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Crew Chief

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"Fuck."

Dallas could feel the warm blood flow back towards where it came, filling his nose and sinus until it ran thickly down his throat. He rolled his head to the side and coughed, hoping to clear his airways, but his mask was still tightly bound to his face and it didn't leave much room for expulsion.

Shards of glass and twisted metal dug into the back of his scalp as he moved and he winced at the pain, a more than potent addition to the suffering. The yelling and the sputters of gunfire were muffled by the blood pounding in his ears, or maybe they were muffled by the built up of painful pressure, making it feel like his head was about to explode as it blocked his senses.

"Gang, the van just arrived, make your way down the east corridor!" As Bain's voice crackled through his earpiece, a dizzying bolt of nausea shot through his skull.

His head already felt like a snow globe in the hands of an overzealous kid, who kept shaking and shaking and shaking while screaming and yelling and screaming and yelling. His brain felt like jelly, sloshed around to the point of pure liquid, blended violently into a drink.

This was not good.

Amidst the sounds of bullets and glass shattering and the thunderous applause of boots, he could hear, just barely, the panicked screams of Wolf. He was screeching about a dozer, words drenched in his Swedish lilt. That was a good sign. It meant that at least one person of the crew was still up and running with enough energy to breathe and talk. He tried not to dwell on the possibilities of the others.

Back to his own situation on hand, Dallas experimentally shifted his shoulder and a sharp pang of pain shot down his body as he gurgled a bloody groan. This was not his day. He gingerly tested his other shoulder, feeling only pulsing aches, so he rolled onto it to try and orient himself. He could hardly see through the blood and sweat and grime running between his mask and skin and he coughed again to rid the blood from his throat. Too many bodies, too many shields running around, not to mention the rounds of bullets flying overhead. An inch higher, and he'd have the top of his head turned into Swiss fucking cheese.

He pressed his forehead to the floor, feeling nausea starting to kick in. His stomach churned and threatened to up the coffee he had that morning. Wolf's screeching pierced his hearing again and Dallas tried to look around once more and tried to devise a plan to help his crew mate. It was his responsibility as the crew leader to oversee the wellbeing of the heist and heisters, he had to help. He tried to call Wolf, but his hoarse yell couldn't penetrate the wall of sound and he cursed to himself and yelled once more, feeling more and more hopeless.

This wasn't supposed to happen. This wasn't part of the plan. The four of them had walked into what was supposed to be a simple contract; destroy $50 000 worth of property. They didn't need to perform any search or rescue, there was little to no need for coordination. Just fucking pull the trigger and avoid civilians. All they were required to do was to damage shit. No elaborate assassinations, no schemes, no fucking shit—just shoot a couple of cars, smash fancy vases, maybe burn down the gym.

It had all happened too quickly; there had been patrolling officers on their break at the entrance of the mall, each stuffing their faces with the pastries from the mall cafe. The presence of the officers should have piqued Dallas' interest, but it didn't. He waved it off as a mere coincidence, just a couple of law enforcers—nothing Payday couldn't handle.

They must have been tipped off because as soon as the four had entered the mall, it had been empty, void of human presence—something all four of them neglected to note.

Wolf had opened fire immediately, bullets ripping through sheets of glass as he gleefully held down the trigger, joyful that he was able to fire an assault rifle without the imminent dangers of being in a firefight. He had practically pranced down the main hall through the rain of shattered glass, twirling and whistling. Dallas remembered pausing, feeling a bad omen of sorts, as he pulled out his own pistol.

A series of shots had rung through the mall, bouncing off the polished linoleum and hard walls. Wolf whipped his head back, just in time to watch Hoxton get hit by a bullet. He gasped for air, staggering from the impact, nearly falling onto his knees. He swore loudly and swivelled around to Dallas, swearing again when met with the sight of a SWAT team advancing up the stairs, their guns still firing.

If not for the ballistic vest, Hoxton would have had to be left to bleed out, but instead he collected a fresh bruise and the sudden need to duck for cover. Unfortunately, the crew had divided themselves as they ran for refuge behind counters and escalators, another mistake that had led to their downfall.

