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How It Burns

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Of all the stupid things for Leonard to get nabbed for, jacking an ATM wasn't what he thought he would get picked up on.


And really, he shouldn't have been. He had heard the the call go out for an armed robbery, which meant that he should have had plenty of time to pop open a couple ATMs on the near-empty street and bring back the cash to his father, hopefully buying him a good mood for a few days. Sadly, he - of course - had to be hanging out right by the corner of the cops who thought that bringing in a scrawny teenager would get them a pass to avoid going after the guys with guns and therefore be less likely to get shot at. They weren't wrong, of course, but that didn't help him out now. In fact, it looked like nothing was going to help him out now.


Leonard ducked a blow from the right that would have hit him in the shoulder only to take a boot in the gut from his left, knocking the wind out of him. Another boy punched him upside the head and he lost his footing, hitting the ground hard. A couple of sharp kicks to the side and he felt something crack inside him, probably a rib. The boys backed off for a minute. He thought that they might be content to just leave him as a broken pile, but when he managed to make his vision unblur long enough to get a look at the kid who was standing over him, he made out the shiv in his hand and knew this wasn't just a welcome throwdown. The kid grinned down at him and Leonard drew up enough energy to spit blood onto his shoe.


"Guess those are your last words," The kid sneered. "Shoulda kept your-"

“Whatever shiv-boy wanted to say was cut off as he was grabbed from behind, spun around and clocked straight in the jaw with a right hook. Shiv-boy’s attacker then proceeded to grab him by the wrist, twisting it until his elbow was exposed, which was then slammed into with the heel of the attacker’s palm, causing Shiv-boy to scream in pain and drop weapon to the ground. At this, two of Shiv-boy’s posse jumped in to his defense, but the interloper handled their attacks swiftly, releasing Shiv-boy to pounce on them with an explosive energy, feral and strong. Leonard saw a glimpse of the new boy grinning before his vision blurred out again and he closed his eyes, trying to stay awake. He heard the sound of fighting, mixed in with wild laughter. He thought it sounded beautiful.”

After a moment he realized that the sounds had stopped. No, that wasn't right; there was a voice, and a pressure on his shoulder, the pressure of a hand. He forced his eyes to open.

There was a boy leaning over him. It took Leonard a minute to realize that it was the same boy, and he was speaking to him.

"...hear me?" Leonard opened his mouth but no words came out. "Shit..."

Suddenly the boy was sliding his arms around Len's shoulders and under his legs. "This might hurt. Sorry, kid." He felt himself being lifted, mostly in his ribs, which sent a shooting pain that blurred his vision all over again. He let out a yelp that turned into a whine, but the other kid was already walking with him.

"Just hold on," the boy muttered. Leonard let his head lean against the boy's chest and closed his eyes. "No, damn it, open your eyes!" The kid barked, and Leonard's eyes flew open, automatically complying with the commanding tone. He groaned a little. "Hey! Hey, someone jumped this kid. He needs the doctor," The boy called, and Leonard let himself drift again as voices started surrounding him.

"...What'd you do?"

"...Wasn't me, I was..."

"Lay him here, he needs..."

-----------

They kept him in the infirmary for a full week, with bruised ribs and a mild concussion. He got some decent pain pills and a guard to show him his new bunk. Since he'd been jumped on his very first day, he hadn't even made it to his cell before landing straight in the infirmary.

He followed the guard down the hallways, mentally noting every camera, lock and security panel as they went. He walked past a few dozen pairs of cells before they stopped at an open door and the guard gave two quick knocks before striding in.

"Rory! We got you a new cellmate. Think you can avoid beating this one half to death?" he asked, as Leonard trailed cautiously behind him.

"Nope," came a gruff response from a boy sprawled on the bottom bunk. He turned to face them, and Len realized with a start that it was the boy who'd saved him a week ago. "Oh, come on, Bock, I'm not a goddamn babysitter."

"We figured that you'd be less inclined to mess with your little rescue puppy," the guard said. Leonard glared at him, silently counting down in his head to force himself not to talk back to the guard.

"Well you're wrong," the kid growled. "Just makes him an easier target."

"That's what you think," Leonard snapped, turning his glare on the other boy. The guard sighed as they stared each other down.

"Look, just... try not to kill each other," he said. When neither of them responded, he threw his hands up and walked out.

They stared each other down for another minute before the other boy rolled his eyes and turned away. He made no move to get off the bottom bunk. Len had never given anyone the satisfaction of making him beg and he wasn't about to start now. He threw the pillow and blanket he'd been given onto the top bunk and dropped the package of pills he was supposed to take on the small nightstand before grabbing the rungs of the ladder and taking a deep breath. He could feel the other boy's eyes watching him curiously.

His first step up the ladder  sent a twinge of pain up his side, but he ignored it. His second step made him flinch, and when he tried to pull himself up for the third step the way he moved his ribs sent a violent shock of pain through him, and his foot slipped off the ladder. He fell back, expecting to hit the floor, but instead he felt a firm body against him, arms holding him up.

"You're a damn idiot," a low voice said, hot breath coursing over his neck at the words.

"I'm just... getting to bed," Leonard replied through gritted teeth. The boy behind him sighed.

"Get down. You can have bottom. I ain't listening to you cry yourself to sleep," the other boy grumbled.

"I don't cry," Leonard snarled, although he did shift and get his feet back on the ground. When the other boy released him, he let out a deep breath as he tried to make the throbbing in his side settle down.

"Whatever. Sit down. You look like you're going to puke," the taller boy said. Leonard decided that the pain made it not worth arguing about that and gingerly lowered himself down onto the bed. Something hit the mattress beside him and he looked down to see the bag of pills he'd been given. By the time he looked up the other boy was halfway up the ladder and he couldn't see his face. He took two of the pills and swallowed them dry, then laid back and stared up at the bottom of the mattress. He was suddenly tired and confused.

"What do you want from me?"

"What?" the other boy asked from above.

"You saved me... What do you want? As payback?'

"How about you just shut the fuck up and let me sleep?" he growled down at him.

They didn't say a word to each other for the rest of the night.

------------------------

Leonard learned early on that cafeterias and other similar dining situations told you a lot about the social makeup of the people involved. People clumped up in groups they were comfortable with, and within those groups, you could see who was sitting as far apart from other people as they could, who sat practically smashed together, who talked for ages and who was silent. If you watched long enough over time and paid attention, you could pick up on the smaller cues too - who moved around between groups, who went out of their way to avoid sitting next to who, who was trying to edge their way into or out of a group bit by bit.

Leonard didn't need very long to peg his cellmate - he was a very special type, and it was apparent immediately. The type who took up a table all by himself while people squeezed into ones around him. The type who glared at anyone that came too close to his table or stared too long. The type who ate silently, seemingly disinterested in anyone and anything around him.

"Better not let him catch you staring," a voice piped up from behind him as he was moving through the serving line.

"What?" Len asked, briefly thrown because he was focused on thinking and, yes, staring at the glowering boy across the room.

"Rory," the kid said, tilting his head to indicate Len's cellmate. "He's mean as a hornet and nuts to boot. He hates everyone, and he'll beat the shit out of anyone who bugs him. Heard he took on six guys last week and came out on the better end."

"He did," Leonard replied. "I was there." He narrowed his eyes. "What's he in for?"

"Arson," the kid replied as they shuffled forward and received their food. "He likes fire. Starts a couple every month, usually small stuff, but he's given some kids some bad burns a couple times."

"Hm," was all Leonard said as he got the last of his food. He turned and looked around the cafeteria as he stepped away. Over the top of Rory's head, he could see the boy who had tried to shiv him his first day, glaring at him from a cluster of boys  near the back. Leonard  walked straight over to Rory's table and sat down directly across from him.
The other boy looked up at the sudden appearance, mouth turning down into a scowl as soon as he recognized Leonard.

"Oh hell no," he muttered. "Fuck off, kid."

"What? I missed your company," Leonard drawled.

"You trying to get yourself killed in here?" Rory growled in response.

"Be a shame to kill me right after you got into a brawl just to save me," Len replied, smirking.

"I just wanted someone to hit. Seemed like an open opportunity." He eyed the smaller boy for a minute. "Sure do regret it."

"Maybe you won't," Leonard answered. "What do you want in return?"

"Didn't do it for favors," Rory said. "Not that there's much I could get outta a tiny punk like you even if I did."

"Maybe I'll surprise you."

"Please don't." Leonard chuckled. They ate silently for a few minutes, before Len started in again.

"Really, why did you do it?"

"I have a thing for pretty blue eyes," Rory sneered. "Christ, do you ever shut your mouth?"

"Generally, no," Len answered, bordering on cheerful. "So your name is Rory?"

"Who told you that?"

"Some kid in line," Len answered.

"They tell you anything else?"

"That you like fire," Len said. "Like burning things... and sometimes people."

"That's me," the kid snapped, leaning in to glare harder at him. "Mick Rory, unstable arsonist."

"Leonard Snart," he replied, sticking his hand out. "Robber of ATMs."

 Rory sighed and threw down his fork, shoving his chair back and stomping away from the table, leaving his tray with the uneaten food behind. Leonard smiled to himself as he bused his tray and followed him out.

----------

Rory outpaced him easily, Leonard's ribs still faintly hurting if he walked too fast. He found the other boy out in the yard, but elected to keep his distance and watch him for a while to gather more information.

Unsurprisingly, Rory didn't talk to anyone out here, either. He hung out on the benches set on the outer edges of the yard. For a while, Leonard thought he was just staring at the guards, but then he realized that he was being more selective. He focused on the guards out smoking, watching their hands as they raised and lowered the cigarettes. Leonard watched him with interest, noting how Mick would zero in every time a guard brought out a lighter, his breathing speeding up, knee jiggling a bit with excitement. Leonard smiled to himself. He had an in.

It wasn't hard - the guard he picked made himself an easy target. Heavyset, he wore baggy clothing to hide it and moved more slowly than the other guards, making it easy for Len to lift the lighter without him seeing or feeling a thing. He found himself smiling as he headed back to his cell. He grabbed his pills when he got in, popping a couple out of their wrappers and turning to go find some water to take them with, only to find his exit blocked.

"Where are you headed?" sneered the blond boy leaning against the door frame - the same one who had tried to gut him the first day. Leonard's eyes darted around, trying to figure out if there was anything he could grab to at least defend himself, and seeing little. He stood silently, looking for some sort of opportunity, at least to get around the boy and out into the hallway where he might have a chance.

"We need to talk," the boy said, voice low.

"About what?" Len asked. The boy straightened up, shifting to block more of the door with his body.

"About you and that mouth of yours," the boy said. "Want to make sure you know to keep it shut about what happened before."

"You mean about whose shiv it was? Or just about when a whole group of you got your asses handed to you by one guy?" Len sneered. The boy's eyes flashed and he snarled at him.

"You sure like to run that mouth of yours," the blond boy said, taking a step closer. Leonard saw movement just behind him, the dark figure of another person. "Maybe I ought to show you something better to do with-"

The boy was cut off as the figure behind him moved, grabbing the side of his head and smashing it against the door frame. The blond boy yelped at the impact, then dropped straight to the ground like a sack of rocks and lay there, groaning. Mick Rory stepped over him and glared down as he stood by the bunk beds.

"Stay the fuck out of my room, Miller," he growled. Miller slowly sat up, looking dazed. "Well? I said out!" Rory shouted, taking a menacing step forward. Miller scrambled unsteadily to his knees, and then braced himself on the doorway to get up to his feet and stumble into the hallway and away. Rory glared in his direction for a while before turning on Len.

"You just can't keep your damn mouth shut and stay out of trouble for five minutes, can you?" he snapped.

"I did fine at lunch," Leonard pointed out.

"You spent the whole time pissing me off! I AM trouble!"

"You don't seem like trouble to me," Len said, stepping toward him. Rory narrowed his eyes.

"What do I seem like to you?" he asked in a low voice.

"Fun," Leonard said, giving him a bright, cheesy smile. Rory growled in return.

"I oughta shiv you myself, you little punk-"

"I got you a present," Len interrupted. Rory stopped and blinked mid sentence, eyebrows furrowing in confusion as he lost his train of thought at the unexpected response. Len dug the lighter out of his pocket and held it up in front of him. "Don't let them catch you with it."

In an instant the lighter was snatched out of his fingers, Mick only needing one try to get the flame to spark and hold in front of him. His eyes lit up as he stared at the flames, standing there for so long that Leonard started to get concerned. Finally though, Rory let the flame click off and looked hard at him.

"How'd you get this?" he finally asked.

"I told you, I'm a thief," Leonard responded. He moved past him to the door.

"Where you going?" Mick asked, stepping after him.

"I need water for my pills," Leonard replied. He headed out toward the drinking fountain and was surprised when Rory followed him the whole way, leaning against the wall while he took in a mouthful of water and swallowed the pills from his pocket with it. they  walked back to the cell together, where Mick went straight to the ladder and climbed up to sprawl on the top bunk with no argument. Len eyed him before lowering himself down to the bottom bunk as the guards called lights out and the cells slammed closed. Just before he fell asleep, Len heard the click and hiss of a lighter in the darkness.

Chapter Text

Mick woke before Leonard again the next day, but when Len got up, he discovered a plastic cup of water on the nightstand next to his pill packets. A small smile tugged at his lips as he swallowed down the pain pills with a gulp and then headed to the cafeteria.

Leonard spotted Mick easily as he moved through the food line again, getting his serving of runny eggs, shriveled bacon and burnt toast. He was alone at a table again. Leonard headed straight over to fix that.

Mick looked up as he sat down, gave a grunt that was halfway between annoyed and amused. Leonard gave him his best smirk as he started in on breakfast.

"I have a five year old sister that could make better food than this," he commented, poking at the slimy-looking eggs. "I'm almost impressed that they can ruin even the simplest things."

"That's their specialty," Mick responded. Len chuckled.

"If you're good at being awful are you succeeding or failing?" Len wondered aloud. He dropped his fork. "Either way, this is disgusting."

"Eat it anyway," Rory said in a commanding voice. Leonard narrowed his eyes and frowned at him. "What? You wanna be a skinny little thing your whole life? I'm not gonna be following you around saving your ass forever. It's just bad food. Eat it fast and move on."

"Easy to say," Len muttered. Still, he picked up one of the pieces of bacon, the least offensive thing on the plate that he could find. When he finished his pieces, Leonard was surprised by Mick dropping the remainder of his own bacon onto his plate. Surprised, Len raised his eyebrows at the other boy.

