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Sandy Shores gets especially warm in July. It gets dry and hot, and people get desperate, delusional. They get lazy—careless even, and someone has to remind them that some things never change. 

Like the consequences of not paying your drug debts on time.

Despite the quiet hum of an air conditioning unit, Geoff feels sweat pooling in the small of his back. He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand, the unfamiliar weight of someone else's pistol uncomfortable in his palm.

The Almighty forgives, Geoffrey. The Lost doesn't.

The words echo through his mind, and he doesn't want to aim the gun. He does, anyway: orders are orders, and rather their life than his. The woman cries, cries and cries. Geoff swallows, cracks his neck frantically in order to get himself together. He grabs the guy's collar, the old flannel shirt disgusting and moist under his fingertips, and nuzzles the pistol comfortably under his jaw, the barrel sinking into the sunburnt skin.

They don't have the money, the people in Sandy Shores never do—Geoff out of all people should know. The Lost taking him in, that's what saved him from being on the other end of the gun. He blinks as the man claws at his wrist half-heartedly, a desperate attempt to get Geoff loosen his grip.

Geoff shoves him back and settles down onto the armchair nearby. He toys with the pistol—he has the safety on, anyway—mindlessly spinning it in his hand, eyes focused on the all too full ashtray on the coffee table.

Someone should've emptied it three years ago.

The thing is, Geoff knew the Denecours once. His mom knew the Denecours, too. Back in the day, when the whole damn county wasn't infested with drug wars and weapon trafficking. Denecours were just a young couple living a few doors down. The guy used to work at the Paleto Forest Sawmill or some shit like that. They were going to have a family and everything.

They smiled a lot.

Then shit hit the fan for San Andreas, and here they all are—Geoff in all of his 19-year-old glory, holding a gun at two meth heads who used to want nothing more than the all-American dream. With the golden retriever and all.

Geoff, throwing his head back, barks out a laugh at the irony. There's no humor in it.

Who knows, maybe they do still want the dream. It would be inhumane to bring a child into this world though. Or into Sandy Shores, at least. Nothing good ever grows in here. The rest of the world might be doing better.

Geoff doesn't know. 

Doesn't want to know, either. It's too late for him anyway, to venture out of San Andreas.

“You ain't gonna get your money if you kill us, kid.”

Geoff lets his head roll lazily against the headrest, meeting two pairs of panicked eyes. 

“Yeah,” he admits easily. “But I don't know, Mr Denecour. Is killing really the worst thing you can do with a gun?”

They flinch at that, eyes wide, and Geoff tries to swallow the knot in his throat. The threat tastes strange in his mouth, like it doesn't quite fit on his tongue, sour and wrong. He's not cut out for this, doesn't have what it takes to carry the blood on his hands.

But the Denecours, they don't know that—they don't how his hands shake or how his fingers go numb when they're wrapped around the gun, how he feels like he can't breathe or how his heart is racing like a fucking stock car in the Daytona 500.

Geoff lets his gaze drift away. He's not sure how long he sits there, quiet, the barrel of the pistol tapping a silent rhythm against the armrest.

“Maybe we would remember better...if we just, ya know,” the guy starts at some point, sounding promising enough to pique Geoff's interest. “...got our hit. Just a bit. We're not asking for much here.”

And then, as an afterthought, “Sir? Please?”

Geoff winces because they're begging. They're begging, and not even for their lives. And Geoff, if he was a harder man, he would waltz over there to the couch and he would press the barrel against the wife's temple. Then he would tilt his head, look at the guy—how about now, remember better now?

But he's soft, and nothing in his blank stare changes. Not until there is a quiet creak of a floorboard on the other side of the room. Geoff points his gun in the general direction, nothing more than a reflex now. Then his mind catches up with his body, and well—it's a kid. It's a fucking kid in fucking space pyjamas he's pointing the gun at. 

The kid's staring back at him.

Geoff doesn't put the gun down, he just doesn't.

No one moves, the tension in the living room growing uncomfortable. To Geoff's sickening comfort, the kid looks like this isn't the first time someone's aimed a gun at them. He swallows, loud and clearly distracted now, and the mother sees her chance.

“Caleb, oh, Caleb, baby, come to momma, come on,” she begs, but the kid, Caleb, stays put. Geoff's not sure if it's bad parenting or his gun that's keeping the kid away, but he feels something twisting in his guts anyway.

Suddenly, his mind takes him back to his childhood home: he's standing barefoot across the room, lurking in the safety of shadows like he always has. His mom is sitting on the couch, and she's shivering like she's cold. And Geoff can't quite wrap his mind around it—it's August, and he himself is sweating through his old tank top that once used to be white.

There's a man crouched in front of the coffee table, with a razor blade in his hand and a gun tucked into his jeans. He taps the blade against the glass surface, and the sound sends shivers up Geoff's spine. His mom finally leans over the table, over the line, and uses a twenty to snort it all up, nice and neat.

Geoff knows she will get an outburst of energy soon, the kind that will make her put on make up and drag Geoff out and about, buying them sodas and ice creams with the same twenty that was just up in her nose. She will ask Geoff about girls and Geoff will blush and let her ruffle his hair. She will laugh and Geoff will laugh, and usually around that time he'll remember that this isn't the real her.

He has to cock his head, as if to shake it off, to bring himself back to this moment.

Caleb can't be more than eight, nine. 

Geoff winces, uncomfortable, and leans forward to press the gun against the woman's shoulder hard enough to bruise. The kid doesn't look away from him and he tries to swallow around the lump in his throat and it's hard to breathe and his mouth is dry and the kid is just staring at him and he has to leave. Has to get out.

“Tomorrow morning,” he grunts and rushes out of the house.

He clutches his stomach and throws up as soon as the screen door behind him slams shut. There's nothing poetic about the way he can't stop retching even after there's nothing but a string of clear saliva hanging from his mouth. So he stands there, on the Denecours' door steps, clutching his knees with his hands, until he remembers how to breathe again.

Fuck.

The old Ramsey residence is less than three minutes away, but Geoff takes five anyway, with the nausea roaming inside him and shortness of breath making him lightheaded. He tears the screen door open and he drops the fucking key and his hands are trembling and holy shit his heart is beating really fast.

Geoff knows it's a panic attack. He also knows it doesn't make a difference, whether he understands it's just a panic attack or not. Brains are funny like that, he figures.

He finally gets the door open, slams it close behind him and turns around to lean his forehead against the cool surface of the wood. Inhale, exhale, inhale. Hold it in, exhale. 

Slow, deep, complete. 

Repeat.

It doesn't help, and he leans his back against the door, sinking down on the floor. He lights a cigarette. Inhale, exhale, inhale. Hold it in, exhale. Slow, deep, complete. He stubs the cigarette out, lights a new one. Inhale, exhale. Stub that one out, light another.

The pattern goes on and on and on. 

All the way until the pack runs out. At that point, Geoff has eight butts sticking up from the floor and he's already rubbing coke on his gums like it's going to take the bad taste from his mouth.

The back of his head hits the door behind him, and he rolls the white puck in his hands. It used to have tobacco in it, dip, or whatever—Geoff doesn't know, he likes to smoke his nicotine. But it works for storing coke just fine. Gus got the tobacco from Sweden or something. Kronan Vit Svensk Snus, it says, and Geoff doesn't know what the hell it means. But as he runs his fingertips over the words etched into the surface, it calms him down, grounds him.

It's hours later when he feels at peace again. His hands stop shaking so much, his breathing stabilises and he doesn't want to fucking die anymore. The gun is heavy against his skin the moment he moves, and fuck, they won't have the money by tomorrow or the day after or fucking ever.

But they have a kid.

A kid who will become just another dead body in the ditch. Or worse, just another Geoff Ramsey.

Next morning, he delivers a grand to The Lost, and the guys laugh and pat his back and tell him he's a man now. The boss doesn't even ask his pistol back, just rubs Geoff's shoulders like he's the next boxing champion about to enter the ring.

Geoff feigns pride with a beer in his hand, and he doesn't think about Caleb Denecour. He doesn't think about Caleb Denecour until a heatwave of the decade hits the whole damn county.

Of course they had been raving about it for weeks now, Geoff changing the radio channel every single time someone even dares to mention the fucking sun. He can't believe he's still stuck here, moving illegal arms for a motorcycle club full of rednecks. At least he hasn't been working a corner with meth shoved down his pants like a cheap hooker after O'Neils became business partners. Not that there's anything wrong with the hookers around Sandy Shores, but Geoff prefers not to be a sitting duck with a developing farmer's tan. Or, like, shot in the chest by a Vagos, honestly.

He shivers, not because it's cold but because of the thought of Los Santos Vagos. The gang's easily in top five of Geoff's things not to fuck with. Right up there with rocket launchers and crystal meth.

The setting sun still feels hot against his dark t-shirt, and judging by the sweat stains he's sporting at the moment, the night's not going to show much more mercy. The sun will likely set somewhere behind Grapeseed, behind Mount Gordo where he won't be able to see it. But it's not a bad sunset, anyway, especially with the neighbourhood being more quiet than usually. 

No gunshots, no screams, no nothing. 

It would be almost suspicious if he didn't know about the majority of The Lost being in East Vinewood for the night.

Quiet is nice every once in a while.

