “Maybe. I’m house-trained, don’t worry.”

“Very funny.” Lester pushes his glasses up his nose and glances at Trevor. It’s only a brief look, but there’s enough worry in his forehead to last a lifetime. “What do you want, then?”

“What, I can’t come to, uh, hang out with you?” Michael feigns looking hurt when Lester shakes his head, but his eyes are glittering. “I’m here to take one of those strays off your hands, actually. Is Trevor still here?”

Trevor gets up from the couch. He holds his cast-bound wrist to his ribs, protectively, and swallows. This is it. Michael’s back, after so long without a single word from him. As Trevor holds his head high and walks over, he wonders where Amanda is now. Maybe she’s outside, waiting in the car, or with a plastic surgeon getting her tits pumped up again.

He clears his sandpaper throat. “Hey.”

Michael quickly turns his head quickly. His grin, so bright, dims a little; his eyes sweep across Trevor’s forehead and then down to his wrist and the stiff way he’s standing. “What the hell, T? You got beat up? Are you okay?”

“Beat up?” Trevor tries to laugh. He really does. The weak chuckle that comes out sounds fucking pathetic. “No, not really. A couple of broken ribs and a fucked-up wrist is nothing.”

“Fuck. Who did this to you?”

“No, no, it was- just a car, it was an accident. I wouldn’t let anyone touch me.” He sniffs and lifts his chin up, defiantly. “It happened, what, like a month ago? Five weeks?”

“And you didn’t call? I told you, in emergencies, you could call, you could --” Michael shakes his head. He looks disappointed, of all things. “You should have called me, Trevor. I would’ve been here.”

Lester winces as Trevor laughs, again. This time, the sound is bold and brilliant and brash. He relishes in it. “I did fucking call. I called twice. The first time, I spoke to that dumb broad you were shacking up with and the second time I spoke to her old man.”

“I-- Amanda never told me that. Her dad did, but- he didn’t say anything about you being hurt. He just told me where you were. I thought you were just letting me know in case I was in an emergency. If I’d have known --”

“You knew I was here for weeks and weeks, and you didn’t bother to let me know your precious plans. Fuck you. I wasn’t going to call for a third time, I’m not that fucking needy.”

Lester makes a small noise in the back of his throat. “Guys, come on. It doesn’t matter now, does it? Michael’s here. That’s all that matters.”

“All that matters, huh? It doesn’t matter at all,” Trevor lies. He stomps through to the kitchen. He’d bet all his savings that Lester and Michael share a look in his wake, before they slowly follow him. Trevor gets two beers from the fridge and hands one to Lester, uncapping his own with his teeth. Michael actually looks a little hurt at the snub.

“I wanted to call, I just --”

“Too busy fucking Amanda, huh?”

It’s like Lester isn’t stood between them at all when Michael’s eyes flash. “Don’t talk about Mandy that way. She’s got nothing to do with this.”

“Oh, it’s Mandy now, is it?” Trevor slams his beer down on the counter. It froths over the top of the bottle, all over the granite. Lester sighs sadly. “She has everything to do with this!”

Michael throws his hands up in the air. He looks like he’s regretting coming all this way now and Trevor is almost glad of it. “What, you think I’m the sort of man who’d let someone say I wasn’t allowed to call my- my business partner? I ain’t a fucking pussy, Trevor, if that’s what you’re suggesting!”

“I think that, yeah, providing the person ordering you around has a pair of nice, fake tits to shove in your face.” “What --” That throws Michael for a minute; he stumbles with the revelation. “How- how do you know about that?”

“Her dad told me.”

“Her dad told you? Why would he -- fuck, never mind.” Michael crosses his arms across his broadened chest. “What I do with my money is up to me, okay? I didn’t know you were hurt. I ain’t a fucking psychic.”

“But you didn’t call at all, you didn’t even bother to check if --”

“God, you two are pathetic! Michael’s here now, Trevor, what does it matter? And Michael - you should have called, at least just to let us know you were okay. Okay?”

They both blink at Lester. The prickling atmosphere dissipates. Trevor nurses his beer, sulkily, and Michael squares his shoulders.

He meets Trevor’s eye. “I’m sorry, T. I really am. I should have called you. I- I missed you.”

Lester scratches at his nose, looking suddenly ill at ease. “I have to go rest,” he says, suddenly. “Try not to kill each other when I’m gone. I won’t clean up the mess.”

He gets out of the kitchen, fast, leaving Trevor to turn away from Michael and towards the window. There are bars on the outside. He walks over, anyway, and looks at the pathetic little yard that hasn’t been tended to in years. The thought of Lester doing any kind of gardening makes him laugh a little, and Michael comes to stand by his side.

He peers out at the yard, frowning. “Uh, what are you laughing at?”

“Nothing.”

Michael is stood so close their shoulders brush, and Trevor’s eyes slip closed. He’s a young, hot-blooded man in the prime of his life, but these days touching anyone who isn’t Michael makes him feel sick. All these weeks without contact has been a fucking drag. He can smell the tobacco on Michael’s breath already. He can smell the stench of Amanda’s sex, too.

It’s no great view, no sunset, but Michael still leans a little closer into Trevor and exhales a long breath. “I really did miss you. Every day.” Trevor smiles. He can’t help it; it slips right across his face, uncontrollable, a pleased little quirk of his lips. “You’re fucking pathetic, Townley,” he says, and Michael’s laugh consumes him.

“Yeah, maybe I am,” Michael agrees. He rests against the dining room table and crosses his arms, watching Trevor. Trevor keeps his back to him and looks at the yard, savouring the burn of his gaze. Upstairs, the floorboards creak as Lester finally reaches his bed. He’s probably expecting to come down to the two of them in some kind of Mexican standoff, but Trevor’s temper has started to die down, at least a little.

At least Amanda isn’t here. At least Michael didn’t think to involve her even more.

He’d like to think that maybe they’ve …. broken up or something like that. Michael was pretty protective over her when Trevor got pissed, but he’s a loyal kind of guy. Maybe it ended amicably or maybe it was a screaming, shouting mess, maybe - maybe anything, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s done and dusted and Trevor no longer has to think about that woman all over the only person he truly cares about.

Maybe they haven’t broken up at all. He doesn’t think about that, and he doesn’t act.

Instead, he just sags. With slumped shoulders and an aching body, he turns to Michael. Trevor hated the pity he got at the hospital, hated the pity he got from Lester, hated - hates - people feeling sorry for him. But Michael’s eyes are so blue and so sad when they look at him that he doesn’t mind at all when Michael sighs and stands up.

“You’ve really been through the wars,” he says. “I’m real sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

Trevor shrugs but Michael pulls him close anyway. It’s a big hug, too, one that makes his healing ribs ache all over again. He hugs Michael right back, closing his eyes and breathing in deep. Though Michael is just a little bigger and more clean shaven, he’s still the same. He still feels the same. His heart is still fucking beating, and Trevor’s is, too, and that’s something.

“You’re getting sentimental,” Trevor warns him, but he’s grinning as they break apart. Michael pretends to look hurt even through his grin.

Trevor doesn’t mention Amanda. It takes every bit of feeble self-restraint he has, but he doesn’t mention her. Michael -- to his credit -- doesn’t either.

Michael gets himself a beer and they go through to the living room together. They settle down on the couch at once, and it feels perfectly normal when they sit so close the sides of their bodies are touching at shoulder, at elbow, at hip, at thigh. The TV is still on a muted old movie and Michael glances at the screen, appreciately.

“You get some taste while I was away? Clearly Lester’s a good influence.”

“Clearly nothing,” Trevor mutters, darkly, and just to be an ass he reaches forward and switches the TV off. “You don’t know what kind of influence is. He’s, man, I don’t know, he’s fucking terrifying. If you think you know how paranoid he is, think again. I don’t even dare to breathe without him accusing me of, I don’t know, giving our position away to whoever might be out there.”

The skin at the corner of Michael’s eyes crinkles up with amusement. Trevor glows at being the one to put those wrinkles there.

They settle into their old ways, with Michael putting TV back on and watching it with ravenous eyes, and with Trevor watching Michael. Occasionally their eyes will meet and there’ll be a great crack of some distant storm, some lightening strike, and it won’t matter that Lester is upstairs, groaning, and it won’t matter that Amanda is somewhere on earth with the potential to ruin Trevor’s life completely. It will only matter that Michael will look away and put an arm companionably around Trevor’s shoulders and Trevor will then melt, and they will resume again.

vii.

1991

They fall back together tentatively, and then fervently.

The first time they kiss in Amanda’s aftermath, it’s when Michael is drunk and sloppy and Lester is in the next bedroom. He rolls over and kisses Trevor like nothing’s changed, taking his jaw in his big hands and dragging him up to meet him. Trevor struggles only for a moment, and only in surprise. When he realises what’s happening, he starts to smile and savour the taste of the whisky on his tongue.

The second time it’s in the kitchen. Michael is making a sandwich and putting way too much mayo on it. Trevor walks in, halfway through a shouted conversation through the ceiling with Lester, and sees him standing there and humming. He puts an end to the conversation at once and instead puts a hand at the small of Michael’s back. Michael turns, starting, and Trevor kisses him.

After that, it’s like old times, like Amanda has never interrupted their lives. They decide to stay with Lester for a while as the three of them plan their next jobs; Michael vibrates when they discuss their options, too long out of the game. Trevor can’t help grinning maniacally at the thought of getting back out there, side-by-side with him.

Their first job is a simple store hit but Michael takes to it like a bank robbery.

He is all fluidity and charm as he raises his gun and the clerk is like putty in his hands. The money is thrown into the bags that Trevor thrusts at the shaking man. It’s not a lot, not really, but it’s enough for a decent score; they get out of there after shoving the clerk into the bottles lined up behind his counter, vodka smashing at his feet. He looks like he’s going to piss himself. Trevor doesn’t think the man will talk.

The store is two towns over from Lester’s place and by the time they get back there the night has truly settled. Michael pulls the car into the drive and kills the engine, and then turns to Trevor with a crooked smile.

“I missed this,” he says, gruffly. “I missed all of this.”

Trevor stretches out in the passenger seat, knuckles dusting the roof of the car. He yawns, wide. “You’re a fucking softie.”

“Ha. Yeah, I know,” Michael says, running a thumb around the steering wheel and looking up at Lester’s house. There’s a lone light on upstairs. “You know I wouldn’t give this up for anything, don’t you? I know, recently, I might have made you doubt me, but --”

“Nah, I never doubted you,” Trevor says. The lie comes out so easily that Michael blinks at him. His features soften with relief.

“I think I doubted me,” Michael confesses after a moment. “I mean, living with Amanda’s parents in the middle of a trailer park wasn’t exactly a picket fence life, but it’s just the sort of place I’m used to, you know? I grew up somewhere similar, and that’s always what I pictured for myself. It was stupid to want anything more.”

“But you make money now,” Trevor reminds him. “You don’t have to live like that anymore if you don’t want to.”

“All my money goes on women and whisky and coke,” Michael says. He doesn’t sound mad about it, not at all, but there’s a thoughtfulness to him when he sighs. “The problem was, when I was living out there with Amanda, I kind of pictured what it’d be like to get a house. A nice house, you know, with - I don’t know, a fucking dog and three kids and a mortgage. A house and everything that goes with it.”

Trevor watches him for a good long while. He surprises himself by not getting mad. That sort of quintessential, dumb life has never appealed to him - he doesn’t mind the squalor and he doesn’t mind the spontaneity, and he doubts he ever will. He does feel kind of confused, though, and Michael looks it, too.

“You hate settling down,” he says, slowly, because he’s not sure what else to say. “You hate staying in the same place. It’s always you dragging us into the next city.”

“I do,” Michael admits. “I know.”

He heaves a great sigh that shakes his shoulders. Trevor wants to shake, too, but he can’t look away from the lines forming on Michael’s face.

“I thought long and hard about it. It’s dumb, you know? Fucking idiotic. I barely know Amanda but I let myself imagine what a normal life with her might be like.”

“Come on, M, she’s a stripper, it wouldn’t be a normal --”

“I decided, though,” Michael continues, more loudly, “that I couldn’t give this up for her. I could never leave this life, not for anyone. I like it too much. I like the, uh, the thrill of it, I guess. I like the money and the drugs and the shitty motel rooms. I like roaming this goddamn country, you know?”

Relief balloons in Trevor and he sighs with it. The threatening headache starts to fade and he finds himself grinning, stupidly, even as Michael just frowns at the house, eyes still muddled.

“I like being your side,” he says, eventually. He says it like it bewilders him. Trevor takes it as a confession that it might never have been intended to be, and he reaches over like a fucking idiot and takes Michael’s hand in his. Michael palm is a little clammy but he doesn’t mind. He doesn’t mind at all.

Michael squeezes his hand right back.

Trevor, just to be a dick, has to ask, “So Amanda took the break up okay?”

Michael’s fingers still and his other hand goes to the back of his neck, eyes averting. “To tell you the truth, I ain’t exactly broke up with her yet. I was planning to go down there next week and do it in person, you know. I figure that’s the kindest way to do it.”

It doesn’t matter to Trevor when or how or why he does it, as long as she knows that she’s lost the battle she was foolish to even try to fight. He shrugs and leans over to the driver’s seat, putting his lips to the shell of Michael’s ear. He looks pretty glum over the prospect of dumping the closest thing he’s ever had to normalcy, so Trevor has a duty to the man who has chosen him, to the man he’s never going to let leave his side again.

“Cheer up,” he says, softly, “and I’ll suck your cock for you.”

Michael’s eyes remain troubled, but he pulls back and laughs anyway. “You’re filthier than any stripper, man.”

Trevor hums in agreement and his hands go to Michael’s fly.

---

Michael heads across the country to finally settle things with Amanda, and to finally settle Trevor’s stomach.

Trevor drives him to the airport and kisses him right in the middle of it. It’s the first time they’ve kissed in public and at first Michael’s hands come up to push Trevor away, eyes widening with fear, but then he relaxes and gives just as good back. Trevor laughs a little wickedly when they break apart, slapping Michael on the ass and leaving him there, all flushed and closely watched by the rest of the passengers.

He’s whistling as he drives back to Lester’s, and when he gets there he’s still grinning.

When he sleeps that night, he reaches out for Michael and when he finds empty space he just grins all over again. Soon, Michael will be back, and for good.

“Let’s go out,” he says to Lester the next afternoon. The man looks up from his desk and cocks an eyebrow. “Let’s have fun.”

“Me and you?” Lester asks, suspiciously.

“No, me and the fucking cockroaches,” Trevor replies. “Come on, it’ll be a good time. You like alcohol and you like women, right? I know just the place.”

“If you mean that seedy little strip club near the centre of town --”

“Damn right that’s where I mean,” Trevor says, happily. “Get your fucking gladrags on, L. I’m getting you laid tonight.”

Lester, to his credit, seems to know when he’s not going to win. He heaves himself to his feet. “I think I might prefer you when you’re miserable.”

Leaning forward, Trevor tries to plant a big, sloppy kiss on Lester’s lips, but he’s unceremoniously shoved away. Shaking his head and grumbling, Lester goes to get ready, anyway.

When they’re in the car and the radio is on loud, Lester doesn’t look that much happier, but Trevor’s on top of the world. He starts tapping the steering wheel in time with the music and remembers how it felt the other night to make Michael come right here, hips lifting up from the seat and fingers tangling themselves in his hair. He doesn’t share his reminiscing with Lester, this time.

He does imagine Michael coming home tomorrow, though, and he imagines the mascara streaks down Amanda’s cheeks as she realises that she’s lost him.

“I’m not staying for long,” Lester vows as they pull up outside the strip club. The sun is only just setting and there’s only a few punters at the bar, but the girls are dancing on the podium like their life depends upon it. Trevor doesn’t miss the way Lester eyes a particularly beautiful blonde.

“Yes, you are,” Trevor says, slapping him cheerfully on the back and pushing him in the direction of the stage.

While Lester settles in and enjoys the view, he goes to get the drinks in. He opts for whisky - he’s got the money, after all, and Lester has got the liking for it - and when he brings them over Lester smiles at him warily.

“You really are frightening when you’re happy,” he says, and knocks his drink back.

Trevor sniffs. He watches the dancers appreciatively, but doesn’t feel anything except a vague, distant attraction to them. He doesn’t really even want to fuck any of them.

“I’d like to think I’m frightening all the time.”

Lester actually laughs at that. Trevor forgets that he’s some pimpled, wheezing bastard that he once nearly strangled. He feels kind of like a friend right now. He wonders if the kindling of his feelings for Michael can really change the rest of his life like this, if that acceptance, that warmth, can really make him something of a better person.

It’s a load of shit, he knows that. He doesn’t need anyone - even Michael - to be his salvation. He’s fucked up, and he’s going to carry on that way; he’s going to rob and he’s probably going to kill and he’s certainly going to keep smoking meth. Michael is fucked up in his own way, though, and just because they share a bed it doesn’t mean they have to settle down and become decent civilians or anything.

It just means that maybe he’ll hate himself a little less. It just means that maybe he’ll miss his mom a little less, too, and feel something more than a waste of fucking space. If that means he feels kinder towards his comrades in the game, then that’s a plus.

He slings an easy arm around Lester’s shoulders.

“Which is your favourite?” he asks, nodding up at the dancers.

Lester, never one to hide what a horn dog he really is, stares at each of them in turn. In the end, he focuses back on the blonde woman with hips so wide they’re transfixing. He doesn’t have to say anything. His eyes are wide and the tips of his ears turn red and his lips part, breath hitching just enough for Trevor to know his exact line of thought.

“Yeah, she’s pretty nice.”

“Pretty nice?” Lester asks, not tearing his gaze away from her. “I don’t know how high your standards can be when you spend half your time pining after Michael Townley, but --”

He stops short. Trevor can actually see the blood draining from his face as he turns a sickly white colour. After a moment he turns to look at Trevor. There’s a wariness lurking in his eyes and he starts to stutter some nonsense that neither of them really understand. Trevor’s confused until he realises it’s the first time anyone’s really acknowledged him and Michael hooking up.

Lester’s shaking like he’s just said something dark and dirty and that Trevor lash out at him at any second.

But Trevor doesn’t want to. However much Michael’s tried to hide it from everyone, Trevor’s never had any such qualms. He’d tell everyone in this club if he wanted to. He’s never been ashamed. He wants to tell the world that he loves Michael, that he feels him the burn of him in his heart every damn day.

“I don’t pine,” he says, gruffly.

“I know. I’m sorry, T. I didn’t mean to imply --”

“I know what you meant. Stop fucking apologising.”

Lester looks down at his empty glass. He seems to shrink in his seat. “I am sorry, though. It’s none of my business what you guys do.”

Trevor raises his eyebrows. “You know yesterday, when you went to see your doctor? We fucked on your bed. I’d say that’s your business.”

“I -- my bed? Jesus, don’t you have any respect? I slept there last night! I didn’t think I had to wash my own fucking sheets after one day!” Trevor grins at him. “They are really comfy sheets, I gotta say. Especially when you’re stretched out on your back with a fat fuck called Michael Townley on top of you.”

“You assholes!” Lester shakes his head, but he squares his shoulders again. He runs his fingers around the rim of his glass. He looks up at Trevor. “You don’t mind … talk of it, then.”

“Of course not, man. It is what it is.”

“And Michael? Does he mind?”

“I --” Trevor falters. His stomach twists a little, but then he remembers where Michael is and what Michael has gone to do. “No. It’s taken him a while, but I think he’s coming round.”

“Hmm.”

Lester doesn’t look all that convinced and maybe Trevor gets a little mad about that, but he swallows his anger this time. It hardly matters what Lester thinks about it. The only important thing is that Michael thinks otherwise. He let Trevor kiss him in the airport yesterday. He let all those strangers watch.

“Anyway,” Trevor says, loudly, feeling oddly stung, “what Michael and I do isn’t the fucking issue here. The issue is having a good night, and that’s what I promised you.”

He heads off to the bar again before Lester can protest. The club resonates with some awful song from the seventies. It reminds Trevor of his dad, who - when he was around, early on, before he got so disillusioned with his family that he left Trevor in the middle of that shitty, busy mall - used to play his radio real loud. It always drove his mom mad. Trevor has a fond memory of her breaking the thing by throwing it at her husband.

“Two more,” he barks at the barmaid, who hurries to oblige him. He thanks her with his widest smile.

The promise of tomorrow - of Michael and the planning of their next, proper job - makes him vibrate all the way back to Lester. He’s polishing his glasses on his shirt and still looking in the direction of the blonde dancer, and so Trevor makes some bullshit excuse and goes to the nearest bouncer.

“Hey,” he says, leafing a few fifties from his jacket. “You think blondie wants to come down and show my friend over there a good time?”

The bouncer glances around the club and then glares down at Trevor. He takes the notes and nods, just the once. “She’ll be with him soon.”

“Good.”

“Get the fuck out of here, then.”

Trevor doesn’t think twice about obeying. Sure, he could take the man and his attitude, but now’s not the time for it. He returns to Lester with an even bigger bounce in his step and gets a strange look in return.

“So,” Lester says, swilling the ice around his glass, “do you think you two are up for a job soon? I have a contact in South Yankton looking for some back up in something he’s got planned. It’s a fairly big job, maybe ten thousand each. Maybe more. I said I’d ask you two before anyone else.”

“That sounds mighty grand,” Trevor says, “but we can work out the details later. We’re not here to discuss work, asshole.”

“Oh, excuse me for making conversation,” Lester snaps. “What do you want to talk about? The weather, maybe? Football? Your bad choice in tattoos?”

Trevor laughs and runs a finger across his neck. He was drunk sometime last year when he got his beloved cut here tattoo, and Michael had held his hand all the way through it. Lester has, unsurprisingly, never approved of it.

“I don’t know. What do normal guys talk about in a strip club?”

“Women,” Lester says, firmly. They look back up at the stage and Lester sighs in disappointment when he notices his favourite dancer is missing. He digs deep in his pockets regardless, reaching forward to pass them to a smiling, rather flexible lady with sparkly make-up. She stuffs them down her panties and winks at him, causing him to lick his lips. Trevor rolls his eyes.

The art of conversation dies as Lester gets thoroughly distracted by her teasing smile. Trevor taps his fingers on the table and thinks about Michael flying home tomorrow morning. Maybe he’ll meet him at the airport again and kiss him for even longer. Maybe Michael will initiate it this time.

Twenty minutes of comfortable silence pass. Lester gets the next round and the whisky starts to make both of their heads light. The blonde dancer finally re-emerges and makes a beeline right to them. She flashes Trevor a big smile and he guesses the bouncer gave her a large cut of the cash, and she knows exactly who’s funding Lester’s adventures tonight.

“Hi,” she says, to Lester. “Mind if I join you, sugar?”

He gapes at her and she settles down between them. She’s even prettier up close and Lester goes a ridiculous pink colour. Trevor chokes back a laugh and downs the last of his drink, ice clacking against teeth.

“Right then,” he says, setting his glass down and standing up. “I’ll leave you to it. Have a nice night, kids.”

Lester looks at him and shakes his head. He looks terrified. Trevor just laughs again and claps him hard on the shoulder. The woman smiles at him, all brilliant white teeth, and he heads for the exit.

The night air hits him like a punch to the face and he takes in big, gulping breaths of it as he heads towards the car, hoping to sober up at least a little. The bouncer from earlier is stood outside with a cigarette and he watches Trevor as he passes. Trevor can’t mistake the glint in his eye as his gaze slides a little too low down his body.

Trevor gives him a lecherous wink and the man swears and turns back inside.

*

The drive home takes a little longer than he expected. He takes a detour to the home of a dealer he’s become acquainted with since living here and picks up a little bit of coke and a little more meth, so when Michael gets home in the morning they can really have a good time. Maybe he’ll get some champagne, too, or something equally dumb and luxurious.

When he gets home, he finds the door unlocked. It startles him, but he figures that Lester’s somehow escaped the well-manicured nails of that Southern beauty and come home. It’s disappointing - he spent a fortune securing her for his friend, after all - but Lester’s always been the hermit type. It doesn’t really surprise him.

He dumps the drugs unceremoniously on the kitchen table and goes to get himself a beer from the fridge. It slides quick and easy down his throat and he finishes the bottle in a matter of minutes. When he reaches for his second, he hears movement from the living room and decides to give Lester hell for giving up the chance to bang his dream girl.

“What the fuck, L?” he asks, heading in there. He finds it in darkness and flicks on the light. “That girl not good enough for you or something?”

He heads over to the couch, ready to carry on with his jeering, but then he realises he’s not talking to Lester at all. The person sitting on the couch is all too familiar.

“Michael?”

Michael sighs, long and heavy. He doesn’t turn around, but he lets out a small sound of acquiescence.

Trevor hops over the couch and settles down next to him. It isn’t until he gets a good look at Michael’s face that he starts to get nervous. He’s pale, for one thing, and his eyes are kind of crazed and bloodshot. His mouth is a thin, worried line. His hands, flat on his lap, shake slightly. He stares at the blank TV like his life depends on it.

“Uh, Michael?” Trevor repeats, uncertainly. “You seen a fucking ghost or something?”

“Something,” Michael says. His voice is a weak, pathetic thing.

The first prickling of fear starts creeping through Trevor. A million and one thoughts fly through him. Michael’s mom and dad have died in some freak accident. Michael’s been diagnosed with some awful disease. All of his savings have been confiscated by the bank. The police know where he is and are on there way right now. His favourite shirt got stained on the flight home.

“You wanna specify exactly what something is, maybe?”

Michael doesn’t respond. He slowly starts to come to life, though, blinking a couple of times. His leg starts to twitch. He exhales and sinks his teeth into his lower lip. His hands are still shaking.

“Michael.” Trevor tries something another tactic, putting a careful arm around his shoulders. Michael jumps so horribly that Trevor withdraws it right away. “Hey, come on. What the fuck has happened to you?”

“It’s --” Michael wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand. His cheeks flood with colour. “It’s Amanda.”

Trevor blinks. The fear inside turns into something far more unpleasant. “Oh. Is she, uh … is she hurt?”

“No. She’s okay. I think. I think she is. She’s not hurt.”

“Well, you know break ups can hit people pretty hard. I didn’t know you were so fond of her, but if you wanna forget her quick, I bought some blow for you. Figured you’d appreciate it.”

He starts to shake even harder as he turns to look at Trevor. His reddened eyes are watery. “I don’t know what to do, Trevor. I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do.”

“I know what I’m going to do if you keep being so fucking vague about --”

“She’s pregnant, Trevor. I knocked her up.”

It’s strange how the floor can feel like it’s dropped away, when they’re both sat perfectly sit on the couch. It feels like it regardless and even though Michael’s right there, inches away, Trevor spirals into a place cold and alone and alien. He stares at Michael and doesn’t see the man he’s grown to love. He sees the shell of him.

“So she gets rid of it,” he says, without thinking. “She’s a hooker, right? She’s gotta be used to it.”

“Fuck off. No, she doesn’t - she won’t --”

“So - so you, what, send her a cheque every month for some squealing brat? It’s not the end of the world, man.”

He doesn’t really pay any attention to what he’s saying as long as it’s something that can break Michael’s strange stupor and get them back on track. He doesn’t think about a part of Michael growing in Amanda’s belly. The baby, he, she, it, whatever, is inconsequential in the scheme of things. Michael can afford child care in this line of work. It doesn’t mean anything. It shouldn’t mean anything.

“You really think it’s that easy?” Michael asks. “What if it was your kid?”

“I’m telling you exactly what I’d do if it was my kind. I’d give the girl some money and be fucking done with it.”

Michael looks back at the television screen, shaking his head. “I- I’m not that kind of guy, T. I don’t want to be, anyway. My dad - my dad wasn’t great, you know that. If he was around, he was drunk, and -- I don’t want to be that sort of dad. I want to be better.”

“Yeah? My dad’s a piece of shit, too, but that don’t mean I’d be some bleeding heart father of the year. These things happen, man. You can send her enough to give the kid a decent enough upbringing, can’t you? You’re not exactly broke.”

Michael stands up and goes over to the window. It’s not just his hands that are shaking, it turns out. His whole body is a mess as he stands there looking out at the street. Trevor doesn’t follow him, this time. It feels like he’s cemented to the couch. If he tries to walk, he’s scared his legs might give way entirely.

“I’m not that kind of guy,” Michael repeats. “It’s too late, anyway. I made … I did the right thing. I’m doing the right thing.”

Trevor’s fingers dig into his leg so hard it’s sure to bruise.

Michael turns from the window, and just looks at him, shoulders slumped. “I asked her to marry me, T. She said yes.”

The shock that makes Trevor’s body weak segues quickly into anger, the dirty kind that has him on his feet in a second. There are goosebumps spreading rapidly over his arms, which start to tighten, fingers curling up into hard fists that long to smash everything and everyone in the room.

“We’re getting married next month, before she starts showing too much. She doesn’t want her mom and dad to know.” Michael watches him but he doesn’t look scared. He just looks defeated. “I thought … I’d like you to come, you know? For fucking moral support or something, I don’t - I need you there, T.”

His throat is so tight Michael may as well have his hands around it. It stops him from screaming and cursing and crying, and it stops him from getting on his knees and pleading like he wants to.

Michael’s eyes are big and lost and he takes a step forward. “Trevor,” he tries, “please --”

“Fuck you,” Trevor says - it’s all he can say - and turns on his heel.

He’s back behind the wheel before he knows it, turning the keys in the ignition so hard he almost breaks the keyring. Michael doesn’t run after him.

It’s easier to drive away without seeing him in the rearview mirror. Trevor puts his foot down on the gas and nearly spins the car out once he’s on the road, but he steadies it just in time. His fingers flex around the steering wheel, knuckles turning white.

Nothing coherent passes through his mind. He just - he just drives, just lets the car tread familiar paths down the road. He wishes he hadn’t left his drugs at Lester’s. He wishes he hadn’t left the house with hands unbloodied.

He’s heard the expression seeing red so many times. He’s heard of that fabled red mist that’s always eluded him. Now, though - now there’s red in the corner of his vision. He shakes his head to get rid of it but it only creeps further. The light in front of him turns red, too, and he drives right through.

Fuck you, is all he can think. Fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you. He starts to mouth along with the mantra and when another motorist honks his horn at him, he sticks a finger out the window at him. If they both weren’t going so fast, he’d slam the brakes on and smash the man’s head against the hood of his stupid fucking car.

When his arms start to ache from holding onto the wheel so tightly and his breath starts coming out in such sharp gasps his lungs almost rip right up, he realises where he’s driven to and parks up at the side of the road. The whole journey he’s been chewing at the inside of his cheek and as he looks up at the blinking neon lights of the strip club, he realises his mouth is full of blood.

He swallows it and gets out of the car.

He isn’t sure why he’s come back here. He isn’t sure of anything at all right now, especially not the steady step of his boots on the sidewalk.

“Trevor! Hey, T!”

He stops. Looks up.

Lester is on the other side of the road. His arm is around the leggy blonde, who’s guiding him into a cab. Trevor crosses the road without checking for oncoming cars, and ignores the blaring of horns that he gets.

“Lester,” he acknowledges. He barely hears his own dead voice.

“T,” Lester smiles, and then the exuberance slides off his face in one, swift motion. The stripper looks scared as she sees the look on Trevor’s face.

“Good night?” Trevor asks.

“Uh. Uh, yeah, great, so far - we’re just going back to Abby’s now.”

“Abby.” Trevor looks her up and down. Abby. Amanda. Amanda. Amanda. “Sure. Great. Knock yourself out.”

“Are you okay?” Lester asks. He sounds drunk but there’s a seriousness to the question and a sharpness to his gaze. “What’s happened?”

Trevor just shrugs. He pats Lester on the cheek, a little harder than he intends to. “Don’t worry about it. You just have yourself a real good time and, you know, use protection.”

“I -- of course -- Trevor, Trevor, don’t just walk --”

He leaves them to it, heading back over to the club. Lester shouts something after him that he doesn’t quite here. He doesn’t turn back.

When he reaches the front of the club, he finds the bouncer from earlier smoking again. He picks Trevor out at once, eyes lingering. If Trevor thought he was misinterpreting the look before, he’s certain of his intentions, now. Maybe it’s the late hour or the nicotine in his bloodstream, Trevor’s not sure, but the other man seems filled with a confidence he earlier lacked.

“You again,” he snaps at Trevor, straightening up. He jerks his head towards the alley at the side of the club. “You wanna take this elsewhere?”

“It’d be my pleasure,” Trevor says, through gritted teeth.

He follows the man down into the dimly lit alley and doesn’t care who sees. If the man plans to rob him, Trevor has a knife tucked into his belt that’s all too ready to be tested. If the man wants to fuck him, then, well - Trevor has something below the belt that’s ready for that, too.

“What’s your name?” the man asks once they’re down there. He puts his hands on Trevor’s shoulders, pinning him none-too-gently against the brick wall.

“Ryan,” Trevor says, at once. The man grins at him. Against his pinkish lips, his teeth are sort of yellow. “You?”

“Tom.”

“Great. Pleasantries out of the fucking way, are we gonna do this or what?”

Tom laughs. He has a nice laugh and when he gets down on his knees, Trevor appreciates him even more. He unzips Trevor’s fly with deft fingers, looking up at him with a kind of wickedness. “Rather have you than any of the girls in there,” he says, and guides Trevor’s cock into his mouth.

The words freeze Trevor. The hot lips around him do absolutely nothing for him as the sentence chime again and again around his head. To this man - to this piece of shit, this absolute stranger - he means more than any cheap hooker that could be found in any city, any state, of this goddamn country. He already means more to this man than he ever has to Michael.

Michael. Trevor’s best friend, fuck buddy, the love of his life, whatever - Michael Townley, the man who is getting married to some girl he’s known a couple of months. Michael Townley, the man who is getting married and having children and choosing her.

A strange sound stirs him from his stupor, from the red mist that’s crept right over his vision all over again. He blinks, and his hands are outstretched, and his fingers are around a neck. Tom is pressed against the far wall. Trevor is strangling him.

He blinks again and lets go, stumbling back. “Shit, I didn’t --”

Tom swings for him and catches his jaw, which feels like it’s split into a million pieces. “Fucker!” Tom hisses, rubbing at his neck. He goes to punch Trevor again, who ducks and slips a hand under his shirt, fingers fastening fast around the handle of his knife.

“Try that again,” he says. His heart is pounding right in his ears.

The man does try it again and he almost manages to hit him again, too, but for Trevor’s quickness. The knife goes into the man’s stomach too easily. It slides right in like butter.

He drags the knife out of him. Tom slides right to the floor, legs giving way. Like a damned idiot he doesn’t scream or yell, just looks down at his stomach in shock, hands going to the wound like he can stop the bleeding. Trevor feels something righteous within him and leans down so that they’re eye-level.

“Fuck you,” he says, quietly, and raises the knife again. He thinks of the baby growing inside of Amanda. He thinks of Amanda’s foul heart, imagines how it would feel pulsing in the palm of his hand.

This time, it’s harder to get the knife into him and his whole arm shakes with the force of stabbing right into the man’s chest. Tom’s eyes roll back in his head with the pain. His legs, spread wide across the ground, start to convulse.

“Fuck,” Trevor starts again, this time bringing the knife into the man’s throat, cutting the life right out of him, “you!”

He watches the body twitch and tremble and then give up. The knife is still wedged in his neck and the blood sprays up his arm. He watches it with interest and then gives the blade a tug. It comes free with a wet little sound and he wipes it on his shirt, before standing and zipping himself up.

He wonders what time Tom’s shift on the door was due to start. He wonders when he will be missed.

With little care, he walks back up the alley and back to the car. Nobody gives him a second glance.

*

At some point after returning home and smoking almost all the crystal he bought, he must have passed out on the sofa, because when he wakes up that’s where he’s sprawled.

Lester is standing over him and he’s looking murderous and almost intimidating.

“Are you fucking insane?” he hisses. His breathing is so labored that Trevor wonders if he’s close to passing out or something. He feels that way himself - when he struggles up into a sitting position, his head spins wildly and he clutches at it.

“Keep your voice down, man. Please.”

“Keep my voice down? Keep my voice down?” Lester laughs maniacally. “I’m sorry, would that draw too much attention to us? Kind of like - oh, I don’t know - murdering some security guard down the alley next to the place he worked and then coming home without even bothering to wash the blood from your fucking hands, huh?”

Trevor manages to stand. He sways a little.

When he looks down at himself, his right arm is bathed in dark, scaled blood and it’s all over his t-shirt, too. He frowns at it, before remembering just what happened down that dark alley and just who he was imagining to be dying at his hand.

As Lester starts to rave about hearing the reports of the murder of the police radio and then coming home to find Trevor passed out and obviously guilty, Trevor starts to remember just why he imagined murdering Amanda, and just why he enjoyed the thought.

“Oh,” he says, stupidly, quietly.

“Oh?” Lester asks, bewildered. “Oh? That’s all you have to say for yourself? You murdered someone a few blocks away from my house, after I told you - I begged you - not to cause any trouble in this town! I put a roof over your head and feed you and put up with all of your --”

“Oh,” Trevor says, more loudly.

Michael is getting married to Amanda.

His heart, so sure to be stone, cracks wetly in two. He grabs the arm of the couch for support, and Lester takes a step back. His legs are collapsing. His legs are collapsing, like his lungs are, like the drug-sodden brain in his head is.

“I want you to leave, please,” Lester says, coldly. “I can’t live with a man who jeopardizes everything we’re working on. You could have lead the cops right to my doorstep.”

“Are the cops here?”

“No. I --”

“Then what’s the fucking deal, Lester? Didn’t you get any last night after all, huh? She take one look at your dick and laugh?”

“Hey!”

“What, that one cut too close to home, huh?” Trevor starts to pace. He can see a few drops of blood on his boots and it just makes him madder. Lester looks a little nervous but stands defiant. “That’s it, isn’t it? Things didn’t work out with darling Abby so you decided to come home and take it out on people you’re supposed to be fucking loyal to. That’s typical, isn’t it? I guess everyone’s a goddamn piece of shit after all.”

“Loyal to? When you were hurt, who looked after you? I didn’t see anyone else rushing to your bedside in that hospital.”

“No? And who comes with you to your hospital appointments, Lester? I don’t see anyone helping you out, either.”

Lester’s glare burns him. “You’re a fucking asshole, Philips. I asked you to leave and I’m not going to ask again.”

Fury lashes through Trevor and he punches the mirror hanging by the window. It shatters at once, and upstairs there’s some movement. It is, he assumes, Michael, wondering what all the noise is about.

The fight goes out of Trevor at once. Lester’s ranting about respect and Trevor’s lack of it, but he goes quiet when Trevor turns to him. His bottom lip is trembling like he’s a fucking kid left in the mall all over again.

He starts to cry. It’s not nice, quiet crying either. It’s loud and messy and pathetic, and his shoulders shake as he sobs. It’s the sort of crying that makes his eyes burn, the sort that makes his stomach flip three times over until he’s nearly doubled over and vomiting.

He cries and he stands there and he shakes and he’s never felt more vulnerable.

Lester watches him with an expression that’s not quite pity. After a beat, he reaches gingerly forward and gives Trevor a hug that he would never have expected.

“He’s marrying her. He’s marrying Amanda,” Trevor says into his shoulder, his whole body shuddering with the words. “She’s gonna have his fucking baby so he’s doing the decent thing and marrying her.”

The arms around him tighten. Lester can’t have hugged people all that much but he hugs good, and Trevor keeps his eyes tightly closed. Lester’s raspy voice comes after a minute of letting his shoulder get soaked.

“Just because he’s marrying her, it doesn’t mean you two can’t --”

“He’s supposed to put us first, this game, this -- me, me, he’s supposed to put me first --”

Lester nods, or at least it feels like he does. There are footsteps coming down the stairs now so Trevor pulls away, taking deep, gasping breaths and wiping at his face with his bloodied hands. “I -- don’t tell him.”

“Of course not,” Lester says, softly. It must be obvious to anyone that he’s been sobbing his heart out, though Lester tactfully opts not to point that out and Trevor appreciates it.

They both turn to the doorway just as Michael appears. He looks haggard and sleep-deprived, hair all over the place. He eyes the blood all over Trevor and his bloodshot eyes, and the strange look on Lester’s face.

“Hey,” he says, awkwardly, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Hey, L, man, we - uh, we gotta sort out a job soon, okay? As soon as possible.”

“Right,” Lester says. He sounds icy. Trevor looks at him in surprise, kind of touched. “Why’s that?”

“Well.” Michael coughs. He avoids everyone’s eyes. “Weddings cost money.”

---

Plane rides, recently, have become something of a joy for Trevor.

It’s pathetic, he knows that, but the prospect of travel and the prospect of travelling with or to Michael has made all of the turbulence worth it. When he walks through airports he remembers the time he returned home from his mom’s trailer to see Michael in the parking lot of the airport, bored out of his mind until he smiled across the cars at Trevor, whose heart was jumping into his throat as he realised just how much the other man meant to him.

But -- that was before. Before all of it, before Amanda even existed to them. Before the baby started to show in her belly and the wedding was rushed forward by two weeks.

The world becomes a whirlwind. Some big job Lester has been planning on a jewellery store close to the border is put on indefinite hold, much to Lester’s chagrin. Michael flies back down to Amanda to get everything organised, like the cake and the decorations and the bridesmaids, who Trevor assumes will be Amanda’s fellow strippers. He buys his fiancee the biggest, most expensive ring that he can find, with a diamond that probably cost a few lives to mine.

There is a radio silence for a while. Trevor takes himself over to a motel a city over from Lester, just to put some distance between them before he can piss him off so much he’s off every job list in the future, and barely leaves the room except to piss. He leaves his number with Lester, just in case - by some wild, stupid twist of fate - Michael actually needs him.

It’s easier to forget him through the fog of drugs. They sink his bones back into the mattress. It’s like getting fucked every day, in the most exquisite way possible - it’s like having Michael on top of him, by his side, inside of him, all over him. He doesn’t bathe and he barely eats, and when he accidentally looks into the mirror he sees eyes that are crazed and haunted.

Then comes from the phone call. Michael, on a crackling line, telling him that Amanda has started to show and her parents might start getting suspicious. Michael, telling him to get his ass down there, because the wedding is in two days and he really needs him there.

Trevor, by rights, should laugh. He should tell him to invite Lester instead, even though the man said from the off that he wanted nothing to do with the shotgun wedding or any mess that followed from it. He should take him to take one of his gold-leaf wedding invitations and shove it so far up his ass he tastes it.

Instead, he takes a drag on his joint and coughs and says yes. Michael’s relief is audible even across the line. It still, stupidly, warms Trevor’s better than any drug can.

He sobers himself up and takes a shower and leaves the hotel room in a state. When he’s in the airport, his heart is clenched. The plane ride is shitty and noisy and stifled. When he’s back in the other airport - this one, this fucking one, the one where he first knew he loved Michael - his heart unclenches and threatens to pour right out of his chest. He grabs the feeble rucksack he brought as luggage, tucks his fake passport in the back pocket, and heads towards the parking lot.

It’s as busy as any small airport’s parking lot can be, with coaches waiting to take tourists and fields trips away, and cabs lining up to grab travellers, and a queue of people waiting to meet friends and families.

It doesn’t matter; Trevor finds them the moment he steps out into the sunlight.

They’re stood by their car, some old, rented thing. Michael’s got his arm around her like they’re any old couple. His face, once tight with panic, is relaxed and handsome again. Amanda shivers with cold and Michael says something to her, and she laughs and ducks her head against his shoulder.

Trevor squares his own shoulders. His mom once told him he was a selfish, self-absorbed asshole and he’s always been inclined to believe her. Before Michael, he didn’t care about the wellbeing of others, even himself, and he can surely be that person again. He can do this. He can be some casual acquaintance at the wedding of a man he doesn’t care all that much for. He can even play as the supportive friend, getting him smashed the night before and propping him up at the aisle. He can tell Amanda she looks lovely in her wedding dress and think about banging the bridesmaids. He can do this. His life is built around deceit, after all.

He walks over to them, rucksack slung over one shoulder.

“Hey,” he says.

Michael smiles at him, nervously, and Amanda’s hand goes to her stomach. It doesn’t look like she’s showing all that much, but maybe it’ll be enough for her parents to notice.

Trevor wonders if she knows the truth about her husband, if she knows that he has been fucking Trevor for months now, or if that when he flew down to her after his absence he was coming to break things off between them forever.

That doesn’t matter now, he reminds himself, and opens his rucksack. He pulls out a pathetic stuffed toy that he bought for a dollar in the store at the airport. It’s some sort of lopsided pink bear, he thinks.

“Here,” he says, gruffly, thrusting it at Amanda. “Congratulations on your, uh, kid or whatever.”

Michael looks a little disgusted at the cheapness of the present, forehead wrinkling unattractively. Amanda, though, takes it and examines it for a moment, before smiling at Trevor, widely.

“Thank you,” she says, sounding genuine enough. Trevor shrugs, but she pulls him in for an unexpected hug, smelling of perfume and powder and Michael. He doesn’t hug her back - his hands, limp at his side, refuse to move - but makes a small sound of acquiescence. Michael meets Trevor’s eye over her shoulder and looks as confused as Trevor feels.

“Thanks,” she says, again, pulling away. “Baby’s gonna love it, I’m sure.”

She pats her stomach and nestles back into Michael’s outstretched arm.

“Uh, yeah, sure, thanks, man,” Michael says. Trevor looks at the sky to stop himself glaring at the man. “Come on, we have to get going. Lots to, uh, get organised, you know?”

“Of course,” Trevor says, agreeably, and gets in the back seat.

As they drive, he takes to watching them both for signs this wedding is too rushed. He doesn’t really spot anyway; Amanda keeps reaching out to touch Michael whenever she can, grazing the pad of her thumb across his wrist or stroking at his elbow, and instead of flinching, Michael leans into the touches. They laugh and murmur about inside jokes and stories and talk about people Trevor’s never even heard of before.

It makes him sink down low in his seat, choosing instead to stare glumly out of the window. He’s never been one for travel sickness but right now he wants to vomit.

Amanda, he starts to learn, is the sort of girl he might actually get on with if circumstances were different. She has a loud, dirty kind of laugh and a pretty way of calling out bullshit, and if she weren’t pregnant with Michael’s child and about to become his wife, Trevor might even think about seducing her or befriending her or giving her some kind of grudging respect.

Instead, he grows to loathe her, and loathe the man sat next to her, the man she’s fattening up and weaving a poisonous web around.

He wishes he was driving just so he could crash the car.

Michael must sense his isolation or grow a pair of fucking balls or something, because he cuts short his loving conversation with his fiancee about how they’re buying a fucking trailer in the park over from her parents’ one, because that’s so fucking romantic, and he meets Trevor’s eye in the rearview mirror.

“Once this whole wedding is over, we really have gotta get back on track with work, T.”

“I mean it, man. Just because I’m gonna be a married man doesn’t mean the pace is gonna slow. I need the money more than ever.”

Right. I got it.”

“You’ll be staying safe, though,” Amanda says, to Michael.

“I’ll be making lots of money, hon. That’s all that matters.”

She huffs and looks out of the window. Trevor notices Michael shaking his head, exasperated, before meeting Trevor’s gaze again, eyes flickering to the road every so often.

“So, tonight,” he says, with a lazy attempt at bravado, “tonight I was thinking we could hit the town. I think I deserve a bachelor party, don’t you?”

*

“Aren’t most bachelor parties, like, fun?”

“Fuck off, T. It’s the best I could do at such short notice. Anyway, you’re the fucking best man, this is on your head.”

“Best man? Did that happen without my say-so? I ain’t holding your fucking hand through this.”

“Asshole.”

Trevor lets out an angry huff of breath and downs another shot.

They’re in some dirty bar with about three other, lonely men inside, no girls whatsoever, and a whole host of conversations they should be having but are both too scared to. As bachelor parties go - and Trevor has never actually been to one before now - it seems pretty shitty.

There’s a lot of alcohol, though. An awful lot of it. Michael took one look around the place when they first stumbled in and ordered them a whole tray of drinks, which they miserably guzzle, one after one, at the bar. If Michael had bothered to let Trevor know he was the best man before now, he might have got him a cake or something.

“What,” Michael says, when Trevor lets him know this, “with a naked chick inside? I’m marrying a stripper, man. I got a lifetime of lap dances ahead of me.”

Trevor snorts into his drink. “Fucking classy. Just what you always wanted in a bride.”

“She can be classy,” Michael protests, a little too fervently. “I took her to this restaurant the other day, this real swanky shitfest where the main course costs like, nearly a hundred dollars. Anyway, she’s sat there in her nicest dress, all dolled up, and I’m in my best suit, and - anyway, you know, it was nice. She looked nice. Nobody thought we were trailer trash.”

“Which you both are actually are.”

“Which we both actually are,” Michael sighs.

“If you’re both fucking better than that, why exactly are you buying a trailer as your first home? I know that’s what you’re both used to - hell, it’s what I’m fucking used to - but our job ain’t exactly low paid.”

You live in motels. You can’t exactly judge.”

We live in motels,” Trevor corrects. He forgets, for a moment, that he’s not supposed to care if Michael is leaving him. “That’s part of the job, though. Nobody in a motel gives a fuck if I just got back from a robbery at three in the morning.”

“Well, yeah, but -- I guess, a house might, uh, draw too much attention, too, for the cops.”

Trevor looks at him for a long moment, and then bursts out laughing. “Bullshit! Bullshit, Townley.”

“What?”

“You don’t wanna splash out, do you? You know you won’t be spending too much time they’re if you’re working all the time. You want more money for whores and drugs and whisky.”

Michael has the decency to look a little sheepish. “I never said I was gonna give up the good life when working, no. There definitely won’t be any whores, though. I promised her that.”

That stops Trevor’s laughter. Promises of faithfulness are all he fucking needs to hear about. Michael looks away as the silence falls, watching the TV screen in the corner that’s showing some sports game. For a moment, he’s transfixed by the man running down the centre of the field. Trevor wonders if he misses being that star quarterback. He hopes so. He hopes that failed sports career eats at Michael every day he wakes up.

Someone must score or something, because the other men at the bar go wild, cheering and stomping their boots on the ground. Even the bartender cracks a grin, raising an empty glass in celebration. Michael laughs, clapping loudly.

Trevor ignores the lot of them. It’s so fucking meaningless that it makes his head ache.

The familiar buzz of beer and spirits soon starts to cheer him up. It’s easy to pretend the world isn’t ending when Michael is sat next to him and laughing about football and they’re drinking the night away. It’s easy to forget that Amanda even exists. He pretends that they’re on a job somewhere down South and anonymous, and that tomorrow they will be robbing the world blind, instead of being robbed by the world.

“Here,” he says, voice catching at the thought. He raises his glass. “Cheers.”

Michael’s smile fades. “Cheers to what?”

“The game.”

“The game?” Michael looks confused until Trevor looks murderous. He raises his glass, too, and clinks it against Trevor’s. “The game. For life.”

A man gets up at the opposite side of the bar. He sets his empty beer glass down and heads for the exit. As he passes them, he sucks at his teeth and mutters, “Fuckin’ queers”.

It’s a blatant invitation for a fight and Trevor’s on his feet before the words have fully sunk in. The man looks triumphant at the rise he gets and stands all, nodding at Trevor.

“You want to take this outside, tough guy?” he asks, voice all drawling and low.

“No,” Trevor says, insolently. “I’ll take you right here and tear you fucking limb from limb.”

“I ain’t afraid of a fucking pansy like you. You think I missed the way you two keep looking at each other? It’s goddamn disgusting, that’s what it is.”

Michael stands up, now. His face has become something dark and dangerous.

“What did you say?”

The man turns to him. “You heard me.”

“That I did,” Michael says. He grits his teeth and shoves Trevor away, none too gently. “I asked you to say it again, asshole.”

“Fucking,” the man starts, drawing out every syllable and cupping his mouth with fat fingers, “queers”.

Michael sniffs. He glances briefly at Trevor, who stands away, now, head cocked curiously to one side, and then back at the stranger. “I ain’t one of them,” he says, and he sounds disgusted, “so I suggest you take it back.”

He gets laughter in response and he doesn’t give him another chance. He punches him clean off his feet, sending him sprawling against the bar. His mouth is bloodied and there’s a tooth or two on the floor, and Michael is just stood there, breathing heavily, the vein on his forehead threatening to pop.

Trevor wants to admire him. He wants to fuck him, here and now, against the bar.

He also wants to murder him.

The suggestion of being gay drove Michael - usually so under wraps about his criminal identity in the normal world - to punch this guys lights out. Trevor remembers his first day in America, when that asshole of a kid bumped the hood of Michael’s car and called them homos, and how Michael had dragged Trevor away from killing the offender.

It didn’t matter to him, then. It didn’t matter to him. He didn’t feel emasculated or defensive or self-righteous. He shrugged. He told Trevor it didn’t matter.

Trevor, tomorrow, will be his best and only man.

It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.

They get kicked out of the bar and Trevor calls it a night. Michael laughs and says he took the words right out of his mouth.

*

When Trevor wakes the next morning, his stomach is lead and his feet are hard to control. He’s not hungover like he expected and he wakes with no blood on his hands but he feels like shit anyway.

He’s staying in the most expensive hotel he could find in this piece of shit city. It’s Michael’s hometown and his parents are somewhere close, but apparently he hasn’t invited them. Trevor can’t blame him.

He takes a deep and hot bath first thing. There are all sorts of scented soaps and creams and he amuses himself for a while with them. He doesn’t shave, leaving a scruff all across his jaw line, but he does put a brush through his hair. It’s getting a little long these days and growing past his ears, but he kind of likes it that way. He ignores the way it feels like it’s already thinning on top.

Maybe it’s stress. He silently blames Michael for that.

Michael offered to let him get ready with him at Amanda’s trailer. Amanda herself is at a friend’s house with her dress and makeup and bridesmaids and mother. He declined Michael’s offer, taking the suit bought especially for him to the hotel the afternoon before, and now it hangs on his door and fucking mocks him.

He’d like to turn up in his torn jeans and stained t-shirt, just to show Michael up, but that wouldn’t be right. He reminds himself -- again -- that he’s supposed to be keeping up this casual acquaintance, reasonable best man facade. He puts the suit on.

It’s stiff and uncomfortable. He looks at himself the mirror and hates the cut of it; it hangs too short on the body and too long on the arms, but it’s the smartest he’s looked since his days in the air force.

Back then, he wasn’t good enough. Now, he’s clearly not fucking good enough.

He moves closer to the mirror and mists the glass up with his breath. Standing here in this expensive hotel in this cheap suit feels strange. He’s come so far in the two and a half years since moving into Michael’s life so unceremoniously. He almost wishes he’d never pulled out that flare gun and shot the asshole chasing Michael.

He wonders, briefly, how different things might be now. It would hurt a lot less, his heart, his whole seizing chest, maybe, but life wouldn’t be the same. Life might not even exist for him at all.

His hands tremble when he puts his tie on, knotting it right underneath his top bottle. Life without Michael would have been sickening and he’s worried he might be about to find that out.

In six or seven months, there’ll be a baby in their lives. Michael is sure to spend some time out of the game to be with it and Amanda, and Trevor’s just going to have to fucking man up and get used to that. Maybe he can set up a new group or something. Lester’s sure to have contacts, as long as they don’t include people he’s bitten the tongue of.

He stares again at himself in the mirror. There is a scared young man looking back at him. He has taken on cops and gangs and the world in the past two years and today he can’t even face his best friend and the beautiful woman that stands at his side.

Trevor Philips is a bank robber, he is a crook and he is a coward.

He grits his teeth and raises his chin. It is job as best friend - as best man - to do this right, and if nothing else, he is damn fucking good in his line of work. He tucks the diamond ring in his breast pocket, slips his sunglasses on, and leaves. The job needs him. Michael needs him. He will be that person, if only for today.

*

The church is old and sweet and in a sun-dappled corner of the town. There’s a big blossom tree in the grassy graveyard and as they pull into the parking lot, it’s already sprinkling their car with pink.

It’s lonely thing, sitting in the back of the car with Amanda’s kind father driving and Michael nervously twitching in the passenger seat. Her dad remembers Trevor from their brief phone call and has the decency not to remind Trevor of his shaking voice back then - he shook his hand when they met before the trip to the church and thanked him for flying down for the ceremony. Michael had looked uneasily in Trevor’s direction, but Trevor had smiled as pleasantly as he could and shook his hand right back.

Michael lights a smoke the moment they’re out of the car and goes to stand under the tree, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Amanda’s father - Mr. White - looks at Trevor for guidance, but Trevor just shrugs.

“I don’t know what to say to him,” Mr. White admits. “Yesterday he seemed very excited about marrying my little girl. This morning he … seems different. Did he have a nice night last night?”

“It was fine,” Trevor lies, averting his eyes upward. The sky is clear blue. Of fucking course it is. “We just had a couple of quiet drinks. Guy’s probably just nervous.”

“Probably.” Mr. White smooths a hand through his grey hair and sighs. “I’m going to head inside. Mandy will be here soon enough, so when you can, please try to get Michael inside too.”

Trevor should take issue with being given orders but for whatever reason he kind of like’s Mr. White, even though he dreams of killing his daughter.

“Sure,” he says and watches the man walk up the church steps. He takes a deep breath and turns to Michael, who has his back to him, plumes of smoking filtering up through the branches of the blossom tree.

He looks great in his suit. It’s one a little more pricey than Trevor’s and it’s cut well; it shows off the wide line of his shoulders and nips nicely in at the waist. Trevor doesn’t give a fuck about fashion but he longs for Michael, imagines ripping those shiny gold shirt buttons off with his teeth and licking a wet stripe down the length of his exposed chest. He aches for him, feels the burn of want, even as he walks over to convince him to get inside to wait for his bride.

He puts a surprisingly steady hand on Michael’s shoulder. Michael turns, defensively, but relaxes when he sees who wants him.

“Oh. Hey, T.”

“Hey.”

“You wanna smoke?”

Trevor looks at the offered packet. It’s a damn dangerous thought, he knows, but he’s grown to love the musty taste of tobacco since tasting it in Michael’s mouth. He’s not sure if he’s ever gonna get that taste back.

His eyes start to fucking burn. He takes a cigarette.

“Light?” he grunts, and Michael hands him one. He lights up and they both look out across the graveyard. There’s moss growing over most of the stones. Trevor wonders how these people died and if they ever loved anybody as half as much as he does now.

“Can you believe it?” Michael asks. “I was up all night waiting for the sun to come out. I was scared fucking shitless. I am scared fucking shitless.”

“It’s just a wedding. You just gotta say a couple of vows and sign a form and it’s over. I got the ring. Nothing to worry about.”

“It’s not just the wedding. It’s more the whole … it’s the kid and everything it’s gonna bring. Mandy’s great but I don’t know her like I know --”

Trevor looks at him, sharply. Michael falls silent.

“Like you know …?”

“Like I should know her,” Michael corrects himself. “We lived together for a few weeks. I know it ain’t her fault I got her pregnant and I’m the one who asked, but it’s - it’s fucking terrifying me. I’m not the kind of guy who does this sort of thing. I never wanted a wife.”

“It’s a bit fucking late for that.”

“I know. I know.” Michael discards his cigarette on the ground and stamps on it a little too hard. Trevor takes a long drag on his own and follows suit. “I think I love her, T. That means something, doesn’t it? That counts, right?”

Trevor’s not sure if Michael’s fucking dumb or just vindictive but he smiles, trying not to show how his insides are revolting against him, sloshing sick right up into his throat. “Of course,” Trevor says. “I’d say that loving someone counts for an awful lot.”

Michael looks at him. He’s chewing on his lower lip. He looks away.

“Yeah,” he says, slowly. “I think so too.”

Trevor feels something at his wrist and starts. He looks down and sees Michael reaching out, just wrapping his fingers around his wrist, looking away as he does so. He squeezes, affectionately, and then lets go.

Something inside of Trevor lets itself go, and he takes in a breath that makes him shudder.

“We could go,” he says, suddenly. “Right now, we could go. We could take the car and go to the airport and get back to Lester and back into the game and leave. She’s never gonna fucking find you.”

Michael stares at him. He looks momentarily outraged, but Trevor knows him and he recognises the longing in his eyes. “She’s carrying my kid, T.”

“A kid who’s gonna do just fine with or without you in it’s life. You never even have to know it’s name. You’ll be free of all of this. We can go back to what we both know and what we’re both fucking good at.”

Michael’s eyes dart all over the place - at the church, at the parked car, at Trevor, at the empty road ahead of the them. His fingers flex and he starts chewing at his lip again.

“Come on,” Trevor says. “Think about it, Michael. This isn’t you. Some shotgun wedding with a stripper? I know you like her but you said yourself you’d choose our life over her before she told you about the kid. You were gonna break up with her. What’s changed?”

“What’s changed is the baby,” Michael says, but he doesn’t sound all that certain.

“Amanda’s a smart, pretty girl. She’ll find another man and he can raise it.”

“But it’s mine, I have a responsibility --”

“Our dads were useless, and look at us. We can make more money in a day than most sacks of shit can in a year. Come on, there’s still time. We’ll get the first flight out of here.”

“I don’t know, man. I just don’t know.”

“Come on. Come on, I --” Trevor gives up the facade, the good guy lie. He grabs Michael by the shoulders and looks him in the eye. “Please. Please, Michael. If you want me to get down on my fucking knees and beg you, I will. I swear I will.”

Michael looks at him. He just looks at him, blankly, before a light must come on upstairs because suddenly he’s laughing, pulling back. “You know what? You’re right. Of course you’re right. Come on, let’s - let’s take that car, and let’s go, let’s --”

Trevor barks out a laugh and grabs Michael’s hand, yanking him roughly in the direction of the waiting vehicle. Michael stumbles but doesn’t resist the pull.

They reach the car and Michael fumbles in his pockets for the keys. There’s a sad little just married banner on the back that Trevor decides to keep there, just for the fun of it, as he slides over the bonnet to reach the passenger seat. He’s laughing, still, as he hears the click of the car unlocking. He almost tears the door off with the force he opens it with.

Breathless, laughing, they fall into their seats and Michael puts the key in the ignition. His eyes, so alive again at last, go to the rearview mirror, and he freezes.

“What the fuck are you waiting for?” Trevor asks, practically bouncing in his seat. “Turn the keys, asshole. We’re getting out of here.”

Michael takes the keys out and doesn’t look at Trevor. He just looks in the mirror and pales.

“What? What’s the fucking hold up? Drive.”

He twists in his seat to look behind them. Sure enough, a white car is pulling up behind them. He can see bundles of fabric around the bridesmaids. Amanda’s somewhere in the midst of it all in the back. Her mom, in the passenger seat, looks alarmed when she notices the groom and best man in a parked car in front of the church. She makes a desperate hand motion for them to get inside.

“Drive,” Trevor says. “Michael. Please.”

“I can’t do that to her and the kid.”

Michael’s voice is steady and sure as he says it and Trevor knows - he knows, he knows, he fucking knows - that he’s lost. Michael gets out of the car and does a dumb little half-run towards the church and up the steps and through the doors.

The bride starts clambering out the back of her car. Trevor sits there shock-still. He pulls the ring out from his pocket and stares at it in all its glittering, disgusting glory. Amanda is going to love it and Michael, well, Michael is going to love her.

Trevor outs the ring away and gets out of the car, too.

He’s not sure what he’s thinking when he glances at Amanda, who is glowing in her rented dress, and offers her an arm. “I’ll walk you in,” he says, and it’s like hearing himself from a distance, and it’s like watching a movie as he leads her up the stairs.

“Thank you,” she whispers, as they get to the top. “I’m really fucking nervous.”

“Me too,” Trevor replies, stupidly, and her laughter in that moment haunts him for the rest of his life.

Chapter Text

viii.

1991 - 1993

Michael and Amanda’s honeymoon extends into time to settle into their new trailer which extends into preparation for the baby which extends to looking after their new little girl.

They name her Tracey. Trevor doesn’t meet her for the first few months of her life, but Michael sends him a postcard with a short, cheerful message and a photograph of a wrinkled, red little baby with a scruff of hair. Trevor looks at it and sees something of Michael in her face - she has his nose, at the very least. He keeps the picture and throws the postcard away.

Before Trevor knows it, it’s New Year’s Eve again. He spends this one alone and even stays sober. He cuts all of his hair off. He grows a moustache. He buys new boots for the winter and stays up north, lurking in the border region he grew up in.

It’s not that he doesn’t think of Michael - he does, of course he does - but for a while he pretends like the man doesn’t exist. It’s not that easy but it gets easier when he starts putting the feelers out and making connections all by himself. Lester helps, sure, but it’s Trevor who asks the right people if they’re interested in working together, and it’s Trevor who puts together some ragtag little outfit and takes on a cash depot with a plan he thought out in its entirety.

The job goes well. Morale is high in his section of the criminal underbelly of America. He goes down south with the group and clears out a trail of pawn shops that yield all sorts of interesting goods. The Irish brothers work with them a couple of times. Mary pops up once or twice. Moses stays far away from the outfit.

Trevor’s never been the teacher and the leader before, but it works. It’s not in the same way that Michael would’ve lead them. Michael favours his silver tongue and promises of tomorrow. Trevor favours good old fashioned fear. His new friends in the game don’t equal him and they’re so scared shitless of wronging him that they perform damn well. Not all of them stick around, but a couple keep their heads together well enough.

For a while, it works.

He meets a guy in a bar somewhere near the desert in Nevada and fucks him. Then he meets a couple of girls the next night, and fucks them, too, and soon he’s back in the swing of sticking his cock in anything that’s grabbing, and it’s dangerously easy to do. They remind of Michael more often than not, but then, they don’t; none of them leave him with that same aftertaste or that slow burn that drives him mad all the next day. He forgets them all easily enough.

He calls Lester when he gets back down south and gloats about the warm weather he’s having. Lester, sighing, asks him what he wants, and when Trevor says nothing much, Lester nervously tells him that Michael called and Michael is asking after him. Trevor tells him that that’s nice, and hangs up.

He later hears through the grapevine that Michael’s done a score without him, some postal office in Missouri, and that afterwards Michael and Moses and the rest of his group partied all night long. That breaks his spell of moving on just enough to make him clench his jaw and spend the next week leaving a path of destruction in his wake. He smashes up his motel room. He books into a nicer hotel, and smashes that up too. He starts a fire in one of the outbuildings of some big, sell-out corporation in the centre of whatever city he’s stumbled into. He punches three guys in the face and kisses two others.

But then he mobilises his group again and organises something else for them. This one doesn’t go as well - one of the Irish brothers gets shot in the shoulder and rushed to hospital and is subsequently arrested. He doesn’t, of course, give any names away, and another brother comes from the depths of hell or whatever and takes his place in the group instead.

It still works. Mary gets cold feet and skips town with more than her fair share of a cut, and Trevor leads his vengeant troop. They find her on the highway and drive her off the road. She doesn’t see the next morning’s light.

Michael must retreat back to his wife and baby because there aren’t any more tales of the infamous Michael Townley pulling scores in the north. Trevor stays down south and warm and bored.

Some nights, when he’s sat at the bar and unsettling his belly with beer and one of his latest conquests is sat dazed and high at his side, he thinks about Michael and he misses him. He hasn’t seen him since the wedding, when he and Amanda said their vows loud and clear. He thinks about maybe calling him or at least writing, or sending him a message through Lester. He wonders if Michael misses him. He wonders why he misses Michael so much.

It’s not just the compulsive need he has to fuck him after a score or the way Michael likes to cradle his jaw in his hands and kiss him too softly. It’s just the idea of their life together. They were great partners, sexual or not, and he felt a different kind of fulfillment when they pulled off scores together. Michael is - was, whatever - the best running partner has ever had.

On those nights he’ll banish the world from his bed and the drugs from his head and try to get things clear within himself. On those nights, he usually ends up going back out and hurting somebody. He breaks a knuckle on the darkest of these nights and when the pain stops blurring his vision, he realises he’s punched a brick wall and there’s a crowd of party goers staring at him and wondering where he went wrong.

He has to go to hospital because he can’t work out how to fix his hand himself. The staff are short tempered and rude when he snarls at them and he screams and demands better service. They fix his hand and he’s out on his ass before he can cause anymore trouble.

There’s only one other instance of hospitalisation and this time has no say in the matter. He’s drunk and decides to shoot heroin with a couple of bikers who dwell in an abandoned building site. They set up the rubber tourniquet on his arm and guide the needle straight into his vein. He feels on top of the world, for a while, until he realises he can’t feel his arm. The bikers share a strange look and that’s the last he sees until he’s blinking up at the cold white ceiling of the hospital again.

Lester calls him. He’s never sure how the man finds him so easily, but he does, he always does.

Lester doesn’t only call him, but he chews him out. He tells Trevor to stop destroying himself. He tells Trevor to come back to North Yankton. He tells Trevor that Michael wants to know where he is. It’s been nearly a whole year since he saw him and Michael misses him. Lester tells him he doesn’t want to be a messenger in their sick little game anymore, and Trevor tells him to fuck off, then, and stop being the messenger, and he must make some dumb comment about Lester’s illness or Lester’s luck with women or something, because Lester sounds disgusted and hangs up.

Trevor leaves the hospital. He doesn’t go back to North Yankton.

New Year’s Eve comes again. He spends this one alone, again. He doesn’t spend this one sober.

The next two months are kind of like that. He starts to do blow for a while but each line of it reminds him of Michael. He switches back to meth and stays far away from the offered needles full of heroin. Sometimes, he just gets drunk. He thinks about his mom a lot. He wonders after his distant dream of the drugs trade.

March brings about a headache for Trevor and he can’t kill it with any painkiller, legal or otherwise.

With Mary buried in a ditch at the side of the road somewhere, his group slowly starts to fall apart. It’s not that he’s ever felt much connection with any of them, but it’s annoying, nonetheless. The Irish brothers go to do their own thing for a while. It’s something to do with drug pushing and the Mexican border. Trevor reluctantly leaves them to it.

After that, his motivation sort of evaporates. He still longs for the biggest and wildest scores he can manage. It’s just difficult when he’s the only one he can depend upon to pull them off. He likes to lead but henchmen only let them down. They only get in the way. He needs a real group.

Slowly, he starts to drift back up north.

ix.

1993

Trevor meets Brad when he reaches South Yankton.

He’s getting restless by the time he drives up there and parks in the back lot of a casino. Since the disintegration of his group, his life has become a continuous cycle of motels and then bars and then back to be sick in motels and then back to be even sicker in the next bar along. The only variations are the faces he sees and none of them are too exciting.

So, when he parks, he decides to spice things up a little. He goes to a bowling alley.

It’s nearly eight pm and the place is only half full. He strides right in like he owns the place. The man behind the counter is more of a boy, really, and looks bored out of his skull even as he yells at some dark haired kids to stop running on the lanes and getting in people’s ways.

“Yeah?” he snaps at Trevor.

“Yeah? Yeah? What do you mean by yeah?”

The kid rolls his eyes. “I mean -- how can I help you today, Sir?”

“Uh, I think I’d like to go fucking bowling, actually.”

The tone of Trevor’s voice makes the kid buck up his ideas and he hurries to get him the right size bowling shoes. While he’s searching, Trevor leans back on the counter and watches the other patrons. Aside from the gaggle of teenagers, there’s a couple of young women in the end lane, an elderly man with what Trevor can only assume is his granddaughter, and a lone, young man. Trevor glances at him and then back to the assistant, who’s slamming the shoes on the desk with a little more vigour than strictly necessary.

“Here. Lane number two. You need to change your shoes.”

“Sure,” he says, agreeably, bending to unlace his boots and swap them. He throws them at the man who catches them just before they hit his face. “Have a swell day.”

“Um. You too.”

Trevor pads over to lane two, in the middle of the young girls and the lone man. The man seems to be having some trouble hitting a single pin, but the girls are doing pretty decently. Trevor wonders how much trouble he’d be in if he threw his ball into either lane and just to give them a helping hand. He chooses against it, ultimately; he’s only just arrived. He has all the time in the world to get kicked out.

He selects the bright pink ball just to be an ass and throws it before giving any thought to technique or posture or speed. If Michael were here, he’d be shaking his head and offering not so helpful tips and Trevor would be telling him to fuck off.

The ball hits the middle pin.

“Striiiiiiiike!” Trevor yells, so loud the other bowlers all look at him. “Fucking take that, Mikey.”

He struts back over to the balls and picks a purple one this time.

A long time ago, before the crime and before Michael and even before he first sat in the cockpit of a plane, he used to go to his local bowling alley almost every night. His dad took him when he was so tiny he could barely lift one of the balls and then, when that fell apart, he used to go with a couple of kids from school who had some passing interest in being friends with poor, weird Trevor Philips.

He never learned professionally but he was good, and he knew it. Eventually his cat-calls and smugness wore thin on his so-called friends and they left him for bigger and better things, like football. He didn’t really care. He kept bowling.

It’s been years though since he’s had the chance or the motivation. He’s not sure why it’s here, in this nowhere town, feet sticking to the grimy floor, that he’s enjoying himself all over again.

The man at his side throws the ball and it fucking bounces. Trevor laughs.

One of the girls at his other side gives him a seductive, daring look and whispers something to her friend. They both start to giggle.

He winks at them.

“Fuckin’ sluts.”

Trevor whips around so fast his neck cracks. The man who’s struggling to even throw his ball is glaring at them, over Trevor’s shoulder. They make small, disgusted sounds, and Trevor follows suit.

“You talking to them, friend?”

“Yeah, I am. They were smiling at me before you came along.”

Trevor raises an eyebrow and glances back at them. “Tell me, ladies, does this asshole have a chance with either of you?”

“Uh, no,” the winking girl says. Her friend nods fervently.

Trevor turns back to the man. His face is large and pink and topped by a crop of startlingly white-blonde hair. He’s stocky, almost fat. He looks nothing like Michael Townley, but Trevor thinks of him anyway. He throws his bowling ball from hand to hand.

“What do I care if a couple of ugly sluts don’t want me?”

“It sounds like you care an awful lot,” Trevor says, helpfully. The girls start to laugh again and the man goes from pink to scarlet. “It sounds also like you should maybe start to respect women a little more, huh?”

“It sounds like you should fuck off back to Canada,” the man spits, and turns back to his bowling lane.

Trevor stares at the man.

His temper is like a volcano. It rushes right up into the centre of his chest until he can’t breathe for gasping and it spills hot and heavy and harsh all the way through him, drips like lava down his throat and out of his lips and into the palms of his hands.

He walks over to the man and pushes his face right up against his, baring his teeth.

The man attempts to keep his cool. He cocks his head to one side. “Um. What are you doing, dude? Trying to be tough or something?”

Trevor exhales through the gaps in his teeth. His knuckles tighten. The bowling ball starts to get heavy and he knows just what an impact it could leave on this bastard’s face. He could cave his cheek right in.

“Something like that,” he hisses.

“Ha. Those girl’s aren’t gonna fuck a man who looks like he’s been snorting coke all weekend, but hey. I won’t stop you making an ass of yourself.”

He should, by rights, give him the satisfaction and beat him until he’s bloody and can barely stand. Instead, he leans even closer, free hand moving to run down the stranger’s chest, fingers dancing at his belly. “Hmm. Fucking them sounds inviting, but what if I want to fuck you instead, cowboy?”