"You need all the help you can get," Mick sneered, but the corners of his lips were twitching. Len decided to let it slide, but only because he was hungry.

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The next few weeks, Len spent nearly all his free time with Mick. The older boy seemed to have given up on protesting, in part thanks to the matches and lighters that Leonard was able to readily procure for him. But in truth, Len suspected that Mick was starting to enjoy having him around - and vice versa.

They had differences. At first, they tried to do everything together, not that either of them would admit it. Mick dragged Leonard into the gym, pointing out that he could stand to put some muscle on. It was the only place that Leonard ever saw Mick ever talk to people, there being a few other boys that Mick seemed to get on with well enough. Leonard, however, quickly decided that he didn't like being sweaty and tired. He tried being Mick's spotter while he lifted weights, but quickly realized that when Mick took off his loose prison shirt to lift in only his tight white tank top, Len was not able to focus his attention on much besides the movement of muscle and skin. Not eager for that to be noticed by anyone, least of all Mick, he quit going to the gym very quickly. Mick, similarly, had no patience for the library. Len took him a few times, as he liked going there to read up on the higher level books you could find tucked away and unused by most - law, higher math, even a couple on architecture. Unfortunately, Rory had trouble focusing on anything that he wasn't interested in, and after Leonard caught him staring intensely at some stacks of books and papers and stroking the sides of the lighter Len had gotten for him, he had realized that this was a combination he didn't want out of control. It did give him an idea, though. He started sneaking books out of the library, one at a time. He'd give them to Mick with a promise - read the whole thing, and he'd find an unmonitored area for him to burn the book when he was done. Mick had been skeptical, nearly offended, but he'd reluctantly agreed. Leonard made it work by picking out books he knew would hold Mick's attention more easily, like chemistry. It would have surprised most people, but Len had figured out pretty easily that Mick was nowhere near stupid - just uneducated. Mick had confessed to him one day in the library that he was being "home schooled," which was his father's way of having him be available to do manual labor on his family's farm so he didn't have to. Mick wasn't exactly a creative guy, but if you gave him a set of rules, like chemical formula -, for example, he could follow them, break them down and apply them to other situations. He was a very linear thinker, but took directions well. That was just the sort of person Leonard wanted around, anyway. Leonard took the time to sit with him, shoulder to shoulder, helping him work out the more difficult equations and concepts and smiling a little as Mick talked through the various chemical differences of accelerants and fuels, flash points, and air-fuel ratios. It was the most Mick spoke, even to him, and they'd earned more than a couple double takes and raised eyebrows from passing guards and inmates. Still, it worked for them, more than Leonard was willing to admit most days.

Another thing that Leonard couldn't get Mick into was cards. Mick could play, sure, but he didn't have the patience or the focus to count cards, and he wasn't as good at reading people as Leonard was, so after a few days Mick started refusing to play with him. Len slowly started reaching out to some of the less threatening inmates, and soon he had arranged for a little card ring to meet up in one of the areas that wasn't fully monitored. He was surprised when Rory stood and left with him the first time.

“You gonna play?” he asked as they walked.

“Nah,” Mick replied.

“Why are you coming, then?” Leonard asked.

“No cameras, right? Just gonna hang out and play with my fire.”

“Hm,” was Len's only response. As he expected, several of the guys who showed up glanced nervously at Rory, who sat just behind Leonard and flicked his lighter on and off, watching the flame and occasionally running his fingers through the flame. Most of them stayed, though, and by the end of it Leonard knew at least a few would be back. Some had wounded pride to try and recover, some wanted a challenge, and some were clearly on the road to a gambling addiction. Not that they played for high stakes at the moment – mostly snacks and candy, whatever people had worth trading. Mick continued to show up despite never playing, and Leonard would be lying if he said he didn't like having him there; the intimidation alone threw people off, and no one was likely to try to avoid handing over their things when they lost while Mick had that manic gleam in his eye.

Most of the candy Len won went to Mick. As it turned out, he had a wicked sweet tooth, much to Leonard's endless amusement. At least that's what he told himself he was feeling when he'd slide Mick a Snickers bar at the end of the day and watch his eyes light up a little.

Leonard and Mick were in what was called the Rec Room, the area where they were allowed to have indoor free time. There were two TVs, one on either side of the room, with VHS players hooked up to each so that they could watch something from the meager selection of tapes that were shelved against the wall in the middle of the room. Mick and Len were currently arguing good-naturedly over what to watch on one of the free TVs. Leonard loved scf-fi and spy films; Mick liked action films and heist flicks. Whoever won movie choice would be forced to sit through the other's running commentary, sarcastic remarks, and when Leonard lost, horrible puns. Sometimes they even managed not to laugh through the whole thing.

They were just about to resort to rock-paper-scissors to settle the decision when Leonard realized that the two guards who had entered a moment ago were heading straight towards them. He stopped and turned to face them, Mick straightening up and sidling up next to him when he realized what Len was looking at.

“Snart,” one of the guards said as they stopped in front of the two boys. Len recognized him as Bock, the guard who had brought him to Rory his first day out of the infirmary. He'd come by a few times, stopping in to their cell and trying to be friendly with them. Len was friendly back; there was always a use for a friendly guard, he figured.

“What?” Len asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“You've got a visitor,” Bock said cheerfully. Len froze. He could see Mick looking at him from the corner of his eye, sensing the change in his demeanor. “Come with us.” He moved forward a bit and Leonard instinctively took a step back. He would have only one possible visitor and he was panicking a little. Mick immediately moved in front of him, placing himself between Leonard and the guards. The guard with Bock immediately tensed and dropped his hand to the baton at his side. Even Bock tensed, although he looked more worried than afraid.

“Back down, Rory,” the guard with Bock said, his hand closing around the baton. The danger of the moment snapped Len out of his thoughts to focus on the situation in front of him. He smoothly stepped forward so that he was right at Mick's side, wrapping a hand around his bicep and tugging him back. Mick turned his head to look questioningly at him.

“It's ok, Mick,” Leonard said, voice low. He was aware of the eyes of all the boys on the other side of the room on them. Mick just grunted in response and crossed his arms, not moving. Len slipped around him and walked over to the guards, who gave Rory one more glance before they escorted him out. Leonard glanced over his shoulder as they left the room to see Mick standing in the same spot, staring at him as he left.

“How the hell did you manage that?” The shorter guard asked as they walked down the hall; his name tag identified him as Johnson.

“Do what?” Leonard drawled, uninterested.

“Handle Rory,” Johnson said. “You're the only one who seems to know how to get him to behave.” Leonard bristled immediately.

“I'm the only one who treats him like a person around here,” Leonard replied shortly.

“We've tried,” Bock argued. Len rolled his eyes. “You just understand him better, Snart. We used to be putting out fires every other week. Haven't had one fire alarm go off since you got here.” Leonard smirked at that. There were still fires; he'd just taught Mick where to set them and how to control them so he didn't get caught. And on the few occasions that he did get a little lost in them, Len was there to put them out.

“You're the only one who's been his bunkmate longer than two weeks without a broken bone, too,” Johnson snorted. He leered at Leonard a little. “How are you avoiding that one?”

“I'm a Krav Maga master,” Leonard replied sarcastically. “The first day was just to lure the others into a false sense of security.” Johnson rolled his eyes and shook his head, but Bock smiled a little. Leonard felt better for a moment before they came up to a large metal door and he realized they were at the door to the visitor's center. His stomach dropped and he swallowed hard, trying to calm himself down, at least on the outside.

The entrance was positioned so that when Leonard went through the door, it allowed him to approach from behind his father. As he rounded the table his father sat waiting at, Lewis Snart scowled up at him. Len sat down and they stared at each other silently for a few moments.

“So, you missed me,” Len said lightly, breaking the silence at last. Lewis scowled harder. Leonard snapped his mouth shut and cast his eyes down to the table. Being away for a while had made him bolder than was safe, even surrounded by guards.

“So you got your dumb ass locked up,” Lewis finally growled. “You know what you're costing me, boy?” You're supposed to be helping me out with that job in a couple months. Now who's going to open that safe?” His eyes glinted and he turned his lips up in a cruel smile. “Think Lisa can handle it?”

Leonard jerked his head up, eyes darting around. No one was close enough to hear them, but he still kept his voice down when he replied. “Leave her alone. I'm sorry. I'll be out soon.”

“Not soon enough,” Lewis groused. “And I've already tried to teach her a couple things, but it's no use. She's shit at picking locks.”

“She's five,” Leonard hissed, hands clenching into fists. “I'll make it up to you, just don't touch her.”

“You will make it up to me,” Lewis agreed, smiling coldly as he leaned in a bit. Len forced himself not to recoil. “One of the kids that used to work at the jewelry store we're hitting is in here. Name's Alex Vera. He got put in three months ago, but he used to have access to the safe. Get the password from him. I'll be back for it in six weeks.” He glared at Leonard as he leaned back. “Have it for me when I come back. Otherwise, I start teaching your sister how to help out. And it seems like she's a pretty slow learner.”

“What if he gives me the wrong one? Or they've changed it?” Leonard asked, mind immediately going to all the weak spots in the plan. His mind was racing with thoughts of Lisa and what was going on without him around. Lewis suddenly lifted his fist up an inch and slammed it down. A couple of the guards looked over, searching for the noise over the heads of the other visitors, but Lewis gave his best fake smile and leaned back amicably.

“Just be a good boy for your sister's sake,” Lewis said, his voice sounding cheerful to anyone else's ears. “I'll take care of everything.” Leonard nodded numbly. Lewis waved a guard over and ended the visit, one guard walking him to the door, while Bock came over to collect Leonard. The concern on his face was suddenly infuriating to Leonard. He walked him through the door and Len stepped away and glared at him.

“Are you alright?” Bock asked, shutting and locking the door. “He seemed-”

“Can I go now?” Leonard snapped. He stuffed his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking. His mouth felt dry and he couldn't seem to slow down his thoughts long enough to get a grasp on his emotions.

“You're fine to go,” Bock said uneasily. Leonard immediately pivoted on his heel and stalked down the hall. He didn't stop by the Rec Room to see if Mick was still there; he couldn't face anyone until he was in control of himself again. Leonard headed outside and slipped around the side of the building, following the wall until he reached the small section of the yard between the garage with the prison van and the west side of the building; generally, this was one of the least populated areas of the yard, aided at the moment by how close it was to dinner. He sat down against the base of a huge oak tree whose untrimmed branches and thick foliage blocked out most of the camera angles in this area. He pulled his knees up to his chest and buried his face in his arms to think of his baby sister and his failure to protect her.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there before the footsteps approached him. He tensed as soon as he heard them, but when he looked up he saw Mick sinking down beside him, though he looked blurry from the tears Len was fighting. Rory sat barely an inch from him; close enough for Leonard to feel the heat from his body but not quite touching him. He turned his face away quickly, ashamed. Mick didn't say anything, just sat there. Len could hear the sounds that he had by now come to associate with him playing with his lighter; rolling it over his knuckles and through his fingers the way he did when he had too much energy from nerves or excitement. Len relaxed a little at the familiar sound and slowly slid his eyes back to Mick, taking deep breaths to steady himself. Mick caught his eye and looked back steadily, eyebrows slightly raised. Len sighed.

“My father came to see me,” he said, trying to keep his tone normal.

“Oh yeah?” Mick said back, his tone just as falsely normal. “What'd he want?”

“I've got a job to do,” Len said after a moment of hesitation.

“In here?” Mick asked, raising his eyebrow again.

“Yeah,” Len said slowly, wondering how much he should say. He reasoned that Mick was around him enough at this point that it would be almost impossible to keep it from him anyway. “He needs information from someone in here. For a heist.”

“So?” Mick snorted. “Fuck 'im. What do you care about his shitty heists while you're in?”

“I have to get it, Mick,” Leonard said, his eyes burning. “He's out there with Lisa, my sister. If I don't get it, what he could do to her-” He stopped short as his throat closed up and despite his best effort tears spilled down his cheeks.

“Oh shit,” Mick said, dropping his lighter and looking absolutely horrified. “Shit. Please don't cry, Len, It's terrifying.” Len barked out a watery laugh.

“Since when are you afraid of anything?” He sniffed, trying to stop the tears for both of their sakes.

“Since you started crying,” Mick shot back, looking around desperately like he hoped someone was going to come save him. He put a hand awkwardly on Leonard's back, drawing back after a second like tears were contagious. Len snorted and scrubbed the back of his hand across his face, trying to get rid of the evidence. Mick shifted uncomfortably beside him.

“I'll help you out, Len,” he finally said. Len looked hard at him. “Seriously. Just tell me what you need.”

“Why do you help me out so much?” Len asked, turning to stare down at his feet.

“Because obviously you need it,” Mick scoffed. Len gave him his best venomous look, though he doubted it had much effect coming on the end of his little breakdown. Mick smirked, then leaned over and picked up the lighter from where he had dropped it. He held it up and his face brightened a little.

“So Len,” Mick said, looking at him mischievously, as Len narrowed his eyes. “I guess you could say your meeting...” He flicked the lighter on so the flame spouted high. “...Didn't go so hot.”

Len gaped at him for a minute, as the flame danced in the wind. Mick grinned back. A burst of laughter suddenly erupted from Len, and once he started, he couldn't stop. Mick watched him with amusement, as Leonard doubled over, caught in a bout of mild hysteria. Mick leaned back against the tree triumphantly as Leonard tried to catch his breath. Once Leonard finally started to settle down, Mick suddenly threw an arm around his shoulders and pulled him back to settle next to him. Len didn't fight it like he would have with anyone else.

“So what do we need to do, boss?” Mick finally asked, turning his head slightly to look over at Len. Len tilted his head a bit to look back and smiled.

“Here's what I need...”

Chapter Text

Leonard didn't have trouble locating Alex Vera. He sat on the outskirts of the large group of kids connected to Central's mob family. The kid of one of the members, Len guessed. He didn't fit in well; a quiet kid, he sat close but didn't engage much with the other boys in the group, clearly trying to blend in and not be noticed. He was bigger than Leonard, but not by much, and didn't have the sense to cut his hair, which reached nearly to his shoulders. If he wasn't with the family, he would almost certainly been taken out by now. As it stood, Leonard wasn't risking getting the attention of the other family boys to reach him. So, Leonard began surreptitiously following Alex around. He learned the other boy's schedule within a week, and laid out his idea to Mick.