Geoff sits on his porch, the second cigarette of the evening lit between his lips, and he rubs his palms against his eyes. It's so fucking hot and he wants to leave the house where his mom died and he wants to turn his back to this damn town and just, fucking hell, leave. Maybe it's not too late to go to college. Get a degree in fucking, Geoff doesn't know, business or something. Get a job and all. Family, and shit like house mortgage. Dog. SUV. Retirement plan—

Maybe on any other night, Geoff wouldn't pay attention to the sounds of a fight emerging from a few doors down. It's domestic, a woman and a man shouting at and over each other, and out of curiosity—name a twenty-year-old who isn't curious, though—he listens.

Fucking Denecours.

Geoff doesn't know why he's on his feet as soon as he connects the dots, stomping his way towards the Denecour house. He doesn't know what's with the sudden hurry that moves his legs, doesn't know what he's going to walk in the middle of, doesn't know if it's about Caleb.

The steady creak of an old swing set stops him at the fence separating the lots. It's Caleb, rocking back and forth at an idle pace. This time, it's not space pyjamas on the kid, but a grey t-shirt with Spongebob on it and a pair of khaki shorts that have probably seen better days.

Geoff looks at his scraped knees and bruised arms, and the fight is going on and on and on, and the closed screen door does nothing to muffle the sounds. During that little time he took to look at the door, Caleb's eyes found him.

It's oddly similar to their last meeting—Caleb's silent, just follows his movements with a steady gaze. The other swing cries under Geoff's weight, but he sits down anyway.

“Hey, buddy.”

Geoff doesn't expect Caleb to say anything.

Caleb doesn't say anything.

They both rock back and forth, settling on opposite rhythms. And if Geoff really tries hard and ignores the ongoing argument inside the house and Caleb's eyes on him, it almost feels comfortable. Comforting, too, in a way.

“You got a tattoo.”

“Huh?” Geoff asks and follows Caleb's gaze down his arm, to look at the two-month-old tattoo right under his rolled-up sleeves. “Oh, uhh, yeah, that thing. Yeah. I did. Gonna get more, like, uh, at some point.”

Caleb just nods and, for the first time, looks away. Geoff takes the moment to study the kid, the boy. It was hard to tell before, in the darkness and from a distance—Caleb's short and scrawny like kids are, and he has a messy mop of light hair on his head. Blue eyes, pale cheeks littered with freckles.

“Why an 8-point compass rose? Aren't you a drug dealer?” Caleb asks, eyes still on the house. Geoff frowns, but the right corner of his mouth tugs up, betraying him.

“What do you know about compass roses? Aren't you a kid?” he shoots back, scoffing because kids these days, but he can't help but smile anyway. Caleb looks at him again, this time with so much focus it seems like the kid is weighing his options.

“Fair enough,” is the final answer, delivered with a careless shrug. Geoff mirrors the gesture and allows the silence to fall over them once more. It feels nice, to sit out there with Caleb, to know that the kid's not alone in this moment.

“I know a lot about compass roses though,” Caleb breaks the silence a minute later, and Geoff can barely manage a curious “Yeah?” in before he continues. “They call them windroses sometimes. Or roses of the wind. Originally it was a star. Stella maris, star of the sea. The 8-point one has all four cardinals and four intercardinals. 16-point, half-winds added. 32-point, quarter-winds.”

At this point, Geoff just has his mouth slightly open, brows knitting together, because he really doesn't know shit about compass roses.

“Aristotle was the first one to identify the ten winds—I would go into more detail, but I doubt you know much about history or the Greeks for that matter—but since that was unbalanced, Eratosthenes deducted two winds and hence created the classical 8-wind rose. Your 8-point rose,” Caleb finishes, tapping the center of Geoff's tattoo despite him flinching under the kid's fingertip. He's not sure what to say—all that just sounds like a bunch of made-up bullshit to him.

“Uh, okay,” he says when the kid's done outlining his tattoo. He rubs over it, trying to shake the ghost feeling of fingertips on his skin. “You read a lot?”

Caleb shrugs, but it's not as careless as it was before. There's the slightest hint of tension to it, like he shouldn't have mentioned it at all. Geoff frowns, and he's happy he's not drunk or high for this—the kid is hard enough to figure out when he's dead sober. He tilts his head in thought and notices they're not swinging anymore.

“Do you go to school?” he finally asks, his tone careful, trying not to push Caleb into answering anything he doesn't want to.

Caleb takes a moment to answer, his hands twisting in his lap, all sweaty and nervous. Geoff can't tell what the kid says exactly, but it sounds awfully lot like sometimes. He closes his eyes, breathes in and out and in again. Jesus fucking Christ.

“Okay, Caleb, buddy, can you do me a favor? Just, like, wait here? I'm gonna go talk to your momma for a sec, alright?” he pats the kid on the shoulder, all awkward and shit, and gets up. He makes it all the way to the screen door, his fingers already wrapping around the doorknob, when Caleb calls for him with a small hey, effectively stopping him.

“She's gonna be alright, right?”

Geoff turns to look at the kid, and there's the familiar feeling again—he wants to throw up, just fall down and curl into himself, hating himself. He 's the bad guy to Caleb. That little kid thinks Geoff is the bad guy, that Geoff's going to hurt his mother and father and possibly him too. And that makes Geoff bite the inside of his cheek.

“Promise.”

He doesn't touch momma Denecour. 

No, he surges towards the guy, the piece of shit father no child deserves. He beats him black and blue, to the point where there's nothing solid under his bloody knuckles. And it's not like he's learned from the movies: his fists don't make the sound like the hero's fists always do in the films, every bone under his skin shifts with each hit, hurting, and he can't stop. No, he's straddling daddy Denecour, watching how his knuckles break the skin again and again and again.

Geoff doesn't stop until the ashtray's heavy weight collides with his shoulder. He drops his hands on the guy's chest and with his head hanging, tries to regain himself. And when he does, when he manages to catch his breath again, he looks at the guy's face and he swallows.

Momma Denecour pushes him off before he can throw up. He stumbles on the floor, has trouble getting up like he's the drunkard of the year. She's holding her hubby's head in her pretty little hands, calling for him with sobbed apologies.

Geoff, forced to get a hold of himself, wipes his mouth and looks down at his hands. He hides them from himself as he nudges the guy with his feet. She turns to look at him, with teary eyes, and yeah.

Geoff's the bad guy.

“How 'bout you make sure Caleb goes to school,” he murmurs, his throat suddenly sore, and it's not a question. “All five days a week. Fucking fieldtrips and all.”

She tries to say something, upset and crying and terrified, but Geoff stops her with a soft chuckle. “A-a-aa-ah, fucking fieldtrips and all. I'll keep an eye.” 

Then they both stay still, enjoying the sickening silence in the room.

The familiar creak of the rusty swing set pulls Geoff out of the moment. He turns around, walks to the door and hesitates there. He's the bad guy, he's the bad guy, he's the bad guy, the bad guy, the bad guy, the bad bad bad

Has to keep reminding himself.

“Would be a shame if The Lost found out you walked away from missing a payment, right?”

It's an empty threat—Geoff would lose his own life if he ever came clean about that, and he appreciates his sorry little life more than some kid who just happened to be unfortunate enough to have two meth heads as parents—but she doesn't know it. Fuck, Geoff just beat the crap out of her husband. She'd be stupid not to take him seriously.

And she does: “Caleb goes to school. Five days. Fieldtrips.”

Her whispers are the last thing Geoff hears as he steps out, desperate to get some fresh air. His hands are sweating, the salt burning in the cuts on his knuckles, and his throat is closing in on him. He rushes out of the house, off the porch and onto the deadbeat grass, gasping, his hands on his knees, and he doesn't realise to hide his hands before it's probably too late.

But even if Caleb saw something, he doesn't say anything, just swings and swings and swings, eyes glued on Geoff. He looks innocent, as a fucking child should, and he doesn't know what's waiting for him inside the house.

Geoff wants to just, he doesn't know, probably, like, projectile vomit.

But he's a grown-up: he gathers himself and makes a beeline for the street. He's going to go home, he's going to smoke smoke smoke and he's going to fucking snort the rest of his coke because he'd rather have those shakes than the ones he's having now.

“You didn't have to,” a voice calls after him. 

Oh no. 

Geoff winces before he turns around, a hand clutching his stomach like that's helping.

“I'm, uh, Geoff, by the way,” he says. “I live five houses that way. Ramsey. If you, you know, run into trouble or shit—sorry. Trouble or something. Yeah?”

He doesn't know what he's even offering, or why the fuck he's offering this whatever in the first place. He shouldn't give a shit about some kid. Then again, he just beat up a person without really having to, and he's not the type to do that.

Geoff Ramsey's a coward who doesn't step out of line for anyone. Geoff Ramsey, if the option is presented to him, runs away with his tail tucked between his legs like a scared stray dog.

“Yeah,” Caleb echoes, and Geoff goes home. He does what he did a year ago, and despite his promises, he doesn't snort his coke. Instead, while he waits for the numb to come, he stares at his hands. He studies the cuts, the bruises. He feels his bones, sore and sensitive to touch, and he buries his hand in his hands, the pain barely there anymore.

God, what have I done.

But then, three weeks later, when Geoff's limping home after the sunrise with what he thinks might as well be a broken fibula, he sees Caleb walking across the deserted park with a backpack slung across his shoulders. He can't stop the satisfied hum escaping his mouth, and the warmth in his chest outweighs the phantom pain in his knuckles.

Geoff didn't save Caleb. 

Caleb doesn't need him. 

Caleb can live without him.

Geoff tells himself that a lot. All the time. As if it makes things easier.

It doesn't.