“Huh. I didn’t peg you for the fruity type.”

“Fruity? I’ll show you fucking fruity if you want me to.”

“Can you step back onto your own lane, man? I wanna bowl in peace.”

Trevor almost loses it. The girls are watching again but it’s not their waiting, wary eyes that make him move. It’s the condescension in the man’s voice. He’s talking so airy and calm but he’s a boiling red colour at the rejection. Trevor has no time for patronising pieces of shit like this. This man reminds him a little of his brother -- he has Ryan’s perpetual, angry blush, and his way of making Trevor feel so miniscule he may as well not be breathing.

“You hear that, everyone?” Trevor asks, loud enough to silence the whole room. “This asshole just wants to bowl in peace. He wants to be able to degrade women and start fights and then act like the victim. Isn’t he a peach?”

“I said back off, man. Get the fuck out of my face.”

“Or what, exactly?” He raises his eyebrows. “Tell me, sugar, what exactly you’re going to do to me?”

The man swings. Trevor ducks just in time. Great big knuckles graze the top of his head.

He pushes forward with all of his might, using the bowling ball to carry him forward, sending the man flat on his back. He glares up at Trevor, winded. Trevor, helpfully, drops the ball right onto his stomach and the man groans with it, struggling to sit up as his hands skid on the bowling lane.

“Oops,” Trevor says, bending to retrieve it.

The man kicks a leg out and this time he connects; Trevor falls to the ground as the foot takes out his knee. He’s on top of Trevor in an instant, wrestling, grappling. Clammy hands find Trevor’s upper arms and pin him to the floor with surprising force, even as Trevor thrashes and rages beneath him. The man is a bull, an ox, a fucking dead man.

“Brad? Again?” comes an exasperated voice, and the man is tugged up and away from him.

Trevor, slowly and furiously, gets to his feet. He’s shaking with the shame of being bested by some lumbering beast and he’s shaking with the promise of being able to murder him. Maybe he’ll rough him up a little first just so he has the satisfaction of putting fear into those eyes.

The man, Brad, rubs at his sore stomach. An aging security guard stands by his side and shakes his head. “I was handling it,” Brad snaps.

“Handling it? Handing what? You looked like you were going to kill the poor kid!” The guard turns to Trevor and looks at him like he’s some bullied fourteen year old. “Are you okay, son? I’m sorry about Snider, but when he’s bored he likes to come here and cause trouble. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.”

“Why don’t you just ban the prick?”

The man frowns at him. “There’s no need for language like that.”

Brad huffs a great breath and crosses his arms across his considerable chest. “Bill here is old friends with my dad,” he mutters, looking away. “He ain’t gonna ban me.”

Trevor sighs. He’s not sure how he’s stumbled straight into some local dispute between town jester and town sheriff or what the fuck ever. Some of the fight goes out of him, but he still wonders vividly how much a murder would shake up this backward little city.

“Nice,” he laughs, “you’re good and protected by your daddy, huh?”

This world - this stupid, domestic world - holds nothing for him. It was stupid to go bowling when he should have been out there robbing or jacking off or hitting the pipe. Tomorrow, Brad will wake up with a sore torso and then talk to his dad on the phone and maybe go grocery shopping and choose some natural yoghurt, trying to keep his weight down, and then come bowling again or go out with that girl he used to like in high school. He will act tough and never know that he was pinning a murderer to the floor, who might one day come back for vengeance and slit his throat.

Brad looks pissed all over again but makes no move towards Trevor. The guard puts his plump hands on plumper hips and sighs. “Now, come on, that’s not fair. Let’s just shake hands and forget about all this, okay? Brad?”

Brad glares at the ceiling, and then at the floor. He sticks a hand out.

It’s so normal and so safe that Trevor feels sick. If Michael were here, Michael would laugh and pin Brad to the wall by his neck and tell him that he ever fucks with him or Trevor again, he’ll regret it. He’d stride out of here with his head held high and his threats well heard. Maybe, if he was here, Trevor would have the energy to gut Brad right here in full view of everyone. There could be a mass shootout with cops swarming the building.

But, without him, Trevor just sags. He needs to stop imagining how different things would be with Michael at his side. He needs to remind himself that that reality is, for now, over, and that he’s on his way back into it, maybe, he’s moving back towards the frost of North Yankton, but for now he’s on his own.

He says nothing. He does not shake Brad Snider’s hand.

He leaves ten minutes later. He feels Brad’s gaze all the way out of the door. He longs for the hook of Michael’s.

*

There has always been a certain rush that Trevor has craved. He found it first in bowling with his dad. Then it came swiftly in the form of flying, until those dreams crashed around him. Then came the rush that he keeps trying to recreate -- Michael. Michael’s crooked smile. The slopes of Michael’s belly. Michael’s mouth. Michael’s cock. Michael. Now, he tries to reach it through taking himself from his body.

He gets back to his car and sits there for a while, staring blankly at the light-up casino in front of him.

After his eyes start to burn and his shoulders start to shake with the memory of that summer wedding, he reaches for the glove compartment. There’s only a little joint in there and weed barely gets him close to that high he’s always after, but he lights it anyway. His car windows fog up. He wipes at them with his sleeve.

Marijuana takes the edge off, at least. When it’s burned down to his fingers he stubs it out on the dashboard and rests back in his seat. His mind turns slippery. He closes his eyes and plans to sleep before the next big drive tomorrow at first light.

He sees Michael’s face and groans.

There’s a knock at the window.

Opening one eye, he glares at the fuzzy shape outside the door. He hopes it’s not a cop - he can’t be bothered to be chased out of this city right now - but he winds down his window, anyway, letting out the smoke and the smell.

“Yeah?” he snaps.

“Hey,” Brad Snider says.

Trevor groans again and bashes the back of his head against the headrest. He’s tempted to wind the window back up.

“If you’re here to finish what you started, you can fuck off. I’m not in any mood to kick your fucking ass all the way out of this state.”

“That’s not what I’m here for,” Brad says. There’s a flash of annoyance across his face that’s gone before Trevor can really react to it. “There’s no need to be an asshole. I’m sorry I pinned you on the ground and I’m sorry I called those chicks sluts.”

“Great.” Trevor yawns as obnoxiously as he can. “Be a good little boy and run off to daddy, then.”

Hey, the least you could do is apologise to me for nearly busting my gut open. That ball weighed a ton.”

That makes Trevor pay attention. He leans all the way out of the window. “I suggest you never tell me to apologise to you ever again. It might just be the last thing you ever do.”

Brad holds his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again. Jesus.”

“What exactly do you want from me here, huh? Forgiveness? You still want me to shake your fucking hand?”

“No. I ain’t a pussy.” Brad puffs out his chest and tries to look impressive. He does, kind of - there’s a width to his shoulders and a meanness to his face that could maybe pass for frightening if the right person saw it. “I wanted to get to know you.”

“Uh, excuse me? Why?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like you before. I know I said a lot of shit back there, but you’re like - what, twenty two? Twenty three? You’re scary. You got the attitude of a jumped up little punk but it kind of works, and - I don’t know, I just wondered … I don’t know what line of work you’re in but it’s not legal, I think, and I think it’s the kind of work I’d like to do.”

Trevor blinks. The kid has balls, he’s got to give him that. He speaks low and slow and dumb, like every word is giving him trouble, but he has balls. Trevor considers him.

“The kind of work you’d like to do,” he repeats, and it comes out like a question.

“I’m guessing drug dealing?”

Trevor snorts. “Nah. No. Sadly not. Not yet, anyway. It’s a little more … high octane than that.”

He shouldn’t tell Brad anything, of course. Michael is a wanted man and if he’s ever found out --

He stops himself. Michael isn’t fucking here.

“I rob banks and stores and any stupid shit that tries to get in my way,” he says, nonchalantly.

Brad’s eyes gleam like diamonds. “Woah. Seriously? What are you doing in a city like this then? Nothing ever happens here.”

“Just passing through. I’m on my way to North Yankton.”

“Yeah? You taking scores up there?”

“Maybe.”

“Wow.” Brad breathes heavily. Trevor thinks he could maybe get used to being worshipped by this big, unlikeable lump. “Can I come?”

Trevor laughs. He thinks about the long road ahead as he passes through the state. If Brad annoys him too much, he can always dump him on the highway somewhere, dead or alive. He stops laughing and shrugs, and then reaches over to reach the passenger door.

“We ain’t stopping at your place for any of your shit, so if you’re happy with the clothes on your back, get the fuck in.”

Brad, grinning, scrambles around the car and inside.

---

They reach Lester’s place in little over a week.

Trevor, unfortunately, has learned to loathe Brad by the time they park up opposite the house. He’d proved to be pig-ugly, inside and out. For a young man who has never even left his home town before, he acts like the world truly owes him something; when Trevor refused to buy him drugs, he got so pissed he nearly smashed something; when Trevor refused to go to a strip club with him, he folded his arms and muttered about how he can get a girl without having to visit whores, anyway; when Trevor refused to tell him the full names of Lester and Michael, Brad scowled and demanded and scowled some more.

If this were any other moment in time, Trevor would tell the entitled man to fuck right off. But this isn’t -- this is the promise of reuniting with Lester and the old gang, of reuniting with Michael.

He can’t show up empty handed. He can’t show up alone.

So he parks up with Brad, who raises a sceptical eyebrow, looking at Lester’s rather dilapidated house.

“This is it?”

“This is it,” Trevor confirms, cheerily, like his insides aren’t buzzing with the speed he took this afternoon or with the nerves that consume him every time he considers what he might be about to face.

“So … your guy L works from here.” Brad sniffs. “It looks like a piece of shit.”

“Hey, show some respect,” Trevor says. Brad is still in wonderment of him whenever he mentions his lifestyle, and he still seems to heed him. He shuts up. “It doesn’t matter what it looks like. It matters that my team is inside. If you want to make any sort of good impression with them, you need to improve your fucking attitude.”

“My attitude? You’re criminals, aren’t you? I don’t think they’re gonna mind me not saying please and thank you.”

Trevor hits the steering wheel. The heel of his hand knocks on the horn, making Brad jump and a curtain twitch in Lester’s upstairs window. “Excuse me, Snider, but remind me how many scores you’ve pulled with me? With my team? With anyone?”

“Uh. None. You know that.”

“Of course I know that and, if you carry on like this, they’re gonna know. We went over this. L doesn’t work with amateurs and I doubt M’s gonna care to work with one either. If you want to fit in, you have to show some goddamn decorum.”

“Dec-what-um?”

“You gotta be careful, Brad. You have to be respectful and make sure you don’t piss them off so much they realise you barely even held a gun in your life.”

“I’ve held a gun. I’ve held a thousand guns. My dad --”

“Another point for you. Don’t mention your dad so much. Nobody fucking cares what your old man taught you. It’s what you can do that counts.”

“Um. What I can do?”

Trevor sighs. He wishes he brought along one of the people he’s been running operations with down south, instead of this idiot. That at least might make it believable that he’s been perfectly competent without Michael at his side at every moment.

“Just talk like you’ve done a couple of robberies or -- better yet -- don’t talk at all. Maybe they’ll be impressed by your fucking gorilla shoulders.”

“What if they don’t believe me?”

Trevor knows that they won’t believe him. Lester will want to do a background check and Michael, if he’s here, will rely on his intuition. Brad will be thrown right out on his ass and nobody’s going to miss him all that much.

“I repeat,” Trevor says, with an edge, “don’t talk at all. Now would be a great time to start.”

Brad sighs heavily and crosses his arms. He glares at Lester’s house, and then at Trevor, and then back at the house. Trevor doesn’t much but to stare consideringly at the front door. There’s a car he doesn’t recognise parked in the driveway.

Michael is probably not here. He is probably with Amanda and the baby, pretending that he doesn’t miss Trevor like Lester has assured Trevor he has. Perhaps Amanda has caught on and is missing the passion in their kisses. Perhaps there is still passion in their kisses, and it’s Trevor turn to catch on.

He sucks on a tooth and glowers. He caught on a long fucking time ago. He’s well and truly in the know of Michael’s priorities these days.

“Trevor?” Brad asks, tapping him on the shoulder. “Are we going in or what?”

“What we are doing,” Trevor says, through gritted teeth, “is keeping quiet so that I don’t get pissed off and rip your tongue out of your head.”

“We drove all day every day for the past week, and now we’re here you’re just fucking watching the place. I don’t understand.”

Brad, the worshipper, is still too dumb to understand the delicacies of Trevor’s mind. It is a dangerous game he’s playing and one he’s not likely to win.

He’s not sure why Brad was even so eager to run away from home with him if he isn’t going to treat him with the great admiration he deserves. He should be licking the dirt off his boots, not questioning his motives. Lester is going to hate him. Michael is going to want to murder him. Trevor can’t wait.

His little honk of the horn doesn’t seem to have raised any suspicion bar the brief curtain twitch. Lester hasn’t come limping out to see just who might be camping on his doorstep.

Brad sighs all over again and opens his mouth to surely say something slow and stupid, but before he can, the front door swings open and Trevor raises a hand to silence him. He leans forward at the wheel, eyes slightly narrowed.

A slim woman steps out of the door. She’s got red heels and a leopard print dress, and she smiles over her shoulder. Trevor blinks.

“Lester, you old dog,” he mutters, kind of impressed. Brad snaps his eyes to him.

“Lester? That’s L’s name?”

“Keep that to yourself if you want to breathe tomorrow,” Trevor says, vaguely, not looking away from the door. He never imagined that he would start to miss the forlorn, limping sight of Lester Crest, but he realises that he kind of does, after all. “I wonder how much he paid for her.”

Brad squints as she pulls out a compact mirror and starts fixing her hair. “She ain’t that special. I had this girl over summer, you should have seen her. She had tits so big I could hardly hold ‘em, and her mouth --”

“I don’t particularly want to hear about your fictional conquests. Just shut the fuck up for a minute, would you?”

The front door remains open. Brad mutters something in reply but Trevor doesn’t hear him; somebody is following the woman out of the house, lit cigarette in hand. The man seems to be thanking her with all the charm in the world, and she winks at him and then makes her way down the street on unsteady heels. The man watches her go.

Michael watches her go.

“That Lester?” Brad asks and is met by silence. “T? Trevor? Trevor? Is that Lester?”

Trevor bangs his fist down on the wheel. It honks again and Michael, across the street, jumps, looking over at once. He squints over at them, handing going to the belt of his pants.

“No.”

“Then who is it?”

“I told you to keep quiet.”

“But --”

Trevor gets out of the car. His chest is tight with betrayal, and this time, it’s not even that personal. He feels offended for Amanda. Michael gave up Trevor’s warmth just to marry her and raise their child together, and here he is, months later, ushering some powdered prostitute out of his house two states over from his precious fucking family. If it’s not Trevor sharing his bed and swallowing his sin, it shouldn’t be anyone.

Michael stops squinting and lowers his hand. He blinks across the empty street at Trevor, who breathes heavily beneath the flickering streetlight.

“T?” Michael calls.

“Mikey,” Trevor replies, coolly. A grin breaks out on Michael’s face that even from this distance makes him younger and he crosses the road without checking for incoming cars. Before Trevor can berate him for being such an unfaithful sleaze, he’s pulled into a bone-crushing hug. Michael’s arms are as strong as he remembers. Trevor’s eyes slip closed.

“What the hell are you doing here? Why haven’t you called at all? Where have you been?”

“I got bored, I was busy, down south,” Trevor says. Michael pulls back and shakes his head, but he’s still grinning. Trevor finds himself grimacing instead. “Are you, uh, living here again?”

“Kind of. Just while we have a job on the go, otherwise I’m living with Amanda and Tracey.”

“Right,” Trevor says, glaring in the direction of the retreating woman, now just a vague shape in the distance, “Amanda. Your wife.” Michael frowns. “Hey, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s fine. I know what I’m doing.”

“Of course. I bet she doesn’t, though, huh?”

“Mandy’s got enough on without me spilling my guts out to her. It was just a one-off, I swear. She doesn’t need to know.”

He looks guilty, anyway, and looks away just to avoid Trevor’s glare. The curtain opens upstairs in the house and Lester looks out at them. His eyes widen at the sight of Trevor, and then they narrow, and he starts motioning for them to get off the street and into the house. Now.

Trevor grins up at him and stays still.

Brad gets out of the car, all clumsiness and cluelessness as to what he’s interrupting. Michael blinks as the man stands up to his full height and glances between him and Trevor.

“Who the hell is this?”

Trevor wishes it was someone more impressive than Brad Snider rushing around the car and sticking out a fat hand for Michael to shake. Michael just looks at it, witheringly.

“I’m Brad.”

“Right.”

Brad lowers his hand, slowly. His eyes become darker, or maybe it’s the shadow cast over them as he wrinkles his forehead and bows his head. If Trevor liked him at all, he might feel bad for him. As it is, he’s energised with the clear rejection.

“Ah, come on, Mike, don’t be like that. Brad’s not a bad guy.” He pats both Michael and Brad on the shoulders so hard they stumble. “Brad, this is M.”

This is the guy you work with?”

Trevor gives him a fierce look that makes him go a little pale. He shuts his mouth. The unspoken reminder of having some goddamn respect seems to get through to him. Michael squares his shoulders. He’s a good couple of inches shorter than Brad and quite a bit thinner, but he’s still a hell of a lot more intimidating.

Despite himself, Trevor inches towards him. He has to clench his jaw just to keep sentiment spilling out, just to stop him saying how he’s missed him so much.

For all their time apart, he’s surprised to find Michael seems much the same. He doesn’t seem all that docile now he’s burdened with a young family. He’s got a little more weight on him. His hair is cut short and smart. He’s wearing a suit and the cuffs of his shirt are unevenly tucked up. The skin beneath his eyes is a little darker and his eyes themselves are a touch more frantic, but otherwise - he’s Michael Townley, through and through.

Trevor wonders what Michael sees when he looks at him.

“You serious about bringing this asshole here?” Michael asks him. He sounds unjustifiably annoyed.

“Yeah. Relax, man. It’s all good. We’re all good. Why don’t we get off the street before we give Lester a coronary?”

He looks back up at the house. Lester is banging on the window now and clearly cursing furiously. Michael glances up and laughs.

“Yeah, yeah, of course. Come on in.” He steals a look at Brad. “I guess.”

He leads the way across the street and into the open front door. Trevor stays at his side and matches his step. Brad, disheartened, lags behind. He keeps sighing in this big, overly-important way that makes Trevor’s heartbeat a little faster with anger. Brad’s not doing himself any favours here.

Once the front door is locked three times over, they settle down at the kitchen table. Michael gets them all a beer and one for Lester, too, who can be heard making his slow way downstairs. It’s a somehow a surprise when Michael chooses the seat next to Trevor, who bites his lower lip to stop from smiling.

Brads sits himself down opposite the pair of them, looking churlishly around at their shabby surroundings.

“So,” Trevor attempts, after nearly cracking a tooth opening his beer bottle, “Michael.”

He stops there. The one word, Michael, is surely enough to say everything he wants to. He’s not even sure it’s Brad’s presence that’s stopping him. He’s avoided this man and all of his baggage for over a year and now that he’s here again, it’s like nothing ever changed. He can’t even care about his marriage anymore. Michael clearly can’t, either.

Michael laughs, softly. “That’s it? That’s the best you can do?”

Brad’s looking between them, strangely, and Trevor starts to feel hot around the ears. He looks down at his beer that spins between his fingers. He physically bites his own tongue.

Clearly frustrated, Michael looks at Brad instead. “Snider, is it?”

“It’s Brad,” comes the icy reply, which Michael raises an eyebrow at.

“I see. You some big shot from wherever it is you’re from, is that it? You talk to strangers like that and expect respect?”

Brad puffs out his chest. Trevor glares at him and wills him to fucking die. “I don’t need people’s respect, buddy. I just like to focus on my work.”

That takes Trevor by surprise. As far as he could tell from their conversations on the drive up here, Brad’s never done an honest day’s work in his life.

“Your work? What kind of work you in, kid?”

“Uh.” Brad’s eyes flick to Trevor for guidance, but Trevor keeps his face impassive. “Nothing too big, not yet. I, uh … robbed a couple of banks down in South Yankton with this, uh, crew- crew I knew. We went our separate ways after but I enjoyed it a lot.”

“Oh. What did you take?”

“Um. It wasn’t, you know, great. It was only a small bank. Like, uh … fifteen each.”

“Fifteen thousand ain’t that bad a take.” Michael leans back and considers him. Trevor can’t tell his he feels pleased or annoyed that Brad’s lies are working. He’s still trying to find out why he’s even brought the man here. After a moment, Michael raises his beer and clinks it against the bottle of Brad’s. “That’s not too shabby at all.”

Lester limps into the room and breaks the tentative truce between Michael and the newcomer. Trevor leaps to his feet at once, and Lester flinches.

“What?” he asks, loudly. “You still fucking scared of me, L? I’m not going to fucking hurt you.”

“This time,” Lester mutters, settling down in the seat next to Brad. “You still owe me a new mirror. Who are you?”

He changes the direction of his speech so quickly that Brad blinks at him. He looks a little unimpressed by Lester’s appearance. He’s got a bit fatter, too, Trevor notes, and his hair has started to thin on top.

“This is Brad,” Michael says, like it’s his friend he’s introducing into the group.

“I gotta piss. You three play nice,” Trevor says, and heads upstairs. He pisses in record time just to get back to them. He didn’t like that possessive tone in Michael’s voice.

For so long now, Trevor has been running his own show. He’s been planning and he’s been making decisions. He got to choose who he worked with, and when Mary betrayed them, he got to chase her down and shoot her in the head. His friends in the game just went along with him.

Yet, he also made the decision to come back here and start running Michael’s game again. He swallows, glares at his reflection in the mirror, and zips himself up.

By the time he gets back, Michael is laughing at something stupid Brad’s just said, and Brad is grinning, because of course he’s too dumb to realise when he’s being mocked. Lester is harder to read, and when Trevor sits down he meets his eye and gives him a look that’s clearly asking why he thought it okay to bring such a stranger into their midst.

Trevor doesn’t have an answer for him. He looks back at Michael.

“So,” Michael’s saying, leaning back in his chair. “What role did you play in your scores, Brad? You on getaway?”

“Getaway? Um, no. I can’t drive.”

Michael stares at him, and Lester chokes back a laugh. Trevor winces and wants to rip that stupid, arrogant tongue right from Brad’s mouth. “Are you fucking kidding?”

“No, Trevor, I -- what’s wrong with that? I’m only nineteen, there’s time to learn.”

“Please, Trevor, tell me that you didn’t bring some jackass teenager to work with us when he doesn’t even have a fucking license. That’s weird even for you.”

“Fuck off,” Trevor says, aiming a kick at him under the table. “I didn’t know he was this useless.”

What? I can learn, guys! It’s not that big a deal.”

“There’s a big difference between learning and being good enough to drive under pressure. Fucking hell, we ain’t here to train up new protégés and teach kids how to drive. We’re trying to run a professional operation here, not to show our faces to novices who can’t even string two lies together.”

“Hey, buddy, I ain’t lying, if that’s what you’re tryin’ to say.”

“Fuck off did you pull off a bank robbery.”

“You’re only a few years older than me, and apparently you’ve done it all.”

Michael sighs. He runs his hands over his face. Above them, the light starts to flicker and Lester groans. Brad glares between each of them in turn, but his glare lingers on Michael, who won’t look at him now.

Brad leans forward. “Listen to me. I know I’m young. I know I don’t have a cent to my name. I know you probably work with people a lot more impressive than me. I get that. I just want you to know that I … I want this. I want to work with you. I’ll do anything.”

Michael lowers his hands. He looks, briefly, at Trevor and then at Brad. His eyes are burning and bright. “We can talk about it tomorrow, kid. You can stay here for tonight, seeing as Trevor up and took you from wherever you’re from.”

“Hey --” Trevor starts, just as Lester says, “This isn’t your house, Michael”

“He stays here for tonight,” Michael says, firmly. Brad smiles at him tentatively.

*

Trevor sleeps on the couch. For a moment before bed, he contemplated joining Michael in his room and although his stomach burned with want and his hands started to shake at the thought of touching Michael again, he decided against it. His sheets probably still smelled of that prostitute.

Instead, he watched as Lester showed Brad to the spare room and then disappeared into his own. He probably assumed Trevor would go into Michael’s room, too.

But Trevor didn’t, and so Trevor wakes up with a sore neck from the couch’s armrest. He has a goddamn boner that he can’t imagine anybody here is going to help him out with. He catches a whiff of something strange and sighs. It’s probably time for a shower anyway. He’ll make this a cold one.

When he gets up and stretches, he notices the blank space on the wall where Lester’s mirror once hung. The glass of it had fucked up Trevor’s hand for a good, long while. Even when he stood at the front of the aisle next to Michael and Amanda, he was hurting (of course he was hurting, he reminds himself, and shakes his head to forget the memory).

There’s a new TV, bigger and wider and probably Michael’s doing, but that’s the only change in the year since he left this place. It feels weird. Maybe he’s stepped back in time and his warm, raucous year down south was all just some strange fever dream that came in the wake of that poisonous marriage.

His morning wood has thoroughly gone now, but he heads upstairs for a shower, anyway.

It’s early morning and the sun is barely up, so the landing is pretty much in darkness. He fumbles for the light and winces with the harshness of it. He’s got to have a word with Lester about investing in fucking lampshades, if he can bare to part with that much money.

The shower is cold. It would be whether Trevor wanted it that way or not. It makes him gasp for breath and he gets shampoo all in his eyes, but when he hops out he’s at least smelling a little better. He shivers and rubs at himself with some old, stained towel, and throws on yesterday’s clothes. He tries his hardest not to think of Michael sleeping soundly in the next room.

Seeing him was not the shock he expected it to be. That only serves to scare him more -- it felt, he thinks, like coming home. It felt like his stomach, so burned out with hunger and annoyance at Brad and the speed he’d taken, was finally settled somewhere deep and warm and right. Michael had smiled at him. Michael had hugged him. That name, those two syllables, Michael -- it’s become a mantra to him, and now that he’s back with him, he decides that it’s not worth the torture of leaving again.

They will get back into the game. They might not fuck, and maybe that will drive Trevor mad, but they will be back together. They will pull of the types of scores they’ve only dreamed of before, maybe even the big one. Trevor and Michael. Motels, dust and strip clubs. They will take on the world.

He grins stupidly to himself. He will kick Brad out and Lester can put up one of his corkboards on the wall and they will plan the rest of their lives together.

Trevor yawns widely as he steps back onto the landing and scratches at his belly. He decides to wake Brad up and tell him that he better get out of here and fucking forget their names and faces or he will be hunted down like a wild animal and murdered on the spot.

He throws open the door to the spare room.

“Right, Snider, time to get you up and out of here,” he says, so loud it probably wakes up the rest of the house. Strolling over to the bed, he shakes the covers, lifting the duvet off of --

Empty space. The bed is empty.

Trevor narrows his eyes. The little shit might have left without announcing it or, worse, gone into the kitchen and helped himself to breakfast that he doesn’t fucking deserve. He turns away and storms out of the room, ready to raise hell.

The door to Michael’s room creaks open and Brad himself walks out. He yawns as widely as Trevor just has. His eyes are sleep-puffy and his shock of blonde hair is all over the place. He looks exhausted. He looks satisfied.

He looks well-fucked.

The strength of the anger that courses through Trevor freezes him and he can’t immediately move with it. It’s like someone’s torn open his jaw and poured acid right down his throat. He can feel the gut-wrenching, stomach-churning rage that makes the red mist appear again. His whole body starts to tremble.

Brad gives him a weird look. “You look awful, Trevor.”

Trevor storms towards him, all righteous fury. Brad starts to back away, raising his palms, but Trevor has a fistful of his hair before he can escape. He slams his head down against the doorframe.

“You piece of shit!” he yells, the scream working it’s way from the gut of him and spilling out across the whole house. He smacks his head against the frame, again, and this time it leaves an ugly smear of blood.

“What the fuck?” Brad shouts, struggling against the iron grip. “Get off me, you fucking maniac! I’ll kick your ass!”

“Yeah? Yeah? Will you?” Trevor throws him away and the man lands hard on his ass. His face is flushed and scarlet and he scrambles to his feet, throwing his full weight against Trevor.

In a second, he has him pinned again on the floor and raises a fist. It connects hard with Trevor’s cheek and sends his mind spiralling; dazed, he blinks up at Brad and his huge, bloodied forehead and tries to push him off, but it’s hard for his fingers to even form fists right now.

“Prick!” Trevor hisses. Brad’s fingers go to his throat.

His grip is so tight that Trevor can feel the delicate skin around his tattoo bruising already. He pushes up as hard as he can but Brad’s thighs are tight around him and they refuse to relent. Trevor’s fingers scratch uselessly at the arms that seek to strangle him. He chokes and screams as loud as he can but all that comes out are pathetic little sounds, rasping words that he can’t control.

As the red turns to white or black or some colour that he’s never seen before, he doesn’t think of Brad Snider, ugly and murderous above him, and he doesn’t think of an afterlife, and he doesn’t think of Michael. He thinks of his mother and how she will never even know that her youngest, most devoted son is dead. It brings the darkness on more quickly as he thinks of her beautiful, devastated face.

“Hey! Hey!” comes a distance shout. Air fills his lungs in a rush as Brad is shoved off him and thrown to the ground himself.

Trevor just lies there breathing in deep and blinking and trying to forget his mother all over again. He rubs at his sore neck. He thinks that the cut off of oxygen might have changed his brain or something, because he’s sure he sees Michael looking at him with such worried eyes, such lovely eyes, and breaking Brad’s nose with his fist.

Lester comes up behind Trevor and reaches down to hook his hands under his armpits. Trevor lets himself be lifted and tries to help, too, until he’s stood on unsteady feet, still taking in huge gulps of air.

“I - I--”

“Are you okay?” Michael asks him, foot on Brad’s chest to keep him lying there. “What the fuck happened?”

“He attacked me!” Brad shouts, but Michael silences him with a kick and looks at Trevor.

“What happened, T?”

It takes a little while for Trevor to get his vocal cords working. When he finally speaks, it’s in little more than a whisper. “I attacked him,” he says, simply, and Michael frowns.

“Why? What did he do?”

Trevor glares at him, remembering the real reason for all of this. Michael, all charm, all glorious, ridiculous suavity, coaxed the wide-eyed, blonde-haired piece of shit into his bed.

He wonders, suddenly, if that’s what this whole thing has been about. Michael brings new boys, men, women, whoever into his life. In their initiation, he fucks them. He makes them fall for him. He shows people the way the world will open up for them if they have the right attitude. He grows bored. He moves onto the next.

Maybe those nights with Trevor meant next to nothing to him. He left him soon enough for Amanda, and he left her for the promise of sweet sex with a hooker, and now he’s found a new conquest and in a matter of hours he’s ready to abandon him, too.

“You fucked him,” he says.

Lester, hovering at Trevor’s side, takes a small step away and clears his throat.

Michael straightens up and takes his foot off of Brad. He looks at Brad, and then Lester, and then back at Trevor. His forehead wrinkles right up.

“Excuse me?”

“He came out of your room. I’m not a fucking idiot, Mikey.”

“You’re fooling me.”

“You fucked him, and I hit his fat head until he started to bleed. He got mad. He tried to fucking kill me. That good enough for you?”

Something dark and wary lurks in Michael’s eyes. It’s something close to fear, but not quite -- Trevor stares right back, and the look fades. It’s replaced by spite. “Not that it matters, but I didn’t fuck him. We were talking. That’s it.”

Nobody in the room believes his lie. Lester shakes his head and looks away, at the blood on the wall. He’s probably just thinking about how to clean it up, but Trevor pretends that he’s feeling angry at Michael, too.

Trevor glares at him until Michael breaks their gaze. He pulls Brad roughly to his feet. Brad tries to lunge for Trevor again even as his smashed nose pours blood all down his chin and chest, but Michael holds him back.

“You need to get the fuck out of here, kid, and I mean now. Get out of here and never even think about coming back.”

Brad blinks at Michael. “What? But - but you said I could work with you guys if I … you know.”

Suck your cock comes the unspoken truth. Trevor laughs, bitterly, and throws his hands in the air. Michael goes a little red and shakes Brad, hard. “Shut the fuck up and listen. You get out of here, you go home, you have a nice little life and you forget everyone who is in this house. You forget this house, you forget this street, you forget our names. If you talk to anybody, ever, about us I swear to you myself that you will die and it ain’t gonna be painless. Do you understand me, Snider?”

Brad’s dumb but he seems to know when he’s beaten. He glares at the floor. “Yeah. Yeah, I do. Now let me go.”

Michael shoves him a little. Brad disappears into Michael’s room. In his absence, Trevor starts to breathe a little easier. Lester looks between Michael and Trevor, nervously. Michael just glares at the floor like a petulant child in the wake of his parents’ discipline.

Brad returns, fully dressed. He shoves past them all to head down the stairs. Michael stands at the top of the staircase and shouts after him, “I mean it, Brad Snider. You tell anyone, and I will skin you alive.”

Lester goes down to unlock the door and let him out. When he gets back up the stairs he’s glowering at both of them.

“You two are morons,” he says and exhales, heavily, through his nostrils. “Trevor, you brought that stranger here. I’m not entirely sure of your motivations, but they were clearly misguided and could have cost us everything. Don’t you have any idea how this whole laying low and keeping out of the cops’ way thing works?”

“Hey, I didn’t know he’d --”

“And you!” Lester says, turning to Michael, who actually flinches. “You’re even worse! I don’t care who you sleep with, but that prostitute was bad enough, and then you tell some inexperienced little shit that he can work with us in exchange for sexual favours! Are you trying to make enemies who can really hurt you?”

“Hurt me?” Michael scoffs, all bravado. “He couldn’t hurt me.”

“He nearly killed Trevor! That’s not what I mean, anyway, and you know it. If he does talk, then you might be caught! We all might be caught. You just gave him every reason to betray us!”

“Hey, man, I didn’t do shit!”

Trevor barks out a laugh. “Lester and I weren’t born yesterday. Some guys walks half naked out of your room at the crack of dawn and says you promised him work? It doesn’t take a genius to work out what you got up to last night.”

“As if you weren’t sleeping with him before that,” Michael laughs. His eyes are maddened and frantic. They look all over the ceiling and the walls and out of the window. They never meet anyone else’s gaze. “I’m sorry if I- I’m sorry if he was yours but --”

“Would you stop running your mouth for one second?”

Trevor would punch Michael right here and now if he didn’t think his fist would bounce off the stone heart of him. Michael is the most oblivious, stupid man he has ever had the misfortune to come across.

Instead, he drops his hands down to his side. His neck is still burning.

“Fuck you,” he mutters and turns to march downstairs. Nobody follows him.

*

Trevor spends the day out of the house. The town is so strangely familiar to him after his spell recovering at Lester’s house. It’s a nice place, really -- the locals are friendly and non-judgemental, and the streets are clean. Even the cafes frequented with posers have a faded charm to them.

For the most part, Trevor just walks around and looks at everything and everyone. He spends an hour in the strip club he once murdered the bouncer outside of. It’s just a bar at this hour, and nobody recognises him as he drinks some of his anger away. There’s no mention of the red marks that have bloomed around his neck. The barman doesn’t even stare.

Once his mind is a nicely soaked in beer, he leaves and starts walking again. He thinks about Brad hitchhiking his way out of the state and the way Michael looked in the morning light. Trevor hates them both.

It was foolish to come back here and expect any sort of happy ending. Whatever story Michael and he share so far has been one filled with betrayal and bitterness and meth-induced sessions of lust and the slope of Michael’s smile and the crooked way that Trevor loves him.

He shoves his hands into his pockets and heads back home.

There’s a pay phone on the corner, three blocks away. He stops short and considers it. The list of numbers he knows are so, so small - he knows what used to be his mother’s number, back in the trailer, but that’s long since disconnected. He knows Lester’s number. He knows the number for James, one of the Irish brothers he worked with last year who has immersed himself in the Mexican drug trade. That’s all.

He thinks about his options here. He could return back to Lester and Michael and face the shame in Michael’s bright blue eyes, or he could called James and see if maybe there’s any chance that he could join him down south again.

Trevor shuts the door of the payphone behind him and fumbles in his pocket for change. He punches in the number.

The line is picked up after only two rings.

“Who’s this?” is the greeting.

“It’s Philips.”

“Who -- oh. Oh. T?”

“The one and only,” Trevor grins. James had been one of the best men he’d ever worked with, aside from Michael and Lester and perhaps Moses. He had a way of controlling his rage under pressure that was admirable, and nobody ever seemed capable of fucking him over.

“Oh, hey. How are you doing?”

“You know. Still working. The usual. How’s business for you?”

“Ah, it’s brilliant. Just brilliant. I’ve never seen so money in my life. We’re raking it in.”

Trevor laughs. He knew the guy would amount to something. “That’s- that’s great. Good for you, I mean it.”

“Thanks. Appreciate it, you know. Are you still pulling scores with the old group?”

“No. You know, after what happened with Mary …”

James sighs. “I know. A real pity.”

“It was a necessity.”

“I know, but --” James sighs again. “Never mind. I’m assuming this isn’t just a call to exchange pleasantries. What can I do for you?”

“It’s about your business. You’re doing well. You said so yourself. I’d like to know if you have any, uh, vacancies in your enterprise for a man with a lot of experience and a shit load of enthusiasm.”

He says it all cockily, like it’s a joke or something, but he means very word of it. There’s silence on the line.

“James? You there?”

“Yeah. I’m here, Trevor.” James heaves another sigh. This one is so heavy it weighs Trevor’s shoulders right down. “It’s not that we don’t want you working with us or anything. We know you can handle yourself.”

But?” Trevor asks, through gritted teeth. He’s starting to feel flushed with indignity.

“But -- that shit with Mary really spooked us. You didn’t give her a chance to explain herself before you just … shot her.”

“You didn’t say this at the fucking time. You were too happy to take her money and split it between us all.”

“If we’d have said anything, you would have shot us, too. I wasn’t going to get involved in that craziness.”

Trevor’s left leg starts to jitter up and down on the spot. A young woman walks by in fishnets and meets his eye. He glowers at her until she rushes away. “So what you’re saying is, I’m too unstable to work with you? You don’t want someone so fucked up in your business?”

James - always so brave and outspoken - clears his throat. “Yeah, T. I’m sorry.”

The line goes dead.

He carefully puts the phone back on the hook and leaves his glass cage. The night air fills his lungs as he takes in deep breaths.

He is reminded so terribly of himself on the brink of being accepted into the Air Force. He had been full of exhilaration and optimism for the first time in his sorry life. Then that woman had stepped in and interviewed him and looked at his long list of misdemeanours. Her dark, severe eyebrows had raised into her bangs. Her lips - he remembers them, thin and painted pink - had pursed.

Unstable. That was how she’d described him. Unstable and aggressive. With that, and her large rejected stamp, she had condemned him a monster. He had had no choice but to become one.

Trevor tries not to lose control this time. He remembers the soothing tone of his mother’s voice when he was a lot younger, before the devil had infected their home. She had always smoothed the hair from his forehead and told him how he was her special little boy, her favourite in the world. He closes his eyes and imagines the warmth of her hands again.

When he opens them, he is stronger. He starts a slow walk to Lester’s house.

He’s not sure what his mom would think if she could see him now. She might actually be proud of the amount of money he’s saving up in that untraceable bank account Lester set up for him, but then again, knowing her, she might not. Though she was never any stranger to breaking the law and she’s probably still rotting away in a jail cell somewhere or other, she might not be too happy with the fact he’s killed and not just for work.

He reaches Lester’s house. The lights are all off but Michael’s car is still in the driveway. Trevor checks his watch. Nine pm.

The house stinks of cigarettes and Trevor isn’t surprised. It’s been a hell of a stressful day. He breathes in deep, remembering the taste of it on Michael’s tongue, and heads through to the living room.

The lights are off. Heavy snoring fills the room; Michael is lying face-down on the sofa, arm hanging off, lax fingers somehow still holding onto a near-empty beer bottle. He’s still dressed in his suit. His knuckles glint with Brad’s dried blood. Trevor lingers in the doorway and hungers.

Trevor goes and sits in Lester’s armchair by the television, legs spread, hands on his lap. He’s still possessed by that haunted memory of rejection and he’s not sure which one anymore. Shadows creep over the wall as a few cars crawl by. They cast Michael’s face in perfect darkness before lifting and his face and lips are revealed again. Trevor watches him. He barely blinks.

He sighs, long and slow. His neck is still hurting him.

After a while -- a long while, in which Trevor nearly falls to sleep with his head lolling forward -- Michael starts to stir. He lifts his hand and the bottle tips over, staining a small patch of carpet with pale, foamy beer. Groaning, he sits up, running a hand over his face.

Trevor blinks and snaps wide awake. Michael, he finds, is watching him.

“Hey,” Michael says. His voice is hoarse with sleep and it catches on the greeting.

“Hey.”

Clouds must part somewhere because a thin strip of moonlight suddenly floods through the window. Michael’s nose is thrown into sharp relief. Trevor watches the soft centre of his lips and the tongue that darts out to wet them.

“Have you been back long?”

“No.”

Michael picks up the beer bottle and frowns at the spillage. “Where were you?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yeah. I was worried. I thought maybe you’d left.”

Trevor yawns so wide it hurts his jaw, which sets Michael off yawning, too. The conversation lulls. Lester’s chair is so comfortable that Trevor could sink right back into it. When he looks back at Michael, it’s through heavy-lidded eyes. He feels, predictably, like shit, but it’s the kind of shit that might be solved if he sleeps for a day and a half.

“I’m not leaving,” he says, folding his hands in his lap and sucking his lower lip in between his teeth.

Michael’s smile sparks like a lighter in the darkness. It works to thaw some of the ice from Trevor’s chilled bones and slowly starts to melt Brad and his disasters right from his mind.

“I sure am glad to hear that, T. Lester’s a good guy and all but he ain’t exactly the partying type.”

Trevor snorts. “Yeah, well, that’s a given. At least I know how to fucking relax.”

“That you do. You up for going out now? We could hit one of the joints in the city, maybe.”

It’s tempting, really; maybe getting back out under the neon lights with Michael will set them back on the right track. Michael can do blow in the back room and Trevor can find the prettiest stripper, and they can argue on the sidewalk and swig from the same bottle and stagger home only to entwine in bed. Maybe that’s the way forward for them.

A yawn takes over him again. “I’m exhausted,” he admits. He feels way too old. “We’ll hit the town tomorrow or something.”

At least tonight, with Brad long gone, he can sleep in the spare room and not on the couch. The room is stiflingly warm but so cosy that Trevor can’t bring himself to stand up to head for bed. Michael kicks at the floor with a small, irritated sigh.

What?” Trevor asks. He’s not sure why the irritation inside of him is so sharp. “If you wanna fucking party, go fucking party! You don’t need me to hold your hand and wipe your ass.”

“It’s not that.”

“Then why are you pouting like a six year old?”

“I’m just - shit, man, I’m still mad about what happened this morning. I can’t believe that asshole tried to choke you.”

Trevor feels suddenly self-conscious and brings his fingers up to touch his throat. “And I can’t believe you promised him work if he let you fuck him.”

“Hey - the conversation never went down like that, okay? Don’t jump to fucking conclusions. It just- he was there and it kind of happened. That’s it. There was never any promise of work at all. I doubt the kid could even shoot a gun.”

“He seemed to think you’d come to that agreement,” Trevor says, stiffly.

“He was a fucking idiot. Is an idiot, whatever.” Michael’s smile has long gone and now it’s his eyes that draw all of Trevor’s attention, all narrow and pissed off and blue. “I can’t believe you ran away from us to hang out with guys like Brad Snider.”

“Hey.” Trevor nearly stands up at that and it’s only his exhaustion that keeps him still. “I never fucking ran off so don’t make out like I’m some kind of bad guy here, cowboy.”

“You disappeared for over a year, T. If that’s not running away, I don’t know what is.” He brings the bottle to his lips and chugs at the last, pathetic dregs of beer inside. “None of us knew where you were.”

“Lester knew. He called me.”

“Yeah? Yeah, oh right. He managed to track you down when you overdosed and got yourself dragged to hospital. I forgot about that. What a real productive way to spend your time apart from us.”

Before now, they were just hissing quietly at each other, but Trevor feels his rage strengthening his lungs to iron. “I did that one time and it wasn’t even an overdose. It was a bad reaction, so get your fucking facts right before you start off on one.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Michael says, exaggeratedly. “Did I misinterpret what an overdose is? As far as I’m aware, you shot up some smack with a couple of assholes and ended up getting rushed to the emergency room. Forgive me for fucking getting my facts so wrong.”

“One time,” Trevor repeats. “That’s not how I spent my year. I’m pretty sure I earned a lot more than you. I didn’t spend it all cushiony and domestic with a wife and kid, I spent it working.”

“Cushiony? Cushiony? Look, I love my family, T, but it’s been hell to --”

“Yeah fucking right do you love them. I come up here to find you banging some whore and then within hours you’re fucking some dweeb who probably just made you feel better about yourself, because at least you’re not some sad sack of shit like Brad, huh?”

Michael slowly gets to his feet. He’s glaring good and proper now, his jaw rigid and his fingers in fists.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Trevor laughs, finally jumping up. “I’m completely right. You hate the fact you married Amanda. You wish you’d driven away from that church when you had the goddamn chance!”

“And you hate the fact that I never ran off with you and had whatever life you’d planned for us,” Michael says, voice a revelation, eyes dark and demanding.

Trevor stops short. It feels like he’s been punched squarely in the chest. Michael, always so evasive on the topic of his true feelings and Trevor’s true feelings, at that, has just laid the bones of it bare. Trevor’s chest does not stop hurting. His mouth hangs open to argue but nothing comes out.

If it were anyone else making him feel like this, he would scorch the earth they stand on, but Michael is as always different. Michael lives.

Trevor feels like he’s dying.

The quick anger in Michael’s face starts to fade as he watches Trevor turn to dust before him. It’s replaced by a regret that etches into every line of his face and he moves forward with an outstretched hand. Trevor flinches.

“T,” he says, sadly. “Trevor. I didn’t mean it, man. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry,” Trevor says. He tries to sound venomous but just sounds broken.

“I am, I am. Jesus, just - forget I said that, okay? It was way off the mark, we both know it. I didn’t mean to imply anything.”

Even as Trevor flinches again, Michael steps up to him. His wrinkled suit smells slightly of beer and Trevor notices a great big stain down it. He looks at that instead of at Michael’s face, at his wide, imploring eyes.

“Listen. The real reason I’m pissed is because - well, I’m not so sure Amanda’s safe, and I’m fucking terrified. I feel awful.”

Trevor, despite himself, frowns. “Who’s after her? Her pimp?”

“Hey, she don’t have no --”

“Who’s after her?”

Michael looks hesitant. He licks his lips. “You.”

Trevor genuinely wonders for a moment if that’s true. He remembers, vividly, standing beside that strip joint in town and blanking out before realising he had his hands around the bouncer’s neck. He remembers imagining cutting out her heart as he stabbed the man in the chest. Maybe this morning in the argument over Brad he said something nasty about murdering her.

“What the fuck are you on about?”

“This morning with Brad. You know, you found him coming out of my room and you attacked him without even giving him a chance to explain himself. I- I fucked him, yeah, and that made you tried to smash up his head.”

“Brad was an asshole.”

“He was, I know, but I remember when we first met Amanda. You weren’t too kind about her then, either, and I don’t want - I don’t want her hurt for the crime of her fucking me, too. I don’t ever want her hurt.”

Trevor thinks about her. He feels nothing warm or fond, but he doesn’t want to murder her. He thinks, again, of his mother. Amanda is a mother now, too. She is caring for a baby that is part of Michael. She is a part of his life and Trevor can’t changed that by blood.

“I may be capable of kicking the ass of someone like Brad,” Trevor says, slowly, “but I can’t believe you’d ever even think I’d do something like hurt your wife. I could’ve killed her a hundred times over in the last year alone. I’m not a monster, Michael, however easy it would be for you if I was.”

“Easy?” “Then you’d get to tell me I’m sick and twisted and need to stay away from you and your family, and you’d get shot of me. That’s what you want, isn’t it? You got bored of me and the life. You needed an out, and Amanda gave you that.”

Michael looks at a loss. He doesn’t back away at all or crumble or give any indication that Trevor’s told the truth. He just looks confused, of all things. He raises a hand and holds onto the side of Trevor’s face, cupping his jaw, cradling his cheek. This time, Trevor doesn’t flinch. His eyes slip closed and he leans into the too-tender touch.

“That’s not true. I promise you that. I never got bored of you and I never wanted to get away from you. I’ve missed our life a hell of a lot. I missed you every day. I can’t wait to start taking scores with you again.”

Trevor swallows. “I promise I’ll never hurt your wife or your kid. Brad was different.”

He doesn’t explain why, and Michael doesn’t ask.

The pad of Michael’s thumb traces the dotted line at Trevor’s neck, ghosting over the bruising there. “Thank you. I’m sorry I ever thought otherwise.”

“Okay. Okay. Get off me. You’re smothering me, Jesus.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Michael mutters, backing away with hands raised. Trevor immediately misses the warmth of his hands but he swallows and tries to forget about them.

Their argument has given him new life; when he looks at Michael now, he feels that he can breathe again. It doesn’t matter about that angry comment, the one that meant Trevor’s feelings had tipped over into Michaels psyche and just didn’t match up with his own. It doesn’t matter that he thought him capable of slaughtering Amanda in cold blood. None of it matters. Michael has forgiven him for their year apart and he has forgiven Michael for causing it. They will build their lives together again.

“Lester and I have been planning this bank job in the sticks, you know. He’s still trying to work out some of the finer details. We’d like - I’d like - us to, uh, do it together. The old team back together again, for good.”

“Yeah? Yeah, I think that sounds good. I think that sounds fucking fantastic, actually,” Trevor says. He starts to itch at the thought of that adrenaline rush in the midst of a score, when he can look over to Michael and see that maniacal grin reflected right back at him. “I can’t wait. When we doing it?”

“Soon. Real soon, I promise. I just gotta take care of a few things first.”

“You wanna get your dick wet again?” Trevor leers, and he doesn’t meet that they should fuck, he’s just taking some cheap shot at Michael’s love of sex and strippers, but Michael goes bright red all the same.

“No. I need to go back home and check on Amanda and Tracey. It’s been nearly two months and I need to see how they’re doing, and get some cash to them.” Michael shoots Trevor a look when he glowers. “I also wanna make everything up to you, T, so uh, how about it? You fancy coming with me and meeting my little girl?”

Trevor imagines the shocked, pissed off face of Amanda when she realises he’s back in town. He grins, a little half-heartedly.

“Yeah. Let’s do it.”

*

On the way there, Michael tells him how he’s looking for a real house for his family, something big and perfect with a yard and a nice nursery for Tracey. That’s all that Trevor can think about when they reach the trailer park. It reminds him so much of the parks he lived in with his family that for a moment it takes his breath away. He half expects to see his brother walking past, or his mother having a smoke out of one of the doorways.

He, of course, sees neither of them, but the people who are around seem strangely familiar anyway. It turns out that trailer parks much further from the border than is are much the same as those near Canada. There’s a weariness to them, a shabbiness, but Trevor thinks there’s a kind of strength, too.

He feels at home when they walk down the dirt path to the Townley trailer. Michael tells him that they’re known as the Shipley family here. Trevor tells him that sounds fucking stupid.

“I’m real excited for you to see Tracey,” Michael says, practically bouncing as he leads them towards home. “She’s great. Really loud and really smart, too.”

“I don’t know who she got that from,” Trevor says, in all seriousness, and Michael swats him on the arm.

“Fuck off. Which reminds me, you have to watch your language around her. She’s walking now, and she’s started to say a couple of things. The last thing we need is her taking after your potty mouth.”

“She’s walking?” Trevor starts to feel a little nervous. He’s been picturing a baby but it’s been a year and a half since Tracey was born. Babies, he thinks, are easy. They just lay there and puke and eat and shit themselves. But a toddler will run around and get in the way and maybe want to play, and he’s never really been around kids before. He’s in no mood to start now.

“Yeah, man, it’s mad. She’s so fast.”

They cut across another section of the park and Michael points at a large trailer in the corner, by a huge wire fence with tangles of weeds creeping up it. It looks, as far as trailers go, pretty nice. It’s certainly a damn sight nicer than anything Trevor ever lived in as a kid.

“You ever get round to telling Amanda I’m coming?”

“Uh, no. I figured it’d be easier to reunite the two of you if it’s a surprise,” Michael replies as the head towards the trailer. He looks briefly worried, shooting a sideways glance at Trevor. “Please try to play nice. She sounded really stressed when I spoke to her this morning.”

“So you brought me along to cheer her up,” Trevor says, grinning slightly. He doesn’t give a fuck if the woman is stressed after the disaster she’s caused in his life.

His smile must have something wicked in it, because Michael stops just short of the trailer and gives him a sharp look. “I mean it, T. I don’t know what’s up with her but she was all nervous and shit. I think maybe she’s been arguing with her mom or something, or Tracey’s teething, but please make this as easy as possible on her.”

Trevor brandishes a hand at him. “Yeah, yeah, I heard you loud and clear. I’ll be as nice as pie, I swear.”

He heads up the short stairs and bangs on the door with the side of his fist, casting a smile back at an exasperated Michael. Somewhere inside, a kid starts crying and a familiar woman’s voice tries to quiet it down.

He knocks again just as Michael reaches his side, and the door swings open while his fist is still raised.

Amanda stands there holding a young blonde girl to her hip. She is so far removed from that glamourous, made-up stripper Trevor met two years ago that for a moment he wonders just who is in Michael’s trailer. Her hair isn’t sleek and twisted into a pretty knot; it hangs far past her shoulders, a little frizzy. She wears no make-up. Her face is fuller, her eyes more tired. She’s still pretty - even Trevor can admit that - but there’s something wrong with her.

He doesn’t realise what it is until Michael sucks in a sharp breath beside him.

The hand that isn’t holding Tracey is clutching at her rounded stomach. Trevor’s ready to make some stupid quip about her getting fat before he recognises the way she’s standing. It reminds him of her wedding reception, when she sipped on juice instead of wine and tried to hide her pregnancy from her parents. Then, too, had she grabbed at her belly as though to stop it protruding any further.

Trevor turns to Michael and smacks him none too gently on the back of the head. “Again? I think you need to learn how to put on a condom, Mikey.” Amanda ignores him. She looks at Michael, and only Michael. “I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so sorry. I was going to tell you but you were busy with work and I didn’t want to interrupt you, so I was waiting until you got here today. I found out last month, but --”

“Last month? You didn’t think he had the right to know a little sooner?”

Tracey, who had been busy trying to squirm out of her mother’s arms to get to her father, stops to look at Trevor as he gets indignant on Michael’s behalf. Her eyes are wide. Trevor glances at her, and then away, and then back again. He frowns.

She reminds him so much of both of her parents that it freaks him out a little. Her fat little hands clutch at her mother’s shirt and her pudgy lips part in wonder as Trevor just looks at her. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, so he gives her a little wave.

She hides her face in her mother’s chest briefly, before lifting it and giving him a cheeky little smile.

“Shit,” he mutters. He had been so determined not to care.

“Language,” Amanda snaps, reflexively. She still refuses to look at him. “Michael, please, honey. Come inside so we can talk. Please.”

Michael’s face is impassive. Tracey looks away from Trevor when she realises she’s not going to get anymore fun out of him and starts to stretch out for her father again, little fingers reaching. Michael takes her from his wife and glances between the two of them.

Trevor steps back. He feels very small and very invisible. His stomach starts to knot with uneasiness.

Without warning, Michael leans forward to kiss Amanda on the mouth, his own lips curving into a smile. He pulls back and kisses Tracey on the head for good measure, starting to laugh.

“Michael?” Amanda asks, looking vaguely worried, even as her shoulders start to relax. “Aren’t you mad at me?”

“How could I be?” Michael asks, still laughing, and reaches down to place a hand flat across Amanda’s belly. “I’m thrilled, baby. I’m fuck-- uh- I’m really happy. I can’t believe it.”

Her smile is loving and she ushers her husband and child inside. Trevor, after a moment, follows and shuts the door behind himself.

To distract himself from the happy family, he shrugs his jacket off onto the floor and studies the home that Michael has created without him. It’s a damn sight tidier than any trailer he’s ever lived in, that’s for sure. There are some fresh flowers on the spotless kitchen surface and a plethora of baby toys bundled up in the corner. The air hangs heavy with perfume and baby powder instead of stale cigarettes and spilled rum.

Even though it’s small and even though it’s often abandoned by Michael, Trevor has to admit it’s a nice place. Amanda has done well with it.

He inspects the photographs on the wall. There are several of Amanda’s parents and a lot of Tracey. There are none of any of Michael’s family. Trevor feels a strange pang of fondest as he looks at Amanda’s father’s face; when Trevor had been sick and injured, he was a stranger who showed him only kindness. It helps that he looks barely anything like his daughter.

Amanda clears her throat behind him and he spins, finding her standing by the door and watching Michael tickle Tracey. He’s wearing a big, goofy grin. Amanda is smiling at them with watery eyes.

It’s disgusting. Trevor sneers and throws himself down on the neat coach, throwing his feet up onto the coffee table.

“Real charming little shit hole you got here,” he says, resting one ankle on top of the other.

Amanda’s smile slips away at once. She looks at Trevor, lips thinning, and puts her hands on rounded hips. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me, sweetheart,” he says, as Michael pauses his playing with Tracey and cautiously watches their exchange. Trevor glances at the fridge. “Aren’t you gonna offer your guest a nice cold beer?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s not very hospitable of you, is it? I come out all this way just to see you and baby Townley, and this is thanks I get.” He stretches his arms above his head and can’t help but grin when he notices the waspish expression on her face. “It’s damn ungrateful, if you ask me.”

“Well, Trevor, nobody did ask you. I’m not even sure why you’re here.”

“Hey,” Michael says, wading in at last. He puts Tracey on the ground and she waddles immediately over to her mother, pulling on her skirt. Amanda picks her up and holds her close. “Look, Mandy, I invited Trevor, okay? I got a lot of making to do to him and, you know, we’ve been apart for a while and we want to restart our … partnership. We’re running out of money, babe, and the quicker I get back into work the better. Also, I wanted to introduce Tracey to her Uncle T.”

Trevor frowns a little at that, but his expression is nothing compared to the hell that’s come alive on Amanda’s face. Tracey, obviously bored with the lack of attention she’s been getting, starts to cry. It distracts both her parents in a second as they take to shushing and soothing her.

From the couch, Trevor shakes his head. The sound of her screaming sets him on edge. He doesn’t know what to do with himself. He maybe should try to cheer her up and get her a toy, or something, but that’s surely a matter best left to her parents. He isn’t a fucking babysitter. He’s never even held a kid before.

After her dad gives her a long cuddle and a tiny sliver of chocolate from the cupboard, she starts to calm down. Michael comes to sit next to Trevor with Tracey on his lap. Trevor, suddenly so close to her, edges away. Amanda puts the coffee pot on and scowls.

“Uncle T?” Trevor mutters to Michael, who laughs.

“Damn straight. Ain’t nobody gonna mess with my baby girl when she’s got you as family.”

Trevor mutters something gruff but doesn’t otherwise reply. He’s not sure how he feels about being dragged into this little girl’s life without his consent, especially considering how he feels about both of her parents in turn.

He turns to argue with Michael, but finds him watching Amanda, gaze on her stomach, a stupidly soft look in his eyes. Trevor rolls his own and glares out across the trailer.

Another baby. Another firm wedge between Trevor and his life of crime, and Michael and his family. The thought makes him feel sick to his stomach.

“Coffee?” Amanda asks them both, voice a little clipped.

She pours them both out a mug when they answer, adding half a sugar to Michael’s but leaving Trevor’s black. He’s not sure how she knows what he likes or if he’s really that readable, but he doesn’t say thanks when she hands it over, anyway, and she doesn’t look all that surprised.

“Thanks, hon,” Michael says and Trevor sighs. Amanda sits on the small chair across from them. It’s a tight squeeze for the four of them in here, but it’s all any of them have ever known, so nobody complains about the lack of breathing room.

Michael is watching Amanda’s stomach again. He starts bouncing Tracey up and down on his lap as she laughs, clapping her hands together.

“I can’t believe you’re pregnant again,” he says, awed. The sour look on her face is replaced by a quick blush and she laughs.

“I know. It’s all happened so fast. It feels like yesterday that I had Tracey.”

Michael grins. “I know, I know, and now she’ll be talking in a couple of months.” He runs his free hand through his hair. “We should celebrate, you know. I’ll take you out to that fancy Mexican place in town.”

She raises a slim eyebrow at him. “You know any good babysitters? My parents are out of town all weekend. Maybe we could wait for them to get back and then we can tell them about it, together.”

“Well. I don’t know any babysitters, per se, no. But, you know, I was thinking --” Michael glances at Trevor, who immediately and furiously shakes his head. “Maybe T could watch her for a while. We’ll put her down to bed before we go. She probably won’t even wake up.”

“Hey, I’m not your goddamn maid,” Trevor says. He doesn’t feel offended or anything like he’s sounding like, it’s just that there’s a coil of cold panic settling around his throat at the thought of looking after a toddler when he’s never even had to care for a houseplant. “Now I get why you asked me to come out here with you. You needed free childcare.”

Michael puts his hands over Tracey’s ears. “Fuck off,” he says, pleasantly. “That’s not it at all.”

At first, Trevor doesn’t really believe him, but then he looks at the earnest expression on his face and sighs. He thinks he gets it. Michael’s still smarting from their argument at Lester’s. He’s probably still worried that Trevor thinks he doesn’t trust him - which, to be honest, Trevor does think, at least a little - and he’s trying to make it up to him in the stupidest way possible.

Amanda stands up. Her whole body is rigid and her eye even seems to be twitching a little. “Michael? Can I have a word with you in the bedroom, please?”

Trevor laughs but she ignores him, eyes pinned firmly on her husband. Michael doesn’t exactly look pleased. His forehead gets this pissed off little line in it. Amanda, though, isn’t swayed - she just starts tapping her foot and jerks her head in the direction of the nearest, closed door.

All three of them know that Michael is defeated. He stands and sighs and his shoulders sag. “Fine,” he snaps. He looks down at Trevor and thrusts Tracey towards him. She hangs in the air, looking surprised, before she does the impossible. She starts to reach for Trevor.

“Uh,” he says, stomach knotting with fear. Her little hands reach closer. Despite himself, he raises his arms to take her.

Amanda beats him to it. She darts over and takes her daughter tightly into her arms. “Michael,” she says, pure ice. “Now.

” If looks could kill, Amanda would surely be lying in a puddle of her own blood judging by the strength in which Michael scowls at her. He follows her with a glum look back at Trevor. The door is slammed shut behind them.

The walls here, of course, are pretty thin and Trevor can at once hear hushed, angry whispers that fill the trailer like a nest of wasps. He sighs and lounges back on the couch.

This whole situation is not unfamiliar to him. Parents locked in a shitty trailer park and arguing over the head of their child. Hell, Michael already has a burgeoning alcohol problem and Amanda definitely is insecure - what else is missing? Give it a couple of years, Trevor thinks, and he’ll see the patterns of the Philips family regurgitating themselves all over again.

He kicks out of his feet in front of him, examining the scuffs on his boots. The whispering gets louder. He’s bored. Maybe he should leave right now and have Michael be all disappointed in him. It wouldn’t really matter. He could get back to Lester and wait for Michael to stop playing happy families and get back into work. The idea tempts him and he’s half standing up when the whispers cease entirely. He freezes.

The shouting starts. He sits back down to listen.

“He is deranged!” comes Amanda’s voice. “You’ve told me more than enough about your life together for me to know it, too, so don’t look at me like that!”

“He ain’t deranged, babe! What he does just comes with the territory. You know what I get up to, and you’re not keeping me away from Tracey!”

“That’s not the same! You’re her dad! Anyway, you can leave all of that at the door. Trevor comes in here swearing and insulting me. He’s not exactly a good role model.”

“I’m not look for him to be a role model for Tracey! I just want him to watch her for a couple of hours while I take you out to dinner. She’ll be asleep. He won’t even have to do anything.”

“I doubt he’s ever had to look after a kid before! He won’t know what to do with her, or how to change a nappy or --”

“We never had to look after any kids until you gave birth, and we manage. It’ll be fine, babe, I promise you. He’s not going to let her get hurt or anything.”

“How do you know that? How can you know that?” Michael’s retort is lost as Tracey starts to scream. The sound of her crying makes Trevor agitated all over again. The argument resumes, too quietly for him to hear. He doesn’t mind at all.

. The world curls the corners of his brain and makes his mouth dry. He’ll show her fucking deranged if she wants. If she’s so fucking hypocritical that she can marry a murderous, dangerous thief but can’t leave her kid with another, then she deserves what’s coming to her, that pathetic, evil -- The bedroom door opens. Amanda storms out with a face of fury. Michael follows, looking a little smug. Tracey has red eyes but she’d started to fall asleep now, curling up close against her mother. Trevor stands up to meet the couple.

“Deranged?” he asks, loudly, and Amanda flinches. “I’m not --”

“T, it’s okay. It’s cool. Amanda’s agreed that it ain’t such a bad idea for you to watch Tracey. We’re gonna head out in a few hours if that’s okay. We won’t be too long.”

Amanda doesn’t look at all happy. Trevor doesn’t feel it, either; he should tell Michael that maybe he should ask before assuming Trevor is up for babysitting duty. He should tell him to shove the olive branch all the way up his ass. He should, for once, side with Amanda.

But he can’t do it. He just can’t side with Amanda and miss this opportunity to really drive a knife into their relationship. If there’s friction between them to be had, he’s going to make it as bad as possible.

He looks at Tracey, warily.

“Okay,” he says, and Amanda hangs her head. “I’ll watch her.”

Michael smiles. Amanda passes her daughter over.

*

They leave in a whirlwind. Michael is dressed up to the nines in his sharpest suit and he smells of some horrible aftershave that Trevor tells him to wash the fuck off. Amanda practically glows in a dress that can’t quite hide her pregnancy. She doesn’t look at all happy despite her painted lips and Michael’s arm heavy around her shoulder.

As they head down the steps into the park, she leans close to Trevor, nails sinking into his arms. “If I come home and find her hurt in any way, shape or form, I will burn you alive.”

“Have a great time!” he says, waving them off, but he feels sick.

They put her bed half an hour ago and she’s slept soundly since. He heads inside and shuts the door as quietly as he can. Her parents talked her through every step of caring for her, including the nappy changing process that he hopes he won’t even have to think about. Michael looked pretty confident in his abilities, though, and that had to count for something.

He looks in the direction of the bedroom, where her cot is tucked tightly beside Michael and Amanda’s bed. He hears nothing and so doesn’t dare to venture in.

Instead, he opens the fridge. Amanda might get pissed if he has a beer when watching her kid so he takes a great big swig of milk straight from the carton. There are a few packs of chips in the cupboard so he grabs a bag and throws himself back down onto the couch.

How the fuck did he get here? Babysitting some strange little kid while the guy he’s pretty sure he feels something close to love for goes out with his knocked up wife? It’s ridiculous. He may as well leave and try and find his sack of shit brother and set up base back near the border or something, for all the good this life his doing him physically and mentally.

It feels like the trailer gets smaller around him. He takes in a deep breath and tries to steady himself. This is no time to start getting pissed off with the events of the past year.

But it’s hard not to imagine this place as the home of his nightmares. It is, after all, the place that truly cements the change in his last three years of life. There was once an uncomfortable motel mattress beneath him with loose springs that scratched at his back and there was once a man that moved so hot and heavy over him. He could go out into the night and try to find another to fill that role - and plenty would try, if he gave them the chance - but he is old enough and weary enough to recognise the futility of it.

These days, Michael fucks his wife, he fucks ladies of the night, and he fucks sacks of shit like Brad Snider. He doesn’t try to pull Trevor close in the night, not anymore.

Trevor sighs and throws the still-full bag of chips at the far wall. It hits a picture, which promptly falls the the floor with a bang.

He winces but there’s no sound from the bedroom. He creeps over to see the damage, all too aware of ever sound his shoes make on the floor. If Tracey wakes up, he might actually have to cut and run, his tentative forgiveness of Michael be damned.

The glass in the frame has smashed all over the floor. He kicks it into a pile and retrieves the picture, hoping that maybe Michael won’t notice or something. When he actually studies the photograph, his stomach knots all over again. His hands shake. He wants to rip the thing into a million tiny pieces.

A wedding photo. A fucking wedding photo.

It’s like he’s back in that sunny, shitty day. There’s Amanda, smiling prettily, Michael stood proudly at her side like half an hour before he hadn’t been seriously considering running away forever. Behind them looms the church, by their side Amanda’s parents, at their other a smattering of guests and beaming bridesmaids. The photographer had been obnoxious, Trevor remembers, trying to pull the best man to the forefront. He had stopped after a few choice words.

Trevor is in the picture, though. He’s at the back of the small crowd with stiff shoulders. He’s as white as a sheet.

The photo falls to the ground again. Trevor kicks it.

Tracey, in the other rooms, starts to cry.

That freezes Trevor from head to toe, leg still outstretched. Slowly, he lowers it and looks around like anyone or anything will help him. Nothing, of course, will. He bites down on his tongue.

He has killed men with his bare hands. He has stolen more money than he could ever count. He has survived - he is surviving - a broken heart. He can surely face a girl who isn’t even two years old yet.

Thoughts of that wedding day fade as he opens to the door to find the cause of it. If Tracey wasn’t to be born, Michael would be his now and only his, but even he isn’t demon enough to blame her for it. As he approaches, she stands on wobbly legs and starts shaking the bars of her crib with tiny hands.

“Huh,” Trevor says softly, and she looks up at him with big watery eyes. “You don’t like being locked up, do you? Me neither.”

“Momma?” she asks, bottom lip quivering.

“Nah. She’s not here.”

“Momma!” she shouts, and promptly starts to scream again.

She’s got a good pair of lungs on her, he’ll give her that. “Please, uh, don’t cry. She’ll be back soon.”

Tracey is having none of it. She throws herself onto her back and starts kicking out her legs. A flash of annoyance shoots through Trevor’s brain, but more at his own ineptitude than her stubborness. He casts his mind back to her parents’ instructions - “if she cries, leave her, she’s got to learn” - and scoffs.

“Fuck what mommy and daddy say.” He leans down and picks her up, carefully, before hugging her close to his chest. She abruptly stops crying. “Aint that right, baby girl?”

She stares up at him in wonder as he speaks. There’s no fear in her at all as she reaches up to feel Trevor’s three week old mustache, pulling on it. He winces but manages not to snap at her. The fact that she’s quiet and isn’t puking all over him is a miracle in itself. He shifts her a little closer and peers curious into her eyes.

“Tell me, you always this trusting of strangers, or do you already know your Uncle T?”

She makes a pleased little sound. For the first time in a long, long time, he really smiles.

He figures she can’t like being left alone and she doesn’t look all that tired, so he takes her back out of the bedroom and settles them down onto the couch. She comes to snuggle into his lap, head resting against his chest, tilted so that she can carry on staring up at him.

Michael made this little girl. He is obvious in her face and it almost hurts to look at her, but Trevor can’t help it. Amanda is definitely there too. He ignores that, and ignores the wedding photo gazing up at them from the floor.

Tracey starts to grumble until he bobs on of her knees up and down so that she’s bouncing and laughing. He laughs, too, the sound hoarse and foreign.

It should be awkward; he’s hardly the fatherly type and he has absolutely no intention of ever becoming one. Having a kid doesn’t appeal to him. Having a partner doesn’t all that much, aside from the obvious exception. The thing is, though, that with Tracey on his lap, he feels almost comfortable.

She is Michael’s. She is a girl, too, and that sets him off thinking about all the women he’s ever known. His mother, cherished. Amanda, hated. The woman in charge of psychological evaluation in the Air Force, reviled. All of those nameless women he’s slept with or danced with or kissed, those women used and abused every day of their lives, beaten by men, fucked by men, destroyed by men. His mother and the way her husband’s fists turned her rotten.

His eyes burn. He does not regret a single thing he’s done in his own life, but the thought of Tracey ever being mistreated makes him nauseous. She will grow up beautiful if her blonde hair and bright eyes are anything to go by. Men will haunt her for her entire life. They might even be men as low as Trevor himself. She will be broken by them.

He lifts his fingers and strokes at her blonde curls. “Hey,” he says, in a voice so gentle he’s sure it can’t be his own. “Are you listening to your Uncle T?”

She looks up at him. “T,” she agrees, so seriously he laughs.

“That’s right. T.”

“T,” she repeats, happily, and yanks hard on his moustache again.

He leans down. “I want you to remember this, Tracey Townley. If anyone ever hurts you, I swear to you I will skin them alive, you got that?”

She just claps her hands and carries on bouncing, and he can’t help but to keep grinning. If it were any other kid, he’d turf them right onto the floor and tell them to get the fuck away from him. But he means his threats and he knows he will carry them out no matter what. Her eyes are Michael’s eyes, her nose Michael’s nose. He presses his lips gently to the top of her head and closes his eyes.

“Just promise me you’ll share him,” he mumbles stupidly, and she just gurgles in reply.

*

As promised, the Townleys get back in two hours.

Amanda bursts through the door in a panic with Michael trailing behind and shaking his head. By this time, Tracey has given up on being awake and she’s curled up into a neat little ball of Trevor’s knee. He hasn’t dared move even though he needs to piss so bad it hurts.

Still, his legs are dead and his bladder is making him shift and even though Tracey is a sweetheart, he’s longing for at least a little alone time, so when her parents get into the trailer, he breathes a sigh of relief.

“Finally,” he says, quietly enough not to wake the girl, “I thought you were never coming back.”

“I tried to stay longer, but Mandy didn’t want to stay for dessert,” Michael sighs, sadly. Amanda draws up short and just stands there watching Trevor and her daughter. Her hands hang limply at her side and her lips are slightly parted in surprise. Michael, though, gives them a quick glance and just smiles, like he expected that his best friend and daughter would bond no matter the exceptional circumstances.

At the sound of her father’s voice, Tracey starts to stir. She nestles her head into Trevor’s chest and then slowly sits up, cheek bright red where it’s been pressed against his shirt. She blinks sleepily up at him, looking momentarily confused, before her eyes clear.

“T,” she says, quietly, remembering their earlier games.

“T,” he confirms, and he grins all proud and shit, like she’s his daughter. Even Michael looks shocked at what she’s said.

Amanda looks kind of horrified, which Trevor doesn’t think is exactly fair when he’s managed to do this well. She shuts her mouth and steps up to them, holding her hands out for Tracey. There’s a little bit of food down the front of her dress but she still looks nice.

“Tracey,” she says when her daughter just carries on merrily waking up on Trevor’s knee. “Come here, darling.”

To the general shock of the room, Tracey does no such thing. She smiles at the sight of her parents but she makes no attempt to get to them. She’s clearly perfectly content with Trevor, who laughs, bouncing her up and down. Amanda lowers her arms, slowly.

“Well,” she says, quietly, “I’m glad to see you didn’t manage to get her killed while we were away.”