Dallas could continue to bitterly reminisce, but that was in the past, meant for later analyzing for later heists. For now, Dallas stayed under fire, his eyes dutifully combing the area. He could see just catch a glimpse of Wolf rising up from behind a counter to empty his gun at the horde before him. At the adjacent counter, he could see Hoxton crouched with just his pistol, despite the lack of power he held in the small weapon, the two managed to thin the police line until the assault dissolved. Wolf and Hoxton both grabbed a bag of loot and darted from under the counters towards Dallas.

Mustering up what little strength he had left, he shouted, "No! NO!" He swept his less injured arm to the side twice as to communicate to fuck off. It wasn't viable that they save him now. He was too far and too injured, all three of them wouldn't make it to the getaway on time. They both froze on the spot, but Hoxton was the first to regain his composure. Wolf on the other hand, looked wholly torn. He was about to disobey and run towards him, but Hoxton grabbed the loop of the bag on his back and tugged hard. Dallas watched as Wolf struggled against his hold, but eventually follow. The two running figures became smaller and smaller, disappearing completely as they turned a corner.

Dallas let his body go lax. There was no use fighting it now. He was starting to get dizzy from the blood seeping out from his leg. At least, he thought it was his leg. He wasn't entirely sure. His body ached all over, but the aching was so saturated equally throughout his body, it just felt like pulsing numbness. The floor beneath his ear was lukewarm and wet, probably from the drip and trail from his nose. The next assault was to begin and he would be swarmed soon.

In the most inappropriate of times, he realized something: he could die.

There was no way the blood loss was healthy and there was no way he didn't have a concussion. He had been laying here long enough for the injuries to be detrimental. And he doubted with the civilian kills under his belt, the police would be keen to keep him alive. Especially since his death could be easily marked as an accident, just a fatality through the firefight.

If he didn't die, well, he'd be locked up. Probably better than Hoxton this time, because those bastards wouldn't want a repeat of what had happened. And they had plenty to keep him in prison for life and longer. He might as well be dead then.

Dallas groaned. It had been a decision that had to be made, but he was glad he responded quickly. It meant that at least two of the crew was able to make it out alive and free. He couldn't—wouldn't—imagine what it would be like to have all four of them imprisoned. Come to think of it, where was Chains? Dallas hoped the man was at least in cover, if not, with the rest.

"Dallas!"

Speak of the devil. Dallas cracked open his eyes as he felt himself being pulled upwards. Chain's menacing mask was pushed into his face, yelling, shouting. Something.

"Hnnghh," was all Dallas could manage. Blood was starting to pour down his throat again, the taste of metal souring his mouth.

"Come on, man," Chains propped him up, an arm curled around his shoulders to support him. His free hand came up to pat Dallas lightly on the cheek of his mask. "Come on. Don't fail us now."

Dallas scoffed and shook his head. He already did. "Geddow. Now." His voice was muffled through the thick material of his mask. He could just see Chains look of disbelief through his own.

"I came back for you, don't make me go back out there empty handed."

Dallas half-coughed, half-chuckled at that. Chains, forever dependable, even when you didn't want him to be. Vaguely, Dallas felt justified in having chosen Chains as the next leader if anything were to happen to him. It would be a shame if both them were to get caught here—whether by bullets or the law.

"Out," Dallas repeated. He tried to pull away, but his body wouldn't follow. He was far too weak now. Chains flipped up his own mask and gave him a stern look, his bright eyes were as sharp as ever as they looked over him. He didn't look like a man who would listen to any ifs, ands, or buts. Face stained with sweat, he was thoughtful for a moment before speaking.

"Can you stand on your own?" he asked patiently. Despite the time constraints they were both in, Dallas revered in the fact that Chains didn't sacrifice any of his kindness, even in asking a simple and rather critical question.

Could he stand on his own? No. He couldn't. Not with the torn flesh in his leg that acted as a drain for his blood and not with the searing pain in his shoulder. He was doomed for. But he couldn't tell Chains to leave him like he did to Wolf and Hoxton. It was different here and Dallas couldn't place why. For a brief moment in the chaos and pain, Dallas felt okay. He felt safe. Not physically comfortable in anyway, there were still some major injuries, damn it, but Dallas felt hopeful. He winced as Chains pulled up his mask, feeling the automatic reaction to ask him what the fuck he was doing; there could be cameras around, police, civilians, anyone, anything. But then he realized he was crying.