The itch in his bones isn't new: it's the same one he used to get when he was a kid and his mom would go out, to whore some money to keep them going, maybe get her hit of the day while she's at it. And Geoff recognises it for what it is: worry, concern, outright unease, a quiet plea that everything will go just fine.

He can't believe he cares about the Denecour kid so goddamn much. Or in fact, he refuses to believe he cares. He doesn't: ever since his mom died he hasn't cared about anyone but himself. 

So, he doesn't care about Caleb.

Still, after a whole month and then some, in the beginning of September, when Caleb shows up at Geoff's door, he almost drops to his knees and hugs the kid. But he doesn't, instead crosses his fingers behind his neck and thanks whatever has kept the kid alive in this seemingly godforsaken place.

“You haven't come around,” Caleb says. 

It doesn't sound like an accusation, but Geoff takes it as one.

“What?” he asks, all high-pitched and incredulous, voice cracking like he's still going through his fucking puberty. “You haven't come around! I told you where I live!”

Caleb blinks, then raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms like he isn't, like, ten years old and he has the right to judge Geoff. Geoff punches him gently on the shoulder, and the kid cracks the smallest of smiles, rubbing his arm.

“You said to come over if I have trouble,” Caleb then reminds him, walking deeper into the house with a mixture of childlike curiosity and learned wariness. “Or shit.”

“Don't be a smartass,” Geoff scoffs as he shuts the door. He nearly bumps into the kid who abruptly stops and does a neat 180 to face him again.

“I need help with some homework. Spelling,” he promptly states, and it's Geoff's turn to blink. His mouth drops open because he's not sure what to say, what he's expected to say, and—“You said to come over if I have trouble or shit,” the kid in front of him then repeats with more confidence, loud and clear. He's already taking the backpack off, hands undoing the zipper and pulling out what looks like a third grade textbook or something. 

Then he's gone, wandering off through the living room and to Geoff's mess of a dining table.

Geoff follows with his mouth open, because what the fuck, is this his actual life.

Turns out, it is—Caleb's pushing the empty beer cans around and he's careful to wipe all traces of cocaine and cigarette ash away with his sleeve. Geoff almost winces, screwing his eyes shut. It's not because he suddenly understands he's not so different from Caleb's parents. It's because he pretended to be. He pretended to be something of a saint, a knight in shining armour, an angel.

But he's not.

Geoff's just a sorry excuse for a good person.

“You helping me or not?” Caleb's voice comes across, tearing Geoff away from his kiddie pool of guilt. He opens his eyes, finds the kid staring at him with this nonchalant look like he doesn't really care if Geoff's going to help him or not. 

Like he's used to asking and never receiving.

Like he's used to broken promises.

Geoff sighs, because he doesn't want to promise.

“Yeah. Yeah, I am.”

He does, anyway.

And maybe Geoff isn't too bad when it comes to spelling—he can read out words like sufficient, privilege, disastrous, conscience and government; he can talk their meaning through with Caleb, sometimes forgetting the point and telling stories from his past until the kid has to remind him, with a sly smirk on his face, what they're supposed to really be talking about; he can watch Caleb scribble them down with a neat handwriting, usually not having to correct him.

It becomes a habit, one that Geoff's hesitant but happy to adopt. It's alarming how fast he lets this little kid five houses down become a part of his life, even despite the whispered reminder—you shouldn't, don't, shit's gonna hit the fan—in the back of his mind.

But Geoff's selfish like that, unable to deny himself anything that brings him pleasure, satisfaction, or any warm, good feelings. Explains all the drinking, the cocaine. The way he can't let go of the house his mom died in. Why it's so easy for him to absorb Caleb into his life.

 

 

 

 

 

“Geoff,” and her voice is soft, much like her hand running through his hair. He closes his eyes, hums against the gentle touch.

“We're gonna do it,” he murmurs, relaxing against her, a hand wandering to find hers. They fit together, their hands—hers smaller, delicate unlike she is; his tattooed to the tip, rough unlike he is—and he sneaks his fingers in between hers.

Geoff presses a kiss against the back of her hand. “We're gonna feel alive.”

At that, Jack chuckles, but doesn't ridicule him, never does. She shifts, and Geoff rests his head against the pop of her collarbone.

“It's Los Santos, Geoff,” she says. “We're lucky just to be alive.”

Geoff spreads his fingers wide open, Jack's following.

“There's more than that,” he urges, pauses, and then: “I want the world to fall at our feet.”

“Of course you do,” and Jack's voice is gentle but tired, like Geoff's chasing ghosts again. He lets their hands drop, shifts up to straddle her. It's easy.

His hand fits at the crook of her neck like a glove.

“Gods will bow to us,” he whispers, tilts her jaw up. She grins, teeth sharp, a stark contrast to the relaxed way her arms are spread on the back of the couch.

When she hums, Geoff can feel the vibrations in his fingertips.

“This is going to be our kingdom,” he breathes against her cheek, hot, wet. “We're going to be the deadliest piece on board,” and Jack moves beneath him, her body reaching for his. “We're going to be legends,” and he devours her.

 

 

 

 

 

“Ramsey,” the shadow smiles, teeth glinting in the flickering lights. The warehouse looks like it's been through slaughter, and the stench gives Geoff's insides a twirl. However, it's nowhere near the way his name spills from Vagabond's lips. Geoff doesn’t like it.

“What d’ya want?” Geoff asks, not only because he’s polite and feeling brave, but also because Jack, setting up somewhere, awfully quiet, needs more time.

Ah, to the things Geoff likes: Jack and her sniper rifle.

“A chance to talk?” Vagabond suggests, all pleasant, matching Geoff’s polite with far more ease, something akin to sincerity. He looks down at the man at his feet, at Geoff’s rival, with distant interest. He kicks at the guy’s shin as if to check if he’s still alive, and when there’s a small grunt, he grabs the man by his hair.

“Uh,” goes Geoff. “You got it?”

Vagabond’s gaze whips back up, or at least his head moves in a way that indicates he might be looking at Geoff again.

It’s an interesting set-up: Geoff, with his gun pointed at the one and only Vagabond who, get this, not only holds his gun to his side, but also doesn’t have his finger on the trigger. He’s either cocky or comfortable or both, and with Vagabond, it could really be both.

“Oh,” the shadow murmurs, voice softer, and Geoff almost reads surprisement in it. His eyes narrow, and his aim waivers.

“Right, uh,” Vagabond goes again, takes a step towards Geoff, only to realise he’s still holding the half-dead dude in his other hand. “Fuck, hold on,” he mumbles, and point blank shoots the guy in the head, then promptly shakes his hand like he just shook off a fucking baby spider. Blood splatters all over the ground.

“Dude,” says Geoff.

“What?”

“What the fuck?”

“What? He wasn’t with you, was he?” Vagabond shifts on his feet, gaze running back and forth between the body and Geoff, suddenly almost... nervous. “I mean, according to my intel—”

“No, yeah, I was about to get rid of him but—”

“But what? I—I mean, I took care of it, for you,” he says, dumbfounded, a lingering worry in the air, and there’s really nothing Geoff can say to that.

And there’s not much he can say a week later, when Ryan’s on the couch in Geoff’s living room holding a cup of tea, with Jack batting her eyelashes at the mask he’s pulled up from his mouth.

“Why you gotta wear that thing, anyway,” Geoff scoffs as he plops down onto the couch with a beer in each hand.

“Maybe I'm just too handsome to look at,” Ryan says. “You know, would distract you.”

“Me??”

At that, Ryan seems to fluster, murmuring something less than intelligent. Jack’s carefully drawn eyebrows knit together as she leans over him for the beer.

“Are you trying to tell us you’re secretly hot?” she asks as Geoff hands her the bottle.

“No,” Ryan says, hurried, and chugs the rest of his tea.

“Okay,” Jack says. “But I feel like you are, though.”

Geoff smiles and turns on the telly, feet on the coffee table and all.

 

 

 

 

 

“We’re going to be legends,” Geoff says one day, an unlit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Ryan’s head rolls against the headrest, fingers tapping away at the wheel.

“Yeah?” he asks, eyes curious, and shoves another french fry in his mouth, the mask rolled up just enough. He hasn’t heard this one yet, not like Jack has.

“Yeah,” Geoff says and takes a moment to roll down a window, light his cigarette. “Gods will bow to us.”

At that, Ryan grins, and it’s wicked and wild and thirteen shades of wrong wrong wrong. Geoff’s bones tingle, the sharp white of Ryan’s teeth dangerous and tempting in the night light.

“Gods,” Ryan breathes out, and the tapping stops. The McDonald’s paper bag ruffles in his lap.

“Mmhm,” Geoff confirms, puffs out a cloud of smoke.

“What gods?” Ryan asks, like he’s merely humouring Geoff.

Geoff doesn’t answer.

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t kill him!” Geoff suddenly yells, surprising not only the two of them but himself, too. He blinks, they blink, and there's a beat of silence before he hurries to backtrack: “I mean—Er, just, uh, don't? Maybe? Don’t kill him?”

“Okay, look, dude—,” the one with curls starts, their operation at a standby. The light above them flickers. He starts to get up, wiping his bloody hands down his chest. Neither of the two is armed with anything but a scalpel.

“No, you look, dude! We’ve been after that guy for months!” Geoff talks over him, words echoing loud in the old warehouse. The other guy, the one with the big nose, shrugs and continues with his, well, whatever it is. Geoff takes one step forward and Curly rounds the makeshift table, a scalpel pointed at him.