He snorts. “Yeah, of course. I’m just the type of evil dick who’d get a baby killed, huh?”

“Watch your language,” she snaps. Michael comes over and scoops Tracey up into her arms, who immediately starts smiling at her dad, putting her arms around his neck.

“Thanks for watching her, T,” he says, ignoring his wife. “I knew I could count on you.”

It’s as much as an I told you so to Amanda as it is a compliment, but Trevor is warmed all the same. Amanda gives Michael a filthy look. Tracey starts to fall asleep in her father’s arms.

“We put her to bed for a reason,” Amanda snaps in Trevor’s direction. She doesn’t look at him, instead glaring at the linoleum floor. “She has a routine. You can’t just get her used to getting of bed whenever she wants attention.”

Trevor stands and spreads his hands innocently. “Your kid was crying out for you. If you’d come back to her screaming and me just sat on my ass, I’m fucking certain you’d be throwing me out right now.”

“She can have one night out of her routine,” Michael says placatingly. He nudges Amanda’s shoulder with his own and gives her a pointed, wide eyed look. “She’s safe and she’s happy. I’d say Trevor did a fine job.”

There is a clear battle in her face; her eyes are dark and troubled and her mouth is turned right down. She looks from her husband’s pleading face to her child’s peaceful slumber and then, with great effort, she squares her shoulders and looks Trevor straight in the eye.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I shouldn’t have doubted you. You did, um, well and she seems to like you. Thank you for watching her.”

What Trevor really wants to do is spit back some acidic response, but he considers Michael and how that might push him even further away. So instead he shrugs and plasters on a fake smile that only serves to make her shift uneasily.

“You’re welcome. Anything for friends, right?”

“Right,” she replies tiredly. The fight visibly goes out of her and she runs her hands across her face. “Give her to me, Michael. I’ll get her back to bed.”

He hands her over, but not before pressing a quick kiss to the top of her head. Tracey doesn’t stir and Trevor watches her with a smile, something that Michael raises his eyebrows at. His smile slips right away and he flips him the middle finger, instead, making Michael laugh. Amanda ignores them and goes into the bedroom.

They listen to her talking in a soothing, motherly voice - the kind that makes Trevor think about his mother before his father left, the kind that makes him nauseous - and then looks at each other. Michael’s still grinning.

It’s easy to see, right now, in this shitty little trailer inside of this shitty little trailer park, how Michael was once his school’s quarterback and general hearthrob. The successful meeting of his two lives has left him exhilarated; he stands tall and proud, chest puffed out, and he hits Trevor on the shoulder good-naturedly, like they’re just two buddies at a bar somewhere and Trevor’s just told him about the hot woman he fucked last night.

Trevor, in turn, glares at his feet. His accomplishments of the past few years fade to nothing. He is that skinny little shit who got rejected by the Air Force. He is his mother’s greatest failure.

He’s never been sure why self-loathing grips him so terribly and so suddenly, especially when moments before he can be so cocky he drives others mad. He hugs himself, turning away, and wishes he’d tried to smuggle some drugs on the plane ride over here. Maybe - no, definitely - there’s somebody around here he can score something off. That will end the eternal bubbling of doubt. He cannot handle Michael’s smile sober.

It’s lucky, then, that that smile fades. Michael watches him in silence for a moment. He reaches out to touch his shoulder again and it’s with an awful tenderness.

“Hey, T,” he says, quietly. “I really do appreciate you watching her. I knew she’d like you.”

“Yeah, well, she seems easily pleased.” Michael doesn’t respond, so Trevor quickly adds, “She’s nice. I don’t exactly, uh, like kids but she’s … she’s cute, I guess. Cuter than her goddamn parents.”

Michael laughs. His hand has not left Trevor’s shoulder and he’s burning right up. “Gee, thanks. It’s true though. She’s gonna be a real stunner when she grows up.”

Trevor nods, in an absent kind of way. The walls of the trailer are too close together. He looks longingly out of the window and at the night’s sky. Michael smells of whiskey and good food and Amanda’s perfume. The walls are caving in.

Trevor should not have come here. This play at domesticity is so fake it chokes him. Michael is a murderer and a thief and he fucks around on his wife, and then turns around and plays happy families. Trevor should hate him for his lies; by rights, he should march out right now and cut ties forever, and rebuild a crew of his own and perhaps build his dreamed drug trafficking business and take on the world like he has always been destined to. He should shrugs off Michael’s shoulder.

He closes his eyes and leans into Michael’s touch.

“T,” Michael says, again, again, again, that one syllable swelling the air around them, “we should leave tomorrow. Let’s go back to Lester’s. Back into the game, properly this time.”

“What about your family?” Trevor asks before he can help himself, and his shoulder goes cold as Michael pulls away, blinking.

“What about them?”

“Don’t get so fucking defensive. Won’t Amanda get mad with you leaving so soon?”

“She knows I have to work,” Michael says, which doesn’t exactly answer the question, but before he can elaborate, Amanda walks out of the bedroom. She looks more worn-out than sleepy, and she only casts the two of them a small glance.

“It’s late,” she says, closing the door quietly behind her. “Are you staying the night, Trevor?”

“Well, I don’t know where else I’m going to fucking go.”

Her eyes snap to him. “We don’t have a spare room. You can sleep on the couch.”

She says it like he was planning to turf her out of bed and curl up next to Michael. He wonders, again, just how much she know about her husband’s recent past. She goes back into the bedroom and returns with some spare blankets. Trevor takes them without any thanks.

Michael leaves Trevor’s side and goes over to her, of course. He makes a big show of kissing her on the lips, one hand low on her back. When he pulls back, he’s got this stupid apologetic look that doesn’t seem all that genuine.

“Hey,” he says, in the same soft voice he’d used second before on Trevor, “I think we’re heading off tomorrow. We’ve got this big job coming up.”

Amanda doesn’t look all that surprised. She doesn’t look angry, like Trevor expected, or jealous or disappointed. She just looks tired. “Of course you do,” she says without any edge. “Who will you be robbing this time?”

“Uh,” Michael says. Trevor almost laughs.

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t really want to know.”

“If it helps, I think I’ll be able to buy us somewhere real nice with the takings. Maybe we can go on vacation. How about the Caribbean?”

Her eyes light up. Trevor imagines the two of them side by side on sun-loungers, stretched out and scantily clad and burning brown. Amanda would have some frilly pink cocktail in her hand. Michael would buy expensive scotch. The sea would stretch out in front of them, endless. Somewhere in America, Trevor would score some meth and shiver alone through the night.

“That sounds nice,” she says, sounding strangely shy. They kiss again. They are both flushed when they part.

Michael clears his throat. “Right. I’m going to take a quick shower and head to bed. You’ll be okay on the couch, right, T?”

Trevor just shrugs. He’s slept in worse places.

With a brief squeeze of Amanda’s shoulder, Michael disappears into the bathroom and locks the door behind himself. In his wake falls an awful silence. Amanda hovers, watching Trevor. He starts to make something of a bed for himself, just to keep occupied. In the morning he will be gone from here, Michael in tow.

She knows it and it’s narrowed her eyes. She grabs her jacket.

“If Michael asks, tell him I won’t be long,” she says, and disappears out of the front door.

Trevor blinks, blanket hanging from his hands. She has gone so quickly and so unannounced that he thinks of the last couple of minutes, wondering if he’s said something so appalling that she can’t stand to be in close proximity to him. He’s been harsh but he hasn’t been offensive, surely. If he had been, he knows she’d call him out for it.

Maybe Michael’s urgency to leave has hurt her. Maybe it’s the fact she’ll be alone again, soon, with only her daughter for company - but she seemed perfectly content at the promise of vacations and a new house. Maybe her pregnancy is making her feel ill and in want of fresh air. Maybe she’s got a secret lover out there, some troubled redneck in a trailer nearby. Maybe she just wants a walk.

He finishes laying the blankets on the couch. He can hear the steady stream of the shower and knows that Michael is stood beneath it, gloriously naked, the steam rising around him. Trevor could slip in there now and Amanda could be none the wiser.

But Michael would deny him, surely, would push him away. When he had the chance, he invited Brad into his bedroom and kept Trevor far away. Trevor follows him and often blindly, but Trevor is not a fucking idiot.

He sits down on the couch. It’s late but his brain his buzzing and his hands are restless. He considers raiding the fridge for beer but that will only rest sickly in his belly and blur the edges of it all; he wants something harder, quicker, nastier. He longs for speed. It wouldn't help him sleep but it would gear him up for the adrenaline of the next few jobs, of flights and job preparations and the thrill of robbery.

They are on the outskirts of a small town, the centre of it not fifteen minutes walk away. If Trevor set off now he could be high within the hour.

He wouldn’t bring it back here, not with Tracey around in all her naivety, but he could book into some hotel for the night and be back to collect Michael in the morning. At least he wouldn’t have to listen to any fucking through the thin walls.

Trevor stands. He’s not going to tell Michael where he is - he’ll let him worry for the night, well-deserved - and he’s out the door before he can change his mind, breaths of cold midwestern air.

He feels like he could die here and now and not care. His brain is so swirled up that he can’t stand to live with it any more.

He knows he’s becoming too fucking melodramatic. He shoves his hands in his pockets and walks in the general direction of the exit.

It’s freezing, which is no great surprise. Only the thought of getting as high as he can keeps him going. There will be men in bars with all the numbers he needs to call, or women on street corners he can ask. He might even take one of them back to a rented room.

He’s all too grateful to get out of the park and when the exit is in sight, he stops wanting to die quite so much. It’s just that this place makes him think too much of his lost mother and stupid brother and even stupider father. Michael has a family, now, however dysfunctional, but Trevor? What about him? Who can he call family?

Maybe not Michael anymore. Certainly not Lester.

He shakes his head of his thoughts and starts to whistle quietly to himself, eyes on the starry sky. He’s all too ready to head in the direction of the town when a voice cuts through his thoughts, making his stomach flip with surprise.

“Hello, Trevor.”

He stops in his tracks and looks around, to find Amanda sat on a bench by the trailer park’s sign. She’s got her jacket wrapped firmly around her but she’s still pale, huddled up on the corner of the seat.

“You’re going to freeze to death,” he tells her, with little concern.

“I’ll survive.” She licks her lips and looks up at him. “Where are you going?”

“That’s none of your business, sweetheart.”

“Suit yourself,” she says and gives up on him at once, looking out across the park. He wants to walk away but instead he lingers, curious. She’s still dressed in her nice dress but her lipstick has faded, only bright around the corners of her mouth. She looks terribly vulnerable, all alone and shivering.

“What are you doing?”

“None of your business,” she echoes, and smiles at him.

It’s an ensnaring smile. If she wasn’t Michael’s wife and the reason for his downfall, Trevor might sit next to her and seek seduction. Instead, his heart hardens all the more. It is not fair that she is beautiful.

“You’re going to freeze to death,” he repeats, eyeing her stomach. “You’re pregnant.”

“That doesn’t make me more vulnerable to the cold, you know,” she laughs, but puts a hand to her stomach anyway. “I don’t mind the cold all that much. It’s rain I can’t stand.”

Trevor doesn’t care about her weather preferences. She’ll be warm soon, in the sunny Caribbean with her husband and her husband’s money.

“Michael’s going to wonder where you are.”

“He’ll get over it,” she shrugs, and that makes him all the more curious.

Despite himself, he sits down next to her and feels the chill of the bench through his jeans. He takes care not to let their bodies touch. He’s not sure what to say to her but she doesn’t seem to mind, playing with her long hair and looking away from him. He can still smell the perfume on her, masking something dark and desperate, the kind of drive that makes a woman steal a man away from the life he loves.

It’s not her fault, Trevor tries to tell himself. This is Michael’s fault. This is all on him.

“Did you tell Michael you were leaving again?” she asks him, quietly.

“I’m not leaving him and it’s not again,” he snaps, because he’s not sure why everyone keeps thinking that he’s the one who’s left. “He doesn’t know, no, but if you’re that damn curious I’ll tell you that I’m about to find the first drug dealer I can so that I can buy the hardest thing he has.”

Amanda laughs. It’s not the reaction he’s expecting and he’s starting to get angry, until she turns to look at him. “Andy next door sells coke. You didn’t have to walk this far.”

“I don’t like coke,” he says, without thinking. “That’s your husband’s favourite.”

The laughter dies in her eyes and she looks down at her hands, at the gold band of her wedding ring. For a moment he actually feels kind of bad.

“We used to go out clubbing,” she says, taking him by surprise. “Before Tracey was born, I mean. When we first met and he stayed with me and my mom and dad. We’d go out at night and get drunk and jacked up on coke, the both of us, and he’d tell me all sorts of things.”

Trevor shifts uneasily. He can imagine it, too, Michael’s pupils blown as he rests heavily on Amanda’s shoulder and boasts about how much money he can earn in a single job.

“I didn’t know that I was pregnant then and it was probably too early to do Tracey any damage, but we took a lot of the stuff. It was crazy, you know, but there were no strings and nothing to hold us back. I told him I wanted a boob job and the next day he bought me some. It was that kind of … luxury, you know. He opened my eyes to how happy money can make you. I fell in love with him when he had coke all over his nose and his hands down my pants. It was fucking stupid. We were fucking stupid. It was so much more than him being a good lay.”

He just lets her talk because he’s not sure what else to do. Her words are making his head spin because he knows just how she feels. That’s how he fell in love with Michael, too.

“I thought he was my soulmate and then he told me he’d run out of cash and had to go work a few jobs, raise a few thousands. I missed him but he promised to call. He said he was going to find you,” she snorts at this, cheeks red, “and some guy called Lester and then he was gone. He promised to call every day and he never fucking did, until suddenly he told me he had something to tell me and he was flying back down.”

She kicks out her legs in front of her and looks at her high heels. Her voice has got all thick, her eyes watery. Trevor can’t move an inch.

“I’m not an idiot. I know he was going to leave me, but by then I knew I was pregnant, and what could I do? I had to tell him. Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him and I thought everything would be okay, so I said yes. Of course I said yes.”

Trevor clears his throat. “You thought he was your soulmate and he asked you to marry him, and now you’re married. Big fucking tragedy.”

She closes her eyes. “I told you, I’m not an idiot. I think- fuck, I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, because you probably know more than I do and you’re just going to laugh at me, but I think he might be cheating on me. He can be insatiable, and he goes away for so long, and I obviously know that he goes to strip clubs and fucks strippers, or at least used to, so what’s changed? He must think I’ll never work him out.”

Trevor almost tells her about the prostitute and about Brad, and even, smugly, about what Michael did with him before he met her. But he remembers how he promised Michael never to hurt his wife and child and that kills the words right in his mouth.

“I don’t know anything about him anymore,” he confesses, with more weight than he intends. She looks at him strangely. “I’ve not seen him for a year and a half.”

“He missed you a lot,” she tells him, and he can tell she’s trying to be a comfort. He fucking loathes her for it. “He talked about you while you were away, always wondering what you were up to and who you might be with.”

“Yeah, well,” is all he can say, because anything else would be acidic. “If it means anything, and it probably doesn’t, I don’t think he’s cheated on you. I think he really loves you.”

The cheating part is a lie, but he knows the love part is true. It wrenches his heart to tell her that, but she brightens at once, a stupid smile coming across her lips. He’s not sure why he has told her, except for that promise he made to Michael, and the fact that he can still remember her daughter’s sweet face.

Amanda’s smile is genuine when she says, “Thank you. It means something. You’re his best friend.”

Trevor snorts. “Yeah, right. Of course I am.”

“You are,” she presses, nudging his shoulder with hers like they’re suddenly friends or something. “He really cares about you.”

“He’s an asshole.”

“Look, I know it’s ridiculous, but when we first met, I kind of thought that the two of you were gay or something. I mean - Michael was kissing me, but the way you were with each other, I thought you might be a couple or something.” She laughs at the absurdity of it, white teeth catching the light of a streetlamp. “It’s fucking stupid.”

She may as well have tipped a bucket of icy water right over his head, because he freezes with her words, staring at her. Any camaraderie he may have started to feel dies at once and he remembers her for what she is - some bitchy, jumped-up stripper who thinks she has to right to destroy his life by opening her legs. She fell in love with Michael when he wasn’t hers to love. He remembers her words, her sickening sentiments, and stands up.

“You’re right,” he says, in a voice that shakes with anger, “missing Michael can be hard. He really is so much more than a good lay.”

She stares at him as he throws her words back at her. She looks confused, frowning up at him, but there’s a slow, steady comprehension that creeps across her face and makes her eyes widen, and something dark and dirty clearly clicks in brain, just as Michael emerges in the distance.

He waves over to them.

“Mandy?” he shouts and must wake up half the trailer park. “Where do we keep the baby food? Tracey won’t stop crying.”

Trevor smiles at Amanda, at the horror suddenly dawning on her face, and resumes his walk into town.

x.

late 1993

The man paces up and down the length of the van while his partner smokes up a storm at the back of it.

It’s amazing how fast he can smoke, drawing in great gulps of smoke that he lets out through his nose. The moment one cigarette is stamped beneath his heavy boot, the other one is lit. His partner notices that he’s got yet another lit and rolls his eyes. He mutters something that Michael and Trevor, kneeling in the bushes, can’t hear.

“Smoking is vile,” Trevor whispers, and Michael elbows him.

“Shut the fuck up,” is the response and Trevor thinks it’s less about the noise he’s making and more about the sentiment. “Keep your eyes on them.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m too busy staring at your fat ass to concentrate.”

He feels rather than sees Michael’s glare but it makes him grin all the same. He gets another elbow to the arm.

The men at the van lean in close to talk to each other, before one pulls away and flaps his arm in front of himself to get rid of the smoke. He makes a great show of coughing and spluttering. Trevor stifles a laugh.

The smoking man throws his cigarette again to the floor. This time, he doesn’t light another, but instead puts his helmet back on and fastens it. He lowers the visor over his eyes and nods at his partner.

Trevor reaches out and grabs Michael’s upper arm, squeezing. “Here we go,” he says, other hand going to his rifle on the ground. Michael nods and grabs his knife.

For jobs like these, Trevor has to forget his distaste for the gun - he favours his shotgun, always, and the way he can make a man’s face explode in the most satisfying away. But when speed and often silence is required, it has to be the rifle. They are not, he reminds himself, here to draw attention to themselves.

“Remember the plan,” Michael breathes. “Quick and easy and we’ll be out of here in seconds.”

They slip their masks on. It’s itchy and squashes Trevor’s nose uncomfortably, but it gets the job done. He lets go of Michael’s arm. “I know, I know. We got this.”

Michael nods, just once, and stands up. The men are getting into the front of the van and don’t think to look behind them, giving Michael ample opportunity to rush towards its back wheels. The second the engine has started he drives his knife into the nearest wheel with all the force he can. It slashes right through the rubber with a loud noise, too loud a noise, air rushing out into the night.

The engine dies at once. The passenger door opens.

That’s Trevor’s cue. He stands and races at full-speed toward the opening door, barrelling the security guard to the ground before he can go for his gun. He hears Michael’s movement, too, heading around for the driver.

The man struggles beneath Trevor, eyes barely visible beneath his visor. Trevor wrenches his helmet off with some difficulty.

“Motherfucker,” the man gasps, and Trevor slams the butt of his rifle into the man’s face. His eyes are huge and he has big, pouty lips, with frizzy blonde hair that curls down his forehead. He looks like an overgrown child, one with a now-broken nose. Blood runs thick and heavy down his cheeks, puddling in the dirt.

Michael emerges round the front of the van. He’s unscatched but out of breath.

“My boy’s out cold,” he says, gesturing sideways. His voice is muffled beneath his black mask. “Knock this turd out so we can get on with it.”

“I’d rather kill him,” Trevor says, and the man beneath him struggles even harder. “You know, paint a pretty little red necklace across his neck.”

Trevor can’t see, but he guesses Michael is rolling his eyes. “No,” he says, firmly, “we talked about this.”

“So weak,” Trevor says, shaking his head sadly at the man beneath him. “That one has no balls, I’ll tell you that, and it’s fucking lucky for you.”

“Burn in hell,” comes the man’s response and it’s all too easy to swing his rifle at the man’s jaw, knocking his head upwards with a dull click, an easy smack, the kind that makes the stranger go limp at once. Trevor sighs at the wasted potential and climbs off him.

They go around to the back of the van, Michael dangling the driver’s keys from his hand. Trevor keeps watch while he gets the door open. The getaway is secure in the alley ahead, and the lake behind them is deserted but for a couple of ducks on the horizon. The high-rise buildings around them are offices, warehouses, deserted. They can only hear the distant rumble of the highway.

“Faster,” he says, anyway, just to be a dick. Michael grunts and, after a moment, gets the doors thrown wide open.

“Jackpot,” he mutters. They spur into action; Michael runs over to open the trunk of their car, and Trevor loads up his arms with the cases of cash.

It’s thanks to Lester’s carefully monitoring of the locals banks of some shitty town in the sticks that they’re pulling this score at all, and it’s with a heavy heart that Trevor remembers the share that lazy fuck is getting, all from the safety of his semen-stained bedroom. He starts transferring the money from van to car, anyway, Michael sitting in the front seat with the keys ready in the ignition.

It takes three or four trips, but Trevor finally gets the last of it in the trunk. He does a quick scan to make sure they’ve not forgotten anything and then checks the guards to make sure they’re both still out cold - they are, but he gives them both a kick to the head for good measure - and then he clambers in the seat next to Michael, pulling his mask off.

“Done,” he says, a little smugly. Michael pulls his own mask off and throws it into the back seat. “Come on. Drive.”

Michael is laughing loudly as they pull out of the alley and onto the road. He looks as exhilarated as he did after the first successful score they ran together, practically shaking in the seat as he taps the steering wheel in time to a tune nobody else can hear.

Trevor laughs, too. There must be at least fifty thousand dollars in the back of their car. It’s the biggest job they’ve ever pulled with just the two of them on the ground and it feels fucking good. They’re back in it for sure, two idiot kids who are finding themselves and their drive all over again.

“Fucking A,” Michael croons like an idiot, and Trevor’s laughter just gets louder.

They drive around the town a couple of times, more out of habit than anything else. In the past they’ve had to shake off cops and suspicious civilians. This time they’re home free so Michael puts his foot down and heads down the freeway in search of the motel they’ve booked into for the night.

It’s a small one with a blinking neon vacancies sign, the type with a balcony of rooms too small for two people who are definitely not in any position to share a bed. They asked for a twin room but soon learned that the beds were so close together they may have well have booked a double.

Trevor had suggested booking another but Michael had shook his head, never eager to change their plans.

When they pull into the parking lot now, Trevor starts to regret not pushing the issue. He’s so high on adrenaline he may as well have lit his pipe on the drive over, but that can’t cancel out the burn of his nerves.

Michael doesn’t seem at all worried about their looming close proximity, or the fact that it will be their first shared room in nearly two years, or that when they used to share motels they folded against each other almost as soon as the door was shut. He seems to think of nothing of it and instead parks smoothly in front of the motel, grinning wide and bright.

“Think we got away with it?” he asks, smugly, because he damn well knows they fucking did.

Trevor just laughs. “Of course we did. We’re not amateurs anymore.”

“Hey, I’ve never been an amateur.”

“Sure you haven’t. That why you landed yourself in jail twice?”

“That was purely for the experience,” Michael says, raising his nose, but he’s smiling. They pause to watch some middle aged man stumble into his room. He’s probably got some wife and a couple of kids at home, and there’s probably some luscious young secretary inside awaiting his cock or something. It reminds Trevor of the night ahead and their beds far too close.

Michaels leans over his seat and throws his jacket over the money. It’s the only protection they can offer it - it would raise too much suspicion to carry all those cases into their room - and they’ve thought about it, and they think that leaving it practically in the open is their safest bet.

Michael gets out of the car and stretches towards the sky. It’s as though he hasn’t just robbed thousands of dollars and fucked up the lives of two men just doing their jobs. So easily, he has turned back into that cheery, charming man the world knows him as. Trevor gets out, too, and tries to follow suit.

They go up the stairs to room six, theirs for the night. Trevor considers calling Lester just to confirm their success, but he thinks the man - probably resting and not doing anything remotely strenuous at all - can wait until the morning. Tonight, he has bigger worries, and they all take the form of Michael Townley, brilliant and beaming as they turn on the lights and lock the front door behind them.

Michael immediately goes to the small fridge and pulls out the pre-bought bottle of whiskey, humming to himself. Trevor hovers by the beds and remembers days gone by, when there would be no hesitation in him as he would pull Michael down onto their bed.

Those days, he knows, are over, and so he just stomps over to the tiny kitchen and says, “Make mine a double.”

Michael smiles at him. “A man after my own heart.”

He pours them both a double and puts a few cubes of ice in his, before sliding Trevor’s glass over to him. It’s nice whiskey, the kind that Michael lives for, but it doesn’t taste all that great to Trevor. He’d prefer something harder, something that might burn his nose and drip down the back of his throat until he feels sick.

There’s nothing to snort or smoke here aside from Michael’s cigarettes and so he ignores his longing for drugs and sits down at the end of his bed. Michael kicks off his shoes and sits at the end of his own, clinking his glass against Trevor’s.

“What a score,” he says, blissfully. “No problems at all. I’m fucking stoked, like -- we are back, baby, we’re fucking set.”

Trevor rolls his eyes. “Don’t get too excited. We still have to give Lester his cut.”

“It’s not the money. Well, I mean, it is, but - you know. It’s the job. It’s this - I don’t know, you feel it too - this buzz. I don’t think I’ve ever needed anything more.”

“But the money helps.”

“The money fucking helps,” Michael laughs, and takes a big gulp of his whiskey. Trevor nods, but it’s not exactly true. He doesn’t spend it much. It’s stored and saving itself up in that offshore bank account. Michael has big plans for his, though; he’s got his wife and his child and his unborn child, too, and his vacations and his dreams of a picket fence house. He has his coke, as well, and his whiskey, and his women.

Outside, there is a very distant, very unthreatening sound of a police siren. Michael and Trevor look at each other in silence for a moment, before they both burst out laughing, falling back on their respective beds. The buzz that Michael’s so obsessed with runs through them both and swells the air around them, and Trevor can’t help but to grin with it.

The Townley family pale in comparison to this feeling, and they both know it. This is where they really started together. This is where they belong.

Michael turns and rests his chin on his hand, elbow pressed into his mattress. “You know,” he says, laughter finally fading, “Lester and I were talking before you got back from the south. We were thinking of setting up something a little more permanent than random robberies.”

“The big one?” Trevor asks, still lying back. He feels suddenly tired, sleepy and content, happy at last with only Michael’s presence in the room with him.

“Nah. No, not yet. Soon, but no.”

“Desk jobs?” Trevor suggests, making Michael snort.

“Thankfully, no.” He sets his glass down on the table by his bed, but only after downing the last of his whiskey. “Remember when we first met?”

Of course Trevor does. The stench of that flare gun to the brain of that wild stranger still haunts him sometimes. It was the kind of stink that will stay with him forever. “Yeah. You heard from Eric or something?”

“Not exactly. We were thinking of setting up some cargo carrying business ourselves, just near the border.”

Trevor is in no mood to contemplate returning there tonight, so he just shrugs uselessly and suppresses a yawn. “Yeah, sure, I’ll think about it. If I’m fucking invited.”

“Don’t be a dick. Of course you’re invited. You’re the only guy I know who can handle a plane.”

“Great to know that’s all I am to you,” Trevor teases and he only says it to be an asshole, but Michael frowns all the same. He says nothing but rolls over onto his back, staring contemplatively at the ceiling. Trevor hates himself for killing the happy mood but he hates Michael for it, too.

He sits up and swigs the last of his drink. His brain is already swimming slightly. Out there, the security guards will be sitting up and being tended to by doctors and nurses, and will be telling the police that two assholes in masks stole all of the money they were protecting right from them. He wonders if they will lose their jobs. He can’t bring himself to care all that much.

Michael yawns loudly. “I’m tired,” he announces, stretching out. He glances at the clock on the bedside table, flashing two am. “I think we missed happy hour. We’ll have to go out tomorrow.”

Tomorrow, then, holds promises of strip clubs and chemicals and marathons of beer drinking. Tonight holds only these two beds and the four walls that hold them.

Trevor leaves Michael to his plans and goes to piss.

He glances at himself in the bathroom mirror and leans in close to it, so close his breath fogs up the glass. He looks tired but alive, eyes bright but sunken. His body aches with the adrenaline that has gripped him tonight. His chest is sore with the fast beat of his heart. He runs a hand through his hair that’s started to grow too long again, and heads out of the bathroom.

“Hey, fucker, maybe tomorrow we should find a couple of --”

The words die on his tongue as he realises that Michael has fallen to sleep in his absence. He’s still fully dressed and stretched out taught, but he looks peaceful instead of buzzed up, mouth slack and slightly open.

Trevor undresses as quietly as he can. He pauses before slipping into his bed. His hand is on his duvet, lifting it, but his eyes are fixed on Michael and the slopes of his body, the softness of his mouth.

In the last year and a half, Michael has become a stranger to him, something he remembers and longs for but something that’s rarely tangible. He was once Trevor’s everything, in the day and at night, all night. Now he is just supposed to be his married business partner. Nothing more, ever. Nothing to touch or feel or feel for. Nobody to think about long after the lights have been turned off.

But the job has brought them crashing back firmly together and Trevor would be lying if he said he didn’t notice the sideways slant of Michael’s smile and the way his gaze lingered when he explained their future plans.

It’s like Amanda doesn’t exist. It’s like Tracey has never been born.

Trevor longs to climb onto the bed next to Michael but some twisted, tiny moral minority within him reminds him of Tracey Townley, and how his own fallen family fucked him up. He does not want to speed up her destruction. He swallows heavily, belly warm with need, and climbs silently into his own bed.

*

When the night is on the verge of dawn, Trevor wakes to the stink of alcohol. Michael, drunk, looms over him.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, thickly. His cheeks are glistening in the moonlight and his breath is all over Trevor’s face.

Trevor goes to push him away but his hands betray him and pull Michael closer. Their hips meet. Their chests touch. Michael is heavy and stifling and Trevor, lost, sleepy, destroyed, closes his eyes and holds him so tight it surely hurts.

“I’m sorry,” Michael repeats.

His mouth opens and is hot on Trevor’s neck.

“I’m sorry,” Michael says, a third time. His hand smooths between their bodies, fumbles.

“Michael,” Trevor murmurs, grunts, pushing upwards.

“I’m sorry.”

Trevor, later, will look back on this night and never be sure who the repeated apologies are for. All he will know is that in the morning light, Michael will make them both coffee and kiss Trevor so deeply that Trevor’s belly will turn warm and slippery, and that they will fall together again, and again, and again, and that somewhere three states away, Amanda will be rushed to be hospital, and that Michael will miss the birth of his second child.

Trevor, later, will not care.

Chapter Text

xi.

1994

In history, and Trevor doesn’t know all that much about history or it’s faucet of troubled men and their mistakes, there have always been criminals who grip the minds of the common world and disturb that rift between civility and sickness.

There are serial killers plucked from the long line of other serial killers to become immortal. Every detail of their bloodbaths grip public consciousness; bodies under floorboards, hitchhikers stolen in the cover of night, bones bleached in bathtubs. There are terrorists who plunge the whole world to war, who make pot-bellied old men spew foam from the corner of their thin, dry lips, who make America scream America until it’s voice is hoarse. There are bank robbers who seem beautiful and glamorous to all but the cops who fail to grab them. There are reams of books and endless dreams devoted to Bonnie and Clyde.

Sometimes after a successful score with his pockets tight with cash, Trevor wonders if he and Michael will ever be so treasured and so reviled. Michael Townley is a name that ghosts from the lips of more cops than maybe even they know. He has a signature, after all, a tendency for big jobs in small towns, and a trail that nobody seems able to follow.

The cops never know if it is really Michael and his constant accomplice who do these jobs - there are many Michael Townleys in America, and nobody they can really pin all of the destruction on. They ask families across the country but there are no red flags. Yet they assume at least a few of these robberies are his doing; that dead man, Tony, named him in conjunction with at least three robberies they knew of. They doubt he has retired. Lester follows their progress with vague interest and keeps them updated.

Michael takes it all in his stride. Trevor wonders if he will ever be caught. He wonders if his face will be plastered on every paper in the country. He wonders what he will do.

(He knows, of course -- the awful truth of it. He will go down with Michael or die trying. He will never succumb to a life without him.)

He tells Michael that maybe one day they’ll make movies about their lives. Michael chokes on his beer and laughs and shakes his head. “Maybe,” he teases, kicking Trevor under the table. “I better be played by someone good, none of these two-bit pretty boy actors I see in every goddamn flick right now.”

No man could ever really play Michael, Trevor thinks. It might be difficult to cast himself, too -- he thinks of them on the big screen, stealing and spending. He wonders how the movie might end.

“Another drink?” Michael asks, standing up. “My round.”

“Yeah, of course,” Trevor says and pushes his empty glass across the table. Michael takes it and heads down the stairs, towards the pulsing dancefloor and busy bar. Trevor watches him push his way through the drugged-up dancers, resting his chin on the bar of the balcony.

If they ever chronicle Michael Townley’s life, they will talk of his strained marriage and his two children and the mystery of the gang he runs with. Trevor might be in here, somewhere. Accomplice. Partner. Comrade. He will never be described as anything more; that would tip his story right over the edge. He is a depraved criminal, but not that unacceptable. He is simply not the type to go to bed with another man.

Trevor scoff and sits back again.

The music is on so loud that the table reverberates with it. He taps his fingers in time with the awful, repetitious beat. It’s the early 90s and ecstasy has it’s grip on this dance generation, and while Trevor kind of likes the flight of it, tonight he’s sticking with his drink. A man walks past with blown pupils. He looks like he’s grinding his teeth right down to the gum.

They’re in Minnesota, or Missouri, or maybe even Montana. Trevor doesn’t know except that it begins with M. Michael has been driving for the past week. He got spooked in their last job when a cop very nearly grabbed him, and since then he hasn’t wanted to slow down until they passed this place, buzzing and vibrant even at one in the morning. Trevor had had to drag him in but once they were enshrouded in the smoke and noise, Michael had relaxed, coming home once more.

He returns after a while, two beers in hand that have foam spilling all over the side of their glasses. Trevor takes one.

“Man, this place is wild,” Michael says, resuming his seat. He is flushed with the heat of the dancers. There are two bright patches on his cheeks that spread down to his neck. Trevor sips on his beer and watches them.

“It’s full of kids.”

Michael’s laughter is a bark. “Well, we’re not that old ourselves, you know.”

Trevor feels it sometimes but he grins all the same. “I’m not. You’re married with two kids. You may as well start wearing socks and sandals.”

“Fuck off,” Michael says, easily. He takes a long gulp of beer that leaves foam all over his upper lip.

“You fuck off,” Trevor replies, because he can, and Michael kicks him under the table until they’re both just smiling stupidly at each other, and the effect is better than all the Valium Trevor used to sneak from under his mother’s bed.

He slips into a quick and easy trance at Michael’s smile. The music beats in time with his heart of all things. Down on the dancefloor, sweaty bodies meet and people laugh and hold cigarettes above their heads, the smoke rising up to the balcony. Trevor wrinkles his nose in faux-disgust but secretly breathes it all in.

The drive over here hasn’t been kind to either of them. Trevor is in desperate need of a shower and Michael has four-day-old stubble. They both need a change of clothes. Trevor’s hair feels gross and heavy with grease.

Then again, Trevor has never exactly been scrupulous when it’s come to his hygiene, and even Michael seems not to care; they have escaped the law again, and the beer is good and cheap, and when they joke around with each other there’s none of the awkwardness that’s broken them before.

It is, Trevor thinks, like the first year of their lives together, except these days their takings are so much higher.

He stretches his arms above his head and yawns until his jaw clicks. A woman with a pretty, round face and an even prettier and rounder ass walks past them, arm-in-arm with some bearded guy. Michael watches her go.

Trevor doesn’t feel any jealousy, because Michael’s ankle is still against his under the table, and besides, Michael has a wife these days. It would be ridiculous to think he could ever fall in love again. Not in a place like this.

The girl looks over her shoulder. She ignores Michael completely, but smiles at Trevor before disappearing into the darkness.

Michael frowns. Trevor laughs and kicks him again.

“I just can’t keep them away,” he says, grinning.

“I’m pretty sure if she got close enough to smell you she’d be out that door.” Michael is red-faced and slurring.

“Uh, hardly. That’s the animal in me. She’d go wild.”

Michael, who had unwisely chosen that moment to reach for his beer, drops it in surprise. He manages to catch it before the glass is empty but it still foams thick and dark over his lap, making him curse and stand up. He’s laughing, though, at Trevor’s words, even as the beer drips down his legs and pools on the sticky floor.

“Asshole. Fucking asshole. This is your fault. These are my favourite pants.”

“Stop being such a baby, we’ll find a laundromat.” Trevor reaches over and grabs the remains of Michael’s beer. Michael lunges for it but it’s down Trevor’s throat before he can stop it. and Trevor makes a great show of wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Mm. Lovely.”

Asshole,” Michael says, again, wiping down his lap. He shakes his head and meets Trevor’s eye. “Didn’t your mom ever teach you any manners?”

Trevor goes rigid.

“Don’t you fucking mention her again,” he says before he can even fully process Michael’s slurred words. Michael pauses.

“Hey,” he says, and raises his hands, palms raised in surrender. “Hey, hold on. I didn’t mean anything by that. Cool it.”

Trevor doesn’t want to fucking cool it. He is awash at once with thoughts of house he was raised by her. She taught him manners, of course she fucking did, especially in the beginning. She once provided warm meals and warmer hugs, before they too became too tight and then too infrequent, and before her breath started to smell like sour milk, and before the trailer had a different, irascible man in it every night.

“You better fucking take that back.”

“I will. I do. It was just a joke, T. I didn’t mean to insult her. I’m sorry.”

He waits for Michael to add that he’s sure she was a swell mom or that she must have loved Trevor an awful lot, but he doesn’t, and Trevor is grateful for it. He doesn’t need any false sentiments about a woman that Michael has never had the pleasure to meet. He glares at Michael, at the earnest apology in his eyes, and then looks away.

The music takes over again. He breathes in deep and pushes his anger away.

“Okay. Okay, yeah, sure. Forget it.”

Michael sits back down, clearly relieved. He reaches his glass and then remembers it’s empty. Trevor, already missing their easy insults, pushes his own half-empty glass across the table in lieu of an olive branch.

“Drink,” he grunts, and stands. “I’ll go get us another.”

He starts to walk the long way around the table but Michael catches his wrist before he can get to the stairs. A thumb swipes across his wrist bone. “Hey,” Michael says, looking up at him with wide, sad eyes. “You’re one in a fucking million. Don’t be mad at me, please.”

“You’re drunk,” Trevor says. He sounds disgusted and appears it, too, but really he’s melting all over. “Let go of me.”

“You’re drunk too,” Michael points out. He doesn’t let go. “Tell me you’re not mad at me.”

“Don’t be such a fucking baby. Let me go before I break your fingers.”

With some reluctance, Michael lets him go but still Trevor doesn’t move. He’s gripped by the floor, surely, and the sheen on Michael’s lower lip. The music changes to something even more upbeat. Lights flash across the club, shining silver and blue across their skin, and then red -- the red stains Michael all over and Trevor remembers all of the people he’s ever killed.

He shakes his head. He gets a grip.

“I’m not fucking mad, so stop pouting at me.”

“Good. Great.” His hand touches Trevor’s wrist again and a scalding heat spreads all the way up his arm, past elbow, past shoulder. Michael grins a little wolfishly. “You want to get out of here?”

And just like that, they’ve changed again. Trevor forgets his past murders and all but the warmth of Michael and the way he leads him out of the club, past the bouncers, into their car. They pay no attention to their surroundings. Michael barely watches the road.

Since the night Jimmy was born, they have kissed a total of sixteen times and fucked a total of six. Every morning after, Michael will get out of bed and grab his head and say “Man, I was so wasted last night”, and that will be that. Trevor will burn and fume and wait for the next time.

He never takes advantage, even when Michael is lying comatose from coke and whiskey. He only gives in when Michael does, too, when he has one drink and pretends to be drunk, when he pulls Trevor close and gives him kisses that are too gentle for a man out of control.

They don’t touch in the car. Michael’s sideways glances are dirty enough.

They’re at a motel before they even try to really find one, and Trevor goes to the office to get them a room.

“Your name?” the man asks without looking up.

“Ryan Crest,” Trevor says and the man nods, handing him key, keychain reading Room 16. Trevor squeezes the key in his hand as he heads up the stairs, wishing it lucky.

Room 16 proves small and cramped and mildewed. Michael brings up some booze from the car and pours them both some strange concoction, whiskey and vodka and flat soda, and it makes Trevor feel sick. They drink it all the same, Michael holding his nose as he downs it.

“Got anything harder?” Trevor asks because the alcohol doesn’t quite turn his brain upside down in the way he longs for.

“No. All out.”

They drink another, and another, until the room starts to pleasantly swim. Michael lies back on the double bed and points at the ceiling as Trevor lies next to him. He doesn’t point out star constellations but cracks and stains, and a thin, long-legged spider that watches them from the far corner.

If it comes down in the night, Michael says, he will squish it. Trevor tells him he’s his hero and Michael tells him to fuck off.

The conversation dies. There’s no blind at the window so they’re washed-out, cast in the eerie blue of the motel’s high neon sign. Trevor keeps waiting for Michael’s deep snores but they never come. When he rolls onto his side, there is the glint of wide eyes, the firm set of a mouth that isn’t lost to the slack of sleep.

“I should call home,” Michael says, suddenly, voice heavy with drink and regret. Trevor, who has just started to reach for him, pulls away.

“Don’t. Amanda’s not gonna appreciate a three o’clock wake up call.”

“I haven’t called her in a week.”

“I repeat, she is not gonna appreciate being woken up at this hour. At least leave it until you’re sober.”

“I’m sober. I’m sober as shit!”

Trevor snorts, closing his eyes. “You drink so much your shit is probably whiskey-flavoured.”

There’s movement at his side. Michael, clumsily, is sitting up and climbing over to the end of the bed. Trevor watches him until he realises he’s going for the phone. Michael can be a real determined guy at the best of times, but when he’s drunk he’s a fucking nightmare. Trevor sits up, too.

“Don’t,” he says, sharply. “Don’t be an asshole.”

“I want to talk to her,” Michael insists.

“You’re drunk. She’s going to hate you.”

“You’re drunk,” Michael says, like Trevor’s the one about to wake up his sure-to-be irate wife. “Leave me alone. This ain’t got anything to do with you.”

Trevor is drunk, sure, but he’s still quicker than Michael, all big and lumbering. He shoves Michael out of the way and reaches the phone first. Michael’s cursing and grabbing at his hips, trying to pull him away, and Trevor takes great delight in unplugging it entirely, yanking hard.

“Problem solved,” he says, sitting up and showing Michael the frayed wire. Michael stares at it uncomprehendingly. “Now get your fat ass to sleep. We’ll find a payphone in the morning.”

Michael understands that, at least. His face turns straight into a drunken fury and he swings for Trevor, who ducks and dives up the bed. Michael follows him, grabbing at air, and then at his thigh, and then the soft cotton of his t-shirt. He yanks him down the mattress and comes to settle over him, straddling him, pinning him.

“Fucker,” he says, eyes alive.

Trevor laughs up at him. Michael raises a fist high above his head and Trevor, despite himself, flinches.

The fist pauses as Michael sees his reaction His lips fall stupidly open. Slowly, the fist flowers, fingers uncurling, relaxing.

“Aren’t you going to hit me, big guy?” Trevor teases. He’s flushed with shame at flinching, because he’s never before been scared of Michael. He’s taken his fair share of punches and he knows that one tonight wouldn’t be the end of the world, but Michael is strong, deadly when he’s on point. “Chickened out? Scared I might kill you?”

The arm drops to the mattress. Michael looks shocked at himself, and some of the drink recedes from his face; he’s left looking younger, lost, all the more handsome. “Fuck, T. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I wasn’t ever going to --”

“Yeah, you were,” Trevor says, and he’s not sure why he feels so delighted. “You were going to hit me. It’s okay.”

“I wasn’t. I wouldn’t.” The hand moves from it’s limp spot on the bed and creeps up to Trevor’s face, his ear. It cradles the side of his face, thumb swiping down his cheek. “You’re right. I’m an asshole.”

“Of course I’m fucking right,” Trevor says, even as he leans into the touch, pressing his cheek right up against that warm, open palm. His hands betray him and go to Michael’s knees, either side of him. On their own accord, his fingers fan and push up, all the way up his thighs. Michael lets out a long breath. His thigh muscles tighten involuntarily.

Trevor wants to say all sorts of wicked things as he stares up into Michael’s face. He wants to remind him of his wife and the double life he’s been leading. He wants to try to convince him to leave her and set up business with him permanently, running cargo or selling drugs, anything, anything that means there’ll be no interruption in their lives together. He wants to tell him to stop living a lie.

But he doesn’t. He can’t. If it were anyone else so false and slippery who dared to straddle him on a mouldy bed, who dared to look down at him with such warmth when he would soon turn cold in the light, Trevor would tell them.

It’s Michael, though.

It has always been Michael.

He lifts a hand and cups the back of Michael’s neck, sitting up even as he pulls Michael down towards him. Their mouths meet and Michael’s lips are searching, desperate, his hands pulling Trevor eternally closer.

The whiskey they drank is something fancy with honey in and that taste is heavy in Michael’s mouth. He kisses him like it’s their first kiss all over again. Trevor’s arm, supporting his weight as he sits up, trembles.

For a while Trevor thinks it will never end, that they will stay joined like this until the sun blinds them, but it, as all things, does. They part for breath and Michael holds Trevor’s head in place, pressing their damp foreheads together. His breathing comes ragged and fast. His hand, between their bodies, runs knuckles across the bulge in Trevor’s pants.

Trevor grunts. Shifts. Michael has forgotten his wife again.

“You’re ready, huh,” Michael breathes. He leans back from Trevor’s searching mouth, dropping him entirely back on the mattress. His hands go to Trevor’s belt, his fly.

The sound of the metal zip fills the room like a swarm of angry bees. With a grin, Trevor lifts his hips, allowing Michael to pull down pants and underwear that probably should have been changed yesterday. Trevor is ready, flushed in Michael’s warm hand, and there’s no time wasted. Michael’s wrist is ready, too.

He jerks him in the lazy, drunken way that Trevor’s got used to, the kind that never really serves to bring him over the edge but makes his toes curl all the same.

The pillow feels like it’s made of bricks and dirt but he lays back on. He puts his arms obnoxiously behind his head and watches as Michael does all the work, smirking at him and, occasionally, giving him a word of encouragement.

The vodka and whiskey has, tonight, amplified instead of dulled. He feels the creases of Michael’s fingers. He hears the grotesque way Michael spits on his hand and then resumes. He sees the dark red flush that creeps down Michael’s cheeks, neck, chest. He feels, he feels, he feels.

Michael’s free hand goes to the hem of his shirt and pushes upward. He lays his palm flat against Trevor’s abdomen and Trevor’s never really sure why he does it, but figures it’s got to do with feeling the quiver of his stomach, the tightness there that will last until release.

He doesn’t use his mouth, except to lean right right down and press an open-mouthed kiss to Trevor’s chest, nose brushing his nipple.

The act is so tender that Trevor aches with it. He touches the top of Michael’s head with his hand, strokes fingers through his short hair. Michael responds to the touch and leans into it.

Then he’s gone, again, ghosting lips down his body. His fingers tighten, his wrist alters it’s path through the air; he jerks at an angle, now, firmer, sure.

Trevor lets out a deep, shuddering breath that he can’t catch.

“Michael,” he murmurs, urges, lifting his hips entirely off the bed. “I hate you.”

He says it so lovingly that Michael laughs and leans down to kiss him full on the mouth. All the while, he jerks, fingers squeezing slightly on the upstroke, fingers that trail down to the base of him. Trevor is lost in those hands.

It doesn’t take long - less than five, pitiful minutes - before Trevor feels that familiar pull in his lower belly. He adjusts himself on the bed, bending his knees either side of Michael’s shoulders, hands going towards any part of the Michael that he can touch. Michael can tell what’s happening and he starts to smile, widely, hand working faster.

“Mikey --”

“Don’t. Shh. Come on, just --”

Michael is surely straining hard against his own pants and Trevor thinks that he will suck him off so hard he’ll be groaning, so hard that neighbours will knock on the walls to get them to shut the fuck up. He thinks this and Michael leans down to kiss him, messily, and then, then --

“Shit,” he hisses. His eyes slip closed against his will as he comes. He bucks his hips up once, twice, before resting and lying spent, stomach warm and sticky. “Shit, Mikey. Shit.”

The hand, dripping, leaves him and is wiped on the already-dirty sheets. Michael pulls back and runs his clean hand through his hair, face flushed. He is looking anywhere but at Trevor below him. Perhaps he thinks that that will absolve him of his sin.

Trevor is having none of it. He sits up, ignoring the stickiness on his belly, and yanks Michael’s face round to meet his. His eyes, eventually, do; they are dark and turned-on and pissed off, all at once. They are eyes that Trevor could die inside of, if he wanted. They are eyes that he would die for.

“I want to return the favour,” he says, in a voice that is not a request. Michael swallows, licks his lips. He moves forward and this time Trevor knows better than to flinch. They kiss. Their mouths tangle. Trevor holds him and pushes him back down against the bed.

He thinks - later, as Michael comes in his mouth, down his throat - that one day they will write about them and the people they have robbed. Paragraphs will be devoted to Michael’s hands, to his quick way with words. Trevor might only be an afterthought. There will be no mention of the love that formed in the shape of motel beds and dark, dirty nights. These moments will be lost to the eternal drag of time.

The world will forget this. Trevor thinks - knows - that he will not. He smoothes a hand up Michael’s chest and realises that one day, maybe, Michael will.

---

They travel a state or two south, only really stopping for gas and occasional sleep. Michael becomes fixated with the act of running away.

The problem is, Trevor isn’t really sure what they’re running from. They’re far from Amanda and the children, sure, but they’re also far from Lester and the promise of planning something new. He drives like a bat out of hell. When Trevor tries to ask where exactly they’re going, Michael shrugs like it’s no big deal.

Trevor doesn’t complain and it’s mainly because every night, Michael pulls him close and Michael fucks him and through this Michael silently tells him that everything is alright between them again.

They settle, at last, in a motel that’s a little nicer than some of the others they stay in, tucked away in a small town ten miles from the nearest city. It’s nice and anonymous and the owner is a kindly Indian man who shows no judgement when they ask for a double bed, and he keeps the vending machine nice and stocked up. So they stay and the days melt into weeks, and then they’ve been there a month.

Nights are spent at the tiny bar in the town. It was unwelcoming, at first - a row of aging men on barstools who treat strangers with mistrust - but then it became something of a haven. The barwoman got to know their names. The regulars did, too, and they were delighted by the tall tales they liked to tell them of robberies in faraway cities.

Michael never, of course, said that they committed the crimes, but none of the men seemed bothered either way.

At first, there was a another regular who was younger, female, a bespectacled girl with masses of red hair that smiled prettily every time Michael and Trevor strolled in at ten. She was always in the corner, sometimes alone, sometimes not. She struck up a conversation with Trevor when Michael was at the bathroom one night. Trevor thought she was really kind of wonderful. Her eyes were the exact shade as his mother’s.

They only fucked once. Veronica told him she didn’t really sleep around outside of a relationship and he promised her, drunkenly, that he’d marry her one day. After all, if Michael could get married and still fuck around, if Michael could live two lives as coherently as possible, why couldn’t he? He could marry Veronica and buy her somewhere nice to live, and then run, like Michael runs, like Michael is always running.

So they fucked and it was good, and Trevor fell in love with the tremble of her lips when he had his fingers deep inside of her. They fell asleep curled tight against each other.

Trevor woke to find Michael sat on the bed next to him and Veronica nowhere in sight. Michael had told him that she’d cleared off pretty quick and without a message for him, but Trevor hadn’t missed the hard line of his jaw.

That night, Veronica was gone from the bar. He soon forgot her when Michael pulled him close under a streetlamp and kissed him.

The motel is almost a home by the end of the month. The coffee machine outside makes the perfect coffee. Their days are spent hungover and tangled. They are not even in the game anymore, not really - they don’t contact Lester or any of the other guys to set something up. Michael calls Amanda once a week, and winces as he hears the screams of children down the line. Trevor grabs the phone and asks to talk to the kids, and they take great delight in shouting at him about their days.

Otherwise, it’s just the two of them and one solitary bar and a kid three rooms down who’ll sell them cheap drugs.

It’s nice. Trevor, on a whim one day in the town, buys them a potted plant for the windowsill. It dies three days later. Michael laughs and tips a shot of whiskey into the soil and says maybe it’s a bad omen.

---

The inevitable end comes when Michael gets restless.

Trevor sees the signs before they’re fully-fledged. Michael begins making small digs about the bar and the way the bartender pours them drinks. The next day, he sits indoors by the window all day, commenting on little but the few cars that pass. The day after that he tells Trevor that he thinks the motel owner is getting sick of him, which Trevor knows is a barefaced lie.

“Uh, I’ll have you know that Mr. Pillai is very fond of us,” Trevor says, pausing the lacing of his boots. He looks up and studies Michael’s miserable expression. “He’s like a father to me. Don’t be ungrateful.”

Michael rolls his eyes. “I ain’t doubting how much he loves us and the money we give him.”

“Then there’s no problem,” Trevor says. He finishes tying his boots and stands. If Michael isn’t going to come out and say that he wants to move on, Trevor isn’t going to help him.

“There is. I don’t think he --”

“What? He doesn’t know your real name. Nobody’s going to come looking for you here.”

“I know that.” Michael stands, too. He turns and looks out of the window again. “It’s not about the cops finding me.”

“I’m pretty sure Mr. Pillai isn’t going to report you to your wife, Michael.”

Michael gets that same look he always gets when Trevor mentions Amanda - pained, sour, briefly broken. “It’s not that either, asshole. I’m not keeping any secrets from her.”

Trevor laughs so loudly that Michael jumps and then glares, cheeks blooming with colour when he apparently remembers their constant liaisons in the very bed he’s stood next to. Just to be an asshole, Trevor jumps on it, lounging on his back and stretching his legs out. Michael doesn’t dignify him with a glance.

The laughter subdues and leaves Trevor breathless and staring up at Michael with a wolfish grin. “Right, sure. This isn’t about darling Mandy. What the fuck’s the matter with you then?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Um, clearly it does.” He jabs Michael’s thigh with his boot. “Spit it out.”

Letting out a long, frustrated sigh, Michael sits at the end of the bed. He gestures uselessly at nothing. “I got that itch, T. You know the one. I’m sick of not working.”

“At last! Some honesty!” Trevor sits up, grinning. He had expected Michael - always the type to want to shake off any kind of normalcy and settlement - to crack way before now. “What do you want to do? Should we give Lester a call?”

“I guess we could, but that’ll mean waiting for him to find us something.”

Trevor narrows his eyes. He’s not annoyed, but he’s definitely curious. Michael shifts on his spot on the bed. He sure looks restless, fingers twitching on his lap and eyes practically spinning in his head, but he also looks nervous. He’s not really the type for nerves without cops hot on his ass and the past few days have been without event, so Trevor’s more than a little confused.

He kicks Michael again and gets an annoyed swat to his calf. “Come on,” Trevor whines. “What are you thinking about?”

“We’re smart, right?”

“Huh?”

“We’re good at what we do. We know how to hit banks and shit, right?”

“Well, yeah,” Trevor says, slowly. “Of course we do. What’s your point?”

“I want to do something now. I’m bored.”

“Well, I mean, there’s nothing stopping us planning a --”

“There’s a bank at the edge of town. You know the one, with those dumb columns outside. We could take it on right now.”

Trevor has never been the cautious one between them, but even he’s surprised by this suggestion. It’s not entirely out of the blue, though -- he’s known since their first few days in America together that Michael gets sickly when he’s stationary. That’s why it was always so surprising that he asked Amanda to marry him.

“Right now?” he asks. “With, uh, what weapons?”

“We have weapons.”

“We have, what, a rifle with barely any ammo and a couple of pistols? We can’t take on a bank just with that and just the two of us.”

Michael glares at him like it’s his fault they’re so woefully unprepared at such short notice. Trevor thinks of those men at the bar and how they will know the culprits immediately, especially when they flee the town. He’s not scared of getting caught or facing the barrel of a gun, but he is scared of losing Michael. It makes him sick to be so careful, but if Michael gets shot or arrested, he’s not sure how he’d live with himself.

“Well, fuck it, then. Let’s contact Lester and piss around for another month.”

“Calm down, sugar,” Trevor says. He gets off the bed and stretches, not missing the line of Michael’s glance. “We’re not out of options yet. Maybe we should go back to basics.”

He gives Michael a meaningful look. He gets a frown in return that turns, slowly, into something of a smile.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. That liquor store on Main Street?”

“Damn right that liquor store on Main Street.” Trevor reaches for the pistol stashed underneath his pillow and tucks it into his belt, already feeling more alive with it’s reassuring heaviness pressed against his hip. “You busy now, or you ready to get this show on the road?”

*

It starts off well, or so Michael will later say.

They pack their car with their meagre belongings and leave the motel without saying goodbye to Mr. Pillai. Michael says that they should stick to their pistols - easier to hide, less collateral - and Trevor agrees easily enough. They make a rushed plan on the drive over to the store; Trevor will go in and make a scene, hopefully driving any customers right out the door, and Michael will pull on his mask and charge inside.

He suggests for a moment that Trevor should mask-up, too, but Trevor not-so-politely declines. He is not, he reminds Michael, a wanted man and he doesn’t fear any camera or civilian.

They park around the back of the store. It’s an empty alley but for the fire exit ladder and a couple of dumpsters, and one large, obnoxious bit of graffiti across the brickwork. That’s it. This isn’t exactly a bustling town and there aren’t gangs of kids hiding from other gangs of kids.

Trevor gets out of the car first. He walks around to the driver’s door and leans over. Michael, looking annoyed, unwinds the window.

“What --”

Trevor cuts him off with a kiss.

It isn’t the sort of kiss they’re both used to. It isn’t feral or nasty. It’s not even open-mouthed. There are no wandering hands, save the way Trevor’s fingers cup Michael’s chin. The kiss is gentle and Trevor closes his eyes.

It doesn’t take him long to realise that Michael isn’t kissing him back. He stills, then, and pulls away, lips tingling. When he glowers down at Michael, Michael winces.

“What’s the problem?”

He asks too loudly and Michael winces again. Trevor doesn’t give a fuck - he’s angry and embarrassed and his cheeks are flushed with it.

Michael shifts uncomfortably in his seat and refuses to meet Trevor’s eye. “Nothing, T. We need to do this fast, that’s all.”

If it had been reversed - if Michael had leaned down and kissed Trevor so tenderly - Trevor knows he would never dismiss it. He would sit there breathless and wondering when Michael turned into such a romantic, and when he learned to like it. He would beg him not to go and drive them back to the motel instead to fuck him all day long. He would fall even further in love. He would kiss him back.

But Michael is not Trevor. He still wears a pinched, pained expression.

“Right,” Trevor says. He says it loudly, breezily, pushing his hands into his pockets and shrugging like his heart isn’t pounding far too fast in his chest. “Of course. See you soon.”

“Be careful!” Michael hisses after him. It’s something, but it’s not enough. He sticks his fingers up behind him.

He’s still glowering when he gets round to the front of the store. It’s an inevitability, robbing this place; if he doesn’t, Michael will get bored with him and retreat back home or venture somewhere new without him. He knows that much. He knows that he has to contain his wildness when out in public with him but suppress any signs of domesticity when they’re alone. He has to lie for Michael. Michael, he thinks, is even more fucked up than he is.

He laughs at the thought, which gives him some extra kudos when his mission is to clear the store. A girl who was about to walk in gives him a weird look as laughing and alone and bright red, and turns on her heel. He sticks his fingers up at her as well and heads inside.

The bell jangles on the door. Two men are standing at the counter and they jump horribly. They have all the airs of being caught doing something illegal or immoral, and for a moment Trevor wonders if he’s walked right into someone else’s mismatched love affair, before he notices swift hands pocketing something. He looks away and heads to the wall of alcohol. If he wants to keep this from getting bloody too quickly, he’s going to have to pretend he didn’t see the attempted drug deal.

There’s only one other customer in the shop. He’s older and bald, and he has a swell of beer-belly that pushes right over his belt. When he turns to look at the bottled beer instead of the cans, Trevor notices he’s got the American flag splashed all over his t-shirt, red, white and blue all the way down his front. Trevor snorts and checks his watch.

When the two men at the counter are back to talking, heads close together, he sidles up to the customer. “Hey,” he breathes, and the man starts, turning his head. “I saw the way you looked at me.”

The man blinks his big blank eyes, the faint crease of a frown appearing at his forehead. “Uh. What you say?”

“Shh,” Trevor says. He presses a finger to the man’s dry lips. “Not here. We could go somewhere, if you’d like. Maybe your place.”

Comprehension floods the man’s face. He jumps back as though burned, almost knocking into the nearest display. “You fuckin’ - don’t you dare --”

Thankfully, he hisses his anger and doesn’t yell, and when he turns away in disgust and marches straight out of the store, neither men at the counter give him a second glance. Trevor grins, wiping his finger on his shirt.

One down.

He lurks near the spirits and watches the two men. One, the cashier, looks innocuous enough; he has short, neat hair and an apron on, and there isn’t much muscle beneath his sleeves. When Michael gets his ass in here, he won’t cause them any trouble. He’ll probably hand the cash right over.

The other man, though, he’s a problem, with his buzz-cut and heavy leather jacket. Trevor cranes his neck to look out of the window and, sure enough, there’s a motorbike parked there.

This is, he knows, the risk of doing a job without scoping the place out first. It’s how he ended up ID’d and jailed on his first job with Michael, back when they were young and stupid. The biker is probably packing. He should leave and tell Michael that this is a stupid idea and that they’ll have to find somewhere else.

Trevor, though, has never really been one for what he should do.

“Excuse me,” he says, loudly. “I’d like some advice.”

The cashier jumps and starts to head around the counter, but the biker puts a hand on the man’s arm. “Not yet. We still have business.”

Trevor glowers and steps behind the man, considering his options. He could intimidate him until he leaves, but he looks like he’s trying to carry on his drug deal with the cashier and if Trevor gets in the way of that

Outside, there’s a flash of movement; Michael is masked up and heading around the front of the store.

The biker will probably shoot Michael dead before he can get through the door. It’s pure panicked instinct that grips Trevor next; he grabs the nearest bottle of vodka and smashes it against the shelf. The two men turn to him at once, just as the door swings open.

Trevor grabs the biker by the scruff of his jacket and yanks him closer, wrapping one arm around his chest and using his other hand to lift the broken bottle to his neck. He feels the biker’s hand going to his belt but once there’s the shards of glass pressed against his skin he freezes.

“That’s right. Keep your gun in your pants and we won’t have any trouble at all.”

Michael halts in the doorway. There’s a black ski mask over his face but his eyes look troubled all the same, pinned on Trevor. The cashier raises his hands at the sight of Michael’s pistol, pointed at him even as Michel pays him no attention at all.

“T, what the fuck? I thought this place was gonna be clear --”

“Just get on with it, Jesus. Always with the nagging.”

Michael shakes his head and it must spur him into action, because soon he’s on the clerk like a rash and demanding the money out the register.

There is an art to how he does it, and for a moment Trevor is transfixed. Michael is a silver-tongued devil who keeps his chin up and his eyes sharp. He never gets too pissed or too enthusiastic; he keeps his gun steady and well-aimed and his voice stays light, lingering. If he were Trevor, the cashier’s blood might already have splattered on the counter.

Michael is in control. He is everything Trevor should be, and everything Trevor should loathe. He is a man able to kill another and then go back home to kiss his wife and children in greeting.

Just because he can, Trevor presses the bottle more firmly against his victim’s neck. “One wrong move,” he hisses into the shell of the ear. “One toe out of line and you’re fucking finished.”

The man mumbles something and Trevor shakes him to shut him up. Michael gives them a brief glance before turning back to the cashier, who’s shoving the money into a bag, thin hands shaking.

“Quicker,” he orders, making the man almost drop the bag entirely. “All of it, too. Don’t try and short change us.”

“I won’t,” the man says. It’s the first words he’s spoken since Michael came charging in here, and his voice is hoarse, quiet and scared. Trevor laughs. The man in his arms stiffens, his muscles tensing. Trevor holds him more tightly.

He’s feeling buzzed and he can’t stop fucking grinning, and when Michael glances over and catches his eye, he thinks that Michael must be grinning too, beneath the mask.

It’s this that he’s missed, after all. Hopefully it’ll be enough to whet his appetite until they can get back to Lester.

The cashier finishes at last. He thrusts the bag towards Michael and backs wildly away, bumping into a row of bottles at his back. That brings a gleam to Michael’s eye and he steps eagerly towards the counter. “I’ll take the best whiskey you have.”

Trevor’s hostage mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “Are you gonna pay for that?” and Trevor growls, lowly, to shut him up. He reaches around the man’s front and grabs the gun that’s tucked into his belt, hidden by leather. The man tenses when his only protection is removed and Trevor laughs, and pushes him away.

He’s giddy with it, the feeling of making him so vulnerable; he raises the pistol and checks it for rounds as the man steadies himself, turning to look at Trevor.

“What?” Trevor asks, delightedly. “Missing this?”

“Fuck you,” is the response. Michael, arms laden with beer and cash, looks over at them.

“Fuck me,” Trevor agrees easily enough and takes a step forward.

“T,” Michael says, sharply. “Let’s go. We’re done.”

“Not yet.”

T.”

“Wait a second.” He raises the stolen pistol, pressing the barrel of it right against the biker’s cheek. The man grits his teeth and glares at the floor. Trevor’s not sure why this man has got so suddenly under his skin, but if it weren’t for the whole laying low thing, he would shoot him square in the face.

“T --”

“What?” the biker asks, softly. His eyes dart to the door. “Why don’t you do it, uh, T?”

Trevor glares at him. “Do you want to fucking die, huh? Is that it?”

There is a faint childishness to the man’s face. He’s around twenty five and clearly used to the road - his hands are big and calloused, his lips chapped, eyes sharp - but he has rosy cheeks and unimpressive shoulders. He is a boy, really. Trevor can see it in his big blue eyes. He wants to make them close in agony, all jumped-up arrogance fading fast away.

“Maybe. Maybe I want you to die.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Michael snaps, already backing towards the door. “Come on. We have to get out of here.”

There’s a rush of blood through Trevor and a familiar tingling of anger. His own eyes slip closed with it. It tumbles low in his belly, spreads through him, keeps him from leaving with Michael - it’s a cacophony, unstoppable, it starts to solidify and burn his brain right out of his head and there’s rushing, there’s noise, there’s --

He opens his eyes. There is noise. Outside, there is the low thrum of several engines, the type that makes dogs bark and children jump. Michael ducks away from the door to look out of the window, cursing.

“Fuck. Fuck. These your buddies, kid?”

The biker laughs as three others park outside. “Damn fucking right they are.”

“They want to know what’s keeping you,” Trevor says, suddenly, remembering the drug deal he interrupted when he barged in here. “They want their money.”

Michael turns from the window. “T, put the fucking gun down. We can’t cause a scene here.”

“Cause a scene? It was your idea to fucking rob --” The cashier starts to move and Trevor cuts off, eyes snapping to him. “Don’t even think about it. You ain’t calling the cops on us.”

The men outside kill their engines. Trevor hits the man with his own gun, right in the nose. He collapses to the floor with a small cry, hands going to try and stem the pain. Blood spreads between his fingers and down his front, turning his leathers even darker. Trevor laughs and Michael sighs, and the cashier whimpers.

Trevor walks over to Michael side, taking care to step on the man on the way over. He glances dispassionately out the window.

“What’s the plan, huh? You want me to wipe the ground with these assholes?”

“I -- no. No. If we do that, we’ll have every cop in a fifty mile radius on us.”

Trevor snorts. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. We’d be out of here before they even catch wind of what’s happened.”

“This is supposed to just be a small robbery, T. We can’t take risks like that!”

“Jesus, you sound just like L. I thought better of you.”

“I ain’t going to jail for a few bottles of whiskey and a thousand dollars.”

“I’m not suggesting we get caught, asshole.”

“I have a fucking family to provide for, I’m not risking --”

“But you are risking, M! You were risking it all the second you suggested we fucking do this!”

“I --”

The store door swings open, bell ringing out and ending their whispered argument at once. They freeze and look at each other and then at the three men who have stopped in the doorway, staring in shock at their fallen comrade. The cashier lets out a squeak that could be relief but could just as easily be fear.

“What the fuck?” asks the biggest biker, voice deep and dumb.

They might have been able to get away with it; if Trevor had stashed his weapons in time, they could have said they were just innocent bystanders and ran the fuck away before the man on the ground managed to talk through his bloodied hands. Trevor tries to hide them under his jacket, but the men are already looking at them, and Michael has a fucking mask on, and the door is blocked.

The biggest guy has a gun out before anyone else has time to react. He trains it on Michael, and then Trevor, and then back again.

“Talk,” snaps his rat-faced friend, sinewy arms cloaked in leathers, “before we kill you.”

Trevor laughs. It’s a bad habit of his in bad, panicked situations, and it spills through his lips and fills the room. He raises his own, stolen pistol, taking a step back. “Why would you kill us, friend? We’re just on our way out of here.”

“Damn right,” says the big guy, and probably doesn’t mean it in quite the same way. The other bikers laugh, one going to help up his buddy on the floor, who is looking more than a little triumphant despite his broken nose.

“Don’t start shit with us,” Michael says. His voice takes the room by storm, wiping away the residue of Trevor’s laughter, and everyone - as always - pays attention to him, Trevor included. He feels warm with Michael’s might and Michael’s presence, and any fear that may have conflicted within him fades fast away. “We got more people waiting just around the corner. You’ll be dead the moment you fire.”

“This is our fucking town. You ain’t got enough people here to stop the Iron Reapers.”

Trevor wisely swallows his laughter this time. Michael clears his throat.

“Look, we’re sorry your guy got hurt, but we’re in a hurry. Don’t make us move you out of our way.”

“Smart mouth like that is gonna get you killed.”

“Shame you’ll never know how that feels,” Trevor says, and even the biker’s friends laugh at that. The big man blinks with slow comprehension. When he realises he’s been insulted his face turns to thunder and he makes a great show of cocking his gun.

“Say that again, asshole.”

Trevor does, and the man’s finger twitches.

It’s like slow motion, what happens next - Trevor winces in anticipation, already moving to duck, and like a great hero, some mythical martyr, an archangel, Michael swoops out of nowhere and steps steadily in front of him.

The shot misses. It hits a bottle on the shelf behind them and gin pours all over. The bikers all freeze - if they were going to make this a battle, if they were going to fire the first shot, they at least wanted to take down an enemy with it. The cashier shrieks and throws himself to the ground.

Michael is breathing all heavy and terrified at the close call. Trevor reaches out a shaking hand and twists his fingers into the back of Michael’s jacket, just to have something to hold onto.

“We’re going to leave,” Michael says. “We’re going to walk out of here and not come back.”

There must be something terrible in his face, because the bikers part like the red sea to let them through. Trevor holds onto his jacket all the way and doesn’t care that he looks pathetic; he is numbed with the shock of almost losing Michael.

The bikers have to be new to the game because they all look mortified at missing, at nearly killing, at their own clear failure. Any seasoned criminal would just shake it off and fire again, and this time not miss. But they just hang back, even the bleeding man, and when Michael and Trevor pass they don’t even try to steal some of their takings. They just let them go.

It’s damn lucky. It’s a fucking miracle, really, that they get away alive, and when they get to the car they have to take a moment before they can drive.

Michael pulls his mask off and throws it into the backseat. It’s an uncharacteristic move - he usually waits until they’re at least sort of clear from the people they’ve just robbed - but he doesn’t say anything about it. He just sits there, pale, forehead damp with sweat, and chews at his lower lip.

Trevor looks much the same, he’s sure; he feels sunken, submersed. He almost lost Michael. He almost lost him right then and there, and all because Michael stepped in front of him, all because Michael chose to lose his life rather than live it without Trevor.

“Michael --”

“Don’t. Fucking don’t.”

He was nearly shot in the goddamn forehead. His blood would have splashed hot and startlingly vibrant all over Trevor. Trevor would have to bury him.

“Michael, I --”

Don’t.”

Trevor shifts from the passenger seat, reaching out. Michael flinches when the hand cups his cheek, cradles his jaw, pulling him round to meet Trevor’s desperate gaze. He does, though, and his eyes are bright and wide.

“Close call, huh?” Michael laughs in an attempt at his usual bravado. “Been a while since I saw my life flash before my eyes.”

“You would have died,” Trevor says, running his thumb over Michael’s dry lower lip. “For me. Instead of me.”

“They probably would have shot you right after.”

It’s meant as a joke, but Trevor shakes violently shakes his head. “No. They wouldn’t get the chance. I’d shoot them all, fucking cripple them with bullets, and then when they thought they were nearly dead I’d fucking torture them until they didn’t even know their own names - I’d make them scream, they’d be begging for mercy. I’d slice their fingers off, dip them in acid, I’d - I’d --”

“T,” Michael says, urgently.

He reaches out.

Trevor crumbles. He’s not sure who initiates the kiss but he loses himself in it all the same. Michael lets it linger, doesn’t pull away as he usually does without the cover of night or the four walls of a motel bedroom around them. Their breathing turns ragged. Michael’s hands lay heavy on Trevor’s shoulders.

When they break apart, it’s only their lips; Michael’s hands remain and Trevor rests their foreheads together.

He nearly lost him. He was nearly gone forever.

But he’s not, and that’s something. He is still breathing, they both are, and Trevor knows now that maybe he means as much to Michael as Michael means to him.

“Don’t ever try to take a bullet for me again,” he says desperately, raggedly, and Michael never does.

---

They get out of town straight away and Michael seems to have learned his lesson about straying too far from their norm because he takes them straight back to North Yankton.

They get a violent telling off from Lester - “wipe that smirk off your face, Townley, you could have both been killed!” - and then collapse into bed together, too smelly and exhausted to do anything but lie there. The past few days have been spent driving wildly and sleeping in the car so they fall asleep straight away.

The next day Trevor wakes up in the mid-afternoon and pads into the kitchen to find Michael frying up a storm of bacon and eggs. He is rejuvenated; his eyes are bright and his smile is welcoming, and when their eyes meet a sick softness curdles in Trevor’s belly. Lester sits at the table pouring over some document or other, egg yolk all down his shirt front, rather calmer than the night before.

They settle, again.

Lester sets up a gig in South Yankton for them and they pull in a few acquaintances, eventually walking away with a few tidy grand each. Michael goes home with it and treats Amanda and the kids to everything they want. He’s back before the week is out with arms full of photographs and well wishes for Trevor from the children.

They still dream of the Big One. One night they get drunk and plan it in detail and in the morning their sore heads remember at least half of it.