Two days later, Len took Mick for a stroll down the hallway, at a very deliberate pace. Alex, alone and headed to the garage where he worked with the transport detail, walked briskly down the hall toward them, head down as always, trying to block out everything around him. Stupid, in Leonard's opinion, but it made it very easy for him to throw open the door to the boiler room – that would have been locked, had Leonard not taken care of that earlier in the morning – and for Mick to sweep an arm out, hook the kid around the neck, and spin him bodily into the room without him seeing it coming. By the time the kid had wrapped his head around what was happening and managed to get his mouth open, Mick slammed him against the wall and slapped a hand over his lips. Leonard eased the door closed quietly and turned the lock back into place. The whole event took less than 30 seconds.

“Hush, little boy,” Mick growled, low and deep, a tone that intimidated most people it was directed at. It had just the desired effect on Alex, and Leonard could see him start to shake a little. Mick gave him a feral grin and leaned close. “It's ok. We just want to talk.”

“It's true,” Leonard drawled, stepping closer until he was shoulder to shoulder with Rory. “I've got some very easy questions for you, and then you go off in pristine condition. Okay?” Alex did his best to nod from beneath Mick's hands. “All right, Mick.” Rory slid his hand down, leaving Alex's mouth to pin his shoulder against the wall.

“What do you want?” Alex breathed, eyes darting around.

“Something easy,” Leonard responded. “A code. To the safe in the jewelry store you used to work at.” Alex's eyes widened and fixed on him.

“I can't,” he said, then gasped as Mick's hands tightened on him. “It's a family store, man! They find out I have anything to do with this, they'll kill me and my family,” he whimpered. Leonard closed his eyes briefly, sighing.

“Sorry, kid,” Leonard said. “You're not the only one with family issues. I need that code. The odds that they'll think of you as the leak are practically nothing.”

“Still...”

“You don't have a lot of options here, brat,” Mick snarled,shifting his hand to the kid's throat and lifting him up by it, toes scraping the floor. He sputtered for a moment before Len laid a brief touch on Mick's arm and Mick immediately set the kid back down. Alex gasped in air for a second before Len spoke.

“I'll get it out of you one way or another,” Leonard said. Alex stared at him for a long moment before dropping his eyes to the floor.

“Another, then,” he said quietly. Leonard raised an eyebrow. Alex finally raised his head to look him in the eyes. “I want you to do something for me, then I'll tell you what you want.” Leonard eyed him.

“Why would we bother with that?” Mick snapped.

“Because if you mess me up, the Family will come back at you,” Alex said, voice wavering only a little. “They don't really give a shit about me, but it's a matter of pride.” This was true; Leonard had been hoping to avoid that. Even Mick couldn't protect them from the whole family. “And you can't kill me, obviously. But if you take care of a problem for me, I'll give you the code you want.”

“What kind of problem?” Leonard asked, eyes narrowing. Alex looked away again.

“There's a guard,” he said quietly. “He runs the prison transport and he has... an interest in me. Got me transferred to his department a few weeks ago. I've been avoiding him except in public so far but I can't do it forever.”

“Why don't you have your Family buddies take care of it?” Leonard asked, furrowing his brow. “Or your actual family on the outside. Getting a guard transferred or shut down would be easy for them, especially on the outside.”

“They won't do it,” Alex said, laughing bitterly. “They'd rather let him try something and have the blackmail on him so they have another guard in their pocket.” He sighed. “I told you, I'm not that important.”

“I see,” Leonard said. It sounded exactly like what he would expect of the family. “So what exactly do you want us to do about it?”

“I don't know,” Alex said. He looked angry suddenly. “Just get him to leave me alone. Figuring it out is your problem. He's been my problem long enough.” He glared at Mick. “Let me go. I have to be somewhere soon or someone will notice.”

“Your guard friend?” Leonard guessed. When Alex's face fell Leonard knew he was right. He nodded to Mick and the larger boy released Alex, dropping his hands to the side but not backing up. Alex had to slink to the side to get around him, shrinking back from the piercing glare that Rory kept fixed on him.

“What's his name?” Leonard asked, as Alex edged toward the door.

“Darryl Martin,” Alex replied, finally reaching the door.

“I'll handle it,” Leonard said. Alex nodded once and then quickly opened the door and ducked back into the hall. Mick moved until he was standing at Leonard's side. “Give it a minute,” Leonard told him. “Just in case someone saw him leave, we don't want them linking us to him.” Mick nodded and pulled the lighter out of his pocket, giving it a flick so he had some flame to stare at. Leonard crossed his arms, drumming his fingers against his skin as he sorted out the information and tried to form his next step. After a couple minutes, he nodded once to himself, then reached out and grabbed Mick's arm. Rory let the flame snap out and turned his attention back to Len. “Should be fine now,” Len said, tugging him to the door. Mick followed him out into the hall and down toward the cafeteria for dinner.

------------

“Snart.”

Len glanced up at the bottom of the mattress above him where Rory's voice had come from. “Yes?”

“Stop the damn noise.”

Len immediately stilled his fingers, where he had been distractedly tapping them on the metal rails of their beds. It was a nervous habit of his that he sometimes lost track of when deep in thought. “Sorry.”

Mick sighed above him, and he heard the mattress squeak a bit as the other boy shifted on it. A moment later, Mick's feet dropped into view from the side of the bed, and he had jumped down. He sat down on Leonard's bed and scowled at him.

“What's wrong?” Mick asked him.

“Nothing,” Len snapped. “I can't sleep, that's all.”

“Liar.”

“How would you know?”

“You were practically silent all during dinner,” Mick said.

“So?”

“You hardly ever shut up, most of the time,” Mick replied. Len glared at him and he grinned back. “What's bugging you?”

“Nothing. I'm just trying to plan.”

“Bullshit,” Mick said. Without warning, he shifted and then leaned back, flopping down on his back next to Len, who was laying on his stomach. Len automatically shifted away, but Mick just shifted over, taking up more space.

“Get the hell out of my bed,” Leonard hissed. He was trapped between Mick and the wall, and it was slightly suffocating. He liked having an exit available to him.

“Nope,” Mick said. “Tell me why the hell you've kept us both up half the night, tapping and fidgeting. You're get all still and faraway when you're trying to make plans; this is different.”

Len sighed. No one had ever paid enough attention to him to know him this well, and that was by design. He almost resented Mick's ability to read him so well after only a couple of months.

“My father,” Len said, after a few moments. Mick turned his head to look him in the eyes. “Alex said that the jewelry store he wants to rob is family owned. Why would he be hitting a family store? What's wrong with him?” Suddenly the anger was bubbling up in him, and he couldn't keep it in. “He's shit at planning; this goes wrong and the family finds out it was him? They might put a hit on him. What if Lisa gets caught up in the crossfire? What if she gets hurt for his stupid idea? What the hell is he-” Len froze as Mick suddenly put two fingers on his lips. He wanted to jerk away but he was already against the wall; there was nowhere to go.

“You're gettin' loud,” Mick said in a low rumble. Len gave a stiff nod and Mick withdrew his hand. Len turned his face away from him and stared resolutely at the wall.

“That's it,” he said flatly. “I'm just worried.”

“You could just give him the wrong code,” Mick suggested. “Odds are decent that he'd get caught, maybe sent to jail. Wouldn't have to worry about Lisa while he's locked up.”

“Odds aren't good enough,” Len said. “He was a cop, a crooked one. If he even does get caught, there's a good chance he can wiggle his way out of it. He's just being arrogant, but if I want to keep Lisa out of his shit storm, I have to help. I'm the only reason he makes it through half his jobs anymore.”

“We could squeeze Alex for a few more details,” Mick suggested. "Pass them along to your old man, try and get it to go smoother.”

“I don't know if it'll be enough,” Len sighed. “If I was out, I could go over his plans, figure something out. I knew about the job, but I hadn't started really working on it, looking over it. I don't remember anything about the layout or the security or-”

“I get it,” Mick said. “So you can't plan out the robbery itself. And you're assuming it's going to go south and he's gonna leave a mark on it.” Len turned his head to look at him again, interested. “So if someone's going to get caught, what about making it look like someone else?”

“A frame up?” Len mused. “I don't know if he's good enough to pull that off.”

“Wouldn't be too hard,” Mick said. “A few fingerprints, say the right name. There's a little gang trying to move in on the family territory in that area. You do even a half assed job setting them up, the family will probably take it as an excuse to go after them and not look too hard at it.”

“Might work,” Len said, turning it over in his mind. “I'd have to see what I can come up with.”

Mick grunted and rolled off the bed, standing and stretching. Len snuck a look while his back was turned, watching the movement of muscle under skin where it showed from the tight white tank Mick wore.

“Figure it out tomorrow,” Mick said. "We got time, and we gotta work on the guard problem first anyway. And we both need to sleep.”

“Fine,” Len said as Mick returned to the top bunk. He shifted back to the center of his bed and closed his eyes. “Goodnight, Mick.”

“Night Len.”

---------------

Leonard spent the next few days gathering his info on Darryl Martin. Officer Martin worked in prison transport; he was the one who drove in and out new prisoners or transfers, and maintained the prison van and logs, a task that he was allowed to have inmates hired to help with. Len found out he had two current and one former helper that were still in at the moment. The two current helpers were Alex Vera and another boy, also small for his age and quiet, with glasses that hid big doe eyes. The former helper was a boy that had, based on the constant cracking of his voice and the way he was practically tripping over things, suffered a bit of a growth spurt lately.

Martin's schedule was subject to change based on how many transfers he was scheduled to move and when, so Len's first step was to find out exactly when he would be in and out. Luckily, Alex had access to those schedules and slipped him a copy of the next few weeks. Len spent the next day memorizing them, mapping out every inch of the prison's garage and surrounding rooms, and observing Martin himself – often as Martin was busy “observing” other boys. Leonard had even caught Martin eyeing him a couple times when he thought Len wasn't paying attention.

And yet, Len still hadn't worked out a solid plan.

“It's a stupid idea and we're not fucking doing it.”

Len looked up from his back-and-forth pacing of their cell to shoot a nasty glare at Mick. Mick glared back at him over the top of the chemistry book he was reading. He had taken over Len's bunk while he read, slouched up against the wall with his legs crossed. Mick had trouble focusing while he was reading, and Leonard knew he was probably driving him nuts.

“There's no we, Mick. I can do this without you,” Leonard reminded him.

“Like hell,” Mick growled, dropping the book to his lap. “I'll find a way to fuck up your shitty plan before I let you go through with it. You know there's no chance it'd work anyway.”

“It could work,” Len started, but Mick just shook his head.

“You want to try and get a guard caught feeling you up? Or worse?” Mick growled. “You know how many of these guards get caught doing just that? They get way more friends in and out of here than you do. The wrong guard catches him, all he gets is a lookout and a pat on the back. Even if he does get caught, there's a damn good chance the people higher up will sweep it under the rug, or the family or someone else will use it and keep him in here, in their pocket, just like they were going to from the start. Which doesn't help Alex – if anything, the sick fuck will probably be more bold since he's got nothing to lose. And that's even if you can get him caught in the first place. What if no one shows up to stop him? One little distraction and you're stuck alone with him.” Leonard could hear how upset Mick was from his voice, and it was difficult to listen to. Len swallowed hard. He'd already gone over all of those scenarios in his mind, but hearing them laid out like that made it all feel more hopeless. He abandoned his restless pacing to go sit down by Mick. The other boy's eyes followed him the whole way.

“It's just...” He sighed. “It's been three weeks, Mick. I'm running out of time.” Mick's expression softened a bit and he reached out and gave Len's shoulder a friendly squeeze. Leonard was almost proud of the fact that he no longer flinched when Mick touched him – but only if it was Mick. It was actually kind of comforting, sometimes.

“We'll figure something out,” Mick murmured. “You gotta stop thinking about it for a while, though. You're stuck thinking yourself in circles.” Len nodded glumly. Mick knew him too well by now. “C'mere,” Mick said, tugging gently at Len's shoulder where his hand still rested. “Read with me. This book's great.”

“Oh really?” Leonard responded, scooting back until he was pressed up against Mick's left side. He supposed he did need a break, and going over chemistry with Mick was surprisingly fun.

“Yeah,” Mick said, grinning. “I really like this book. There's a recipe for napalm in here. Can't wait to try some of that out.”

“Good to see you with such a burning desire for knowledge,” Len purred. Mick sighed and shook his head slightly, but Leonard could see the corners of his lips twitching with a suppressed smile. Len smirked and tilted his head a bit to rest against Mick's shoulder so he could read along with him. Mick was a slower reader, but Len would rather reread the same page three or four times over and commit it to memory than rush Mick, and though the pyro never said so, Leonard suspected he appreciated it. Reading through the page Mick was on, he had to admit, the napalm was pretty interesting. Controlled fire – sounded perfect for them. “I bet we could put that to good use someday,” Len mused. Mick glanced over at him before chuckling and turning the page.

“Already making plans for when you get out?” Mick asked lightly, but something in his voice sounded odd. Len pulled his eyes from the page to look up at him.

“For when we get out,” Len clarified. Mick's eyes flickered over to him then away. He didn't say anything, but Leonard could feel him relax slightly against his side. He gave a smirk and returned his gaze to the page they were reading, then grinned. “I'm positively exploding with ideas.”

Mick actually groaned at that one, but he was full on smiling this time. Len realized he was smiling as as well, and forced his mind back on the book. He reread the page two more times before the idea clicked in his head.

He froze. Mick, sensing the change in the body against his, turned to him in concern. “Len? You ok?” Len sat straight up, turning things over in his mind, mentally sorting out supplies, timing, and outcomes. He smiled slowly and turned to Mick, who was eyeing him warily.

“I think I have a plan,” Leonard told him. He gave a devious grin. “And I think you're going to really like this one.”

Chapter Text

Len walked slowly through the prison garage, passing the transport van and heading towards the desk at the back, each step deliberate. He had a route to follow, out of the view of the lone camera installed in the garage. Officer Martin leaned over a desk, writing something on a small stack of papers that Len was pretty sure was paperwork for the transfers he would be heading out to get soon. Len forced himself to walk with audible sound as he got closer, much different from his normal light and quiet tread. Martin looked up at the sound of his footsteps approaching. When he saw who was coming, his eyes raked over Leonard's body is a way that made his stomach turn, but he forced himself to put a fake smile on his face as he stopped near the desk.

“What're you doing here, boy?” Martin asked, setting the pen down and turning to step closer to him. Leonard ignored his reflexive desire to step back and held his ground, still smiling.

“I heard you had workers here in the garage,” Len said, trying to sound as sweet as he could. “I was hoping you'd have some positions available for someone who wanted to work. I'm very good with my hands.”