“Geoff,” Jack murmurs from behind him, a quiet warning.

“Yeah, Geoff, don’t make any rash decisions,” Curly says, tone mocking, amused. In the background, Big Nose cuts through the bounty’s skin, quietly retching as he does, and Geoff makes a noise of dissatisfaction at the blood seeping out.

“That’s five grand you’re killing, c’mon,” he whines, quietly.

Curly looks behind him, the hand with the scalpel lowering slightly as he does, and Geoff sees a chance there. He doesn't take it, but doesn’t let his aim lower either.

“Who said anything about killing?” Curly asks, turning back but not correcting his stance.

“Well, Big Nose over there—”

“What?? Who you calling a bloody Big Nose?” Big Nose pipes up and Curly glares at him immediately, now pointing the scalpel at him rather than Geoff.

“You!! He doesn’t know who you are and you have a fucking massive nose so there!” he practically yells at his friend, pulling an absurd bird-like squeak out of him.

“But Micool,” Big Nose coos, like he’s truly offended, but then the wound’s finally big enough for him to jab his fingers in and his focus shifts along with everything: his posture, his tone, his sharpness. “Need your help, boi,” he says, and as if on cue, Curly hurries to his side, eyes a different kind of sharp now as if Geoff and Jack are no longer in the room with them.

Geoff watches them work his bounty open right there in front of him. It’s like watching someone flush five grand into the toilet—he sighs, wistful.

“Shut up, old man,” Curly hisses, like, fucking elbows deep in the guy. Jack snorts, just a little, and Geoff would really send her a glare but then Big Nose pulls a god damn organ out.

Geoff physically recoils.

“Oh my God.”

“Relax, it’s just a liver,” Big Nose says but gags too, then frowns like Geoff's being absurd in his disgust.

“Just a liver?” Jack squeaks, a little outrageous, the back of her hand covering her mouth.

“Ya,” Curly says, taking the liver from Big Nose, so gently it surprises Geoff. “It’s just a liver. Heard about the bounty, had an order for a liver, the guy wandered into our arms... It’s simple math, Geoff.”

Then, he wiggles the liver at Geoff.

“Aw, gross!” Big Nose exclaims, but sounds far too giddy to actually mean it. Curly laughs and wiggles it in front of the other, too, until he gags and they both burst into giggles.

Geoff has to put his hands on his knees as he forces himself not to fucking vomit. His retching sounds more than promising.

“You can have him now,” Big Nose finally says, putting his hands on his hips and looking at the open surgical wound like he’s proud of it.

“Are you gonna, like, close him up or what?” Geoff asks, up again, after what feels like too long of a silence. Big Nose blinks at him, and his smile falters a bit as he looks down at the guy again.

“Oh, um,” he then says, brows furrowing in thought. “Well, I suppose if you pay us for it.”

“Don’t usually close ‘em up after we’re done,” Curly grins, wicked. 

Geoff tries not to grimace. He knows organ harvesters don’t have the best morals, but.

“Two hundred and you’ll patch him up good enough to be collected,” Jack offers.

“Wasn’t he a five-grander?” Big Nose asks, and Curly next to him crosses his arms, snorting like this is very amusing.

“What’s a liver worth these days? A hundred grand? Two?” Jack tilts her head.

“Okay, fair, but we’ll also take his spleen then, like, to make it even, for our troubles,” Curly counters and rolls his eyes, but he gets to work again: shoving his hand right into the opening, and Geoff thinks he has very little to no surgical or even medical training. Big Nose does tell him to watch out for the pancreas tails or something, though, so at least they sound somewhat like medical professionals.

“Can he make it without a liver and a spleen?” he asks, careful.

“Ehh, long enough for you to collect your money,” Curly waves an easy hand—the one not in the guy—and then looks at Big Nose, suddenly excited: “Does anyone need a gallbladder though?”

“Everyone needs their gallbladder,” Jack mumbles.

Big Nose shrugs. "Nah, but a heart would probably go.”

“Come on, Gav, can’t take the guy’s heart!” Curly mock-argues, clearly playing it up, and nods to Geoff. “How’s Geoff gonna get bounty from a guy we’ve fuckin’ harvested clean?”

“He does have a really nice skin, though.”

“Gavin.”

“What, the market’s good for skin right now! It’s 16 dollars per inch, last month it was only a tenner per inch.”

“Gav! Jesus!” Curly's nearly yelling now, looking at his friend all outraged as if his arms aren’t bloodied up to his elbows. “Please!”

All Big Nose, or, well, Gavin, Geoff supposes, does is shrug, and it's the most careless shrug Geoff’s ever seen. Then the guy pokes a finger into the wound, and the bounty twitches.

“We should wrap it up,” Gavin then says, looking at Curly as if for approval. The other shrugs—yeah, sure, whatever—and turns to Geoff again. He looks like he’s contemplating something: his fingers are connected at the tips, gently flexing in front of his middle as he rounds the table and walks up to Geoff, frowning.

“I’ll cut you a deal, Geoffrey,” he then offers.

“I don’t want you to cut me anything,” Geoff insists, distressed.

“Oh, come on, just hear me out!”

Geoff tilts his head: slightly, enough to show interest but not quite to show trust.

Curly takes it happily.

“So. The next guy you kill, or, like, the next guy you should kill,” he starts, eyebrows now furrowed like he’s talking himself through the deal for the first time, too. Then, he points at Geoff, gloves dark red where the two index fingers are connected, directed at him.

“You,” he says, “bring him to”, and he slowly goes to point himself, “us. Alive. Preferably.”

“Yeah?” Geoff counters. “And why would we do that?”

Curly shrugs, the way that lifts your shoulders up high and gives you extra chins, and glances around him. The sound he makes sounds awfully lot like idontknow.

“Just figured you’d maybe like to have a surgeon or two, like, handy or something.”

Geoff scoffs. “You just pulled half of his goddamn organs out and you want me to trust my crew’s health in your hands? Look at your fucking hands, dude!”

Curly looks down at his hands, at his arms, the low-hanging sleeves of his scrubs—all covered in drying blood.

“You know, he has a point, you could clean up better,” Gavin says from where he's working on the bounty. Geoff makes the mistake of looking at him, only to have him point back with the surgical needle: “I like you, Geoffrey, you seem like an alright bloke.”

“Thanks?” Geoff manages, voice cracking in the middle.

“Anyway,” Curly says, loud, slowly pacing back and forth. “Before you guys go, like, full on dicksuck gay, the deal. You, disarm but don’t kill. We, uh, disorgan and kill. Or won’t. Gav’s real good at letting them bleed out by themselves.”

Gavin gives a wide grin from his position before focusing on the stitching up.

“Again, doesn’t really make me wanna work with you,” Geoff says, suspicious. “Do you even have medical training?”

“Psh!” Curly goes, laughing on top of it, barely managing to get the hey out. “Hey, Dr Free? How’s your medical training?”

“Oh, why, Dr Jones, it is just a piece of paper,” Gavin scoffs and waves a hand.

Curly—or Jones, Geoff reckons—laughs at that, holding his stomach. It leaves a messy handprint behind. Geoff winces.

“What’s in it for us?” Jack asks. “For real? We have the medical training.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure you’ve got your sweet little Denecour—,” Jones manages to start, but at the mention of Caleb’s name, Geoff surges forward.

Jones scrambles back, even though Jack catches the hem of Geoff’s jacket and then his arm before he gets too close to comfort.

“Right,” Jones then mumbles, truly disheveled for the first time, but definitely more curious than before. Geoff likes the fear he’s put in the kid’s eyes.

“Not a word about Denecour,” Geoff warns, tearing his arm free from Jack’s grip. It’s all silence until a familiar sound of police sirens start filling the air. Gavin’s up in mere seconds, tugging Jones along. But he stands his ground, sharp eyes still on Geoff. 

“She’s not ruthless, Geoff,” he says. “Consider that.”

And with that, he grabs the other container and rushes after Free.

Geoff’s left staring after them.

“So, Jones and Free,” says Jack, wonder in her voice as she steps next to him.

“Jones and Free,” Geoff agrees with a sigh.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here, the car’s been running forever,” she then hums, heels already clicking towards the bounty still laid out on the table.

“Right behind ya.”

The bounty promisingly groans when they hoist him up, so maybe Jones and Free aren’t half bad.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s tacky.

The neon sign paints the dark church in pink, and Geoff’s humourless chuckle echoes in the deserted building.

In God we trust, it says.

Geoff likes it and flicks the rest of the lights on.

“I can’t believe you guys are holed up in a fucking church in fucking Little Seoul, what the fuck,” is the first thing Michael says. The fuck echoes in the old building, walls whispering it back to the redhead, and Geoff winces.

“Little respect, please,” he says. Ryan nearly chokes on his food when he cackles.

“To who?” Michael barks, as loud as ever. “To the Korean Jesus?”

Geoff sighs and sits down at the altar, at Jesus’ feet. Jack finds her usual spot in the second row, long legs hoisted up on the back of the first row.

“Jesus, what's up with all the vases?” Gavin asks.

“Urns,” Ryan’s mouth full of something voice echoes from behind the altar.

Geoff shrugs. “Eh, they came with the place.”

“I think they make it cosier,” Jack smirks, and uncrosses and then recrosses her legs the other way. Gavin chuckles, and Michael’s eyes wander up to the ceiling, to the ridiculous disaster of a terrible attempt at what Geoff likes to call Korean Michelangelo. He cackles gleefully at it.