But in the meantime, Lester says, they need something more permanent. He puts out some feelers and proposes running a cargo operation across the border and that night Trevor dreams of shooting off that flare gun and the stench, that awful stench, and the blue-eyed man who changed the course of his life forever. He wakes and he must have been crying out, because he finds that Michael is holding him tightly.

Lester’s house becomes their permanent base of operations. He devotes the third bedroom to their cargo operation and lines the walls with cork boards and white boards and post-it notes. They meet with a contact in a nearby city, who dresses in a dark suit and shakes their hands. He doesn’t blink an eye at Trevor’s torn jeans or Michael’s barely-concealed pistol. He tells them that he can set them up with the right haulage and the right transport and that they’re going to make more money than they’ll know what to do with.

The work is steady and it goes well. They get some old, tired plane and some deserted track that they buy up and keep as a temporary hangar. They pay a couple of local kids in threats and cash to watch the place and keep their mouths shut, and Trevor spends a long time there, near the border, tending to the plane and treating her right. Within months it’s fit for purpose and the operation begins in full.

It consumes them for a while, Lester and Trevor. Lester enjoys the planning and sourcing, and Trevor likes getting back in the air. Michael gets bored with it pretty quickly but he occupies himself well enough; on the side, they’re still running banks and stores, and he becomes their planner in that area.

It fits. It works. It liberates Trevor and it stifles Michael, and it works.

---

xii.

1995

The year starts with a bang.

Literally, it starts with a bang, with Trevor stood out in the snowy air field they’ve bought, his beloved Mammatus resting in the hangar behind him, and a man crumpled at his feet. His blood stains the snow red.

Trevor stows his gun away and checks his watch. Two minutes past midnight and he’s already had to murder a nosey, no-good asshole, the type of man who wouldn’t just shut up and get on with his job. He sniffs and rubs his red nose. He’s tired of the cold. He wishes Michael was here.

Winter has sent Trevor up north. There’s been a high demand in arms in Montreal of all places - Trevor doesn’t ask why, and he’s not sure he wants to know - and there’s no way to get all of those weapons across the border without being as conspicuous as fuck. So they get some from their suppliers and sign contracts with word-of-mouth and Trevor has agreed to take a small amount across the border every week -- for a phenomenal fee, of course.

It’s a small job so there’s no call for Michael here. His latest supplier has driven here with a couple of heavy, blank-sided crates and then started mouthing off about Canada and why did it need guns anyway when they’re all pansies up there, those fuckin’ do-gooders.

So Trevor had shot him and the man had died. Trevor loads up the plane with the crates and almost throws out his back. When he pulls the body on-board, it’s easier; he’s used to dead-weight, to limbs still warm, to soft sacks of shit like this asshole. The body fits nicely in the back. All is well again.

When he’s thrown the body overboard and landed and dropped off his cargo and settled into a nearby hotel before his flight back in the afternoon, he calls Michael’s house.

Michael answers, full of drunken bravado, and in the background Trevor can hear Amanda yelling at Tracey to get back to bed right now, madam, fireworks outside be damned.

“Happy New Year, asshole!” Michael yells at him, and Trevor, freezing in the one hotel in the city without heating, can just imagine the scene.

Settled into their new house at last, Amanda has probably invited her parents round for careful drinks that have turned into her having too much tequila and Michael having too many beers, and her parents have probably fallen asleep in the spare room. The kids must keep screaming and laughing at the bursts of lights outside of the windows. Maybe Jimmy doesn’t like them and is crying, and maybe Tracey is teasing him. Michael, red-nosed from whiskey rather than cold, probably keeps trying to touch his wife and she’s probably slapping his hands away, laughing, only half-annoyed at him. It’s probably a real nice family scene, well and truly, the sort that they’ll relive year after year after year.

“I want to suck your cock,” he says at once, and he means it. When Michael goes silent he squeezes his eyes shut and tries to ignore the dull, familiar ache in his belly.

“Uh. T, I’m with --”

“I know who you’re with.”

“Now’s not the time,” Michael says, quickly, and when Amanda starts up again in the background he adds, “for work talk, you know. That can wait. You’re back next week.”

“I know when I’m back.” Trevor’s voice is all edge, all poison. “Work talk, huh? You’re still calling it that?”

“You’re breaking up, man,” Michael says more loudly. “I can’t hear you. I’ll call you later, okay? I’ll write down your number, hang on.”

“I miss you,” Trevor says, despite it all, and hangs up.

His hands are still red with blood and black with dirt so he heads into the bathroom for a shower. He expects it to be cleansing inside and out but even though his skin gets squeaky clean inside he feels kind of dirty. Michael has probably won Amanda over by now and they’re making out like teenagers up against the kitchen counter.

Amanda and Michael have been married just over three years and still Trevor can’t really focus when he thinks of them together.

Trevor tries to jerk himself off, as though it might help, but he can’t even get it up. He switches the shower off and gets out.

Morning light is filtering through the dirty windows now. It bathes his naked body and he feels sick with it. He considers, for a moment, calling Lester and asking him how he’s doing, finally alone at home, but he doesn’t want to interrupt his major jerk-off session or anything. He’s done that once before when they were living together after Trevor’s accident, and it’s something he never wants to repeat.

He can’t call anyone else, he can’t even think of who else to call, but for some reason he’s sort of craving human contact, so he throws on his days-old clothes and heads out.

Canada is his home and it isn’t, too. Dual citizenship has always been the bane and the boon of his existence. It’s been nice to flit from one country to another and meld in either side, but the border region he mostly grew up in has clearly shaped him into a misfit. Where that region reminds him of his mother and brother, Canada reminds him of his father, Canadian through and through, a man with snow-white skin and thick accent. Being here again makes Trevor want to find him, and murder him.

The hotel he’s staying at isn’t in the cleanest or the smartest part of town. The streets are littered with closed-down shops, empty windows and 6am stragglers. He fits in with them. They are gross and sweaty and smelly, out too late at parties or drug dens. They are people too far gone. He doesn’t fit in at all.

He puts his energy towards walking. This is an area he doesn’t know at all and nowhere’s open at this time, but it’s soothing to pass strangers and not have them question him at all. It’s easier to forget Michael when there are others around.

It doesn’t take long to find what he’s come out for. On a street corner he sees her; a woman older than him by at least twenty years, with hair dyed red and eyes surrounded by pale lavender powder. She’s dressed in fishnet stockings and a bright red dress.

He wants her at once. As far as women go, she’s pretty much perfect; older, red-headed, lines on her face that tell more stories than even he could. It’s been a while since he slept with anyone but Michael. He’s out there, in America, with Amanda beneath him or on top of him and he’s promising her the best year of her life, so Trevor surely deserves a little something, too.

“I was gonna go home,” she says plaintively, when he starts to sweet talk her. “My shift is up.”

“Then this can be strictly off-shift,” he says. When she raises her eyebrows he quickly adds, “I’ll still pay. Good money, too. I’m not like your other customers.”

She looks him up and down and shrugs. “If you’re paying.”

They go back to Trevor’s motel. Her years of experience treat him well in bed; he’s locked in her grip the moment the door is shut and he admires the soft edges of her bodies, the pale skin at the back of her neck, the powder she’s pressed all over her face.

It’s nothing like his nights with Michael. He wakes up bruised from them, in heart and skin. Michael kisses messily, urgently, but this woman is gentle and careful and sometimes a little disinterested. She kisses like a prostitute. He wishes he didn’t have to pay her. He wishes this could be something real.

But it’s not. It’s over too soon and with a disappointing orgasm. Trevor leafs some bills out from his jean’s pocket and asks if she’ll stay a while. The hotel isn’t too shabby so she just shrugs again and lets him hold her.

“Thanks,” he mumbles into the back of her neck, but she falls asleep before he can ask her what her name is or if she’s happy with her life.

He wakes up in the mid-afternoon to an empty bed.

The TV is on, switched onto the news. He scratches at his scabbed arm and watches with little interest. There’s a disaster in some part of the world. A crash on one of the highways that’s held up traffic for hours. A speech from the Canadian Prime Minister about the economy. A dumb little story about a cat who gets on a bus every day. A string of unsolved murders near Calgary.

He’s about to switch over to some cartoons when the last news story of the day comes on. The news anchor looks straight into the camera, shuffling the papers on her desk.

“Last today comes the news that Alice Philips has been found guilty today on the charge of death by dangerous driving. She being held at the Dremmond Correctional Facility and is not thought to be planning an appeal. She is due to be sentenced tomorrow.”

The hotel room spins as a mugshot appears on screen of Trevor’s mother, pale and makeup-less. He stares and stares and feels sick.

---

Michael, much to the very vocal chagrin of his wife in the background of the phone call Trevor makes, flies up to Canada right away.

Trevor sits in a car he jacked earlier in the morning and bounces his leg up and down in the driver’s seat. His mouth tastes like shit. He didn’t think to brush his teeth this morning.

The parking lot is pretty empty. It’s Sunday and the beginning of a new year and everybody is sleeping off hangovers or spending the holidays for their loved ones. There aren’t many crowds and when Michael comes out of the double doors, backpack on and looking exhausted, Trevor sees him at once.

It still fills Trevor’s heart. He’s not sure with what, but it fills it nonetheless. The past few months has reunited them, really, brought back their old partnership - cargo running has been good for them, Trevor thinks. It’s nice to be in work. It’s nice to have steady income. It’s even been kind of nice visiting the Townley household and seeing the kids. They’re okay, he knows, and he would be okay, too, if it weren’t for that locked up woman.

He gets out of his car. Michael sees him and comes to a stop. He doesn’t smile or wave or anything, just charges straight towards Trevor, not even checking for oncoming cars. “T,” he says when he reaches him. He’s slightly out of breath and looks like he hasn’t slept for days. “T, are you okay? What’s happened?”

Trevor swallows. He didn’t tell him much on the phone, just that he was alone and needed someone and there was something big happening that involved his family. He guesses his voice was so ragged and desperate that Michael realised he was needed. Trevor wants to tell him how grateful he is to see him, to have him again, but he can’t find the words.

“It’s - uh --”

“Your dad?” Michael guesses.

That surprises him. Trevor’s never told him much about his father, but only because he knows so little himself. He’s told him he’s a piece of shit and Michael has nodded and said his is, too, and that was all that’s ever needed to be said.

“No, thank fuck. Hopefully I never see that asshole again.”

The corner of Michael’s mouth quirks up briefly. It’s a twitch that both warms Trevor’s heart and infuriates him. Michael’s hand leaves the strap of his backpack and reaches forward to dust Trevor’s hip instead.

“What then? Come on, man. I need to know what’s going on.”

“My, uh, my --” Trevor takes in a great, gasping breath. “It’s my mom. She’s in jail again.”

“Ah. Oh. I see. I thought she’d been in jail for a while?”

“No, she -- I think got out a little while ago. I saw on her on TV. TV of all fucking things. I was just- I was just watching the news and there she was, her face, I --”

“T, T, hey.” Michael frowns, moving closer. His hand moves from hip to waist, his mother cupping the back of Trevor’s neck, forefinger stroking lightly. It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re in a very public place or that Michal probably hasn’t showered since he last fucked Amanda, or that Trevor is shaking something awful. “Stop. It’s okay. It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine,” he says. He refuses to cry again - he cried all night waiting for Michael and kept watching every news bulletin, just to see her face again and again and again - but he can’t stop his trembling, even with Michael holding him so tightly.

“It will be. It will.”

People pass and Michael pulls away. He looks troubled, in the way he must when Tracey gets a scraped knee or Jimmy chokes on his food.

“What we’re going to do is call up the jail right away and get you on the books so you can visit her, then we’re gonna wait here until you’re on them. You’re going to see her and tell her how well you’re doing and, I don’t know, you can make up. We’ll get her some money wired in. We’ll look after her.”

“She won’t want my money.”

“That doesn’t matter. We’ll sort it out.”

Trevor wants to believe him. He wants to, and once he would have done. When they first started working together he thought that Michael could change the world if he put his mind to it. Time has passed and brought new scars and wrinkles to him and brought two kids and a wife into his life, but he’s still young and still handsome and still all Trevor wants. He’s no longer that knight in shining armour. Michael can fix a lot of things but even now, with the pale sun blazing behind him and turning his eyes that much brighter, Trevor can’t believe he can fix this.

His mother, his darling mother, is behind bars for probably the rest of her life. She won’t be able to sell herself any longer but she won’t ever be free. Trevor should never have left her to rot in that trailer with Ryan. When he found the trailer empty, he should have done more to track them down. He is a failure, a failed prodigy, a sack of shit. She deserves so much better in a son.

“She’ll be okay,” Michael promises, “and so will you.”

Trevor doesn’t answer. He just gets in the car.

---

Later, they do just as Michael says.

The woman on the end of the line sounds bored and unmoved by Michael’s most convincing voice; she agrees, with a sigh, to ask Mrs. Philips if she will agree to have her youngest son visit her, and then the prison will have to decide whether or not to approve the request. It could take up to two weeks, she says, and maybe even longer if Mrs. Philips isn’t behaving herself. Michael agrees and tells her he’ll be calling tomorrow to check she’s sent the paperwork in.

When he’s finished, Trevor ungrits his teeth and nods and looks down at the floor. Michael touches the corner of his mouth and tells him again that everything will be okay.

That night, Michael hovers over him. His knees plant themselves at either side of Trevor’s hips, hands spreading and smoothing from his midriff to shoulders to cheeks, down his shoulders to forearms to his hands until he entwines their fingers. Palm against palm, he presses, squeezes, holds his hands until Trevor starts to shift.

It’s easy, after that. Michael spreads Trevor’s legs and hooks them over his shoulders. He guides himself towards Trevor, presses the edge of his cock against him, leans down to kiss him on the mouth. His teeth, briefly, tug on Trevor’s lower lip. His free hand trails fingers across his neck tattoo.

Michael slides in and closes his eyes. He had taken his time in preparing Trevor, using fingers and tongue and words that let him open Trevor up nice and easy, and Trevor had lay back and let it all happen to him. He does not think of Amanda as Michael starts to tilt his hips forward, as Michael pushes in as deeply as he can and lets out a long, long breath between his teeth. He does not think of his mother behind bars and wondering where she went so wrong. He does not think of his brother surely doing nothing useful, wasting away in some trailer park, maybe with a girl on his arm. He does not think of his own shortcomings and the way he is bound to this man with a love more urgent than anyone else can ever comprehend, Michael included.

He thinks of nothing but the slight burn and the body so close and heavy over his.

The steady, slow motion of Michael’s hips starts to set him on edge, so he grabs at Michael’s ass and pulls him in closer, deeper. Michael grunts and his eyes fly open, pinned on Trevor’s face.

“Shit,” he says, and pulls right out. Trevor’s about to protest but Michael grabs his sides and turns him right over, pushing him down into the mattress with an elbow pressing into the small of his back. Trevor grins into his pillow.

“Michael,” he says, voice low, thick, slightly muffled. “Come on.”

Michael presses his lips briefly to the back of Trevor’s neck, teeth pressed again the soft skin there. A full-body shiver runs through Trevor.

Then, Michael fucks him. He stops playing around and really fucks him, driving him down into the mattress, fingers digging into his his hips as he guides him back onto his cock. The minutes unwind like that, Trevor gasping into his pillow and Michael reaching round to take Trevor’s cock in hand, timing the jerk of his wrist with the thrust of his hips.

Tonight, Michael must decide, is not a night for begging or teasing or anything but affection. When Michael comes first he doesn’t lie there spent but instead pushes Trevor gently onto his back. He devotes his mouth to making Trevor come. Trevor, lost, closes his eyes and arches his back. He feels shapeless. His mother is so, so far from his mind.

She doesn’t come back to the forefront of his consciousness until nearly an hour later. Michael is snoring by his side and the hotel clock is abnormally loud. Trevor, drifting in and out dreams, imagines her in the doorway, tall and triumphant and terrible. He can almost smell her dollar-store perfume. He sits up, transfixed, but by the time he gets out of bed she’s already gone.

It’s not the first time he’s hallucinated and he doubts it will be the last. He lies back down and throws the cover over himself, and slings an unhappy arm over Michael’s waist.

---

They pull up outside of the prison. It’s as grim a place as they both expected. They are both, after all, ex-convicts and current criminals, and even though it’s a women’s prison there’s little difference in the grey, grey walls, dying grass and tall, barbed wire fences. The small parking lot is practically empty and Michael parks them as close to the gates as he can get.

“Here,” he says, killing the engine. The silence washes over them. Trevor, jittery since the phone call they got yesterday confirming the visiting hours, looks down at his knees and twists his fingers aimlessly on his lap.

“Here,” Trevor says, quietly. Michael glances at him and pops his gum.

Trevor knows that he looks like shit. He’s been up all night pacing their bedroom and wearing the soles of his shoes to to paper-thin. When Michael started groaning and holding his pillow over his head, Trevor went into the bathroom again and sat on the toilet, lid down, and cried his heart out. When he lifted his head and saw himself in the mirror his eyes were red raw, snot and tears all over.

Michael had woken a couple of hours later and coaxed him into the shower. That had helped him just a little but he still feels sort of broken. It’s been years since he’s seen his mother and years since he last heard her golden voice and he won’t be able to stand to see the disgust and disappointment in her eyes.

At least she approved his request to visit her. At least there’s that.

They watch a new car pull into a space closeby. A young man gets out, tattoos sleeving both his arms, a little girl in tow. Trevor wonders if that girl respects her mother half as much as he respects his. He wonders if the tattooed man treasures his wife, girlfriend, whatever, as much as he ought to. He wonders if his mother is going to shout at him.

“You know you don’t have to do this,” Michael says once the silence has gone on long enough. Trevor glances at him. “I … you know, we could just leave. Tell your mother you had to go on a business errand.”

“Why would we want to do that?”

Michael blinks at the sharpness in his voice. Trevor’s a little surprised himself.

“I’m only worried you might not be up to it today. We could try again tomorrow, you know.”

“I know. I know, I know. I fucking know.”

Trevor closes his eyes and lets his head fall heavily on the dashboard. He feels rather than sees Michael wincing, but it doesn’t matter. The dull pain that spreads from his forehead to his spine is nothing. He’s felt worse. He will feel worse in a matter of minutes. Maybe she will even cry at the sight of him and his bruises and tattoos.

She left that trailer without any forwarding address. She does not want her youngest son in her life. He is chasing after a mother who doesn’t want him, and everyone knows it. Michael probably thinks he’s a pathetic sack of shit.

He sighs a great sigh but doesn’t lift his head. He just glares at the grey carpeted floor of the car and at his scuffed boots.

“If I don’t go in there today I don’t think I ever will, and then I’ll never get to see her again.”

“Sure you will. She’s not going anywhere,” Michael says, unhelpfully, and if it were anyone else Trevor might smack him.

“I have to. She’s my mom, you know. She deserves at least a visit. I should be looking after her.”

He lifts his head. Michael is looking away, out of his window, tapping his fingers against his steering wheel. Michael’s mother is a free woman but he knows how fraught their relationship is; he guesses this is where their common ground end, because he clearly can’t understand the sickening mix of devotion and guilt that’s weighing Trevor down right now.

This is something Trevor’s going to have to do on his own. Michael’s not on the visitation list, and he shouldn’t be. This is between Trevor and the most incredible woman he’s ever known.

“Okay,” he says, more to himself than Michael, “okay. This is going to be okay.”

“Of course it is,” Michael says. He runs a hand over his tired face and leans back in his seat. It wouldn’t look amiss if he put his feet up on the dashboard. “I’ll be right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Thanks,” Trevor says, stupidly. He wants to bring his head back down, harder this time so that it splits open like a wet, ripe melon. At least then he could go to hospital instead of prison. At least then he’d be tended to by kind nurses instead of glowered at by his mother.

He wishes that Michael would take his hand and squeeze it, but he is a man and Michael is a man and some things are best left alone. He daren’t ask for any more tenderness now that they’re sat in daylight. Michael has done enough just being here.

Michael checks his watch. “You’re gonna be late.”

Trevor nods and squares his shoulders.

“Be back soon,” he says, promises, and gets out of the car.

His legs threaten to collapse underneath him all the way to the reception area. They wobble as he talks to the pretty guard at the door, and they feel weak as another, meaner guard leads him through the security scanners and pats him down. Finding nothing on him - his pistol is stowed safely in the glove compartment in the car outside - he’s allowed through into a dim little waiting room with hard plastic chairs lining the far wall.

The tattooed man and little girl are in here, sat at the far end, and there’s an older woman with an expensive handbag and an even more expensive hairdo. She sniffs as Trevor enters and takes the seat next to her. He doesn’t miss the way she pulls her bag well out of his reach.

He wants to sneer or snap at her. She’d deserve it, too, but today he just hasn’t got the heart for it. She’s probably the same age as his mom.

Trevor looks down at his knees and then at his hands and then the well-polished floor. In the corner a guard shift and checks his watch. It’s not a great turn out for visitors, Trevor thinks, but then the visiting hours here seem longer than most - happy families are probably out eating meals and shopping and living their free lives to the full before coming to visit the troubled women who are kept here. He doubts any of them cares all that much, if they can’t even be bothered to be here.

Ryan’s not here.

Though he had guessed he wouldn’t be, it still sort of surprises Trevor. His brother is probably local and more than able to visit their mom everyday. He’s not likely to have work or any hobbies except for sitting on his fattening ass and watching TV in the trailer their mom pays for, and the least he could do is visit. It was him who once suggested Mrs. Philips sell herself again. Trevor wouldn’t be all that shocked if he’s the one who did the killing that got her locked up, letting her take the blame and the time for it.

The thought of his ignorant older brother makes Trevor start to shake again, but this time with fury. He flexes his fingers in and out of fists and tries to think of something else, of Michael probably sleeping in the car outside, of Lester planning the next stages of the cargo training, of his plane stashed at Eric’s hangar, the employer who brought Michael and Trevor together in the first place.

Anything but Ryan. Anything but the man he wants to kill most in the world, even more than his asshole of a father.

The door swings open and the guard jumps to attention. Another guard appears, surveying the few visitors with a bit of a glare.

“Okay,” he says, voice low and steady. “One at a time, please.”

There’s no great rush. Trevor trails behind the other three anyway, shuffling his feet as much as he can get away with.

This is it, Trevor thinks as he walks into the visitation room. This could be everything. This could be the beginning of something beautiful with his mother, or this could be the end of it all forever. It doesn’t even matter that Michael is close-by when his mother is even closer. He stuffs his hands in his pockets and ducks his head.

Low murmurs wash over him. The little girl squeals at the sight of her mom. The old lady sniffs again at the sign of her daughter. Trevor, swallowing, looks up.

She’s here. Sat in the corner with her hands clasped on the table in front of her and the roots of her dark hair showing, the odd hair glinting grey in the bright lights, she’s here. She is looking straight ahead with gritted teeth, staring at the empty chair in front of her. She looks as beautiful, as damaged, as flawless as ever. He comes to a halt, jaw slack.

“Mom,” he whispers, and she must hear him because she lifts her head, eyes snapping over to him.

A tiny smile blossoms on her face before sliding right off and turning into something sour. He goes over and sits opposite her anyway. She takes her hands off the table and watches the table next to her, where a young, pretty woman is hugging the little girl and crying. Trevor wonders if he should try and get a hug, or if his mom would just slap him instead.

After a long silence that’s probably only a few seconds, she looks at him with wide, tired eyes. “Trevor,” she says, sadly. “What’s become of your old mom, hey?”

“You’re not old.”

She laughs, and there’s no softness there. She just sounds worn out.

“Try telling that to my bitch of a cellmate. Twenty one years old and thinks she owns the world already.”

Trevor can imagine it, too, some jumped up young woman who thinks she can get one over on his mom of all people. He’s sure his mom set her right, too, and probably not all that kindly. The thought makes him smile but one look from her and she realises he’s made a big mistake. Already.

“You think it’s funny, do you? Your mom having to bunk up with childish brats while you have the run of America, free to do whatever bastard work it is you’re doing? I somehow thought better of you, Trevor. I forgot how much you like to spite me.”

A chill runs through him. She might have forgotten that but he had forgotten her bitterness, too; she loves to remind him of his failures as a son, and she always has done, ever since her shithead of a husband left the family. He’s speechless as he remembers it all and as she glowers at him across the table like he’s the reason she’s in this mess in the first place.

“I- I --”

“I, I!” she mocks, her voice babying itself and making him feel nauseous. “Is that all you have to say to me after all these years? You just want to talk about yourself?”

“No. No, not at all, Ma,” he says but he already knows it’s futile. His mom’s got a look on her face that means he’s blown it. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant at all. I didn’t think it was funny. I don’t think it’s funny, I promise.”

“You promise.” Her well-plucked eyebrows rise into her hair. “How wonderful. Your promises have meant so much to me in the past.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You need to stop saying that before I get that guard to haul your ass out of here.”

She taps her fingers on the table. Her nails, once long and painted, are bitten right down. The sight makes him sadder than anything else. He takes a deep, shuddering breath to stop himself crying.

His mom notices. Hesitation lurks in her eyes and in the soft red of her lips and she almost - almost - looks guilty. Instead she grits her teeth once more and looks away, over the heads of the few other prisoners and their visitors, towards the door leading out. There’s a brief glint of hunger in her face that he knows all too well. Prison had been enlightening for him, but he had hated being so cooped up, and she might be here for her entire life.

Trevor, desperate to break the silence, asks, “Has Ryan been to see you?”

Mrs. Philips winces. “Not yet. He’s out job searching, I think. He said he was going to try his luck in another city. Being near the border was nice and all but I think he’s gone further south into America. I’m not sure.”

“Has he even called you?”

“Have you?” she asks, eyebrows raised again.

“I’m here. I came the second I knew where you were.”

“Hmm.” She doesn’t look all that impressed. “I suppose you did.”

“I tried to find you before, you know. I went back to our old trailer a couple of years ago, and- there was nothing, no sight of you. Just some woman in our trailer who had no forwarding address. I didn’t even know where to start looking for you, but I tried, Ma, I really did. I thought about you all the time. I still do.”

“That bitch lied, then. I left an address. Or, or Ryan did, I think. I told him to. I wondered if you’d ever bother to come visit us.”

“I tried. I wanted to. I’ve been so busy with work.”

She snorts. “Work? What work, Trevor? Has that Michael made an honest man out of you?”

“Uh --” He stares at her for a moment and sees some of himself reflected back in the lines of her jaw and the slope of her nose. “Uh, what? Michael?”

“I know him. He dropped off your stuff when you got yourself locked up, remember? I got to meet him then. From what you said last time we spoke, you were still travelling with him. You sounded pretty smitten.”

“I’m not smitten. I never was.”

“It’s obviously a beneficial partnership if you’re still working together which, judging by the colour of your cheeks right now, you still are.”

He rubs at his nose and ducks his head, and mumbles, “Yeah. We’re still together.”

“I see. Are you ever going to bother telling me what work you’re in, or am I supposed to guess?”

Trevor hesitates.

He’s not sure what to tell her. She’s in here for killing, however accidental it sounded from her plea before the jury, so maybe she’d be somewhat understanding. He robs and he cheats and he lies, but he makes a good dollar from it, and that’s money he plans to offer her anyway. Maybe that will sweeten the deal. He might not be a disappointment after all.

But then, unbidden, a memory floats into his mind. He’d been seven and had been caught stealing a handful of sweets from a local corner shop in the nearest town to their trailer park. The store owner had dragged him kicking and screaming by the ear all the way home and told his mom what had happened. She’d thanked the man and shut the door in his face, and then clipped Trevor so hard around the ear that for a moment he’d seen stars.

Stealing, she told him, was wrong. They were all in this together, she’d reminded him, everyone born of the status they were, with missing fathers and working mothers. She didn’t always mind his unruliness, but she wouldn’t abide stealing.

He’s vaguely remembers that a couple of years later she’d been caught stealing silver from a local jeweller’s herself, but right now that doesn’t matter. She had once told him it was wrong and he has been disobeying her for all of his adult life.

“I don’t think I can tell you,” he says, and at the flash of anger in her eyes adds, “I have money, though. More savings than I’ll ever need, and every cent of it is yours. If- if you want it.”

“Your money?”

She leans back in her chair. Her cheeks heat right up and become bright red patches, almost as bright as her hair. He wants to run right now. He knows already that he’s done the wrong thing by offering it to her so outright. She’s too proud to ever accept his help.

“Mom, I --”

“You think I need your money?”

“Philips!” a guard calls when her voice raises to a screech. “Keep it down, or your time is up.”

Mrs. Philips casts the guard a dirty look and then leans forward, spitting all over with every word. “You think I want your money, Trevor? Is that what you take me for? I never wanted to come here. I never asked you to. You’re the one who wanted to visit me, remember. I don’t need your goddamn charity.”

“No, no, I didn’t --”

“All I ever wanted was a good, devoted son who cared about his mother enough to keep her from harm, and instead I have Ryan who’s god knows where right now, and I have you. A filthy, degenerate little shit who disappears for years breaking the law and saving up stolen money and then trying to fob it off to his poor mother, his poor mother who’s going to rot away in jail for the rest of her life when you get to life as a free man! You should be in here, not me. You should be put away.”

“I know. I know. They should throw away the key, too,” he says, and if there’s tears in his eyes now, he doesn’t care. That’s what his mother wants, and all he wants is for her to be happy. They really should lock him up for breaking her heart like this and getting his own heart broken in the process.

He misses her so much, and she’s sat right in front of him.

“I think you need to leave. I can’t look at you anymore.”

She makes her point by looking at anything but his face. His lower lip trembles like he’s a scolded seven year old all over again. He reaches across the table to take her hand but she snaps it away.

“I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. Please don’t make me go. I can’t leave you, not again.”

“I don’t want to see you again.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“I mean everything I say,” she says. He starts to stand up but she does, too, and the guard makes a move over to start escorting her back to her cell. Trevor moves forward as though to hug her but she takes a huge step back, and that’s that.

There’s a gulf between them all over again. The guard reaches her side and puts a hand to her upper arm.

It’s over too soon. Trevor can’t see straight.

“I’m finished here,” his mom says. She looks at him before she goes, one big and woeful and burning and terrible look, and then she’s gone, and another man is telling Trevor that it’s time to leave, son, and it’s this way, if he pleases. He shrugs off the guiding hand and walks out without assistance.

They search him again on the way out. There’s nothing to find, of course, no drugs or weapons, no heart. His self-loathing somehow doesn’t topple him; he walks out from the prison and takes in big, great gulps of fresh air.

When he was let out of prison years ago his mother was waiting in the snowy road for him, tapping her fingers against the steering wheel and glaring at the cheek of him. Now, she’s inside, and he knows he might never be allowed to see her again. He wishes he had a photo or a video or something of her. Maybe he can track down her mug shot again and keep that.

This tie, instead of his mother waiting, his car is still here and even from feet away it looks like Michael is sleeping in the passenger seat. Michael, the only other person he’s ever loved, and the other person who has left him in the dirt in search of another life. He swallows and that ends up hurting, so he kicks the bonnet of the car.

Michael jumps, eyes flying open. He sees the look on Trevor’s face and frowns, leaning over to throw open the passenger door. Trevor gets in.

He doesn’t talk. That seems to surprise Michael, who looks searchingly from his face to the prison and back again, like some answer is going to form and throw itself at him. Trevor doesn’t really pay him any mind. He’s pissed, with himself and his failures, but Michael’s failures, too. If he hadn’t come into his life. If his money wasn’t so dirty and tainted, then maybe - maybe --

“Drive,” Trevor says, dully.

“Aren’t you gonna tell me how it went?”

Trevor doesn’t answer him. He puts his feet insolently on the dashboard and closes his eyes. He sees his mother behind his eyelids and that last, lingering look of hers. Trevor’s over halfway to fifty, now, creeping slowly towards thirty years old, and this is the worst day of his life. Fuck Michael and his shitty, sham wedding. Fuck all of their life together. His mother hates him. His mother is already gone.

“O-kay,” Michael says. He starts the engine. “We’ll talk about it later, then.”

He drives out of the prison parking lot. Trevor looks back when they’re almost out of the gates and takes in the squat grey buildings, the bars on all of the windows, the barbed wire on the top of the tall fences. These, he knows, aren’t the things keeping him from his mother. That’s all on him.

Michael puts the radio on and starts singing along, and at that moment, Trevor wishes he’d stayed with Amanda after all.

---

Trevor wakes up about an hour later with Michael hitting him on the shoulder.

He hadn’t meant to sleep, but Michael’s singing voice was low and soothing and the music boring, and he’d just slipped right into dreams. He hadn’t dreamt of his mother, but his father and brother and the day he was left in that mall, crying outside a clothing store until some passing old lady took pity on him and asked if he was lost. He wakes up sweating and aching. He feels like shit.

“Welcome back,” Michael smiles at him from the driver’s sleep. Trevor sits up and rolls his shoulders.

“Where are we?”

“I thought you could do with a drink.”

They’re parked outside of a small bar with a flickering neon sign outside. Trudy’s, it’s called. A cheap Canadian parody of an all-American haven. Trevor’s mouth is dry and he’s got an itch, so he shrugs in agreement.

“If you’re buying.”

Michael rolls his eyes. “As if you haven’t got enough money.”

He pays, anyway, when they get to the bar. The barmaid is a pretty young thing who gives Michael a huge smile with his order of two whiskeys. Trevor can’t even make himself feel jealous.

They sit in the corner away from the other drinkers - a loud party of beefed up assholes, and a few older men and women who play cards in the corner. The place is smoky and cosy. There’s even a fucking moose head on the wall, and it’s sad glass eyes make Trevor look away. It’s as good a place as any to drink, he thinks. He doubts he’d feel any better wherever they could be.

Michael takes a big gulp of his drink and smacks his lips. He pulls a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and looks at Trevor. “Do you mind?”

“Yeah.”

“Seriously?”

“Do what you fucking want, M. I don’t give a shit.”

Michael lights one. He’s surely used to Trevor’s twists and tantrums. Trevor wishes he could be so calm, too, wishes he could just be looking out at the other drinks with a thoughtful eye, probably thinking about what they should get to eat after and what they should say to their arms contract next time they have a meeting, having no worries at all about the shitty state of affairs in his familial life.

Michael’s familial life, after all, doesn’t revolve around mommy and daddy anymore. He’s a dad himself, however absent he’s been. He doesn’t depend on the thin threads of bond with his mother. Trevor takes a sip and lets an ice cube slip between his lips, moving across his tongue as though that will stop him biting it in anger.

“Once you’ve flown us back home we should talk to L about getting us a real job sorted out,” Michael says, voice low and scratchy. “I miss work. Meetings and paperwork is one thing, but I think we need some real action.”

“Sure.”

“Also, I was thinking - Amanda’s birthday is coming up soon. I was gonna take her away, maybe, and leave the kids with her mom and dad. But before that I was gonna throw her a big party, real big and loud, just the type of shit she’d eat up. She might not be happy, but I’d like you there, and L, too. It’s about time we all kiss and made up, you know.”

“Yeah.”

Trevor’s not really listening. He’s staring at that dead, stuffed moose again. Ryan took him hunting once but all they found was a pigeon with a broken wing and even he hadn’t the heart to kill it then. Ryan had stamped on it’s head until it died and although it was kind of cool the way it’s skull burst open, it had made Trevor cry. He had only been four, and the next year he’d gone out and killed some animals himself without any remorse, but he’d always hated the thought of that broken bird and the ugly look his brother wore when he stamped the life out of it.

“Maybe we could even go out and see the pigs flying.”

“Yeah. Whatever.”

“Fuck you. You’re not listening to a word I’m saying.”

Trevor hears that and jumps. He hasn’t, he realises, taken in a word Michael’s said since he asked if he could smoke. Michael is glaring at him. Trevor just smiles widely. “Aw. Don’t get all pissy because I don’t care about, whatever you were talking about, I don’t know, Amanda or nappy changing or what the fuck ever.”

“I was trying to reach out to you. You know, be a friend who listens and cares about your life.”

“But I don’t care about your pretend fairytale.”

Something works in Michael’s jaw, a little tick, a tell-tale sign of the anger he’s trying to hold in. Michael’s a hot head and they both know that Trevor is trying to push all of his buttons, but he just swallows thickly and narrows his eyes.

“I’m only here right now because I care about you, T. Don’t take whatever happened today out on me.”

“Whatever happened? Whatever happened has fuck all to do with you, so don’t pretend it’s your business because you got bored of pounding your wife and decided to come up here to fuck me instead.”

It might be the stupidest thing that he’s ever said to Michael but he doesn’t feel bad. He’s being honest. He smiles again.

Michael stares at Trevor like he doesn’t recognise him at all.

“I suggest that you shut the fuck up right now, Trevor. I don’t care what happened in there with your mom. I don’t care how broke up you are over it. You don’t get to talk to me like that. You don’t ever get to talk to me like that. We both know I could put you in the ground right now and walk away from here clean.”

Trevor laughs. “Really? You’re going to kill me for telling you the truth?” He looks down at his dirty, bitten nails. “Are you denying that you fuck Amanda and then you leave her to fuck me?”

It’s a surprise that the whiskey glass in Michael’s hand doesn’t smash from the force of his grip around it. His face turns pale but for two angry red patches high on his cheeks. “My family --” he begins very carefully, both words measured and so full of forced calm that Trevor snaps.

“Fuck your family.”

Michael stands up. His chair scrapes so loudly on the ground that the group of beefy jocks look quiet and look over. Michael pays them no mind, instead glaring down at Trevor, fists clenched at his sides.

“Whatever happened with your mom is your business, sure, but you know what? I hope she fucking rots in there.”

Trevor’s up and out of his seat before he can even think about it. He shoves Michael backwards and sends him into the jocks’ table, drinks spilling everywhere. They all stand up, shouting and backing away. Michael gets back to his feet and slowly dusts himself down, trying to rinse some of the beer from his sleeves.

When he looks up and meets Trevor’s eye, the real Michael is there. The real grunting, greedy asshole who robs and kills for a living, not the one who dresses up in his Sunday best to go out for lunch with his wife and their innocent friends. The Michael looking at him now is the one that belongs to Trevor, the one he loves and has always adored, and right now wants to rip the skin right off of.

Michael tosses his head like a bull and charges. The force of him winds Trevor, knocking him onto his back, Michael straddling him easily.

Trevor tries to push him off - he swings and connects his fist with Michael’s jaw, but his bones must be made of iron; he barely flinches, his own fist rising high above his head.

He’s going to hit him. He’s going to break his nose or his cheekbone, and Trevor is going to deserve it. His mother called him a degenerate little shit and he is, he is, he is - and Michael has to be the one to prove it to everyone. There’s nothing he deserves more than Michael hitting him right now.

“Do it,” he says, and stops struggling.

Michael does, too - he swings his fist down and it’s inches away from Trevor’s cheek when one of the jocks reaches them, grabbing Michael’s shoulders and pulling him up and off of Trevor.

“Easy, man, cool it,” the man is saying. He’s got bleached blonde hair and ridiculously big ears, and he pulls Michael away like he’s a bag of feathers. Trevor watches from his spot on the floor, panting and gasping and wishing there was blood on his face right now.

“Get the fuck off me, asshole,” Michael snaps, shrugging him off. The man seems to take offense at that because he grabs Michael again, this time harder. Even from the floor Trevor sees how his nails dig into him, how his knuckles turn white with force. Michael winces. He winces, he’s in pain, and that’s that, that’s it; Trevor scrambles to his feet with renewed vigor.

“T,” Michael says at the look in his eyes, but Trevor ignores him.

He grabs the stranger by his stupid blonde hair and slams him, face-first, into the corner of the bar. The point of the corner goes right into his eye and the man starts to scream, real blood-curling screams that make all of his friends pale instead of rushing forward to tackle Trevor.

Trevor laughs. He laughs so loudly it drowns out everything else, even the screaming. He lifts the man’s head - blood pouring and puddling on the ground - and slams it down again, this time grinding it against the wood. The man’s hands scrabble uselessly at him, trying to fight him off.

“T,” Michael says, again. Trevor looks at him and sees the horror in his eyes. “T, Jesus, stop!”

“Fuck you,” Trevor spits, and slams the man’s head down again and again and again.

The men’s friends shake off their terror then and race over to drag Trevor away. There’s a flurry of fists and curses and he’s pretty sure one of them threatens to get his gun, but then Michael is there, as always, of course, and Michael got his pistol pulled out and trained on them. He grabs Trevor by his sleeve and shoves him towards the door, walking backwards so as not to let anyone get the jump on them.

The pretty girl behind the bar starts to cry but everyone else lets them go, stunned.

“Eric’s,” Michael says when they get in the car. “Let’s go. Now. Get in the plane, get back to America, go.”

He’s shaking and Trevor knows that it’s not from the cold or their fight or near-death experience. He’s shaking because he’s in the car with a monster. Trevor looks down to see blood scaled all the way up his arms and when the engine is on and they’re driving wildly again, he starts to smile.

Chapter Text

xiii.

mid-1995

The house in front of Trevor isn’t quite what he imagined.

He’s not sure what he’s been picturing, but it’s not this. He guesses he envisioned a tall sloping roof, a big garden, huge garage, maybe a swimming pool in the back yard. Michael isn’t poor anymore and he’s a man of luxury when he wants to be. He buys the sharpest cuts of suits and the most expensive cigarettes behind the counters of convenience stores around the country. When there are women on his arm in the clubs, he always buys them the frilliest, fullest drinks. There’s no expense spared when he tucks baggies of cocaine in his shirt pocket.

But his new house - his and Amanda’s new house - is on a quiet, suburban street in North Yankton. It’s close to Lester’s house and therefore to Michael’s work, and it’s simple. Nice and simple. There’s a little porch out front and lots of snow on the roof, and a little yard for Jimmy and Tracy to play in. It is not the home of a bank robber and would-be criminal mastermind. It’s the home of a man who works in an office, is always snubbed by his bosses and is sleeping with his secretary. It’s the home of a normal man and his normal family.

“What d’you think?” Michael asks, all proud like he’s showing Trevor something he built himself. He leans on the white picket fence that he probably paid someone else to paint and gestures towards the house. “Not bad, huh?”

“It’s better than that piece of shit trailer you had, sure,” Trevor says.

“Damn right it is. Everyone’s got their own bedroom, too. I was thinking of maybe getting an extension out back and building an office or something real swanky. A games room, maybe.”

“To smoke cigars and drink port?”

“Something like that,” Michael grins.

Trevor rolls his eyes and picks up the bags that he’s left on the floor with one hand, the other still clutching the panting little ball of fluff to his chest. Michael straightens and gives the thing a resigned look.

“I still don’t know how Mandy’s gonna react when she finds out you bought the kids a puppy. She might make you take it back again.”

“No can do, I’m afraid. Once the kids see this they’re going to fall in love.” He brings the labrador puppy to his face, wrinkling his nose when it licks his chin. “Aren’t they, buddy?”

Michael groans and throws open the fence. “Don’t start getting pathetic on me, T.”

Trevor ignores him. The puppy in his arm starts to squirm so he holds onto it more tightly, fastening his fingers into it’s soft fur. He’s never been one for pets - his own parents never wanted one, especially not in a small trailer - but apparently Tracey’s been begging Michael for a dog for months and Trevor’s not going to pass up a chance to annoy Amanda. So he bought the noisiest toys and games for Jimmy that he could, and went to the local pound to get the yappiest puppy they had.

“If it pees on the carpet, she’s going to be calling you,” Michael says as they reach the door, like he knows exactly what Trevor’s thinking. “She’s not going to cleaning any of that up.”

“Fuck, M, she’s raising two kids. She’s going to be used to all the shit and piss in the world.”

Michael, hand on the door handle, hesitates. “Uh. Yeah, about that. Remember to mind the language around them. They’re repeating everything we say at the moment.”

“I know, I know, I’m not a fucking idiot,” Trevor says, and grins wide when Michael winces. “Relax. I’m not going to swear around them or light any matches or use any weapons. I promise.”

Michael regards him with eyes fast softening, and then crosses himself, saying a small, jokey prayer to the heavens above. Trevor, without hands free to hit him, aims a kick at his shin. “Good as gold,” he warns Trevor, and then opens the front door.

The overwhelming smell of good, sweet baking takes over them at once. Michael looks a little confused until they hear the soft singsong voice of Amanda’s mother in the kitchen; Trevor guesses Amanda isn’t the type to throw on an apron and start making cookies just because she’s turning twenty five. Trevor’s mom wasn’t that type either. He tries not to think of the smell of bleach that was always in his childhood trailers. They never really had room for a proper oven anyway.

Trevor half expects Michael to morph into Fred Flintstone and start yelling honey, I’m home or something, but instead he just throws his bags down on the floor and heads through to the kitchen in search of food. Trevor hovers by the door for a minute, until the puppy starts crying and straining to be released, and he has no choice but to half-drop it to the ground.

It bounds away at once, heading after Michael into the kitchen.

There’s a pause before Amanda’s mom starts squealing and the dog starts barking, and all hell breaks loose.

The puppy is inevitably a huge success with both of the children - Tracey, nearly four years old, hugs him around his tiny neck straight away, and Jimmy, still a little wobbly on his feet even at two and a half, claps excitedly and giggles when the puppy jumps up to lick his face. Michael leans against the doorframe with a bottle of beer in his hand and grins like he’s the one who’s treated them.

They know, though, that’s it’s their Uncle T’s dog. Tracey kisses him on his cheek, eyes filled with happy tears. It’s the kind of soppy scene that Trevor would usually sneer at, but he’s got a soft spot for the golden-haired little girl and her clumsy brother.

Amanda knows that it’s Uncle T’s dog, too. She doesn’t bother to greet her husband but instead sits straight-backed in the chair by the television set, hands clasped tightly on her lap. She watches the puppy like it’s some sort of alien invading her house and family. When Tracey tries to pull the puppy over to show her mother, Amanda just ignores her and glares at Trevor, instead.

He raises his eyebrows at her until she looks away.

“Uncle T, Uncle T, look!” Tracey says, pointing as the puppy rolls over onto his back and exposes his soft stomach that Jimmy carefully pats.

“What are you gonna call him, hon?” Michael asks. He kneels down and reaches out to scratch the thing behind it’s ear.

“T,” Tracey says, at once, and Amanda quietly coughs.

“Ah, no, no,” Michael says. “This is T. We can’t have two of them.”

“Thank God,” Amanda mutters.

“Try to think of another name, sweetie. Like, uh. Rex, maybe.”

Tracey pouts at him and crosses her pudgy arms across her chest. “No. No Rex.”

“Buster?”

“No.”

“Uh, Rusty?”

No. T!”

“How about I pick” Trevor intercedes, though he’s grinning at Tracey’s adamance. “T’s a good name but I don’t think it suits him. What do you think to Viper?”

Trevor was going to say Shiv instead but he thinks that might take it a little too far. Tracey thinks about it for a minute and then nods, happily. “Viper. Viper! Yeah. Viper.”

Michael rolls his eyes but seems happy enough. He takes a hearty swig of his beer and Trevor doesn’t miss the way Amanda’s eyes snap to the bottle, and he doesn’t miss how heavily Michael’s been drinking since they got here. He can’t imagine why; he’s been talking almost incessantly about his kids recently and yet Trevor’s the one sitting cross-legged with them on the living room carpet.

Before anyone can bring up the alcoholic elephant in the room, Amanda’s mom comes in wearing a pretty pink apron and oven gloves that are dusted with flour. “The cookies are ready, kids. How about you two go wash your hands and then you can help me decorate them?”

Tracey stands up at once. She takes Jimmy by his fat little arm and leads him out of the room and towards the bathroom. Trevor’s momentarily amazed by how grown up she’s acting, before Amanda clears her throat and raws his reluctant attention over to her.

She still looks supremely unimpressed. Viper walks over to her and sniffs her slippers before settling at her feet, resting his head against her foot. Trevor thinks he sees the corner of her mouth twitch up but the movement is over before he can take her up on it.

“Did either of you,” she begins, coldly, “think about asking me if it was okay to bring a dog into the house?”

“Nope,” Trevor says. He stands up and brushes down his jeans. “I didn’t even consider it.”

Her cheeks flare with colour. “When you two are out there doing whatever it is you do, who’s going to be looking after it? Tracey and Jimmy are too young. It’s going to be me and you know it. I don’t want a dog.”

“It seems to want you,” Michael comments, gesturing to it. When she scowls he leans down to brush his lips against her cheek. “Come on, baby. It’s cute and it makes the kids happy. Trevor did good.”

She smiles such a thin smile that Trevor kind of wants to laugh, but instead he just shoves his hands in his pockets and gives her a look that would make braver men and women run to the hills. She narrows her eyes at him.

“Well, if Trevor did it, it must be okay,” she says, sweetly, and Michael kisses the top of her head. “We wouldn’t ever want to offend the, ah, the best friend, would we?”

Michael straightens up and frowns as he realises she’s not actually on his side on this. “Hey, come on. Don’t start.”

“Don’t start? Don’t start? You’ll be swanning off next week and leaving it all to me again!”

“Forgive me for having to make enough money to keep you here and out of work! Forgive me for fucking everything I do that’s for you and the kids!”

“For me? For me and the kids?” She stands up now, eyeing the bottle in his hand again. “Don’t even try and pretend you live the life you do for our good.”

“Uh, excuse me? When you want anything, who pays for it? Who pays the mortgage on this house? Who paid for your surgery, huh? When your friends needed help the other year, who --?”

Her eyes widen and she shakes her head so violently that Michael shuts up immediately. Trevor, who had been enjoying the argument, raises his eyebrows.

“What about your friends, exactly?” Trevor asks, carefully.

“This has nothing to do with you,” Amanda snaps at him and then turns back to her husband, who is looking more than a little embarrassed. “We can talk about this later, Michael. The kids are going to my mom’s in two hours. This, ah, conversation can wait until then.”

It can’t, and Trevor knows it. Not just because of the way Michael’s shoulders are so tensed up it would take all of the roughest fucking Trevor has to offer to work the stress out of them, but because he knows all about the surprise party that Michael has planned for her birthday. Even Lester, who has never met the woman in his life, is reluctantly travelling over for it.

He’s kind of dreading it himself but at least there will be plenty of alcohol there to distract him from the way Amanda is sure to tangle with Michael the moment there’s wine in her bloodstream.

The argument over - for now - Amanda goes to sort out Tracey and Jimmy’s overnight bag. Michael sighs in her wake and raises his eyes to the sky, before turning to Trevor, more than a little confrontationally.

“I told you that dog is a bad idea.”

“Fuck off did you. You were all for it.”

“Maybe because you suggested it when we were drunk?”

“Uh, I wasn’t drunk. I’m not so much of a lightweight that I get wasted off two fucking beers.”

“Asshole,” Michael mutters, just as Mrs. White walks in, wiping her hands on her apron.

She looks a little like Amanda, though rather happier. Her hair has started to grey and there are wrinkles beginning to line her face, but she smiles a pretty smile and her eyes are sharp. She doesn’t look mad at Michael’s cursing; all she does is quirk an eyebrow at him and shrug one shoulder.

“Careful,” she says, a little mockingly, and Michael gives her a brief smile. “Now, Randall will be here to pick me and the kids up soon. Are you sure we can’t put any money towards food for tonight’s little get together?”

She lowers her voice at the mention of the surprise party. Michael shakes his head. “Honestly, Mrs. White --”

“Janet,” she says, in a long-suffering sort of way.

“Honestly, Janet, it’s fine. Don’t worry. I appreciate you looking after Tracey and Jimmy.”

“And that one,” she says, with a nod at the puppy, who is occupying itself with chewing the corner of Amanda’s armchair. “You should hear Tracey in the kitchen. I don’t think she could bear to part with it tonight.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to add to your workload.”

“Don’t be silly. They’re family.”

She smiles, again, until Tracey starts calling out for her grandmother and she hurries away again. Michael downs the last of his beer and sets the bottle on the mantel piece, next to a silver-framed picture of Amanda and Michael’s wedding that shows the wind blowing blossoms all over them. Trevor ignores the dull ache in his belly at the sight of it and instead focuses on the realisation that Michael really does have a family here.

It’s a dumb observation, really. Of course Michael has a family. He’s been married for years and had a child for almost four, and Trevor’s been around them before, many times, but this feels a little different. His ties extend further than just his ex-stripper wife and their two children. He has in-laws, in-laws who care for him, and tonight the house will be full of friends they’ve made in their life far away from Trevor’s. There will be people here - there are people here - who have no idea that Michael robs people for a living. It will be the full-blown show of Michael’s double life and Trevor doesn’t want to be here to see it.

“Anyway,” Michael carries on, like they were never interrupted, “it doesn’t matter. I just want one good, peaceful evening, so can you and Amanda at least try to be civil towards each other?”

“Mikey, Mikey, Mikey. I’m always civil. She’s the one who hates my guts.”

That’s not, of course, the full truth - he has dreamed of ripping her guts from her with his bare hands, has woken up sweat-soaked by the thought of slaughtering her - but Michael doesn’t need to know anymore about his hatred for her. It’s lessened into annoyance recently but that doesn’t mean he likes her. He doesn’t think he ever could.

Michael just sighs instead of questioning him and storms off to get another beer. It’s all he seems to do in this house - storm and sigh and drink - and Trevor’s perfectly content leaving it to him.

Amanda’s temper with her husband isn’t Trevor’s fault, after all. He’s not the one who knocked up a stripper and then asked her to marry him instead of just sending her some money every month. He’s not the one who then proceeded to have another baby with her and set up a home together. He’s not the one fucking his best friend and then getting pissed when said best friend dares to mention the fact that he’s cheating said wife.

These, though, are bitter thoughts for another time - Trevor pushes them to the back of his mind and sits down on Amanda’s armchair, dangling his legs over the arm and reaching down to scoop the puppy on his knee. He’s not an animal person but the dog has fur so gold it may as well be the precious metal, and he misses robbing wealth from the world.

The dog pads around his stomach for a while before yawning so wide he can see it’s tiny, baby teeth. That sets Trevor off yawning, too, and he almost falls asleep on the cosy chair in the cosy, quaint little room, when Jimmy waddles in and tries to get on his knee, too.

---

Lester doesn’t often leave the house. It’s a fact that they all know - everyone in the game, at least, all of those in and out of Michael and Trevor’s crew - and he knows that they know it, and he’s never been ashamed. Travelling means more chance of getting caught doing something shady; travelling means having a paper trail, even with his use of false passports; travelling means risk, and Lester hates risk. But Michael had downright begged him to bus down for Amanda’s twenty fourth birthday. The party, he promises, will be full of hot girls and good beer, and he wants all of his friends there to help even the numbers out against the people in the neighbourhood that Amanda’s befriended. Michael knows nobody here and Trevor’s bound to just cause a fight, so please, Michael had said, please, Lester, come on down.

And Lester had been spellbound by Michael’s promises, just like Trevor’s learned that everybody is in the barrage of them, and he buses down and arrives an hour or so before the first of the other guests.

Trevor answers the door to him. Amanda’s been out all afternoon with a friend from the old days - Trevor hasn’t met her yet, but he’s guessing she’s a leggy blonde dancer from Michael’s vivid and enthusiastic descriptions - and he’s been helping Michael drag in the kegs of beer and streamers like they’re setting up some lame college party. She’s due back by ten, and Trevor’s already picked where he’s going to hide.

He’s going to jump right out in her face the moment the lights are on and make her scream.

“Lester,” Trevor nods, bowing and gesturing to the hall behind him. “Welcome.”

Lester raises his eyes to the heavens for strength. “Hello, Trevor.”

He looks worn out. It’s been a constant look for him over the past few years. His wasting muscles have become all the more apparent as time’s gone by; in the last year alone he’s started limping and wincing with every step, and Trevor’s pretty sure a wheelchair is in his not-too-distant future. But he’s standing now with a bottle of wine under one arm and a clumsily wrapped present under the other, and Trevor opens the door a little wider.

“Come on, asshole. Don’t just stand there looking pretty.”

“Is Michael here?” Lester asks, pained.

“In here, L!” comes the shouted, slightly muffled reply, and Lester pushes past Trevor and further into the house.

Michael embraces Lester when he sees him with a brief, one-armed hug. “Hey, man,” he smiles. “You can set the present down over on the table. Thanks. You didn’t have to.”

“It’s a birthday party,” Lester says, like they’re not at-large criminals. “I’m not going to be that one jerk who turns up empty-handed.”

Trevor grins and raises his bare palms, wiggling his fingers. “Like me, you mean?”

“I’m sure your presence is present enough for Amanda.”

Michael snorts and passes Lester a couple of already-inflated balloons. “If you’re here, you may as well make yourself useful. Go tie these up to the kitchen chairs.”

Lester, not without grumbling, obeys and heads into the kitchen. Michael bends to gather up some more decorations from the pile strewn across the floor and Trevor, absently, watches the way his jeans cling to his ass.

“Hey,” he says, not bothering to lower his voice, “we got a little while before anyone else gets here, right? We could go christen your new bed.”

Michael stands up so suddenly he surely must get a crick in his back. His cheeks flame a bright, dangerous red, and he looks around as though Amanda and the kids are hiding in the skirting board and behind the curtains or something.

“We are in my house, T. Fucking cut it out.”

“Hey, hey, it was just a suggestion! I know you, Mikey. You’ve thought about it, too.”

“Not here I haven’t. Shut up.”

“Nothing tastes as sweet as denial, eh?”

“Nothing will taste as sweet as my fist in your face if you don’t quit it.”

“Do you two actually ever get on?” Lester asks, reemerging. “I know it’s expected when you’re hot on a job, but all you’re actually doing right now is putting up decorations and I’m not sure that exactly calls for hostility.”

Trevor grabs a HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner that looks like it’s been bought at a dollar store and happily wraps it around Lester’s neck. “There’s no hostility here, sugar.”

“Hmmmm. If you say so.”

Lester unwinds the banner and helps Michael hang it on the far wall instead. The kids toys have all been cleared away and there’s enough alcohol to get a whole college of alcoholics drunk, and Trevor’s getting a little jittery. He doesn’t know who’s going to be here or what backgrounds they’re all going to be from, but right now he wants nothing more than to score some meth and make a real night of it. It’s not like Amanda and Michael have lived the purest of lives, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the local priest turned up with a tray of baked goods for them all.

This house is too normal. It’s giving him the creeps.

He goes out front for some fresh air and sits at the end of the porch, dangling his legs over the side. It’s one of the few times he wished he smoke cigarettes; he could light up a joint here, maybe, but he doubts Michael will be best pleased if a nosey neighbour gets the cops rolling up on the driveway just as Amanda arrives home or the first guests start arriving.

So he just sits there, ass getting cold and fingers tapping idly on his knee, and he wonders how Michael can think he’s truly able to balance domesticity with criminality and much longer he thinks he’s going to get away with it.

It doesn’t matter, in the long run. The kids are sweet and Trevor wouldn’t harm them for all the adrenaline in the world, but Michael’s never going to give up his criminal career for them or Amanda. In the end there’s going to be one winner and that’s the insanity, the instability, that kick that Michael gets from holding a rifle heavy in his hand. And that life is inseparable from his life from Trevor, so Trevor’s not too worried. Things will straighten themselves out one way or another.

He starts kicking his heels against the porch.

A man with a huge, fluffy dog on a lead walks past, followed by a young woman with a pushchair. This is a town for families and for inevitable divorces.

Just as Trevor’s getting bored and is starting to consider going back inside to face the normalcy of setting up a fucking birthday party with Michael and Lester of all people, he notices another guy walking past, this one with big, surprised eyes glued onto him. He pauses, doesn’t recognise the guy at all, and jumps off the porch.

“Yeah?” he calls, hands on his hips.

“Nothing, nothing,” the man says, quickly. He comes to a stop at the end of the drive and Trevor walks over to meet him. On closer inspection, he takes in the handsome cut of the man’s jaw and the way his hair flops in his eyes. A real pretty boy who is dressed in a cardigan of all things.

“Mind telling me why you’re staring me out, then?”

“I’m not! I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry. I just, uh, don’t recognise you.”

“Uh, yeah? Do you think you fucking should or something?”

The man looks more than a little taken aback by the cursing and Trevor stops himself from laughing right in his face.

“No. Ah -- no. I know the lady who live here, that’s all, and I’ve never seen you before. Are you family?”

“You mean Amanda?”

“Mandy, yeah. Yes. Amanda.”

“Definitely fucking not.”

“Oh.” The man looks behind him at the house, and then back to Trevor, a small furrow in his brow. “I see. Is she in?”

“What’s it to you? Why are you asking so many questions about her?”

Trevor - who would gladly throw Amanda to the literal wolves if he had the chance - feels vaguely concerned about this nosey asshole, and he’s not about to give him any more information than he needs to. The man rubs at his arm and looks suddenly shifty, avoiding Trevor’s eye altogether.

“Are you Tracey and Jimmy’s father?”

“Fuck no I’m not. Answer my question. What’s any of this got to do with you?”

“I’m, uh, I’m Mark. Hasn’t she mentioned me?”

Trevor, fast losing patience, stamps his foot down on the man’s as hard as he can. Mark stumbles and swears at Trevor’s boot smashing down on the bare toes sticking out his flip flops, but Trevor keeps him pinned there, thrusting his chin up and face right into his.

“Tell me why I should tell you anything about her.”

“She’s, we’re --” Mark gasps, struggles, handsome face going a bright boiling red “-- I live a block over. My daughter goes to the same preschool as Tracey.”

“Yeah? And?”

“And, well, Mandy is - we’re -- well, it’s nothing, really … just, you know ...”

Mark goes even redder and trails off, as Trevor moves his foot away and raises his eyebrows, absolutely delighted.

“You’re fucking her?”

The look on Mark’s face says it all. Trevor laughs, breathlessly, imagining how the pretty ex-stripper with a husband so rarely at home must feel, sitting inside with two kids and not much else, maybe pleasuring herself every other night as she thinks of her husband’s once-kind face, maybe not getting much pleasure at all until she thinks of that dad at Tracey’s preschool who smiles at her each and every morning, and maybe she walks back with him after dropping Tracey off, and maybe one day he takes her by the elbow and kisses her cheek and asks her if she wants to go out to dinner, and she hides the ring on her finger and says yes and really, the kids love him, and she thinks she loves him a little, too, and even though he’s too gentle with her and can’t touch her with the passion Michael once did, at least he’s there, at least he touches her at all.

“That has nothing to do with you,” Mark says, feebly.

“Oh, no, no, no, I know. Nothing at all. I’m just a family friend, you know. I’m not any competition to you.” Trevor can’t stop laughing even as he lies, and Mark looks at least a little better, though he’s still wincing as he puts any weight on his foot. “Sorry about that, buddy. It’s been a long day at all and someone’s got to watch out for poor, lonely Amanda and those fatherless kids of hers. I’m glad she’s got someone, you know.”

“Uh, um. No. It’s- it’s understandable. I maybe shouldn’t have asked you all of that without, ah, introducing myself.”

Trevor nods and slings an arm around the spineless, stupid man’s shoulders, squeezing him tight. “Hey, you know it’s her birthday today, right? Twenty five and looking good for it.”

“Um, yeah - I was going to ask her out for dinner --”

“No, no, none of that wining and dining shit. She’s not in right now anyway. I’ll tell you what. We’re having a party tonight, me and a few friends of hers, a big surprise thing. You should come.”

“I --”

“Don’t you dare say no. You owe it to that woman to show up.”

“Um. Sure. What time?”

“Come about eleven. I know it’s late, but you could be another big surprise for her. You know, you turn up in a suit with a huge bunch of roses or something, or maybe some big diamonds earrings - she would eat that shit up, buddy. You’d be in her good books for life.”

Mark swallows, hard, shifting as far away from Trevor as he can. Trevor laughs and is about to tempt him even more when he notices a face at the window. Michael is looking curiously out at them, eyebrows raised at the sight of him half-hugging a total stranger. Mark doesn’t seem to notice, so Trevor lets him go and gives him a little shove down the street.

“Don’t forget, Mark, eleven o’clock, right here! Bring alcohol, too.”

“Okay, I --” Mark stumbles backwards, evidently eager to escape. “I will. Sure. See you- see you then.”

Trevor grins at him until he’s all the way down the street and quickly turning the corner, and then he laughs again, just a little huff of breath that he can’t contain. Michael disappears from the window and opens the front door instead, frown visible all the way from the house.

“What are you up to, T?” he yells. He strikes such a different figure to the weakling that was Mark - he’s not got that soft hair or those kind eyes, but he’s more handsome, more daring, more compelling than that sack of shit could ever be. There’s a slither of a streamer in his hair, dangling in his eyes.

“Just getting friendly with the locals,” Trevor says, walking back up to the house and grinning. He hops on the porch and reaches forward to briefly clasp Michael’s wrist, as though that small touch will distract him from what he just saw.

It seems to work - Michael pulls his hand away but gives Trevor a brief and soft upward turn of his lips - and he heads back inside. Trevor follows, excited about this party for the first time; he can’t wait for Amanda to show up and get drunk and have presents laid out for her, and he can’t wait for Mark to show up to proclaim how much he clearly loves her and, most of all, he can’t wait for Michael to bloody up his fist in revenge of his failing marriage.

---

Amanda screams when she flicks the lights on and finds what must be half the neighbourhood in her house.

Trevor decides not to jump right in her face, in the end, instead hiding behind the table with Lester who looks like he’s never had any fun in his entire life before, all frowning mouth and knotted eyebrows. Michael strides up to her once she’s finished screaming and kisses her deeply on the mouth, small wrapped present in his hand.

“Happy birthday, darling,” he says, pulling back, and the crowd all whoops and claps.

After that, the party is another surprise for Trevor; it’s not all men and women dressed in beige, sipping on sparkling wine and discussing work. It’s a real party. The alcohol is poured at once, and poured thick and fast. Trevor goes straight for the vodka and pours Lester one, too, turning away from the make-shift alcohol table in search of him.

It’s amazing how quickly the party has descended into the familiar. The music on the stereo is almost deafening, and a makeshift dance floor has been formed in the dining room, with bodies too old to be acting like teenagers grinding up against each other. Trevor’s also pretty sure he’s seen some coke being sneaked none-too subtly into the bathroom. All that’s missing is some lap dancing and gambling.

He passes a group of what must be Amanda’s friends from her pre-Michael days; they’re mostly tall, mostly skinny, mostly beautiful. They seem to know him, too, because they all shoot him disgusted looks and turn away to whisper to each other. He sticks a finger up at them and walks on by.

He passes Amanda and Michael, too, having a whispered conversation in the hallway, Amanda wearing the platinum and diamond bracelet that Michael’s treated her to. He has his hands on her lower back and she’s whispering in his ear. Trevor puts his finger up at them, too.

Lester is found in the living room, sat in Amanda’s armchair and looking around at the partying groups with something close to fear. Trevor hovers in the doorway and momentarily pities him; he’s lived a hermit’s life, mostly, and though he’s no stranger to raucous behaviour, that’s usually just from Michael and Trevor, or faceless people in a bar. These are men and women who nearly all know each other, and know nothing of the murders or robberies that select partygoers have indulged in.

“Thanks,” Lester says, taking the drink from him, and then wincing when Trevor sits on the arm of his chair. “Remind me why I’m needed here again?”

“I think Michael wants to play happy families.”

“Then let him fucking play it. He has a wife and kids to do that with. I have more than enough work to be getting on with without messing around here.” He takes a sip of his drink. “If we’re going to party, we could at least go somewhere that I can pay a girl to take her clothes off for me.”

“You’re such a gentleman,” Trevor says, but he agrees.

Lester just sighs in response and looks at the people across the room; they’re young, maybe around twenty or twenty one, and Trevor can’t imagine Michael hanging out with any of them by choice. Maybe they’re fellow parents of preschool toddlers that Amanda has met while living here, maybe not. Trevor can’t really bring himself to care, but he does admire the tight ass on one of the men.

“Some of Amanda’s old friends are here. They might be strippers. I could go get one of them for you.”

Lester gives him a stern look that’s far too old for someone his age. “Hey. Come on. There’s no point stirring trouble up here. We owe it to Michael to behave.”

“Fuck that, no we don’t. He doesn’t behave. We don’t owe him anything.”

“Mmm, we kind of do. Without him we wouldn’t pull off half the operations that we do.”

Trevor feels a low surge of anger in his belly, unpleasant and prickling. “Uh, if you remember correctly, when M spent a year playing happy families I did my own thing down south with a crew, and I did it fucking well.”

“Yeah? Why aren’t you still with them then?” Lester laughs until he sees the dangerous look in Trevor’s eye and hastily adds, “Not that I’m complaining. Without you I don’t think we’d be a success, either. We’re a team, you know.”

“Ah, Lester,” Trevor grins, anger dissipating instantly, “I knew you cared. You love us really.”

Love is a very strong word, Trevor. I think you’d be a little happier if you remembered that every so often.”

Trevor snorts. He doesn’t need a lecture from Lester of all people about love. He knows more about love than any drunken asshole in this house. It’s saved him, really; it’s made a dent in his heart that’s knocked his breathing out of sync and unlocked him, real and true, it’s allowed him to kill men with his bare hands and run those same hands over Michael, all over him, allowed his lips to press to that weathered, sacred skin.

“Don’t worry, Lester, there’s someone out there for you too. Maybe, you know, hiding out in their parent’s basement somewhere, but they’re out there. You’ll find her. Or him, or whatever.”

He means to say it with a smirk but instead he just sort of smiles, sadly, the vodka he’s sipping already going to his head. Lester blinks at him, not even taking offence, and it’s such a strange moment between them that Trevor has to stand up to get away from it.

“Trevor --”

“Forget it. I’m gonna find Michael and see if he has any blow.”

“Remember what I said about behaving,” Lester warns, but it’s on deaf ears; Trevor turns away from him.

He finds himself face to face with Michael, anyway, and it turns his stomach to see that he’s hand-in-hand with his wife.

“What’s this about Trevor behaving?” Michael asks.

“Never mind,” Lester says. “I don’t think I was getting through to him anyway.”

“Yeah, well, it’ll take stronger men than us to get T to behave.”

“Yadda, yadda, yadda.” Trevor waves a hand in dismissal, and doesn’t miss the way that Amanda’s frowning. It ages her at least ten years. He tells her so.

“Asshole,” she replies, sweetly, and Michael sighs.

“Come on, you two. T, I mean it, behave. Anyway, Mandy, babe, if you can ignore Trevor for five minutes, this is the guy I’ve been meaning to introduce you to. Lester, this is Amanda, Amanda, Lester.”

Lester heaves himself to his feet, wincing a little as he does so. Amanda lets go of Michael’s hand and takes Lester’s instead, shaking it nice and firm. Trevor raises his eyebrows; Lester has gone all red and coy faced with a pretty woman, and it’s fucking pathetic to see. Anyone would think he hadn’t sampled more than a few prostitutes during his time in the game.

“It’s nice to meet you at last,” Amanda says. It’s remarkable how polite she can be when she’s not talking to Trevor, he thinks. She’s got a genuine smile on her face. “Michael’s told me a lot about you.”

“Not, ah, too much I hope.”

“Relax, L. She knows about our … uh, work, you know. She ain’t a snitch.”

“I don’t think Lester was suggesting that, Michael,” Amanda says, but she looks pleased at his defense at her anyway. “I’m really glad you could make it. This whole party is crazy, but I’m glad Michael could have some friends here, too. At least, some of them, you know.”

Trevor doesn’t miss the snub. He opens his mouth to argue but then Lester talks over him, still as red as anything. “Thanks. I-I, uh, I’ve heard a lot about you too. You and the kids. Michael’s very lucky.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Trevor mutters, and Michael elbows him.

“Thanks,” she smiles. “Can I get anyone drink?”

“No, this is your party, enjoy it,” Michael says. “I’ll get them.”

He presses a quick kiss to the top of her head and disappears into the hallway. Amanda looks a little nervous about being left alone with the other two most important people - or, adults, at least - in Michael’s life, but Lester quickly starts stuttering at her again about the kids, and soon she’s pointing at photos on the wall and talking about how well Jimmy got through the worst of his teething.

Trevor likes Jimmy well enough, but he can’t find it in himself to care about teeth, so he excuses himself with a dark look at Lester. Lester looks a little terrified at being left alone with her. She smiles at him again, tossing her hair over her shoulder, and he’s lost to her again, eyes snapping from Trevor at once.

It’s painful, Trevor thinks as he shoves through a crowd loitering in the hallway, it’s fucking painful how many of his friends fall foul to the charms of this woman that he just can’t see himself.

He checks his watch. Ten to eleven. If Mark is punctual - and Trevor is guessing he will be, from all he saw of him before - it’s nearly show time.

That helps him breathe a little easier at the thought of losing someone else to her. Lester’s hardly on the same level to him as Michael, not even close, but he’d kind of hoped for an ally in hating her; Lester though seems as determined as Michael was to deviate from Trevor’s train of thought. She is not an instantly dislikable woman, but Michael’s nice and charming wife. It’s downright disgusting.

By the time he gets in the kitchen he feels a bit better, mostly owing to the line of coke he managed to score as he passed the bathroom. It had been offered to him by a pretty respectable looking young woman with wild, dark eyes and long red hair, but when the stinging had faded and he’d turned, pumped up and ready for anything, she’d been gone, and he hadn’t managed to buy anymore from her.

Michael’s in here, leaning against the fridge. The drinks he was supposed to be bringing back lie abandoned on the counter, and he’s instead preoccupied with talking to one of Amanda’s old friends, leaning in close to her and surely breathing beer all over her face.

She doesn’t look all that displeased about it.

“-- maybe there’s, you know, a way around this,” he’s murmuring, reaching forward to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.

She laughs. It’s not quite a giggle, but she laughs nonetheless and ducks her head. Trevor stops in the doorway and watches the way they lean into each other. It’s too shameless for him; if Michael is going to flaunt his affairs in his family home, he could at least have the balls to tell Amanda to her face.

“That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea,” she replies in a whisper. “What do you have in mind, boss?”

“Boss?” Trevor laughs, loudly, and walks over to them. Michael straightens up and the woman jumps right away as though burned by him. He opens the fridge and gets himself a beer before slamming it with a little more force than strictly necessary. “That’s a strange way to talk to your friend’s husband.”

“Um, excuse me?” she asks, too sweetly. “Do I know you?”

“No,” he says, shortly.

The girl looks at Michael who dismisses her with a brief wave of a hand.“Remember, we need to talk,” she says, with a pointed look at Michael, and leaves. Michael stares after her with hunger fast fading in his face. When he turns to Trevor, the hunger has been replaced with a mild curiosity and a face far too innocent for a man just caught almost-cheating.

“Enjoying the party?” Michael asks, casually. Trevor’s hands shake a little as he tries to uncap his bottle.

Trevor just grunts in response. The cap is stuck fast on the bottle, no matter how he prises at it with the bottle opener.

“Good. I hope Amanda’s having a good time.”

He grunts again. His hands start to ache and he curses, stamping his foot, the cap not budging one bit. The bottle nearly smashes in his grip.

Michael watches him struggle for a little while until giving in and reaching over, wrapping his hand tightly over Trevor’s fingers. When Trevor looks up, eyes dark, he finds Michael smiling softly at him. He gives Trevor’s fingers a squeeze.

“You okay?” he asks, gently.

Trevor jerks his hand, shaking Michael’s off and finally uncapping the bottle. He brings it to his lips as it foams, and then swallows a great gulp of it. “Oh, I’m fine,” he says, mildly, though he knows his twitching fingers and tense jaw are betraying him. “Couldn’t be better, Mikey.”