“Are you?” Martin asked, his eyes, drifting down to said hands, lingering for a few moments before crawling up Leonard's body again, back to his face. Len swallowed his revulsion and kept his face still. “I think I could find a few positions for you.” Len heard a scuffling sound from the other side of the garage near the van and focused hard on the man in front of him.

“That sounds great,” Leonard replied. “You can set something up for me and let me know, then?”

“Don't have to be that formal,” Martin said, easing closer. Len's shoulder's twitched as he fought his body's urge to run. “We could start today. I have a transfer scheduled soon.” He swept his hand over to indicate the van. “You could hop in. Go for a ride with me. It's a really easy job.”

There was absolutely no chance that Leonard was getting in a creepy guy's van. He was pretty sure that was the first thing they taught you in school. “Don't you have to fill out some paperwork to take an inmate off the premises?”

“I'll handle it, don't you worry,” Martin practically cooed. “I've got friends here. They'll take care of me, and I'll take care of you.”

When Martin said that, he reached out and before Leonard realized what he was doing the man had put his hand on his shoulder, running his thumb up the exposed flesh of his neck. Len couldn't stop himself from jerking back, taking two quick steps back until he felt the wall against his back, which didn't help the anxiety that the touch had inspired. His stomach was churning and he could feel his heart hammering in his chest.

“Hey, calm down, kid,” Martin said, holding up his hands and taking a step closer. Leonard forced himself not to bolt from the room. There was a metallic clang from the other side fo the room, something dropping or being hit. Martin turned toward the sounds and Len froze for a moment. He focused on pushing the fear down, using it to sharpen his senses rather than overwhelm them, pushing his thoughts through the paralyzation and snapping back to the plan. Thinking of it calmed him and reminded him why he was here, what was needed.

“Sorry,” Leonard practically purred, reaching out and placing a hand lightly on the officer's arm, drawing his attention back to him. “I got jumped here my first day. Made me kind of twitchy.”

“Well, no worries,” Martin replied, giving him a lecherous grin back. “I can protect you from that sort of thing, once you start working here.” Len caught the faint sound of movement, cloth on concrete. He gave the man his best attempt at a coy smile.

“That's quite an offer,” Leonard said. “I'd love to talk about taking you up on it. Unfortunately, I have a visitor coming in to see me in an hour or so. I have to stay and catch them.”

“What a shame,” Martin says, eyes roaming yet again. Leoanrd feels like he'll need to shower for hours at this point. “Well... I'm sure I'll see you soon.”

“I'll be around,” Leonard says, sidestepping out from between him and the wall. He takes two more steps back before he's semi-comfortable turning his back to the man and forcing himself to walk away. His brain has been screaming for him to run practically since he walked in here, but he knows that not showing nerves is important, so he maintains pace until he exit through the outside door, the one that takes him into the yard. He follows a very specific, carefully planned path that lets him make it to the large oak tree in the center of the offset section of the yard, the one he had run to to cry unseen a month before. He and Mick have walked this exact path over and over, for the last week, more times than he can count, Leonard attempting to drill it into Mick so he won't make any mistake. Mick forced himself to learn, fighting his obvious impatience, because this part is important to ensure that he doesn't show up on any security feeds when he exits. One wrong move and he's screwed, and Leonard couldn't stand Mick going down for this, for him, his plan to get his information for his asshole father. Every time he thinks of it like that, his chest tightens and he can't look Mick in the eyes because he's not sure what he thinks or feels about that.

Leonard circles around the large trunk of the tree and is instantly relieved to find Mick waiting there. He's flicking the lighter around and around in his hands, twirling, spinning, flipping it, even as his foot taps out a stacatto beat on the dirt. He's a bundle of nervous energy, and Len grows uneasy as he approaches; Mick gets fidgety when he's upset or angry, which could be a sign that something has gone wrong on his part. As soon as Len slides up next to him, though, his face brightens and he stops all his restless movements. He slides the lighter into a small nook that Len had found for him before, so he didn't have to hide it somewhere in the dorm or walk around with it on him.

“Hey,” he says, his eyes searching Len's face, running over him in a entirely different way than the one Leonard has just been subjected to inside. Len nearly laughs at the contrast. “You ok? He didn't... bother you too much?”

“I'm fine,” Len replies, but his voices sounds breathy even to him, and Mick frowns.

“Deep breaths, Len,” Mick rumbles, his voice low and quiet. Len swallows and takes a moment to do as he says. Mick's face relaxes as Leonard's breathing slows. Leonard reaches out and grabs his wrist, pulling him away from the tree with him. They can't wait around very long.

“Come on. We need to get out with everyone else.” Mick nods and follows closely after Len, another precise path that requires some zig zagging but allows them to rejoin the main prison yard seemingly out of nowhere. Len keeps his hand around Mick's wrist while they walk, and Mick doesn't pull away. Len tells himself that he wants to make sure Mick stays close to him, avoiding the view of the cameras, and hopes that what Mick tells himself as well. Len can still feel the beat of Mick's pulse in the wrist under his fingers, though, and while it's probably faster normal, it's still slower than his. Leonard counts it out, focusing on the rhythm, timing it out in his head, and finds the process calming. By the time they step out into the main yard and Len releases Mick's arm, he's nearly back to normal.

“Hey,” Mick growls, tipping his head toward the far side of the yard where there's a cluster of guards. Bock is standing there as well, laughing and talking with the other guards. That will do nicely. Len heads over until they're fairly close to the group of guards, Mick right on his heels. Leonard gives Bock a smile and a wave, though his smiles tend to come out closer to a smirk most of the time. Still, he gets a smile and a nod back. Mick doesn't snarl or glare, which Len has determined is his way of being friendly with everybody but himself. They park themselves on a small bench not too far away and wait.

They don't have to wait long. Len's trying to think of someone innocuous to talk about when there's a bang that reverberates through the the ground. Heads immediately start turning, and a couple moments later, the alarms start to sound and the guards jump into action, shouting and rushing around, screaming at the inmates to get on the ground. Mick and Len comply immediately, face down, hands on their heads. Len hears Mick chuckle after a moment, and looks up to follow his gaze to a plume of thick, dark smoke. He's got manic look in his eye and a mad grin on his face.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

They were lined up and brought into the building under heavy guard. Leonard quickly lost track of Mick as they were shuffled into separate lines. The guards pulled them out in sets of two or three, putting them through a strip search and sending them off to be interrogated immediately afterward. The questions were pretty simple – Where were you when the fire happened? When was the last time you went to the prison garage? What was the last interaction you had with Officer Darryl Martin? Len had handy answers for all their questions; he'd been in the yard, and he'd never been in the garage or spoken with Officer Martin that he could remember. They sternly reminded him that they would be reviewing the security footage, tracking their movements and interactions with said officer. Len gave them a pleasant smile and wished them good luck before he was returned to his cell.

Mick wasn't there when he returned. Leonard didn't worry, at first; they had a lot of people to go through, and Mick could very well be near the end of one of their lines. But the longer Len was forced to sit there, all of them stuck in their cells on lockdown while the guards sorted everything out, the tighter his nerves winding tighter with every tick of the imaginary clock in his mind. His fingers drummed unstoppably on the metal railings of the bed, but he forced himself not to stand and pace. He needed to not look suspicious. By the time three hours had passed, Len was running through doomsday scenarios in his head.

When the buzz that signaled his door was opening, he sat up so fast that he nearly hit his head on the bottom of Mick's bed. He swung his legs over the side of the mattress and scooted to the edge of the bed, turning his head to see through the open doorway.

Mick strode in, thumbs hooked in the pockets of his prison jumpsuit, posture relaxed. He caught Len's eye as he entered and gave him a quick grin and a wink. Leonard felt the tension instantly seep out of him, like someone had punctured a balloon. Len shifted back onto his side on the bottom bunk while the springs above him creaked and groaned while Mick settled in there, back where he belonged.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len waited as he listened to the footsteps pass their cell and then continue on down the hall, counting silently in his head. It was the middle of the night, and the guards were doing their rounds. Len had let a few go by, making sure that they were keeping the same schedule after the garage incident. Since it seemed they were, he restarted his mental countdown to the next pass, and reached up and tapped his fingernails against the metal siding of the bottom bunk.

He heard a rustling from the bunk above him, and then a soft slap of flesh on stone as feet hit the floor beside his bed. He could barely make out the large shadow that he knew was Rory in the darkness. He shifted as close to the wall as he could as Mick slipped into the bed beside him, sliding close, so that their faces were barely a couple inches apart. It was a system they had worked out a few weeks in, once they were comfortable enough to be this close to one another. They'd never been caught before, due to Len's timing, but should they be, they would most likely be reprimanded and Rory sent back to his bunk, perhaps checked in on more often during the nights, but nothing serious, because the guards would assume that they were doing what other inmates would be if caught in such a position, which was along the lines of “giving in to teenage hormones.” Len would much rather they think that about them than what they were actually doing, which was more along the lines of “planning and discussing the bombing, grievous injury, and possible death of a troublesome guard.” So in this case, Len didn't mind that people were often jumping to conclusions. He also didn't mind that Mick often came down shirtless, Or that Mick tended to rest his hand on his hip, like he was doing now. (The first time, Mick had shifted around awkwardly before tentatively laying his hand down, embarrassedly explaining that he couldn't find anywhere else to move it that was comfortable.Len couldn't see in the dark, but he would have put money on the fact that Mick was blushing, and then paid that money to see it.)

“What did they ask you?” Len whispered, barely audible. Only Mick would be close enough to hear him, and vice versa.

“Bunch of stupid questions,” Mick murmured back in that deep voice. Len could almost swear he felt the vibration of his words from his body better than he heard them. “Where I was, did I know him, did I ever hang out in the garage.”

“Same here,” Len breathed. “they're running security feeds. You're sure you avoided all the cameras?”

“Yep.” Len swore he could sense Mick smile in the darkness. “Did it just the way you showed me, boss.”

“I'm not the boss,” Len said. “You're the one who took the real risks. You were gone for ages when they were questioning us; I was freaking out a little.”

“Scared I slipped up and said something stupid?” Mick sounded a little resentful. Before he could think too much about it, Len reached out and squeezed his bicep, shifting a fraction of an inch closer. Mick stilled.

“I was afraid I missed something, something that screwed you over,” Len whispered. “I was worried about you.”

“Don't worry about me,” Mick said, sounding amused this time. “I had a good teacher.” He was definitely grinning now, Len was sure. Of course, Len was smiling too, so who could fault him?

“They asked me few times and a few ways if I knew Martin, ever spoke to him,” Len commented. “I wonder if they suspect his... interests.”

“Dunno,” Mick muttered. “Didn't ask me much about him. Asked me where I was a lot. Asked me what I knew about what was going on. Then they made the mistake of saying fire and I latched on. Every time they asked me about the garage I asked them a bunch of questions back... what did it look like, what did it smell like, how long did it burn. They got tired of me really quick after that.”

“That was a spark of genius,” Len commented, grinning wide. He just couldn't help himself. There were a few beats of silence before Mick finally sighed deeply, sending a gust of hot breath across Leonard's skin that sent a resulting shiver down his spine.

“I'm gonna let that one go,” Mick growled, “because technically, it was a compliment.” Len bit his lip and let his shoulders shake a little as he held his laughter in. “Yeah, Len, you're fucking hilarious.”

“I know,” Len purred, entirely too pleased with himself. He used the hand he still had on Rory's bicep to give him a gentle nudge. “We were careful. We'll be fine. You better get back up there though.”

“Right,” Mick agreed. He slid his hand off Len's hip and rolled over, Len drawing his own hand back as well. Len listened to him climb back up as quietly as he could and ease back into his own bed, making as little noise as possible. Len shifted forward, away from the wall, sliding into the warm spot Mick had left behind.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len spent the next week very cautiously ferreting out exactly what the prison investigation seemed to know about 'the incident,' as all the guards who mentioned it seemed to be calling it. As Officer Martin was getting ready to head out for his intake transfer run, a fire had started in the undercarriage of the van, spreading quickly and igniting several fluids and wiring systems before reaching the nearly full gas tank, which exploded after the fire built up pressure in the system. Officer Martin, who had been in the car when the fire started and hadn't noticed its progression until it was too late, had 3rd degree burns over 80% of his body. He'd been put in a medically induced coma and his chances of survival weren't looking good.

Len was far more pleased with what the investigation didn't seem to know. They didn't seem to know that either he or Mick had been in the garage at all, let alone that day. They didn't seem to know that a couple bags of powdered chlorine, used in some of their water filtration systems, had gone missing a few days prior. They didn't seem to know that powdered chlorine, when mixed with brake fluid, would ignite. They didn't seem to know that while fluid would drip slowly from a line when a vehicle was off, as soon as you started it the fluid would begin flowing out quite fast. They didn't seem to know that Officer Martin tended to like to get in, turn the car on, and then sit for a while, fiddling with the air conditioning, the radio stations, the volume, the seat position, and other time wasting activities before he could be bothered to set out. This gave the brake fluid, now leaking rapidly from the small cut in the brake line that Mick had crawled under the van and made while Len distracted Martin, plenty of time to reach and ignite the pile of chlorine powder that Mick had made, using the packets Len had lifted out of the prison supply.

Len knew all these things, because that was exactly how he had worked it out over the last week. He knew, in a detached sort of way, that he should probably feel bad about essentially killing someone, but it was Martin. He couldn't bring himself to feel bad, not after his first and only interaction with the man. Instead, he was feeling pretty damn pleased with himself. Mick was much the same; when Len informed him of the man's dim diagnosis, Mick had laughed his mad laugh and said “Serves him right for tryin' to come after you like that.” Len had been oddly pleased with that reaction, especially since it meant that Mick was no longer pouting over the fact that Len had made him burn the beloved textbook that had spawned the idea, just in case.

Rory wasn't the only one who was pleased with the outcome. Len had pulled Alex aside the day after 'the incident,' and as soon as they were out of sight, Alex had broken into a huge grin and moved to actually hug him, stopped only by Mick stepping forward instantly and putting a restraining hand on Vera's shoulder, pushing him back and glaring at him.

“Sorry, sorry,” Alex said, holding his hands up in surrender. “I just... that guy...”

“There is no guy, and you will say nothing about it,” Len ordered, voice hard. Mick crossed his arms and glared harder.

“Right... Right of course,” Alex said, looking nervous. “I promise. I don't even know how...”