It didn't help the waterworks when he realized that he was, indeed, crying and in front of someone, no less. But Chains didn't make a face or a comment. Instead, he wrapped his arm tighter around his shoulders and tucked his head under his own bearded chin. And as for Dallas, well, the tears were just free flowing now, as opposed to what they were before—silent and slightly less pathetic. He was hiccuping, too, and he was all too aware of how ridiculous and pathetic he looked and sounded. Jesus. At least he wasn't sobbing.

He wasn't ready to die. He wasn't ready to go. Not yet, not ever. He had so much left to do in this world.

Chains brought his other hand up and quickly wiped away the tears. "It's okay," he said. "You're going to be okay."

"No, we're not," Dallas choked out, hoarse against the backdrop of the beginning of the next assault. Chains looked grim as he flipped their masks back down accordingly. They weren't going to make it. Dallas mentally cursed, hot tears rolling down to his chin and dripping onto his ruined suit. It was his fault, he wouldn't turn Chains away. He couldn't.

Chains scooped him up into his arms, careful to make sure he was secure before he took off, running like his life—and Dallas'—depended on it. He barely held on, being bumped and jostled around, as Chains ran through the building, clipping down the stairs. They weren't going to make it. Dallas could hear the laboured breathing seeping out from under Chains' mask as he carried him towards the getaway. There was shouting and then the sharp rumbling of bullets. It was all a dizzying blur and Dallas could feel the edges of his vision melt and fold inwards. He was tired. He was so tired. The unconscious lured him with promises of sleep and painlessness. Such an enticing state compared to the sharp reality of feeling like his arm was going to fall off or feeling like his leg had already split from his knee and was dangling dangerously by a nerve.

Though heavy gasps, Chains provided reassurance, "Almost there," he said. Dallas clung to him with what strength he could muster, thankful for Chains compassionate nature.

To try and distract from the pain, Dallas began to think of the other two. Chains hadn't mentioned them being back at the getaway and Dallas began to worry, instead. Where were they? They had a clear shot out of the building.

"We're there," Chains rasped. "We're there." He climbed up the stairs, clearly exhausted by the gait of his run. The sound of the thick blades chopped through the air, rippling in their ears as it sped up to prepare for flight. Alex's shouting was nearly drowned out by his aircraft, though the two got the gist of his urgency. With a grunt, Chains lifted Dallas up and laid him on the floor of the helicopter before climbing in. It was empty. Wolf and Hoxton wasn't there.

Dazed, Dallas shifted his head to face Chains gulping air. "Where's Wolf and Hoxton?" he asked weakly. Chains shook his head, each shake more feeble, as the helicopter took off into the air, tilting as it turned. Dallas felt his stomach flip, a great addition to his already aching and hurting body.

"With the van, they're fine," Chains heaved a breath. He was in thought for a moment and Dallas steeled himself for what was to come. "Hoxton's fine, but Wolf was injured." He said this part in a matter of fact tone, it was his reporting to the commander tone, one that Dallas was grateful for. It meant that he still respected him enough consider him as one, despite the moment of weakness Dallas had in the building. Chains watched him closely with a sympathetic look. "It wasn't your fault."

But it wasn't supposed to be like this. They had a solid contract with a solid contractor. They were to carry it out like the professionals they were. They had—or should have had—the proper intel, equipment, everything. They have been doing this for a few years with little to no fuck ups, the worst was getting Hoxton caught up in the whole prison fiasco, but that wasn't entirely Payday's wrongdoing. It was just trusting the wrong guy.

"Fuck," was all Dallas could say. Maybe Wolf did trust the wrong guy and, this time, it was Dallas himself. He fucked up, he really fucked it up. He let a man who depended on him down. Dallas was supposed to be better than this.

"Wolf is going to be fine," Chains said quietly.

Dallas shook his head, "Don't lie to me, man." He didn't need the coddling, the reassurances, nor the blatant kindness, because he didn't deserve it, not after sending Wolf out there to be gunned down like a rabid dog.