“I ain’t an idiot, T. What’s wrong? Is Amanda being bitchy to you again?”

Trevor slams his beer down on the counter, making it foam right over the rim and down the neck of it, spilling over his hand. He lifts his fingers to his lips and sucks on them, not missing the way Michael’s eyes follow the movement.

“Your wife,” Trevor says, slowly lowering his hand, “is not the problem, no.”

“Lester giving you a hard time? One of the guests?”

Michael looks so pathetically earnest that Trevor knows he really doesn’t have a clue, and that just about breaks Trevor’s heart. He doesn’t realise. He doesn’t know at all, he doesn’t seem to feel at all, at least nothing close to Trevor’s intense belly-squeezes, those butterflies that are really bats, choking him whenever Michael throws him the barest and smallest of bones. He feels like a snapping dog, always begging, always left wanting more.

The man in front of him doesn’t seem to understand at all. Having a wife and children is one thing, visiting stripper clubs and fucking prostitutes is another, and flirting with one of his wife’s friends when she’s not only home, but when Michael’s - Michael’s business partner or best friend or fuck buddy, whatever Trevor is, when he’s there as well -- it’s shameless and it’s so shady, and Trevor can’t stop from wanting to kill Michael, right here and now.

“Sorry,” Michael says, eyebrows raised, “but I’m clearly missing something here. Are you pissed because I forgot to bring your drinks back?”

Trevor laughs in his face, as viciously as he can. “You know, you can be a real fucking asshole when you want to be, Townley.”

“It’s Smith here,” Michael says, with a quick look around the deserted kitchen. Trevor blinks. “Michael Smith.”

“Ah. Oh. Great, great. Well, forgive me Michael Smith for forgetting whatever fake life you’re living today.”

“Hey, fuck you. You know I got to be careful. I ain’t telling you how to live your life, so quit telling me how to live mine when I’m just trying to protect me and my family.”

“Oh, your family? They’re your number one priority now?” Trevor laughs again, running a hand through his hair. “That’s rich. That’s real fucking rich. Were you trying to protect them when you were just trying to get into that girl’s pants?”

“That girl --? Oh. You mean Daisy. Oh, no, no, man, it’s nothing like that. We were just talking. I wouldn’t ever do anything with her.”

Trevor slams his fist into the fridge. It breezes only an inch away from Michael’s face, who flinches, and it dents the front of it. “Do not fucking lie to me, Michael,” Trevor hisses and presses his face right up against his, teeth bared. “I don’t like being lied to, least of all by my best friend.”

Michael raises his palms in surrender. “I’m not lying. I’m not about to bang a chick while my wife’s in the next room.”

“Yeah, that would be far too immoral for a guy like you, right?”

“You’ve seen me with girls before. I don’t get what your fucking problem is, but you need to spit it out or leave it because you’re beginning to piss me off.”

It’s remarkable how the distance between them has lessened, and it’s remarkable how that low, familiar sweet heat starts to spread from Trevor’s belly, rushing into his chest and balling up there, threatening to squeeze his heart until it stops altogether.

Michael’s an asshole, and his eyes are narrowed and cheeks blazing bright red, and he looks so flushed with something close to guilt, that Trevor can’t help it.

He presses his lips against Michael’s, softly, far more softly than he intends to. Michael lets out a surprised, pleased little noise, eyes slipping closed at once.

Trevor puts his hand flat against Michael’s chest, feeling the steady jolt of his heart, and closes his own eyes. He knows this kiss will be over in seconds far too few, with prying, drunken bodies that could stumble in at any second. All he wants is for this to linger, possibly for the rest of his life. It’s better than any car chase or bloodied knife or any pile of stolen cash.

It almost breaks him, but he’s the one who pulls away.

Michael’s lips are still slightly parted. There’s a look of wonder in his eyes like Trevor’s kissed him for the first time all over again, and when their eyes lock he smiles softly, sweetly. He is Trevor’s again. He is Trevor’s for now.

“T,” he says, still smiling. “Next week, when we’re out of here, we should --”

“Uh, excuse me?” calls a new voice from the doorway, and Michael’s got a hand on Trevor’s shoulder before he can even process it, shoving him away. Trevor stumbles, turns, hands already itching to strangle the intruder.

His hands fall to his sides.

“Ah,” he says, quietly. “It’s you.”

“Um, hi,” Mark says, rubbing the back of his neck. He’s all suited up for the occasion and the bouquet in his arms is a ridiculously huge bouquet of red roses. Michaels pushes himself off the dented fridge and frowns, looking between the two of them.

“Can I help you?” he asks, a little too aggressively. Mark blinks.

“Sorry for interrupting. I just, um … I’m looking for Mandy.”

Mandy?”

“Amanda. Amanda Smith, you know.”

“You a neighbour or something?” Michael asks, and Trevor can’t suppress his grin. Mark had the audacity to interrupt something that could have been so much more, so he deserves every bruise he gets tonight.

“Kind of. My girl’s in preschool with Tracey.”

That seems to endear him to Michael, who takes another big step away from Trevor at the mention of his daughter. “Oh, okay. Cool. I’ll go find her with you. What’s your name?”

“It’s Mark.”

“Cool. I’m Michael.” He says it like Mark should know exactly who he is, husband to Amanda and father to Tracey and owner of this house. Mark nods, obviously oblivious, and follows Michael through to the living room. Trevor, still grinning, follows with a bit of a skip to his step. “You’ve met Trevor, I think?”

“Trevor?” Mark asks, and Michael jerks his head back towards Trevor. Mark swallows as Trevor notices the way he’s limping slightly. “Umm. Yeah. We met.”

Michael looks back at Trevor with curiosity all over his face, and there’s a bit of a smirk there, too; he must know from the tone of Mark’s voice what kind of meeting they had. Trevor mimes shooting Mark in the back of the head and Michael, ever the graceful host, manages not to laugh.

“Here’s the birthday girl,” Michael says as they reach her. She’s still talking to Lester who has at least started to relax now, and she turns with a bright smile at the proud tone of Michael’s voice. Then -- she freezes, every inch of her but her eyes, which slide from Michael, to Trevor, to the beaming Mark.

“Um,” she says, stupidly.

“Mandy.” Mark thrusts the bouquet of roses under her nose and after a beat she takes them, eyes wide and terrified. “Happy birthday.”

“Oh. Um. Thanks, uh -- what’s, um --” She falters, and it’s a sight to see her trussed up in her slinky black dress, diamonds glittering at her wrists and ears, her eyes rolling madly from person to person. A few of the guests around them have turned to look at her and the gigantic flowers, and Mark won’t wipe the stupid sappy smile from his face. Trevor resists rubbing his hands together in glee.

Michael tenses. Trevor guesses he isn’t a complete idiot sometimes. Even he can’t miss the tension in the room and Amanda’s blatant fear. He steps forward, squaring his shoulders.

“Amanda, is everything okay? Mark here said he has a kid that goes to the same preschool as Trace.”

Amanda looks between them, and then helplessly at Lester, who just looks confused. Then she looks at Trevor, who is smiling a devil’s smile at her, and she swallows, something dawning over her.

And then she switches, immediately, the fear being replaced by an almost-natural casual confusion.

“Oh. Mark, right. Sorry, I knew I’d met you before but I couldn’t quite place you. Of course, you’re Sandra’s dad, right? Tracey’s teacher told me they get along really well.” She smiles at him and then down at the roses. “Thank you so, so much for these. They’re beautiful, but really, they’re too much. You shouldn’t have.”

Mark’s eyebrows knit together. “Why are you acting so weird?”

She takes it right in her stride, tilting her head. “Sorry?”

“You heard me. Why are you pretending you don’t know me? What’s the matter?”

“I -- I’m sorry. I really don’t know what you mean. Nothing’s the matter.” She gives Michael a meaningful, believable look; to anyone but Trevor and Mark, she looks like a puzzled woman being bombarded with lavish gifts by a near-stranger, who’s acting way too familiar with her for a mere acquaintance. “Um, I don’t mean to be rude but, uh, who invited you?”

Trevor hates her for her fine acting skills, but he also kind of admires her.

Mark turns and points straight at Trevor, and the small group of people who have turned to watch all look at him, Michael and Lester and Amanda included. Her eyes go briefly wide as she realises he knows, he must know her secret, and he locks gazes with her.

He could ruin her right here and now. She is the one big threat to his happiness, after all; she stole Michael away just as Michael had started to really fall for Trevor, and she is the one who wears his ring and lives in his house and gets to share her nights with him when Trevor is halfway across the country, freezing his ass off and missing Michael with an awful intensity. She is the only other person Michael seems to have loved, if he’s ever loved Trevor or anyone at all. She is the one obstacle to his nirvana, and he has her ruin firmly in his grasp. A couple of words and Michael could be storming right out of the door, sickening happy family facade finally gone.

But then Trevor catches sight of a family portrait hanging on the wall behind her, with Tracey and Jimmy and their parents, all smiling faces and cuddling bodies, and it should make him sick but instead, he just feels kind of deflated.

There is no war between them any longer. She won the battle a long, long time ago, and even though he knows that Michael will never give up the game and never give up Trevor by default, he also has two children that Trevor - somehow - has started to care for.

He thinks of those long nights tangled with Michael and their brief moment shared against the fridge, and then he thinks of the strippers Michael has slept with since his wedding, and he thinks of the woman he was clearly thinking of bedding mere seconds before Trevor walked into the kitchen. Amanda’s eyes are pretty eyes. His own mother had pretty eyes like that, until they were ruined by a man walking out.

Trevor swallows. Clears his throat.

“I didn’t invite you to shit,” he spits, and he’s not sure who looks more surprised, Amanda or Mark or Michael. “Yeah, I saw this jerk earlier outside, he was sneaking around and asking loads of weird questions about Amanda, so I nearly broke his foot and told him if he shows his face here again, I’ll kill him. I get the feeling we’ve got a stalker in the making in our hands.”

Mark’s jaw goes slack and his shoulders slump, and in seconds Michael’s got his hand on his shoulder and he’s shaking him. “What the fuck? You’re stalking my wife?”

“Wife?” Mark asks, looking lost and desperate. He tries to turn to appeal to Amanda, but Michael’s got him stuck to the spot. “I didn’t know she was married. She never told me she was married.”

“Why would I tell you that? We’ve never really spoken. I- I’m sorry, I don’t understand what’s going on. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologise to him, babe,” Michael says, shaking him again. “This sack of shit is leaving.”

“Mandy, please --”

“It’s Amanda,” she says, coldly, and Trevor is speechless with how impressed he is. “Michael’s right. You need to leave, Mike, Mark, whatever your name is. Don’t bother talking to me at the preschool again. If you do, I’ll be calling the cops.”

“You won’t need the cops,” Michael says, loudly, his meaning clear.

Mark pulls himself from Michael’s grip and straightens out his shirt. “This is fucked up,” he says, to Amanda, who just glares at him. “You’re all fucked up.”

“You come near my wife again, and your whole life will be fucked up,” Michael snaps, and grabs him by the shoulder of his sleeve, dragging him none too gently out into the hallway and towards the door. “You’re lucky I don’t shoot your ass right here in front of everyone.”

And Trevor honestly is surprised; he expected Michael to at least break his nose or something, instead of just kicking him out to the curb and slamming the front door so hard that half the party hushes as the house shakes.

He reemerges in the living room and makes a great show of dusting down his jacket. He smiles widely and charmingly around at the room. “Let’s get back on with the party, then,” he says, and there’s a few cheers and the party rages on.

Amanda turns away, nursing her drink close to her face as she faces the mantel piece. Michael is breathless with anger. Lester, resting back against the armchair, is looking inscrutably at Trevor, who avoids everyone’s eye. He doesn’t like lying, least of all to Michael and for Amanda’s sake. The thought turns his tongue bitter. He wants to put his fist through that family portrait until that family doesn’t exist at all anymore.

“So, M,” Lester attempts feebly, “Amanda was telling me you’ve been thinking of getting an office extension.”

“Huh? Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it. Somewhere to relax, you know.”

Michael is obviously trying to keep his voice even but the twitch of his left eye gives him away; it’s a miracle that Mark is walking out of here at all. Maybe it’s the crowds of people here. If they were in some darkened alley, Trevor has no doubt that Michael would have bashed the man’s brains right in.

“That sounds … good.”

“Yeah.”

In the midst of the stilted conversation, Amanda manages to leave. Looking firmly down at the ground, she heads out of the French doors to the back yard, completely ignoring whoever tries to stop her with birthday wishes. Michael, pretending to be interested in what Lester’s saying, struggles to keep his cigarette between his lips with his jaw so tense.

The beat on the radio dies and is replaced by a slower, sensuous song; Aretha Franklin floats through the house. Michael pulls a face, nodding his head towards the back door. It’s Amanda’s music, obviously, and not the cheesy rock that Michael’s been happily blasting out all night. Trevor has to say he kind of prefers Aretha’s rich voice to the relentless guitar of 80’s glam rock or whatever it is that Michael always plays. He stares at the glass door. He can’t stop thinking of Amanda’s eyes.

“An office would be a good place to, uh … you know. Work from home,” Lester says and wiggles his eyebrows in such an unsubtle way that Michael starts to laugh, his shoulders relaxing just enough for them all to breathe a little easier. “Now you live a little closer, too, we could could get some serious business done.

” That sets them both off, the great thinkers, and Trevor’s free to leave them to it their conversation. Unnoticed by either of them, he slips through the door Amanda’s left opened, and he shivers in the cool night air.

There’s a frost settling that’s sure to be covered in snow by the morning. The sky is clear and starry, at at the far end of the yard great plumes of smoke rise into it. Amanda is huddled underneath the birch tree furthest from the house, cigarette dangling between her thin fingers, back to the house. Trevor pauses, and wonders what she’s thinking.

He slides the glass door shut behind him and the music and conversation and shrieks of laughter of those inside muffle instantly. Amanda takes a great drag on her cigarette and turns, hair hanging in her eyes.

She doesn’t look all that surprised or bothered to see Trevor. She just brings the cigarette back to her lips and watches him as he walks towards her, hands shoved deep into his pockets. He wishes he brought his beer out here to keep his hands preoccupied. It feels like he’s eaten too much or drank too much or something -- the coke has fast faded from his blood system, but he feels sick anyway.

“I thought you were Michael,” she says, quietly. He stops just in front of her.

“Sorry to disappoint.”

She laughs, shortly. “Mmm. That’s okay. I forgive you.”

“That makes a change.”

Her lips briefly quirk upwards and she holds out her packet of smokes. He shakes his head.

“You’re telling me that you don’t smoke? You?”

“I don’t know what Michael’s told you but I’m not the type to put that shit into my body. Now, if you handed me a pipe and a little bit of crystal, I may reconsider your offer.”

She looks at him strangely, but not all that judgmentally. When she clearly doesn’t find the answer she’s searched for in his face, she shrugs and stubs out her cigarette underneath her heel. The light catches on her bracelet again. He wonders how much that cost Michael, and if he flirted with the cashier when he bought it. He bets she fell right for him.

He wants to tell Amanda how much he pities and loathes her. He really wants to tell her how sweetly Michael fucks him when they’re far away from this place.

“I thought this house would be really good for us,” Amanda says, and Trevor starts. She crosses her arms over her chest and looks up at it. She shivers a little in the cool air. “It was nice, you know. The realtor brought us round and up the stairs and pointed out all of the nice little features - the built-in wardrobes, the big French doors, the potential for this yard to be a great little play area for the kids. She thought we were a nice, normal family with a nice, normal relationship.”

Trevor - who is never at a loss for words - doesn’t quite know what to say. He shifts his weight from foot to foot and grunts. Amanda is lost in her head and doesn’t notice how uncomfortable he’s become.

“If only she knew. If only she fucking knew.”

“Uh. Knew what?”

Amanda doesn’t answer him right away. She plays with her pack of cigarettes, thumb running over the label. “Sorry. You don’t need to hear this. I should be talking about this to you.”

“I’m not going to tell him what you’re saying, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Trevor says. He doesn’t know why, but he means it.

“Why not?”

“Are you pissed at me for it? Jesus. There really is no keeping you happy.”

“Is that what Michael says about me?”

He looks at her, expecting tears but finding weariness. She is a woman first hopeful, then abandoned, and then forgotten. Michael is a lot of things to Trevor but he knows he’s not a good husband or an attentive father. He isn’t the aggressive type like his own father - Trevor doesn’t think he’ll ever raise a hand to his kids or once-doting wife and that barest standard of decency is something, at least, but it’s not enough.

“No,” Trevor says, after a beat. “Do you want to know what he says about you?”

She clearly considers it, chewing at the inside of her lip, but in the end she shakes her head. “Do you want to know what he says about you?”

Yes, he thinks, but instead he laughs with as much bravado as he can. “I’m pretty sure I can guess what that two-faced asshole says. Don’t strain yourself repeating it.”

“Mmm. Sounds like things are a little sour in your fairytale,” she comments, bitterness foaming out between her lips with every word. He glances at her with a slight and vicious grin.

“You’re one to fucking talk, huh?”

That shuts her up and the bitter amusement turns into nervousness again, fear tensing her shoulders right up. She audibly swallows. “That’s -- look, sorry, that was uncalled for. You knew. You know, right? You knew all along.”

“Uh --?”

“About Mark. I could tell the second that he walked in. You knew, and you didn’t tell Michael. You lied for me.”

“I didn’t do shit for you, don’t flatter yourself.” Trevor starts to itch with annoyance and the need to get drunker. “I just haven’t had a chance to talk to Michael properly yet.”

With eyebrows raised and corner of her mouth turned upward, she clearly doesn’t believe him. He scowls at her until she looks away and back towards the house. “Just in case you were wondering, I know too.”

Trevor’s ready to frown and ask her what the fuck she’s on about it when he catches her wide-eyed meaningful look, gaze sliding from him to the house and then back again. His stomach gives an unpleasant lurch as the truth of it dawns on him. She doesn’t mean that she knows about her own affair, or even Michael’s other potential affairs with unknown women, but that she knows about the worst and most intense affair either of them have ever had. She knows that Trevor warms his bed on cold nights and sucks his cock on lazy mornings. She knows that her husband is not entirely hers.

He stares at her. The itch gets stronger.

“I just wanted you to be aware of that,” she adds, watching him closely.

“And you thought whatever figment of your imagination you’re obsessing over gives you the right to threaten me?”

“It’s not a threat,” she says. “Michael is … well, he’s Michael. He’s a fucking asshole. He’s a drug-using, oblivious, thrill-seeking asshole who thinks it’s okay to treat me like this and expect me to stay pure and innocent while he’s away, while he pimps out my friends and probably sleeps with them in our bed and --”

“Hold on,” Trevor says, raising a hand right in her face to silence her heated rant, “hold on just a fucking second. He pimps out your friends?”

“Well, duh. What do you think he does when he’s here? He’s not taking Tracey to school or getting Jimmy’s dinners ready.”

“You’re telling me he’s a pimp? Seriously?”

Amanda grimaces. “Well, not exactly. When we met, a few of my friends were working for this really dodgy guy who lay his hands on them one too many times, so I asked Michael to pay the guy off and get them out of their … contracts. They carried on working so as a kind of favour, you know, they unofficially work for him. He chooses where they get their business, he looks after them if any of their, um, clients mistreat them, and he gets a cut of their pay. It was win-win for him, until he got obsessed with it like he gets obsessed with everything that turns to putty in his hands. What do you think that office is for? He’s not exactly the paperwork type.”

“I thought- I thought --”

Trevor had thought the office was for secretary roleplays with Amanda bent over the desk and for Michael to retreat to with a bottle of whiskey when the kids got a little too much for him. It would be a place to pretend to be some normal head of some normal family, with books on the shelves that Michael will probably never read, and art on the wall that Michael would never be able to understand or appreciate.

Amanda’s looking rather concerned at the red in his cheeks. “Um, is this really such a big surprise to you? I obviously know you both go to strip clubs.”

“There’s a big difference between visiting a strip club and selling women for sex.”

“I mean, it’s not exactly like that. At first he was doing those girls a favour and it’s not like he hurts them or forces them to stay in the job or anything. It’s just --”

“They have sex for money, and he has a take.”

“I’m pretty sure you’ve slept with a prostitute before, Trevor. I don’t get why this is so different when the first time we met you murdered the owner of the motel we were in.” When he doesn’t do anything but glare at her, she adds, ”You haven’t got a moral high ground here.”

“You’re the one fucking complaining about him, but when I do it it’s hypocritical?”

“I didn’t mean --”

“You’ve been fucking a guy who is definitely not your husband. You’re the hypocrite here, Mandy.”

“Please, please keep your voice down.” She looks over at the house, the muffled beat of the radio picking up again. “If he hears you, he’ll kill me. It won’t matter what I know about him.”

“I already told you I’m not gonna tell him anything.”

He takes a big step away from her and her imploring eyes. His heart is still racing in his chest at the thought of Michael making money off those women sleeping with gross, seedy strangers. He’s not even sure why until he remembers that other woman in his life who was once taken advantage of by the underworld; his mother used to stand on street corners and come home with bruised eyes and swollen lips. He sleeps with strippers and is sometimes a little trigger happy, and he makes his living from other people’s suffering, but for Michael to turn those women into his mother- his darling, lost, locked-up mother --

“Trevor,” Amanda says, sharply, and he snaps back to life. “Let go of me before I start screaming.”

He blinks fast until the awful thoughts fade. His fingers are wrapped bruisingly tight around Amanda’s upper arm despite her struggling. He blinks once more and lets her go at once, and both of them stare down at the red marks there.

She looks - for the first time - afraid of him. “You fucking asshole! What’s your problem?”

“I- I didn’t mean to --” He falters. He doesn’t know what his problem is, except that his mother doesn’t love him, that Michael probably doesn’t love him, and that he’s not drunk enough for tonight. He can’t find it within himself to apologise so he just licks his lips and promises, “It won’t happen again, okay? You were just … there. I didn’t mean that for you.”

“You’re insane.”

“You’re a cheating liar.”

Her mouth snaps shut. They glare at each other for moment longer before she sighs, pockets her cigarettes and heads back towards the house. He watches her every step of the way and dreams of killing her in ways he hasn’t dreamed of for years, and he’s not even sure why. It’s less about jealousy and more about the fact that Michael really is - like she so eloquently put - a thrill-seeking asshole. He will drop those women and their livelihoods the moment he gets bored.

Michael wants things. Michael chases things. Michael gets things and loves things and makes them love him, and then he gets bored and breaks them. Amanda is breaking, now. Trevor feels already broken.

It’s starting to lightly snow. After a minute or two of breathing in deep and wishing he’d never said yes to being a guest at this godforsaken party, he follows Amanda back inside, shaking the flakes from his hair and jacket once he’s back through the door.

She’s nowhere in sight, but Michael and Lester are still talking in their corner with their heads bowed close together. They look up as Trevor enters, Michael straightening up and crossing his arms over his chest.

“Work,” he says, in explanation, and Trevor nods. “Were you out there with Amanda?”

“Yep.” Trevor should offer more information, if only to berate Michael for running a fucking prostitution ring without letting any of his friends know or to tell him that his wife has been sleeping with the guy he just accused of stalking, but he just shrugs. “It’s real cold outside.”

Michael gives him a look. “And what were you talking about? I ain’t in the mood for your games.”

“I’m not playing any games. I was just wishing your wife a happy birthday and talking about puppy care.”

It’s hard to lie to Michael but it seems to work; Michael uncrosses his arms and sighs, shrugging himself. “Okay. Sure, whatever. I better go find her before she gets too drunk.”

He pushes through a crowd of neighbours and into the hallway. Trevor watches him, miserably, and then retakes his place on the arm of Lester’s chair. He looks down at his hands and lets the beat of the music wash over him and turn him back to someone who doesn’t care, someone who can laugh it all off or take it all out on some unsuspecting victim. He les out a long, long sigh.

Lester passes him a half-drunk glass of vodka and coke.

“Enjoy it,” Lester murmurs, and Trevor is suddenly, intensely grateful for his limping, cowardly, clever bastard of a friend.

xiv. 1996

Lester wheels out the cork board from behind the sofa, and he’s smiling like a proud mother at his kid’s first baseball game.

“This,” he says, making a lavish gesture with his hand at what must be his magnus opus, “is it, gentleman. This is what we have been dreaming of for our entire adult lives.”

“The Big One?” Trevor asks, squinting at the board.

“Um, no, Trevor, it’s not The Big One. I haven’t magically found us all of the means to rob a gold depository. This is a robbery that’s unlike any we’ve seen so far. You see, three cities over we have a very large jewellery store that - due to some very delicate technical difficulties and staffing issues that yours truly has a little something to do with - is looking a little vulnerable next Tuesday evening. There will be a, ah … big distraction next door, and that will lead a lot of authorities who will be nice and busy when we strike the big safe at the back of the store.”

Trevor and Michael are squeezed together on the small sofa and they share a quick, uncertain look.

Michael takes up the mantle after a few moments of confused silence. “Technical difficulties? Staffing issues?”

“Exactly right.”

“Um. How exactly?”

Lester jerks his thumb in the direction of his computer, quietly humming in the corner of the room. “The internet is becoming a truly wonderful friend of ours.”

“You’re telling me you did all that from your computer?” Michael stares at the unassuming machine for a while. He shakes his head. “I swear, man, you’re a fucking genius. I don’t understand how you got any of this, but it sounds gold. What’s the plan?”

The plan turns out to be pretty simple, but even Trevor has to admit it’s brilliantly so. Lester’s contacted a local, small time gang to set an abandoned warehouse close to the store on fire at six pm and then when the police and fire services are preoccupied, Michael, Trevor and a few associates will go into the back of the store and take out the guards, nice and quietly, the most able of them disabling the alarms, and they will convince one of the late-working managers to open up the safe for them and get them the jewels. Someone will be parked across the street in a beat-up inconspicuous old Ford to drive them out and away and two cities over, where Lester will be waiting to find good buyers for the stolen goods.

When Lester finishes, he stands there breathless and triumphant, staring at their two slack-jaws and pairs of wide eyes.

It’s absolutely mad. It’s ridiculous and ambitious and probably never going to work, and Trevor loves it.

“Lester, you old dog!” he howls, leaping onto his feet. He puts his arms right around his waist and lifts him clean off the floor. Lester struggles and shouts but Trevor just hugs him, swinging him right around. “I take it all back about you.”

“Put me down, T,” Lester hisses, bright red with his glasses askew.

Trevor laughs and lets him go so suddenly he stumbles over and has to throw his hands forward to stop himself falling flat on his face. Trevor laughs, again. He can’t quite explain his adrenaline but it’s been so long -- too long -- since he had a job he was actually excited about that he can’t keep the grin from his face.

“Jesus,” Lester says once he’s steadied himself. He fixes his glasses and gives Trevor a glare that would scare a lesser man. “I know that you’re enthusiastic, and that’s good, but save the energy for when you’re out there.”

“Yes, boss.”

Lester calmly puts a finger up at him and then turns to Michael, who’s still sat on the sofa with a strange look on his face. Trevor feels some of his elation ebb; his smile fades, slowly, as he watches the conflict taking place in those blue eyes. “M?” Lester asks, looking rather offended by the lack of shared enthusiasm. “What exactly are you frowning for?”

“I ain’t frowning,” Michael says slowly. “I’m just … well. This sounds good, but I’m worried it sounds a little too good. Who’s to say there won’t be CCTV that’ll catch us?”

“You’ll be wearing masks, of course. I already have them.”

“Okay, but what about the guards? Sure, you’ve messed with their timetables and stuff, but what if that doesn’t work? What if one of them is stood in the wrong place and sees us before we see them?”

“Then you make sure they don’t. That’s your side of the job, not mine.”

“But what if there’s another police despatch in the area, someone not tied up with the fire who sees right through the plan and gets onto the scene before we’ve finished emptying the safe? Or what if the staff refuse to empty the safe? There’s a hell of a lot of what-ifs here, Lester, that’s all I’m saying.”

Lester and Trevor stare at him, a united front for once. It’s like they’re talking to another man entirely. Michael matches their looks and crosses his arms, not backing down or laughing and explaining that he’s joking.

“Um,” Lester says.

“Um in-fucking-deed,” Trevor snorts, kicking his boot against the base of the corkboard. “What the fuck has crawled up in your ass and died?”

“Hey,” Michael says. “Nothing. I’m just looking at all the options here.”

“All the options? Lester has it all figured out. If things go wrong, we play it by ear like we always do. Hell, this job is planned better than any we’ve ever done.”

“And if it goes wrong?”

“We’re fucking criminals, Michael. I think we’ve got to accept a degree of risk here. Things aren’t going to be nice and smooth just because we’ve figured out what angle the guards are gonna be looking at.”

Michael stands up. “I just don’t want to go back to jail. That’s all.”

“You’ve never gone to jail for any job we’ve ever pulled together.”

“I know. I know, I do- but --” He visibly struggles with himself. Lester is looking at a loss but nobody is looking at him; Michael is avoiding everyone’s eye by staring at the floor, and Trevor’s scrutinising every flex of every one of his muscles. There’s something right on the tip of Michael’s tongue.

“Spit it out, then.”

“Nothing. It’s nothing, ignore me. Forget it.”

Lester and Trevor glance at each other. There’s a twitch going in Lester’s jaw as he looks from his darling plan to his asshole of a colleague. Voice carefully measured and calm, he says “If there are any faults in my plans, I’d be more than willing to --” just as Trevor laughs out a bark and says “Michael, you’re the worst fucking liar on the planet”.

Michael blinks at the sudden bombardment. “Jesus. I ain’t having a go at either of you, so chill the fuck out. It’s just a big scale thing, you know, and if we’re caught I think the punishment could be harsh. Tracey’s got her first day at school coming up and Mandy wanted me to take --”

“Oh Christ.” Trevor throws his hands up. “Let’s all hear it for the father of the fucking year. When’s the last time you gave two shits about missing your kid’s milestones?”

“Hey,” Michael says sharply. “Don’t talk about my family that way.”

“I’m not talking about your family that way. I’m talking about you that way. You’re on the job now and us getting those jewels means you getting to treat your family even better. You’ve never cared about the risks before.”

“I know. I know. I don’t care about the risks now. I ain’t a coward, it’s not that.”

“That’s what it sounds like.”

“Trevor, that’s really not helping,” Lester interjects, raising a hand to each of them. “Maybe let’s calm it down a little and talk about who’s going to be pulling this job with us. I’ve got some good people working on this, M. Maybe that’ll ease your … doubts a bit.”

Michael and Trevor glare at each other for a good while longer, until Michael’s shoulders slump and he throws himself back onto the couch. “Okay, sure. Let’s talk about that instead.”

Trevor zones out a little as Lester describes their three accomplices, but he gets their names -- Jerry, Luca and Alma. Three stooges if he ever fucking heard of any. He leans against the windowsill and watches Michael obsessively. His fingers twist uselessly on his lap but the rest of him is as still and as sure as ever. It’s like he hasn’t just acted completely alien, scared of risks and getting caught while using the shield of the family he’s so often absent from. Maybe he’s got a hunch or maybe he just doesn’t trust Lester’s planning, but there’s something up with him.

He does at least look rather more relaxed after Lester’s sang the praises of the men and woman he’s employed but Trevor isn’t much convinced. There’s still something lurking in his bright eyes.

“-- so then Luca starts the engine the second he sees Trevor’s signal, and you leave the building quickly and quietly one by one, and you do not speed, you just drive on out of there nice and slow until Luca can get you into the alley for the car change, and then you don’t stop for anything until you get back to the agreed meeting point. No parties, no women, not even a stop for some cigarettes. I’ll do my part with the jewels and within the coming weeks we’ll have more money than we can handle. Does that sound risk-free enough to you, Michael?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s completely risk free,” Michael says, but raises a hand before Lester can angrily interrupt, “but it’s enough. It’s good. I don’t mean to shit on all your work. You’ve done good.”

“Damn right I’ve done good.”

Trevor snorts but doesn’t disagree. “You fancy a trip out there with us? We could get you trained up with a big gun. It’d make a change for you to have one of those in yours hands.”

“That’s very clever. Very nice. How long did it take you to come up with that one?”

“All night long for you, Lester,” he sneers, and slaps Lester right on the ass to prove his point. Lester jumps and then sighs so heavily it finishes their little meeting right there and then. Michael gets to his feet, still looking thoughtful, and heads towards the doorway. “Oi, where are you going?”

Michael pauses and looks at Trevor likes he’s mad. “Uh, to get some beer? Is that allowed or do I need your permission?”

“Get me one,” Lester says. Michael shrugs and leaves.

Trevor glowers after him and ignores Lester as he huffs and puffs and struggles with rolling the corkboard back to it’s spot behind the couch.

“What’s his problem?” Trevor asks. His voice comes out horribly loud; he sounds like some jealous lover without any grip on his partner’s life. “What’s making him act like such an asshole?”

“That’s bit harsh, but I get your point.” Lester pushes his glasses up. “Maybe he really is worried about his family. We don’t have a wife and kids, we probably don’t know how that’s going to feel when you know you could die at work or go to jail for the rest of your life.”

“It’s never stopped him before. Tracey’s nearly five and this is the first time he’s talked liked this.”

“I don’t know and frankly I don’t care as long as he still gets the job done,” Lester shrugs. Trevor continues glaring at the doorway. “God, T, if you’re that bothered, ask him. You’re his best friend.”

“I might just do that,” Trevor says, and before he can stop himself he marches after Michael into the kitchen, leaving Lester to finish shoving the corkboard away all by himself. He hears Lester’s muttered insults, but can’t find it within himself to give a shit. Lester being pissy with him is the last thing on his mind.

He finds Michael standing by the windowsill. He hasn’t bothered to get them any beers just yet. His arms are crossed and he’s staring out of the barred window at Lester’s little yard outside, forehead pressed against the glass. Trevor feels a prickle of hate for him, then. He’s been presented with a great plan to do his job -- the job he loves, the job they both love -- and he’s thrown it back in everyone’s faces. Maybe he’s getting sick.

Michael lets out a long sigh that fogs up the window.

“Do you wanna explain your behaviour in there?”

“What --” Michael jumps and turns, forehead slightly red and damp. He wipes at it. “What are you talkin’ about?”

“You know what I’m talking about. Our boy Lester tried pretty damn hard to impress us with that, and you chose to shit all over it. That’s low, man, even for you.”

“Oh, fuck off. That’s not what happened and you know it. It’s over now, I said yes to the plans, so don’t exaggerate.”

“I’m not exaggerating. Don’t tell me I’m exaggerating.”

Michael fumbles for his cigarettes and slides one out of the packet. “Look,” he says around it, “I’m not looking for an argument here. I just had a headache, you know, I wasn’t thinking straight. I’m fine. The plan’s fine. We’re fine.”

The kitchen soon fills with smoke and the smell of tobacco so strong Trevor can almost taste it. He can’t help but inhale deeply. Just the feeling of the thick scent on his tongue makes him think of kissing Michael and he wants to - he always wants to - but the anger in him keeps him across the room and keeps him from believing Michael like he always wants to.

“We’ve been in this game for what, six? Seven years now?”

“Right,” Michael says.

“And this is the time you choose to go soft on us. When we’re finally getting some good jobs together and looking to make some serious money. The world is our fucking oyster and you’re pissing about worrying your pretty little head over some bullshit or other.”

“Why the fuck are you taking this so personally?” Michael laughs, bitterly. “All I say is I gotta take my daughter to school and you’re acting like I said I want nothing to do with you anymore. Grow the fuck up and get some perspective.”

“Get some perspective? You want me to get some perspective?”

Michael takes a big drag of his cigarette and blows smoke in Trevor’s direction. Trevor makes a great show of choking and spluttering and wafting the air while Michael rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, I goddamn do. You’re always in my ass --”

Trevor snorts, despite himself. Michael goes a little red.

“-- and I’m sick of it. I still love this game, I still love you and Lester, and I love my family. Don’t confuse my feelings for them as me backing down from my job. We’re going to take on that jewellery store and destroy every motherfucking obstacle we can, and when the money starts rolling in we’re going to have a big, raging party with all the meth you want and the women I want, and we’re going to reign like kings, okay? This is gonna be our biggest break yet and you should be damn well sure I’m going to grab it by the balls.”

The miracle of his speech is that Trevor believes him.

He knows all too well how stupid that is. Michael loves the movies and he dotes on airhead actors and rehearsed lines. He is cheating on his cheating wife. He’s a robber, a killer, a liar by trade. He knows how to charm the world into being his doormat. Trevor knows all of this perhaps more than anyone else, and still he believes his earnest eyes.

“Okay. Okay. I’m sorry.”

“Alright then,” Michael says, with a nod. He rubs at his lips and looks away. “I’m sorry too, then.”

That’s something at least. Trevor rubs his sweating palms on his jeans.

Deep down, really deep down, he had been worried that it was him stopping Michael’s enthusiasm. Maybe Michael’s growing bored of him or growing scared of him or something, he’s not sure, but that’s all he could think when Michael looked so sceptical and reluctant at the brilliant plan.

But Michael is not Trevor’s mother. Michael doesn’t loathe him and keep him around only when he’s useful. They’re friends and often more than that. He reminds himself that Michael must like him an awful lot to keep him so close.

He feels his temper start to ebb. He had stormed in here so determined to beat some sense into his partner, but now he breathes a little easier; Michael is restored in his mind like he never tumbled down from any pedestal at all.

Trevor just kind of hates himself instead, and the way that he can’t help but worship.

From the other room, Lester audibly and impatiently huffs. “Are you assholes getting me a drink or what?”

“Why don’t you drag your fat ass in here and get one yourself?” Trevor yells back and Michael smiles, and it is - for a moment - a promise that Trevor falls right for.

---

The force of the shotgun makes Trevor’s hands shake.

It’s nice, though. It’s explosive and sudden and when he aims it at the guard’s head, blood splatters all up and over his arms. From somewhere to his left, Jerry whoops and downs his own guard, knocking him down with the butt of his gun and then shooting him right in the neck. The man unlocking the safe with shaking, sweating hands lets out a low groan.

“Hurry it the fuck up,” Michael says, voice muffled from his tight mask. “We ain’t got all day.”

Michael gives Trevor a look. His eyes say it all; when Lester suggested taking out the guards, he had probably meant non-lethally. It’s easier and cleaner that way, and means they won’t be hunted quite as harshly/ Murder of cops and authority is a sure fire way to get locked away for life.

Jerry, though, is handsome and trigger-happy, and Trevor is all too eager to follow suit. Anyway, the guards had been assholes from the very beginning, not shying away when the guns were pulled on them and instead pointing theirs at Michael and vocally plotting all the ways in which they’d put him in the ground. Trevor feels nothing for them as he steps over their limp, bloodied bodies.

“Come on!” Jerry shouts, pushing the butt of his gun against the head of the only surviving staff member. “If you don’t get this safe open in ten seconds, I’m going to make you wish you were never born!”

“Easy,” Michael snaps, and Jerry tenses. “Give the guy some room. He ain’t gonna get in that safe at all if you keep bothering him.”

“Bothering him? Bothering him? We’re fuckin’ robbin’ him, dude. I don’t think a couple more threats are gonna destroy him.”

“Just let him work, okay?”

“You ain’t the boss on this operation, M. Chill the fuck out and get out of my face.”

“Boys,” Trevor says, loudly, before Michael can angrily reply. Secretly he quite likes the tension and he’s even a little turned on by it, but if they want to actually get out of here alive and with their full take, they need to calm it down a little. “I don’t like to be the one to end the violence, but let’s save this for later.”

“It’s not polite to fight in front of hostages,” Alma says from the window, a smile in her voice as she keeps a lookout on the street. “T’s right. Calm down, both of you.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Michael drawls. “Were we talking to you?”

“No,” she says, sweetly, “but you’re fucking with my chances at a successful job here, so I suggest you do what your buddy says, and let it go for now. We’re almost out of here clean. Nobody needs to lose their head.”

“Except these assholes,” Trevor says, with a kick at the guards, and then gestures at the sweating man, “and this dick if he doesn’t hurry it the fuck up!”

He shouts the last of his threat, making the man jump and drop the keys entirely. Michael swears and turns away, probably sweating profusely underneath his thick coat and mask. Trevor, pumped up, imagines licking all of that dampness away and then making it all come back as he takes him hard and fast from behind. He rocks back on the balls of his feet and grins. Later, he reminds himself. That’s something for later.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I won’t be a second --” the man stutters. He finally slides the key into the lock and then starts typing away at the keypad; his knowledge of the safe’s code are the only thing keeping him alive right now, so he better not fuck it up. Trevor watches him carefully and memories the eight digit code the best he can. There’s a small clink sound and the man heaves the door open. The safe reaches up to Trevor’s waist and by the look of it, it’s bursting with all sorts of jewels, neatly categorised by size and value. He licks his lips.

“Fucking A!” Michael shouts and unceremoniously shoves the guy out of the way to get a good look at their winnings. “This is what I’m talking about, baby! I’ve gotta buy Lester a beer.”

“A beer for all of these? I think a blowjob would be more appropriate.”

“Fuck off, T,” Michael says easily.

Trevor grins at him before remembering the mask. He and Michael work on emptying the heavy contents of the safe into a few, strong bags, while Alma keeps a lookout on Luca parked across the dark street and Jerry keeps his gun trained on the whimpering key holder.

It’s a miracle nobody’s heard their gunshots and that they’ve tripped no alarms. A pure, holy miracle. The light from a streetlamp outside catches the gold crucifix around Alma’s neck and Trevor laughs to himself, tying up the last of the bags.

“Here,” he says, giving one to each of his empty-handed accomplices. “Hold tight. Drop anything and it’s out of your cut.”

“Understood,” Jerry says and Alma nods.

“As for you,” Trevor says, pointing his gun at the crying man, face all snot and tears, “I’m sorry to tell you that loose ends are always a bad, bad idea.”

Michael, eyes resigned, turns away and walks towards the door. Alma follows him but Jerry hangs behind to watch. Trevor grins at him and pumps his shotgun just for show, before putting the barrel of the gun right between his victim’s eyes and creating a mess all over the safe. Jerry laughs so loudly it’s amazing they’re not heard outside. Trevor feels a warmth in his heart at the adrenaline that infects him, that familiar buzz that makes him horny and happy and blood-thirsty at all once.

He would kiss Jerry right now if he had the time, with his firm jaw and bright eyes, Michael be fucking damned.

But instead he just settles with giving Jerry a hot look full of everything he wants to do to him and leaves after Michael and Alma, his hands aching in the aftermath of the gunshot. Jerry follows him.

They can hear the sounds of sirens and screaming from the warehouse on fire two blocks away and they ignore them in favour of walking calmly towards the backdoor. Behind them lay four dead bodies in total, none of them much mourned by anyone here. Trevor had sold Michael on idea of killing any witnesses late last night in between kissing the softening skin of his belly - he had told him that they had to be tough on this one, really tough, if they were going to start reigning over the criminal underworld in the ways that they wanted.

Michael - gasping as Trevor’s lips went lower - had nodded in agreement, all thoughts of his family firmly lost.

The night is cold when they get out of the door. Alma shuts the door behind them, gently, and they let out a unanimous breath of relief. Luca is still parked neatly on the opposite side of the road. He looks up, sees them, and then starts motioning with a gracelessness that Michael snorts at.

“What an asshole,” he comments, just as a gun goes off and Jerry wheezes, falling to his knees.

They all spin at once to find three cops have snuck around the corner of the building, their guns trained on them. Trevor’s entire body tenses up, fingers tightening around his gun and his winnings.

“Drop the weapons,” one of the cops - young, scratchy-voiced - orders. There’s blood blossoming up and through Jerry’s fingers, the dark red patch of it spreading across his t-shirt. He makes a strange, gurgling sound, eyes so wide and disbelieving that this could really have happened to him. In the back of Trevor’s mind he mourns the fuck that never was and never will be, but for the most part he focuses on getting him and Michael out of this alive.

“Boys, boys, boys,” he says, as warmly as he can, “this is all just one, big misunderstanding. We’re just taking the burden of a potential robbery off these folks’ hands. We’re doing them a favour.”

“I said, drop your weapons! Dont make us shoot.”

“You already shot,” Michael says, jerking his head in Jerry’s direction.

“Put your goddamn weapons down!”

Alma slowly lowers her gun to to the ground and then the bag of jewellery, too. One of the cops nods, and then moves his sights to Trevor and Michael instead. “Gentlemen. Weapons down, now.” Michael and Trevor glance at each other. It’s fight and die, or surrender and live, and neither of those options are really appealing to Trevor right now. His arms are aching with the jewellery’s weight. Jerry has collapsed now and is shaking on the ground, hands still scrabbling uselessly at his wound.

Michael gives Trevor a small nod. Fight is all Trevor reads from it, and he’s about to, he’s about to die by Michael’s side in a blaze of glory that he’s always anticipated and always dreamed of, he’s about to go down at the side of the only man he loves and respects enough to die for, he’s about to go down and go cold and never breathe again. He’s ready for it. He shifts his gun.

Just then, the cop at the left of the trio who has been keeping in the shadows and who Trevor hasn’t paid much attention to, laughs, and the game changes completely.

Snider?” Trevor asks, lowering his gun. “Brad fucking Snider?”

The cop freezes and his eyes go wide, mouth forming into a perfect O. The other cops all stare between the two of them, before relaxing and cursing,lowering their weapons.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Snider. You know these guys?”

“Um,” Michael says.

Brad steps into the light and sure enough, there’s his pig-ugly face and mean shoulders that seem wider and stronger than ever before. In fact, he looks like he’s aged at least ten years instead of just a couple. He’s wider all over and his face isn’t so naive, but it’s just as dumb as it always was at their first meeting. Trevor remembers how he came out of Michael’s room after Michael fucked him, how he tried to strangle Trevor, how he stormed away never to be seen again.

“Brad Snider,” he says, again, as Jerry groans on the floor. “You’re a cop?”

“Fuck off am I a pig,” Brad says. “Don’t be so dumb, Trevor. We ain’t cops.” “If you’re not cops, what the fuck do you want with us?” Alma asks, loudly. Brad gives her a dirty look, as do the two other so-called cops.

“Alma, give it up. We can’t carry on with this now,” one of them complains.

Trevor’s still blinking uncomprehendingly, when Michael lets out a roar of anger, stamping his boots on the ground. “Oh. Oh. Of all the traitorous fucking snakes out of there, you lot might be the worst of all.”

“Uh, M?” Trevor asks. He notices that Luca has long gone, driving off at the first sight of the cops. He can’t really blame him. “What --?”

“Don’t you see, T? This is all just one big set up from our girl Alma here. These are her buddies, moonlighting as good old North Yankton law enforcement. They’ve come to take our jewels from us.”

Alma gives up the act and sighs. She picks up her bag and gun again, and goes to stand in between Brad and her other accomplices, looking more than miserable at getting caught out. Trevor, finally grasping the severity of the situation, raises his gun at her.

“Hey!” Brad snaps, and he pauses. “Hey, there’s no need for anymore violence. I didn’t realise we’d be getting the jump on you two or I never would have done it.”

“Fuck off. The last time you saw me, you tried to strangle me.”

“Only because you hit me,” Brad protests to Trevor, and goes a little red, looking anywhere but at Michael. “That’s all in the past now, guys. I kind of came to appreciate what happened, you know. You were the first real thing I ever saw, and now look at me. I’m doing the job properly and all by myself.”

“Not completely by yourself,” Alma reminds him.

“Fuck off, bitch,” Brad sneers, and Trevor wants to tell him to watch his tongue around people who are supposed to be his teammates but Brad is clearly still a child and still playing at a man’s game. He turns back to Trevor. “Look, I’m sorry your guy got hit. This was supposed to be clean, you know. I never meant to shoot anyone so soon, but- hey, we have someone to pin it all on now while the rest of us get out clean.”

“Get out clean? T and I are getting out clean, sure, but you traitorous shits, well --” “Hey, come on. It’s all good,” Brad says, as his own friends start to tense up. “Everyone relax. We won’t shoot you, you won’t shoot us, we’ll split the bags 50/50 between the groups, everyone wins. Okay?”

“Okay? This belongs to us. You lot can turn and walk away and we can take it all. That’s how this is going to go down.”

“These are mine, fair and square,” Alma says, lifting up her own bag. One of her accomplices swipe up the now-dead Jerry’s bag, too.

“Hey, guys --” Brad starts.

“Shut up, Strider. You ain’t getting shit,” his friend snaps.

“What? This was all my idea!”

“Yeah, and now you’re out. You know these guys and that’s shady as shit. We’re not gonna work with a backstabbing piece of crap like you.”

“But you’re- we’re a team, you can’t just --”

“Sure we can,” Alma says.

A car screeches around the corner and for a moment Trevor hopes that Luca has returned, maybe with back-up or with guns blazing, but instead the assholes in front of them all jump for joy. The car pulls up alongside them and they start to clamber in, Michael and Trevor too immobilised by shock to do anything to stop them. Brad, deflated, just watches as his friends get in and leave him behind.

“Guys, this isn’t funny,” he says, walking up to the car. Trevor sees what’s going to happen before he can really process it - and despite his hatred for him, he shouts at Brad, who pauses and turns.

The driver aims a shot at him and Michael, ever the star quarterback, rushes forward to slam Brad on the ground. Trevor’s stomach lurches as the bullet misses Michael by a finger-width and he aims a few shots at the car even as it drives away, it’s occupants laughing all the way down the road. If he had his own car right now he would take to the wheel like a bat out of hell, not stopping until each and everyone of those pieces of shit lay dead at his feet.

As it is, there’s no way to get to them and he has to settle with turning on his heel and landing a kick straight into Brad’s side. Michael clambers off of him and gives him a kick, too, breathless and bright red.

“You okay?” Trevor asks him and he nods, not taking his eyes off Brad, who rolls over onto his back.

“Hey,” he wheezes. “You saved my life, dude.”

“Don’t start thanking anyone yet,” Trevor says. “This whole thing is your fault. What sort of shady asshole infiltrates the jobs of other people, gets them to do the work and then takes the loot for themselves? We should kill your ourselves!”

“I didn’t know it was you two! I didn’t! Alma told me and the guys about the job and the winnings, and she was gonna get a better cut with us so --”

“Don’t try and justify it. You’re only alive because I didn’t agree with how those pricks were double crossing a double crosser.”

“I --”

“Shut up,” Michael snaps, and scans the road around them. “We have to get out of here now. There are goddamn bodies in the streets. Where the hell has Luca gona?”

“He ran off when our cop buddy here showed up.”

Michael lets out a long-sufferi g sigh, running a hand over his face. Trevor watches him while Brad gets slowly and carefully to his feet, one hand clutching at his ribs.

“I could call a guy,” he says, rubbing at the sore spot. “I know some people in the area. They could pick us up.”

“Not likely. I ain’t trusting you or any of your friends, and I don’t think you should, either.” Brad starts to argue but Michael holds a hand up to him. “No. Save it, okay? Fucking save it. If I hear one more excuse out of your mouth I’ll rip your tongue right out.”

Trevor leaves the anger to Michael, for now. He's mad, sure, but he's tired too -- he came too close to losing Michael yet again, all for the sake of the sack of shit that is Brad Snider, now cross-armed and glum as he's shut up by his saviour. Instead of getting pissed Trevor casts his eyes up and down the street before letting out a small noise of triumph.

"There," he says, gesturing towards a parked car next to a closed-down store, "that's it. Let's jack that and get the hell out of here."

"You sure? That car looks like a piece of shit."

"Shut up, Brad," Michael says, and reaches forward to squeeze Trevor's shoulder. "Good thinking, dude. Okay, okay. You search Jerry here and make sure he ain't got anything on him, and I'll take this sack of shit over there to try and force the ignition."

Trevor nods and gets on his knees as the two of them hurry away, Michael shoving Brad out in front of him. Jerry lies on his back, eyes comically wide, blood fast drying on the sidewalk. It's not like Trevor's anything close to squeamish but it still makes him uncomfortable to hover over the guy’s dead body; Jerry was a brief but loyal member of their team, and it's a fucking shame for him to have bled out at the hands of a double-crossing team of dumb amateurs trying to be something they're not. He doesn't do anything cheesy like say a prayer for Jerry or close his eyes, but he does sigh over the waste.

A search of his pockets proves somewhat fruitful; he retrieves a few bullets, a phone that's surely full of incriminating numbers and his wallet. He opens that, just in case, and finds a few wrinkled dollar bills and a folded photograph of a pretty, smiling woman. Trevor pockets the bills and tucks the photo into the breast pocket of Jerry's shirt. He figures when the cops eventually ID him, this woman might be somewhat soothed if she knows he was thinking of her at her final moments.

Or some bullshit like that. He's not sure, but it feels like it's the right thing to do.

"T!" Michael hisses from across the street. Brad's got his head under the dashboard. "T, we almost got it - come on!"

Giving Jerry one last look, Trevor stands up and hoists his bag of jewels more securely underneath his arm. He strides over to the car and throws himself into the back of it, just as Brad finally gets the engine running. Michael - in the driver's seat - shouts out a whoop of relief and slams on the pedal. They leave as the night falls upon them.

---

Lester is less than impressed when they get back - three stolen cars away from their first, behind schedule, with less loot than anticipated, and with an extra body in their car.

He recognises Brad at once, of course, and stands glowering in the kitchen doorway with his arms tightly crossed as the three of them sit exhausted at the table. On the drive over Brad kept mostly silent and slept a little, but Michael stayed wide-awake and furious, and Trevor couldn’t stop grinding his teeth. It had been a tense and terrible journey.

“Can either of you morons please explain to me - because I’m obviously missing something important here - why you thought it acceptable to bring this man to my house, when the last time he was here he tried to kill one of you? Why take pity on somebody who sold you out and got his friends to steal half of your takings? Why not just leave him behind or - here’s a novel idea - shoot him in cold blood just like his accomplices shot Jerry?”

“Hey, asshole --” Brad snaps, moving to stand up, but Michael puts a hand on his shoulder and shoves him back down.

“Don’t talk to Lester that way. He’s right. I should never have saved your useless life.”

“Hey, I didn’t ask you to --”

“And don’t talk to Michael like that, either,” Trevor interrupts. “In fact, why don’t you just keep quiet. Everytime you open your mouth you’re digging yourself a deeper grave.”

“I repeat,” Lester says, sniffing, “why exactly have you brought him here?”

“I’m in the room, dude --” “Shut up, Snider, damn it!” Michael glares at him until he closes his mouth again and then turns to Lester. “Look, I don’t know. His double crossing friends double crossed him and he did try to get them not to attack us once he realised it was us. I didn’t want those traitors to win again, you know?”

“So leave him somewhere! He’s not my problem, bring him back to your own goddamn house!”

Michael laughs sourly. “Oh yeah, that’d go down well with Amanda.”

“It’s not going down well with me! This is my home, this is where we work! We can’t just bring goddamn liabilities to and fro!”

“I hate to agree with four-eyes here, but I gotta agree,” Trevor shrugs, leaning back in his chair to survey Brad’s red cheeks and Michael’s bitter smile. “I think we should just get rid of him so he doesn’t bother us anymore. You know, nice and quietly. Nobody’s going to miss him.”

“Hey, hey, no!” Brad says. “I didn’t ask to come here. You can let me go, I ain’t gonna talk to no one.”

“And why should we believe a single word you say?” Michael asks. “I’m being serious, man. Why should we ever trust you?”

“Look --” Brad struggles with himself, eyes sliding from pissed off face to pissed off face. “Look, I’m telling you - you can trust me. I know we started with some bad blood, but I’ve changed now. I promise. The second I found out we were robbin’ you two I put a stop to it. I didn’t mean for your buddy to get killed either. I’m sorry. All I’m asking for here is a second chance.”

“A second chance at what? At life?”

“No! Maybe. I guess, but- no. I know things didn’t go down too good last time, but I want a second chance at being with you all. I wanna work with you.” He carries on over everyone’s protests, raising his voice just a little. “I know a hell of a lot more than last time. I mean, you saw me hotwire that car, right? I’ve been pulling scores. I learned to drive, I can shoot, I’m a scary motherfucker if I have to be. I can join you. I can help.”

Lester snorts. Trevor and Michael share a brief, amused glance.

“Even if you were the best shot in the world,” Michael asks, unable to keep the smile from his face, “why would we ever think you have our backs? This game is all about trust.”

“Exactly!” Brad says, eagerly. “That’s why none of my groups have ever worked properly. Everyone’s just in it for themselves, like that bitch Alma and the rest. When we first met, Trevor, when we drove up here, you told me all about the game and how you have to think about everyone as your brother instead of a friend. That’s what I’ve been looking for ever since. I mean, you two? Three? You’d never betray each other. That’s all I want. I’ve just been looking for the right people, you know.”

“And we’re it? You tried to strangle Trevor in this very house!”

“That was years ago! I was dumb. I’m sorry for any hurt I cause, but you gotta give me another chance. This job is everything I’ve ever dreamed of.”

Trevor and Michael share another look and this time one that lingers; Trevor can see that Michael’s eyes have softened to the idea, and he wonders if he’s thinking of that passionate night he and Brad once shared. Trevor’s hands tighten into fists at the very idea of it. He wishes he’d killed Brad on the roadside while he’d had the chance. If Michael takes him into their lives and then into his bed again, he’s not sure what he’ll end up doing.

Michael hums, looking up at Lester. “You are always saying how we need more people who can aim well.

” “And you’re saying that’s this asshole?” Lester’s arms uncross, falling to his sides as he widens his eyes. “Have you ever actually seen him shoot anything?”

“Well, no, but- I dunno, that can be taught. He seems enthusiastic enough.”

Trevor shakes his head. “We aren’t talking about getting a new dog here, Mikey. We’re talking about our safety. If this asshole messes up, it’ll be all our lives on the line. What if he squeals?”

“Hey, I ain’t a snitch, and in case you forgot, again, I’m right here in the room. Quit talking about me like I’m not here.”

“See? Case in point. No manners at all. How can we trust him on the field?”

“You’re not one to talk about manners, T,” Michael grins at him, and then he stands up, arms outstretched. “Look, guys - Lester, Trevor. We’ve been mostly on our own in this and yeah, we’ve been doing really well for ourselves, but I don’t see the harm in expanding the troops a little more. Look at tonight. We had a really good job going and took a great score, until someone turned out untrustworthy. So, what do we do about that? We only work with people we trust. We train up Brad here to work like us and work with us, and then we know his style, we work off of that. This could be the beginning of bigger and better jobs for us.”

“If we’re going to expand our team like that, I think we can do better than some guy you once fuck--”

Anyway,” Michael says, raising his voice slightly, “look at it like this - we’re broadening our horizons, and if Snider steps out of line and proves to be a dick, then I know just where to bury the body.”

Brad nods. He doesn’t look particularly happy but some of the tenseness has gone from his shoulders, like he’s not terrified of being murdered anymore. Trevor glowers at him.

“Um, so that’s that?” Lester asks. “You decide something and that makes it so? Trevor and I don’t get a say? This guy bats his eyelashes at you and suddenly you’re best friends?”

“It’s not like that. I just think it’s a good idea to try this guy out. We ain’t got anything to lose, have we?”

“What if he double crosses us again?”

“I think that we can shoot him before he tries anything like that,” Michael snorts.

“That’s not gonna happen,” Brad adds, quickly, and this time it’s Trevor’s turn to snort. “I promise. I promise I’m not. You can believe me guys, really. It won’t happen. I’m with you now.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Trevor groans.

Lester chews the inside of his lip, clearly torn. Michael’s looking like his mind is firmly made up and Trevor is looking at him like he’s mad, and Brad just looks nervous, like he could be kicked out of here at any second.

Trevor still doesn’t trust him. To try and get the jump on someone else in the game is shady enough, and he already knows that Brad likes Michael in ways he should never like Michael, and that an extra pair of boots on the ground means an extra body in the motel rooms, an extra - and a dumb - brain putting in suggestions in the planning, an extra pair of greedy hands to take a cut in the their jobs. An extra risk. An extra competition for Michael’s heart.

He’s going to put his foot down and say no, no, they’re not here to train up newbies, they’re here to earn money, when Lester sighs and shrugs, going over to get them some beers.

“Fair enough,” he says, throwing one to Brad, who just about manages to catch it. “You’re in. No more double crossing, no more strangling, no more confusion. You’re one of us now, B.”

“B,” Brad says, with a shit-eating grin. “B. I like the sound of that.”

Trevor, decidedly, doesn’t. He looks at Michael but Michael is watching Brad and Brad, still smiling, is watching Michael.

Chapter Text


xv.

1997

Working with Brad Snider proves at first a mess but by the end of the year is something close to smooth.

At the beginning Brad is clumsy. He nearly gets kicked out of the team entirely for dropping his gun in the middle of a job and almost shooting a dear old lady’s ear off. On their next job - a small bank in the middle of nowhere that nets them a neat few thousands - he falls flat on his face when they’re escaping and trips Michael up and over him. He’s given a clip around the ear for that one and a strong shove in the direction of the getaway car.

The first few months play out like that; Brad’s life being saved by Michael, Brad’s life being saved by Trevor, Brad’s life being saved by pure chance and wild luck. It mounts up to a huge blow up when Lester chews him out for almost compromising their operations entirely and Michael gets a tic in his eye whenever Brad so much as opens his mouth.

He’s lazy, too. That’s clear from the beginning when he joins Trevor in living with Lester for a while. Lester starts to go mad with all of the company and spends most of his time alone in his room. Days are spent with Trevor out drinking or partying with strangers, Michael spending the odd week with his family and Brad lying flat-out on Lester’s couch, eating until his belly swells even more, television playing cartoons.

He’s mean, gross, nasty and that means he should fit right in, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t take part in every job they do, much to his very vocal chagrin. He’s put on the easy stuff that he still manages to fuck up. Even when he doesn’t mess up he’s just average. Anyone could fill his role. He is given chance after chance, and doesn’t become a necessity for them.

When they’re working and when Brad, Trevor and Michael are on jobs together, they have to get motel rooms with separate beds. Trevor will slip beneath Michael’s covers when in the few precious hours before daylight wakes them, and Michael will fuck him with a hand over his mouth to muffle him. One night Trevor bits the pad of his thumb. It only serves to make Michael fuck him harder. Trevor fucks him one night and is so loud when he pushes into him that Brad almost starts wide awake. Trevor and Michael’s eyes meet and they burst out laughing, and Brad really does wake up to find Trevor shooting back into his own bed.

It’s a little wearing not be able to reach over to Michael when they’re driving, just to dust his fingers across his cheekbone or something equally dumb, but at least he’s allowed to touch him when they’re alone. At least that’s something.

Brad doesn’t touch Michael and that’s something, too.

Once, when Michael isn’t there, Brad talks about the photo he’s seen of Amanda and all of the dirty things he’d love to do to her. Trevor gets a little uncomfortable and he slaps his arm hard enough to leave a mark and tells him to quit it and never, ever speak about her like that when Michael’s in earshot. Brad just grins and rolls his eyes.

Trevor dreams of offing Brad in the middle of a score and he would, too, but he’s not a double-crosser. Lester doesn’t trust Brad. Michael, who vouched for him and convinced the others to let him into the game, doesn’t seem to like him at all.

And then, on a muddy and rainy Monday afternoon in some shithole of a Nebraskan town, things start to change.

Brad saves their lives.

The job is doomed from the start, really; Michael and Trevor get into an argument on the morning of it, something about getting into drug production, and they’re not talking to each other as they work. They get sloppy. A cop gives them the slip and then corners them and Trevor is damn sure that it’s the end, this is it, he is going to die at Michael’s side like he has always planned to. Their fingers touch as from an impressive distance Brad puts a couple of rounds into the cop’s back and he wheezes, falling straight to the ground.

There’s a moment of shock. Michael’s fingers brush Trevor’s.

They stand there like idiots, mute, stunned, before Brad shakes his head at them. He’s breathless and sweating, blonde hair plastered to his damp forehead. “Come the fuck on!” he roars at them. “We need to get out of here now!”

And they do get out of there, and they do come the fuck on, and once they’re in the clear and locking their motel door behind them, Michael pulls Brad in for a brotherly hug. “Thanks,” he says, gruffly, as he pulls away. “We owe you our lives.”

Brad shrugs all modestly like it’s nothing but he looks pleased. Trevor nods at him and gives him a brief, crooked smile, and Brad grins right back. It’s the beginning of something or other. Brad is not perfect for them, they decide, but he will do.

He does more jobs with them. He’s still not on all of them - they have others who are better behind the wheel, others who can wield a shotgun with far more deadly accuracy - and when they’re not working together Brad still sits on his ass and watches TV and devours burgers. He gets his own place near Lester’s house. Trevor decides to get himself a place, too - he can’t live with Lester forever without them killing each other - so just to be an asshole he buys a small house a block over and turns up most nights with arms full of beers and head full of dreams.

Lester, sighing, usually lets him in and they get drunk and often miserable with one another. When Brad joins them, their drinking turns cheery. When Michael turns up, they become a raucous, golden thing, the four of them, and when Michael slips his hand under the table to squeeze Trevor’s knee and Trevor sees the grinning, flushed faces of his friends and comrades, he feels on top of the world and thinks that maybe - just maybe - these will turn out to be the best days and nights of his lives.


xvi.

1998

“This is it?” Brad asks, raising his eyebrows. “This is the place?”

“Obviously. I can’t see why we’d be parked opposite any other gas station if this weren’t the one.”

“Hey, hey, okay, L, there’s no need to snap --”

“Quit it,” Michael says from the driver’s seat and the car falls silent at once. He shifts, runs a hand through his hair and leans to stare across the dashboard at the quiet station across the dusty road.

It’s fairly standard, as far as gas stations go. It’s on a road that connects one big city to another but the traffic here is infrequent; there’s one truck refilling it’s gas and one bored old man behind the counter. Aside from that there are dirt fields and a whole lot of nothing on the horizon, and not a cop car or highway patrol for miles and miles. It’s an easy target. It’s perfect.

Trevor leans forward and taps his hands against the back of Michael’s headrest. “What a charming sight, huh? Are we gonna do this or what?”

“Patience.” Lester’s voice is hushed, excited. It’s rare that he does any of the grunt work but he’d got restless and decided to come along for this one. His eyes are wide and eager as he studies the place. “We gotta wait for this trucker to leave.”

Trevor huffs out a great breath of frustration. “We’re not robbing the place yet. Four guys sitting across the highway and watching it is way more suspicious.”

Patience.”

“But --”

Michael meets Trevor’s eye in the rearview mirror. He gives him a slight nod that relaxes him, at least a little. He leans back in his seat and crosses his arm, and Brad sighs along with him. There’s a bottle of beer balanced between Brad’s knees that he keeps sipping on despite Lester’s no-alcohol-or-drugs rule while they’re working. It’s not, Trevor suspects, worth the argument for Lester.

“You know the score. You two go in and make polite conversation with the owner - nothing aggressive or suspicious, please remember that - and make note of anything you can. Any cameras, alarms, how the till works. Exit points. Anything and everything that might help us.”

“We got it, L, don’t worry so much. We’ve done this shit a thousand times.”

“Then you should be aware of how sloppy overconfidence can make you. It may look easy enough, but what if that man has a pistol under the counter? We need Plan Bs. Plan Cs. Plan Ds, if necessary.”

“Uh, I think T and I can take some old blind grandpa on. He ain’t gonna shoot us.”

“But we have to be prepared. This may seem like a small job but --”

“It is a small job,” Michael interrupts him. He squares his shoulders and puffs out his chest a little. “Most of the time you’re not out here when we’re scouting these places out. You gotta trust us. We know what we’re doing.”

“But --”

“Lester. Relax.”

Lester glares at Michael for one, fierce moment before his shoulders slump and he crosses his arms across his chest. “Fine. If you two are the experts, get on with it so that we can get out of here. I want a drink.”

Patience,” Trevor says with a grin. Lester flips him the finger as Brad laughs.

They do get on with it, though. Michael pulls them out of their not-so-subtle hiding spot across the road and into the gas station, parking neatly at the side of one of the pumps. The truck’s gone, now, leaving the four of them and the man inside, and Trevor’s tempted to suggest they just rob the place now. They could kill the man and or just knock him out and be out of here long before anyone else turns up.

He could lie here tied up for hours. They could have half a state between them and this place before anyone was any wiser.

Lester seems to know what he’s thinking because he fixes him with a stern look in the rearview mirror. “Remember,” he says, sternly, “remember your roles. You’re two normal guys who want to buy some gas and some beer and some candy. Don’t cause a scene. Either of you.”

“I’m hurt you’d even suggest it,” Trevor sniffs, and follows Michael lead in getting out of the car.

Michael fills up the car with gas as Trevor clasps his hand behind his back, rocking on his heels and studying the station. There’s only one camera that he can see, pointed at the pumps. It’s a tiny, old and shitty thing. It probably doesn’t even work. Still, it’s something to consider. They will have to hide their faces and maybe shoot it out entirely, or steal the tapes as well as the money.

Trevor spits on the ground. Child’s play, really. A job for amateurs.

This could be any road in any state and they could be any average Joe customers. He and Michael discussed their roles in length early this morning; they decided to be college friends, fresh from graduation and taking a long awaited road trip. It’s weird to think that other guys their age are living that inane life right now. Trevor doesn’t envy them one bit.

“That’s her full,” Michael says as he pulls the pump out and gives it a little shake. His smile glitters in the afternoon sun.

“Nice one, Phil,” Trevor drawls because it wouldn’t be any sort of job without dumb fake names. He gives Lester and Brad a quick glance before leading the way into the gas station, Michael close behind him.

“Thanks, Robert,” Michael mutters, and Trevor pushes open the door.

The man behind the counter glances up at them and then right back down at his paper. He’s got teeth too big for his mouth and grey scruff all over his chin and his skin is dark with dirt. Michael wrinkles his nose and runs a hand through his hair, slipping right into the role of a spoiled college graduate, holding his chin that little bit higher.

“Uh, hey,” he says. The man sighs heavily through his nose and keeps his eyes down. “Do you sell, um, whiskey here?”

The man jerks a thumb behind him. “You blind or something’? Course I have whiskey here.”

“Oh, cool, man. Thanks.”

He starts asking for recommendations and Trevor, playing the exasperated, quiet friend, shakes his head and looks around. There are a couple of badly stocked shelves and he swipes a candy bar when nobody is looking it, stuffing it deep into his pocket. He figures that’s something someone could do, someone semi-normal, some would-be rebellious little shit instead of a hardened bank robber. He will eat it later in the midst of celebrating their success.

There’s not much else of interest here. No cameras at all as far as he can see. One door behind the counter that probably leads to a safe, but maybe not. Maybe this man takes all the little takings he has home with him at night. Maybe he sleeps in that back room.

Lester would be wincing at all of these maybes. Trevor makes a sensible decision not to tell him.

Michael’s playing his games at the counter - he fits into the lost little kid role kind of too easily and the man seems to be indulging him. Trevor, though, notices the sharpness to Michael’s gaze and the way he keeps craning to look behind the counter as though he’ll find a weapon there. Through the dirty window, Lester and Brad are still watching them.

Trevor flips them off.

“Hey, kid,” the man says. He stands up and the sound of his stool scraping against the tiled floor makes Michael wince. “Look, I get it, you don’t know how you like your drink, but I ain’t a fuckin’ salesman. You need to pay for your gas and your whiskey and get outta here. I got other customers to serve.”

Michael glances back at the empty shop and then at Trevor. “What, um, Robert here? No, no, we’re together.”

Something dark passes over the man’s face, making it even uglier. Trevor ignores the sudden sharpness in his throat and the way he can’t help but square his shoulders and walk over. He tries, desperately, to remember his cover. A college kid would not cut this man’s tongue out of his head. A normal man would not murder a stranger over insinuation.

“Together?”

“Together,” Michael confirms, before his eyes go wide. “Oh Jesus, no, not together. We ain’t queers. I mean, he’s with me. As a, uh, a friend.”

Trevor nods, mutely. He wants to murder Michael too now, for slipping so easily into his newest facade. The job might depend on it but Michael doesn’t need to say the sort of thing that makes Trevor feel so sick he wants to retch right here and now and then rub Michael’s face right in the mess. He breathes heavily and looks away, out at the sky. He doesn’t miss the way the man surreptitiously glances at him.

“I see. Well, I still ain’t got time to talk you through the three whiskey brands I got here. They’re all gonna taste like shit so pick one and be on your goddamn way.”

Michael, the wide-eyed wanderer, hums and looks at the row of bottles as Trevor scans the cashier’s waist for sign of a gun. He sees nothing but the swell of his beer-belly and the faded gold shirt buttons that strain against it.

“I guess I’ll take, um …” Michael taps his chin. The man grunts. “I’ll take that one. The one on the left.”

“Good choice, Phil,” Trevor says.

The man sets the bottle down on the counter and rings them up. “That’ll be $30.”

“Right, right! Almost forgot the paying part,” Michael says with an innocent smile, and goes for his wallet.

The man watches him, supremely unimpressed. “I wanna see your ID, too, Phil.” Michael freezes and the look on his face isn’t one of his alias’s, it’s one of Michael’s, he’s himself through and through, he looks murderous and gorgeous and pissed off all at once. Trevor stands on his foot and clears his throat. Michael disappears again.

“Oh, sure, man, let me just …” He looks in his wallet and hides his fake license with his thumb. Trevor assumes it’s one that names him Michael Smith or Michael Adams or Michael Entwhistle. “Uh. I- I must have left it at the hotel. Sorry.”

“I see,” the man says. He drags the bottle back towards himself. “You’re drivin’ with no license on you?”

Trevor feels Michael tense up. “I- yeah. I am but I’ll pay up now and go get it, I swear I will.”

“I should call the cops, you know.”

“Please don’t, man. Please. My dad will kill me.”

“I don’t see why that should stop me being a good citizen. Kid like you without a license, what if you get yourself or someone else killed on the road?”

“Hey, come on, man,” Trevor says, “he ain’t a kid and he can drive. He’s a good driver. Just give him the whiskey.”

He decides to make a last minute change to his character of Robert, originally the silent, boring, nerdy type. In a second he builds a backstory for this fictional middle-class couple’s fictional kid; Robert, he decides, can be as tough as nails. He’s good at math and geometry and dreams of joining the military, maybe, and would join it too if it weren’t for the fact of his English Literature majoring best friend Phil, who talks a big talk and sometimes writes poetry, and Robert with his military father and silent mother should hate Phil, should push him over and call him gay but instead of he dreams of him on long, dark nights and on short, cold days, he dreams of touching him and once they kissed, too, late at night and under the cover of alcohol, and the next morning Phil got himself a girlfriend and never mentioned it again, but still Robert stays around and protects him and always thinks before he talks except when he has to talk to protect Phil.

Trevor can fill that role. He can play the role of a man in love with another, a man who does not care for a world without his best friend in it.

“I ain’t giving either of you whiskey without seein’ some ID and I can’t let you back on the road.”

“I said,” Trevor says, gritting his teeth, “give him the goddamn whiskey.”

“Robert,” Michael says, sharply, a warning flashing in his eyes. “Cool it. It’s all good. We don’t need the drink. This man will let us go.”

“No can do, boys. No can do.”

“But you have to. Please.”