“Safe code,” Len cut him off. He took the small slip of paper that Alex had brought for him and tucked it into his pocket with an easy smile. “Pleasure doing business with you, Vera.”

Chapter Text


 They had worked out a system at that point - Mick would walk Leonard to the library, where he would leave him as he headed to the gym to work out. Len was in the library a couple day after speaking to Alex, paging through a textbook about structural engineering, when he heard the scrape of a chair across the floor and someone drop down into it. When he looked up, he tensed immediately.

“Well hello,” the boy said, giving him a smile that didn't quite reach his calculating eyes. “Leonard Snart, correct?”

“Depends who's asking,” he drawls, eyeing the other man.

“I'm asking,” the other boy replies, smile widening a bit. “Perhaps you know of me. Nicholas Santini.”

Len does know of him, so he gives a short nod. Nicholas Santini, of the Santini family, oldest, prized son of Vincent Santini. He's seen him sitting in the center of the family's table in the cafeteria, the one that he had first located Alex hovering on the fringes of. Everyone and everything at that table revolves around him, from what Len can see. Which doesn't explain why he's here. Len glances around, searching the room for the positions of nearby guards and to see if any of Nicholas's family members are lurking nearby. Nicholas notices and chuckles.

“No worries,” Nicholas assures him. “We're alone, for now. No family members.” His eyes glint. “No arsonists.” Leonard's mouth tightens and he folds his hands in front of him, focusing on the other boy across from him.

“Well, then,” he replies, going for a light tone. “What is it that you wish to discuss, just the two of us?”

“Alex Vera,” Nicholas replies easily. Leonard forces himself not to react to the name.

“I don't know why you'd want to ask me about him,” Len replies coolly. Nicholas gives him another wide smile.

“Alex is my cousin, did you know that?” Nicholas asks, seemingly innocently.

“I didn't,” he admits, deciding to be honest about this. “Why would it matter to me, though?”

“Alex's parents aren't very involved in the... family business,” Nicholas continues archly. Leonard sites silently, waiting out the seeming non-sequitur. “They're still family, though. When I was a child, his mother used to watch me while my father was working, and my mother was... occupied. She would bring Alex along. We practically grew up together, and I tend to think of him like a little brother.” He eyes Leonard before continuing. “He told me that he was having trouble with Officer Martin.”

“Would that be the guy that died a couple weeks ago?” Len asks, tilting his head and feigning innocence. Nicholas laughs out loud.

“Yes, that would be the one,” Nicholas says, seeming amused. “Everyone's heard about it, of course. Died in a mysterious vehicle fire.” He turns a piercing stare on Leonard.

“I remember,” Leonard replies, mouth going dry. “Haven't heard much about it since then, though.”

“Not much to hear,” Nicholas says, leaning back. “They investigated for a while. Looked through all the security tapes.” He tilts his head and looks contemplatively at Len for a few moments. “They didn't find anything helpful to their investigation of the fire. Cameras don't show anyone going in or out or setting any fires. Very strange.” He pauses and his face darkens. “They went further back, though. Still didn't find out anything about the fire, but it seems they found a few things about Martin. Things they don't want getting out. So, they've essentially dropped the investigation to avoid the scandal. Labeling it an accidental fire. Faulty engine wiring, blah blah blah.” He shrugs. “Based on what I've heard from Alex, I'm not the least bit sorry. Quite the opposite, really.”

“All right,” Leonard says slowly. “And what does that have to do with me?”

Nicholas laughs again. “I think I like you, Snart. Now, like I said, Alex told me about about his troubles with Martin. I went to my father, asked him to transfer the guy, but he looked at it as an opportunity. Get a little something over a guard, you know? I wasn't a fan, because I'd rather not put Alex through that, but Vincent's the boss, you know.” He spreads his hands in front of him, as though to say, what can you do. Leonard thinks you can do a lot, especially as a family head, but wisely keeps his mouth shut. “Anyway, I know Alex was looking around for other solutions, someone to help him out. I know he approached your little firebug friend as well.” Len holds himself very still, not allowing anything to show on his face. Nicholas reaches out and take hold of a book sitting on the table, dragging it over to him and flipping it open. He spends a minute paging through it, not really reading, but turning the pages. Leonard says nothing; he is fully aware that this is a game, and the first one to speak loses. After a bit, Nicholas snaps the book closed and smiles at him again.

“Now,” Nicholas said. “Apparently, Rory's not really looking to run protection for anyone but you right now. Guess you're quite the handful.”

“I'm very high maintenance,” Leonard responds dryly, prompting another laugh from Nicholas.

“I don't doubt it. The best ones are. Still, there are other services that can be provided besides protection.” Nicholas places on hand on the table and leans forward a bit, looking Leonard dead in the eye with an unwavering gaze. This is the point he has been dancing around, leading up to. “If you can't protect someone, eliminate the problem. Just as good, if not easier.”

“Provided you can pull it off,” Len says carefully. “So, you think Rory set the garage fire?”

“I think he helped,” Nicholas responds. “But, as you said, you have to be able to pull something off. The fire, I can believe he figured that out. That's his thing, I hear. But getting in and out, silently, and not appearing once on camera? No, that's not his style. He'd never manage it on his own. No, that's the sort of thing you pick up as a theif, particularly one who grew up around cops.” Something must have flickered on his face, because Nicholas grins smugly. “Oh, don't look like that. We're quite fond of crooked cops where I'm from, I assure you. And I'm sure your little friend is quite wonderful; he would have had to follow your plan to perfection, after all. That's a good bit of training you've accomplished there.” Len clenches his jaw shut, anger bubbling up. Nicholas notices, tilting his head to the side and looking at Leonard like he's a new species of animal he's just discovered. Len quickly schools his face back into a calm mask. “Anyway. I know he promised you payment for your little endeavor. I'm here to offer you an alternate form of payment.” Len says nothing, again. He's already gotten his payment, in the form of a safe code that the family absolutely cannot know he has. He's not sure if he's being set up here or not, so he's absolutely not opening his mouth until he knows more about the situation. “I'm going to offer you a favor. One favor, from the family, you name it. I can get you practically anything you ask for.”

“Interesting proposition,” is all Len says in return. Nicholas gives him a benevolent smile beneath cold eyes.

“It is,” Nicholas agrees. “Think about, Snart and get back to me.” He pauses for a moment, considering something. “Really – I am impressed by your little stunt. More so after talking to you. Or rather, talking at you. You have a lot of potential. You ever want work in the family, I'll put in a good word for you.”

“I'll keep it in mind,” Leonard responds evenly.

“Well then.” Nicholas pushes back his chair and stands. “Think about my offer. Let me know what you think. And if you take it, it's good for as long as you need it.”

“I understand.”

Nicholas flashes him one more fake smile before strolling off.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Leonard is waiting just outside the door of the library drumming his fingers on the spine of the book when Mick arrives from the gym. He's wearing only sweat-stained tank top, carrying his prison shirt and a towel at his side. He seems subdued, as he usually does after he burns off energy at the gym, but as soon as he sees Len standing there he snaps to attention, going straight to him and looking him over.

“Later,” Leonard says, before he can ask. He pauses, then adds. “Tonight.” Mick nods wordlessly, sticking close to Leonard's side for the rest of the day. Leonard notes Alex a couple times after he leaves the library that morning, mostly passing by him the halls, and there always seem to be family members around him now. He starts working on a way to separate them from him, get him alone, but it turns out he doesn't have to. He ducks into the bathroom while Len and Mick are washing up there before lunch and heads straight for him. When he gets close enough, Len grabs him by the front of his shirt and yanks him into one of the bathroom stalls, shutting the door behind him and leaning in close.

“What did you tell him?” Len isn't quite as intimidating as Mick, particularly given his size, but he can do a decent job if he tries hard enough, especially on an easily intimidated bundle of nerves like Alex. The fact that Mick's waiting just outside, leaning against the sink and keeping an eye out, doesn't hurt either.

“I didn't-”

“Nicholas came to me and offered a deal,” Len hissed. “I need to know exactly what he knows or we could both end up screwed. He says he thinks of you like a brother. You think that's gonna make it better or worse if he finds out you sold out a family store to save your own ass?” Alex swallows hard and stares at the floor.

“I had asked about getting Martin off my case and they told me there was nothing they could do,” Alex said, voice low and wavery. “When that fire happened – he came to me and – it seemed like he already knew, so I told him...”

“Told him WHAT?” Len growled, his patience worn thin long ago.

“I told him I asked Rory to... take care of him,” Alex said, the words starting to rush out. “He already seemed pretty sure about everything and I didn't want to tell him about the safe code so I told him I was going to pay Rory and he said he would take care of it... Then the family started following me around everywhere and I wanted to warn you-”

“You didn't mention me?” Leonard asked. Alex shook his head vigorously.

“I honestly don't know why he came to you-”

“He's not an idiot, kid. He figured out that neither of us would manage it alone,” Len snapped. “Now you're sure that's what you told him? Exactly what you told him? You didn't leave anything out that's going to come back and bite us in the ass later? Didn't mention it to anyone else?”

“He had two guys with him,” Alex admitted. “But they won't do anything without his word. I didn't tell anyone else, I won't ever, I swear to god-”

“Good,” Leonard said. “You better not. Now... tell me about the jewelry store.”

“What?” Alex seemed baffled. “I gave you the code-”

“And it better work,” Leonard warned him “But aside from that, I want to know every last thing you know about it. All the security, their products, backroom stuff, and anything they keep besides jewelry in there.” When Leonard said that, Alex's eyes cut to the side. There it is, he thought. “Alex? What's in there besides jewelry?”

“I can't,” Alex whispers.

“You will, or you're dead tomorrow,” Len promised. “Remember when you said we couldn't kill you? Want to ask your friend Martin if that's true?” Alex's eyes widened. Leonard could see his hands trembling.

“Ledgers,” Alex mumbled. “In a false bottom desk in the counting room. Lists a lot of important information.”

“Good,” Leonard murmurs. “Hopefully this is the last we see of each other in our long lives, then, Alex.” Alex nods. “Stay here for at least five minutes. If your new keepers come in, tell them you have bad indigestion and stay an extra two minutes. Don't forget to flush when you leave.” Another nod. Leonard gives him a pat on the shoulder and slips out. He and Mick gather their toiletries and head back to their cell.

“You need me to handle him?” Mick asks in his low rumble. Len smiles but shakes his head.

“He's just a scared idiot,” Leonard replies. “I didn't mean half the things I said to him, but I needed him to be more scared of talking than he is of his baby mob boss buddy. Otherwise he'll talk us all into our graves.” They reach their cell and drop off their stuff. They've barely started down the hall towards the cafeteria for lunch when they're stopped by two guards.

“Visitor, Snart,” the one on the left informs him. Mick looks at him.

“Got to lunch, Mick,” Len tells him. “I'll be back.” Mick nods after a moment and heads toward the cafeteria, glancing over his shoulder  as Len heads the other way.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Lewis Snart is early, for once. It hasn't been the six weeks he claimed, and Len suspects that isn't a great sign. Still, at the very least he has more than done his part. He settles in across from his father at the table in the center of the room, farthest away from all the guards positioned along the walls, plastering a fake smile on his face. People paid a lot less attention to pleasant conversation and happy faces; they were generally less interesting to eavesdrop on.

“Hey, Leo,” Lewis says, his smile too toothy and his eyes mean. “You been behaving?” Len knows what that really means is 'did you do what I told you to?'

“On my best behavior,” Len drawls back. “Even better, in fact.” Lewis narrows his eyes.

“Is that so?”

“It is,” Leonard says. He leans in a little closer and tries to brighten his fake smile. Lewis does the same. “I'll slip you what you want on the way out.”

“Great,” Lewis say, but Leonard holds up a hand briefly. Lewis glares for a moment, and Len knows that would've gotten him a bruise outside here away from the guards, but he has to get this out.

“Got you a bonus,” Len says, as low as he can manage. “Desk in the back. False bottom. Has Family ledgers.” Lewis's smile instantly broadens. It's a hungry look on his face now.

“You know how much their competitors will pay for that?” Lewis growls, licking their lips. Len glances around. There's a mother arguing with her sulking son in the corner that's drawing enough attention for him to get this out.

“You know how much the Santinis will pay for that?” Len all but whispers.

“Don't be an idiot,” Lewis says “I try to sell it back to them they'll kill me for taking it.”

“So don't sell it,” Len says. “Sell its location. Plant it on one of their rivals and pass the information along. You'll be the family's new best friend.” Lewis frowns for a minute and stares down at the table. Leonard can practically see the gears creaking around in his old man's head. Lewis wants an in with the Family, wants it badly, has for a long time. Since he got booted from the force, he thinks of the Santinis as the thing that will fill the void of power and protection he lost. Leonard is banking on this being important enough to Lewis that he will actually try hard enough to avoid fucking it all up. When Lewis finally looks up and smiles his slimy smile, Leonard knows he's hooked.

“You might be more useful in here than out running jobs,” Lewis jeers. “Maybe you oughta just stay in here for a while.”

Afterwards, when Leonard and Lewis have spent a little time faking small talk and Len has slipped the safe code into his pocket under the nose of the bored guard who's “monitoring” their brief good-bye hug, Len walks out to find Rory lingering in the hallway, waiting for him. As he approaches the taller boy, Mick tosses him something. Len catches it easily and looks down at the apple now in his hand.

“What am I, Snow White?” he drawls. Mick snorts.

“You'll be a dwarf forever if you keep missing meals.” Len scowls at him. “What? Don't look at me like that. I saved you from starvation. Don't be so sour.”

“I can't help it.” Len smirks. “I'm rotten to the core.”

“Now I know why they poisoned the damn apple,” Mick mutters. Len laughs and takes a bite, because he was in fact hungry. Mick throws an arm around his shoulders and Len wonders if maybe his father was right – for once – about being in here.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When Leonard finally hears the footsteps he's been waiting for approach, then pass his and Rory's cell, he is so impatient that he wants to shout. He can hear Mick moving around almost as soon as his fingers tap the metal; apparently, he's not the only one. Mick slips in beside him in what feels like seconds, inches away and pleasantly warm. His hand brushes the skin at the hem of Len's shirt when he puts it on his hip and Len hopes that he doesn't notice the small shiver it sends through him.

“You been busy today,” Mick mutters quietly. “Wanna catch me up? What the hell happened with Santini?”

Len wastes no time in catching him up on the entire conversation with Nicholas Santini, and what he told his father. Mick listens patiently, staring at him in the dark. He hums when Len finishes.