Dallas could already feel the fury of Hoxton's rage. The Brit was not, by any means, heartless, but was often indifferent about any crew injuries, especially his own. Headstrong and crass, Hoxton just simply had no patience for any gentleness, uncaring about the sensitivities of others. But all of that was off the table if Wolf was hurt. A paper cut, a bruise, Hoxton didn't give two shits like the rest of them, but the big ones, the critical ones, Hoxton's anger was one Dallas wasn't too keen to face nor discipline. He was just about to plan his words when Chains' voice broke him out of his reverie,

"I'll handle Hoxton," he said, as if reading his mind. Dallas shook his head.

"It's not your responsibility."

Chains gave him an odd look. "It doesn't have to be yours."

--

Bain had hired private doctors and surgeons to tend to their wounds back at the newly built safe house. With some relief, Dallas had found himself to be the only critically injured, glad that Wolf only needed a single bullet pulled out of him.

Dallas was in his room now, tubes extending down from bags to provide him fluids through his veins. He was disoriented and his mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton balls and his tongue was thick and dry and unresponsive. Clumsy. His entire body felt caked with unseen grime, dryness starting to settle into his skin. Pain was present already, ebbing ominously as it wasn't in full strength just yet. The drugs kept it at bay, but the same drugs were starting to dissipate. The next scheduled administration was still hours away and Dallas already couldn't wait.

He heard a small, but firm knock at the door, and he tried to give some verbal response. A weak groan came out instead.

"I'll take that as come in," and Chains appeared with a tray in his hands, a pitcher of water and a glass cup balancing on it steadily. He set the tray down before dragging one of Dallas' armchairs to the bedside. Dallas could barely turn his head to look at the man.

Chains had a few bandages taped over his forehead and knuckles, but Dallas knew there were more injuries beneath his skin—he would have torn or strained something on his run through the building and up a flight of stairs carrying a full grown man while wearing a full suit of bulletproof armour. All that and while dodging enemy fire.

"How're you doing, chief?"

Dallas grunted in response. He didn't quite have full control of his facial muscles just yet and he didn't want to attempt at speaking again. He had to settle with a minimal grunt. It almost came out apathetic, but he was sure Chains understood what he had meant.

Chains smiled warmly as he sat back into the armchair, wincing only slightly as he did so. He had so much life in him still when it would be fair that he'd be drained of it. He was a happy-go-lucky character, smiling, energetic, a man with eyes and a smile that would brighten the darkest room. He was warm and he was sensible and rather sympathetic despite the childhood he had endured. He had bounced from foster homes to juvie and back, not uncommon for people in their line of work, and just like the common thieves, Chains didn't have quite the homely nurture needed for his empathy to flourish, but, unlike them all, it did flourish and it did it beautifully. He was so different from any of the other crew members, all soiled and left cold and brittle from their histories of misfortune and bad mistakes. Chains stayed warm. He stayed present.

Dallas wanted to thank him earnestly for having been by his side all these years. Payday was an odd family to have, but it was better than most criminal organizations. There was a clear sense of security when it came to the members of the group—they were all fiercely loyal to each other to the core of their beings and Dallas figured that was what made Payday one of the top organized crime networks; they were friends first, criminals second.

Chains reached out and gave Dallas a reassuring squeeze on his unmarred forearm. He didn't look too happy now. "The bullet cut through Wolf's shoulder. He'll probably be out of commission for a while." Dallas shut his eyes. But at least Wolf was alive. At this point, Dallas didn't give a fuck about anything else. They were all too lucky to have gotten out of there alive with all their limbs.

"His collarbone—it's pretty fucked, Dallas." Chains let go of his arm. "I don't think he'll be ready, not for another year."

Dallas drew a deep breath. If Wolf was out for at least a year, it was manageable. Undesired, but manageable. They had plenty of other heisters take his place in the meantime. Payday's operations would still go on as planned—there would be no interruptions, no cancellations. Dallas coughed, trying to clear his throat. Everything was prepared for. "He's alive," he rasped. "It's fine." Chains looked oddly confused, but then he nodded, a nervous chuckle escaping his lips.

"That's not it, Dallas," he said, forebodingly sombre. "I'm not even sure if Wolf would ever be back to the way he was."

Ah. That was far worse. Not as bad as death, but it pretty was damn close.