Geoff sighs again, fingers at his temple. “What are you here for, anyway?”

Gavin pokes at an icon—of someone sacred, Geoff’s sure—and it falls over. Jack lazily rolls her head at the noise, but doesn’t bother to move. Ryan, instead, quietly follows in Gavin’s footsteps, straightening and fixing every icon and crucifix he touches.

When did they get to first name basis with these two jackasses, anyway?

“I mean, you got a kidney we can grab?” Michael asks.

“Or, like, a liver, livers are always wanted. Partial’s fine,” Gavin adds as he wanders back into view, sizing Geoff up with his gaze. Geoff looks mostly horrified, and Jack just laughs.

“Probably don’t want his liver,” Ryan chuckles, dark.

“Well, it doesn’t have to be his,” Michael shrugs and looks at Ryan, thoughtful. Ryan—the very scary Vagabond, the terror of Los Santos—backs away a step, straightening into his full height, defensive all of the sudden despite the other’s bare hands. 

The easy amusement from just seconds ago is gone.

“I heard you don't drink,” Michael then says, nonchalant enough to make Ryan flinch. “Must be a great liver, there inside of you.”

“I do drink,” he insists. Jack giggles, honest to God giggles, and Geoff doesn’t know if he’s terrified or to laugh at the absurd noise spilling from her lips.

“Huh,” Michael chuckles. “Shame. Could've sworn I heard a different tale.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Why you bother with the mask?” Geoff asks, and maybe it’s not the best place to ask: the line at McDonald’s, at 4:02 in the morning, with blood splatter on their clothes and gun residue on their hands.

Ryan shrugs.

“You’re always eating, anyway,” Geoff grunts, dissatisfied with the answer, and takes a step forward as the line moves.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ryan asks, and he sounds almost offended. Geoff whips around to look at him.

“No, no! I mean, like, that, um, you always have to have it, like, half-way up, anyway, right? So why even bother, y’know??” he explains. Ryan merely crosses his arms and looks on past Geoff, at the lit up menus above the row of cashiers.

Great, his lapdog assassin thinks Geoff just called him fat. He grumbles.

They queue another five minutes in silence, Ryan ordering for the both of them and Geoff politely paying for the total.

“I’m just saying,” Geoff tries again as he sits down in the booth, opposite Ryan. “Like, it just seems unnecessary.”

“I guess you have a point,” Ryan says, organises the meal on his tray for easier access and finally pulls his mask off. He folds it in his hands, eyes dancing around the display in front of his like he’s not sure where to start.

Geoff stares.

Ryan is handsome. The captivating green of his eyes is just as piercing without the mask, his skin much more tan than Geoff would have ever expected. There’s a facepaint of sorts, a weird white mask of its own, but it doesn’t hide Ryan’s features: sharp jaw Geoff had already known, the cutting edge of his cheekbones—

“Geoff.”

—his dominant nose, dark brows in casual furrow, and his hair, Geoff swears to God, he had never imagined Vagabond sporting a dark ponytail, and not even, like, a tacky one but one of those really on the spot, hot-looking ponytails—

“Geoff!”

“What??”

“Would you stop fucking staring?” Ryan grumbles and digs into his double cheeseburger with extra bacon. “I’m trying to eat.”

“You’re hot,” Geoff blurts out because it’s been an on-going joke for what feels like forever, that Ryan’s simply too handsome to not wear a mask. Turns out, it’s fucking true. He should wear a mask, for the rest of their sakes.

“I told you,” Ryan says, mouth full of burger. A bit of the steak flies from his mouth onto the table. Geoff stares at it, just so he wouldn’t stare at Ryan.

A good ten minutes pass before Ryan tosses a fry at Geoff’s face.

“I told you you would be too distracted,” he muses, so fucking smug. What a smug bastard.

“Fuck you,” Geoff says and shoves eight fries in his mouth. Later though, he does snap a photo to Jack and Jack screenshots it.

 

 

 

 

 

“He’ll kill you.”

Geoff’s eyes blink open. There’s no worry in Jack’s casual voice, it’s more like a matter of fact kind of a thing. Geoff’s hands twist together, sweaty from all the rubbing against one another.

“Well, loving any of us is basically a death sentence, isn’t it?” he murmurs, looking up at the sun. The brightness of a Los Santos midday makes him squint hard. Jack’s head whips around like an accusation, red hair blinding the sunlight.

“I didn’t say anything about loving him,” she says. Geoff looks at her, squinting, and sees his reflection in her aviators. He doesn’t look too fresh.

She breaks into a grin.

“I knew it.”

Geoff scoffs, groans at the sky. “Knew what?”

“That you... care about him!”

He sighs and looks down at his feet, dangling over the ocean. Water hits the legs of the pier over and over and over again.

“I care about all of you, Jack,” Geoff admits over the crashing waves. “You the most.” Jack stutters out a surprised laugh, and Geoff sneaks a hand behind her head, buries it deep in her red curls and kisses her.

Her grin is brighter than a thousand suns when he backs away, and in her lenses, his reflection is smiling too.

He cares about her, the most.

“You big sap,” she says and bumps his shoulder with hers. There’s a smile now, a mellow one on her lips. He looks away.

“Yeah.”

He winces, and he’s not sure if it’s the sun in his eyes or how she didn’t say it back.

 

 

 

 

 

Gavin looks terribly out of place in the armoured car. The car itself: dark, dense, heavy, Ryan’s dutifully cared for matte black of a monster. Gavin: rose gold aviators, button-up shirt not buttoned up, skin not only kissed by the sun but like the sun grabbed him, spun him around, dipped him real low and then made out with him.

He’s laughing, one arm hanging out from the window, air shifting through his fingers with ease. He looks careless, young, free.

“Geoff!”

Geoff snaps out of it not a moment too late: he manages to hit the breaks right on time and now has the chance to admire the adverts on the side of the bus rather than to decorate one of them.

Michael doesn’t look too outraged, or too interested either. He sighs. Geoff looks at the side mirror again. Gavin’s not laughing anymore and the moment’s gone.

“What is it with you these days,” Michael mutters and leans back in his seat, arms up in the air one second and crossed against his chest the next.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Geoff asks as he pushes the car to a slow speed up the curvy hill road of Vinewood.

“Like your head’s not in the game.”

Geoff glances at him before scoffing. Jeremy in the backseat starts humming something faintly familiar—gotta getcha getcha head in the game.

“My head’s in the game,” he argues.

“Right,” Michael just says.

 

 

 

 

 

“The kid’s got his, like, arms and neck smeared with black paint or something,” Geoff explains. “It’s weird, sure, but kid’s got talent, too. He’s a sniper.”

Jack rolls her eyes, because not this again, but Ryan lets out a curious hum.

“Hey, Ryan, sounds like your kind of a guy, like a fucking weirdo,” Michael pipes in from the couch and Gavin tears his attention from the screen long enough to waggle his eyebrows at Ryan. 

Their sudden fit of laughter doesn’t seem to affect either’s gameplay.

It’s Geoff who tells them to shut up and does the classic yawn-and-stretch, ending with him sneaking an arm around Ryan who just look at him with raised eyebrow. He doesn’t say anything, though, just cocks his head and rolls his eyes at Jack.

“Tell me about him,” Ryan asks softly.

Geoff doesn’t look at Ryan, eyes focused on the gameplay. “They call him Brownman.”

 

 

 

 

 

“I gotta be honest here,” Gavin starts. “I feel like you don’t really like me.”

Ryan looks outraged, and whips his arms open, his machete slicing at air only but still making Jeremy take three steps to his left.

“I’ve told you multiple times that I don’t!”

“Bollocks!”

“What do you mean, bollocks? I have!!” Ryan all but fucking roars and then points the machete at Gavin: “I. Don’t. Like. You!”

“What,” Gavin squeaks and his face scrunches up with disbelief, and he gestures to Michael: “You like ‘im, don’t you?”

Geoff holds his sigh and presses his hand harder against the wound under his ribs. The argument doesn’t stop (“I almost stabbed you!!”), just keeps echoing in the large storage unit (“You said it was an accident!!”) but Jack’s there with the liquor so it makes Geoff breathe a little easier.

He kicks Gavin’s side in the middle of a “but we’re a package, you can’t like just one,” and gets his medical attention back, if only for a moment: Gavin murmurs something like “oh, right, yeah,” and moves Geoff's hand out of the way, easing the pressure and allowing blood to flow freely.

“Like hell I can’t! You pick tomatoes out of your burgers!” Ryan argues back, and Gavin scoffs, dropping his hands and already turning around because he’s not the tomatoes to Michael’s burger.

“Hey!” Geoff manages to bark in between, holding the bottle with one hand and rubbing his temples with the other, eyes screwed shut. “You’re giving me a headache.”

Ryan looks distantly hurt by the statement and crosses his arms, defensive. “I don’t think it’s exactly us—”

“Ryan,” Geoff says and points the bottle towards the doors. “That’s enough. You’re on timeout.”

“Aw,” says Ryan but walks away anyway. Not without slashing his machete at a few crates on his way out. Jack looks after him, amused but fond, and smiles at Geoff.

“These kids will be the death of me, darling,” he drawls, all Southern like.

“Nice one, dad,” she simply chuckles.

“Please,” he says, tired. “I don’t have the energy for this, young lady. Go to your room.”

“We share a room.”

