Majid abandoned everything to get to where he was now. He abandoned Pakistan, he abandoned his religion's rules, he abandoned societal norms, he abandoned all sense of personal moralities once thrust into the world of crime.
And then he gave that all up for Stardust.
As the novice journalist left the bar, leaving behind a trail of enraged hybrids and a Jess hitting up the bar for her favorite drink, Majid couldn't help but reflect on the small talk between them. He wasn't ashamed of his past, because after all, if everything hadn't played out like it did, he never would have owned Stardust, grown closer to Gus, and have the opportunity to mingle with such a diverse crowd. And as a bartender, he couldn't afford to be ashamed--no one knew where small talk could go with a bunch of drunks.
And so the rest of the evening went, conversations going in bizarre directions, Majid struggling to remember recipes of mixed drinks, and having to advise people to slow down their booze-guzzling in an attempt to prevent drunk escapades. When it was time to close, Majid wiped off the counter and locked the door. He headed up into the apartment above the nightclub, past the kitchen and living space, and into the bedroom. He undressed down to his boxers and sat on his bed. He gave himself a minute to simply take in the day and decompress. But there was one more thing he had to do before sleeping.
He dialed a number on his cell phone and waited for his partner’s voice. After three rings, a deep, soft voice said, “Hey, hun.”
“Gus,” Majid said, smiling. The Pakistani man heard muffled background noise, but nothing indicated what was going on or if it was good or bad. “How the entertainment scouting going?”
“Oh, it’s going fine. Just about to finish this deal for next month, and they might try to come to the club weekly or bi-weekly,” Gus’s voice was light, excited, and Majid’s chest swelled.
“Good to hear. Not that I doubted you or anything, just a bit worried since you had to go so far away to talk to them. I miss you, big bear.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, hun. Gotta go and finalize this and head back to the motel.”
Majid hung up, heaving a sigh of relief. He didn’t like being away from Gus for too long. The distance made him recall bitter memories from back when his life was more of a shitshow, the shitshow that he and Gus worked hard to surpass and avoid. If not for Gus’s support, he wouldn’t be as well off as he was now. He fell asleep quickly after laying his head down, the anxiety faded away.
Gus pocketed his phone and felt the weight in his heart drop further. He stood in a darken alleyway, crowded with people standing close to one another, talking in low voices, passing money back and forth, exchanging implants and injecting strange liquids into their bodies. Further in the distance, a smack, a punch, a scream, some illegitimate and dangerous hybrid surgery behind rusty doors, performed by surgeons who may or may not have a medical license. Gus coughed as he turned back to face a man covered in scars and leather. “Anyway, your winnings from the last race,” the man said, passing an envelope to Gus. “Don’t know how you fucking do it, but you better piss off before I become suspicious of your win streak.”
“I’m a good gambler, what else can I say?” Gus said, raising his arms defensively with a smile. But he took the man’s advice and pissed off, shoving the bloated envelope in his jacket pocket. He ducked his head as he squeezed past people, meandering through the dank street until he came across a road. He sighed and fingered the envelope, and while he should have been thinking about the renovations, additions, and fresh ideas he could be bringing to Stardust, guilt took over him. Majid still didn’t know the kind of activity Gus partook in late at night, both in and outside of Neo-SF, when he was supposed to be gathering talent and acts to serve as Stardust entertainment, one of the integral components to the Stardust’s renewing appeal.
Sometimes, Gus wondered if Majid was too good for him.
He hailed for a taxi and took to staring out the window. There had to be a way to atone for his sins.
Gus timed his return to Neo-SF right after the Stardust’s closing time. As he walked into the door, he was pulled into an embrace, a light brown hand pulling his head into the other man’s shoulder. “Welcome home, Gus,” Majid said.
Gus could barely take off his coat and drop his suitcase somewhere appropriate as Majid led him up the stairs to their bedroom with his hand on the chubby man’s chest and pecking kisses on his neck and ear. As they trailed off to bed, Majid stripped off layers of their clothing, yearning for the larger man’s body, nearly begging to be satisfied. Everything was normal, Gus found new performers, and the two men made love hours into the night. And for a while, Gus didn’t have to worry about his secrets, and it brought him back to when Majid also partook in illegal activities, both of the men acting as if there were no secrets at all by distracting each other for hours, days, and weeks on end.
A few days later, early in the evening, the novice journalist and their small, blue robot returned to Stardust looking for help. Apparently while Gus was gone, Majid told them vague details of his past, and both that and another source led the pair back to Majid to ask for help. Gus paled as Majid chuckled until his face grew serious. “Err… About that--”
“He doesn’t do that kind of stuff anymore,” Gus interjected.
As if letting out a silent breath of release, Majid grinned again. “Right, sorry, friends. I left that life behind a long time ago. Don’t really keep in touch with that crew anymore.”
The little robot Turing responded very politely, not pushing the subject any further. Gus’s eyebrows furrowed, but Majid tapped his shoulder and whispered, “Gus, I need to go in back to prepare for the rush later tonight. Take care of the bar for me, all right?”