"I see," said Dallas.

It was a particular issue. Realistically, Wolf had all the means to retire right now. They were all well-compensated for the high risk careers they carried. That was just the benefit of high risks, high rewards. It meant Wolf could retire now, it was a no problem deal except for the fact that Wolf (nor Hoxton) would take it too kindly to have to be forced into early retirement. The 30s were just the beginning of a beautiful criminal sophistication, when a decade of crime was under the belt and another decade to spend that experience.

Experience. Though, that was one thing Wolf didn't quite have. He had joined the business rather late, having only just started a few years ago, a bit unorthodox and a bit rare, but not completely unheard of. And, from what Dallas had gathered, Wolf was having the time of his life. He was truly in love with the job and he might never be able to work it again because of it.

Well, shit.

Fucking shit.

"We'll deal with it when we get there." There was no need for all the headaches when they didn't know for certain if Wolf was going to be pulled out definitely. He could fully recover for all they know. Maybe some rehabilitation would be beneficial if it were to be needed. Maybe Wolf didn't need any sessions at all. Dallas didn't have any pain to spare at the moment. They were safe now.

Chains smiled at him.

Warily, Dallas squinted at him. "What?"

"You said 'we'," Chains pointed out.

Dallas replayed the words in his head. "Yeah, I did."

"That's good to hear. You've been up too far in your own world, taking all responsibilities."

"Someone has to," Dallas said stiffly.

"I know," Chains replied. "You just don't have to be the sole bearer." He shifted forwards in his seat. "You spend too much time worrying and worrying, about Payday, about us, about Bain, about every fucking thing. Let me help out."

"Chains."

"Dallas, I hate to see you like this."

Perplexed, "Like what?"

Chains looked him over with a near pitying expression. "You've been so quiet over the last year and when you do speak up, they're just orders." He paused for a moment to gaze up at the ceiling. "I don't mind following your orders. But I'd also wouldn't mind being able to talk to my friend again. And I'm sure Hoxton and Wolf feel the same."

Dallas turned away. Fuck that.

The room was too stuffy and his face felt tight. Unwarranted shame washed over him and it made his chest constrict uncomfortably so. Fucking Chains, bringing emotions and friendships into the already turbulent mix. What was it to them if Dallas was a little less present? He was busy ensuring their success, he was busy keeping Payday alive, approving contracts, new heisters, and shipments upon shipments of weapons. He kept the machine running smoothly 24/7, seven days a week, twelve months a year. He bore all the weight so no one else had to, so what if he had less time for social shit? He was making them money.

"Dallas."

He was the mastermind behind the operation—it was his job, his responsibility. His whole fucking role in the whole fucking scheme. He had no time to care for the teeny, tiny—

"Dallas."

"What?" he demanded. It came out a little too strong and Dallas immediately began to regret it. Chains didn't do anything to deserve his less than respectful tone of voice. He deserved better. Dallas had no right to be angry with him. "I'm sorry."

Chains moved himself from the armchair and onto the bed, sitting on the edge with a doleful look. "It's fine, Dallas." He leaned back against the headboard in the rhythmless silence, a silence that both of them wanted to break, but neither knew how. He turned his head to look over his shoulder at the other man, gouged with hollow needles and surgical stitches. Dallas looked so small and frail, the exhaustion tugging at his eyes and cheeks, his face looking sallow with a constant pained expression. The man was overworked, mentally and physically, forcing him deeper into the habit of smoking, which did not bode well with his already sickly state. It was likely that his recent weight loss was attributed to his habit changes.

Chains heaved a sigh and lowered himself onto the bed beside him, decidedly laying on his back with hands clasped and resting on his stomach. Dallas wasn't the only one feeling the effects of stress. Chains found himself suffering, too, though not as badly as the leader himself, but in some relation to it. He absolutely hated to see Dallas overburdened, especially when it was for his own sake. He could—and wanted to—carry his own weight. It had been so simple before; four heisters and an external ally to walk them through their heists. All four of them shared the responsibilities of the team, all four of them were on equal standing. With Crime.net buzzing, it was getting harder to equally split the workload. Payday needed a hierarchy, a structure to adhere to.