Geoff manages to give her a wink and some serious finger guns before he promptly passes out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You know, I’m going to have to start charging you one of these days,” Caleb mumbles, holding Michael's hand still with what he would describe as a death grip. They study the hand with care before shaking their head, “Jesus Christ.” 

Jack can’t help but echo the statement—there are shards of glass and other debris sticking out of Michael’s hand, like it doesn’t look gnarly enough with his pinkie and ring finger pointing at God knows where.

“What?!” Geoff’s voice breaks, pulling a fond chuckle out of Caleb.

“I’m just kidding, old man,” they say, picking up alligator forceps and a small surgical clamp. Michael winces at the sight of the latter. Caleb prepares the instruments with casual familiarity, eyes moving up to meet Geoff’s with an easy smile. “Rather in debt to you than the government.”

Geoff just grumbles, glaring at Caleb, but lets it slide with a simple damn right, kid as he busies himself with his cell phone.

The gears in Gavin’s head, however, are clearly shifting, and he tears his gaze from Caleb and Michael, giving Geoff an incredulous look. “You paid for Denecour’s med school!” Gavin squeals, like he’s all upset, his voice rising an octave.

“He called it a future investment,” Caleb says, nonchalant, and pulls the first shard out of Michael’s hand. Gavin turns to look at their direction and then back at Geoff’s again, clearly baffled by all this.

“Paid off, didn’t it, fuckhead?” Geoff snarls and tilts his head, not sure why Gavin is getting so worked up over something that doesn’t really affect him in any way. Geoff’s a live and let live kind of a guy—yes, he can see how it may seem to conflict with their line of work—and had reckoned Gavin to be one as well.

“Geoff!”

“What? What’s your fucking problem with that, huh? Do you have a problem with Caleb?”

There’s fire in Geoff’s eyes, because even if Gavin might be like an adopted son to him, Caleb’s the kid who he has witnessed growing up, has been there for every step like a fucking foster father or something. The kids, they are—probably, somewhere deep down—equally important to Geoff, but it’s easy to take Caleb’s side here.

Jack decides to stay out of it, and judging by the roll of Caleb’s eyes, they don’t really care about the argument either, focusing on pulling the pieces of glass from Michael’s skin. Gavin looks absolutely annoyed, waving his arms around like the world has greatly wronged him. Geoff pockets his phone and crosses his arms.

“You pay bloody millions for Denecour’s education—probably, pre-med, and all that shit too—but refuse to get me a proper vehicle! That’s bloody bullshit, innit, Geoff!”

There’s a beat of silence before Geoff is laughing and laughing and laughing until he’s coughing, has to bend down with hands on his knees. Michael lets out an audible groan, and Jack can’t help but shake her head.

“Dude, you have six proper vehicles,” Geoff finally manages, wiping a tear from his eye. “You should probably call Pegasus every once in a while.”

The argument dies there then, and Michael gets his hand fixed and Caleb sends them their way good as new.

“D’you reckon I'd have a chance?” Gavin asks as soon as he sits down on the passenger seat of the car. Jack frowns in confusion, watches him buckle the seatbelt he usually never uses. But his gaze is stuck on the main door of Caleb’s apartment building, and he seems to be more in thought than ever.

“Like, to go out with her, y’know?”

Jack opens her mouth, not sure if she’s following, and Michael laughs.

“With...Caleb?”

“Yeah.”

Only now does Gavin look at her, at the puzzled expression on her face. He lets out a squeak that sounds vaguely like a what. Michael mock-imitates him from the backseat, idly picking on the new stitches on his hand.

“Caleb isn’t”, Jack starts. She’s not sure what Gavin knows about Caleb or about gender identities, but she’s sure Caleb doesn’t like ignorant pricks who don’t respect pronouns and such. Her eyes wander for a second as she tries to form words.

It doesn’t help that Gavin’s looking at her like she holds the answers to the universe.

“Caleb’s nonbinary, they don’t...do that,” Jack finally just blurts out, because it’s simply as that: Caleb doesn’t really do she. Jack’s not surprised that it hasn’t come up despite Caleb being open about it: Geoff knows, but Geoff also doesn’t give two shits about things like gender or sexuality or whatever, live and let live. Caleb’s always been Caleb, and that’s that. 

Jack can recall an incident or two where he may or may not have beaten up some jackass who was yelling slurs at Caleb, and that’s how Jack found out. 

Ryan asked, out of politeness, and addressed them as hoped.

But the lads, this was the first time they’ve met Caleb. Jeremy doesn’t care, Jack thinks, and neither does Michael. At least he’s not saying anything, and from what Jack can see, he seems completely unbothered by this information. Gavin however, Gavin looks bemused.

“Oh.” 

He’s suddenly all quiet, his face going through a wave of micro expressions. Jack’s biting her lip, worried what’s to come. She starts the car when Gavin doesn’t say anything else, unable to shake off the uncomfortable feeling his reaction created.

This uneasy tension fills the car, nobody daring to say anything. It lingers in the air, making Jack’s fingers grip the wheel that much tighter. She can see Michael’s unsure eyes shifting between the two of them, worried.

“Bummer,” Gavin speaks up a moment later, head turned towards the tall building again, “Caleb seemed top. Really cute, too.” Then he’s glancing at Jack again, lips twisted in what looks like disappointment. “It’s hard to find people to, like, date in this life, is all,” he waves his hand vaguely, and Jack reckons by this life he means their line of work, the underworld. 

She finally steers Michael’s Adder on the lane, heading towards Geoff’s house. There’s something similar to anger boiling up in her guts, and as much as she would like to give Gavin the benefit of doubt, she can't bring herself to do it.

“You know, being nonbinary doesn't prevent them from dating people. Asshole.”

Gavin frowns.

“Then why did you say they don’t do that?” his tone is accusing, maybe even slightly hurt. “What are you saying, Jack, huh?”

“You just said it’s a ‘bummer’ that Caleb’s nonbinary,” Jack snaps, making the turn sharper that it needs to be, and Gavin hits his head on the window with a hissed ow.

“Um, no?” Gavin argues, rubbing his temple, and Jack kind of wants to knock the stupid accent out of him. “I said bummer, because you said they don’t do that. You know, to my question. I didn’t ask their bloody gender! I mean, thank you for correcting me and whatnot, but that wasn’t my question!”

Jack has to turn to look at him, and he seems so sincerely annoyed by the turn their conversation had taken that she feels like she just missed the point.

Which she, apparently, did.

“Shit, I‘m sorry, Gavin, I thought you were… being not cool about it. About Caleb.”

Thank God they are in a car right now, driving, and Jack doesn’t have to come up with any bullshit excuses to not look at Gavin. Fuck, how did she misinterpret it all like that?

“No, what the hell, Jack, why would I? It’s none of my business, is it? I was just wondering about a bloody date!”

“I just—”

“Jesus, Jack, what do you think of me? Like I would care about that? Sure, maybe I’m not trans, nor am I in a complicated relationship with two guys at once, one of them shagging another dude on the side—”

“Gav,” Michael interrupts from the backseat, reaching to grab Gavin's shoulder, “‘s enough. Jack didn’t mean it like that.” His voice is soft but stern at the same time, and Jack’s grateful for it. Gavin starts to apologise for his outburst, the hurt evident in his tone, but she cuts him short.

“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t—I know you’re not like that. I’m sorry, okay? It's just… You know, I care about Caleb. Geoff cares about Caleb. A lot.”

“Yeah.”

The uncomfortable silence is back—Jack’s driving and Gavin’s staring out of his window, and Michael could cut the awkward with a knife. They manage to make it all the way to Vinewood and into Geoff’s garage like that.

“Caleb probably wouldn’t date your sorry ass,” Michael mutters once they get into the elevator. “They can do so much better than some British tornado of dumb in chrome sunglasses.”

The elevator stops and dings at the same time as an offended hey! escapes Gavin’s mouth.

“You don’t even have bullets for your rifle because you can’t fucking afford them because you keep buying dumb shit,” Michael notes, walking backwards towards Geoff’s door. “How’re you gonna buy them dinner, huh? Or, or, like, nice things? Flowers’n’shit? Or I don’t know, Caleb probably likes something freaky, like bodies in the kitchen, or something.”

“Did you know that Ryan actually seduced Ray like that? Just brought him bodies, dumped them in his kitchen,” Jack chimes in, and they all share a laugh which ends with them starting to reminisce about Ryan’s weirdest moments, and she makes a mental note to thank Michael later.

 

 

 

 

 

Michael can’t shut up and Gavin fidgets with his hands a fucking lot. 

Geoff’s not sure why they would take a fucking five-seater when they have bigger cars but whatever, what’s done is done and he’s squeezed in the backseat between Gavin and Michael.

“Are we there yet?” he asks, wistful, and twists his hands together to keep them from, he doesn’t know, strangling somebody.

“Aw, hun,” Jack coos and meets his eyes in the rearview mirror. “Do we need to stop for a wee?”

“Jack,” Geoff sighs and closes his eyes, rubbing his temple.

“Where the fuck are we going anyway?” Michael questions. He seems restless. Geoff reckons it’s the lack of knowledge that’s got him like that.

“To meet some people,” Jack replies when Geoff doesn’t. She glances at the three of them in the backseat as they stop at a red light. Ryan puts his hand on her thigh, all big and tan against the pasty soft of her thigh. Geoff stares at it.

“Haven’t we met ‘em all? I mean, you’ve got Denecour who is literally never around, anyway, and of course, the super scary Vagabond here and his fucking boyfriend, or whatever, and Lil J, who else is there?” 

