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Sometimes You Take the Mask Off

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You have a job. You wear a mask to work.

Van pushed the face shield up on top of his head. Sweat poured down his face, almost into his eyes. Twenty minutes of torchwork hadn't got through the door of the safe. Add to that the ten minutes it took to break into the checkcashing store, and the other five minutes to get into the room with the safe, and Van figured that tonight would be the night they got caught, and Charlie Noria's pawnshop/checkcashing/currency exchange robbing spree would be over. Thank fucking god.

He picked up the torch again, was about to turn it on, when he heard a thud, quickly followed by another. He turned, blinked, and brought the torch up over his head, to block the crow bar heading straight for him.

The crowbar got his fingers and he screeched, but turned the pain into forward momentum. He punched his assailant (black guy, gray hair, wrinkles, fat) in the nuts, followed with a head butt to the stomach.

The guy went down and Van went up, stood up, kicked him hard once, twice, three times before he remembered that he was a cop, that he couldn't kill someone because they broke his hand and it hurt like a motherfucker. Then the old man groaned and reached for the crowbar, so Van kicked him some more. The guy stopped reaching, start to curl into a ball, so Van hit him in the face, awkward, strange punches with his left hand. The guy stopped moving.

"Noria! Let's get the hell out of here." He didn't want to get caught with a broken hand. Billie would wrangle them out, but it would take hours of sitting around. "Noria, where the fuck—?" Van tripped, caught himself with his bad hand and saw stars. When he looked down, Noria was stretched out, blood oozing from the back of his head. "Shit."

That's when the door swung open and Billie marched through, uniforms at her back.


Sometimes you take the mask off.

"Why did it take four hours to get me to the Emergency Room, Billie? Why?" Van was now in the Emergency Room, in an examination room. It had taken another hour and a half for a doctor to see Van, and thirty minutes to get an x-ray. And not so much as an aspirin in the past six hours for Van.

Billie sighed and looked away. "I told you already, Van. The uniforms I had with me were just cops responding to a silent alarm. They had no preparation, no notice that something funny was going down before I got there. Your cover would have been blown if you hadn't gotten processed normally."

"But I told you I broke my hand, Billie!" A vicious hiss, when Van really wanted to scream.

She didn't turn to face him, just shrugged and stood up, walked away. "I thought you were exaggerating. I was wrong." She put her hand on the door, turned the knob. "I'm going to send Deaq in here. I've got to straighten out getting Noria charged for the whole string of robberies he pulled, save your ass from getting brought up on assault, fun things like that.

"Call in tomorrow."

But even when you’re home, you can’t be naked.


"Oh, man, they gave you the good drugs." Deaq snorted.

Van shrugged, then kept trying to work his good hand inside Deaq's shirt. "You still have a key to my suite, right?"


"Then use it. I'm fucking freezing." He wrapped himself tighter around Deaq, head on his partner's shoulders, right wrist rubbing up and down Deaq's thigh.

"Well, if Mr. Octopus hands would back off a little, I could probably work the door."

Van stood up straight and glared at Deaq's back, then followed him inside. "It's too late for room service. Call that Indian place and get me something hot. I'm starving."

Van went in his bedroom, changed clothes, pulled on a pair of soft, worn sweats and cheap, fuzzy bedroom slippers. He could hear Deaq on the phone, the door muffling Deaq's sharp tones into nonsense.

Deaq was hanging up as Van walked back in. "And, yes, I remembered to order naan and yogurt sauce. Don't even ask."

Van raised an eyebrow, sat on the couch. "What the hell do you have to be pissy for? Billie kept the cops from beating on you, didn't she?"

"Yeah, man. No, it's just…."

Van turned to look as Deaq sat on the couch beside him. "It's just what?"

Deaq wrapped his arms around Van, placed a kiss on his temple. "I hate to see you hurt, baby. Six and a half hours in pain for no good goddamn reason. Because Noria didn't hear an old man sneak up on him."

Van stiffened, pulled away. He stood up and didn't look at Deaq. "Don't call me that. And get the fuck out of my hotel. I'm not some chick."

Deaq huffed, and from the sound of it, Van knew he was rolling his eyes. "Let me try again in man talk. Ain't nobody should be able to get the drop on my partner, and I'm pissed as hell I ain't have your back." He hooked a finger in the sagging elastic of Van's pants and tugged. "Better?"

Van let himself be pulled down, into Deaq's lap this time. He tilted his head to one side, and Deaq obliged him by nibbling along his neck. "Whatever."