“He ain’t gonna let us go, Phil. Stop making a damn ass of yourself.”

“Hey, I’m not. Let me handle this. It’s all going to be okay.”

But Robert, Trevor knows, would not let his best friend handle things in his own earnest way. He desperately tries to think of a way to diffuse this without getting violent or just running for it and risking getting the cops on their asses, and he fails. There’s a thrumming in his veins and in his head and he just wants to grab this old asshole’s hair and slam him face-first into the counter.

He looks at the row of bottles to see the thickest glass, the type that could really make a mess of this man’s face. His eyes slide to the left of the bottles and slide over the tobacco and towards the large American flag that’s draped there, the faded stars and stripes taking up almost the entire strip of wall. He stares at it a moment and then glances at the man, who’s still talking about calling the cops like it’s the best idea in the world and not the potential last act of his life

. “Hang on, hang on,” he says, cutting the man and Michael short, “I’ll call my dad. He’ll sort this out.”

Michael frowns, act momentarily slipping. “Uh, your --?”

“My dad, yes.” He pulls out his cellphone - a recent acquisition courtesy of Lester who is both enthusiastic and wary of the burgeoning technology - and thumbs in a fake number. The man watches him and drums his fingers impatiently on the counter. Michael just looks curious.

“Hey dad - yeah, yeah, I’m sorry, I know mom told me to call when -- I know, Sir, but listen --” Trevor rolls his eyes pointedly at Michael, shaking his head in exasperation. “Look, we’re in this gas station, right, and Phil’s forgot his license and the guy won’t let us get back in the -- no, I know it was stupid. I’m sorry. We left in a rush and - okay, okay, I’m sorry, yeah, I - no, no, I got it, you don’t need to -- yes, I know I got no sense and I know things were different when you were in ‘Nam, Jesus, you don’t always gotta bring up the war - no, I’m not disrespecting -- fine. Okay. Thanks. I’ll call you later. See you, Pa.”

Trevor pockets his phone. Michael is looking at him with wide, awed eyes and the man behind the counter is just watching expressionlessly.

“God, my dad is such an asshole. He always goes on and one about my lack of respect or whatever. He needs to get that stick out of his --”

“Your dad served in Vietnam,” the cashier says, suddenly, and Trevor blinks at him.

“Uh, yeah? What’s it to you?”

“Then you should show him more respect. You shouldn’t speak to him like that.”

“Hey, buddy, you don’t know shit about my dad and --”

The man lets out a great huff of breath that shuts Trevor up. He thinks - hopes - that this might be working. Michael is still looking kind of confused, but it suits his character, and so Trevor elbows him and turns to the counter again.

“Look. We’re real sorry for driving without a license, but we’re in the middle of trying to get stuff organised after college before I sign up for the --”

“That’s enough.” The man raises a hand to prove his point, and Trevor wants, momentarily, to murder him. “Look, boys, you gotta realise that it’s real dangerous to be driving around without the proper papers. If a cop catches you, you’re done for, and then yeah, your dads will be pissed. I’m gonna let you go this time - without the whiskey, mind you - but next time you might not be so lucky. Just remember that.”

Michael lets out an exaggerated breath of relief. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Yeah,” Trevor says, and that’s all he says but the man nods at him nonetheless.

“It’s okay. Just - be careful and for God’s sake, get that license in your wallet.”

“Yes, Sir,” Michael says. The man smiles thinly.

When they clamber back in the car, they find Lester nearly having an aneurysm in the passenger seat and Brad snoozing in the back. Trevor gets in and gives the sleeping man a swift jab with his elbow to wake him.

“What the hell was that? What were you talking to him about? Who did you call?”

“Shut up, Lester,” Trevor snaps. “Let’s just get out of here.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up. What took you so long?”

“The asshole behind the counter wanted to see ID and he already knew my, uh, my apparent name, you know. I didn’t have anything to match it.”

Lester frowns as Michael pulls them out of the gas station and back on the open, empty road. Brad, waking up, yawns exaggeratedly and takes a hearty swig on his beer. Trevor grabs it from him at once and empties it into his mouth, much to Brad’s very vocal anger. Trevor elbows him again.

“Kids,” Michael snaps at them, and Lester coughs to hide his laugh.

“Sorry, dad,” Brad says.

They drive for a while in relative silence. Michael is focusing on the road and Brad is focusing on getting back to sleep and Lester is deep in thought - Trevor, though, tries to think of nothing, especially not the way Michael said queers with such a deep disgust. He closes his eyes but can’t stop thinking of it, so he looks out the window instead and that doesn’t work either.

He kicks the back of Michael’s chair. Michael sighs.

They’re staying in a motel in the nearest city. It’s some tired, standard little thing with walls and carpets and mildewed beds that feel far too much like home. Lester, somewhat unused to them, complained loudly when they first booked in there until Michael sat him down and explained how the anonymity and the lack of scrutiny in such places served them. After that Lester had shut up but had still given the slightly damp curtains and the stains on the mattresses suspicious, dark looks.

It’s there they head now. Michael turns the radio on after the silent spell and once Freddie Mercury’s voice fills the car, something must clear up and resolve itself, because they all start to talk again. Michael tells them about Trevor’s fake phone call and reference to Vietnam. Brad laughs and claps Trevor so hard on the back he gets a punch in return.

“Seriously, you should’ve seen the guy’s face. All of a sudden he was our best friend or something. It was great.

” “It was very … clever, yes,” Lester says. He drums his fingers against the dashboard. “It was also very good luck that it worked. You never should have needed the lie in the first place. It was supposed to be painless.”

“Ah, come on, L. Lighten up, it worked. T did good. If he used his head a little more in the game instead of his fists, every job would go so well.”

“We haven’t actually done the job --” Lester says, just as Trevor reaches around the chair to flick at the back of Michael’s ear.

“Ouch!” Michael hisses and almost swerves the car off the road. “What the hell was that for?”

“I use my head all the time! You’re always just as eager to throw a punch!”

“Yeah fucking right.”

“Yeah, yeah fucking right! You got as bad a temper as me. Don’t kid yourself.”

“There’s a pile of dead bodies across the country that would disagree with you, T.”

“Yeah? And how many corpses are there thanks to you?”

“Guys, guys,” Brad says, loudly, “quit it. Who cares how many folks we all killed? We’re all the same in here.”

“For once I’m going to have to agree with you,” Lester says, “though I do think I should add that I’ve never actually killed anyone.”

“Bullshit!” Michael laughs, hitting the steering wheel with the heel of his hand. “You gotta a list of victims as long as the rest of us. Just ‘cause you don’t pull the trigger yourself it don’t mean you’re not guilty.”

That sets Lester off and soon they’re all shouting and bickering and Trevor flicks Michael’s ear again, and Lester flips the two of them in the back seat his finger, and Brad aims a kick at the back of Lester’s chair. The argument is a useless one but it leaves them all grinning on the way back to the motel. Trevor’s hand hovers near Michael’s ear, his finger brushing at the skin there, a pressure he hopes makes Michael squirm.

Michael’s eye meets his in the rearview. His gaze is thrilled, fond. Trevor keeps his hand there for the rest of the journey.

---

When they return it’s in the shadow of the night and there’s just the three of them.

The job is as quick and easy as Trevor knew it would be. They disable the shoddy alarm within a second of smashing open the front doors and there are no security lights or little red bulbs on the cameras. They are unseen, stealthy, unmatched. The owner is nowhere to be found and the back room proves mostly empty but for a few wobbly shelves holding some beans and soda cans.

There is, though, the safe that they were targeting in the first place. It’s tucked neatly beneath the cash drawer and Brad - coached by Lester for hours on the art of lock picking - manages to get it open within a few minutes.

Michael leans against the counter as Trevor keeps an eye out for any passing cars. He lets out a loud huff of laughter when the safe finally opens and glances at Trevor, his eyes twinkling.

“Nice one, B.”

“Yeah, thanks. You wanna maybe grab this stuff?”

With a grunt, Michael gets to it and fills up their three draw-string bags with cash. A car speeds down the highway and Trevor, fingers tense around his rifle, keeps his eyes on it as it passes. It doesn’t slow down or stop or act in anyway suspicious, it just keeps on driving. Trevor lets out a long breath of relief.

“Hurry it up,” he snaps, to aggrieved muttering from the other two. “We ain’t got all night. Come on.”

“Chill the fuck out. We got this.”

“Well, why don’t you demonstrate how much you got this by actually --”

“You two need to cut the goddamn chatter,” Brad says, struggling to his feet. “Anyone would think we’re not workin’ together here.”

“You’re only here ‘cause you’re somewhat useful to us,” Michael warns and Brad rolls his eyes.

Trevor just about about manages to suppress his grin as he turns away to watch the road again. It’s a job like most of the rest of them, quick and easy, simple. Their teasing and sniping just makes it go all the more smoothly and Trevor knows he’s the master of it.

He strolls over to Michael, squatting on the floor as he fills the last of the bags, and aims a kick at Michael’s knee. “You getting soft on us, old man?”

“I’ll old man your ass --” Michael says before being drowned out by Brad’s mean snickering. Trevor laughs and kicks him again.

“I think you got it all. Come on, up and out of here, buddy.”

Michael mutters to himself as he stands up, throwing the other two a bag each. They leave the store.

It’s a small haul, barely anything to write home about, but it’s enough. Trevor is going to put it into his growing savings account, Brad will probably spend it on beer and rent and Michael will splash out on Amanda’s latest plastic surgery or whatever new obsession the happy couple has at the moment. Trevor isn’t going to ask.

He doesn’t need to, though, he barely even cares; while Brad is focusing on the road, Michael leans right into Trevor, his face flushed with the adrenaline of a successful, albeit tiny score, and he whispers something dirty that scorches across Trevor’s cheeks and down into the pit of his belly. His cock twitches with a vague kind of interest and Michael laughs and cups him through his pants.

Brad drives on, oblivious, and the world carries on as it should.

---

There is a strange hush over the motel room. The night of celebration has dwindled down to something more subdued; Brad is drunk and stretched out on the run-down couch by the window; Lester is asleep, snoring in an old worn armchair; Michael is lying back on one of the beds, cigarette burning away between his fingers. Glow from the neon lights outside filter through windows blackened with years of grime. The small heater in the corner takes the chill off, mostly.

Trevor leans against Michael’s bed and stretches his legs out in front of him, staring at his scuffed boots. As he breathes in, he tastes Michael, the smoke travelling to the back of his throat, into the swell of his lungs, into his very bloodstream. Every so often, Michael’s fingers will drift down the side of the bed and Trevor’s eyes will close as they dust the top of his hair.

It’s not fair that this is the only contact they can have tonight, he thinks, more than a little sleepily. The mood has changed, sure, but it’s changed in a way that only suits Trevor if he’s alone with Michael and able to climb right over him and ravage him. With Lester in the room he might even dare it, but Michael’s been adamant about not letting Brad know about their friendship, even if he’s the one Michael once fucked.

Trevor sighs and moves away from Michael’s gentle, deceitful hand. Without the promise of something more from it he’s just not in the mood.

“Get off me,” he mutters, clambering unsteadily to his feet in search of more beer.

Michael glances at him.

It isn’t a glance full of hurt or wanting. It’s just a slide of the eyes in his direction, eyes that are rather drunk and rather bored, and in a second they slide right away again. Trevor feels kind of pissed that Michael isn’t yearning for him and he’s more than pissed at himself for caring so much, so randomly, on such a good day. He reaches for his jacket and sighs loud enough to wake up the rest of the room.

“Wh-what?” Lester murmurs, rubbing at his eyes, as Brad jumps and sits up.

Trevor zips his jacket up and glares at all of them in turn. “I’m gonna get some more beer. I’ll keep the party going even if the rest of you babies wanna go to sleep already.”

“Fuck off,” Lester groans, as Brad swings his feet over the side of the bed.

“I’ll come with you.” “I think I can make it to the store and back without you holding my hand, Brad.”

Brad raises his eyebrows. “Uh, I ain’t offerin’ you protection or nothin’. I just want some fresh air.”

“God. Fine, fine, whatever.” Trevor grabs Brad’s jacket and throws it towards him, the zip catching him in the eye and making him wince. “Just hurry it up. I’m not waiting for your lazy ass again.”

“Alright, alright,” Brad says, pulling it around his shoulders, “I’m coming. Calm down.”

As they step out into the crisp night air, Trevor’s still scowling. He had hoped for a little alone time to clear his head and maybe buy a pack of smokes that he’d secretly puff on when nobody else was around - least of all Michael, who would call him a hypocrite at once, even though Trevor only smokes to try and get the taste of him again and again - but instead the great oaf Brad Snider is by his side, talking a mile a minute about the job they’ve just pulled off like they’ve robbed the White House or something. Trevor’s beginning to think the universe is against him having even a semblance of a peaceful mind.

He pops his collar up against the wind. It’s been months since he last attacked his hair with scissors and it tucks beneath his collar, serving as a makeshift scarf. Last night Michael told him he was looking like a scruffy bastard these days and Trevor had flipped him off and told him he was looking like a damn fat bastard these days, so he had no place to talk.

Across the room, Brad and Lester had groaned and covered their heads with their pillows.

“You want my gloves?” Brad asks, offering them, and Trevor hits them right out of his hand.

“Fuck off do I want your gloves. I grew up in the snow. I’m not cold.”

Brad sighs and picks them up. “Alright. Jesus, I was only being nice.” “Yeah? Well, don’t. You’re a bank robber. Grow some goddamn balls.”

“What’s crawled up your ass, T? The job went off without a hitch! We got the money! You got no reason to be pissy with me.”

Trevor doesn’t really know what to say. Brad’s right.

It’s just that he’s got a bad, bad feeling in his gut -- but that’s nothing new. He’s been in this game long enough to know that shadowy premonitions could mean nothing much more than that they’re about to run out of gas or bump into some rude asshole who likes to run his mouth, but he’s prickling all over with the night and the ghost of Michael’s fingers atop of his head. Something just isn’t sitting right with him. He wants to tell Brad all of that and to also tell him to stay far away and stop pissing him off, but he can’t. He hasn’t even got the energy for anger.

“Ah, it’s nothing,” he lies, slinging an easy arm around Brad’s shoulders and pulling him in close, “don’t worry about little old me. How about we get something a little harder for the two of us tonight, huh?”

“Dude,” Brad snorts, “you can sound fruity as fuck sometimes, you know that?”

Trevor lets Brad go and gives him a little shove that almost sends him to the sidewalk. He’s not mad at the accusation but Brad’s thinly-veiled disgust shakes him right up. “Shut up. You want me to deliver you home to your daddy in a million little pieces, huh? You wanna see how long I can keep you alive while dicing you up like beef?”

He wants to add that Brad has no place to talk about being fruity or queer or whatever’s going to come out of his fat greasy lips next, not when he fucked Michael Townley the first night he met him, but he can’t find it within himself to relive that particularly painful memory tonight. Instead, he just matches Brad glare and waits for the man to look away.

He does, of course. Trevor always wins.

“Let’s just get to the store,” Brad mutters.

“No, no, it’s like I said - don’t you ever fucking listen? - I want something that’ll actually give me a good night instead of giving me gas. You go to the store and I’ll go find someone who can sell me exactly what I need.” He pushes a crumpled twenty dollar bill into Brad’s hands and points down the street at the convenience store. “Get some beer and some smokes if you can manage that.”

“But you don’t smoke.”

“I do whatever I damn well like.”

Brad raises his eyes to the sky in a long-suffering sort of way but leaves without complaint. Trevor watches him for a moment before shaking his head and turning to try and find someone, anybody, who looks like they might know where to buy some drugs.

It’s a pretty nice town they’ve settled in for the night. There are no ladies of night lurking on street corners and even though Trevor’s stood in the middle of the high street, he can only see one pretty lame looking bar and no gangs of kids or beggars or teenagers trying to get an adult to buy them some beer. He heaves a sigh and heads down the nearest street.

As he walks, he thinks about nothing so deep as Brad’s hypocrisy or Michael’s brief touches, but instead he thinks of what he’d like to buy. He wishes, not for first time, that he cooked up the stuff himself. Having to find a new drug dealer every time they move cities can be tiring and being a continuously new customer means he never gets the best bargains. Maybe he could convince Lester to help him set up a little side business.

Maybe he could even convince Lester to try a little himself instead of his continuous gin and tonics and occasional blow. At least that would give them all some entertainment.

The idea reminds Trevor of the first time he ever smoked crystal. It had only been a few months before he met Michael, when he had been so much younger and so pissed off at the world, almost as pissed off as he is now. Some girl at a party had lead him into back room and lit up, offering him as much as he wanted provided he paid her well.

He paid her well.

He’d wanted to snort it at first because that’s how he was used to taking his drugs but she’d told him the drip would drive him mad. So he’d inhaled it deep and sweet and tasted her lipstick on the pipe. At first that was all he could focus on until his brain swelled right up with the meth and he was on his feet, pacing the room, pacing around on top of the world. He had felt everything crush beneath his feet; his home, that bastard trailer, the girls who hadn’t looked at him at school, the men who had looked at him, the father who had left him and the mother who never would. He had been so full of energy. He had been awake for the first time in his life.

The next day he realised he’d chewed up the inside of his lip so bad it had scabbed over and every time he gingerly touched his tongue to it it felt on fire.

The next day, he went and bought more.

That had been that, the start one of the greatest love affairs of his life, and mere months later he’d been sat swinging his legs on that dusty old runway and had seen the smoke trails of two cars coming towards him, and he had chosen in a split second which side he was on, which smug face to put a flare right into. Meth is just a part of this life of his, the same as Michael is. It’s one addiction after another for him.

Thinking about that first hit only serves to make him want it so much more; he breathes out and watches the breath escape, white and smoky in the cold air, and he’s so distracted by it that for a long while he doesn’t notice the footsteps close behind him.

“Hey!” comes a hiss just by his left ear and he freezes, hand going to his belt.

His gun isn’t there. It’s lying on the bedside table in the motel room.

“Yes?” he asks, with all of the restraint and politeness he has, turning on his heel. A quick headcount makes him wonder just how obsessed with meth he was. There’s six mean looking fuckers glaring at him, all clad in leather of all things. Bikers. Fucking bikers. Of course.

“You looking for a little something, buddy?”

“Me?” he asks, looking around innocently. “I don’t know what you fine, upstanding gentleman could possibly mean. I’m just walking and enjoying this lovely weather we’re having.”

The men share a confused look. It’s the sort of confusion that only fucking dumb people wear, Trevor knows. He can feel the familiar heat of rage pumping through him but he manages to stay still and smiling; if he’s going to get drugs from anyone, it might as well be these assholes.

“You really think you’re funny, yeah?” the man at the front laughs, and he steps forward until he’s toe-to-toe with Trevor. “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?”

It could mean anything, really. They could assume he lives two blocks away or that he lives one state over. Trevor, regardless, starts to get really pissed, and he can’t help but narrow his eyes. “Now you’re being the fucking jokester. What are you trying to say, huh? I’m a goddamn American citizen.”

“Sure you are buddy, and I’m the fuckin’ Queen of England.”

Trevor’s hand is out before he can stop it, fingers quick to fasten around the man’s throat. He brings his nose right up to the biker’s. “Yeah? You gonna put on a tiara for me, huh? I gotta say, I do have a thing for a boy in touch with his feminine side.”

It’s kind of sad to see that age-old fear infect the man’s eye. Trevor gives him a little shove and he falls back into his friends, who all start to square up, ready for a fight like some goddamn cartoon villains. He is more than ready to play the hero for them. He curls his fingers into the hardest fist he can. He has smashed the faces of better opponents than these idiots, after all.

“That supposed to be a threat or somethin’, you bustin’ my ass for trying to sell you something good?”

“I don’t need whatever it is you’re selling. I don’t like you. I don’t like your attitude.” Trevor grins at them. “I suggest you fuck off back to whatever hole you’ve all crawled out of, maybe go back to polishing your pretty bikes that compensate for the pitiful offerings you got shrivelled up in your pants, and leave me alone before you end up on the sidewalk.”

He had high hopes for some attempt at a witty comeback - maybe somebody would tell him that this was their street and not a street for a foreigner or something, anything, but instead the time for barbed conversation ends.

One of the largest men steps forward and punches Trevor square in the jaw.

If there was one less man. If there were only five pairs of boots instead of six. If only Brad hadn’t obeyed Trevor. If only the gun was in Trevor’s hand instead of inches from Michael’s head. If only he had just an ounce more strength.

If only. That’s all he can think as twelve fists punch him, as twelve boots slam into his sides, as six voices scream bloody murder at him. He curls up on the sidewalk and tries to will himself pain free.

All he can think of is the never was and the never will bes and Michael’s burgeoning curves and the soft, soft hands of his mother. His body becomes nothing of his own; it is engulfed in the pain that the bikers gleefully inflict, and it is something alien to him. He hasn’t felt such a helplessness since the days his father would prowl the trailer in search of a Trevor-shaped punching bag. He shouts out and hopes that somebody, anybody, will see and put a stop to this so that he can begin exacting his revenge. He is not going to bleed out like this. He will not die at hands so fucking unworthy.

He lets out one last great shout and then they disperse like fucking city pigeons, scattering like rats. There is a distant shouting that Trevor only vaguely recognises as he rolls over to lie on his back. His chest is painful and heaving but the stars look real pretty even behind a layer of thin cloud. He squints up at them. He doesn’t know any of their names.

“Trevor? T? Shit, fuck, what did they do? Who are they? You want me to go shoot ‘em all down?”

Trevor licks at his dry lips and when he speaks he tastes blood. “Uh … uh, no. No. Let them go for - for now.”

It is, of course, not Michael clad in a suit of armour but Brad hovering over him, eyes worried and wide as they stare down at him. “Come on, man. Come on. Get up, get up, I- I’ll go get M or something. We can get them all back.”

Don’t get Michael,” Trevor says. He feels for his ribs and his stomach and doesn’t find anything broken or bleeding. He’s bruised, sure, but he definitely doesn’t need Michael worrying and fussing over him. “Just- help me up or something, okay? Stop fucking mothering me. I’m- I’m fine. Get me up.”

To Brad’s credit, he does. He puts his hands beneath Trevor’s shoulders and pulls him upwards.

It’s a struggle to get to his feet and at one point Trevor is certain he’s never going to be able to stand again unassisted, but with a lot of leaning and cursing, he eventually stands free from Brad. He holds his rib cage, breathing heavily through his nose. His legs wobble but don’t give in. His arms and shoulders ache and throb. His torso got the brunt of it and he’s frankly amazed there’s no severe damage, but his face is mostly unscathed besides a split lip.

He feels like shit, but he is okay. He will be okay.

“You sure you don’t want me to get the others?”

“I’m sure. Quit talking about them.”

“We can’t let those assholes get away. We should track ‘em down, you know? Really make them pay.”

Trevor wipes at his mouth. When he pulls his hand away, there’s blood on his fingers.

“No,” he says, quietly. Brad blinks at him. “I said no, okay? I said no. Stop making this worse or you’ll be the one I make pay and stop fucking staring at me!”

He ends with a shout that makes Brad flinch and look away.

They’re stood on what seems like a quiet enough street, the houses dark and unassuming, and the bikers are long gone. Maybe they’re all giving each other high fives or handjobs, maybe they’re all laughing at the fact that six men managed to take down a giant, but Trevor doesn’t care. Part of him wants to hunt them down but part of him is so suddenly tired and his body and heart aches, and he’s humiliated. This should never have happened. Not to him.

Brad tries again, quietly, “Do you want to go back --”

“No.”

“But Michael and Lester could --”

No.”

“Do you think we should go to the hospital?”

“God no.”

“Fuck. Fine then. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. I --” Trevor touches his lip again and immediately regrets it. He thinks for a moment. “I want … I want … shit, I want to get drunk, man. Let’s get drunk. Fuck the others, let’s go find a nice bar that’s open and get shitfaced. That’s what I goddamn want.”

Brad fixes him with an odd, curious look that doesn’t quite suit him. “I … yeah. Sure. That sounds, um, nice, but -- don’t you think you need a doctor or something?”

“I’m absolutely fine,” Trevor says, and puts an arm around Brad’s shoulders to emphasise his point. If he leans a little on Brad when they start to walk, that’s nobody’s business. “Come on. We’re young, aren’t we? Young and hot-blooded and in need of good beer and good women. You can’t deny that.”

“I can’t,” Brad admits, slowly.

“Then there’s no problem!”

There is, of course, the rather pressing problem of Trevor’s whole body feeling like it’s on fire, but that’s neither here nor there. Alcohol will surely help that.

It’s takes them a little while to find anywhere open and anywhere that suits them, and Trevor almost collapses entirely at one point and then he has to yell at Brad for letting that happen. Eventually, though, they find a nice enough place - a little dive bar in the corner of town full of regulars who give them weird looks upon entry, but who keep silent. That’s what Trevor likes. People who know when to keep their fucking mouths shut about the blood on his face and the bruises creeping from underneath his clothing.

“Um. What can I get you?” the barmaid asks, her tattoo sleeves briefly mesmerising Brad.

“A couple of beers, thanks.”

“And none of that watered down shit. We want the real stuff,” Trevor adds.

“Of course,” she says, sweetly, but he doesn’t miss the way she raises her eyes to the sky as she turns away. Brad, who has always thought himself god’s gift to women or something, doesn’t miss the chance to shamelessly check out her rather nice ass.

Trevor whacks him on the shoulder with rather less strength than he’d like. It distracts Brad all the same. “Stop slobbering over her and find us a good table,” he says, but Brad just laughs, obnoxiously loud, as though the woman is going to turn back and admire him for being so funny. “What? What’s the matter with you?”

“We’re sittin’ here,” he says, and heaves fat ass onto one of the bar stools.

“Oh? That’s your call to make, is it?”

“Jesus. It ain’t a call or a competition. It’s the best spot and that’s what we need. The best.”

“You’re a fucking weirdo,” Trevor mutters but tentatively parks himself on a stool anyway, his ass and thighs aching something awful.

The barmaid returns with their drinks and Trevor pays here with bloody, grazed fingers. She stares at them and then up at him, frozen in her tracks. He wonders if those asshole bikers are regulars around these. She has pretty green eyes that kind of remind him of his mother’s so he doesn’t give her any shit for staring. He just smiles thinly.

“Keep the change.”

“Oh. Um, thanks,” she says, and smiles right back.

Brad loudly clears his throat. “Thanks,” he says, pulling his beer towards him. “It looks great.”

“Shut up,” Trevor groans and the woman laughs a little before turning towards the next customers, an unassuming older couple who give Trevor matching worried looks.

“What the fuck, man?” Brad hisses once she’s out of earshot. “Does that bitch wanna fucking mother you are something? Why’d she go all soft eyed when you smiled at her?”

“You wanna maybe try showing her a little respect before I break your goddamn neck?”

Brad glares at him and Trevor glares right back. For a little while he’d felt something close to companionable towards Brad fucking Snider, but right now he remembers just why he irritates him so much. Slothenly, disgusting, disrespectful little shit.

He thinks suddenly of all the times Michael has called women bitches in front of him and all the times he’s slapped them on the asses as they passed. He thinks of all the times he’s done pretty much the same himself. A great wave of self-loathing surges through him and makes him ache all the more.

He downs half of his beer.

It soon starts to get a little better. The alcohol really does help and it turns his mind something to pleasant instead of making him want to torch this place down with himself trapped inside. He nudges Brad’s calf with his boot and grins at him.

“Don’t be pissed at me. I’m an injured man. Of course she wants to mother me.”

“Yeah, well. You’re welcome to her. I can do better.”

Trevor snorts into his beer, foam going everywhere. “Sure you can, buddy,” he laughs, wiping at his nose, “I never doubted you for a second.”

“Very funny, T,” Brad says. The corners of his mouth twitch upwards. “I’ll get the next round. You want something stronger or are you happy with this crap?”

“I’m always in the mood for something stronger.”

Brad gets them another beer each but they come with a couple of whiskey chasers that go down pretty easily. Soon enough Brad lights a cigarette. They tell each other about their plans for spending or saving their takings and they fantasise about the big one and the riches and peace it could bring them.

In fact, it gets so easy and so calm that Trevor almost forgets that he’s bruised and sat next to Brad Snider. It feels like Michael is by his side and grinning at his every word and that they’re young again, really young, the kind of young that came before shotgun weddings and screaming children and locked up mothers. Trevor is not yet thirty and yet he longs to have those days back. To have that Michael back.

He swallows the bitterness along with his next drink, and then there’s another, and then Brad is steadying himself with both hands on the bar and standing up. “Jesus, this is going right through me. I’ll be right back.”

He stumbles off towards the bathroom, passing a couple of disgruntled-looking older men on the way. Trevor watches him all the way.

“Hey. Can I get you anything else?”

When he jumps and turns back to the bar, he finds the barmaid leaning up against it and smiling. Her red hair frames her pretty smile and Trevor forgets Michael at once. He only wishes it were always so easy.

“Maybe,” he says, with a grin. He leans forward too with his elbows on the bar and tries not to flinch at the way his body burns with it. “What exactly do you have in mind?”

“We’re at bar and I’m serving drinks. You got a lot of choice.”

Her eyes glitter. There’s something lurking there, some vague desire or strange protectiveness brought on by his obvious wounds, and for a moment he’s lost in it; he could take her back to the motel tonight, the others be damned, and fuck her so loud everything else fades right away. He’s tempted to, too, he’s going to, never mind the others, never mind Michael --

And then at once he stops wanting. It catches him so off guard he has to blink a few times and the woman starts to look a little worried, a cute little crease forming between her well-plucked eyebrows.

“Um, are you okay, man? You look a little woozy.”

“I’m fine,” he says, sharper than he intends to, and it’s her turn to blink fast.

“Yeah? Then what’s your problem? I’m trying to be nice to you.”

He is reminded of another defensive, beautiful woman who was once the seducer in this scenario.

Amanda had looked so pretty under the strip club lights, so pretty she stole Michael away for a good long while. That’s not this barmaid’s fault -- even Trevor isn’t drunk enough to think that -- and she doesn’t deserve his anger, but he can’t help it. Amanda was taken back to a motel and fucked in the very bed Michael and Trevor shared the night before and that’s when everything started to go wrong.

Trevor hits his forehead with the flat of his hand. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he hisses. It’s been years. It’s been forever. Michael shares his bed again and Amanda is irrelevant. It shouldn’t hurt anymore.

“Freak,” the woman mutters, stalking away.

“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Trevor roars after her. His volume takes him by surprise and he catches a brief glimpse of the woman’s terrified face before a huge figure steps out of some staff door, looming in front of him and blocking her forever.

“You need to leave,” the giant says.

“Fucking make me,” Trevor spits, and the man does.

Brad finds him a few minutes later sprawled outside the bar, face-down on the sidewalk and wishing he had even an eighth of his usual strength. He’s not sure he’s ever felt more pathetic and miserable than when Brad helps him to his feet for a second time in one night. The asshole isn’t even able to keep the smirk from his lips.

“T,” he sighs, “I leave you for five fuckin’ minutes. What happened? You need me to kick some ass?”

“You sound as cheesy as fuck,” Trevor says, pulling away from him and shoving his hands into his pockets.

“Hey, man. There’s no need to insult your rescuer.”

“Rescuer? Where were you when I was getting my ass turned to pulp?”

“Fair point,” Brad says. He grins and elbows Trevor. “Come on, man. Lighten up. We’ve all been kicked out of places before, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

And if Trevor had his full strength and will he’d make Brad ashamed of ever daring to say such things to him. He’d grab fistfuls of his hair and grind his face on the sidewalk until it was red, red raw and he’s twist his arm behind his back and maybe pull a gun on him, too, cock it right next to his jaw, just to see him piss his pants. He’d laugh while doing it. He’d cry with goddamn mirth.

For now, though, he just shakes his head and looks away.

“Let’s just go home,” he mutters and can’t remember what one feels like.

---

Both Lester and Michael are snoring loudly when they get back. Lester is still in the armchair, glasses halfway down his nose, and Michael is still lying back on his bed. Brad and Trevor share a quick look that ends with Brad shrugging and nose-diving onto his own bed, burying his face into his pillow. He doesn’t bother to get changed or undressed.

While he settles straight into sleep, Trevor goes over to the window. It’s pretty damn dark outside but for the light of the motel sign. He presses his face right against the glass and watches as a car pulls up in the parking lot and a clearly arguing couple climb out. He closes his eyes

. It makes his cheeks burn red-hot to know that Brad saw him so weak tonight. He doesn’t give a shit what Brad thinks about him - or what anyone thinks, for that matter - but the knowledge that he is capable of such physical vulnerability, well, that terrifies him. He really thought he was passed it. He really thought that after leaving home it would never happen to him again, that he would never again feel so small.

Trevor moves away from the window. His forehead is damp with the condensation that glazes the glass and he wipes at it with his jacket sleeve. He is twenty eight years old and far too strong and far too dangerous to be thinking like this. Those bikers are still out there and they think they’ve got the best of him.

His teeth grit themselves together. His fists clench of their own accord. That familiar thrum of rage - missing when he was beaten, too weak when he was kicked out of the bar - beats inside of him again.

This time it will not go to waste.

The carpet is thankfully soft beneath his boots as he pads around in search of bullets. Brad’s snores get steadily louder and louder until they drown his rummaging entirely out. Even Lester, a notoriously light sleeper, dreams soundly on.

Only Michael stirs. Trevor has to reach over him to get the pistol from the bedside table and a small groan escapes Michael’s lips, his body starting to shift. Trevor freezes and stares down at him. Michael groans again. His eyelids flutter. He stills again. He looks peaceful. Almost angelic, Trevor thinks, with his smooth cheeks and stubbled-grazed chin and long, dark eyelashes. Trevor briefly dusts his fingers across Michael’s jaw and then grabs his pistol.

The moment over, he pulls himself together. It will not do to think of angels and soft, searching hands when he intends to bathe in the blood of devils tonight.

First, though, he goes to piss and wash his face. He manages to reopen the semi-scabbed cut on his lip and it takes a few minutes of cursing and dabbing and wincing before it stops bleeding again.

He takes one last look in the mirror. His eyes are animal. Hungry. He hopes those assholes will scream real loud before they die.

He pushes open the bathroom door, gun tucked into his belt.

“Going somewhere?”

He stops at once, stuck in the doorway like a deer in headlights. Michael is stood by his bed, wide awake and glowering. His arms are crossed across his chest and his hair is all tousled and in his eyes.

“Um. What?”

“You heard me. Where are you going? Where have you been all night? Why do you look like someone’s tried to kill you?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“None of my business? Of course it’s my business.”

Trevor shoves bodily past him towards the door. Michael shoots a hand out and grabs his forearm with an iron grip.

“Let go of me. I’m going out.”

“You’re drunk,” Michael says, leaning in close and wrinkling his nose. His voice is soft but his eyes are hard, blazing. “You ain’t going anywhere when your breath stinks like piss and you’ve got a gun in your pants.”

Trevor gives him a little push but can’t quite get away from him. “Yeah, cowboy, you’d know all about the gun in my pants, wouldn’t you? Let go of me before it goes off.”

“No. I asked you a question. What’s happened? What did you do?”

That sets Trevor right on edge and he wrenches himself away at last, stumbling back into the door. Lester murmurs something in his sleep.

“Why do you assume it’s something I’ve done, huh? I’m the one standing here having had the shit kicked out of me. I didn’t do anything. Back the fuck off of me.”

“Don’t be such an ass. Tell me the truth.”

“Brad and I went out and had a nice time together. Nothing else that happened is any of your concern, Mikey.”

Something new comes over Michael’s face. It takes a moment of Trevor glaring into it before he realises what it is; Michael looks spiteful, pissed off, jealous. Trevor draws back and tries his hardest not to smirk. Despite his bruises and what he’s been through tonight, all he can think of is how nice it feels to have this sort of power over him.

“B hasn’t come back beaten up,” Michael snaps, gesturing towards the fat lump on the bed. “You’re telling me he left you to get your ass kicked?”

“Nobody left me to get my ass kicked.”

“That’s not what it looks like. You shouldn’t have gone out with just him when we don’t know this place. Anything could have happened to you. Anything did happen to you. What if the cops tried to help you and realised you were responsible for that robbery?”

He runs his fingers over the handle of his gun. It is easier than reaching out for Michael. “What’s the matter, huh? Am I not allowed to go out without your permission anymore? I don’t need you to look after me. I can defend myself.”

“Yeah, fucking clearly.”

Trevor swells with anger. He’s all too ready to punch Michael square in the jaw when a strange beeping sound fills the room, some jangly little song that makes them both blink and look towards it. It wakes Lester, who sits bolt upright and rubs at his eyes.

“What’s that --?”

“My cellphone,” Michael says, sounding surprised. Trevor doesn’t think any of them have had calls on theirs before and the sound immediately gives him a headache. He drops his fingers from his gun.

“Your cellphone,” Trevor repeats, dully. “Aren’t you gonna answer it?”

Michael picks it up and frowns at it for a moment, before tentatively doing so, brow furrowed. “I-- hello?”

Brad sleeps on but Lester and Trevor share a look. Michael’s frown deepens and he doesn’t look at anyone, glaring at the floor. His cheeks flame with colour.

“Honey, I told you not to call me when I’m working unless it’s an emergency. Yeah, I know, I --” He blinks. His eyebrows shoot upwards. “Wait, what? What did she say? What?”

Trevor knows that something is terribly, terribly wronh. He sees it in the hardening lines of Michael’s shoulder and the slope of his downturned lips. He takes a step towards him. His heart clenches.

The phone drops to the floor.

xvi.

late 1997

Michael’s father is buried in the fall.

The day of the funeral is a brutal one. Wind whips up towards the graveyard and smothers them in damp, dark leaves and Mrs Townley’s black hat blows right off. It rolls towards the church. She watches it go with expressionless eyes, hands limp at her sides, until her only son chases it down at returns it to her. The graves - the new ones, the old ones, the ones laden with damp bouquets of flowers - are the only things unmoving, those and the awful church that shadows over them.

The service had been a small and simple one with only a few words from the pastor and a few more from various cousins and nephews, and a hymn at the end that Trevor didn’t attempt to sing along to. The service played out to Sinatra’s My Way, and Trevor imagined a way full of fists and bruises and loathing, Michael’s childhood played out in the way his dead shithead father wanted it to play out. Trevor had left then to stand outside and wait for the procession to leave.

He’s not sure why he’s here. When Michael had finished talking to his wife he’d switched off his phone and hung his head so low it must have hurt his neck, and Trevor had taken him into the bathroom and kissed the knuckles of his fingers until he stirred back to life. He’d told him about the heart attack and the argument - the argument about Michael of all people - that had brought it on, and he’d asked him to come with him, please, because he wasn’t sure he could face his mother by himself. So Trevor is here, of course he is.

But he’s not the only one.

Amanda sat by her husband throughout the funeral and Trevor sat at the back, lonely and lurking. Jimmy is with Amanda’s mother but Tracey is here, and she sat on her mother’s knee and watched the pastor talking with such a strange intensity that it unnerved her parents.

“She’s too young,” Trevor had heard Amanda murmur when the funeral cars pulled up and the small family clambered out, Michael’s mother close behind. “She shouldn’t be here.”

“I want her here,” Michael had said, shortly, and that was that.

Trevor wonders, kicking at the soil beneath his feet and watching as Mr. Townley is lowered into his grave, if that’s the argument Michael had used about him, too. Amanda is sure to have kicked up some sort of fuss but since his father’s death, Michael’s eyes have turned so cold and so serious that he can’t imagine she dared argue with him. She probably just gritted her teeth and nodded and tried not to think of the way Trevor must touch her husband in ways she will never be able to.

The thought makes Trevor smile. Tracey glances at him and he adjusts his expression at once, instead glaring at the ground.

That little girl has lost a grandfather she barely knew, but this is still going to be strange and painful for her. He wonders if at six years old she understands death at all. He wonders how her parents explained it to her and if she nodded in that knowing little way she has, eyes too bright and clever for somebody so innocent. She’s clad in black and clutching her mother’s hand and keeping quiet and Trevor just burns with the feelings he has for that family; the scalding heat that makes him want to shove Amanda into a grave, the ache that draws him to Michael again and again and again, the twinge in his gut that draws him to want to protect Tracey from the world and more. He watches their backs. He stands far away from them.

The pastor waves a hand over the grave in front of him, voice solemn and heavy. “But remember, those gathered here, that there will be no isolation in heaven, that God does not intend to allow us to suffer when we are by his side and that Kenneth Townley will not be forgotten in our hearts.”

Tracey cocks her head to one side. Trevor, coming to a halt, momentarily wants to call the pastor a bullshitter and a liar through and through.

He catches sight of Michael’s sagging shoulders and resumes his pacing and prowling; he does not disturb the funeral or the thirty or so gatherers who huddle up close but give the widow and her son and family a wide-berth. This, he reminds himself, is not about him. He can’t create a scene.

As the coffin finally reaches the ground with a soft thud he imagines his own father lying in there. Michael has ranted about his father’s knuckles and sharp words too many times and if it were Trevor watching his father be buried he’d spit right on the coffin before pouring dirt on it. He wouldn’t drop roses or say a prayer. He’d laugh right in the pastor’s face and say he hopes his father burns in hell.

He still wants his father to burn in hell. He could be dead now for all Trevor knows.

Trevor hopes he is.

Mrs. Townley bursts into tears as the coffin is covered by the mourners’ handfuls of dirt. She throws her own fistful down there and then makes a great show of sobbing into her expressionless son’s shoulder. Amanda shifts uncomfortably, wiping at her eyes, but Michael is stoic, his tenseness stormy. Trevor knows him all too well and can only guess the outbursts that will later come.

It’s the first time Trevor has seen Michael’s mother and she’s about as much as he expected; short, squat, face ravaged by time but still holding some vestiges of beauty. She looks a little like her son but also like a witch, the kind who would leave her only child to be a star quarterback without any support, the kind who would rather lounge around the house all day then help him realise his full potential. Michael hates her, he knows. Michael does not now hug her or pat her on the back. He doesn’t even glance at her.

His dry eyes are fixed on his father’s grave. Trevor yearns to pull him close but Amanda tries instead and gets nothing in response; she may as well be hugging a mannequin. Michael just blinks and carries on staring at the coffin.

Maybe, Trevor thinks for one heart-squeezing second, maybe he is considering his own future. Maybe he is thinking of how the cops and the FIB will cheer on his death and build a monument to themselves for killing him. Maybe he is thinking of his wife’s eventual plot next to his. Trevor closes his eyes at the thought of that.

He wants to be by Michael’s side for eternity. He does not want Amanda to have that special right.

It starts to snow. Trevor zips his jacket up.

“T?” comes a tiny, whispered voice. Tracey has tugged her hand from her mother’s and shuffled over to him and she’s looking up at him with wide eyes. Amanda watches her go to Trevor and sighs before turning back to her unresponsive husband.

“Hey, Trace,” Trevor whispers back. He kneels down.

“Why is that lady crying?”

“That lady’s your grandma. She’s your daddy’s mom.”

“I know,” Tracey says as if it’s irrelevant -- which, Trevor realises, it is. She has been no grandmother at all to Tracey as far as he can tell, not like Amanda’s doting mother who seems to be looking after the kids every other night. He frowns at her and wonders, again, just how much she knows.

“It’s about her husband. Your granddad. Do you know who I mean?”

She nods. “Yes. He shouts a lot. He makes Daddy get sad.”

Trevor imagines the bitter old man shouting; first at Michael, and then maybe at his wife, and then even at his grandkids who never deserve a raised voice in their direction. He ignores the ripple of anger that goes through him and instead touches her nose with his knuckle until she smiles at him, his own crooked smile flashing right back at her.

“That’s okay. He won’t shout at you or daddy ever again.”

“Because he’s dead,” Tracey says. “Mommy says he’s dead.”

“Yeah, he is.” He clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth and looks behind her; Michael is still in the same spot, still staring forwards. Mrs. Townley has given up crying on him and is sobbing against another family member instead. Amanda just stands by her husband and twists her black-gloved hands together, glancing back at her daughter every so often. The wind picks up.

“He’s gone,” he adds, and Tracey nods.

She leans in closer, conspiratorially. “I’m happy,” she confesses to him and he pulls back, staring at her. “He’s gone and he won’t shout at daddy and me anymore.”

“Did he ever hurt you?” he asks and she shakes her head, blonde curls falling into her eyes.

“No. He was loud. I want him gone. I don’t know why she’s crying.”

Trevor thinks of his own father stone-cold and buried and thinks how happy he’d be. Slowly he starts to smile until he’s grinning at Tracey and she beams back at him, the colour whipped away by the cold wind flooding back into her cheeks.

“I’m happy too,” he laughs and she laughs, too, until her mother turns on her heel and tells her to be quiet, please, because this is really not the time, Tracey. Tracey keeps her eyes on Trevor and giggles a little, clasping her pudgy little hand over her mouth. Trevor gets back to his feet and ruffles her hair fondly. He is amazed by her all over again, this little girl with a devil’s streak. He wants to shield her from the whole world.

The funeral service must end without either of them noticing because people start filtering back to the church or to their cars in the small parking lot, probably readying up for the food and drinks that await. Mrs. Townley is hosting a little dinner at her home. Trevor hopes Michael won’t go or if he does that he won’t want Trevor there. It’s too stifling here, seeing people with Michael’s nose or Michael’s smile or to hear Michael’s voice from the mouths of so many different Townleys.

Tracey watches her family go by without a word to her; she is, after all, the daughter of the black sheep and consequently unworthy of them. She takes Trevor’s hand.

He decides not to gun all of them down and only because she her little fingers are tight around his. He respects her more than anyone else here.

The last to leave the graveside are Mrs. Townley, Michael and Amanda. The pastor takes Mrs. Townley’s arm and carefully guides her back to the church; she leans on him the whole way, making such a scene with her crying that Tracey wrinkles her nose. Trevor suppresses a smile with some difficulty. She does not give him or her granddaughter a glance and she doesn’t look behind her for her son.

Michael manages to shake himself and look away from the grave, at last. He glances at Amanda like she’s not really there and then casts around for his daughter, who immediately lets go of Trevor’s hand and runs towards him.

“Daddy,” she says, and hugs him. “You’re not crying.”

Amanda winces. “Tracey, come on, leave daddy alone for a little while. Don’t be rude.”

“Hey,” Trevor says. “She ain’t being rude. She’s just curious.”

“Trevor, you’re not helping. Please just stay out of this.”

“I’m sorry, but somebody’s got to look out for that little girl.”

“And that’s you? You? I’m her goddamn mother. I do nothing but look out for my children.”

Trevor opens his mouth to angrily reply but then he catches sight of Tracey’s face. She’s not paying any attention to her arguing mother and so-called uncle, but she looks up at her dad who gazes right back down at her with dry, empty eyes. Her brow is wrinkled with confusion and Trevor notices the way she’s tenderly stroking the back of her father’s hand like that will somehow soothe him.

It seems her little trick is working. Some of the fight goes out of Michael’s shoulders.

After a moment of staring down into his daughter’s worried eyes he kneels down beside her in the snow, reaching forward to cup her face with his large hands. “No, I’m not crying, Trace. Don’t worry about me, I’m okay. How are you doing?”

“I’m okay. Uncle Trevor looked after me.”

Amanda turns away at that and shakes her head. Her dark hair is full of snow.

“Good. That’s good.” Michael lets his hands drop and looks down into the grave again, at the barely-covered coffin. He swallows. “We’ve just gotta go to this little party at your grandmother’s house and then we can go and get your brother, okay? We won’t stay long.”

She nods and then hugs him again, her arms going around his neck. He looks momentarily surprised before a goofy little smile take over his lips. Trevor, who knows his heart should really be hardened to this by now, scratches at his nose to hide his own smile. Amanda walks away, following her mother-in-law and the pastor. Nobody calls to her or asks her to wait for them.

“Trevor says your daddy is gone now,” Tracey says and Trevor is so caught up with the sweet way she pronounces Trevor - all soft Ws instead of Vs - that it takes him a moment to realise what she’s saying.

“Good,” Tracey says with such a fierceness that Michael leans back, blinking in surprise. “I want him gone.”

“Tracey,” he says, sharply. “Don’t you ever say anything like that again, you understand me? Never again.”

It’s her turn to blink, now, but she’s blinking back tears, stumbling away from him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“Your granddad is dead. You shouldn’t be happy.” Michael stands up and dusts the snow from his knees, shaking his head in disgust. Trevor watches as the tears start to fall down Tracey’s cheeks and he feels a sudden, great surge of dislike for Michael; he gets it, he does, he gets that Michael is probably so twisted up about losing his father and trying to figure out how he should react to it that he doesn’t really know what he’s saying right now, but that’s still no excuse for hurting Tracey. She deserves a lot more than her father’s harsh words.

“M, man. Leave her alone.”

Don’t, Trevor. Just don’t. You don’t have the right to fill my daughter’s head with crap.”

“Hey, that’s not what happened. You need to control your fuck-- your goddamn temper when your daughter is around.”

He wants to really hurt Michael and maybe tell him that if he’s not careful he’ll end up like his dead father, too ready to yell at kids that have to reason to be yelled at, but one look at Michael’s face kills that thought -- he’s glaring at the ground and breathing so heavily his chest heaves, and every other second his eyes are darting back to that coffin, the premonition of his own death lurking in his pupils.

Instead of hurting him, Trevor suddenly and desperately wants to hold him instead. His fingers flex at his sides. He does not move towards his best friend.

“You need,” Michael says, breathing heavily through his nose, “to stay away from my daughter if you’re gonna be a bad influence. She doesn’t need that.”

Trevor walks over to him and reaches forward to place a hand on his shoulder. “M. Mikey, come on. Look at me. I’m just- I’m not trying to influence her one way or another, okay? We just had a little talk. I get that you’re hurting right now, but that’s not my fault, and it’s not Tracey’s, man, so quit it.”

Michael doesn’t look at him, but he doesn’t pull away - and that’s something. Trevor squeezes his shoulder and feels the tenseness there.

“I know,” Michael mutters. He runs his hands over his face. “I know. I’m sorry, T. It’s just, my dad, he’s just--”

“I know. I do. It’s okay.”

Michael, finally, pulls away from him and looks down at Tracey. Her tears have stopped now but she still looks nervous, until her father bends down and picks her up. “I’m sorry,” he whispers into her hair, “I’m sorry, Trace. I didn’t mean to get mad with you.”

“I want mommy,” she replies.

He kisses her head and heads off in the direction of the church. “Okay,” he says, with a sigh. Trevor watches them go before following without a backward glance at the freshly dug grave.

---

It turns out that Michael does want Trevor to stay.

Trevor pulls him to one side before they get back into the cars. He holds Michael’s elbow, cradles the strength of it in his palm. Michael looks at him with worn-out eyes as he holds the car door open for his wife and child.

“Yeah?” he asks.

“You don’t need me anymore, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“At your mom’s. You don’t need me there. You got Amanda.”

Michael slams the door shut with a suddenly shaking hand. He runs his fingers over his face and sweeps them across the tired lines beneath his eyes, swipes them across the creases on his forehead.

“I --” He looks away. He looks at the floor. He looks at the car behind him and at the graveyard behind Trevor. “T, please. I asked you out here for a reason. I’d like you with me. I don’t think I can face my mom by myself.”

“You’re not by yourself.”

“You were,” Michael says. “You were. When we went to see your mom in jail, you were by yourself and I dropped fucking everything for you. All I’m asking is for one day of you doing the same for me.”

Trevor’s gut burns at that and he’s on the verge of sniping, of punching, of shoving Michael right into the black car but he can’t. Not now. Not today. He flexes his fingers and clicks his tongue against the roof of his cotton mouth. He breathes in. Breathes out. Tries to count to ten.

“Okay,” he sighs, eventually, “okay. Sure, buddy. I’ll be there.”

The look of relief in Michael’s eyes makes it all worth it and they sit side-by-side in the car that takes them to Mrs. Townley’s house. Amanda plays with her hair and looks out of the window while Tracey falls to sleep in her mother’s lap. In the front seat, some distant Townley cousin drives them, making small-talk with Michael every so often, the kind that dwindles out after a few courteous, clipped questions.

They get there in good time and before migration of the mourners closest to the family. Michael thanks his cousin with a brief handshake and leads them all inside of his childhood home, his body sagging with the weight of being back here.

Trevor steps over the threshold of the doorstep and tries not to look around too obviously.

This place is so inherently Michael, so intrinsic to everything the man is and was and will be, and yet it is nothing like Trevor imagined; he’s always known Michael hasn’t come from a wealthy family but he assumed there would be nice carpets and family portraits on the wall and his father’s collection of model cars or something on the mantel. He imagined Mr. Townley settling down in front of the TV with a bag of chips and Mrs. Townley making dinner in the open plan kitchen, polishing down granite surfaces and wishing her son upstairs would turn the music down.

Instead it’s small and squat and no upgrade at all from the trailers Trevor grew up in. There are a couple of pictures on the wall but they’re of Mr. and Mrs. Townley’s wedding, years before Michael was conceived. There are no signs of Michael here but for the coat he slings over the back of a worn old couch and a tiny trophy in the corner that Trevor presumes is from his days of football glory. It’s stuffed behind paperwork - bills, endless bills, and newspapers - and only catches Trevor’s eye when it catches a wink of light.

He blinks and it fades into the background once again.

Mrs. Townley shuffles through the front door. Michael doesn’t look at her, instead settling Tracey on the couch and talking to her in a low voice, and it’s up to Amanda to go over and put an arm around her shoulders.

“Come on,” she says soothingly, leading her into the kitchen, “I’ll make you some coffee.”

“Oh. Oh, okay, dear. Thank you. Thank you.”

They disappear into the kitchen together, Mrs. Townley sniffling all the way. Michael’s cousin awkwardly follows them and once he’s gone Trevor throws himself down on the couch next to Tracey. His body has barely recovered from the beating he took last week; he winces as Tracey leans immediately into him, her elbow pressing against a tender spot on his ribs.

Michael sits on the floor in front of them. He looks subdued now, empty again; he crosses his legs and glances around with disinterest, gaze sliding from the flowers and cards on the coffee table to his father’s slippers still tucked beneath the couch. Tracey plays with the hem of her black velvet coat. She hums under her breath and the sweet, girlish sound fills the room and fills Trevor’s head until he starts to fidget.

He wants to reach out and comfort him or stand up and punch out a window or something, but instead he just chews at his lip and asks, “You okay, Mikey?”

“I’m fine,” Michael says tiredly. He rubs uncomfortably at his arms. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

There is a pause in which Trevor doesn’t really believe him and Tracey sighs, swinging her feet. Michael stirs from whatever place he’s lost in again and smiles at her, crookedly, taking one of her boots in hand and giving it a little shake.

“I need to go,” she says, with large pleading eyes and Trevor notices the way she crosses her legs. He shifts quickly away from her.

“Bathroom’s just by the kitchen,” Michael says. “Just follow where your mom went.”

She nods and hops off the couch. Before she goes she presses a quick kiss on her father’s cheek before rushing off after her mom. Trevor watches her go. It’s easier to look after her instead of at his heavy-hearted best friend, who sinks in her place on the couch, slouching so low it’s like he wants to be swallowed by it entirely. His thigh presses into Trevor’s and Trevor loathes himself for even noticing right now.

“M --”

Michael sighs so heavily he shuts right up. He falls back to just watching, just being useless, as Michael buries his head into his hands and shudders, full-body. Trevor can’t understand it. He knows Michael, he really does; he would have thought he’d be running around the room cheering at the thought of his father rotting for all eternity or burning in hell or whatever. Trevor knows that’s how he himself would react and the two of them aren’t all that different.

Trevor casts a look around to make sure Tracey hasn’t sneaked back in the room and then plants a quick kiss to Michael’s shoulder. Michael sighs again.

“I’m really sorry, man,” Trevor lies.

“Thanks. I’m okay though. I’m just exhausted. I didn’t sleep a wink last night.”

Neither did Trevor; he stayed in the spare room at Michael’s house, trying hard not to listen to any stray moans or whispers or arguments that might have come from Michael and Amanda’s room. The sheets had been scratchy but it had been his head that kept him up until sunrise. All he had wanted was some meth or even just a bit of pot, but Tracey and Jimmy were in the house and even he has limits.

Only a couple of limits, but limits nonetheless.

They sit like that for a while. Trevor keeps his head rested against Michael’s shoulder and Michael keeps staring at the floor. The fine hairs on the back of Michael’s neck keep Trevor occupied; he counts each one like they’re the stars, and he loves each one more than he ever could a constellation.

Trevor can only imagine what Michael is remembering being back here for the first time in years. He doesn’t talk about his childhood all that much aside from raving about being a once beloved quarterback but he’s let things out when drunk or high or both. He once told Trevor how he talked back to his mom and got pinned down by his dad in response, the back of his thighs being slapped red raw with a slipper. He confessed that he came home drunk at sixteen and wasn’t allowed out of his room for half of summer. He whispered once, into Trevor’s hair as they lay entwined on the bed, how he shoved his dad and by the end of the night had to drive himself to the emergency room with a broken wrist.

Then -- and now -- Trevor had swelled with so much rage against Mr. Townley that it threatened to consume him. He wanted to murder the man who thought it was okay to lay a finger on such a brilliant son almost as much as he wanted to murder his own father, the one who thought it was okay to lay a finger on such a brilliant wife.

But now that devil of a man is dead and gone forever and will never hurt another soul in his life. Trevor is downright thrilled. He can’t understand why Michael seems so broken.

As though he can hear Trevor’s thoughts, Michael lifts his head. His eyes are thankfully still dry.

“Sorry,” he says, like they haven’t been sat in silence for an age, “sorry, man. I’m being a terrible host.”

“You ain’t gotta be any kind of host and you know it.”

“I know, I just …” Michael shakes his head. He gives Trevor a shaky smile. “I really appreciate you being here.”

Trevor doesn’t say anything sappy in response, just elbows Michael and grins a little, but it’s enough. It steadies them again.

The house starts to fill up with family members. Townleys old and older and terribly young enter. There are a couple of little ones, too, who Tracey shyly goes to play with despite the black clothes and watery eyes around her. Mrs. Townley emerges from the kitchen a little drunk and Amanda supports her all the way, shooting a weary look at her husband as she does so. Trevor almost feels sorry for her.

Eventually around twenty five of the Townley family and their assorted friends squeeze into the tiny house. Michael moves into a corner by his unpolished trophy and watches everyone with sour expression and Trevor stays loyally by his side, twitching uncomfortably in his dark suit.

It’s Amanda who surprises him the most; while Mrs. Townley weeps and reminisces with her family, Amanda takes it upon herself to rush around and make sure everyone’s got a drink or a sandwich or a place to sit down if they need to. She’s a gracious host and soon has everyone comfortable, a few of them even smiling.

Trevor doesn’t miss the way one bulky uncle of Michael’s watches her as she squeezes past him, his gaze firmly on her ass.

He doesn’t mention it to Michael, not today. Instead he gets them two bottles of wine and a couple of glasses and talks business. They’ve got a good job planned in South Yankton that Lester’s been working on for the past month and it’ll have them walking away with a nice enough haul each. He raves about it and suggests that afterwards Michael goes away somewhere sweet and hot to take his mind off things. Michael nods in an absent kind of way.

“I guess a vacation would be nice,” he admits, after a lot of cajoling, “but, uh, what would you do?”

“I’m perfectly capable of living a life without you, Michael,” Trevor says, rolling his eyes. He’s kind of touched that Michael’s thinking of him at all. “I think I’ve more than proved that after your various … excursions over the past few years.”

He eyes Amanda as he says it and Michael laughs a little, some of the colour coming back into his cheeks.

“Of course you have. Who am I kidding.”

“Yeah, you’re not that special, you fat fuck.”

“Asshole.”

“Damn straight.”

Trevor crosses his arms across his chest, leaning against the desk behind them as he surveys the room. The Townley family aren’t all that special, either. There are a few that remind him so effortlessly of Michael that it’s kind of weird to look at them and some people have nice faces or pretty smiles or a way with words that’s clearly captivating the others, but most of them seem pretty average. It’s weird that such a brazen, brash man like Michael could have emerged from them, ready to rob the world for all its glory.

“So, you’re not talking to anyone but me.”

Michael leans against the desk, too, and gives him a sidelong look. “Shit, T. Ain’t beating around the bush, are you?”

“I’m just saying. This is your family.”

“Yeah? That’s the first I’ve fucking heard of it.”

"Yeah," Trevor snorts, thinking of abandoned trailers and lazy siblings, "I know the feeling. Don't you have any, I don't know, cousins you're kind of fond of? You got a large family."

"Like I said, not my family. I got myself a new one."

Trevor knows all too well that he's referring to Amanda and the kids, but he pretends he means their ragtag group of merry men instead.

"Mm. Nice. You starring in a lifetime movie now?"

"Fuck you."

"You wish."

It's a treat to watch Michael's eyes go comically wide at the accusation and Trevor grins at him with all the heat he can. They stand like that for a moment - Trevor with his filthy gaze and Michael with his red cheeks - and Trevor is about to not-so-delicately suggest they go check out Michael's old bedroom when a man stops in front of them, his eyebrows raised.

"Michael," he says in a booming voice that makes Trevor's eyes narrow. "It's been too long."

"Oh, uh. Hey Uncle William."

Michael sounds instantly nervous and kind of defeated, like this is someone he knew he’d end up speaking to. He looks like Michael’s father did - or so Trevor thinks, from what he’s seen in photographs - and he can only assume he’s the dead man’s brother. There isn’t much of Michael in his face or his voice or attitude, but Trevor still can’t quite meet his eye.

He didn’t miss the way he stared at his nephew’s wife, after all.

“Your aunt and I didn’t think we’d ever see you again. We never even knew you were married. That girl of yours good to you?”

“That girl --? Oh. Oh, Mandy, yeah, she’s great. She’s wonderful, her and the kids.”

“Kids? You never struck me as the family kind. I’m surprised.” William shakes his head and then turns abruptly to Trevor, his brow wrinkling slightly. “Who are you? How did you know my brother?”

“Me?” Trevor pushes himself off the desk and stands to his full height. He’s far taller than this not-so-impressive man and it’s a damn delight to glare down at him. “Oh, I never had the pleasure.”

“He’s my friend,” Michael adds, quickly.

The man’s eyebrows shoot up again and he laughs, a great, ugly thing that fills the room like a swarm of wasps would. “Ah, one of our friends from the north, huh? What’s your name, son?”

“It’s Trevor,” he replies through gritted teeth, “and I’m not --”

“Tell me, Trevor, you ever played our nation’s sports? I know your lot like your hockey, but you ever tried your hand at football? My nephew here was a champion back in the day.”

William claps Michael on the shoulder so hard he flinches with it. Trevor is all-too-ready to pull him off and away until Michael shoots him a pleading look that keeps him in his spot and behaving, and he has to settle with simply gritting his teeth and glaring in the other direction. It doesn’t matter about his hurt today. It doesn’t matter. This is not his moment. He is here as an observer and supporter, not a scene-causer.

He accidentally bites his tongue but the sharp pain kind of helps him. At least somebody is suffering.

“I wouldn’t say a champion,” Michael says.

“Don’t be modest. Until my boy got his football scholarship I thought you might shape up to be the best thing this family’s ever produced. I always told my brother it was a damn shame he let you walk away from the game.”

Michael goes as red as a school kid in front of his first crush. He looks away, glancing at Trevor, a tic working in his jaw.

“Dad never came to any of my games.” “He was proud of you. Back then, at least,” William dismisses with a shake of his head.

“He never told me that.”

“Now, come on, son, don’t be a goddamn child. You’re a grown man.” William wrinkles his nose, eyeing the glass in Michael’s hand. “Though, I gotta say, are you two drinking wine? Maybe I’m wrong about the man thing after all.”

He laughs loudly again. Trevor’s brain threatens to explode with the obnoxious sound and the heady alcohol and he pushes his palm against his forehead, squeezing his eyes shut. He wants to punch this man. He wants to hurt him. He wants to rip his jugular out with his teeth and stamp his head right into the carpet. He wants to kill he wants to kill he wants to hurt he wants to leave -- “T?” Michael asks, and Trevor opens his eyes to find the two men staring at him wearing matching expressions of confusion. “Uh … is everything okay, man?”

“Looks like your friend can’t handle his wine,” William laughs, slapping Trevor heartily on the shoulder.

“I can handle --” Another swing of fury in his gut, another sharp pain in his head. He bites his tongue again and this time draws blood. “I need air. Get outta my way, old man.”

“Hey --” William starts, but Trevor pushes past him.

It’s not a total lie about needing air because he kind of feels like he’s suffocating right now, but he’s mostly leaving just so he doesn’t stuff his fist all the way down Michael’s uncle’s throat until he can grab his sick heart.

Tracey tries to get his attention as he passes her but he ignores her, for now; she’s with the healthy and the happy and not a man who wants to murder, who needs to do something that hurts the first person he can find. He won’t willingly expose her to that side of her would-be uncle and he won’t spill blood at the funeral of Michael’s father. That will come later, on their next job. God help whoever stands in his way then.

He manages to reach the front door without getting pulled into Tracey’s games or anyone’s conversation and when he gets outside he takes in huge breaths of fresh air, slamming the door behind him with more force than strictly necessarily. The feeble house pretty much shakes with it.

It’s still snowing. Trevor, in his thin suit, shivers.

He’s not here to admire the pretty way the snow falls or the way that the stars look in the gaps between the clouds and besides, his head is spinning so much he couldn’t appreciate even the most obvious beauty right now. He does not care for art or or snowfall or for the skies or even for those precious to him inside; he is so hot, his brain and heart so heated, and he aches with the strength it takes to control himself.

Not today. He can’t do this today.

He lights a cigarette instead. He’s been smoking almost every day since he was beaten up and it’s less to do with Michael these days and more to do with the way it chars his throat and soothes him when he’s drank too much. He’s not yet let Michael know -- he’s not ready for that particular can of worms to be opened and he doesn’t want to punch his best friend for calling him a hypocrite -- but it’s nothing he’s ashamed of. There’s very little he’s ever been ashamed of.

The cigarette helps and soon Trevor’s smashing it under his boot into the snow and lighting another one.

He sparks the lighter just as the front door opens. He turns, cigarette dangling between his lips, and expects to see Michael or maybe Amanda, but instead he’s left blinking in surprise.

“Mrs. Townley?”

The woman doesn’t respond. She’s staggering a little under the weight of her drunkenness and she slams the front door almost as hard as Trevor did. Her cheeks are stained with mascara and her plum lipstick is on her teeth and her chest keeps shuddering in the aftermath of her sobbing. Trevor watches her as she almost falls down the steps into the snow.

If this weren’t the woman who bore Michael and then ignored him for his childhood and teenage years, Trevor might almost feel sorry for her. He might even help her as she slips a little. “Hey,are you with me? Mrs. Townley?”

“Hm?” she casts around, even reaching out her large hands in search of the source of noise. When her reddened eyes settle on him they take a moment to focus. “Oh. It’s … it’s you. My son, you’re my son’s …”

“Friend,” Trevor finishes for her.

“Friend,” she agrees. She comes to a halt and looks down at her feet, at the way her heels slide into the snow like it’s butter. “You’re … um. You’re his friend. You’re Trevor.”

“Yeah.”

She fishes around in her pocket for her packet of Camel Lights. When she’s got one lit and between her fingers she brandishes it at him like a weapon, eyes turning sharper and sharper until they must finally see him. “You’re Trevor. You called my house once.”

Trevor has to think about it but he remembers, of course he does, he remembers when he and Michael spent a little time apart to go visit their families. He remembers searching for his own mother in their trailer park and not finding her, and he remembers calling Michael to hear that he was already sick and tired of his own. Michael had his mother and didn’t love her and she quite clearly didn’t love him. Trevor wants to shake them, the both of them, and tell them they don’t know how lucky they are.

“Yeah, I did. Is that a problem?”

Her eyebrows knit together. “Excuse me? Don’t you dare speak to me like that.”

“I’ll speak to you however the fuck I want to. I don’t give a shit about daring.”

“This is my husband’s funeral.”

She gives a pathetic little sob at that. Trevor steps towards her and sees his reflection in her watery eyes. He sees, too, her past and the way she ignored her husband’s abuse towards their only son and the way Michael must have stung when being hit again and again and again. He knows how he stung at that age. It can’t have felt all that better.

“You think I give a shit about him? I’m glad he’s dead. I hope he rots in hell.”

“You have no right to say those things. No right. You never knew him. You never even met him.”

“I know enough about him. I know enough about you.” He takes another step towards her. She doesn’t flinch, instead glaring at him with surprising sobriety, her cigarette left to burn away. “I know what he did to Michael and I know that you didn’t care about it. You never fucking cared about him.”

If Michael could hear this he might step in front of his mom to protect her or maybe he’d back Trevor up, but it hardly matters either way; Trevor has her right where he wants her, and he’s a bottle of wine into drunkenness, and it doesn’t matter what she says in her defense or how she tries to squirm out of this one. She abandoned her son even while he was in her care. She isn’t half the mother that he has.

“Ken never - Ken would never -- he did what he had to. He only did what he had to, and look how Michael turned out anyway. It was no use.” She glares furiously at him. Her eyes would burn him if they could. “He met you, in the end, and you damn ruined my boy.”

Trevor moves forward. His half-burned cigarette is still tight between his fingers but his other hand goes to her shoulder. She slams right into the house, snow falling from the roof straight onto her short dark hair, and Trevor laughs with the force of it. He laughs right in her face even as she lets out a shriek.

The desire to hurt, to murder, is back, back stronger than ever, and it will be her, it needs to be her, she deserves it, she should die, she should --

She flinches. She looks terrified.

Her sees his mother in her face.

He lets her go.

Mrs. Townley a whimper of relief when he steps away from her. He is wordless and near-stunned with himself; he has reminded himself of nobody so much of his father. He is becoming the type of man who would slam half-loving mothers into walls and hurt them and terrorise them. He is a monster of the worst kind.

His self-loathing burns along with his anger, mixes right up with it. He is consumed again. She is crying.

“I’m - I --”

A great shout erupts from the house. Trevor’s forming apology dies on his lips even as hers begin to tremble. One of those voices, he realises, is Michael’s. Michael is in trouble and that heat in his belly has a purpose again. His desires reign over him. He is stronger than ever.

“Get out of here,” Mrs. Townley hisses and she must mean to leave entirely, but Trevor just shakes his head and throws open the front door.

It is not the scene of carnage that he expected to find but it’s bad enough. Tracey and the other kids are crying and Amanda is pale-faced by her daughter, and in the corner William is screaming in his nephew’s face, getting spit all over it, ranting and raving about his lack of respect for his dead father. Michael is shouting right back with a ragged, torn sort of voice.

Trevor stares at them for a long moment. William grabs Michael by the lapel of his expensive suit and gives him a great shake, and Michael grapples with him, and Trevor looks around for somebody to step in, somebody who won’t rip the scalp right from William’s skull.

“Trevor,” Amanda says to him, pleadingly, and that’s that.

He rushes towards them, barrelling through the small crowd. There are a few screams that he ignores in favour of dragging William back with his arm hooked around his neck. Michael’s eyes go wide and grateful and he reaches out as though to help. Trevor’s got this, though. He is finally letting himself give in.

The man fights. He's not a small guy, after all, and he gives as good as he can but Trevor doesn’t care. This man could be 300lb of pure muscle and he wouldn’t come out of this the victor. There are demons inside of Trevor that could topple any man.

He bucks like a bull and Trevor very nearly lets go of him. It’s only the angle that lets him hold on -- his arm, around William’s neck, keeps him pinned in place and steadily turns his cheeks bright red.

“Let go of me, you fucking maniac!”

The words enrage him even further and he laughs as he grinds his cigarette right down into William’s cheek, so hard that he screams and scrabbles uselessly at Trevor’s hands, wrists, arms. His legs kicked out and catch Michael, whose grateful eyes widen even further. He lowers his arms and just watches, jaw slack.

“Enjoy this, you piece of shit!” Trevor kisses close to William’s ear. He twists the cigarette until it leaves a mark, a perfectly-formed O of a blister. “Maybe next time you won’t punch above your weight, huh?”

Two pairs of arms wrap around Trevor, dragging him away. A punch goes to his gut and winds him; he falls to his knees, one hand to his stomach, and watches as two of Michael’s cousins help their father to his feet. The tallest and most handsome must be the man with the football scholarship. The younger, weedier kid is the one with the iron fists who has sent Trevor to the ground.

“Are you okay, dad?”

Their father winces and gingerly rubs at his cheek. Trevor glares up at him from the floor. The rest of the room is silent and scared, only broken by the two men’s heavy, matched breathing. They don’t look at anyone but each other.

“I- I’m fine. I will be fine, once I break this motherfucker’s goddamn neck for him.”

William steps forward. His hands drop from his face and instead roll up his sleeves, mouth set in a grim and determined line. His son’s stand either side of him, glowering down at Trevor, and the three of them strike an almost impressive triptych of intimidation that Trevor can only laugh at.

“You really think you’re going to hurt me?”

“No, Trevor, I don’t think so. I know so. I’m going to whoop your ass so hard you’ll be crying for your momma.”

Trevor’s on his feet in a second, pushing his face right into William’s. “Just you say that again. Just you fucking try to say that again. I’ll slice your tongue out before you get to the second word.”

William’s fists curls right up and draws back and he’s going to punch, Trevor knows he is, Trevor’s face is already hurting in anticipation, and he’s all too ready to exact revenge. This man will not leave this house alive.

“Trevor!” comes a small scream, and through the crowd comes a determined Tracey Townley. She barrels at him full speed and grabs at his leg, hugging him. Her great uncle freezes and stares down at her, fist still stupidly raised.

“Tracey!” Amanda hisses. Trevor spares her a glance; she looks sick, a strange green colour. Her hands are shaking. “Tracey, get your ass back here right now!”

“You’re mean!” Tracey shouts at William and his sons. “You’re all mean! Leave T alone! Stop it!”

“Tracey, please. Come back here!”

William lowers his fist, at last. He turns to Michael, who is staring helplessly between his daughter and uncle and wife and best friend, as though somebody’s going to shout surprise and end this battle for him. When everyone remains silent, he clears his throat, and says, “If you lay a hand on Trevor, Uncle William, I swear --”

“Shut up. Shut the fuck up.” William shakes his head and gestures wildly at one of the photos on the wall, showing a suited-up Mr. Townley hugging his newly wed wife. “Your dad is spinning in his grave right now knowing you let your daughter be around scum like this. No wonder he was always telling me how you’d shamed him, how he wished he never had a son at all, how he’d rather you die than come home and disrespect him, how --”

The rest, for Trevor at least, happens as though a dream.

There is one awful moment in which Trevor looks at Michael and sees a broken man. He is not the sort to flinch at words or care what is being shouted at him. He is the type of man to respond with more shouting or with flying fists or a smart comeback that sounds too much like a dumb movie quote. Trevor has often seen him in a rage, especially a defensive one, and to see him standing there and staring at his uncle with wide eyes and pale cheeks and a look of devastation, well. That does it.

The trophy on the desk catches the light again. It blinds Trevor. It makes his mind fill with light. It is just the idea bulb he’s been searching for.

With a tenderness he has for nobody else, Trevor gently prises Tracey away from him. She goes without much resistance, but she doesn’t take her eyes from him.