Jack chuckles and Geoff outright laughs. Michael looks furious as his head whips around to look at Geoff.

“What, you think we keep the city going with a couple of mercs, a cowboy and three shady surgeons?” Geoff howls. Jack shakes her head, amusement seeping into her expression.

“Well, I don’t fucking know, Geoff,” Michael grunts out, and God, he’s like a fucking fuse.

“Is Jeremy really a cowboy?” Gavin ponders, all genuine curiosity.

Fortunately that’s when Jack stops the car, shifting it to park and shutting the engine.

Ryan’s still pissed at Gavin for spilling his diet coke earlier and won’t leave the car, and Geoff’s not here to argue with goddamn toddlers so Ryan stays behind as the rest of them enter the rather mundane office building.

Mumford & Sons Co, it says on one of the signs, and Gavin stops, points at it, opens his mouth. Nothing comes out, he merely shakes his head and follows the lot of them.

“Lindsay,” Geoff greets as he plops the suitcase on her desk, nodding towards Gavin and Michael. “Ddecided to bring the Dumb and Dumber for a meet and greet.”

Lindsay takes her time to pop the suitcase open, run her fingers over the stacks of money. She picks one up, and only then raises her gaze to Gavin and Michael, both awkwardly hovering by the door before Jack fully shoves them in.

“Oh,” says Lindsay.

“Hey,” says Michael.

Geoff throws himself on one of the leather couches, immediately uncomfortable as the leather squeaks underneath him.

“So Lindsay’s behind the scenes, mostly,” he explains. “Everything goes through her. She’s, like, the brain. Jack’s the brawn, obviously.”

“And what are you?” Gavin muses, wandering around the office aimlessly, seemingly fascinated by everything at once. Then he says, not too interested: “Hi, Lindsay.”

“The looks,” Geoff shrugs.

“Sure,” Lindsay says, and then turns to Michael. “I thought you were going to the gym tonight. I see you’re not, but you still got to pick up the dry cleaning, though.”

“Well, I couldn’t exactly say my new boss was taking me to meet important people,” Michael grunts but struts over to Lindsay anyway, kissing her cheek softly.

“Aw, Geoff, you called me important,” Lindsay grins, fanning her face with her hand. “Geez, you sure know how to make a girl blush.”

“Oh-kay,” Geoff says slowly. His gaze goes from Lindsay to Michael moving to take a seat to Gavin poking at an framed artwork on the wall to Lindsay again. “What’s going on here?”

“Oh, she's my wife,” Michael says nonchalantly.

There’s a beat of silence, only broken by the breaking glass and a shallow oops from Gavin.

“Isn’t she a Tuggey?” Geoff asks.

“I changed my last name to Jones years ago, put in the paperwork and all,” Lindsay provides from behind the desk. She’s making a quick work of the cash: stacks are in neat rows, each counted by hand and machine before laid down. “Besides, women can keep their own names when they get married these days. Jesus, Geoff, welcome to the 21st century.”

“So,” Jack starts, pushes herself off the wall and plops herself onto the couch next to Geoff. “You’ve been married to each other without knowing about... this, us?”

“Well,” Lindsay starts, never taking a break from the stacks. “I am an accountant and he is a surgeon…”

“I mean, who does anything legally in Los Santos?” Michael murmurs under his breath, scratching the back of his neck. “We don’t bring work home.”

Geoff stares at him.

Lindsay stops counting, looks at Geoff.

“Wait, is my husband supposed to be the Dumb or the Dumber?”

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan comes in so quietly Geoff jumps, a startled plea for Jesus H. Christ himself escaping his lips. Caleb merely turns around, giving Ryan a look that isn’t all that quick or nonjudgemental.

Gavin struggles to get up on his elbows, a hand flying to cover the bandages on his stomach as he grunts.

“Here, buddy, I got you a cake,” Ryan says, a little sheepish, and ducks his head down but provides: he lifts up a rectangular box, white with a conditoria logo on the side of it.

“Aw, Ryebread!” Gavin's voice is cheerful. “I knew you didn’t proper hate me!”

Ryan rolls his eyes but steps forward with the cake anyway. Caleb follows quickly in his steps, helps Gavin up into a sitting position by stacking pillows behind him. Ryan plants the box on Gavin’s lap and backs up, standing next to Geoff.

“You're top, no one’s brought me cake,” Gavin grins as he shuffles the cover off, but his face drops as he sees what’s inside. Caleb’s expression grows tired, too, and when they look at Ryan, they cross their arms.

“Geoff,” they say, in the way one parent would say to another.

“What,” goes Geoff. “What is it?”

He takes a step closer, rising up to his tippy toes, and yup, there it is: Sorry You Got Stabbed. Cursive icing and all.

“Sorry you got stabbed?” Gavin reads it out loud. Ryan looks hopeful. Geoff's waiting, for there's a big pregnant something in the room. “Sorry you got stabbed?! Ryan!! I got stabbed because of you!! You stabbed me!!!” Gavin all but screeches then, and Geoff has just enough time to duck out of the way of a handful of cake flying through the air. It hits the wall behind him, some splashes of icing painting Ryan's leather jacket white.

Geoff's pretty sure Ryan lets the next handful hit him in the face, as a part of the apology.

Gavin's furious. “You can’t get a guy you stabbed a cake that says ‘Sorry you got stabbed’ when you’re the stabber!!”

“It was an honest mistake!”

The next handful hits Ryan's crotch, and he grunts, sinking lower.

“That’s some dense cake,” Geoff notes. Ryan raises his gaze and gives Geoff a look murderous enough to send him away.

“A’ight, love you kids but I gotta bounce, play nice,” he says and points at Caleb: “You’re the responsible one.”

“Geoff—!” they start to rush after him, but he slams the door shut and makes a beeline for his car. He isn’t dealing with this, not tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan, despite all his cool and unphased vibes, is controlled by his emotions, Geoff realises. If a personality quiz were to ask, “Your emotions control you more than you control your emotions,” Ryan’s answer would have to be “I fully agree.”

It’s a good thing, at times. Ryan’s not afraid to love if he loves, Ryan’s not afraid to step in if he feels like he should. Then, at other times, it’s not a good thing: Ryan does get frustrated. He’ll hurt people, just because, momentarily, he feels so.

There’s no in between, no impulse control. Ryan feels, Ryan does.

”Ryan,” Geoff starts.

”Mmhm?”

”What if you stop liking us,” Geoff wonders, ”like, what if at some point, you get sick of us, you decide you’re done?”

Ryan looks up from his phone, and Geoff can’t quite see because of the mask, but he likes to think Ryan’s considering it. Then Ryan shrugs, gets back to his phone. ”I don’t know, Geoff, I guess I’ll be done then.” 

His voice is terribly nonchalant. It makes Geoff’s skin crawl.

”What’ll you do?” he pushes it.

This time, Ryan doesn’t even look up. ”Whatever I feel like doing.”

It sends shivers down Geoff’s spine. The thought, the idea of dangerous Ryan, nonchalantly violent Ryan, is oddly fascinating. 

Geoff’s fingertips tingle.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s nice to get out of the city every once in a while. Their hectic lives slow down, sometimes to the point where all three of them feel like normal humans. You know, like those with a 9-5 job and a family to go home to. House mortgage and all.

Ryan’s heartbeat must be steady under Jack’s hand and his chest warm. He has an arm draped around her waist, fingers softly stroking the little strip of skin under her shirt. It’s warm, and it's quiet, peaceful even. 

The hammock was a nice touch, they have to give that to Gavin.

“Look at you,” Geoff's chuckles as he slips to the patio, but it doesn’t startle either of the two. The chair he chooses to settle on lets out a quiet whine. Ryan doesn’t move, and Jack doesn’t open her eyes. “All wrapped around her finger.”

Ryan hums to acknowledge Geoff’s words, but doesn’t seem to care—his fingers start on her skin again. He has one leg down, his foot making the hammock rock back and forth at a gentle pace, and another tangled with Jack’s. 

Geoff just snorts, sneaking his own legs into the mix.

A comfortable silence falls on the patio, and yeah, it’s peaceful.

 

 

 

 

 

“Would you look at that,” Geoff sighs. “My own fucking kids. Fucking dating and shit. What the fuck do they think they’re doing. Idiots.” His words don't have nearly enough bite to them to sound as bitter as he probably meant them to.

“Let kids be kids, Geoff,” Ryan notes from the backseat.

“Yeah, I mean, yolo,” Ray offers his two cents nonchalantly, all too focused on rolling a joint. Geoff just scoffs, tugging the cigarette from his lips. His elbow settles on the opening, flicking ashes out of the window, and his fingers start a steady, nervous rhythm against his thigh, following the lead of his tapping foot.

Jack covers his hand with hers. His movements die one by one—first goes the fingers, then the foot—and he turns to look at her. It’s almost funny, the way he looks like a concerned dad with tired eyes and even more tired frown. But there’s something fond in the curve of his lips, something soft in the corner of his eyes.

Geoff turns his hand palm up, and Jack laces her fingers with his. It’s familiar, comforting. A reminder, that sometimes it’s good to have a constant in your life, something that keeps you grounded when you need it.

The moment is broken by disgruntled sounds from the backseat. Jack tilts her head at the rear view mirror, following the scene that's unfolding back there—Ray trying to climb on Ryan’s lap, very determined to do some “grade A shotgunning,” while Ryan’s pushing his face away with one hand and scrubbing the blood off his mask with the other.