“So you think Nicky knows about the safe code?” Mick wonders.

“I don't,” Leonard said. “He wouldn't waste time bartering with me like that if he knew. He seems like the type to go straight for the throat.”

“No kidding,” Mick agrees, and Len feels his fingers tighten on his hip. “If he's serious, though, a favor from a Santini ain't a small thing.”

“It's practically a get out out of jail free card,” Len purrs. Mick doesn't respond, and Len frowns. “Mick?”

“It is,” Mick says quietly. “Seriously, Len. I bet they could walk you out of here tomorrow.”

“I don't need to get out of here,” Len says, frowning. “I don't even have three months left. More than halfway done. Besides, I need to save it. If my father fucks up his little jewelry store plan, then that's my trump card. At the very least, I can protect Lisa with it.”

“True,” Mick says. A moment later he chuckles. “Shit, Len. They dropped the investigation.” The older boy leans forward to rest his forehead against Leonard's, and Len finds that the grin he's wearing now is infectious. “We did it. We pulled it off.”

“We did,” Len murmurs, suddenly giddy. “Just you and me, Mick.” Len is so caught up in the exhilaration of that fact that he doesn't hear the footsteps until they're close to their cell. He freezes and so does Mick. The footsteps stop abruptly and Len knows they're going to check in. The timing is all wrong; there shouldn't have been another patrol through for a while still. Mick has heard it too, and when the bright light of a flashlight shines into their cell, he moves, pulling Len's body against his and pressing his mouth against Leonard's. Len tells himself that the sudden light in the darkness is why he closes his eyes. He doesn't have as good pf an excuse for why he tilts his head and parts his lips.The guard makes a noise of irritation and bangs twice on the cell door before walking away. So much for enforcement. Len figures the guard's at least halfway down the hall before Mick's tongue is in his mouth. He realizes that he should probably break this off but the idea fizzles as Mick's thumb strokes over the skin just above the waistband of his pants and Len shudders; he can't remember ever being touched so gently before. Mick's hand slide up his back under the hem of his shirt and for a few moments Len is so lost in the way Mick is biting at his lower lip that he doesn't realize Mick's fingers are tracing over the large scar on his back.

Leonard has a lot of scars. He wears a long sleeved undershirt as often as possible, and never takes his shirt off in front of anyone, even Mick. He hates the idea of anyone seeing the roadmap of weakness printed on his skin, and that scar is the largest, from the time his father had been angrier than he'd ever seen him, lashing at him with a belt, the buckle still on the end and ripping open his skin. Suddenly the memory is crashing down on him. He freezes for a moment, then he's shoving Mick back with a surprising amount of force, pushing himself back against the wall.

“Len?” Mick asks, voice rough. He reaches a hand out to him, but Len flinches and it's Mick's turn to freeze. His eyes widen and he yanks his hand back.  “Sorry,” he mumbles, sliding back, off the bed.  Len wants to tell him not to go but he can't think. Everything he can think of saying is useless and everything that would be right he can't bring himself to say. It's not you. I'm sorry. Don't go. I'm damaged. Instead he lays there silently as Rory slip away into the darkness.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

When Leonard wakes up the next morning, Rory's stepped out already, and Len's heart sinks. He considers skipping breakfast entirely, but decides against it. He's instantly relieved when he steps out and discovers Mick is actually loitering the hallway. Mick catches his eyes for only a moment before his eyes immediately dart away. He stares at the floor the whole way there, and for once Len can't think of anything to say. They spend breakfast in silence, Mick looking anywhere but at Leonard, and when he leave Leonard at the library again, he practically rushes away, head down.

Len doesn't get much reading done. He spends most of his time trying to think of a way to get across to Mick that kissing him was fine and his reaction had nothing to do with him, without having to show or tell Mick about his scars and his father. He gives up before long, slipping a chemistry textbook out with him, trying to apologize the only way he knows how; with stolen gifts.

He's early, so he heads over to the prison gym where Mick goes while he reads. He lingers by the door, taking the opportunity to watch Mick unnoticed. Rory finishes up a set of bench presses and sits up. He slides his lighter out of his pocket and Len smiles. Mick doesn't flick it on, and he doesn't even flip it around like when he's nervous; instead he holds it in his hand, then strokes his thumb up and down the side. Len shivers and licks his lips as he remembers the feeling of that move on his skin, and suddenly he can't bring himself to hang around. He heads back to his cell, where he dumps the textbooks on the bed and sits with his face in his hands. He's backed himself into a corner and can't figure out how to talk himself out of it now.

Len goes through the rest of the morning barely seeing Rory. By the time lunch rolls around, he's thought the situation to death. The only idea he's had so far is to drag Mick into a corner and kiss him until he gets the idea. He suspects that's partially fueled by the fact that he didn't really sleep last night, but he doesn't particularly care. He's heading over to the cafeteria when he sees him rounding the corner with two guards, heading in the opposite direction. Len frowns and abandons his path to tail them. It's entirely possible that in his mood Rory's set some kind of fire and gotten caught; Len's showed him the safest places to set them without getting attention, but Len still watches over them with him because he has a tendency to get distracted and lose track of when it needs to be put out.

Leonard stays out of sight as they lead Mick down the hall, growing more uneasy as they go on. Len's explored the whole layout of the place, and they're leading Mick away from all the places they should have a reason to take him – the warden's office, counselor's room, even the visitor's center are in the opposite direction. He flattens himself against a cabinet and peers around the edge. The two guards have brought Mick to another guard, leaning against the wall by a door that Leonard knows goes into the boiler room, and alarm bells immediately start going off in his head. It's supposed to be kept locked, but the guard that's waiting opens it easily and the other two grab Mick by the arms and half-drag, half shove him into the room. Leonard darts out as the third enters, but by the time he reaches the door it's closed and when he tries the handle it's locked again. He presses his ear against the door and can hear voices, and what he's pretty sure is Mick shouting.

Locks aren't much of a deterrent for Leonard Snart, inside or out of juvie. He's fashioned a few sets of lock picks out of a few items, and he carries them on him with the same frequency and reverence that Mick carries lighters. He keeps them tucked into the hems of his clothes where no one notices, and now he deftly slips the set he's got out and works on the door.

“Hey!” Leonard looks up sharply. Officer Bock is storming over to him, looking annoyed as hell. “Kid, what do you think you're-”

“The guards took Mi- Rory,” Leonard cuts him off. “Do you have keys?”

Bock blinks, confused. “To the boiler room? No, why would they-”

“Not for anything good,” Len mutters, focusing as hard as he can. Bock stands there, torn, unsure of the situation, giving Len enough time to pop the lock and shove the door open. He darts in and with a shout Bock is on his heels.

The room is big, and full of machinery all around the outside. In the large open space at the back, there are supply shelves, and a table that's been pushed against the wall. Leonard knows the room doesn't have cameras in that area; he's certain that's why they've brought Mick here. He slips behind one of the loud, large boilers and assesses the situation.

There's five guards in the room; two have Mick's arms pinned, two are standing by looking smug and vicious, and the last, who seems to be direction the whole affair, is tapping what looks a lot like a tire iron against his leg.

“This is what happens when you fuck with one of our friends,” Tire Iron says, stepping closer. Mick snarls like an animal, but the other two guards are strong and have a pretty good hold on him. The guard suddenly whips the tire iron out with shocking speed and Len hears a sickening crack as it strikes against Mick's leg. Mick grunts and is staggered, nearly going to his knees, but the guards' grip on him keep him up. Len's heart stops for a moment and he feels suddenly ill, but he hears Bock gasp beside him and utter a quiet “Jesus...” He'd forgotten about him for a minute.

“You think you can take out one of us?” Tire Iron grabs Mick's jaw and leans in. “We know you set that fire in the garage, Rory, and we're going to make you regret it.”

Bock's always been a good guy, from what Len can tell. Cares too much, if anything; most of them in here are lost causes, but not to him. As another steps up and give Mick a right hook to the face, Len hopes he's a nice enough guy to not completely abandon them here, but he doesn't stop to check. He rushes out from behind the boiler and straight down the aisle between the machines. The guards turn at the sound of his footsteps, surprised but not for long. He sees Mick's eyes widen and for a moment he looks afraid - Really Mick? Now you're afraid? He's running towards Tire Iron, who's ready for him; but at the last moment, Len ducks under what was supposed to be a counter attack and darts past him to slam into one of the guards holding Mick. The surprise and momentum of his movement allow Leonard to knock the man down despite the size difference, and he lets go fo Mick's arm as he takes the fall. Mick is turning the moment he's released, falling on the man still holding him with an angry howl and a rage-fueled power. The guard Leonard has landed on is struggling with him, trying to get his hand around Len's throat, and he has to focus, writhing and scratching at the man's eyes, trying to stay on top of him because if he gets to his feet he can use his whole body mass against him, and Len will probably lose. He's trying to angle his knee onto the other man's neck when suddenly there's a thick arm around his throat from behind, lifting him into a chokehold and pulling him back. He still manages to get a vicious kick into the first guard's face and is rewarded with a gush of blood down the main's face a howl of pain. He hopes it's broken. Somewhere behind him, he hears the squawk of radio chatter burst in the room.
He tries to claw over his shoulder at the eyes of whoever's holding him but he's too small and he can't get the angle right. He can see Rory take a vicious hit to the gut with the tire iron and hears the air go out of him with a huff as he doubles over, and he's struck with the absurd thought that right now, neither of them can breathe, and an untimely desire to laugh, were he able to get enough air in for it. Len kicks at the man's legs and struggles, but the hold just tightens. Instead of standing, Mick suddenly bull charges at tire Iron, taking a hit against his back but not stopping, tackling the other man around the waist and slamming him against the machine, then whipping out fast, brutal punches to his kidneys. The tire iron is dropped and he snatches it up, smashing it against the side of the guard's head and turning to the last man standing, the one holding Len.

“Drop it, Rory,” the man growls from behind him. Len tries to say something, but he can't get the words out around the pressure. “I'll snap the kid's neck, now DROP IT.” Mick holds up his hands in surrender, then tosses the tire iron to the side. Len wishes he had the ability to tell him what an idiot he's being right now, but the edges of his vision are starting to go fuzzy and he's feeling dizzy.

Suddenly there's a loud crack, and the pressure on his neck relents. Leonard stumbles forward as he feels the guard fall behind him, falling to his knees as he gasps in as much air as he can. Suddenly Mick is kneeling beside him, pulling him against him. Leonard immediately presses his face against Mick's chest, breathing in his scent with each lungful of oxygen. Len tilts his head a little to look over his shoulder and sees Bock standing over the crumpled body of the guard who'd held him, riot baton in his hand, looking shell shocked. He's finally starting to feel like he can speak again when suddenly the room is filling with guards, and it seems like all of them are talking and gesturing and shouting but Leonard can't focus. Hands are on him again, pulling at him, and he resists on instinct, fisting his hands in the front of Mick's prison jumper as they start pulling him back as well. They manage to pry them apart, shoving them face down on the prison floor and fixing their hands behind their back with zip ties. They pull them to their feet again and Leonard hears a faint sound of pain from Rory.

“Mick,” he croaks through his sore throat, but they're taking him away, dragging him off while Len tries to twist around and keep him in sight. “Mick!”

Len hears someone laugh and whips his head around. Too fast; his world spins for a moment before he realizes it's Tire Iron, slumped against the boiler, blood spilling from a gash on the side of his head where Mick had hit him, a mocking smile on his face. “Hope you said goodbye, kid.”

Chapter Text

They take Leonard to the warden's office. The warden is there, with a counselor and two guards, in addition to the two that are posted outside the door. It's set up with comfy furniture and a falsely friendly atmosphere, but it's an interrogation, and Leonard knew it the moment he steps in. He knows what it is, and he knows it's futile, but he still does what he never thought he would: he tells them the truth about what happened, at least in the boiler room. He of course doesn't touch the fire; as far as anyone is concerned anymore, that's an accident, and he intends for it to stay that way. The warden nods and makes sympathetic sounds, but asks only questions about Mick's fighting, Mick's actions that day, whether Mick was in the lead or the guards were, whether he was sure he saw the guards hit first, how dark was it where he was hiding, could he even see around the clutter... By the time it ends Len is grinding his teeth, wondering if punching the would be worth the time extension. Luckily, they finally allow the counselor to escort him out to the medical wing.

At the infirmary, they sit him on the little elevated table, the doctor gently turning his head and photographing his neck when bruises are already starting to bloom. He hates hospitals almost as much as he hates police, and he tries to distract himself from the vulnerability he's feeling by trying to determine where they've taken Mick. He knows that the older boy's hurt, worse than him, so it would make sense for him to be nearby, but Len's got a dizzying fear that they've left him in a room or cell somewhere in pain and it only gives him a different form of anxiety, but he turns down all the medications they offer him. Pain he can handle; he's not allowing them to get his head all fuzzy right now.

His instincts turn out to be right. The next room they take him to has no pretense of comfort. The stern man they send in is at least twice Len's size and glares at him through the whole thing, red light shining on the recording he's making of their conversations. He's good, but the one thing Lewis Snart was good for was teaching his son how to lie to crooked cops. Between Lewis' experience on both sides of the table and Len's intellect, he's fully prepared for this. Leonard never answers a question yes or no; he always repeats his previous statement nearly verbatim, reminding the man of details he's left out or changed in an attempt to trip him up, skirting the leading questions and obvious traps. The man has a good poker face, but Leonard can see by the tightening at the corners of his mouth that the frustration is building as he fails to get the answers he wants.

The stern man eventually runs out of ways to try and trip him up, and they collect him from the room. He's led down the hall to a row of single-person cells with barred doors.

“You're staying here tonight, until we get this sorted out,” one of the guards escorting him informs him. Leonard says nothing. Another guard appears, presenting him with a flat pillow and a scratchy blanket. He takes them and steps into the little cell, door clanging shut behind him. He flings the items down on the bed and sinks down on the thin mattress, placing his head in his hands. The other cells in the hall are empty.

What have they done with Mick?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The room is more uncomfortable than the cell he shares with Mick, a feat he hadn't thought would be possible. Between the physical discomfort and his racing thoughts, he doesn't really sleep that night. He still closes his eyes and evens out his breathing when he hears them coming back for him.

One of them bangs on the bars with his baton. “Get up, kid. We brought you breakfast.” Breakfast, in this case, being two slices of toast, a couple pieces of limp bacon, and a pear, with a cup of milk. Nothing, Leonard notes, that requires silverware to eat. He's certain that's intentional. He takes his time working through it while the guards stand, practically tapping their feet at his pace. When he's finally done, they take the tray for him and then he's being led down the halls again. He suspects this must be the most of the secure wing he's seen so far.