“Trevor?” she asks, quietly, and he nods at her.

“It’s okay, Tracey. It’s okay.”

She at once fades into the background, colourless, and all Trevor can see is Michael’s brokenness. He moves forward with a charge that takes everyone by surprise, especially the cousins who fall back with surprised sounds, and even more so William who lands back on the desk with a small grunt. Trevor’s hand shoots out and finds the trophy without him looking at it. His fingers tighten around it’s neck like they have always meant to be there.

With righteous fury and a laughter that deafens him, he raises the trophy high above his head and thinks that this is how glory really feels.

The first smack of metal into skin sounds like a splitting fruit.

The second sounds wetter, heavier.

The third makes the man’s screamsstop and the screaming around them begin.

The fourth -- the fourth is stopped by a strong hand that catches Trevor’s wrist as it’s raised. Michael blooms back into Trevor’s vision that has turned so red and so beautiful and Michael is shaking and Michael is beautiful, too, and Trevor’s laughter sounds so sweet to his own ears. It feels like years since he’s felt so at ease.

“What the fuck, man?” Michael asks. “What the fuck? My goddamn daughter is here! What are you doing?”

“Maybe your daughter needs to know that some people in this life deserve to have their mouths shut for them!”

“Maybe you need to calm the fuck down! Stop it!”

Trevor shakes Michael off. The mess of William’s face looms up at him and he brings to trophy up into the sky again like a real champion.

In it’s reflection he sees the crowd behind him, the terrified faces of the Townley family, the star-struck expressions that fuel him. He sees movement and golden hair and a small, sorry little face that belongs to the only person in this room worth stopping for. He looks down at William. The burn of his gut fades, swoops, turns shameful and ugly.

He lowers his hand and the trophy drops to the floor with a dull thud.

Somewhere at the back of the room there’s a phone call -- Mrs. Townley, recovered, is calling the cops. Trevor’s chest heaves as he turns away from the groaning William. The trophy glares up at him, blood-splattered, and even from here he can see the way the blood drips down over the name Michael Townley.

“I --”

“Don’t,” Michael says, stepping away from him. Too far away. “Don’t you dare.”

As Trevor leaves he pushes everyone and everything out of the way. He does not look for Tracey or her mother and he does not look for Michael to follow him. He just shoves and walks and shoves and walks and it’s not until he’s back outside that he wakes up from his dream.

Trevor closes his eyes and wants for his mother’s arms.

---

According to the staff at The Roxbury, room twenty seven is occupied for the night by a Mr. Samuel Addams, a rather scruffy young rich man who paid upfront and paid in cash.

As per the hotel’s policies, no questions were asks when dollars were involved. Trevor had pushed the crumpled bills towards the young woman behind the front desk and told them that he was here on business and here for one night only and if they treated him right, he’d spend a damn fortune in the hotel bar and even more on room service.

The room is a far cry from the dire motels and his house near Lester’s, and it’s both disconcerting and rather nice. After shrugging off his bag and all of his clothes by the door he runs himself a bath that’s too deep and too hot and that almost sends him straight to sleep. The blood on his hands makes the water go a little red. He likes the colour.

Lying there, he thinks about the evening and the steam from the water curls his hair right up. The mirror steams up too and it’s for the best; he doesn’t want to see himself right now. He barely wants to see himself at the best of times.

The hot water serves to briefly subdue him. Once he’s out of the bathroom and dressed in the pyjamas the hotel have provided him with, he’s back to having boiling blood and swerving thoughts. All he can think of is his own selfishness and causing a scene at Michael’s father’s funeral and the way Tracey looked so horrified in the reflection of the trophy and the way Michael didn’t have the balls to kick his uncle in his and the thought of Michael’s father once beating him in that very house and the thought of his own father dragging him by the ear behind their trailer and beating him until his momma came out and screamed bloody murder at him to stop.

He walks over to the drinks cabinet in the corner. He’d ordered whiskey at the counter and there’s a bottle waiting. One shot does nothing for him, and neither does two, but by the fourth his wine-riddled head is swimming. It isn’t all that pleasant.

So he smokes a cigarette and goes to the window and stares at the snow. He thinks of Canada and life near the border. The cigarette reminds him of Michael again and the way he’d moved away from him after his outburst and something must mix dodgily in his stomach, because before he knows it he’s stumbling towards the bathroom and it’s too late and he’s spewing all over the lovely carpet and he’s shaking something awful.

He tastes whiskey and salmon sandwiches and Michael. He doesn’t feel drunk so much as destroyed.

The Roxbury, he decides, is not a place for him. He would take the dirt and grime and sanity over this deceptiveness any day.

The room fills with the sound of something strange and he has to stop himself from crying just to hear it -- it’s a light buzzing by the door and it is a brute force in sobering him. He crawls over and unzips his bag and stares down at his phone.

Perhaps he should smash it. That might help.

“Yeah?” he answers, instead. There’s a long, heavy sigh on the line. “Who is this?”

“It’s … it’s me. Michael.”

“Michael?” Trevor asks. His heart almost stops itself in his rush to jump in his throat.

“Yeah.”

Trevor is never lost for words but now he can’t think what to say. He isn’t sorry but he is pissed, and mostly at himself. “I don’t- I mean, I - goddamn, Mikey, why would you take that shit from him? Why didn’t you kick his ass?”

“You didn’t exactly give me a chance.”

“I was doing you a favour.”

“You were ruining my life,” Michael says, tiredly. “Tracey didn’t stop screaming for an hour.”

“I’m not- I didn’t mean for her to --”

“Just,” Michael pauses, and Trevor’s ready for it, ready to be told to leave his life forever on punishment of death. He winces in anticipation. “Just come outside, would you?”

“Huh?”

“I’m in the parking lot. I want to see you.”

“You mean you want to kill me.”

“No. If I wanted to kill you, I wouldn’t be so fucking obvious. Just get down here.”

Michael hangs up. Trevor swallows and stands. He slips on his boots and pulls on the robe the hotel provided. It’s white and fluffy and ridiculous and it’s all he can be bothered with as he walks downstairs and through the lobby and past alarmed looking staff members. “I’m just going out for a smoke!” he shouts at them with a wave. Nobody tries to stop him.

The parking lot is tucked behind the hotel, by a barely used road. With only four other cars parked here it’s a spot they’re not likely to be bothered at, and that suits Trevor just fine. The fresh snow crunches beneath his feet and he shivers as he steps out onto it. This is not the trailer park he grew up in, not even close, but he feels just as bad here as he ever did back home.

Michael is leaning against the bonnet of his car. His ankles are crossed and he’s twirling his keys nervously around a finger, chewing at the corner of his lip. As Trevor slowly approaches he just watches, eyes dark and shadowed, his soft jacket zipped all the way up to his chin. They are lit by only a couple of street lamps and he looks beautiful in the soft light, and Trevor draws up short when he realises how much his heart still wants despite the fact he’s fucked himself over, perhaps forever.

“You look worried,” Michael says. He speaks quietly but his voice travels, all the way up and down Trevor’s spine.

“I ain’t worried.”

“You’ve never been a very good liar, T.”

“I don’t lie,” Trevor says. He rubs at his arms and looks up at the sky. “I’m just thinking, that’s all. Is that a goddamn crime now?”

“No.” Michael stills his keys, catching them in his palm. There is something in his expression that Trevor can’t quite catch, but he thinks it might be disappointment.

He stands tall and squares his shoulders. “If you’re here to get me to say I’m sorry, you’ve wasted your time. Like I said, I don’t lie. Not for you. Not for anyone.”

“Mm,” is all Michael says.

“I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry for busting up the face of that shitty stupid old man who has probably beaten up his kids just as much as your dad beat you.”

Michael nods, impassively. “I see.”

“No, you don’t see! You don’t see, Michael. You never fucking see. You can stand there judging me but I did it for you and it’s because I’m the only person in your life with the balls to stand up for you. Even you can’t manage to do it! You’d be nothing without me.”

“Right.”

“I’m sorry Tracey had to see it but, you know what? Fuck your uncle. Fuck your asshole uncle and his asshole kids. Fuck your entire fucking family and fuck your father and fuck my father, okay, fuck my father, fuck him, fuck him!”

He shouts out the last word and it feels damn great to do it. Michael, though, looks unimpressed. He’s still just staring.

A little deflated, Trevor swallows. “You hate me, right? You hate me.”

Michael pockets his keys. He bends down and Trevor frowns, until he realises that Michael is balling up a fistful of snow. He straightens up and presses it together, the look on his face utterly neutral, and before Trevor can ask him what dumb game he’s playing, the snowball hits him square in the face.

He splutters and stands there, frozen to the spot with annoyance. The corner of Michael’s mouth twitches deliciously upwards.

Trevor throws one back.

Soon, the snow is flying between them in a flurry and the damp and cold don’t even matter, not when they’re laughing like school children and throwing like them, too, missing more often than not. It gets them frozen right through and Trevor can’t stop grinning so wide his cheeks hurt, the two of them cast in an orange hue, the snow still falling and coating the both of them.

A particularly huge snowball hits Trevor and he falls back with a soft oof in the snow. Lying back in it and letting it soak through the back of his robe really does remind him of being back home, in snowy winters before the snap set in, and he stretches out his arms to make a snow angel.

It is something he did a lot when he was a kid and when his mom still took cute pictures of her sons playing like normal young boys, and doing it now makes him feel sane and straight-minded and normal all over again. He laughs up at the sky and watches as his breath fogs from him.

Michael is soon on top of him. It’s a fact he barely even registers because that feels more like home than anything else. Michael is beaming down at him with pink cheeks and a pinker nose and his hands creep underneath his robe to feel the warmth of his skin through his pyjamas despite the cold, to feel the beat of his war-torn worn-out heart. Trevor slips his arms around his neck and pulls him in closer.

“Michael,” he whispers, and Michael cradles his jaw and kisses him so gently it breaks Trevor entirely, threatens to burst his heart right open.

They fall back to earth when an ugly blast of a car horn fills the parking lot. Michael scrambles up and off Trevor like a naughty school kid being caught behind the bike shed, and he wipes furiously at the back of his mouth.

Trevor half sits up, resting back on his elbows and glaring at whoever decided to interrupt the best moment he’s had in months.

A car has screeched just by the parking lot and a man is clambering out, around fifty and definitely looking bad for his age. He’s got a mean swell of a belly and arms that might once have been big with muscle, and the distaste on his face is apparent even from this far away. Trevor sighs and wonders just who is up above and what he did so wrong to deserve this. Sure, he robs banks and kills, but he’d like just a night of peace before the universe fucks him over all over again.

“-- fuckin’ queers,” he’s yelling across to them, cupping his hands around his mouth, “don’t you have any decency? Keep your goddamn depravity off America’s streets, Jesus Christ. I oughtta do the world a favour and put you both out of your misery.”

Michael, going a bright and ugly red, marches over to him. “Shut your goddamn mouth or I’ll shut it for you. You’ll be dead before you even think of going for your gun.”

The man’s hand twitches by his belt. It is so sudden and so sour that Trevor is up on his feet and running over before he can give it a second’s thought.

“I ain’t scared of pansies,” the man laughs, and there it is, Michael is pulling a pistol from his belt and pointing it straight at him, and his hand is steady. “You sure about that?” As the man is distracted, wide-eyed and open-palmed, Trevor decides not to let Michael taint his soul too much this evening. He’s already bashed in one skull and he’s hardly afraid to bash in another. Michael is his, his, his, and he will not have that destroyed, not now, not when he thought he had almost lost him for exposing his daughter to blood and violence, not when Michael came all the way here to see him and kiss him and love him despite it all.

He shoves the man back into his car. He hits the side of it and slides on the ice, falling hard on his ass and cursing.

“You don’t want to do this,” the man says, struggling to stand, and Trevor shoves him back down again.

“Actually, I think that I do,” Trevor laughs, fingers going around the top of the car door. “You’re going to regret ever driving by us, I swear it.”

“Trevor,” Michael says, warningly, but it’s too late, the choice is made, the inevitable must happen. Trevor puts his boot square into the man’s chest and pins him up against the car, knocking his head right back. He slams the car door shut and the man’s blood-curling screams sink warmly into his belly like the nicest drugs in the world.

He slams it again. Again. And again, again, again again again again --

Trevor doesn’t realise he’s laughing until that strange rushing, that buzzing, stops, until Michael is falling him back onto his ass in the snow and his laughter abruptly stops. He falls breathlessly backward and forms another snow angel, this one crushed and misshapened and fallen, fallen so far, and when his head hits the ice he sees the blood that stains the perfect untouched snow so very, very red.

Chapter Text

xvii.

1999

Trevor meets Carol Lane on Independence Day and tells her she has a superhero’s name.

They meet on a dark night that follows a rare sunkissed afternoon, around fifty miles away from his house and base of operations. With Michael on a month’s vacation in Florida with his wife and kids, and Brad visiting his father in South Yankton, Trevor quickly tires of Lester’s company and drives as far as his tank of gas takes him. It ends up not being very far at all, but he doesn’t mind. The city he gets to is busy with celebration and he can slip into it anonymously. He can be treated like any other.

There is a square in the center of the city with fountains and a town hall, and huge crowds of people are mingling around and watching the occasional firework. Trevor parks close by and walks right into the swell of people.

Fireworks remind him of New Years gone by and that one time when he was fifteen and he tucked a crateful of them beneath his asshole neighbour’s trailer. Lighting a match had never been so fun and fulfilling.

Hands shoved into his jean pockets, he sullenly sidesteps laughing, drunken couples and their brat kids, thinking about the sweet satisfaction that burned out trailer brought him. Ever since the smell of charred remains and empty, blackened shells has sent him heady; now, with fireworks like stars in the sky, his thrill is deep and dark in his belly.

There must have been a parade here; people are stamping red, white and blue confetti into the sidewalks and there are kids with intricate homemade costumes having some kind of competition, a circle of doting parents watching and applauding. Trevor pauses to watch for a while, until the Statue of Liberty pushes the Declaration of Independence over and things get heated.

He finds a low wall at the far end of the square and settles on it, legs splayed and fishes in his pockets for a cigarette. Smoking has started to become a compulsion, a ritual, a day-to-day routine like taking a shit or downing a shot. It is something to do when his hands are empty of a glass or a gun or a naked, writing body.

That thought sets off that focused part of his mind again, that tiny section that can think of Michael with barely any prompt. He imagines him - his latest, closely-cropped haircut and all - and crosses his legs, looking out amongst the crowds, drawing in great lungfuls of smoke and tasting his best friend.

But Michael is not here, not to touch or to taste, and so Trevor contends himself with his imagination.

It’s just as he’s thinking of unzipping Michael’s smart pants with his teeth that he catches sight of them.

The first thing he sees is the red of her hair and the way it catches each flash of the fireworks and then, in the next moment, the strength of his jaw and his long legs. He blinks and considers and lifts the cigarette back up to his mouth. They are a youngish couple who could be anyone, anyone at all, perhaps related or dating or just friends, but they’re both attractive and eye-catching. If either were on a street corner he’d hire them for the night without a second’s hesitation. There is a little American flag painted on her cheek, slightly smudged now.

They’re a little bit ahead of him but away from the crowds, too; she’s got her hand on her hip and is laughing and he’s grinning, and together they paint the prettiest picture that Trevor might have ever seen. It almost beats walking out of the airport that time to see Michael waiting for him; it almost beats falling in love.

Almost.

And yet, not even close.

He is off the wall before he really thinks about it. Maybe they’re going to look at him in disgust or fear or just laugh at him, but maybe they’ll want to hang around with him for the night with drugs and a warm bed.

The man sees him approaching before the woman does; he raises his eyebrows but stands his ground, the smile fading slowly from his pretty mouth. “Uh --”

“Hello,” Trevor says.

The woman turns to look at him. She doesn’t look at all unnerved, just narrows her eyes in curiosity and exchanges a quick look with her companion. “Hello,” she replies, in a deeper voice than Trevor had imagined, a voice that’s recovering from some awful cough, a voice that catches on that single word. “Can we help you?”

“You caught my eye,” he says without preamble, looking between the two of them. “I’m not from around here. I ended up here by accident, but you two look like the best of a bad bunch.”

“The best of --?” The man stands up straighter. “Dude, I don’t know what your game is, but that ain’t exactly a compliment.”

James,” the woman hisses.

“What?” he asks. “You gotta admit that was a weird thing to say!”

The woman, blushing slightly, pushes the hair from her face and smudges the flag at her cheek even more. “Sorry,” she says, to Trevor, “my brother don’t have too many manners.”

“Brother? I thought he was your boyfriend.”

“Um, no. No. This is my brother, James, and I’m Carol. Carol Lane.”

“Carol Lane,” Trevor says, tasting the name. “You sound like a superhero.”

“Jesus Christ,” James groans and takes a big, purposeful step back. “If you wanna hit on my sister, at least do it when I’m not standing here.”

“James!”

“Yeah, James,” Trevor grins, and slings an easy arm around his tanned shoulders, pulling him close, “you saw through me, yeah, whoops, don’t mind me, but who’s to say I’m just hitting on her?”

He expects James, with his burgeoning muscles and scowl, to pull away and shove at him and tell him that he ain’t queer, he ain’t disgusting, and that Trevor should crawl back into the pit he’s escaped from.

But -- James doesn’t. Instead, he goes as red as his sister has and sinks his teeth into his lower lip. Up close Trevor notices the freckles on his smooth nose. He wonders how the rest of his body is marked. It won’t be with scars and tattoos like he’s used to and it won’t be so swollen and so solid as the skin he touches most of all, but he imagines it will be sweet and fun nonetheless. He might have a spread of freckles all the way down him or be as unblemished as snow. He wonders how Carol’s skin will differ.

“Dude,” James says, weakly. “What’s your angle here?”

“Angle? I haven’t got an angle. I’m bored, I’m too sober and I’m not feeling all that patriotic. I want some entertainment. You two look entertaining. That’s it.”

“We got plans,” Carol says. Trevor lets go of James, who ducks away from him at once, rubbing at the back of his red neck. She’s looking at Trevor with an unreadable expression, arms crossed over her chest. There is heat in her gaze now. “We don’t know you.”

“Haven’t you ever made a friend before, Carol Lane?”

“Of course I have, but not like this. Is this how you make friends? Tell random strangers you want them to, uh, entertain you?”

Trevor thinks about it. The friends he has he can count on one hand, and two of them he doesn’t even like all that much, and all of them were upgraded to friend status due to the guns in their hands or the bloodied brains in their head.

“No,” he admits. “You two are special.”

“Us two have plans,” she repeats. She glances at her brother, who is looking determinedly at his shoes, his bravado long gone.

“How old are you?”

Surprised, she uncrosses her arms. “Uh, I’m twenty five. James is twenty six.”

“Then you’re old enough to cancel plans without having to explain yourself to anyone.”

“You can’t be serious right now. Like I said, we don’t even know you. You could be anyone.”

“And yet,” Trevor says, grinning, “you’re staying here talking to me. Face it, darling, you’re interested. You want to know what an evening entertaining me might entail. You’re hungry for that kind of adventure. It’s all over your face.”

“You’re talking shit,” she says, but her gaze wavers and hits somewhere at his midriff instead.

James, swallowing, looks around in case anyone is listening, and then leans a little closer to Trevor. “What would an evening like that mean? You want to go to a party? My friend is throwing a --”

“No. No parties. No bullshit polite conversations with people I’m never gonna see again. I want to get drunk and get high and get to know you two and only you two. I’m not interested in your friends.”

“There’s no way you can seriously think you don’t sound creepy right now,” Carol says, just as James asks, “What kind of … high?”

Trevor snorts at the both of them. A rocket goes off overhead and none of them flinch or pay it any attention - Carol is still staring at his belly as though meeting his eye would be too dangerous, and Trevor is still smirking, and James is still visibly burning up with want and curiosity.

“One,” Trevor says, point a finger at Carol, “like I said, I’m just trying to be your friend. If I wanted to be creepy I’d be creeping around you like creeps fucking do instead of being honest with you. Two --” he moves his finger to point at James, instead “-- I don’t give a shit what kind of high as long as it lasts a long time and it feels good. Do you have a preference?”

“I only ever smoked weed before, dude,” James shrugs.

“Jesus,” Trevor sighs, shaking his head. “That’s okay, though. I can teach you all I know.”

Carol meets his eye again, at last. The tenseness has gone from her jaw and shoulders. She rubs at her arm. “We’re up here on vacation. We’re housesitting for our friend. It’s only the two of us for a couple of weeks. Unless you gotta get up early for church tomorrow, we could, um, hang out.”

Trevor smiles at her, more than a little devilishly. The warmth he’s feeling isn’t, he’s decided, anything near the warmth he feels for the shithead that is Michael, but it’s something and that means he should pursue it. They seem up for it and he’s more than up for it, and he’s pretty sure they’re going to have a good night together. He’s got nothing to lose.

“You sure about this?” James asks his sister.

“Are you?”

“Yeah,” he says, and she nods, too, and that’s that decided.

Trevor smiles again. “Lead the way, then. We ain’t got all day.”

---

The two of them don’t touch each other but they touch him -- separately, together, sweetly.

Carol has warm hands and curved, wide hips, and James has a mouth more talented than Trevor’s ever known. Evidently they’re both experienced even if they’ve never had a threesome before - which they both most adamantly point out, right about the time they say they’ve never even seen meth before, which kind of makes sense when they don’t even know how to hit a pipe properly and Trevor has to show them in painstaking detail - and it’s a good time, Trevor getting to lie on his back and let them both move slow and low all over him. It’s a goddamn great time.

They react to meth in different ways. Carol gets quiet at first, and then exhilarated, and she starts pacing the room and clenching and unclenching her fists. Trevor sees a lot of himself in her there, in the way she hunches over and then stretches out her long legs and breathes out heavily through her nostrils. James just gets horny; his mouth becomes a palatable, silent thing, content to press against every available inch of Trevor’s skin.

At that Trevor groans and lies back and stops wanting to reach for Carol to hold her close. He is not a man for affection. He is trying not to be.

The night slips on, slithers like silk over them in a blanket of stars and a moon that seems very wide when they look out of the window with drug-enhanced eyes. The siblings’ friend’s house stinks of sweat and sex and drugs, and it smothers the three of them. James falls asleep by the window with his naked body curled up like a cat’s and Carol retreats to the bed, her clammy hand pulling Trevor backward with her.

She is willing, almost sober, and she opens up beneath him like a flower. Even before she took the first hit of the pipe she was staring at him with bedroom eyes and rubbing his cock beneath his jeans, and now he’s struggling to stay awake and she’s the one arching her back and parting her soft thighs. He loses himself in her.

When it’s over and he lies at her side, she pushes her face right into the crook of his neck and her red hair gets into his face, smelling vaguely of smoke. Matador, he thinks, sleepily, and he thinks he murmurs it too, torero, killer.

They fall asleep like that. Trevor does not dream of Michael.

---

The next morning he wakes to the smell of eggs and bacon.

It’s a smell that turns him momentarily upside down, what with the sickness deep inside his stomach and the ache all through his head and shoulders and back. He draws in a deep breath through his nostrils regardless and a body shifts next to him, hair tickling at his bare skin. He breathes in through his mouth, instead, and can almost taste the breakfast. He groans.

It’s not like he’s never been hungover before, but this time there’s a heaviness to his belly as he swings his legs over the side of the bed and stretches. Maybe it’s the smell; he’s not used to a fry up first thing, not when this feeling of discomfort is usually accompanied by a couple of snacks from a vending machine outside. After all, motels tend not to have kitchens and stoves and frying pans. Even at home he’s not one to rustle himself up a meal in the wake of a heavy night.

The feeling is also usually accompanied by Michael’s snores. He tries not to let that get to him.

There’s a bathroom right by the bedroom and it’s a blessing; he’s dry heaving over the toilet after a few shaky steps, clutching onto the spotless porcelain with his dirty fingers. Nothing much comes up and out except a long trail of spit, but his eyes water all the same, and he’s sure his face is bright red, eyes bloodshot, spirit broken.

He doesn’t want a goddamn breakfast. He wants to get out of here and maybe smoke some more crystal and definitely do another job, something urgent and bloody, something that lands him with thousands and thousands of dollars that he can throw up in the air and onto Michael’s bare belly, where he’ll do a line of coke and make a comment on how swollen that belly is these days, and Michael will swat at him and tell him to fuck off and Trevor will lean up and taste him and swallow his curse words, each and every one, and- and --

From the bedroom comes a small groan and Trevor lifts his head from the bowl of the toilet, remembering that he didn’t sleep alone last night. He remembers the soft hair that tickled his nose all night and the arms that held him tight.

He retches, again, and this time something comes up.

After a few minutes he emerges from the bathroom, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. He’d used one of the toothbrushes he’d found in there but his tongue and teeth still taste like shit. He licks at them.

On the bed rests Carol. She's beneath the blankets but half revealed; her breasts, large and freckled, catch his eye, as does the soft curve of her belly. Her curls wink copper in the morning light. She is, despite her sleepy moans, still fast asleep. She is also pale and looking pretty bad despite her prettiness. Drugs have never been the best make-up.

Trevor tears his eyes from her and heads through into the kitchen in search of the source of the smell.

It is, of course, James. He’s humming to himself as he pokes at the eggs with a spatula, an apron of all things tied around his waist, fully dressed and looking as fresh as a daisy. Trevor leans against the doorframe and raises his eyebrows, crossing his arms tight across his chest.

“Huh,” Trevor says, softly, and clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth.

The sound makes James turn, spatula raised in his hand. He softens at the sight of Trevor, lowering his arm and grinning in an awkward, sunny kind of way that makes Trevor’s tired cock want to stir with interest.

“Morning,” James says, turning back to his cooking. “How did you sleep?”

“Like shit,” Trevor says. He throws himself onto a chair at the kitchen table and spreads his legs, yawning wide and graciously.

“Uh - oh. Oh. I thought --”

“Last night was good, that ain’t what I’m saying, Jamesy boy. But sleeping when you’re jacked up on that shit? Never fun.”

“I slept okay.”

“Well, aren’t you a goddamn miracle, huh?”

“Nah.” James shrugs a shoulder and flips one of the eggs. It sets Trevor’s stomach off again, but he stays put and manages not to spew this time. “You want something to eat, T?”

“T?” Trevor asks, blinking.

“That’s what you told me to call you last night.”

“Oh.”

And he did, probably, right as James took his cock into his mouth and gave him a dangerously good blowjob. He’s so used to be called T during sex that actually means something and last night was supposed to mean nothing, but it’s too late to take the nickname back now. Anyway, he kind of likes it coming out of James’s pretty mouth. So he grins and he leans back and he stretches, and some of the burning in his gut subsides.

“Sure, I’ll have something if you’re offering. You make a cute cook, I gotta say.”

“I, uh .. thanks. I guess.” James huffs out a nervous laugh, some colour coming into his cheeks. “We’ll see if you’re still saying that after you eat what I’m making. I swear, I always end up burning shit.”

“I ain’t fussy.”

“Uh. Good.”

He grabs Trevor a plate and starts dishing out the eggs, bacon and a two slices of neatly cut toast. It’s set in front of him with little relish; James just blushes again and smiles and looks kind of pleased with himself. Trevor watches him lean in close to lay the plate down and he should, really, kiss him; they’ve had a good night together and now he’s being made breakfast, and that’s what normal people do, right? Show affection? Share a sweet moment? That’s probably what Michael and Amanda are sharing right now on vacation, with sex-ruffled hair and sleepy smiles.

Trevor swallows as James pours him out a glass of juice. He grabs the man’s wrist as he sets it down.

“Hold on,” he says, roughly, and his other hand betrays him by going to his crotch instead of sweetly to his cheek. He cups James through his pants, and feels a jolt of pleasure in the way that the man’s eyes widen. “Go out and get some beer, okay? We’re gonna need some.”

“You --” James visibly shudders, his knees seeming to weaken as he presses up against Trevor’s hand. “You want me to go? You’re not going the best way about it, I gotta say.”

“You’ll be back,” Trevor grins. He removes his hand and tucks into his breakfast. James stands there breathless and staring, half-hard. Trevor could have him right here and now over the table, bend him over, maybe, or lower himself onto his knees in front of him, but he doesn’t.

James hasn’t burned the breakfast. It’s too good to stop eating.

“Just, um, just beer, then?”

“Just beer,” Trevor confirms, mouth full. He swallows and licks at his lips. “I’ll get the harder stuff, don’t worry your pretty little head about that.”

The promise of beer and drugs and sex must work, because James switches off the oven and rushes off, apron still tied around his waist. Trevor watches him go with a grin that’s far too kind.

He focuses on his breakfast again. Any sickness he felt at the smell has well and truly gone, and he’s ravenous, insatiable. The eggs are runny and slide neatly down into his belly and the toast has a perfect crunch. He could get used to James making him breakfast like this, instead of having to scrounge up loose change for vending machines or trying to battle with his own kitchen. Maybe when he goes back home he could take James with him. Keep him in his house, make him cook for him. Give him blow every now and then or something. It’s gotta be better than whatever empty life the man’s currently living.

A small noise at the door makes him raise his gaze, mouth full. He sees the newcomer and sits up a bit straighter. He swallows, noisily.

“Mornin’,” he grins, wolfishly.

Carol goes pink. She’s dressed in nothing but an oversized shirt that falls halfway down her thighs, her hair curly and wild and hanging in her eyes. Unlike her brother, she looks a little worse for wear; her eyes are dark and shadowed and her skin is a weird shade of green, and when she sits down opposite Trevor he notices that her hands are shaking. She sees his gaze on them and moves them under the table, out of sight.

“Morning,” she replies croakily, and then winces, clearing her throat. She eyes his breakfast.

“Want some?” he asks, offering his fork to her, bacon stuck on the prongs. She shakes her head with a wrinkled nose.

“How can you eat? I feel awful.”

“Practise,” he says, with a full mouth.

Carol nods, in an absent kind of way. She looks away across the kitchen, eyeing the abandoned pots and pans, and strange white powder that lays scattered across the counter. Trevor makes a mental note not to let that go to waste.

“Where’s James?”

“Gone to get beer.”

“Beer?” Her lovely eyes go wide. “How can he even think about drinking right now?”

“He can’t, but I can.”

“Oh.”

She’s lost to her own thoughts for a while, chewing at her dry lower lip. After a minute or two of comfortable silence he feels an odd pressure against his leg - she’s pressing hers against it, determinedly looking anywhere at him.

Rather pink, she asks, “Are you going soon?”

The anger that bursts in his brain is unexpected and he drops his fork with it. Most of the food is gone but he’s tempted to throw it all on the floor, anyway, standing up and toppling the table. Instead he grinds his teeth together and laughs, humorlessly. “You trying to get rid of me or something?”

“What?” she asks. She looks so genuinely surprised that some of his anger slips right away. “No, no, that’s not what I -- look, I was gonna invite you to, um, stay, maybe, just while we house sit. Last night was fun, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” he says.

“So stay. Just while we stay here, before we have to --” she looks around, a little sheepishly “-- clean up.”

Trevor resumes eating, mulling the thought over. He could stay here for the next fortnight and pretend he isn’t a wanted criminal. He could play at being the wild kid instead of the hardened bank robber. He could fuck these beautiful siblings and buy lots of drugs and pass the next two weeks in a blur.

Or, he could leave them. He could turn her down - gently, or not so much - and go back home to wait for Michael to get off vacation, stuck with nobody but Lester and nameless strippers for company. He swallows a mouthful of toast and meets her eye.

“It would be my pleasure,” he says, and means it.

---

The days are golden and long and warm and the nights are something darker, glinting silver, sharp, the inside of his nose cut up with crystal, the back of his throat thick with the drip of it. James takes to the lifestyle as enthusiastically as anything, but Carol takes a little adjustment; at first she fixes her hair each morning and paints her face, but after the first week she gives up on that. She starts sleeping in until two. She starts to smoke her menthol cigarettes instead of eating anything of substance, and somebody should worry, but James bats it away when Trevor brings it up.

“She gets like that sometimes,” is all he says, and Trevor accepts that, mostly because James is ducking down to suck his cock, powder coating his nostrils.

James changes, too, his answers sharper, his smile a cutting thing that leaves his sister furious and Trevor half-hard, and he becomes brilliant with it all. His words are fast and funny, mostly, and even when he gets sullen it’s only because he’s got to wait for Trevor to go meet his dealer. When he returns it’s always with one of his smiles, arms open in welcome.

Trevor, of course, doesn’t change all that much. He’s a mostly quiet observer, fascinated by the way expressions start to alter as the sun goes down, and the way Carol moves over him when James is in the corner, jabbering away, and the way they both give him matching burning, beautiful looks, and how he knows exactly what they want from him. He just does his lines and takes hits from his pipes and swigs his beer and, in the twilight hours, he thinks of Michael.

---

And he shivers, and the night is long, and he sits in the corner with a head ready to burst and two slumbering figures in the bed and he rocks and rocks and nothing changes.

---

When Carol opens the fridge midway through their second week and finds a curled up lettuce and a couple of bottles of sauce, she throws her hands up at the general room. The general comprises of, sadly, only Trevor, who is leaning up against the counter and talking to her about some inane nonsense that comes from his current cabin fever.

“We’re going out,” she says, and goes to shower. “No excuses!”

She shouts the last over her shoulder and Trevor grins. It’s been awhile since she spoke in any more than either a whisper or a drugged-up slur so it’s refreshing to see her with some brightness back. James, currently passed out on the bed, is decidedly not invited.

They head out after she’s picked her clothes and done her make-up and made herself look all the more lovely, and when they walk down the street - chilly even in July - she takes his arm and jabbers away like an overexcited child. He doesn’t complain; it’s strange and normal and not-so, not really, not when he’s used to spending his time with grunting beefcakes or suave-talking, sweet-eyed men like Michael.

The thought of him makes his gut bubble unpleasantly. Last night, he got a text on his phone all the way from Florida, that read: Hey you. Fuck it’s hot here. Jimmy’s all burned up but Amanda loves it. Let me know how things are.

Trevor had stared at the text, worked out how to delete it, and had thrown his phone across the room. He’s not sure why, even now.

“-- our dad used to try and force us to eat them, but even then James was a little dick, he was always like why don’t I ever see you eat vegetables, daddy?, it used to drive him up the wall. I always wondered why he never got hit, but dad was never like that. Maybe he --”

She leads them into the store when they reach it, still talking away and leaving Trevor to tune out. The last thing he wants to talk about is fathers who hit, or fathers who don’t, or fathers in general. All of the fathers he’s known in his life have been a disappointment. They pass a security guard on the way in, the kind with lots of shoulder and little neck, and he nods at them. Carol gives him a smile, and Trevor looks away.

It would be nice, he thinks, nice and exciting to rob this place. It’s just a small store with three measly aisles and they probably only have a couple of hundred between the two cash tills, but that hardly matters. Lester’s laundered enough money to keep him going for three or four lifetimes. He’d just like the kick he’d get from seeing that guard squirm in a puddle of his own blood. He wonders if Carol would look at him with wide-eyed admiration, or narrow-eyed fear. Maybe she’d like to join in.

“Trevor?” she asks, impatiently, and he blinks to find her standing in front of him with a hand on her hip, sundress crinkling beneath her fingers. “Are you even listening to me?”

“Uh,” he says, and then grins, wolfishly. “No. Not really. Sorry. What’s up?”

“I asked if you wanted pizza tonight,” she says, thrusting a frozen pizza at him anyway. He takes it without complaint. “I’ve had a banging headache all night and I want a proper meal. Maybe we could get some of those fries to go with it. You know, the type that --”

“Carol. Get whatever you want. I don’t care.”

She sniffs, faltering in the middle of the aisle. Up close he can see she’s not quite as bright and made up as he thought; her eyes are more than a little bloodshot and there’s a paleness to her skin that wasn’t there at the beginning of the last week. She looks thinner and he doesn’t think it suits her all that much. He notices it all in an absent kind of way; it doesn’t matter to him, of course, what she looks like as long as she’s still willing to light up with him at night, and besides, her friends will be back to their house at the end of the week and then she can move on and forget drugs, and forget Trevor.

The thought unsettles him more than he’d like. He leans close to her, presses his lips briefly to the shell of her ear. “We’ll get some nice dessert,” he says, quietly, and she turns to look at him, her eyes flickering to his lips, “if you know what I mean.”

“I do,” she says. Her voice is full of longing, her cheeks turning a little red. “That stuff you got last night … man, I’ve never felt anything like it. I want more of that.”

“That can be arranged,” he grins. He’ll have to visit that new dealer he found, some kid on a street corner who has more street sense than half of Trevor’s gang put together. “I don’t think any pizza is gonna contend with it.”

“Maybe not, but we still have to eat,” she says, pushing another pizza at Trevor and turning to waltz back down the aisle, good mood restored. He watches her go with a grin.

She picks out a couple more day’s worth of ready meals, talking again of her past and James’s past, and she’s like any bubbling, innocent woman, her sense of humour a little mean, her smile a little sweet, and Trevor wonders what his friends would make of her. Brad might make some pig-ugly comment about her weight and Lester would just get red-eared and tongue-tied as he is around most women sober, but he’s not so sure about Michael.

He might be charming and full of a suavity Trevor is never going to possess. He can imagine it, too, Carol laughing at his jokes and touching his arm in the way that she touches Trevor’s. But Michael, too, can be mean - perhaps he’d spurn her or not find her breasts pumped up enough or even be mad that Trevor’s been giving so much of himself to somebody else in his absence, and maybe he’d even get jealous.

That Trevor would like to see, Carol’s feelings be damned. Michael always used to act that way in the beginning.

“You mind me asking what you’re thinking about?”

“Huh?” he asks, blinking. They’re in the queue for the cashier now. Carol is watching him closely.

“You’ve ignored another three of my questions. Just wondered what world you’re lost in.”

“Uh. Nothing. Work stuff, that’s all. Don’t worry about it.”

“Oh. Work stuff.” They move forward in the queue and she chews her lip, watching Trevor from the corner of her eye. “I wanted to ask you about that … your work, I mean. I wondered what kind of, well, you know, what line of work you’re --”

“Hey!” comes a roar in front of them, making half the people in the queue drop their shopping. Carol jumps horribly and Trevor goes for his belt, before remembering he’s left his goddamn gun at home. “Stop, asshole!”

A young man with a scruff of a beard makes for the door, his coat bulging conspicuously with liquor. The security guard - a giant, really - steps into the doorway, blocking the thief's path entirely. He reaches out a massive hand and shoves the man to the floor, and he let’s out a pathetic shriek as he goes that Trevor can’t help but snort at. Carol glances at him, briefly, a slight frown on her face.

He's picked up by the guard and shook violently, until four sizeable bottles fall to the ground. None of them smash but they make enough noise for everyone to jump all over again.

Trevor alone stands still, his heart beating suddenly faster. He wants, he realises, to grab those bottles and take them himself, just to show that the guard can be downed, that a real thief would attack rather than be thrown to the ground, would kill rather than be maimed. He'd pay to see the look on Carol's face if he did it.

He steels himself, though. This is his vacation, after all, while Michael gets his. He doubts Michael is holding up Mickey Mouse and so he needs to take a break from all of the craziness, too, and pretend just for two weeks that he isn’t a bank robber, a robber, a masked assassin who has murdered so many people it would make Carol and her pretty brother go green in the face with nausea.

Trevor keeps his head down when the cops show up - just in case - and Carol is all too eager to get out of there when the commotion has died down and they’ve finally paid for their dinner.

This time, she doesn’t take his arm as they walk. He barely notices; he’s thinking about how much he misses the thrill of the chase and all those time he was almost caught, and especially all of those times he and Michael slammed the door of a motel behind them, laughing, wheezing, leaning against it and each other before falling back on their bed with a kind of breathless wonder. He thinks of Michael before the kids, before even Amanda, lying back on that old Datsun in that cattle-filled field, ready to set the world alight. His eyes, he finds, are burning.

Trevor bites at his lower lip. The pain works in distracting him, and his eyes fill for a different reason.

“Doesn’t it make you sick,” Carol begins, slowly, “to see shameless robbery like that asshole back there.”

“Uh. What?”

“You know. It’s one thing if you’re so poor you need to steal, I dunno, a loaf of bread every now and then or whatever, but Jesus, when you got no excuse, there’s no goddamn reason for it. I just can’t abide shoplifters. They make me sick.”

Trevor stumbles on nothing, staring so intently at her. “You’re joking, right? You’ve spent the last ten days with me snorting whatever I put in front of you, and you’re judging a guy for trying to steal a couple of bottles of whiskey? You’re a fucking puzzle, Carol Lane.”

“That’s different,” she says, going red, “and you know it. It ain’t hurting anyone, me having a couple of weeks of fun.”

Except yourself, Trevor wants to say, but he’s hardly in any place to judge himself.

“Maybe I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but I don’t think him taking those bottles is hurting anyone either. A chain of shops like that, they work around shoplifting, they expect it.”

“That don’t make it right, though,” she says, with a one-armed shrug. “It’s still immoral.”

Maybe it’s the lazy, chilly summer day, or maybe it’s the sight of emerging crow’s feet winking at him from the corner of Carol’s eyes, or maybe it’s the prospect of another couple of nights of sex and drugs and everything in between, but Trevor manages to keep his temper under wraps. Right now he’d usually be shoving her judgemental face right into the pavement or something, but instead he finds himself shrugging, too, his smile a little too sharp. “I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

She rolls her eyes. “Sure, whatever. Enough about that jackass. You were gonna tell me about your work.”

“No,” he says, and this time there i an edge to it, the kind that makes her flinch, “no, I really wasn’t. You were asking, sure, but I wasn’t about to tell.”

“Drugs,” she suggests, and he takes a second to marvel at her bravery. “That’s my guess, anyway. James thought it had something to do with smuggling, but I reckon more production. Am I right?”

“No,” he repeats, and before she can open her mouth, adds, “and don’t bring it up again. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter.”

“Fine.”

They reach the small house, so innocent and unashamed from the outside. He opens the door for her. They unpack the shopping. They work in a silent, companionable sort of way, her passing him the stuff for the freezer, him opening the fridge as she reaches for it. She doesn’t mention his work again, but he can’t miss the strange look in her eyes as she regards him.

He also, more pressingly, can’t miss the low thrum deep in his belly that signals just how much he misses his job and those in it. He’d even like to see Brad’s dumb face right now, or hear Lester’s rasp. Even the bitten-tongued Moses would be a sight for sore eyes.

Carol pours herself a glass of water. Her red hair falls in her eyes, catching the light from the high window. Trevor swallows, and makes towards her.

“What you need to know is --”

“Where have you two been?” comes a loud voice from the doorway. James stands there, clad in nothing but a pair of dirty boxer shorts. He looks from his sister to Trevor to the remains of the shopping on the counter. “Didn’t either of you think to ask why I might want?”

“You got pizza,” Trevor says. He walks up to James, who meets his eyes, his gaze defiant but soft. Trevor puts a hand on his bare stomach and feels the muscles tense there. “And for afters, whatever you damn please, okay? My treat.”

James’s pretty lips curve into a prettier smile. They both hear Carol sigh from the sink and ignore her. “I would like,” he says, voice low and alluring, “some more of that crystal you scored last night.”

“Deal,” Trevor says, and reaches for his phone.

---

And the next night he wakes and finds that James is in the corner instead, and James is rocking, and James is changing.

---

It’s after a particular hard night of partying that things come to a head.

Trevor went to bed unusually early - his nose was burning from the coke he’d snorted, his nostrils dusted with the stuff, and it reminded him of Michael and he was tired and bored and lonely - and Carol and James stayed up, bickering in the kitchen about what to make for dinner. On the dining table there were drugs and a rolled up dollar bill and fast-drying blood from a nosebleed Carol had had that morning.

When Trevor wakes up three hours later, the night has fully fallen and something feels off; he stretches out a wayward hand and finds the bed empty. He sighs through his aching nose and listens for Carol’s familiar, deep voice or James’s laughter, but there’s nothing. Somewhere, a tap is dripping, and outside a dog is barking, but that’s it.

Maybe they’ve gone out to get beer. Maybe they’ve got themselves arrested in the process.

Trevor, rather unconcerned, just opens his eyes and reaches over for his pipe and the baggie next to it. It’s where it should be, in arm’s reach, and his lighter is soon warming up the base of the pipe and filling it with smoke. Even in the darkness comes light; he feels it wash over him as he inhales, eyes slipping closed.

His dream - something to do with Tracey crying in the snow and Trevor not being able to reach her - slips right away. He exhales and smiles and is just about okay.

A noise shatters his peace; the door to the bedroom creaks open, and he raises an eyebrow.

“James?” he calls. “That you? What are you doing creeping about, huh? Get the fuck in here.”

James obeys, as always. He steps forward into the strip of light from the full moon outside and Trevor eyes him, warily.

He looks vile. His eyes are bloodshot, protuberant, his hands are pale and shaking wildly, his bare chest glinting in the moonlight. Trevor stares at it for a little while from his place on the bed, until the moon catches something else; in James’s hand is a knife from the kitchen, the blade shining and huge and deadly. Trevor blinks once, twice.

“Christ,” he laughs. “What’s your plan, huh? You gonna gut me?”

“Not just you. Not just you.”

“Nah? You gonna stab your sister too?” Trevor crosses one ankle over the other and takes another hit from his pipe. James stands there and watches him and the room starts to spin. “Good luck with that, buddy. She’d kick your ass.”

“Don’t talk about her. Stop it. Don’t --” One of James’s hands go to his dark hair, fingers twisting in it so hard it’s amazing he doesn’t pull great clumps of it right out. “Don’t mention her. Not now. Not anymore.”

That darkens Trevor’s vision, just a little. He puts the pipe down. “Why not?”

He wonders if James has hurt her. The drugs fog his brain in such a way that he can’t care as much as he should, but he cares a little; James looks away, eyes sliding down to the knife in his trembling hand, and it’s as much an admission of guilt as anything. A shiver goes down Trevor’s spine. The bed feels like ice beneath him.

“You hurt her,” he says, pushing himself up onto his knees.

“I don’t --” James raises the knife, wildly. “Shut up, Trevor. Shut up!”

“Put that down.”

“Don’t tell me what to do!”

He is a child. Only a couple of years younger than Trevor, sure, but a child. Trevor should never have introduced him to the world of crystal meth if he was going to end up as fucked up as Trevor himself. There can’t be two of them; there can’t be that much violence in the world, Trevor knows that. He barks out a laugh and James shakes his head.

“Stop it! Stop laughing at me!”

James starts to mutter something incomprehensible under his breath, still shaking something awful and sweating even worse, and Trevor in turn starts to tense up all over. This, he knows from experience, is probably going to turn nasty and any second and his gun is across the room. He could beat James to death with one hand tied behind his back but there’s a knife in the equation, and he’s not sure what a drugged-up asshole like the one in front of him is really capable of.

For the first time in a while, he wishes Michael was here.

Michael would hurt this man. Unsullied by the vices and the lust that Trevor’s swept right up in, he’d stand tall and proud, cross big arms across his chest and laugh right into James’s crazed face. Just try it, he’d spit, just try and take me down.

James would try, and James would fail, and James would be another name on the long list of Michael’s conquests.

But Michael is not here. Michael is far away - this time by Trevor’s choice, this time to stop them both from suffocating - and Trevor is the only one able to make the decision. The problem is, he likes James and likes his sister, and he understands that look in his eye all too well. He’s both weary and wary; he raises his hands in surrender.

“Hey, man,” he says, as soothingly as he can, and it feels alien to him, “come on. Don’t be an asshole. Put the knife down, smoke some crystal, and have a good night. There’s no need to hurt anyone.”

“No? No?” James takes a great step forward. His knees dust the bed and Trevor swallows, more out of confusion than fear. He’s never seen somebody who resembles himself so much and it’s kind of unsettling. “I saw you hit that wall until you nearly broke your fingers. I saw you hurt yourself! You’ve got no fucking room to speak.”

“That was different. That was --”

“Who were you talking to on the phone yesterday? Who was it? The cops? You turning us all in? You get us hooked and then turn us in?”

“Hey,” Trevor says, sharply, because James seems intent on moving closer again, “I ain’t turning anyone in. Shut your fucking mouth before I gut you.”

“I have the knife,” James reminds him.

“And the fucking stupidity to be threatening me. Put it down before you get hurt. I mean it.”

It’s going to be a great waste of life. Trevor, who has no care for it, not really, really has grown attached to this pretty boy and his pretty sister, and to end him is going to be hard. James is like Trevor, too quick to violence, perhaps, but he’s lost to it in a way Trevor will never be. Instead of just going for the throat or the chest, he’s rambling, lost to himself, still trying to pull his hair from it’s roots.

Amateaur.

“What did you call me?”

Trevor hadn’t realise he’d spoken out loud, but he laughs all the same. “You heard me. Can’t even handle your fucking drugs. I’m ashamed of you.”

Something flashes in James’s eye and for a moment he’s a mirror, and then he’s a blur, and then he’s got Trevor pinned down on the bed with hands surprisingly strong and fast. The knife is pressed right up to Trevor’s throat, tickling at his Adam’s apple and promising a painful death. On top of him, James heaves out great breaths and grins, straddling over Trevor like he has so many times in the past week.

“I’m not an amateaur. I’m nothing that you say I am. I’m more, okay? I’m more!”

“Jesus. You got some real daddy issues that you’re taking out on me right now, huh? I don’t give a fuck about what you are. Get off me before I make you get off me.”

“Tough words for a tough guy.” James laughs, hysterically. He presses over Trevor. “Tough fucking words. You want them to be your last?”

James still has real pretty lips despite them being covered in spit, and his cheeks are still smooth, and he’s heavy over him.

Trevor, despite himself, shifts.

“Uh, are you getting fucking turned on? What sort of sick freak are you?”

“I don’t know, sugar,” Trevor grins, “what sort are you?”

“This isn’t a fucking game!”

“Then stop playing it. Get on with whatever little charade you’re playing at so I can get on with ripping you to shreds.”

He wonders, again, where Carol is. If she’s okay. If she’s lying in a pool of her own blood somewhere or if she’s going to walk in in a second, hair three days overdue for a wash, hands shaking, about to see her brother murdered. Maybe she is already dead.

The knife threatens to prick skin. There is a stinging at Trevor’s neck and that cuts through his haze of drugs and lust, and sends him into a rage; he reaches up and grabs James’s throat with an iron grip, and throws him halfway across the bed. James screams pathetically as he goes, despite the weapon he’s wielding.

He’s not wielding it for long, though, not when Trevor’s got it wrestled from him in a second. He kneels up on the mattress, knees sinking into the duvet that has seen more pleasure in the last week than it has in it’s whole life, and he grins down at James. He’s sure his eyes are twinkling, not all that kindly. James stares up at him in horror, defeated.

“Trevor,” he says, and it’s a whine, “Trevor, Trevor, please --”

Trevor, please!” Trevor chimes right back, lips curling upwards. He looks at the knife and can’t see any red on it, but maybe James has already used it and cleaned it. He can’t be sure. “Shut up. Shut the fuck up.”

James doesn’t struggle beneath him. It’s a relief and a disappointment. Trevor was growing kind of fond of the fight in him, but now he’s spineless again, all limp and useless and wide-eyed. Trevor runs the knife across his neck and shoulders and bare chest just for the fun of it and barks out a laugh when James flinches.

“Where’s your sister?” he asks, and James shakes his head.

“Don’t. Don’t.”

“You were gonna kill me, weren’t you? For what? For making you feel real for the first time in your sorry fucking life? What sort of gratitude is that, huh?”

“You ruined my life! Me and Carol, you ruined us! Fuck you!” James is red, flushed, his eyes still bloodshot. Trevor can see the drugs at work beneath his skin. His capillaries seem alive. His whole face seems to vibrate with it, but maybe that has something to do with Trevor’s intoxication. “I hate you! We both do!”

“That’s more like it, Jamsie,” Trevor says. Laughter bubbles up in his throat and soon he’s throwing his head back and giving into it, his thighs tightening their grip around James’s. Even if James were to fight back he wouldn’t be able to move an inch, not with such a force over him. Trevor is still half-hard and still furious and still ecstatic, and he’s still indignant that somebody he’s looked after has become such a goddamn fucking snake.

“We used to be okay, you know that? We used to be good people before you!”

“And you’re saying what, man, that I’m not a good person? Is that it?”

It’s James’s turn to laugh, but the sound is somewhat strangled. “Dead fucking right, Trevor. Dead right. You’re the- you’re the devil! I wish we’d never met you. I wish we never laid eyes on you.”

Trevor should, by rights, feel guilty; he introduced the siblings to drugs and sex and the lows of his world, and he’s clearly messed up James’s head, if not his sister’s, too, and when he inevitably goes back to Michal he’ll forget them just like everyone else, but- but -- he can’t bring himself to feel guilty. He just feels kind of lost, and more than a little pissed off.

The weight of the knife in his hand drags him down.

When it first splits skin, a scream erupts from James, so clear and so sobre that the night seems to still with it. Sure, Trevor aimed, but it was lazily; the knife goes into his chest and meets resistance, and Trevor keeps on pushing despite the desperate hands that scrabble at him and try to gouge his skin right off.

It’s almost harder to get the knife out but with a great yank Trevor manages it, almost toppling off the bed in the process. James is a bucking bull beneath him.

Trevor wraps both hands around the handle of the knife as he regains his balance. Blood wells up from James’s chest, his nipple doused in it. The dark bed sheets have turned even darker and the stench of it - and the stench of something else, because Trevor’s pretty sure James has shit himself - fills Trevor’s nostrils and makes him grin. He has kissed James so tenderly these past few weeks but he can’t let him live, not when he’s threatening to become a reflection, a copy. There just isn’t enough darkness in the world for the two of them.

He looks at James’s desperate, pretty, gasping lips as he raises the knife above his head. He sees himself reflected in those wide eyes. He thinks, again, again, as always, of Michael.

A high, keening sort of noise fills the room as the knife goes into James’s throat.

The noise also fills Trevor and he’s off James in an instant, stumbling at the side of the bed and holding onto the knife like it’s his life support. There was - is - so much red, and it tinges his vision, too, and he’s breathing hard through his nose and gritting his teeth so hard they are surely going to crack.

Michael is just a phone call away. He wants to call him. He wants to calm down. He wants to burn the world down.

Everyone leaves him. Everyone fucking leaves him. They either run as far as they can like his father and his mother and his brother or they act so ridiculous and so disloyal that Trevor is forced to push them away, like James here, and - and Michael, too, sometimes. He is a walking stereotype, a boy always too lowly to be wanted, a man always too fucked up to cherish.

All he wanted was a couple of weeks to take his mind off that, and instead history has repeated itself. His mind is blackened again and his hands are so, so red. He’s too exhausted to be surprised by it anymore.

“Monster,” comes a cry in front of him, below him, and he stirs back to the present. He finds himself in the once-spotless kitchen, the knife falling from his hands and clattering on the wooden floor below. There are crumbs there from dinner. It hasn’t been vacuumed since they arrived.

“Monster?” he asks, tilting his head down to see who’s speaking the truth.

It’s Carol, and her hair is red, and her stomach is red, too, and her hands press against the blossoming colour as she begins to shake. He stares at her.

“You’re -- hey, come on, let me help you --”

“Don’t!” she screams as he tries to reach for her. She skids back on the floor as best she can. “Don’t you dare touch me! Don’t come near me!”

A shred of moonlight catches her hair and he stares unseeingly at that halo for a while. Carol is dying. Carol is going to die. He can’t be sure if it was him or James who stabbed her clean through the stomach and he doesn’t want to ask; he’s scared that if she says it was him, that his monstrosity went too far, that he might turn that knife on her again. Or even on himself, just to be free from the sight of her.

“I -- I’m sorry, I just, let me help, let me get you --”

“No! No.” She’s crying in a broken kind of way, her shoulders shuddering with it. “No, I don’t want anything from you.”

“James --”

She cries harder at the name. It’s maybe a good sign - maybe her brother did this to her before searching for Trevor. Maybe he doesn’t have to add another name onto his ever-growing list.

“I can call an ambulance.”

“They’ll bust me with drugs.”

She looks like a child when she says it, bottom lip sheened with spit, sticking out, and she gives another great gasp and clutches at the wound. He knows that without medical help she won’t last half an hour. He straightens up, looking around for his phone.

“You think I give a shit? You’ll die if I don’t get you one. Don’t be a fucking moron.”

“I want --” She struggles, shifts, lets out a low groan between her teeth. “I want to. Don’t call them. Don’t. Please.”

He can’t think of what to say. He doesn’t even feel all that sad, just kind of numb, even as he stares down at her shaking body. It won’t be long before she loses consciousness - she’s already frighteningly pale - and he’s gonna assume that the only reason she’s not screaming is that she’s in some kind of shock. These are the last few minutes of her life and she’s sharing them with him. Her possible murderer. The man who has just murdered her brother.

“Fine,” he says, because if that’s what she wants, he’s not going to question it. He sniffs and runs his bloodied hand through his hair. “Fine. Bleed the fuck out. Be like that, I ain’t gonna stop you.”

“Fucking monster,” she spits again, slipping a few inches down the counter that she’s been leaning on. Her hands never leave her stomach. “Fucking- you --”

“Monster, yeah, I get it, sweetheart.”

He feels it. He feels it because he doesn’t feel anything for her, this woman he’s come close to loving. He is a monster, he is, he’s long since accepted that; he can only wonder, as he stares down at her failing figure, if he would stare down at a dying Michael with such little passion.

He hopes not. He hopes at least one of the great loves of his life has meant something to him.

The thought of Michael makes him turn away. He leaves the knife where it is - there’s no point disposing of the evidence, not with two soon-to-be-dead bodies and his various body fluids all over the flat - and so he just walks into the living room. There’s no need for a last look at her, or her brother. The expression they’ve made as in their last throes of life will probably stay with him until the grave.

He does, however, look around the house for anything he might want to take back with him. There’s not a lot, but he does grab his phone and his gun and his pipe and his drugs and all of this clothes, as well as a couple of James’s t-shirts and one of Carol’s dresses. He’s not sure why, but he stuffs them into his backpack all the same.

And then he’s gone, stepping out into the night, a dull headache forming. He lights a cigarette on the doorstep and knows that any prying neighbour twitching at their net curtains will be able to see him and the orange glow of his lighter through his cupped hands. His face will be illuminated. his features doused in light, his profile clear. If the siblings’ screams were heard, he could be heading for jail any second now.

He takes a great drag on his cigarette and eyes the sky.

Inevitable. That’s what tonight feels like. Inevitable.

He throws his half-smoked cigarette on the floor, stamps on it, and gets into his truck.


xviii.

1999 - 2000

The thing about New Years - or so Trevor has discovered over time - is that there’s always this jutting, jarring sense of excitement inside of him, ready to explode, and then the moment January descends he’s back to being fed up.

Every year he thinks of what another twelve months could bring; who he might know, who he might kill, who he might touch. Every year he both surpasses and disappoints himself. And this year, he’s sure, will be no exception. It is the coming and the closing of a millennium, the anniversary of a crucifixion, and the beginning of Michael and Trevor’s second decade together.

Trevor, by all rights, should be excited.

Instead he is sat in a dirty, dirty motel room and as high as the most colourful kite in existence. There was a woman next to him at one point but she’s crawled off to the bathroom in search of her friend and Michael, who disappeared a few minutes ago with a baggie of coke. Brad and his one-night-romance are under the duvet, moving purposefully, and Lester’s talking to woman he picked up from the bar, his head in her lap as he boasts of riches and robbery and rambles on about some computer bug that twelve o’clock will bring. She looks impressed, in a drunken kind of way.

Her hair is red like Carol’s. Her arms are as tanned as James’s once were.

He closes his eyes. All of the fireworks being let off across the country explode there, knocking at the inside of his skull and rendering him blind. For one moment he wonders if he will ever see again. Perhaps he will have to rely on touch for the rest of his life - he stretches out a hand just to test it, and touches the knee of Lester’s hired girl. She laughs shrilly. The sound bores through him.

“Shut up,” he says as his eyes fly open.

She sobers at once, the smile fading from her wide painted lips. “Um,” she says, and Lester groans.

“Ignore him,” he says from her knee. “He’s just pissed off that there’s a threesome going on in the bathroom right now and he’s not invited.

“That’s not --” Trevor’s tongue tangles, his words spilling out all jumbled and sluggish. He swallows away the stones in his throat. “That’s not true. Don’t make shit up. It isn’t polite.”

“You’re one to talk about being polite.”

“Shut up. Shut the fuck up.”

The woman’s eyes flash with fear but Lester soon distracts her with a hand slipping up her skirt and she’s back to giggling. Trevor, feeling sick, stands up and waits for the room to stop spinning.

There probably is a threesome going on in the bathroom but he’s not bothered about it; his heart has been battered far too many times when thinking of Michael with girls, and it’s become a comfort that he still doesn’t care about his wife enough to stay faithful. It at least means that nobody else has overtaken Trevor in his affections. Out there, Amanda is welcoming in the New Year herself, probably with her arms around some strange man. Trevor can’t really blame her.

His stomach rumbles. He grabs a bottle of something from the bedside table and takes a quick swig that leaves alcohol dripping down his chin. It kicks at the back of his throat like a child having a tantrum; he swallows it, wincing, sucking in air through his teeth. It doesn’t satisfy his hunger but it satisfies his mind, leaving it lovely and lubricated and mad.

There’s a muffled laugh from the bathroom. Trevor musters up a glare in the direction of the door and collapses back on his bed - or is it Michael’s bed? - head hitting the single, flat pillow provided. The ceiling is dark but to him it’s a vibrant thing. The drugs turn it so; he doesn’t usually hallucinate but he’s been up for at least two or three days, and everything he smells and touches and tastes and sees is enhanced and kind of ridiculous right now.

Lester had been feeling flat and uninspired looking for new jobs, so they took a trip together for New Year, the four of them, in search of something bigger and better than their ongoing cargo business. They’ve rented an old van and are scouring the state, but so far all they’ve come across is booze and women and white dust and even more booze. It’s been pretty good so far regardless, threesomes in bathrooms aside.

Another wave rolls over Trevor, blood rushing through him, heart spiking. He loves everybody in this room. If he could sit up without making the world violently spin, he would, just to be able to shout it from the top of his lungs.

Tonight one of the girls had offered him pills that she’d sworn contained heroin. Ecstasy is all the rage these days but Trevor’s bored of that buzz, and had hankered after something different - so she’d stretched out her palm and had offered him two little pills, each with a lightening bolt on, and he’d taken them without water. Now he’s not so sure what he’s feeling, but he’s liking it.

One bed over, Brad moans and the girl he’s with laughs, not unkindly. Trevor’s half-hard in a lazy, distant kind of way. He doubts he could get it up properly with all the drugs in him. He’s not sure how everyone else is managing.

Michael is probably managing just fine, sticking it in the two girls in the bathroom. Trevor’s eyes flicker over to the door, a sterile white light shining through the frame, muffled sounds escaping the same way.

Lester untangles himself from the woman apparently attempting to touch every inch of him she can. She pouts as he stands unsteadily on his feet, crossing her arms over her bare chest. Trevor can’t help but wonder just how much Michael’s paid her.

“Can I get anyone another drink?” Trevor raises a lazy hand. Lester gives him a drunken smirk and staggers over to the fridge. He looks young without his glasses, his pockmarked face flushed with drunk and his lips all pink and swollen. There’s something almost innocent in the way he struggles with the bottle opener, in the way he leans heavily against the wall as he does it, in the way he smiles nervously at his date for the night as he returns, arms laden with beers.

“You’re so cute,” the woman coos. Lester blushes even further and stumbles and, inevitably, spills the beers.

One of them splashes all over Trevor, who jumps up as the chilled liquid hits his jeans and soaks right through. Lester stares at him in horror, eyes wide, mouth afraid, and by rights Trevor should be angry and should knock Lester right out, but instead the pills thrum another wave through him and he smiles, shrugging one shoulder.

“Don’t sweat it,” he says, and Lester blinks in surprise. Even Brad stops on the bed, poking his head out from under the covers and looking dumbfounded. “I’ll just get cleaned up, it’s no problem.”

“Uh … okay?” Lester ventures, carefully picking up the fallen bottles.

“Okay,” Trevor confirms. He gives Lester a wide grin and a punch to the shoulder for good luck, and walks right into the bathroom.

He doesn’t knock, but that’s mainly because he’s forgotten what exactly is going on behind the closed door. He only remembers when he’s shut the door behind him and reached the sink to look at his pale, maniacal expression, and he catches sight of what’s been going on without him.

“Oh,” he says, pleasantly, turning on the tap to wet the flannel, “sorry, guys. You can carry on.”

Michael, who is currently in the bathtub and fucking a girl from behind as she eats her friend out, makes a noise that’s somewhere between a yell and a squeak. His two new friends don’t seem to care all that much, but he’s frozen in place, looking into the mirror to meet Trevor’s reflection’s eye. Trevor smiles at him. His vision is kind of blurred around the edges, but he can appreciate that Michael looks gorgeous right now, and he wants nothing more than to banish the girls from the room and have his way with him, instead.

Michael doesn’t smile back. He just looks horrified.

“You wanna join in, sugar?” asks one of the girls with a sweet smile, and Trevor’s about to say sure, why not, thanks very much, when Michael pulls out of her and shakes his head.

“No,” he says. His eyes are cold. “No fuckin’ way.”

“Chill out, Mikey. The girl just wants a dick she can actually feel.”

Michael flips him off. Trevor takes his sweet time attempting to dry himself off, just to see if Michael can go totally soft in the time it takes him, and in the end he’s so sticky and stained that he decides to hell with it, and takes his t-shirt and jeans off.

He meets Michael’s eye again and sees murder there. “Sorry,” he says, though he’s not, “I’ll be out of your hair. You three have fun now.”

He shuts the door carefully behind himself. Brad is now back under the moving covers and Lester has his hand firmly up the woman’s skirt, hers firmly down his pants. Trevor watches them for a second or two before going back to the bed and throwing himself heavily down on it. His hands, when he raises them to wipe at his face, stink of beer.

It’s not like it’s the first time he’s seen Michael fucking somebody else, but for some reason the sight seems to have vacuumed every good breath from his lungs, leaving him flat and frustrated, still half-hard. There is a battle in his mind, a war of the ages; he wants to burst down that fucking door and drown all three of them in the bathtub, or make Michael agree to him joining in, or even call Amanda and tell her just what’s going on. Mostly he wants to hurt somebody.

He blinks as a soft giggle from Brad’s bed stirs him; he’s been lying there with his teeth gritted so hard his jaw aches, his fists clenched so tightly his knuckles are sore. He opens his mouth, uncurls his fingers. He sucks in a breath through his teeth and tries to think about anything other than the increasingly noisy threesome going on.

It’s probably the alcohol he consumes next that knocks him out - because he’s been up for so long, and the ecstasy and heroin could only prolong that - but the next thing he knows he’s lying on his front and snoring so loudly he wakes himself up. There’s drool all over the sheets beneath him and all over his chin, and it feels damp even as he wipes at it with the back of his hand.

“Fuck,” he mutters to himself, sitting up slowly, one hand going straight to his aching head. It’s well and truly the early hours of the morning now. He’s started this year as he means to go on, and the fact that his brain feels like it’s swollen three times it’s normal size is only testament to that.

The only light on the slumbering bodies of his friends and their prostitutes comes from a flickering neon sign outside. He blinks once, twice, sees their bodies bathed in green, orange, yellow, blue, red, too much red to handle. He turns away and stumbles for the bathroom, the bile rising in his throat, Michael’s fist so tight and painful around his heart.

He stops short before he reaches the door; it opens, and Michael himself steps out, alone but for the stench of whiskey that drifts around him. “T,” he says, surprised, and manages even to slur that single syllable. “You’re still awake.”

“Just,” Trevor says. He runs his hands over his tired, tired eyes. “You too, huh?” “Me too.” Michael nods, drunkenly, maddeningly, and neither of them are sure what he’s agreeing to. “I … I can’t sleep. The bath’s not the most comfortable of places.”

Michael laughs then, too loudly. Trevor just stares at him until Michael reaches out, touching his bare chest, his stomach, the hem of his underwear. Trevor swallows.

“Haven’t you tired yourself out with your girls?”

“No. Anyway, it’s not that. I don’t want that. Not now. I want …”

Trevor steps closer, cocking his head to one side. It’s like watching a wild animal - albeit a tranquilized one - and he’s not exactly sure what his next move should me. He’s interested in the touching, of course he is, he always is with Michael, but he’s also near-sober and Michael is out of his head, and even he isn’t such a piece of shit to take advantage of that. So he hovers and hopes and puts a calming hand on Michael’s forearm, stroking the skin there, trying his hardest to look something close to understanding.

“What? What do you want?”

“Pack your bags,” Michael slurs. He is in no condition to drive, not with half a bottle of whiskey warming him, and Trevor’s probably worse, but he still finds himself nodding at the words. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. Just you and me.”

At least -- that’s what Trevor thinks he says. Maybe it’s a half-hearted, long-battered hope; something close to dead that lurches deep from his belly when Michael looks at him like he used to look at him.

Like he used to look at him all the time.

Trevor is smiling and eager for a night of liquor and sex and Michael, when something shifts in Michael’s face, something not at all subtle. A greenness spreads through his cheeks and he lifts a cupped hand to his mouth just in time to catch his retch.

“Uh,” Trevor says, and Michael turns to flee into the bathroom.

---

Brad wakes them all up at about nine am. He’s like an overgrown child, all swollen red cheeks and boyish eyes, practically vibrating on the spot.

It’s just the four of them again. The women - paid off, long gone - have left nothing but a lingering scent of perfume and lipstick smeared across Lester’s cheek. Trevor finds himself sprawled out on the floor, a nose caked with powder and snot and wearing nothing but his underwear. Michael is on the bed just by him; he only knows because of the arm that hangs over the side and over his head, hairy, fingers so achingly familiar.

He reaches up to touch. Those fingers twitch and move away.

“What the fuck do you want?” Lester groans, lifting his head from the pillow as Brad bounces around. The lipstick at his cheek is a mean red colour.

“You guys gotta get up and ready,” Brad replies, reaching down to grab Trevor’s clothes. He throws them at him unceremoniously, and if Trevor had the energy he’d get up and slit his throat. “We gotta big day ahead of us. We’ve got a lot to do.”

“Right,” Lester mumbles, mostly into his pillow, “what’s that, then? I don’t remember when you got made into the fucking boss of us.”

Brad throws something at him. Trevor doesn’t see what it is but he hears it hit Lester’s belly with a soft thump and he hears the cursing that follows it. That makes him grin; it’s nice to hear Lester chew somebody else out for a change. From the bed, he hears Michael laugh to himself, a quiet, rough sort of sound that cuts up Trevor’s belly like a thousand winged razor blades.

“Come on, L,” Michael says over Lester’s muttering, and the other man goes quiet at once. “Let’s hear him out. Brad?”

Brad grins wide at the go-ahead and he runs a hand through his straw-coloured hair. “So, I was thinking, you know, it’s been awhile since we did anything good and large-scale, you know? It’s been too long. Way too long.”

“It’s only been --” Lester begins, annoyed, but Michael shushes him.

“Anyway. I went out to get some smokes because somebody --” Michael raises a lazy hand in salute at Brad’s glare “-- gave all of mine to his girl last night. And then, hey, I realised it’s New Year and nowhere in this dumb town is open, and then I passed this big bank and I realised - hey, that’s not open, either! Nobody there at all by the looks of it. A fucking sitting duck if I ever saw one. It’s perfect!”

A silence follows his outbreak. Trevor sits himself up, slowly, trying to stretch out the crick in his back that’s come from sleeping on the floor. From here he can finally see Michael; he glances at him to find that he’s watching Brad with a faint frown line between his eyebrows, his mouth a thin, tight line.

He doesn’t look at that impressed by this bright-eyed idea and, if Trevor is honest with himself, he’s not either. It’s not that he doesn’t love the game - of course not, he lives and breathes for it about eighty percent of the time - but right now he’s hungover and pissed off and feeling a little burned out, if he’s honest, and anyway, this is New Year, this is vacation time, they have enough in their bank accounts, this is supposed to be fucking bonding time, or something. Even the mostly-purely-business-Lester is hanging out with them. It’s been … nice, even with Michael’s devotion to the girls last night. Trevor just can’t be assed with making up any plans right now.

He’s about to say this, too, with some pleasure in being the one to slip that smile right from Brad’s fat face, but then Lester speaks up first.

“You know,” he says, slowly, reaching for his glasses that have miraculously not been broken in the past night’s festivities, “that’s not such a bad idea. I mean, we would have to be very, very careful going after such unknown territory, but if we got ourselves organised, it’s definitely achievable.”

“Yeah!” Brad says. If he punched the air in glee Trevor wouldn’t be all that surprised. “Yeah, cool! Glad to have your back, L.”

Lester gives him a small, brief smile, and they both turn to Trevor and Michael. Trevor stands up and scratches at his ass, considering it. He still wants to say no.

Michael clears his throat. “The thing is,” he says, and Brad tenses, “just, you know, we’ve had no preparation. If we’d planned it a couple of weeks ago, I’d say sure, yeah, great, but, you know -- some of us have to, well … things to do, you know …”

His cheeks go a little red as he trails off, looking carefully at the ceiling.

“What have you got to do?” Trevor asks, sharply.

“Well, I mean, it’s just that …” Michael scratches at the back of his head, clearly pained. “I’m flying out tomorrow morning. I’m going home. New Year and all, gotta see the kids and Mandy.”

Brad makes a noise a little like an angry cat. His shoulders slump. His arms cross over his wide chest. He looks accusingly at Lester and then Trevor, as though it’s their fault. Lester just shrugs one shoulder and makes to go back to sleep, but Trevor laughs, so loudly it makes all of them jump.

“Well, B, personally I think it’s a fan-fucking-tastic idea,” he says, and walks over to Brad, smacking him hard on the shoulder in support. Brad stumbles with it but looks pleased. “Come on, L, draw us up some sort of plan, won’t you? We can scout it out this morning.”

“Um.”

“Hey,” Michael chips in, climbing out of bed, “come on, T, didn’t you hear me? I can’t do it. I got places to be.”

“I heard you,” Trevor says, coldly, before turning straight back to the others. “This morning we scout then, right, and then this afternoon we source some … ah, weaponry, and then tonight we strike, yeah? Or maybe tomorrow morning. I guess it depends how long it takes us today.”

“Um,” Lester says, again.

“Trevor, stop. We ain’t doing it. I ain’t cancelling on my family.”

Ain’t you?” Trevor says, with a grin that doesn’t reach his eyes. Michael rolls his own. “That’s fine, M, because you ain’t working this one with us. Brad and I can do the heavy work. We don’t need you on this one.”

“Um,” Brad says, this time. “T, I don’t know about …”

He falters under the severity of Trevor’s gaze, mumbling something about needing at least three gunmen.

“Fucking nonsense. We can do it with just us two, right L?”

Lester, not so easily intimidated, looks at Trevor thoughtfully. He scratches at his nose. “I don’t know,” he admits, after a moment. “It’s certainly possible, I suppose, but I don’t know if you’d both make it out alive.”

“Me neither,” Brad says, quickly.

“It was your fucking idea in the first place!”