“Hey. Hey! Assholes!” Geoff’s hand leaves Jack's as he turns around. “Knock it off! Don’t make me come back there!”

Jack catches the steering wheel again, not wanting to get in the middle of it. She has some serious trouble trying not to laugh as it is. It’s difficult when your boss slash boyfriend is pulling your other boyfriend’s kind of a boyfriend’s leg in order to stop him doing what he wants. Which, in this case, is shotgunning.

Well, she supposes it’s better to have Geoff focused on that shit rather than the heated make-out session that’s currently happening outside. Caleb’s hands are in Gavin's hair, his stupidly expensive sunglasses all askew and everything. Now, if only Gavin were to put his hands any lower on Caleb’s waist, Geoff would have his fucking head. And probably give some serious talk to Caleb. Like the fucking dad he is.

Jack decides to honk the horn, and the couple jumps apart, both more or less flustered. Their conversation is inaudible, but from the looks of it—Gavin rubbing the back of his neck, Caleb's eyes glued to their shoes—they are probably scheduling another date or so. 

Oh, to be young and in love.

At least Jack’s got the latter.

 

 

 

 

 

“Why do you let them call Ryan the king?”

Jack’s voice is earnest, her breath warm against the crook of his neck. He strokes an idle finger across her shoulder, acknowledging the question.

They do call Ryan the king. The Mad King. He doesn’t like it, doesn’t care for it, but it makes Ryan hum with an odd satisfaction.

But what Ryan doesn’t know, what Jack doesn’t know, is that the throne is a lonely place. Geoff’s not sure if the power alone is enough to keep him feeling high anymore.

Geoff doesn’t know if he’s a king, exactly.

 

 

 

 

 

“The guy’s bloody dead,” Gavin says, disappointed.

“Well,” says Ryan without a hint of apology in his voice. “You can’t win them all.”

Gavin sighs like he’s disappointed but pulls his gloves out anyway. He crouches next to the body, and Ryan follows his movements carefully, curious. Geoff, even at a distance, makes a face of disgust when he realises Gavin studies the body for fucking harvesting purposes. He pokes at the mask covering the dead guy's face, and when it doesn’t move, he starts to poke at the mask with his drill.

The mask doesn’t give.

“Oh my God, how do you take this mask off?” Gavin huffs in frustration, the drill in his hand giving an almost disappointed whirl as it comes to a stop. 

Geoff’s a little scared of the kid.

“Maybe the drill’s not an answer,” Gavin then murmurs, probably more to himself than Geoff, and yeah, Geoff can agree: the poor mask dude has severely bleeding fucking drill holes in his fucking face. Fucking Gavin.

“You criminals are unbelievable, this mask thing is just dumb, what are these made out of,” he keeps muttering and shakes his head as he’s feeling around the dude’s head, trying to find an edge.

“What do you mean you criminals? You’re a criminal, too,” Geoff snaps, oddly offended.

“What, no??” Gavin frowns like he just heard the most absurd thing in the world.

“What, yes!!”

“No, look, me and my boi are like... Robin Hood! But, like, organs. Like, we give the extra organs to those who need organs.”

“Everybody needs their organs!!”

“Dead people don't!!” Gavin argues and gives up with the mask. He opens the guy's mouth, running his thumb along the pearly whites. “I guess we’ll snag his teeth out, then, they look fine,” he mumbles, more to himself than Ryan, who curiously leans down to peer over Gavin’s shoulder.

“How do you get the teeth out?” he asks.

Michael takes the drill saw from Gavin’s hands. “Not with this, you dumbass.”

Gavin gasps in realisation, eyes wide and with that certified Gavin Free sparkle in them.

“Let's take his whole skull with the teeth in! That’ll go for two grand, easy. Maybe three if he has like, a nice shaped skull. Doesn’t matter if the mask stays on.”

 

 

 

 

 

It’s painfully poetic when it happens: the night quiet for once, Geoff on his knees, his city’s skyline bright behind him.

“Put your hands behind your head, Geoff.”

Friends, you can’t trust. Isn’t that what they say? Ryan once told him there are two reasons not to trust someone: one, because you don’t know them, and two, because you know them.

It was funny, back then.

Ryan’s facepaint starts to drag down his face in the rain. There’s no apology in his piercing green eyes. Geoff can respect that, for Geoff knew this might happen one day.

Lazily, he places his hand on the back of his head, fingers intertwining.

“Ryan,” and it’s not a plea.

Ryan chuckles. His stance is terribly relaxed, almost frighteningly so, the assault rifle hanging on his shoulder and the butterfly knife flipping open and close in his hand, quick flashes of movement. Flip flip flip. Flip flip flip.

“Look at you,” he says, and it’s almost fond. Flip flip flip. Then, he chuckles, again: “Just a king and a rusty throne.”

“A rusty throne,” Geoff echoes with a hoarse voice.

“Yeah,” Ryan agrees. Flip flip flip as he circles around Geoff. “The righteous king, the savior.” Flip flip flip. “You really thought you could save this city and everyone in it.” Flip flip flip. “You know, Geoff, justice is nothing but vengeance in pretty packaging.”

“It’s not—”

“It is!” Ryan snaps, controlled but still. Flip flip flip, and he takes a deep breath. “It is, Geoff, it is fucking stupid. You were getting delusional with your... grande dreams.”

“They're not dreams, they’re…” but he trails off, eyes searching the gravel of the rooftop. Unfortunately, there are no answers there. Flip flip flip. Flip flip flip. Flip flip. Flip.

It stops. The circling steps on the gravel stop.

“Yeah? They’re what?” Ryan prompts.

Geoff swallows.

 

 

 

 

 

“Are we having fun yet, Ryan?”

Geoff’s panting, Ryan’s panting. They’re still, there’s only blood running from Geoff's nose and heart thumping in Ryan’s bruised throat. The reality of the situation is fucking obvious: no one’s having fun and Geoff just wants to go home, wants to go home with Ryan, with the almighty Vagabond, his Vagabond.

Ryan spits, and it’s more blood and less saliva, and he laughs.

“I hope you rot, inside out,” he says and wipes the back of his hand across his split lip. It leaves a streak of red behind, a stark contrast to the pale of his skin. “You’ve already started to.”

That's right, Ryan, Geoff thinks. Bare your teeth, bare them for me. I’ll pull ‘em out. One by fucking one.

“Should’ve known hungry dogs are never loyal,” he shivers.

“Ah,” Ryan tsks, amused. “The pot, the kettle.”

“We’re not the same. We will never be.”

“Geoff,” Ryan hums, and his voice is soft, like silk and something akin to how Geoff imagines sirens sound like to seamen. “Stop being so scared.”

“I’m not scared,” and his voice stumbles.

“But you are,” and Ryan’s sure got lot to say for someone with a stab wound in his gut and an edge of a roof underneath his feet. He's smiling a wicked smile, what’s left of his facepaint mere streaks on his face. His green eyes are piercing, even in the dark, and they’re laughing, at Geoff.

“Ryan,” and it’s a plea. Geoff’s tired.

The Vagabond laughs until he coughs, dropping on his knees. It looks harsh, nowhere near as smooth as it always is in those mob films, but he laughs all the way through, his hand slipping into his gut. There’s blood between his teeth when he smiles, chin proudly up, at Geoff: “You’re scared, Ramsey, and it’s pitiful.”

Geoff flinches at the harsh tone. “If you’re not scared, you’re not human." His fingers tighten around the handle of his blade. Or his—it’s Ryan’s butterfly knife.

“Kinda the point,” Ryan whispers, like he’s suddenly out of breath.

Geoff feels an odd beat in his chest. He grinds his teeth together, through it, and tsks. “Fear makes you look bigger.”

Ryan laughs into the starry night, wheezing.

“You know how this is going to end for you?”

“Yeah?” he hums, smug, all white teeth glinting as he grins along like this is some sort of a stand-up show where he’s the main act. Like he isn’t going to die here, tonight.

“Hint,” Geoff says, taking all the steps to get to Ryan, “harmful.”

With that, with the sole of his foot on Ryan’s heavy chest, he pushes.

Ryan goes off the edge of the building, not making a sound on his way down.

 

 

 

 

 

“Jack said you’re gonna be the death of me,” Geoff mentions.

“Aw,” says Ryan, reaching for his hand, “babe.”

“Shut up,” he scoffs, pulling his hand to himself. That one fucking time he tries to be fucking romantic, for fuck's sake—

“And get this,” Jack pipes up from the living room, her hurricane of red hair barely visible over the back of the couch. “He said, ‘Then that’s the way I want to go’.”

“Did not!” Geoff barks back, voice cracking towards the end. Ryan pushes himself up on his feet, presses his lips against Geoff’s and struts away, just like that. How dare he.

“Didn’t I throw you off a building?” Geoff yells after him, reaching for the still unopened beer he took out of the fridge before he realised his life is turning into a proper, real life romcom.

“I forgive you,” Ryan all but grins before he plops himself down on the couch, next to Jack, a hand wandering into her hair.

“Well!” Geoff’s outraged. “I didn’t apologise!!”

They both look at him over the couch, Jack tired and Ryan amused, and Geoff isn’t really left with any other option but to join them on the lumpy couch far too small for three people to sit in any other but fully formal way. And yet, they’re everything but: Jack using Ryan’s chest as a pillow with her legs resting in Geoff’s lap, his feet tangled somewhere between Ryan’s. 

But it’s cosy and it’s home and he regrets throwing Ryan off a building. But only a little.