The room they bring him to is one he remembers – the counselor's office. Everyone gets an intake evaluation here and monthly or weekly sessions depending on their eval – Leonard managed to get on the monthly slots but Mick is on weekly. He leans back into the plush chair they have set opposite the doctor's desk and crosses his arms. The counselor waves the guards out and gives him what Len's sure she thinks of as a warm smile.

“How are you doing, honey?” she asks, and Leonard has to force himself not to roll his eyes.

“I've been better,” he drawls, gesturing at his bruised throat. Her brows knit in a show of concern.

“That must have been frightening,” she says. Leonard stares silently at her. “You said one of the guards did it?”

“I didn't do it to myself.”

“Of course not,” she all but coos. “I just want to know what happened so I can help.”

“The guards tried to kill my cellmate, and me,” Leonard says slowly. “What sort of help are you offering for that?”

“The situation will be handled by the upper levels,” she says, words that Leonard knows means she can't or won't do shit. “I can help you talk through the experience, deal with the memories-”

“I'll deal with things on my own,” Leonard cuts her off. She frowns.

“And how do you intend to do that?”

“Positive thinking and prayer. And maybe I'll take up arts and crafts. Channel my emotions.”

“That's...” She pauses, not quite sure what to say. “Positive thinking is always a good thing. Better than dwelling.” She gives him another false bright smile. “I'd like to help you move past this.”

“Hard to get past it before the bruises even fade,” Len shoots back. She winces.

“Certainly, it's an unpleasant reminder of the altercation. I'm sure it must be a difficult thing to have seen-”

“Yes, it's difficult to see authority figures beating up your friend,” Len drawls, giving in to the urge to roll his eyes.

“Is that what you consider him?” the counselor asks, tilting hr head. Leonard narrows his eyes and doesn't respond. “You know, you don't have to associate with someone voilent if you're afraid. We can make arrangements for you, so that you feel safe-”

“I don't need your arrangements. I am safe. And Mi- Rory isn't violent.” A lie, but he's not going to give them anything to work with. Not from him. “He was singled out, held down, attacked, and fought back in self defense.”

The counselor purses her lips and stares at him for a moment. He stares back defiantly. She sighs and writes something down. She then presses a button on her desk phone and a moment later a guard opens the door and steps in.

“You can return Mr. Snart to his cell in general,” she tells him. She turns her attention back to him “Leonard, if you'd ever like to talk between sessions, you can see me at any time.”

“Sure thing,” he says, pushing up off the chair and over to the waiting guard.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

When Leonard gets back to the cell he shares with Rory, he can tell they've tossed it. He is confident they didn't find anything; like the lighter, he's got little hiding places in blind spots around the area where he hides things for the two of them just in case of... well, this. The most damning thing he has here is the chemistry book he had smuggled out for Mick, which is apparently not worthy of their time, because it's stacked carelessly on a side table with most of their other books, a bitter reminder of plans interrupted. It's nearly lunch time, but Leonard doesn't feel like going anywhere. As he lays in bed and passes the time paging through some of the other books in the stack, waiting to see if Mick is going to return, the feeling only deepens into a powerful apathy. He ends up staying there until lights out, thinking and wondering and questioning. After the first guard does his rounds, lingering and deliberately checking in Leonard's cell, he climbs out of his bed and slips into the top bunk.

- - - - -

Leonard wakes late the next morning, discovering when he pokes his head out of the room that he's missed breakfast. He goes to the morning classes they make him take and returns straight to his cell. Nothing has changed. He straightens up the few things of his and Mick's in the room, replacing them where he believes they'd been before they were touched. It doesn't distract him for very long. He runs his fingers over the spine of the chemistry textbook, then picks it up and curls into the bottom bunk with it. He pages through it, not really absorbing but skimming over the words, tabbing down the pages he thinks Mick will find most interesting. He tells himself that he'll need a distraction when he returns. He allows for no other outcome.

By the time lunch comes around Leonard has skipped too many meals to ignore the hunger any longer. He heads to the cafeteria , noting the looks and whispers as he passes groups of people on the way. The feeling only intensifies when he gets his food and sits down in the cafeteria, alone at the table, staring across it to a blank white wall. He can practically feel the weight of the eyes around the area on him, inmates and guards alike, companionless for what he's pretty sure is the first time here. He eats quickly, barely tasting any of it, and then shoves back his chair and marches his tray to a trash can to leave for washing. Heads turn to follow his movements as he passes, and he can see Nicholas Santini stare at him when he passes the Family table.

He skips dinner again that night.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

He'd skipped breakfast and lunch the next day, but he couldn't put off food any longer. And if he hadn't gone to dinner the next night, he might not have seen him.

When he sees him standing at the wall, watching over the people in the room, he freezes. He's not supposed to be here. He's stopped moving, and someone gives him a light shove from behind, making Leonard stumble forward and drawing his attention. They lock eyes for a moment, and he can see the cruel smirk that twists up his lips when it happens.

The guard Leonard had dubbed Tire Iron was the last person he expected to see back here, at least so soon. He's back and Mick isn't; anger flares up in Leonard suddenly, white hot, and he clenches the tray in his hands so hard that his knuckles turn white. He turns his face away and marches to an empty table, sitting by himself and staring at the wall again. He eats quickly, shoveling the awful food into his face as quickly as he can, wanting nothing more than to get back to his room. He hears the heavy footfalls approach and steels himself so that when Tire Iron gets to his table he doesn't react.

“Better slow down there,” the guard sneers as he passes. “Don't want to choke on your food or something.” Leonard gives him no response, refusing to even so much as look at him. The man moves on and Leonard finishes as quickly as he can and heads straight back to his room.

- - - - - - - -

Mick doesn't return that night, and when he gets back from his mandatory classes the next morning, he's still MIA. He's returned to paging through the chemistry book when a shadow falls on the floor in front of him. He jerks his gaze up, an unbidden hope springing up in his chest that they've brought Mick back, but it's not him who strides into his room.

“You seem like you were hoping to see someone else,” Nicholas says, his tone light but his eyes calculating. The two Family members that have accompanied him stay outside, flanking the door. Leonard slowly closes his book as Santini faces him and grins. “Nice place you've got here.”

“It's alright,” Len drawls, “but I'm thinking Cancun next year.” Nicholas laughs at that.

“I've been there. Highly recommend it.” He leans back against the wall and crosses his arms. “I also have another recommendation for you.”

“What would that be?” Len asks, narrowing his eyes.

“I recommend you take a seat at our table,” Nicholas says carefully. “You appear to need some new protection, and I can find some good uses for your talents.”

“I don't need new protection,” Leonard replies quietly, gripping the textbook. Nicholas tilts his head and gives him a cold smile.

“Are you sure about that?” Santini asks. “You know, your friend's not coming back.”

“How do you know that?” Leonard asks, trying to force his heart to return to a normal rhythm.

“Alex still works at the garage, you know,” Nicholas replies. “Still has access to the prison transport logs. Seems like they've scheduled your pal to be sent to a max facility upstate.”

Leonard feels everything around him freeze. “When?” Santini tilts his head up and arches an eyebrow. Leonard swallows hard and forces out “Please.”

“Next week,” is all Nicholas will give him. Len stares at the ground. The anger and fear that had burned inside him suddenly turns to an icy rage. No way is he allowing Tire Iron to strut around while they take Mick away from him.

“I want to call in that favor,” Leonard says calmly, folding his hands in his lap. Nicholas looks at him curiously. “Get everything against Mick dropped and the transfer canceled.” Santini sighs.

“I must say, while loyalty is a prized quality in the Family, I think you're wasting an opportunity here,” Nicholas informs him.

“We'll see,” Leonard says coolly. “I have my own way of doing things. Can you do that for me?”

“Of course,” Nicholas scoffs, as though it's as easy as ordering pizza on the outside. For him, it might be. “But Leonard, regardless of using this favor, you have a lot of potential. And someday, you're going to have to get in league with us, or get out.” Nicholas pushes off the wall, arms still cross, and stares down at Leonard. Len matches his gaze. “There's not a lot of room for competition in this town.”

“Well noted,” Leonard drawls. Santini shakes his head and heads out, pausing at the door.

“I'll let you know when it's set up,” he informs Len. Len gives him a nod back, and he leaves, taking his friends with him.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Alex shows up the next day to his cell, looking nervous. Leonard immediately looks up from the book he's holding, knowing that Alex is a messenger. He's really reading, anyway; Mick had gotten him to start staring at books instead of out at nothing after he'd nearly gotten into a fistfight for him with a guy that had happened to be in the direction Len was zoning out in and taken offense to his “creepy ass staring”. Alex is hovering at the doorway now, unsure about his welcome.

“You have news?” Len drawls, tapping his fingers on the book. Alex scurries in and sits near him.

“It's canceled,” Alex says quietly. “He should be back once they clear him to leave the infirmary. All the guards are gone, except...”

“Except one,” Len finishes for him. “Any idea how he managed that?”

“He claimed that he was in there trying to stop the fight, that he never touched Rory,” Alex says. “Blamed it on the other guards involved. Said Rory attacked him when he tried to help.” He looks away. “They got Rory back, but they're not going to do anything about him. I'm sorry, but...”

“It's fine,” Leonard says sharply. “I expected as much. I'll handle it.” Alex turns wide eyes on him and Len smirks. “Don't be so scared, kid. I just need you to do one thing for me.”

“Me?” Alex squeaks. “I can't – I'm not-”

“Listen,” Leonard hisses. Alex freezes. “I found out that the guards decided that the fire was Rory's doing after they overheard you and Santini talking about it. You nearly got Mi- Rory killed. So you're going to give me a little, tiny bit of help and I'll forget about that fact. Understand?” Alex nods slowly. “Good. Tell your cousin thanks for the assist.”

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Len is having lunch two days later when he hears the whispers start. A couple at first, nothing to pay much mind to, but then he can hear whole tables talking with amazement, and he looks around to see people staring at him openly. The guards haven't come to get him yet, so he figures there's only one reason people would be talking about him like this. He dumps his half-eaten lunch in the garbage and heads straight to his cell, ignoring everyone's reaction on the way.

Mick is standing in the cell just past the door, and Len's breath catches for a second as he stares at the other boy's back. Mick hears the sound and looks toward him. There's a fading bruise on his left cheekbone, and when he turns he favors his left side, but he's in one piece.

“You're back,” Len whispers. Mick gives him a small smile, and Len moves into his space, leaving only inches between them. Mick takes him in, making a small noise as he looks at the bruising still hanging on around Len's neck. He lifts his hand, hovering just over Len's throat, hesitating. Leonard holds himself very still, and Mick runs his fingers down the discolored skin. Despite the bruises, it feels good, and sends a tingle down Len's spine. Len lays his hands on Mick's chest, palms flat, and runs them down his body. Mick flinches hard when he reaches the bottom of his ribcage, and Len takes his hands back to grab the bottom of Mick's shirt.

“Len-” Mick warns, but Leonard ignores him and pulls his shirt up. Mick's left side is marred with dark bruises, much darker than the ones either of them sport on their faces. Len sucks in a sharp breath and grits his teeth in anger.

“It ain't that bad,” Mick mutters, grabbing Len's wrist and pulling it down to lower his shirt. “Woulda been worse, if you didn't show up.”

“Wouldn't have happened if I didn't show up here,” Len says. He steps back before Mick can argue. “You should rest.”

“I've been resting for a week,” Mick grumbles.

“I heard. They wouldn't let me in to see you.” Len had tried several times to get in to the infirmary before and after Alex confirmed that Mick was there, assuming that was where he'd be, but it was a secure area and they turned him away every time without so much as a glimpse of Mick through the window.

“Don't worry about it,” Mick says. “I was just glad you weren't in there with me.” He eases over to the beds and sits down slowly on the bottom bunk. “I'm switching beds with you.” He glances behind him and raises an eyebrow. “Specially since my blanket's already down here for me.”

“I got cold,” Len says defensively, but Mick's grin is worth the embarrassment. Mick stretches out his left leg and bends it cautiously. “Something wrong with it?”

“Got hit hard,” Mick grunts, and Len can indeed remember watching the guard smash his knee with the tire iron. Mick rolls up his pants leg to show off a cloth compression brace around the knee. “Swole up real bad. They took a bunch of fluid out of it with some big ass needles.” He shrugs. “Stiff, but doesn't hurt much.”

“That's good,” Len murmurs, sinking down next to Mick.

“Len,” Mick says cautiously, and Leonard looks up at him. “How the hell did you get me off transfer? Don't tell me you didn't have something to do with that.”

“I used my favor from the Family,” Len admits reluctantly. Mick's eyes widen.

“Shit Len, why'd you do that?” He seems angry now. “You mighta needed that. What about Lisa? What if Lewis fucks up? Why'd you waste that on me?”

“I'll figure something out,” Len says harshly. “And I wasn't about to let you go down like that. It's me and you, right?” Mick stares at him for a moment, then throws his arm around Len's shoulder and drags him over, tucking him against his uninjured side.

“Me and you against the world, kid.”

Chapter Text

Mick causes a small stir when he and Len go to dinner that night. Leonard wanted to skip again, but Mick declared that he had lost weight and needed to eat more. Len would be rather pleased with the reaction, if it weren't for Tire Iron giving them a death glare from the back of the room. Mick reaches over and grips Len's wrist when he sees him, but Leonard just gives him a small tug and shows nothing on his face. Mick looks daggers at anyone who stares too long, but Len knows that the truth is he's fighting to make it seem like he's not injured in front of the crowd. Mick's breathing hard when he sits down with his food and Len really wishes they had just skipped it. Still, he supposes that Mick needs food as much as rest.

When they finish up and leave, Len notes that Tire Iron, whose name he's learned to be Tim Jedlink, is following them. He's bad at subtlety; once they're back in their room, reading their books together, he counts five times that Jedlink passes by their room. The next day, he notices that Jedlink is always around them, showing up in whatever area they migrate to throughout the day.

It starts small. Jedlink writes them up for every rule broken, no matter how minor. Improperly made beds, roughhousing, inappropriate language, anything he can think of, aimed mainly at Mick. Len takes over and makes both of their beds, keeping Mick as far away from not just Jedlink but the other inmates as well. Some of them are eyeing him now; Len suspects there may be favors available for anyone who can start a fight with him, and the only thing holding them back is their new infamy for the fire. When they come back to the signs of their room having been searched for the third day in a row, Len knows that it's just a matter of time before evidence simply shows up against them.