Payday had automatically turned to Dallas; he was always the more responsible man with naturally charming charisma. It had been obvious. And Dallas had accepted the role willingly and graciously and Payday performed well under the leadership, as expected.

Dallas rolled his head to the side and rested it against Chains' shoulder. He eyes were starting to droop under his still furrowed brows. The painkillers were probably in their decline about now, Chains observed. It was likely that the pain itself was draining the energy out of him. He looked so exhausted and so tense, his quiet murmur unable to reach Chains' ears.

"Sorry, what was that?"

Dallas paused. "I'm tired, Chains."

"Get some shut eye," he whispered back. "It's been a long day. I'll leave you to it—"

"Dick, don't fucking leave," Dallas slurred. His words were becoming sloppier and sloppier as his eyelids struggled to stay open.

He nodded. "Just sleep."

Chains stayed frozen in that position with Dallas' head still on his shoulder. His head was a heavy, solid weight, but it didn't bother Chains in the least. He watched the man's chest rise and fall and rise and fall, slowing down as he succumbed to slumber. There was finally cool calm, a near sense of relief, like a blanket of snow, softening his senses.

In the proximity, Chains could see the new tiny wrinkles Dallas had garnered over the years, framing his eyes, his nose, and his mouth, with some stretching across his forehead. His chin and cheeks were prickled with coarse facial hair, salt and pepper in colour. His skin was pale and dry, but clean. Up close, he looked far more older than he was, partly thanks to the wrinkles and party thanks to having just come out of surgery. The nurses had done a great job in cleaning off the blood, sweat, and grime that had been pressed into his face by his mask. Chains turned his head to the ceiling again.

It was never a pleasant experience to see a person cry.

When Chains had flipped up Dallas' mask, he didn't quite expect streams of tears washing away the dirt and the scarlet of his blood. The scene had tugged at his heart, where his sympathy liked to ground itself, and he had felt a sting of helplessness pierce his own body and spread. It was akin to seeing a parent cry; that this omnipotent leader, this invincible mom or pop, was just a human, too, it was like a slap to the face, forcing him to deal with what was called reality, what was called Dallas having limits, too.

And Chains wondered at what point did Dallas break back in the building. Dallas was a reserved man with his own bouts of excitement, but never moments of weakness. That left Chains wondering whether that attribution was true at all and if Dallas had just craftily masked it all this time. With him asleep almost peacefully on his shoulder, Chains was woefully reminded of the fragility that was the human life and of its briefness, for there just weren't enough moments of this and too many moments of that.

He wanted to share the luxury that was being filthy fucking rich with Dallas, to free him from the stress filled constraints of being the head honcho, to let him experience the fruit of his labour. Just to let him relax like the rest of them could. Like he used to. Even in his sleep, his face held a grave look, his brows almost drawn together and his mouth a thin line, and it worried Chains.

With a stifled snort, Dallas shook awake, eyes blinking rapidly as he tried to orient himself. "Fucking shit," he hissed.

"What's wrong?" Chains asked, turning his head.

"Leg's killing me," he drew a shaky breath. "Fuck." Chains withdrew his phone from his trouser pocket.

"Just a little over two hours for the next dose, Dallas," he remarked. "Hang in there." Without humour, Dallas chuckled with a tired grin.

"Thanks."

Chains pressed his nose to the salt and pepper top of Dallas' head, "Don't mention it."

Tensely, Dallas pulled away and looked at the 37-year-old with an uneasy expression. "What you said earlier...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to leave you all in the dark," he began. "You're all my best fr—"

"We're not blaming you, Dallas," Chains interjected. "It is not your fault. We just kind of really miss you."

Dallas turned away.

"Dallas."

"Sorry," he said quietly. Chains briefly wondered if he was crying again. At least he'd have a box of tissues handy this time. Chains rolled over and propped himself up on an elbow, careful to not graze any of his nor Dallas' wounds.

He peered at the older man, who still refused to meet his gaze. Dallas wasn't crying, no, but his eyes looked glassy and, overall, he looked fucking miserable. On a bit of a whim, Chains leaned down and pressed his lips to his temple, wrapping a gentle arm around his stomach. Dallas didn't seem too surprised by the gesture, closing his eyes at the touch.