After Gus left, the journalist and Turing continued to talk to each other as if Gus wasn’t standing there, questioning how else they could continue following their lead, naming others like TOMCAT or Jess’s other friends, trying to figure out where to get a carjacking device. The pair, whatever their scheme was, were not the kind of people to do crimes for ill reason--that, Gus could tell from their few interactions as the journalist ordered drinks to unwind--especially since they were so devoted to Hayden’s case. Even though Majid was the better man, here was a chance for Gus to redeem himself. He could try to use his guilt-ridden, dirty secret for something good. And then, if he was strong enough, try to redeem himself in a more permanent way.
Finally, the large man set down the glass he was cleaning. “Okay! You guys are killing me here.” Gus leaned toward the journalist and said in a hushed voice, “But please, don’t tell Majid about this.” He pulled out a small carjacking device from under the counter, under some of the especially strong drinks, and slipped it to the journalist. “I just so happened to, uh, dig through some of Majid’s old stuff. It’s not stealing, I’d never steal, I promise! I was just studying it.”
After Gus explained how to use the device, the investigating pair thanked him and left the club. Shortly after, Majid returned and restocked their alcohol stash, and Gus returned to cleaning the glasses and reminding Majid how to make drinks for their customers.
Later into the night, after the two men lay panting, sweating from their romp, Gus found himself staring at the ceiling, his hands neatly placed against his chest as Majid gently snored. What they had right now, he didn’t deserve it, and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to earn it back with the surprise he had in store. Maybe he should confess and deal with his consequences, leave Majid if he so wished to find someone who wasn’t addicted to the thrill of crime.
Instead of sleep, all Gus could do was toss and turn, trying to shift his large body without stirring his partner, but at some point, as Gus’s back was against his partner, he heard, “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, sorry, just try to go back to sleep,” Gus replied, too tired to fake something happier.
He felt the shitty spring mattress shift as Majid sat up and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Gus, hun, you sure? You don’t usually end up sad this late at night.”
Majid’s attentiveness felt like a blessing and a curse. Gus leaned over to the bedside table and turned on the lamp, then sat up and rubbed his eyes to adjust. “I’m just thinking about earlier today. With the journalist and their little robot. And your reputation.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about it. We’ve been over this. I’m completely fine with being open because it’s all in the past, and I doubt anyone in my old crew has such a bad grudge that they would come harm us.”
“That’s not what’s bugging me.” Gus paused and gulped, a thin layer of sweat forming over his hairy hands and arms. He took another short breath, thankful yet feeling guilty of Majid’s patience, a reminder of how he was the better man, and turned his head away from his partner. “I have something to confess. I eavesdropped on them, learned they needed a carjacking device, and gave one to them.”
“Wait, THAT’S what they needed? And where did you get one of those?”
“You see… Hon, I’m so sorry, but I--I got it from our old crew.”
Majid paused and shook his head. “But you said you were eavesdropping, so it’s not like you could run off and get one for them. You’ve held on to one of those things for that long?”
Gus visible winced, and he could only hope his shaking body wasn’t just as obvious. “I actually got it very recently, about a week ago. I didn’t think I’d have to give it away so soon in case… you know, someone in our crew needed it.”
Slowly piecing it together as the words tumbled out, Maid said, “What you’re saying is that you’re still talking with them. You’re still doing business with them. And you’re holding onto the kind of paraphernalia that would get our asses locked up if we were caught with them again?”
The moment Gus feared for came upon him. His throat tightened, and all of the tension started to bring tears to his eyes. Fighting as much as he could, he said, in a quieter voice this time to obscure its wavering, “Maijd, I’m so sorry, I just couldn’t stop. I have a problem. But you’re past it, you were strong enough to just stop, but here I am doing these things behind your back because I don’t want you to go return to it. You have an amazing life, you’re strong, you own a popular nightclub, and you’re much more competent than I am--”
Warmth enveloped Gus as Majid pulled him closer. “Gus, please, calm down. I’m not upset. And you’re not weak. I can’t judge you, even though I hope… I hope you can stop, only because I don’t want you to get hurt or arrested or die because our records were just starting to look better once we--I mean, once I left.” He let go of Gus for a moment only to gently turn the large man’s chin so that their eyes were locked. “Look. WE own Stardust, not just me. And try not to be so hard on yourself. It wasn’t exactly easy for me to cut off contact with the others. For a while, I yearned for that kind of taboo thrill and almost went back a couple times before I found a new purpose for my life. And you’re part of it. Babe, I just want you to be safe and happy, okay?”
“You’re not mad at me then? You don’t want to break up?”
Majid smiled and pressed his lips against Gus’s. “No, of course not. What kind of man would I be if I did?” The Pakistani grabbed Gus’s hands and squeezed them. “But if you’re comfortable and want to get out, please, let me help you. I want you to be safe. I love you.”
“I love you too, Majid,” Gus replied.