“Trevor, chill out, man. There’s no point doing it without M and you know it.”

“I’m not the one who needs to chill out. You’re the one who needs to chill out. You’re the one being a goddamn coward. Can’t do it without Michael holding your hand, huh?”

Brad laughs, nastily. “You’re one to fuckin’ talk! You’re barely even able to function without him --”

Trevor, naturally, swings for him. He’s only stopped by Michael’s strong arms, catching hold of him before his knuckles can make any contact and dragging him back, kicking all the way. “Cool it,” Michael hisses in his ear, and once that might have made him shiver and smile and stop, but now it just makes him even more pissed off. He struggles, and Michael struggles to hold him, and Brad has the dignity to look a little ashamed.

“Get the fuck off me, you spineless, fat asshole!”

“Hey,” Michael says, “shut up. You’re not doin’ yourself any favours here.”

Lester stands up, wincing as he does so, to watch them warily. He looks at Brad like he’s going to step in but Brad just shakes his head furiously. Lester rolls his eyes and limps a step forward.

“Trevor,” he says, seriously, and Trevor stills for a moment, “calm down. If you want me to find you some local help to do the job, I can, but it’s going to take a while and then the bank will be back open. Why don’t we just think of another job?”

“It’s not --” He moves and Michael’s arm tightens around his chest. He shoves him violently back and, finally free, glares down at Lester. “It’s not the job. It’s nothing to do with this job! Are you all that fucking dense? It’s not just this job. It’s every fucking job that this chunky turd thinks is beneath him now that he’s got two kids and a squealing wife to contend with!”

“Hey --!”

“He’s had a wife and two kids for long enough for you to get used to it.” Lester’s voice is soft but it hurts nonetheless, and Trevor gives him a filthy enough glare to make him grimace. “I’m not- I mean, it is true, Michael, you do cry off a lot these days, but- this is just one job, T. Just one job that ten minutes ago didn’t even exist. We should move on.”

“Yeah,” Michael breathes, “move on.”

Trevor slumps, so to speak.

He doesn’t fall to the floor and anything so pathetic, but he feels himself just go; his shoulders lose their square-shape, his breath escapes his lungs, his stomach hitches a ride to somewhere down near his feet. Of course Michael would champion that. Of course he’d want them to move on. Those words have become his goddamn mantra, after all.

“Fuck you,” Trevor spits at him.

Michael shoves him and sends him halfway across the room, tripping up over Lester’s sneakers. Once he’s straightened himself he turns, furious, to see Brad with a hand on Michael’s chest and Lester shaking his head, muttering, “Michael, for fuck’s sake, really?”

“Yeah, Mikey.” Trevor walks back over to him. He takes in his glare and his stance and wants to feel something - even fear - anything other than this boiling hot rage. “Really? You wanna play that game, do you? You want me to smash every one of your teeth right out of your face, huh, you stupid, ignorant fuck?”

He yells the last word. The room at large flinches.

“You can yell all you fuckin’ like, man,” Michael says. His voice, by contrast, is soft, measured, shaking with barely suppressed anger. It should be a warning to Trevor, a red light. Instead it is an incentive. He laughs at it and Michael’s eyes narrow.

“Can? Can I, huh? I’m glad to have your goddamn permission!”

“You,” Michael says, “are making nothing but a damn fool of yourself. Calm down. I don’t even know what it is we’re arguing about!”

“If that’s true, you’re even dumber than you fucking look.”

“Go to hell.”

“You go to hell, you and your wife and your commitments and your yellow belly --”

“Guys!” Brad snaps, his eyes as wide as saucers. Big, blue saucers that Trevor wants to smash right now. “Guys, shut the fuck up! I’m sorry for ever bringin’ up this job, it was a dumb idea and it’s over, okay? We’re done here!”

“You’ll be done here if you keep snapping like that, Snider! Stay out of what doesn’t concern you!”

“Michael,” Lester says, carefully, “Brad is only trying to --”

“-- what, stick his nose in where it don’t belong?” Michael laughs. He looks mad, Trevor thinks utterly mad, his hands twisted in his hair and pulling it in all directions. It’s kind of a pleasure to see for Trevor, who is so used to being the one to lose control. Brad and Lester both take a step back from him and their argument, sharing a look that’s equally annoyed and afraid. The storm that has been brought into the room is prickling all of their skin. Trevor is honestly surprised he hasn’t punched Michael yet.

He moves forward with the thought. Last night, Michael almost asked him to run away with him, and now he stands in front of him, fists balled up tight and face ugly and twisted and words only about how much he cares for darling Mandy and the kids, who four years ago, three, he would never have given up a job for. Their camaraderie used to mean to the world to him instead.

“Why don’t both of you --”

Trevor gives Lester such a dirty, scathing look that he grimaces and bows his head. “No,” he says. “No, let’s not just give it a rest and cool down. Let’s get to the bottom of why Michael thought it wise to push me.”

“That’s not what you’re mad about,” Michael laughs, half-hysterically, releasing his hair to instead throw his hands up in the air. “Don’t lie.”

“Lie? Lie? I ain’t the one with a talent for lying, sugar, so don’t even try that one.”

“No, you’re too good and pure for anything like that, huh? Pure as the driven snow, huh? As long as it’s cut up into fucking lines for you, huh?”

“Yeah, cause you’ve never snorted anything, right? You’ve even done your precious coke with your precious wife, she told me, so don’t act like you’re above --”

“She told you that?” Michael asks, and for the first time, there’s a slight break in the storm. Michael looks astonished, and then suspicious, and then pissed off. “When did she tell you that? When did you two talk?”

Trevor just laughs, nastily. With the lines of Michael’s body relaxing, even just a little, Trevor decides this is pathetic. To punch Michael now would just justify his anger, and he’s tired of his anger, and tired of his own, and he gives Michael a big fat smile in the hopes it makes his blood boil. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” he says, lightly, and promptly leaves the room.

He can hear Michael’s snarls even as he shuts the door gently behind him. It’s kind of a surprise that none of the other hotel doors are open with nosey neighbours sticking their heads out to find out what’s causing all the noise. Perhaps the storm has them shock-still in their rooms, too. Perhaps they can tell of the violence both men are capable of and don’t want to be subject to it. Perhaps, instead, they are drunk and dizzy still, even in the morning light, and sleep on throughout the noise.

Regardless, the corridor is empty and thankfully cool, and Trevor leans against the far wall, near a window with bars on the outside, staring out at the near-empty parking lot. Their rented, beat-up old truck is in the corner, a little damp from the night’s chill. He watches it for a while, breathing deep through his nose, forehead pressed up against the glass. His breath fogs it up. He wishes he could rewind the morning and stick to his instincts, turning Brad’s job offer right down.

“Ahem.”

He starts, turning.

“Oh,” he says, dully, “it’s just you.”

“Just me,” Lester agrees. He looks cautious, sure, but determined too, and Trevor can’t help but kind of respect the balls it’s clearly taken to come out here. “I wanted to make sure you hadn’t thrown yourself off the roof or killed the receptionist. Or both.”

“I’m fine. I wouldn’t throw myself off a roof.”

“But you would kill the receptionist,” Lester presses, and he’s grinning, a little, a quick, nervous thing that soon fades. “I just … I thought you might want the company of someone who’s not Michael Townley.”

The company Trevor wants, he realises with a suddenness that makes him sick, is that of his mother. He wants her to berate Michael with her smoke-charred voice and then hug Trevor so tight his ribs threaten to crack. That might make the fact that he’s so pained and so pissed off somewhat bearable. Instead, he has Lester, and sometimes has Brad, and never, ever has enough of Michael.

“You thought wrong.”

Lester grins. “Something that’s not often said about me, I can assure you.”

Trevor tries to smile, he really does, but his face twists up horribly instead. Lester falters, swallows, looks nervously around as though hoping somebody else will swoop in to save him the trouble.

“I appreciate it,” Trevor says, suddenly, shortly, “but it’s not needed. You can go back to sleeping or what the fuck ever, I don’t care. I’m fine, Michael’s fine, he’ll get over his little hissy fit.”

His --?” Lester’s eyebrows crease.

“Yes, his. He’s the one who had to act like the big man and shove me over. He’s goddamn lucky I didn’t rip his inflated head right off.”

“Well, yeah, perhaps he shouldn’t have got violent, but … T, you weren’t exactly helping matters, either. Who cares if he’s got to visit his family. I really thought you’d be used to it now.”

And here, he knows, their understanding comes to an end. Lester is blind to the fact that Michael, that snake, is slipping further and further from their grasp. It’s not just the once he’s cried off on an emerging job to spend some quality time with his kids - the kids he couldn’t have given two shits about when they were in nappies - and Trevor doubts it’s gonna be the last .Maybe since his own piece of shit dad died he feels he has something to make up for, or whatever, who cares, it’s damn annoying, and it makes Trevor’s heart ache in ways it hasn’t ached in years. He really thought he’d gotten over it all. He really thought he was okay.

It’s just that this slow descent into losing Michael, well, he thinks it’s probably worse than any rush of loss could be.

“You have no idea. I suggest you get inside before I take this all out on you instead, Lester.”

Lester, obviously paying attention to the silkiness - the sickness - of his voice, doesn’t hesitate. He goes back into the hotel room, slamming the door behind him.

The slam seems to reverberate around Trevor’s skull. It knocks his brain around a bit until he’s got his eyes closed, rage beating at his eyelids, at his tongue, his throat, his cracked, poisoned heart. Slamming the door on him, huh? He should rip the door right from the frame and shove Lester right to the floor with it, pressing it down over him until he’s crushed and screaming for mercy. Maybe he’d stamp on it for good measure.

This pure, unadulterated anger fuels him enough for him to step towards the room, purposefully. He can only hope that their neighbours will ignore screams as well as they have done shouts.

He reaches for the handle to find it turning without his control and he leaps back, outstretched fingers curling into a fist instead.

“Trevor,” Michael says, voice low, full of dark promise, full of a rage to match his own, and he shuts the door behind himself. “You’ve pissed off Lester.”

“Good.” His voice is horribly heavy and hurt. He licks at his lips. “Good. I hope I pissed off you too, Mikey.”

Michael considers him with a wobbly, warring sort of expression. He moves forward. Trevor flinches, ready to defend himself, and Michael comes to a stop, frozen almost comically in place.

“I ain’t gonna hurt you,” he says, with a crooked kind of smile. “I didn’t mean to push you. I, uh, I just kind of … lost it, you know?”

It looks like he has gas or something, what with the pained look in his eye and the fury clearly bubbling just beneath his suave surface. Trevor glowers at him. He hates him. He really, really fucking hates him. “Don’t,” he says, “don’t lie. You meant it. You mean everything that you do, you just finally realise what an asshole you were being and that’s great, fine, good for you, Mikey, but I just don’t have the patience to deal with you right now. I don’t care what excuses you’ve spent the past five minutes thinking up. I don’t care about them. I don’t care about you.”

Michael frowns. “Now that’s --”

Trevor pushes him. He stumbles, steadying himself with a hand splayed out on the wall, head knocking none-too-gently into it. Trevor’s against him at once, gritting his teeth and shoving his face right against Michael’s.

“Didn’t you hear me, cowboy? I don’t care!”

Michael stares at him.

And then Michael grabs his shoulders, and Trevor is sure he’s about to have one of the biggest fights of his life, one that will end with chipped bones and bruised eyes and split lips, and he tenses all over in preparation, and Michael, well, Michael kisses him.

His eyes close at once. The kiss isn’t gentle and probing -- it’s nasty, angry, full of teeth and unspoken insults, and Michael’s hands go up to fist into Trevor’s too-long hair. Trevor, in reply, presses him harder against the wall, pinning him there with sharp hips, a low, thrilled sort of sound escaping through his teeth and landing right on Michael’s tongue. Michael responds in kind.

Trevor is glad, suddenly, for his anger, for his inability to control himself -- it lets him hook his arm around Michael’s neck like he’s at risk of moving away, and it lets him pull him close, further away from prying eyes, all the way to the end of the corridor where a small janitor’s closet is hidden neatly away. He’d scoped it out when they first booked in here last night, girls in arm, thought about how if the cops turned up or if the girls got too annoying it might be a good place to duck out for a while, and now it’s perfect.

There are shelves full of various sprays and polishes, and Michael is shoved none too gently into them before he can say anything about their new surroundings. A mop falls over in the corner and Trevor barks out a laugh, arm still around Michael’s neck.

“I can barely breathe, man,” Michael laughs, to which Trevor just says, “Shut up!” and kisses him again.

God help the janitor who comes to do his morning duty, Trevor thinks in a vague, distant kind of way as Michael gets to work pulling his t-shirt over his head. If he dares interrupt this dream he’ll have that mop shoved so far up his --

“Glad you’re just in your tighty whities,” Michael leers, and squeezes at the bulge in them, making Trevor’s laugh turn to a groan. “Less work.”

“A real man wouldn’t sleep in anything more,” he says, bucking his hips into the touch, and Michael laughs again.

“Yeah?” he asks, palming him. “That’s what you are, huh? A real man, T?”

“You piss me the fuck off these days,” Trevor says, in answer, and only briefly catches the anger in Michael’s sharp glance before they’re kissing again. This time, Trevor’s against the shelves, the corner of a dustpan digging painfully into the small of his back, and Michael bites on his bottom lip like there’s nectar inside. It should be annoying but Trevor just twists his caught lips into a kind of smile and smoothes his hands down Michael’s bare sides, hovering just over the waistband of his pyjama bottoms.

Michael releases his lip from between his teeth and goes for his neck instead. “A real vampire, you are,” Trevor says, stupidly, and Michael huffs against the skin there, teeth grazing it. “I mean- you, you know, not- not a real man, more - fuck, you know what I mean.”

“I don’t,” Michael mutters. He licks a wet stripe over Trevor’s collarbone. “But man do I know that you piss me the fuck off too. I hate you.”

“I hate you more,” Trevor says, and shoves Michael’s soft pants down over his hips until they puddle around his ankles.

Michael pulls back. He’s grinning a little, but his eyes are hard and unforgiving, and it’s difficult not to notice the genuine dislike ghosting his smile. Trevor’s heart does some dumb kind of somersault and, to distract himself, he drops heavily down on his knees in the grimy old closet, feeling the tip of Michael’s dick brush his nose. It makes him laugh like a kid and Michael shifts in front of him, his thigh muscles visibly tensing.

“Here?” he asks, voice catching. “I could- I mean, anyone could --”

“We’ve been in worse places, Mikey,” Trevor says. He raises his hands, smoothing them from Michael’s knees, up his thighs, to the soft skin at his groin. His fingertips brush Michael’s half-hard dick but just hover, waiting. “By all means, leave. Be my guest. I got hands enough to please myself.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you,” Trevor says.

“Jesus, grow the fuck up,” Michael snaps. His hand comes down to dust the top of Trevor’s hair, all too tenderly. More tenderly than Trevor thinks he deserves, given the current circumstances. “If you’re gonna suck my dick, hurry up. Stop taking all goddamn day about it.”

“Sorry, princess.”

“Would you not call me -- ugh.”

Whatever Michael’s protests are become lost as Trevor licks his lips and moves forward, letting Michael’s dick rest momentarily on his tongue before lathering up enough spit to smooth down it, taking him deep, sucking so obscenely it’s surprising Brad and Lester don’t come bursting in to see what all the noise is about.

When it comes to blowjobs, Trevor has been used to being the receiver in recent months, but it hasn’t put a damper on his skills, it appears - Michael makes all the right noises as Trevor jerks him off, tongue at his balls. “Mm,” Michael hums. One of his hands finds Trevor’s hair and pulls none too gently at it, and Trevor - for a second - is tempted to bite down as hard as he can. Instead, he pulls back, lips glistening, and glares up at Michael.

“Tell me, Mikey, does Amanda do this half as good as me?”

“What - what the fuck does that matter?” Michael asks. His hips, beginning to rock gently forward, freeze mid-buck. His fingers don’t let go of Trevor’s hair, though, only tightening their grip. “Don’t talk about her. Not now.”

“Fucking snake,” Trevor mutters. His hand does not stop moving, fisted tight around Michael’s cock, squeezing just a little on the upstroke. Michael, despite himself, groans. “I want to put you in the ground, you know that?”

“Didn’t know you were into necrophilia, T, though I ain’t all that surprised.”

“You gotta real high opinion of yourself if you think I’d go anywhere near your corpse.”

“And you gotta real high opinion of yourself if you think this kind of bedroom talk is working for me.”

Trevor can’t help but grin just a little, looking slyly upward as he quickens the flick of his wrist. “This isn’t bedroom talk. This is third-floor-janitor’s-closet talk. There is a difference, you know.”

Michael laughs. His fingers scratch lightly at Trevor’s scalp and send a soft tingling down his spine, his shoulders and cheeks seeming to buzz with it. He licks his lips and ducks his head back down, not hesitating to take Michael down real deep this time, cheeks hollowed, eyes half-shut. Third floor janitor closets are better than any bedroom, he decides as Michael tosses his head backs and knocks it on a shelf, window cleaner falling like rain around Trevor. He’s never been the type for sprinkling rose petals on a bed while cracking open expensive champagne.

“Fuck, T,” Michael breathes, and still manages to sound annoyed. “You’ve had some practise recently, huh.”

Trevor thinks inexplicably of James, the last guy he did this to. James was pretty perfect in bed - he made all of the noises Trevor wanted to hear and was up for everything Trevor wanted to try. His cock was longer than Michael’s but thinner, and it slipped through his lips with such eager ease, as Trevor’s had into James’s mouth, as well. Trevor thinks of James, and Trevor misses James, and that sets Trevor thinking of that bloody night and Carol’s red, red hair that reflected in the blade in his hand. He pauses for a moment, and Michael huffs out his annoyance.

“I was complimenting you. I ain’t mad.”

“You think,” Trevor says, angrily, pulling back so Michael’s cock falls right out of his mouth, “that I give a fuck if you’re mad or not? I could have blown a thousand guys since I last blew you and I wouldn’t give two shits if you were mad or not. Get over yourself.”

“You get over yourself, and get back to what you were doing. I’m not gonna say please.”

Trevor surges upwards, back onto his feet. He glares at Michael until their noses brush in the semi-darkness, and then Michael is kissing him like it’s their first night together all over again, all drunken and argumentative and desperate. Trevor leans back on the shelving, letting his legs open just a little to settle Michael right between them.

“Hate you,” Michael says again. He moves down to kiss Trevor’s stubble-lined jaw, the underside of his chin, the softness of his neck. Trevor closes his eyes. “I really fucking hate you.”

“Yeah? You kiss all the guys you hate like this?”

“No,” Michael says, and looks at Trevor with an unnerving kind of seriousness, “I usually shoot them.”

Trevor blinks, oddly hurt. He’s not able to categorise the gnawing that suddenly catches in his gut, and so instead he just grins, all bravado, and shakes his head. “Yeah, yeah, big man, very impressive. Now, I think it’s your turn to get on your knees.”

“Hey, you didn’t even finish me off!”

Trevor reaches for him. It’s a little difficult between their bodies and so Michael tries to make things easier, pressing up against him. Trevor rests on the sturdiest shelf he can find and opens his legs up wide, biting his lip as Michael rocks his hips up against his.

“Finish yourself off,” he mumbles into Michael’s shoulder. He bites the skin there for good measure.

Michael insults him again, but this time he doesn’t pay it much mind. It’s hard to focus on anything than the rock of Michael against him and the way his fingers tease at the hem of Trevor’s underwear before pushing down with purpose. Even his rage falls with the swell of his passion. It’s a dirty, disgusting thing, but it’s passion nonetheless. It’s the reason he kisses the spot he’s just bitten and the reason he grabs Michael’s ass with both hands, just to pull him closer, just to rub up against him and toss his head back. It’s the reason he feels so wretched all the damn time.

After a bit of squirming Michael manages to free Trevor’s cock with one hand, leaving his underwear halfway down his thighs. Trevor grins at him as he starts to jerk him off and Michael glares right back, only slowing the movement of his hand when he wants to rub up against him instead.

“You’re a goddamn --”

“What, huh? What am I?” Trevor teases.

“-- asshole, that’s what.”

“Maybe I am. It doesn’t stop me turning you on though, huh?”

Even in the half-darkness Michael’s glare is obvious. Trevor kisses the corner of his mouth until it’s frown melts away.

After that, it’s simple. Michael spits on his hand and rubs their cocks together, and he doesn’t hold back. It’s hurried and a little dry but Trevor still goes weak at the knees for him, held up only by the shelving behind him and the hook of Michael’s close gaze. Their foreheads brush, and then their lips, and Trevor cups the back of Michael’s neck with his sweaty fingers, pulling them closer together.

“Surprised you still got the- the -- uh - the, uh, stamina after last night, Mikey.”

“I could go all day,” Michael says, but he’s close, Trevor can tell, so close; his eyes are half-narrowed and his face is all crumpled in that way, and when he jerks them both in turn, together, his hand moves faster, more erratically. “I could- I could --”

Don’t,” Trevor orders. He breathes the word, letting it ghost over Michael’s lips. Michael licks them and then bows his head to lick at Trevor’s collarbone, instead. “Just- I don’t give a fuck how long you can last, just keep going.”

Trevor comes first. It’s not really a surprise for either of them - Michael’s hands have always held some strange power over him - but Michael isn’t far behind, soon tossing his head right back and groaning, his throat glistening, his shoulders shaking. Trevor holds him through it, wrapping his arms right around his neck, burying his face in the crook of it.

They stand like that for a while, boneless, the tiny closet quiet but for their laboured breathing. Michael skims his thumb across Trevor’s cheek and Trevor places a kiss to Michael’s jaw, but otherwise they’re still; Trevor’s limbs feel hot and heavy and safe, and he’s all too ready to die in here or at least spend the day like this, wrapped up in Michael, Brad and Lester and the Townley family be damned.

Michael, of course, is the one to pull away.

He moves back and wipes his hands and his stomach on one of the neatly stacked rolls of kitchen towel and sets about getting dressed. Trevor just pulls his underwear up, ignoring the stickiness of them. His anger is sated and he can’t help but grin, watching Michael, always watching Michael.

Both dressed, they leave. The hall is empty so Michael lights them both a cigarette, and they stand by the barred window, smoking in comfortable silence.

It doesn’t matter, Trevor thinks, that Michael is going away to be with his family again. He’ll be back, like he always is, and then the four of them can continue this weird roadtrip of theirs and maybe put some real plans into action. They will rob and they will probably murder and they will succeed, and afterward they will book a motel room with one bed, just like the old days, and they won’t have to break apart until morning.

Trevor smiles around his cigarette, and Michael gives him a considering look.

“So, uh,” he pauses to lick his lips, tapping ash onto the ground, “you ever gonna tell me what happened over summer?”

Something heavy drops in Trevor’s stomach. “Huh?”

“You know, while I was in Florida. You’ve been acting like a real dick ever since, we all know it.”

“Oh really? You all been having some nice, cosy chats about me while my back’s been turned?”

“Oh come on, don’t get like that. You were just startin’ to cheer up.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t ask about things that aren’t any of your fucking business!”

“Hey, dude, come on, maybe I’m just concerned! You’ve been moping around all year - all last year, I guess - and I’ve been worried. If you need help, you know, need anyone taking care of, we can --”

“You can shut the fuck up?”

Michael rolls his eyes and takes another drag on his cigarette. “Fine. Don’t tell me. Just don’t come crying to me when you’re drunk and want to talk it all out.”

That won’t happen, Trevor knows. He won’t ever tell Michael of that young, happy pair he took under his wing, the pair he corrupted, twisted and eventually murdered. He can’t explain it to anyone, especially not to Michael, the guy who found somebody outside of this life, too, and ended up married to her. He can’t even explain what happened to himself. He looks at the rouge carpet and sees Carol’s hair, James’s blood. He grimaces.

“Come on,” Michael tries again, more softly. Trevor meets his eye, gritting his teeth. “I ain’t gonna judge you. Just tell me what happened.”

“No.”

When Michael sighs out it’s with a cloud of smoke. Before he can badger Trevor anymore the door to their room opens and a nervous looking Brad steps out. He glances at their tousled hair, at the redness of Trevor’s cheek, and seems to suppress a smirk.

“You guys, uh, you done now?”

“You mean with the arguing?” Michael asks, sharply, and Brad quickly nods. “Yeah. Yeah, we’re done.”

He doesn’t look at Trevor as he follows Brad inside, he just waltzes right in and talks to Brad about something so banal and irrelevant Trevor doesn’t even listen. The taste of his cigarette twists his stomach, but he follows Michael anyway.

That’s all he can do. That’s all he does.

All he ever does is wait for the moment Michael doesn’t possess him any longer, but it never seems to come.


xix.

mid-2000

Lester gets the scoop on something big going on in South Yankton - some chemicals being transported, chemicals that are highly illegal and thus highly desirable for some in the drug trade - and so he calls the four of them up, demands they free up their calendars (Brad makes some big show about having to cancel on a date with some hot girl, but nobody believes him), and early June finds them coasting down the freeway in an old, rented van, Michael’s music on loud and the sky nice and blue.

The truck only has two seats up front and in the back are two makeshift benches and a lot of blankets, and the whole thing smells of piss, but it doesn’t matter. Trevor - in the passenger seat - couldn’t care less. Being on the open road with the prospect of something new and exciting to do makes it all worth it.

Michael’s driving. He’s in his element with it, laughing along with everyone’s dumb jokes and humming along to his dumb 80’s music, nodding his head with the beat. It’s been a long time since Trevor’s seen him so happy. He guesses it’s the movement, the lack of other cars on the road, the freedom.

If it weren’t for the prying eyes in the back, Trevor might kiss him now just to feel that smile against his own.

Instead, he props his feet up on the dashboard and scratches at a scab on his arm. “I’m bored,” he says, loudly, and the other three all sigh.

“Yeah, we get the picture, T,” Lester says. He sounds annoying, which seems fair enough; he’d fought with Trevor over the passenger seat and inevitably lost, and now he’s green-faced and rocking side to side with each turn of the wheel. “Maybe you should take a nap or something.”

“Not getting rid of me that easily,” Trevor grins, meeting his eye in the rearview mirror. Lester flips him off, so Trevor turns his attention to Michael instead, who only rolls his eyes. “How far are we?”

“A couple of hours.”

“Shit.”

“You wanna drive?”

“No, no, far be it from me to deprive you of the pleasure. I’ll just sit here listening to your shitty music, don’t worry about me.”

“Are we going straight to the motel?” Brad asks. He looks bored, too, legs splayed in front of him as he plays with his switchblade, flicking it in and out of it’s casing. Trevor kind of hopes he slices a finger off just to liven things up.

“That’s up to you guys. I don’t mind going out for a couple of beers.” Michael smiles a little wistfully with a glance at Trevor. “I’d never mind that.”

“If by a couple of beers, you mean whores and blow, count me out,” Lester says. “We have a lot to do tomorrow. We need to get to know the streets, find a getaway, maybe find an alibi if we have to -- we’ve got work to do. We’re not here for vacation.”

There’s a moment of silence after Lester’s outburst in which nobody dares look at each other. Meekly, Brad clears his throat and says, “I wouldn’t mind having a couple of --”

“Ignore Lester. He’s just pissy he can’t get it up half the time.”

Trevor expects Michael to frown at him but instead he just laughs along, leaving Lester to mutter in the back to himself. Trevor hears the odd word like fucker and fucking and motherfucker but barely registers them; he finds himself watching Michael laugh, the low rumble of laughter deep in his own belly. He reaches out to briefly touch Michael’s shoulder, and Michael flashes him a brilliant smile.

Just like the old days. Trevor’s heart hitches uncomfortably in his chest and he looks away, quickly.

A small touch to his upper arm makes him turn back, but by then Michael’s looking studiously at the road, wearing half a smirk. Trevor catches his lower lip between his teeth before he can grin too widely.

The track changes to something upbeat, all smooth guitars and heavy drums, and Michael starts tapping against the steering wheel in time with it. The singer’s got a voice a smug voice, Trevor decides, plump and full of itself, too shiny and polished to make him feel anything much more than anger. It’s just the kind of manufactured crap that Michael is so quick to call real and American, just like his movies, just like the good-guy-bad-guy life he’s leading.

Trevor turns to radio off.

“Hey!” Michael says, switching it back on. “I was enjoying that.”

“Nobody else is.”

“Don’t be a baby. I’m driving, I get to choose what’s on the damn radio. That’s the rule.”

“It’s a shitty rule.”

“It’s how it is!”

“Well, maybe if you listened to something semi-decent for once, we wouldn’t all be --”

“Hey,” Brad pipes up. He leans between the seats, reaching for the case of beer at Trevor’s feet. “Pass me one of those, would you? I’d like to drink enough to not be able to hear you two anymore.”

“It’s going to take more than beer for that miracle,” Lester mutters, and Trevor sighs, reaching down to grab a beer.

“Shit, look at that loser,” Brad says from between the seats. They both look up to see the all-too familiar sight of a hitchhiker in the distance, smallish, slim, thumb sticking up in hope. Lester cranes his neck to see, too. “Why don’t we mess around with him. You know, slow down, and just as he’s about to get in put your foot on the pedal.”

“You piece of shit,” Michael laughs. “Sure.”

Trevor can’t help but laugh when Michael slows down. The hitchhiker lowers his arm as their headlamp shines light over him. Trevor raises his eyebrows.

He’s young, no older than twenty five, with that beat-up, grubby sort of look that comes from sleeping rough. But he’s handsome - real handsome - his jaw the shape of Michael’s, his hair dark and all in his eyes, his body in good shape. When he smiles at the slowing van his teeth are a brilliant white and they put stars in Trevor’s eyes.

“Where you goin’?” Michael asks when he’s wound down the window.

“Anywhere. Just into the next city. My last ride started preaching Jesus at me so I had to get out of there.”

Trevor smiles. A sinner. A man after his own heart, with a voice of gold to match.

The man goes for the side door eagerly and Brad chuckles to himself in such a self-important, annoying sort of way that Trevor can’t help but reach for Michael’s wrist, catching it sharply before it can turn the keys.

“Wait,” he hisses, and Michael looks at him like he’s lost his mind. “We should give him a ride.”

“Why?” Michael asks just as Lester says, “No!” and Brad blinks once, twice, three times.

“Because … well, he seems nice. I want to get to know him.”

Michael stares at him for a beat. His eyes are dark and unforgiving, and everyone in the van knows what Trevor means by get to know him but nobody dares question it. Once Michael’s looked away he shrugs one shoulder and swallows.

“Sure,” he says, voice tight. “Fine. But you stay in the back with him. Lester can swap with you.”

“My pleasure,” Lester says, dryly, just as the hitchhiker opens the door. It takes some shuffling and maneuvering and shoving, but eventually Lester is seated up front and Trevor is on one bench next to the hitchhiker, Brad sat opposite and looking anywhere but at them.

“Everyone settled?” Michael asks. Trevor’s not sure of the reason for the bite in his voice, but it makes him happy nonetheless. “Yes, Sir,” Trevor replies, and Michael sighs and starts the engine again.

It turns out the hitchhiker’s name is Freddie and he plays in a band, but got separated from them four cities over after being robbed. Trevor listens to his tales of woe with the most sympathetic expression he can muster, nodding and saying mmm at all the right moments, even though he knows the story is probably bullshit, because really, who wouldn’t just call their friends from a payphone and get picked up. He pretends to believe him because of his smile, and the way he sits so close to Trevor on the bench, shifting nearer every time there’s a bump in the road.

“-- and then it’s like bam, you know, a blow straight to the head, and the next thing I know half of my bags have gone, including my favourite guitar, and I’m laying in the middle of some alley in the rain.” He shakes his head. “Scary stuff, man. Real scary stuff.”

“Mm, you gotta watch out on your own. There are some fucked up people around,” Trevor says, wisely, and ignores Michael when he snorts from the front seat.

“Yeah, you’d know all about those sorts of people, wouldn’t you, T?”

“You can ignore Mich-- uh, M up there. He’s just cranky because he has fucking shit taste in music.”

“And you can just ignore T because he’s cranky we won’t listen to his music, you know the kind - all screaming singers and lack of any real fuckin’ talent.”

Freddie glances between them with a small laugh. “Hey, it’s all good, dudes, it’s all fine. I like every kind of music. I don’t mind what’s on.”

“Good answer,” Trevor grins and Freddie grins right back.

“So what does the T stand for?”

“Tom,” Trevor lies, easily, “and up there is Martin and Larry, and that fatass opposite us is Brent.”

“Hey!” Brad says, but Freddie just laughs.

“Cool. Where’re you all heading?”

“One of our friends from college is getting married, so we’re driving down to try and talk some sense into him.” Michael pauses to change lanes and then sighs, shaking his head. “If that fails, we’re gonna take him out on the best stag do of his goddamn life.”

“Fuck marriage, man. It turns too many good men and women into wrecks.”

“Hear hear,” Trevor says, loudly, watching the lines of Michael’s shoulders tense. “I gotta say, you’re really a man after my own heart. You got no girl somewhere wondering where you are?”

“Shit, man, no. I haven’t got the time or the willpower for that shit. I’m a free man.”

They all hear Lester sigh but ignore him; when Trevor glances at him he sees he’s crossing his arms, sat low in his seat, looking out at the world passing by. Trevor knows exactly why. It’s not in his nature to enjoy strangers in their midsts, especially when they’re working, but Trevor’s not a fucking idiot. He’s not going to tell them their names and their jobs and their multitude of past crimes. He’s just going to have a little fun with him, Freddie be willing.

“Have you?”

“Fuck no,” Trevor says, but he thinks of Carol, and James, and it’s like the van is tipping over. When he steadies himself he lowers his voice and leans a little closer. “Free all the way, Freddie boy.”

“That’s just what I was hoping for.” Freddie’s voice is low, too, and full of meaning, and Trevor could fuck him right here and now, his audience be damned. The hitchhiker clears his throat and seems to remember himself, glancing at Brad. “So, Brent, what do you do?”

For a second, Trevor is terrified that Brad will be dumb enough to say something like I’m a bank robber, but Brad just shrugs, looking glum. “Nothing exciting. I work at a bowling alley.”

“Ain’t that like, what teenagers do for a Saturday job?”

The whole van laughs at Brad, who goes a bright, boiling scarlet. Trevor can see his fingers flexing in and out of fists and wonders just how many ways he’s imagining murdering the newcomer.

“You know what, Freddie,” Michael laughs, “I like you. You’ve got balls.”

“Thanks, man. Hey, Brent, I’m sorry, though, I didn’t mean to be an asshole. I’m sure it’s a … mighty fine job, really.”

“It’s fine,” Brad says, shortly. He’s got his arms crossed now, jaw tense. “Don’t worry about it.”

Trevor leans in close, putting his lips close to Freddie’s ear. “Don’t mind B,” he murmurs, “he got dumped last week. He’s still not over it.”

“Like I said, being free really is the best way.”

Trevor’s about to whisper back something lewd and ridiculous when he looks up towards the front of the van, eyes flickering to the rearview mirror. Michael’s eyes flicker between the pair of them in the back and the road ahead, his eyebrows drawn down, his mouth in a tight frown. Trevor just looks at him, caught off guard, before Freddie puts a hand to his arm and drags him back into real life.

“Hey, look, I don’t want to assume anything about you guys, you seem cool, but --” the four of them tense, waiting for the realisation, the accusation “-- would you mind if I lit up a couple of joints from my pocket? To share, of course.”

“Sounds good to me,” Brad says, fishing in his pocket for a lighter. Lester shakes his head but Michael chuckles, turning the music up a little.

“Freddie, I am liking you more with every --” “Not for the driver, sorry,” Freddie interrupts, quickly, and Michael’s face drops. “I don’t like being driven by anyone under the influence. Sorry.”

Trevor laughs so loudly it drowns out whatever Michael’s response might have been. “You’re a keeper, man. Light it up.”

Freddie puts the first joint to his lips and sparks the end of it, eyes fluttering shut as he inhales. “Damn,” he says, exhaling a heavy breath of smoke. “That dealer wasn’t lying. This is good shit. Here.”

He puts it between Trevor’s lips instead of handing it to him. The gesture is so small but feels more sexual than Trevor would like to admit, and once he’s drawn in his own lungful of smoke he can’t help but smirk at Freddie, raising a single eyebrow. Freddie lights the other and passes it to Brad, who takes it eagerly.

“Bullshit,” Michael mutters. Trevor admits it kind of is - he’s driven them around drunk before, and off his head on all sorts - but they don’t want to expose themselves as anything more than has-been college graduates who like a little weed now and then. The newcomer might be unpredictable or violent or adverse to anything stronger. It wouldn’t do to push the boat out, not yet.

“Sorry, Martin. You heard the guy. You’ll have to wait until we get there.”

“You guys going straight there?”

“No,” Brad says. “We’re stopping in a motel first, in the next city.”

Lester groans from the front seat and Trevor hears him mutter “Why don’t you just give him our social security numbers, too”, but Freddie seems not to have heard anything. He accepts the joint back from Brad, nodding sagely. “Cool,” he says, and glances sideways at Trevor. “Just the four of you?”

“Maybe,” Trevor says, and this time Michael mutters something that Trevor can’t quite catch. “We’ll see.”

The weed is good and strong and soon the three of them are laughing at jokes that the two in the front couldn’t possibly understand. If any cop pulled them over now, they’d be arrested without even being searched - but then again, if any cop pulled them over, the cop would be dead before they could draw out of their gun. Freddie might be shocked, but judging by his blown-out pupils he might not even notice.

His hand is so firm on Trevor’s thigh that Trevor might not notice, either.

“You know, I once was fucking a guy like Martin,” he whispers, and it’s such a flagrant admission that Trevor’s heart skips a beat with it, “and he was just the type that drove me mad. Always thought he was in charge. Always wanted to be the best. Had to end it in the end.”

“Yeah?” Trevor murmurs back. “You can tell all that from watching him drive?”

“It’s more the way he keeps watching us. It’s a dead giveaway.”

“He … really?” Trevor blinks at the rearview mirror again, his eyelids heavy with the weed. “Why would he fucking bother doing that? He should concentrate on his goddamn job, which is driving us and not fucking spying on me.”

His voice begins to raise from his whisper, making the other three all look at him. Freddie lets out a hiss of sympathy and puts a hand at his lower back, a promise of sex, really, a promise of his intentions, and it calms Trevor down in a way nothing else can.

He leans in to the touch.

Michael has no right, no fucking right, to be scrutining them so closely, to have eyes so dark and watchful. Trevor’s doing nothing wrong. He owes Michael - married, slimey, a cheater a hundred times over - absolutely nothing, especially not faithfulness. “He’s an asshole,” he whispers confidentially, in between puffs on the joint. “That’s all. Nobody important.”

“Good,” Freddie says, smiling, even as Trevor’s stomach aches with guilt.

The rest of the drive passes in much the same way. Freddie talks some more about his life, mostly to Brad when Trevor starts spacing out and staring at his mouth instead of listening to his words. Lester and Michael have a murmured conversation at one point but otherwise they’re silent, ignoring the giggling three in the back. Even Brad seems to have warmed up to Freddie once he’s had enough weed, and by the time they get to the motel, the night has fallen and the three of them are feeling like old friends.

Michael, though, is clearly feeling no sense of camaraderie because the moment he kills the engine he turns full in his seat, smiling thinly. “Well, this is our stop. It’s been nice, Freddie. Good luck out there.”

“Um. Yeah, yeah it has. Thanks for the ride,” Freddie smiles back, but doesn’t move from his place next to Trevor. Trevor feels kind of proud of his cheek. “You guys aren’t up for, uh, partying tonight then?”

“I --”

“No,” Michael says, firmly, cutting Brad right off. “We have more driving to do tomorrow. We gotta be up early, but thanks for the offer.”

“Right. Uh, I guess I’ll be, um, off then.”

“Good,” Lester mutters, unbuckling his seatbelt, and Trevor shoots a hand out to grab onto Freddie’s shoulder as he makes to stand.

“No,” he says, loudly. “Ignore these rude assholes. You can stay with us tonight.”

And what he means, really, is me, and everyone knows it, but Michael and Lester still look horrified.

“Tr- Tom,” Lester says, sounding pained, “I don’t think, you know, given our … current circumstances that bringing a stranger home - uh, no offence - is, um, really wise, you know?”

“Exactly,” Michael says. “Plus, we already prebooked our room. There’s not enough space for you.”

“Never mind.” Trevor stands up, stooped over a little in the van. “That’s fine. I’ll book another room, just for me and Freddie. Don’t sweat it.”

“We ain’t sweating anything, T, we’re saying no. I’m sorry, but now is not the time. Freddie, you’re gonna have to go.”

“I think you’re forgetting that you’re not the boss of any of us. Get off your fucking high horse for once.” Trevor gives him a glare for good measure and opens the side door. “Come on. We’re getting two rooms.”

Freddie hops out after him and neither of them look back as they head into the run-down motel reception to book their room. The lady is nice and polite and doesn’t judge them when they book a double room, and Freddie’s eyes go a little wide when Trevor sheaths out a few notes to pay her. “My treat,” he says, with a smile at Freddie.

“Wow. Thanks, man.”

Trevor touches his wrist, briefly, just as the others enter behind them.

“Room seven,” the woman smiles, holding out the keys. Trevor takes them and waltzes out, holding his head high as he passes the other three. Freddie, much to his delight, keeps his hand on his lower back and guides him forward. He can feel the scorch of Michael’s gaze the whole way, and it does nothing but warm him.

The place isn’t that great, but neither of them seem to mind; it beats sleeping rough, and it’s a damn sight better than most places Trevor’s stayed while on the job. He doesn’t even mind the cockroach he sees scuttling off as they approach their room.

Freddie kisses him the moment the door is shut. It’s a kiss full of experience and Trevor melts at once, leaning back against the door and pulling the man in as close as he can. It’s such a far cry from the way he kisses his usual one night stands that it leaves him, for a moment, breathless - though when he’s caught his bearings it’s Freddie’s turn to moan, his lower lip caught briefly between Michael’s teeth.

“I wanted to touch you the moment I got in your van,” Freddie whispers, and Trevor laughs.

“You did, huh? Well, me too. Glad we’re on the same page.”

“There were so many weirdos who tried to pick me up. I’m glad it was you.”

“Yeah.”

Trevor shuts him up by kissing him. He doesn’t warn him that the four them are probably more dangerous than anyone he could encounter on the highway, that they could kill him in ways nobody else might ever have dreamed of, that their body count - and destroyed-business-count - is longer than any list he could muster. It’s not worth getting into. Freddie is not Carol. Freddie is not James. This is just going to be a fun couple of hours, and that will be that. This will be easy.

The walls to the motel are paper thin, and they in between their heavy breathing and peppered kisses they hear the door to the room next door open, and three pairs of heavy boots troop in. Michael can be heard, all arrogance, all indifferent, followed by Lester and Brad’s low murmuring.

It makes it all the better, really. Trevor hopes they can hear every noise tonight.

Freddie drops hard onto his knees, going eagerly to unbuckle Trevor’s belt. “This okay?” he asks, looking up, and Trevor rolls his eyes in answer. Freddie grins and pulls Trevor’s underwear down, freeing his half-hard cock, his gleaming teeth almost blinding.

“Everything’s okay if you keep on like this,” Trevor groans as he’s taken in hand. He hopes Michael can hear his every breath. “Everything’s okay.”

And it is, it’s fine, it’s like he’s not yearning for Michael to bang down the door and shove Freddie to the floor and take his place, or even just to yell at Trevor and show that he still cares, that he really still cares, that there’s hope for them yet. It’s fine - he doesn’t regret killing James and Carol, just like he doesn’t regret offering his mom money until she pushed him away, just like he doesn’t regret beating Ryan’s ass while he had the chance.

He’s fine. It’s okay.

“It’s okay,” he says, eyes slipping closed. Freddie takes him into his mouth and Trevor starts to regain control of his thoughts again. He thinks of Freddie and he thinks of sex and he thinks of the weed they’ve smoked and the good night ahead. That keeps him calm, and Freddie is so good at giving head.

He does it like he was born for this night; he makes obscene noises, puts just the right amount of pressure around his cock, kneads his balls gently with his knuckles. It’s very nearly too good. It nearly makes him feel like Michael’s on his knees instead, his guileless eyes looking up, crow’s feet crumpling the skin at the edges of them.

“Mm,” Trevor says, curling his fingers in his dark sheath of his hair. “You’re good at this.”

Freddie laughs and the sound reverberates around Trevor’s cock. He doesn’t pull back to slyly say thanks or make some joke, he just carries on bobbing up and down and up again, cheeks hollowed. It’s a sight to see. Trevor’s stomach feels uncomfortably tight.

“If you want this to last more than five minutes, you’re gonna have to stop that,” he laughs breathily, unashamed. Freddie laughs again and pulls back, replacing his talented mouth with his hand at once.

“More than five minutes would be good.”

“Especially if you want to be fucked.”

Freddie’s eyes go slightly wide. “I … yeah. I do. You got any rubbers?”

“I like the plural,” Trevor grins, but shakes his head. “Uh … no. No, but I know who does. If you give me, uh, a minute, I’ll be back with you.”

“You’re leaving?”

Freddie looks so attractive pouting up at him like that, lips flushed, eyes still wide, that Trevor has to lean down to kiss him full on the mouth. “I’ll be back,” he says, voice full of dark promise, and heads out into the corridor, stuffing himself back in his pants as he goes.

He barges through to the next room without knocking, grin so wide it threatens to split his face in two.

“Right then, which of you assholes has a rubber I can borrow?”

Lester groans and throws himself back on his bed, while Brad looks rather red and uncomfortable. Michael, though, Michael is the one Trevor can’t tear his eyes from -- he’s pacing up and down the small room, face twisted, ugly, teeth gritted together. When he turns to look at Trevor he’s like a wild dog, eyes flashing dangerously. He meets Trevor’s eye and looks all the more pissed off.

“No, we don’t. We’re trying to- we’re working here, T, not fucking around like teenagers!”

“You’re one to talk.” Trevor walks over to Michael’s jacket and slips his hand in the pocket and removes a condom, smiling sweetly. “Be careful, these walls are paper-thin. My friend in there might just hear you and find out what exactly that working entails.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Michael, calm down,” Lester snaps, raising his head. “Trevor is right. Don’t talk about work, not tonight. We’ll have to start again first thing in the morning, so I suggest we all get some sleep.”

“You look like an asshole,” Brad comments from the windowsill. He’s grinning at Trevor though it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “You’ve got the biggest tent I’ve ever seen.”

Trevor laughs. He stands there proudly, hands on his hips, and doesn’t miss the way Michael’s eyes flicker downward. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You shouldn’t,” Michael says. “Didn’t you hear him? Asshole, he said, and he’s right.”

Trevor laughs again. He can’t help it; the strength of Michael’s jealousy is new and alarming and completely unfair, and it’s just the fuel he needs right now. It’s too bad that the others exist, because Michael is in one of those moods that usually leads to the best sex of Trevor’s life, the kind that makes his toes curl and his belly warm right up with love.

He will have to make-do with Freddie tonight. There’s always tomorrow.

“Be as that may, at least I’m getting some tonight,” he says, waving the condom packet at him. “I’d wear earplugs if I were you.”

“Asshole,” Michael repeats as Trevor leaves, laughter caught in his throat.

He gets back into his room and sees Freddie sat on the bed, fully clothed but smiling enticingly, the lights off but for the bedside lamp. It’s a romantic sight if Trevor’s ever seen one and he’s immediately got his hands at the hem of his shirt, pulling it over his head and throwing it somewhere on the motel floor.

He sees Freddie eyeing his tattoos, looking impressed. “You got any yourself?” he asks, unbuckling his belt. “Any hidden ones I should be looking out for?”

Freddie laughs. “No. I’m not brave enough. I’m not too good with pain.”

“That’s a shame,” Trevor murmurs. He takes a moment to kick his boots and socks off before shoving his pants off, too, and standing in the soft glow of the lamp naked. He runs his hands through Freddie’s hair, relishing in the way he shivers at the touch. “I think you’d look good inked up.”

“Maybe some other day.”

“Maybe so.”

Freddie stands up. It’s hard to see his eyes in the light but Trevor likes to imagine they’re full of lust and forbidden things. The hands that find his bare hips are, anyway, pulling him in close. They kiss again, and again, and Trevor’s cock brushes up against Freddie’s jeans.

“At least undress,” he mutters, and Freddie laughs, kissing his jaw with a tenderness that’s almost unsettling.

“Plenty of time,” he says, and guides Trevor by his hips onto the bed. “We’ve got all night.” “Yeah? And what else you got planned for the evening, huh?” “I want to .. uh, you know. I want to ride you.”

“Funny,” Trevor grins, lying back on the bed, “I was just about the suggest the same thing. Get over here.”

Freddie does, as quiet and as soft as a panther, climbing over him on the bed. He straddles him, smiling down, the glow from the lamp casting him in a soft, kind light that makes his smile all the sweeter. He leans down to kiss Trevor’s shoulder, collarbone, across his tattoo in a way that makes Trevor’s whole body shiver. It had hurt so much, that tattoo, so much he’d left Michael’s hand red-raw from the way he gripped it, but it’s worth it just to feel a tongue press against the delicate, inked skin.

“That nice?” Freddie asks. His hand smoothes up the length of Trevor’s left arm, almost tickling him, coming to rest at his palm. It’s almost too saccharine and gentle for Trevor to bear, but he knows once the fucking is well and truly under way things will change.

“Yeah,” he grunts, and lifts his hips the best he can. “For now.”

Freddie laughs. His other hands comes up too, ghosting at Trevor’s wrist, and Trevor is about to whine and complain for him to get on and do something and to stop paying attention to his one hand and to at least take his own trousers off or something, when there’s a soft snick of a metal lock as something cold wraps around his wrist.

He blinks, looks up at his hand, and tentatively pulls on it.

“Wow,” he says, almost impressed. “Handcuffs? You’re a lot kinkier than you look.”

“I guess,” Freddie says.

“You, uh, you got the key handy, right?”

Freddie pulls his necklace out from under his collar. There’s a single silver key hanging from the chain. “Of course I do,” he laughs. He leans back, that enchanting smile never leaving his lips, and when he’s kneeling straight again there’s something else in his hands. He points the gun square between Trevor’s eyes, his face turning darker, crueller.

“Oh,” is all Trevor says, blinking.

“Don’t shout for your friends. You’ll be dead before they even get out of bed.”

“Oh.”

“I’m going to take everything from your pockets, okay? I’m going to go through them while you stay here, on the bed, silent, and then I’m going to go. That’s how it’s going to be.” “Oh.”

Freddie’s smile slips off his face. He glares down at Trevor, pushing the gun against his forehead. It’s cold against his skin a touch of death. “Did you really think I wanted to have sex with someone like you? You look like you haven’t slept in a fucking week. You look like you’re one argument away from a goddamn breakdown. You’re a mess.”

“You sucked my cock.”

“And I’d do it again for the fun of seeing you here looking so hurt and betrayed.” He cocks the gun, probably more for show than anything else, and Trevor doesn’t flinch. “You’re gonna act tough, even now, huh? I gotta say, it’s impressive.”

“I’m not acting tough,” Trevor says, stupidly, mind whirring. He could let Freddie take his stuff - there’s only about five hundred dollars in his pocket, anyway, and his gun - but it’s the principle of the thing. He can’t be robbed. He can’t have the others find him here, stark naked, one wrist handcuffed to the headboard. The look of glee in Michael’s eyes would be too much for even him to forgive.

His eyes flicker to the side. Freddie’s eyes follow but Trevor is too quick for him -- with his free hand he grabs the lamp and wrenches it free from its socket. The room is plunged in near-darkness but he still manages to smash him round the head with it, the ceramic shattering in his hand. Freddie falls heavily over him, groaning low in his throat as his eyelids flutter. Trevor yanks the key from his neck, snapping the chain.

“Right,” he says, once his wrist is free. He shoves the stirring man off him so that he hits the floor with a thump. “Right. Fucking right, then.”

“Wait --” Freddie mumbles, weakly, but Trevor is jumping off the bed and on top of him before he can sit up.

He wraps the chain of handcuffs around his neck, holding both of the cuffs and pulling with everything he’s got. Freddie lets out a choked screech at once, some of the life coming back into him as he bucks underneath him, kicking and punching and trying as hard as he can to be free. Trevor, though, is a mountain, unshakeable; he just laughs gleefully and pulls harder on the cuffs, taking the delight in the way Freddie gasps for breath.

“Rob me, will you?” he asks, his voice rising. “Fucking rob me? You have no idea who the fuck you’re messing with, kid!”

His words remind him so much of something Michael might say that he laughs, hysterically, Freddie’s face so flushed and red, his body so desperate to escape.

He’s all too ready to pull on the cuffs again in the hope it might snap a few bones in his neck as well as finally putting an end to his torture, when an explosion goes off behind him; the door flies open and Michael’s suddenly there, yelling, his arms tight around Trevor’s bare chest as he yanks him backwards.

“What the fuck, T! What the hell are you doing?”

Trevor shoves him backwards and tries to lunge for Freddie again, but Michael’s grip on him is too strong. “Get off me! I want to kill the little rat!”

“No! You fucking idiot, relax! Calm down!”

“Let me finish him off!”

Trevor thrashes against him, but it’s to no avail. Freddie is mostly limp but breathing hard, one hand massaging his neck weakly. The handcuffs are still wrapped around it. Michael holds Trevor through his rage and behind them hover Brad and Lester, staying wisely out of it.

It’s takes a while for Trevor to do as Michael wants. He’s so offended that anyone would pretend to be attracted to him only to rob him, that anyone would have the goddamn cheek to do it, that his heart seems to take an age to stop beating so fast. “Relax,” Michael hisses in his ear, lips touching the shell of it briefly, and Trevor stops struggling.

“I hate you,” he says, and Michael lets him go.

“Mutual,” he spits, standing up. He looks down at Freddie’s forlorn figure and shakes his head. “You’re your own for ten fucking minutes and you try to kill a guy. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“You don’t understand.” Trevor feels crumpled. He can’t seem to move from his spot on the floor. “He was going to rob me. He held a gun to my head.”

“Jesus Christ --”

“Shut up, Brad,” Michael snaps. He runs his hands through his hair, looking from the rumpled bed to Freddie to Trevor. “You bought this in your fucking self. I told you not to get a motel room with him. We all told you but no, Trevor knows best, Trevor can look after himself. How about someone else hears all the shouting and banging and bursts in here with the cops, huh? What then?”

“Then I’d kill them, too.”

“Sure you would. Naked and with a pair of handcuffs as a weapon. Of course you would.”

“We’ve dealt with worse before.”

“I don’t care. We’re dealing with this now, T, and you’ve fucked us over.”

“The job --” Lester pipes up, and Michael silences him with a look.

“The job is fucking over. We can’t risk someone finding this asshole and putting two and two together. We need to get out of this city right now. You can thank Trevor for not being able to keep it in his goddamn pants for more than a day.”

Trevor gets unsteadily to his feet. His hands hurt. “Hey, that’s not fair. I did what you would have done.”

“I would never have compromised a job for the sake of a quick fuck.”

Even Lester looks a little uncomfortable at the lie, scratching his nose and looking away. Trevor bursts out laughing, mouth full of acid, tongue lathered in it. “Oh, yeah, because you’ve never put us at risk by hiring --”

“Now is not the fucking time, T! We’ve got to get out of here.”

“But-- do you have any idea how long it took me to source this for us?” Lester asks, walking in between them and looking furious. “Michael, we cannot just drop this now.”

“We’re going to have to. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it’s got to be.”

“Fuck,” Lester says and throws his hands up in the air in surrender. “Fucking fuck!”

“Right, we … right. Trevor, get some fucking clothes on. Lester, get all our stuff together. Brad, watch this piece of shit on the floor and make sure he doesn’t try to get up.”

“And you?” Brad asks, mulishly. “I’m going to pull the van round to the front. We’ve got to be out of here quick and the less fucking around we have in reception the better. Don’t make small talk. Just move.” They all get to it. Trevor’s not sure just when in their history Michael became their de facto leader but everybody’s learned to deal with it. Without him, things would fall apart. Lester sure wouldn’t work with Trevor full-time without Michael as a buffer.

He’s shaking as he gets dressed. His stomach churns as he buckles his belt back up and laces his boots and pulls his t-shirt back over his cold chest. The room is still dark but he can see Freddie’s barely-stirring body, Brad standing over it like an omen of death. He wants to finish the job but he daren’t; if Freddie dies, that’s one more body to bury somewhere, and that might tip the others completely over the edge. Besides, the rage within him has faded now, and he just feels stupid and humiliated and sad.

Of course the guy he chooses as a makeshift Michael becomes a fraud. Life would be too simple otherwise.

He’s the first in the van after Michael and he goes straight for the back seat, throwing himself down and crossing his arms like a sulking teenager. It’s more to stop him shaking but nobody else needs to know that. For all they know, he’s still as dangerous and as wild as he was ten minutes ago. He hasn’t been cowed by the force of his best friend’s disapproval.

Lester is next, throwing their few bags into the back of the van with Trevor and then clambering into the front seat, wincing as he does so.

He sits straight and tense, looking straight ahead. His disappointment is obvious and it makes Trevor have to sit on his hands to stop their trembling. Nobody’s hatred has ever changed him like this before, aside from his mother. He can’t even speak.

Brad arrives a couple of minutes later. He looks sullen and at Michael’s questioning glance, he shrugs. “He was still half-unconscious when I left him. He won’t see us again.”

“Good,” Michael says, quietly. “That’s good.”

He starts the engine.

Trevor is still silent as the van rattles down the highway. His clothes feel too big for him and too small all at once. It’s like somebody’s got the handcuffs around his throat, instead, for how good he feels. He did nothing but try to defend himself and here he is, being treated like the worst monster to ever have entered these bank robbers lives. As if Michael hasn’t slaughtered a thousand cops. As if Brad hasn’t beaten a hundred men to pulp. As if Lester hasn’t twitched the strings behind the scenes to orchestrate the deaths of the successful.

He looks at the back of Michael’s head, at the back of Lester’s, and Brad’s opposite, the way he stares at the floor rather than meet Trevor’s eye.

Suddenly, it’s too much. This is where he can be himself, with these three, miserable bastards, this is where he feels truly at home -- and now even here he is shunned. Another family to cast him out because of so-called violent tendencies that boil down to nothing so much as common sense and self-defense.

“As if any of you --” he starts, and then his voice falters and cracks and he goes silent.

“What’s that?” Michael asks and Trevor stands up.

“As if any of you wouldn’t have done the same thing.”

“Huh?” Lester asks, turning, just as Trevor throws open the side door and jumps right out. He hits the ground with a ragged shout that he’s not sure even comes from him. The van hadn’t been speeding but it had been going fast enough, and he rolls with the force of it, the ground tearing holes in his arms and legs that burn so bad he wants to scream with it. He hears the van screech to a halt but ignores it, too lost in the pain to care.

Road rash is something he’s only seen once before. When they were kids, he and Ryan would fuck around on the bikes they stole from the smaller kids in the park, dodging in and out of traffic and getting in the way of every elderly pedestrian they could find. Of course, one day things went south and Trevor threw a rock at Ryan as he sped past, knocking him clean off his wheels.

Ryan had screamed in a way that Trevor had mocked him for for weeks after. His arm had been covered in a burn so large across his forearm that their mother had cried when she’d seen it, staring in horror at the shiny, torn skin of her eldest son. Trevor had poked it until it had healed in the next few months, earning him more than a few slaps around the back of his head.

But now, he feels for Ryan, he mourns for how much he tormented him for his injury. He is jeans have torn with the force of the friction and it feels like somebody’s holding a poker rod right against him, splitting his skin all the way up the side of his body. The noise that escapes his lips is the closest thing to a whimper he’s ever let out.

“Shit, T! What the fuck are you doing?”

It’s Michael, of course it is, and he swims into Trevor’s blurred vision in a mess of anxiousness and concern. Trevor swats at him even as he’s pulled none-too-gently to his feet, the right side of his body in agony. “Shit,” he mutters, unable to steady himself until Michael grabs his shoulder. “What are you- let me --”

“Jesus Christ, what a mess. Look at you.” Michael shoves him backwards a little just to be able to see the damage he’s done. Trevor’s vision sharpens enough for him to see Michael’s eyebrows knot right up, his eyes narrowed. “Do you want to kill yourself, is that it? Are you getting a kick out of this?”

“I want to get away from you,” Trevor says. He stumbles a little.

It’s dark out here except for the streetlamps and barely anyone else is driving aside from the odd freight truck and curious-looking commuter. Michael shakes his head, looking lost. “Why? What the hell have I done wrong tonight except save your ass?”

“I’m sick of you. I’m sick of you being a goddamn hypocrite.”

“What the fuck are you rambling on about? Just get in the van, man!”

“No! You got to listen to me. For once, just listen. I’m just-- I can’t see anyone, hook up with anyone, without being told I’m being a fucking risk!”

“Hey, no, this is the very first time I’ve complained that --”

“But you get to meet a woman after a job and fucking marry her and knock her up twice and I’ve got to keep quiet! I can’t say a goddamn thing against you because you’re being normal, and I’m the fucking twisted one!”

Michael stares at him. He doesn’t look hurt or angry or anything close to how Trevor would expect. He just looks shocked, like he can’t see why Trevor would feel that way, like it’s a world apart from his own reality.

“T,” he says, weakly, and steps forward. “T, Jesus, that was years ago. So many years ago. Aren’t you … I mean, aren’t you --”

“No,” Trevor says, and it’s as most as he’ll ever confessed. “No. I’m not.”

“You’re shaking. Come on, let’s just- let’s get back in the van, you can calm down, and we can forget --”

“Don’t! Don’t fucking touch me, okay!” Trevor backs away, tripping over himself. “You don’t understand how sick you make me feel. You cry off every goddamn job. You’re probably pissing yourself with happiness that I managed to fuck this one up. Now you’ve got an excuse to get back to your family, huh, and out of the danger.”

“What? Shut the fuck up, T! I’ve said no to one single job. That does not mean I’m --”

“Soft. You’re a fucking soft piece of shit these days. I can’t even look at you.”

Michael’s face hardens. Trevor can actually see how his eyes close off, how his mouth becomes an unreadable, blank line that barely suppresses his obvious anger. He should take back what he’s said, but instead he just laughs, clutching at the burns on his skin. He howls and Michael gets back into the van and the stars above are unmoving.

“Soft!” Trevor screams at the van. Every breath burns his lungs. A passing driver honks his horn. “You’re getting so fucking soft, Mikey!”

“Get in,” Michael shouts from the window, and eventually Trevor does, and nobody speaks a word for the rest of the journey.

---

And then, on their next job, Michael guns down three cops without a second thought. He looks at Trevor for approval, but Trevor turns and walks the other way.

Chapter Text

xx.

early 2001


Trevor is dangerously bored.

 

It’s one of those Feburary nights that leaves his arms filled with goosebumps, prickling the back of his neck and stopping him from sitting still. It reminds him of days gone by, coming down off drugs, sitting there twiddling his thumbs outside his trailer while his mom entertains inside, and the boredom that came when Michael left to marry Amanda. He is itching.

 

They’ve been brainstorming a new job for days and he’s practically moved back into Lester’s place, just to annoy him, and he’d forgotten how boring the house can be. The job planning is fun and of course he contributes, but when the evenings draw to a close and the others all go home, he’s back to doing nothing much at all.

 

Lester is in the dining room, huddled over some map at the dining room table, his head resting in his hands as he stares at it. Trevor watches him from the doorway. He crosses his arms over his chest and frowns, because they’ve been over their plans, again and again, there’s not much more he can gather from one shitty map. Even Michael has cracked and gone to have a shower instead of going over the same information for the hundredth time tonight.

 

So, Trevor does what he does best, and decides to wind Lester up for a bit.

 

“Lester,” Trevor whines, and Lester doesn’t even look up.

 

“No, T. I’m busy.”

 

“You’re a fucking spoil sport is what you are. You don’t even know what I want.”

 

“No doubt something annoying. Go bother Michael instead.”

 

“But he’s no fun either, he’s --”

 

“T. Leave me the fuck alone. I’m working.”

 

“You’re lucky I’m in a good mood. Your face looks pretty punchable right about now.”

 

“Trevor.” Lester looks up for the first time. Trevor could take him ten times out of ten but even he has to admit the man looks frightening. “I am trying to ensure your escape routes so that you don’t die . Not every end to a plan can be improvised. Please, leave me alone or I’ll hand you into the goddamn cops myself.”

 

“Spoil sport,” Trevor repeats, but gets out of the room pretty quickly after that.

 

They could do with a few girls around the place or a few lines of coke or whatever, but Lester would never allow it. Trevor’s just going to have to ask Michael if he’ll go out with him tonight and if he says no, fuck it, he’ll go out by himself. He’ll find himself some new friends. Some goddamn fun friends. Maybe Brad will be up for it.

 

There’s not much to do in the house except for annoying Lester, so Trevor heads upstairs in search of something else to entertain him.

 

For a brief moment he imagines joining Michael in the shower. Lester’s shower is notorious for unreliable water but that wouldn’t matter; they’d soon be wet and close together, and Trevor could get down on his knees and give Michael the best night he’s had in weeks. He lingers outside of the door, but then Michael starts singing again, and it kind of kills the mood.

 

He sighs the sigh of long-suffering boredom and heads into Lester’s bedroom.

 

Lester’s room is not exactly a place he often ventures into. It’s neat, tidy and has a strange smell about it, kind of clinical - it reminds him of hospital beds, of thick balms they’ve put on all the cuts and bruises he’s had treated over the years. The bed isn’t made but the sheets look clean. In the cupboards, Trevor knows, are stacks of maps and scraps of paper, but nothing incriminating should the cops come to call. In the corner there’s a computer on stand-by, humming quietly.

 

Trevor considers going for it, but Lester’s bound to have a thousand passwords to keep him out.

 

He looks at the bed instead. Lester would be real pissed off if he came upstairs to find Trevor napping in it or, even worse, jerking off in it, and it might just be worth it to see the expression on his face. He’d be horrified. He would be mad for days.

 

Trevor laughs to himself. It’s the best plan he’s had in weeks.

 

He’s not stupid and he knows Lester’s well aquainted with the art of masturbation, and so he drops on his knees and squints under the bed for whatever grimy magazines or VHS tapes he can find.

 

There are some crumpled up tissues that he quickly bats to one side, and a hell of a lot of dust that almost makes him sneeze, and --

 

“Aha,” Trevor says, and slides the shoebox towards him.

 

He prises the lid off eagerly.

 

Inside, he finds a pistol - which makes him snort, because he’s not sure Lester has even fired a gun - a notebook full of coded words that Trevor can’t make any sense of, and --

 

“A ha ,” he repeats, triumphantly, staring down at the bare-chested woman on the front of the magazine. “Jackpot.”

 

The first, entitled Busty Broads , keeps him going for a little while before he’s onto the next, one that seems to specialise in older women. Trevor flicks through it for a while, rather transfixed by several of the women and kind of amazed at their flexibility. It’s a well-thumbed magazine and Trevor tries not to think of Lester looking at these women late at night, because most of them make his stomach flip pleasantly and he doesn’t really want to think about sharing them, not right now.

 

After lingering over a particularly lovely red-headed lady in her fifties, he casts the magazine aside, all too ready for the next.

 

“Oh,” he says and blinks and grins. “Lester, you sly old dog, you.”

 

Instead of large breasts and curved hips, the cover features a rather delectable young man with his legs wide open, another man’s lips firmly around his sizeable cock. It’s rather a sight to see and Trevor stares down at it for a while, open-mouthed, before he can gather enough thoughts together to know that Lester, too, has been looking down at this, probably while furiously jerking off. Trevor barks out a laugh and jumps to his feet, magazine tight in his hand.

 

He rushes past the bathroom - ignoring the dangerously high pitch of Michael’s singing - and barrels down the stairs. It’s the most excitement he’s had in months and he’s not going to waste it on subtlety.

 

“Lester!” he croons, skipping the last three steps entirely, landing hard on his feet. “Lester the Molester, buddy!”

 

He hears Lester before he sees him - a small groan from the kitchen that just about sums the man up - but when he does see him, he can’t help but lean against the doorframe again and throw him a huge, shit-eating grin. “So then,” he says, smugly. “So, L.”

 

“So what?” Lester snaps. There are dark circles beneath his eyes when he looks up. “I thought I asked you to leave me alone.”

 

“Oh, I would, I want to,” Trevor says, innocently, “it’s just that, I thought you might want to share a few secrets, you know. Let it all out at last.”

 

“What?”

 

“Just, you know.” Trevor holds up the magazine and flicks through it nonchalantly. “There’s a lot in here to talk about. Like, look at this page, how do you think this guy fits all of that in there ? It’s a goddamn impressive feat, you have to admit.”

 

Lester, to his credit, only goes a little pink. “Very impressive,” he says. “If you want to try that, though, I think you’re in the wrong place. Maybe you want to find Michael for that.”

 

“I’m not sure he’s flexible enough.”

 

“And I am?”

 

“Who knows. You’re untested.” Trevor grins wolfishly. He saunters over to the table and sits next to Lester, straddling the chair backwards. Lester looks up towards the heavens briefly before meeting his eye, remarkably composed. “I just want to talk. You can put your work down for five goddamn minutes.”

 

“Maybe I don’t want to.”

 

“Oh, come on ,” Trevor whines. He snatches the map from under Lester’s nose and throws it across the room. When Lester looks back at him he’s furious, but Trevor’s eyes must look dangerous or something because he backs down at once. “I want you to talk to me, Lester. I don’t like it when people keep secrets.”

 

“This secret is nothing, and it’s none of your business.”

 

“I --”

 

But ,” Lester continues, firmly, “I’m not - um, I’m not, you know, ashamed of anything, especially when talking to you of all people. So go on. What is it you desperately want to talk about?”

 

"I ain't looking for a heart to heart. I just want to know who it is you got your eye on?"

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“Come on. You spend a hell of a lot of time with all of us. You’ve got to have thought about at least one of us before.”

 

He just grins at Lester, who goes red enough to confirm his suspicions. “Are you really that fucking arrogant? Why would I like any of you?”

 

“Don’t lie to me, L. I can see it in your eyes. Who is it then? Is it --” his voice breaks, just a little, just enough “-- Michael?”

 

Lester snorts. “Believe it or not, I - unlike everyone else we seem to have ever met - have never lusted after Michael Townley.”

 

“Who then, Brad?” Trevor asks, with something of a grin.

 

“I said I had desires,” Lester says coolly, “not desperation.”

 

“Me? Lester, I never knew you cared so much,” Trevor laughs and he’s about to keep guessing when he notices the expression on Lester’s face - nervous, uncomfortable, mouth a little worried. Something very faint and very feeble stirs in Trevor’s stomach. “You’re kidding. Me. Really?”

 

“What part of I don’t want to talk about this do you not understand?” Lester asks, yanking the magazine from his slack grip. “I honestly think you were put on this earth to annoy me.”

 

“Me,” Trevor repeats. “Seriously?”

 

It’s not that he’s ever thought of Lester as anything other than sexual - he’s seen him with girls of the night, of course, and he’s obviously well aware of his porn stash - and it’s not that Lester likes guys too that disturbs him so much. It just doesn’t gel with what he knows of this makeshift family; Lester cowers from him all too often and snaps at him the rest of the time, and though they have a mutual respect Trevor has never considered their battling any more than just that.

 

And then, unbidden, comes the small leap of joy he feels that he is liked over Michael, the charming, handsome Michael who everybody else stumbles over themselves to please. Lester picked him. Him .

 

“Why haven’t you ever said anything?”

 

“About what?” Lester sniffs. He tries to look back down at his maps but his eyes are unmoving. “There’s nothing to say anything about. You’re jumping to conclusions.”

 

“Fuck that,” Trevor says, moving forward, and Lester flinches so horribly that for a second Trevor feels guilty, before he sees the way Lester’s eyes widen instead and the way he leans in, just a little, just enough.

 

The kiss is weird. There’s no other word for it but odd. It’s more than a little uncomfortable and also kind of nice. Instead of tobacco, Trevor tastes minty toothpaste. Instead of fireworks, he feels flat. But Lester kisses surprisingly well, and when Trevor pulls back, grinning wickedly, Lester is oddly breathless.

 

“Not half bad,” Trevor comments.

 

Lester flushes red and scowls, crossing his arms tight over his chest. “You’re a fucking asshole, T.”

 

“Admit it, you enjoyed it. You like me.”

 

“No,” Lester says, sharply. “Liked. Maybe when we first met I thought about you more than once, but I promise you that’s as far as it ever, ever went. That was before I realised what a maniac you really are.”

 

Trevor can’t even care - he feels oddly proud of himself, and his smug smile serves only to make Lester roll his eyes again. “Well, that’s better than nothing. I mean, fuck it,” he says, and when his voice catches, he can’t quite save it, “I bet you’ve wanted me more than Michael fucking Townley ever really has.”

 

Lester is about to reply - looking rather doubtful - when Trevor leans in for another kiss, his hand going to the man’s knee beneath the table. Lester hums under his breath and leans in, too, and it almost helps Trevor forget about Michael, briefly, forget about his soft mouth and hard eyes and lost affection and --

 

“Dude, you gotta sort your water pressure,” Michael says, walking into the kitchen just as they break apart. Trevor’s heart slaps wetly in his throat. “That was the goddamn shittiest shower of my life.”

 

“Use your own shower then,” Lester mutters. He doesn’t look at Michael, instead staring at the backs of his hands like they’re the most fascinating thing he’s ever seen. The tips of his ears are red and Trevor’s lips are tingling, not all that unpleasantly. “You know where the door is.”

 

“Alright, alright, no need to get pissy.”

"I'm not getting pissy. You're the one who's in my house and insulting --"

 

"Chill out, man!" Michael laughs and there's an edge to it. "It was just a comment. Anyway, T, both of you, you wanna hit the town tonight? It's long overdue."

 

“Sorry,” Trevor says, eyes on Lester. “I’ve got other plans tonight.”

 

Michael frowns, eyes dark. “You do? What like?”

 

“You do not have other plans,” Lester says firmly.

 

“Uh. Am I missing something here, guys? Why don’t we all just go out, you know, have a good time, find some girls, yadda yadda?”

 

Trevor snorts. He’s smarting from Lester’s rejection and he can feel himself go red from it. It’s one thing getting turned down from men and women in bars, but Lester is different -- he doesn’t even want Lester, not really, it was just going to be one strange and possibly fun night to hold over his head for the rest of the time, and now Lester doesn’t even want him. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. He can’t be the one wanting.

 

Lester, though, ducks his head to meet Trevor’s eye, holding it despite the anger in Trevor’s glare. “You don’t have other plans,” he repeats more gently, and he licks his lips. “I wouldn’t want to be … murdered by certain parties.”

 

Trevor blinks at him. Michael throws his hands up, clearly not used to being ignored, but Trevor can’t care for his anger right now. Lester’s words take a while to unfurl in Trevor’s brain but eventually he realises -- Lester is comforting him. Lester is trying to say that Michael cares about Trevor, that Michael would be jealous. That Michael has some sort of attachment to him that Trevor might have doubted.

 

He grins. Lester rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling.

 

“If you two have finished being fucking wei