"Dallas, it breaks my heart to see you like this, man," he muttered.

"I know," Dallas replied thickly.

Chains leaned forwards and was about to kiss his temple again, missing it, only because Dallas had tilted his head back and met his lips with his own. It was slow and it was soft and Chains pulled away, surprised. Dallas turned away again.

And Chains, well, Chains wasn't too sure on what to make of it. The two have never shared a kiss like that despite having always been affectionate towards each other, like how Wolf was to all of them, with his bear hugs and sloppy kisses to their cheeks, especially when drunk. It wasn't unheard of for Dallas to reach out and touch his arm or his shoulder, and vice versa.

They were close, very close, and sometimes, though rarely, chaste kisses were pressed to foreheads, but they were ever only done during moments of great celebration—not moments like this and it made Chains rethink their relationship to some degree, because as far as affectionate relationships go, there would be a line drawn at some point.

Was this crossing it? Was it staying within boundary?

"I'm not sure of what this means," Chains said earnestly. He watched the back of Dallas head for a bit, hoping he'd turn back to face him. This was a conversation that needed to be held face-to-face. And probably needed to be done soon, to leave as little room as possible for any awkwardness. "You know I love you, man. But I'm not sure if you—"

"No, I do, too," Dallas whispered. He turned back and gave him half of a shrug with his uninjured shoulder. He didn't have to say anything else. Chains tightened his hold and pressed their foreheads together, marking how different touch could be in different contexts, how much more gentle it was, how much more raw it was.

It was strange, loving a man in this way, not because it was bad, but because he simply had no experience. He had always loved Dallas, he had plenty of time to grow fond of the man, but being a good friend and a good colleague meant keeping his emotions out of the business. Inevitably, small gestures will speak volumes about his feelings. It didn't take Dallas very long to figure it out.

With that, Chains knew Dallas had been fond of him, too. It was just that neither of them acted on it, deciding to just linger on something they both believed to be uncomplicated.

In his arms, Dallas was smaller in stature than him, but broader than his past partners. He was sharper in angles and thicker with muscle, his face scruffier. All of this didn't make him bad to hold, it made him just as lovely, if not lovelier.

Chains kissed him and he kissed back and it was what both of them needed at the moment, just the gentleness and the slowness. They didn't need to move fast, they didn't need to hustle. It felt like they had all the time in the world to explore each other and to explore the newly instated relationship. Chains pulled away to kiss his forehead, hand coming up from his waist to his cheek, suddenly struck with a thought.

"Dallas," Chains began. Their relationship was starting to mirror another and Chains was suddenly all too suspicious.

"What?"

"I. Do you think." He was having a hard time putting his words together now. He wasn't sure on how to properly phrase it. "Do you think Hoxton and Wolf are together?"

Without skipping a beat, Dallas nodded. "Oh, absolutely."

"Huh," Chains leaned back. "Never noticed it." Dallas shot him an odd look.

"Are you blind?" Dallas asked, incredulous. "Have you not seen the way Hoxton dotes on Wolf?"

Chains gave it some thought before shrugging, "I guess I was too busy looking at you."

Dallas scoffed and elbowed him, turning his head hastily. "Douche."

Chapter Text

Hoxton leaned against the door frame, hands stuffed nervously in his pockets. In the centre of the room was a bed in which Wolf was placed as one of the nurses changed his bandages. It was all fucking bloody and fucking gross, but nothing that Hoxton hasn't seen before. God only knows how many times he's been shot.

Clover poked her head in through the door. "Hey, how's he doing?"

"Fine. He's just getting his dressings changed." Wolf looked past the nurse's ear and pouted at them.

"Ah," she replied. She stayed halfway through the doorway, watching idly. Finally, she turned to Hoxton, "Look, Wick is going to order some food. You guys in?"

Hoxton shrugged. It has been awhile since they both had eaten something. "Yeah. That'd be great. Thank you." She nodded and, as she walked away, she looked over her shoulder at him with concern.

Finally, the nurse finished applying the fresh gauze and he gathered his supplies and the old bandages into a neat little carrier. He reminded Wolf of what not to do with his broken collarbone and left.

Hoxton waited until the nurse disappeared down the hall before turning to Wolf, forlorn on the bed. "How is it?"

"It hurts, Hox."

Hoxton walked up to him, hands still in his pockets. "Well, that's what you get when you don't listen."

Wolf pouted again. "Ouch," he said, as if the remark hurt more.

Silence fell over them as Hoxton looked over Wolf with furrowed brows. His collarbone was anything, but intact, leaving one of his arms just as useless. It had been a clean entry, the tiny bullet scraping over the neckline of the vest he had been wearing, sinking through flesh and bone. It was lodged in there snugly, without damage to his shoulder blade or ribs, but good god, Wolf's blood was all too keen to leave his body through the hole.

His collarbone had been pieced together and fixed in place, but there was no arm movement for one and limited movement for the other. Hell, his neck and torso were feeling the effects of the shot, too. It didn't help that the rest of his body was peppered with bruises from the impact of blocked bullets.

"It'll be about four to six months for it to heal," Wolf shrugged. "Can't do anything much until then." He couldn't even feed himself. Or dress himself. And who fucking knows when he could start doing any physical activity? When he could run or even carry a bag of loot? He was as good as done.

"Wolf," Hoxton began cautiously. "I think this might be it."

"What?" He shot him a puzzled look.

"I think you're fucking done, mate," Hoxton continued. "How the fuck are you going to ever pull any heists without two arms?"

"My two legs?"

"I'm serious, Wolf. What if you're forced into early retirement? What if you can't be in Payday?"

The Swede made a face. "I'm sure Dallas will come up with a desk job."

"Wolf," Hoxton warned, clearly annoyed and clearly agitated. He was too concerned and he was too afraid and Wolf didn't need him to be. He leaned into the propped up pillow, silently trying to find his words. Hoxton was already tightly wound up, probably from having to watch him get his collarbone shot. He was a worrywart and when he gets worked up about something, he gets annoyingly serious.

"Then it'll happen. Nothing can change what had happened to me, Hox," he said, much too nonchalant. "I'm fucked now and I might be fucked later. Or maybe I won't be. We'll have to wait and see." Hoxton opened his mouth as if to interject, but Wolf cut him off, "In the meantime, I have the hottest nurse feeding me for the next few months of my life. It's not all bad."

Hoxton frowned at him. "You thought that nurse was hot? He was a six at best."

Wolf pouted, "I meant you, Hox!"

--

"Do you think Wolf and Hoxton are—are, well, you know..," Clover trailed off as she gave a loose shrug. She was leaning against the island counter, watching John Wick flip through menus on the tablet. Bonnie was seated on one of the chairs and Jacket sat beside her, both with confused expressions. Wick paused and looked up at Clover,

"Do you want to finish your sentence?"

She scowled at him, but did so as suggested. "Are they together? Does anyone know?" She looked around the island counter. There was a beat of silence as everyone processed her vaguely phrased question.

Jacket was the first to break into a smile and he clasped a hand over his mouth as quickly as it appeared. "What? What are you laughing at?" Clover demanded. It's not that big of a stretch, is it?"

"You're a fucking idiot, Clover," Bonnie said between guffaws. She keeled over, still laughing her ass off beside a strangled looking Jacket. Wick, however, resumed his search for menus, uninterested in their banter. "Did you not see the way they look at each other? Christ, it gave me diabetes!" Bonnie snorted, slapping her hand onto the countertop. The laughter irritated Clover and her scowl deepened. It was a legitimate question—Hoxton was seemingly enamoured with Wolf, almost obsessively and possessively. It was a fair thing to assume and ask, wasn't it?

Jacket was already trembling from holding in his laughter and he quickly ran off to his room, leaving his ratty tape recorder behind. Clover suddenly didn't like the guy—creepily silent when he walked around the house at ungodly hours and he can't even hold his shits and giggles.

Bonnie stopped laughing long enough to respond, "Clover, they've been fucking since forever. "

Both Clover and Wick made a disgusted face.

"You didn't have to be so crass about it, Bonnie," Wick muttered, shaking his head as he pulled out his mobile. "I didn't need that image."

"Yeah, neither did I," Clover said, face scrunched up.

"Just like I didn't need to see choking each other with their tongues, but we all got fucked, didn't we?"

"Bonnie!"