Mick has begun to get restless. Len can't let him near his lighter or any other contraband; that's gift wrapping him for the guards. But Mick's been stuck in the infirmary for a week, and now he's been out for nearly as long with no fire. He's getting more tightly wound by the day and Len's attempts at soothing him with chemistry books and action movies with lots of explosions work a little less each day. It's nerve wracking, particularly when Len needs to slip away from Mick to get something he needs but can't be seen obtaining. Mick usually ends up with a write up if Len's gone for more than fifteen minutes, generally for fighting. He's getting snappish and aggressive with everyone else; he even tries to snipe at Leonard once, until he's shut down with a cold stare and ends up sheepishly apologizing. Leonard's not mad, but he knows he needs to get this sorted out soon.

While Officer Jedlink has been following them since Mick came back, Len has been watching Officer Jedlink since the day he traded in his favor to the Santinis. Jedlink has taken over prison transport duty, which gives him a lot of time in between drives to follow them around. He's only gone on one run the whole week for intake, and he'd had enough infractions against Mick at that point to get him put on lockdown for the day, meaning that Len couldn't even get him to his lighter. However, while he doesn't spend much time driving around, he always stops in the prison garage for a while in the morning to drink his coffee.

The day that Leonard makes his move, he gets to the garage just slightly after Jedlink enters. The prison garage has a lot of opening and closing of doors, and is more of a warehouse setup than a normal building. Because of this, it runs on its own heat and central air system with its own thermostat. Len sneaks in with an ice pack commandeered from the first aid supplies sent back with Mick. They've added a few cameras in the garage since the fire, but Len has already cased this out and gotten Alex to move a table just so, so that he can duck down and use it to cover his path across to the thermostat. He wraps the ice pack around the thermostat and settles in to wait. He's just across the room from Jedlink, crouched between some shelves. If the guard turns too suddenly, he will most likely be able to see some, if not all of Leonard, so he holds himself as still as possible and breathes as quietly as he can manage. Thankfully, he's had a lot of practice at not drawing attention, and the heat system kicks on with a lurch, blasting heat into the garage at a fast rate. Leonard is sweating before long, but so is Officer Jedlink. Leonard removes the ice pack and eases back behind the table, as quietly as possible, peering through the stacks of boxes under it. A little rustling, and Jedlink sheds his jacket, draping it on the back of his chair. Len slips out of the room as quickly as he can without being noticed, grabbing a small bottle of motor oil as he goes.

Next Len heads out to the yards. The warden always does a stroll through the grounds in the morning, surveying his little kingdom of hell and hormones. He goes to the little covered area with a few tables and benches, finding the one near the outside where Mick has stacked their textbooks on a bench on one side of the table, the exact one Len pointed out to him. It's edge goes just past camera view, where Len, still just as small as when he got in here, can slip under it and situate himself. The books should block the warden's view of him as he passes, and he follows nearly the exact same route every day. Len just needs him to come by before he's noticed by the wrong person.

He's not disappointed. The warden is just about at the edge of the table when he stops and turns toward the person running up to him, the guard escorting him tensing. Len edges out so that the man is within reach.

“Hey, warden,” Mick says, giving them one of his best crazy smiles. Len slowly extracts the keyring with the master keys from the warden's belt, millimeter by millimeter, while Mick tries to chat him up.

“What do you want, Rory?” The guard with him asks, as the warden crosses his arms. This shifts his belt and Len has to move with it or risk alerting him, losing precious seconds to the adjustment.

“Just wanted to say thanks for not transferring me,” Mick says, as Len finally gets the keyring off the belt. He dips his fingers quickly into the bottle of motor oil, then shifts his hand to the man's back pocket to lift his wallet. “If the guards here nearly murdered me, well, I bet I wouldn't have made it long at all up at max,” Mick says, overly cheerful. He thrusts his hand out at the warden as though for a handshake, and the warden moves back a fraction, but the distraction of the movement masks Len slipping the wallet right out of his pocket and retreating back. Mick glances at him before holding up his arms as if in surrender. “All right, no hand shakes then, I get it. See ya later.” He turns and runs off.

“That kid's a nutjob,” the guard mutters as he and the warden move off. Len rolls his eyes, and when they're far enough away, he slips out of his hiding spot and follows the blindspots out around the edge of the area, speed walking back towards the garage. He's on a real timer now; as soon as the warden notices his keys missing, much less his wallet, the prison is shutting down until they're found It won't be long until he reaches somewhere that he'll need keys to enter, and if Len has them, he's in trouble. A quick peek into the garage shows that Officer Jedlink has gone, and left his coat behind. Perfect.

Len slides around a careful path, behind boxes and tables until he can see the chair with the jacket on it. He presses up against the wall, slipping his hand between a metal shelving unit filled with boxes and in a hole at the back of the box, toilet paper in his hand. He extracts the chlorine packets and tiny pouches of drugs he's hidden there. The chlorine packets came from the supply cabinet, extras that he'd hidden around the facility just in case. The drugs he'd won during his little card games; while he'd never touch the stuff, he knew they had more uses than just getting high. He slowly creeps up to the jacket from the other side of the table, sneaking under it to avoid the cameras again. He slips the drugs and chlorine packets into one pocket, then uses the toilet paper he handled them with to wipe down the wallet and slip it and the keyring into the other coat pocket. When it's set, he creeps out as quickly as he can, slipping out of the garage and making his way through the halls. He's turning toward the cafeteria when Jedlink appears, noticing him immediately and narrowing his eyes. Leonard freezes, debating his next move, but Jedlink's already halfway to him.

“Wandering around without your little murderer pal?” Jedlink sneers, looming over Len and blocking his way down the hallway. Leonard stares up at him, silent and defiant. It's not a good idea to go back the way he came, especially since it would mean turning his back on the guard. Jedlink looks him up and down, then smirks. “All right, come with me.”

“I'm not going anywhere with you,” Len replies stiffly. He takes two steps back; Jedlink grins, seeing it as retreat, but Leonard's just making sure they're both on camera in case he can't figure a way out of this.

“Don't disobey authority, now,” Jedlink taunts.

“I don't obey anyone who comes at me with a tire iron,” Leonard informs him.

“That was for your friend,” Jedlink informs him quietly. “He had it coming for whatever he did to that van. You shouldn't have interfered.”

Len's spared from answering by the blare of the lockdown alarm. Jedlink looks up in surprise, then smiles viciously at Leonard. “On the ground, kid. Or feel free to resist. We could make this fun.”

Leonard's not taking any chances with that. He's halfway down when Jedlink gives him a shove and he hits the ground hard. He turns his head to glare but doesn't get up. Jedlink starts slowly circling him, and Leonard hopes to god that it doesn't take too long for the search to move to the garage. Jedlink steps close to him and puts a boot on his back, right between his shoulder blades, slowly pressing down harder. Len focuses on fighting the compression and breathing deeply; years with his father have taught him a lot about sadists, and all he has to do is run out the clock.

“Your little friend seems pretty attached to you,” Jedlink says, his voice low and dangerous. “Maybe I can teach you a little lesson and see how he likes that.”

“You're on camera,” Leonard reminds him, and Jedlink pauses, then removes his boot.

“We got plenty of time,” Jedlink informs him. Len hears something at the far end of the hall and cranes his neck to see what's going on. The warden and a host of guards are entering the garage, and Leonard smiles. At least they caught his clue. If they hadn't noticed the motor oil, who knows how long it would take them to search the garage, or if they'd do a good enough job.

“Hey!” Jedlink barks, and Len turns his head again to see him glaring down. “What the hell are you smiling at, punk?”

“I just think it's funny,” Len drawls back. It's a shot in the dark, but why not.

“What's so goddamn funny?”

“That you think that Rory would be the one to plan out a chemical fire like that. Very shortsighted of you. Where would he even get the chlorine?”

“Chlorine?” Jedlink's eyes narrow and Leonard can swear he hears the gears creaking.

“Didn't find out about that in the incident report?” Len murmurs. He hears voices in the distance, but can't take his eyes off of the guard above him, whose own eyes widen as he snaps in on the conclusion. He kicks out suddenly, catching Len in the side and rolling him halfway over with pained breath.

“You little shit,” Jedlink hisses. “You're the one who took out Martin, aren't you?” Len says nothing, but gives him a self satisfied smirk instead. Jedlink swears again and is pulling out his baton when someone shouts at them.

“Officer Jedlink,” the warden's voice booms. Jedlink drops his hand from the baton he was pulling out and turns to the group approaching them, standing at attention. Leonard nearly rolls his eyes.

“Sir this inmate was-”

“Save it,” the warden cuts him off. “Care to explain what you're doing with my keys and wallet, officer?”

“What?” Jedlink looks horribly confused, and Len has to suppress a smile.

“Report your movements for the day.”

“I came in, changed the engine oil, had a coffee, walked with you through the cafeteria, then started monitoring the E and F halls here-”

“I see.” The warden turns and nods a bit, and two of the guards with him step forward. “Officer Jedlink, please go with your fellow officers. We need to speak.”

“What?” Jedlink's brows knit in confusion as they flank him. “No, you have to take the kid in. He started the chlorine fire in the garage-”

“The what?” the warden asks, gaze sharpening as he looks Jedlink over. “Chlorine fire? What do you know about that?”

“It's...” his voice trails off as the guards place firm hands on his arms. “Martin was...”

“You can tell us all about it, I'm sure.” the warden waves them off and the two guards pull Jedlink down the hall. Len watches with pleasure from his place on the ground. The warden eyes him for a moment before turning and facing the rest of the guards. “End the lockdown. We found what we were looking for.”

Len sits up but waits until they've turned the corner to stand and stroll down the halls back to his cell. Mick is waiting there, sitting on the bottom bunk, legs stretched out with a textbook on his lap. When he looks up, Len gives him a pleased smile, and gets a grin back. Mick pats the bed beside him and Len slides up against him to read.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Officer Jedlink doesn't show up at breakfast the next day. As they pass the Family's table, Nicholas looks him in the and raises his glass with a smirk. Len catches Mick's eye and gives him a small smile of his own.

When Mick goes off to the gym, Len heads out on his own after a brief stop at the library. He makes several trips to various places around the prison, depositing his prizes in the side yard off camera. He finishes his goal in time to be waiting outside the gym doors when Mick comes out, towel around his shoulders. He tenses when he sees Leonard standing there, but Len gives him a reassuring smile.

“Come with me,” Len says, and Mick furrows his brow a bit, but follows without a word. Len leads him around to the side yard and presents his little surprise.

He's gone around and gathered up all the best flammable things he could find, depositing them in a metal trash can that he's slowly repositioned out of camera range. Over the course of a few days. He's got some old books from the library (ratty ones that are never read, they should get some new stuff in anyway), towels from the laundry (probably putting them out of their misery), branches, leaves, and sticks from the trees, and even a couple sheets that he managed to smuggle out (he'd wrapped them around his torso under his shirt to avoid looking suspicious; good thing they were shitty thin sheets.) He presents Mick with his lighter, removed from the tree where it had managed to stay hidden while they were under supervision from Jedlink.

Mick looks from Len's outstretched hand to his face and back again, before grinning and reaching out. Instead of taking the lighter immediately, his hand closes around Len's for a moment, his thumb stroking over the back of it before he finally slips the lighter out of Len's fingers and steps back. He pulls the towel off his shoulders and dangles it down, then with a flick starts the lighter. He stares at the flame for only a moment before holding it up to the edge of the towel and letting it catch. Then he lowers the towel into the metal can, letting it brush against the other textiles until the flame travels to them as well. When it's starting to get larger, he drops the other end of the towel and steps back.

As the fire grows, Mick watches it, and Len watches Mick. He watches his shoulders relax and his features soften while still maintaining rapt attention. He has a look of reverence on his face that makes his eyes gleam, and Len finds it oddly beautiful. He lingers near the corner of the wall, keeping lookout, waiting as long as he can before he has to end Mick's fun. He grabs the fire extinguisher leaning against the wall that he stole from an easily unlocked hall box and steps up to Mick's side. “Time to finish up,” Len says quietly. Mick glances over him and his shoulders slump a little, but he nods. Len puts out the fire as quickly as he can and stashes everything in the corner. Mick joins him when he's done and they head back.

“Thanks, Len,” Mick mutters as they walk back.

“No problem,” Len replies, smirking. “I could tell the withdrawal was making you a little hotheaded.”

Mick sighs. “Why you gotta ruin everything, Len?”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len's release date is creeping up on him. Six months have gone by quickly, and he's only got two weeks left. He and Mick haven't talked about it much; they did at the beginning, when the days stretched out ahead of them, and Len knows from then that Mick will be in for 4 months after he gets out. Mick's been quiet for the last week, and it's starting to bother Len.

“Give me your phone number,” Len says. He's curled against Mick's side, pretending to read along with him. Mick shifts a little to look down at him.

“What d'you need that for?” He asks gruffly. Len rolls his eyes.

“I'm going to use them as my lottery numbers, Mick. What's your number?”

Mick sighs a little, and recites a number for him. “If you call me, and if my father answers, hang up.”

“You better pick up the phone when I call then,” Len tells him. The corners of Mick's mouth twitch.

“Sure thing Len.”

They both turn back to the book, but Len doesn't read. He's repeating those numbers in his head, cementing them there.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len runs through the checklist in his mind. He's got extra chemistry books stashed in their dresser. He snagged an extra lighter in case the one Mick has now runs out. He's even stashed some candy around the room. There's nothing more he can think of and he's strangely disappointed by that. He sighs and leans back.

“What's wrong?” Mick asks, glancing over at him. They're sitting in the rec room, watching some explosion-heavy action movie that Len let him pick with hardly a complaint or pun, and the main character is currently having a fist fight with far more men than is realistic.

“It just hit me,” Len drawls, earning a glare from Mick. “Soon, we'll be able to go see some new movies, in real theaters. Instead of these same flicks over and over.”

“You will,” Mick complains. Len narrows his eyes and turns to him, leaning into his space. Mick looks uneasy at that.

“Mick,” Leonard says, his voice low and dangerous. “You're getting out of here soon too. You better not get yourself extended for something stupid, especially since I took all that time to show you the unmonitored areas around here. You promise you'll stay out of trouble.”

“Don't worry, Len,” Mick says, holding up his hands in surrender. “I promise, I'll be a good boy.” Leonard nods crisply and leans back again. Mick waits almost a full minute before throwing his arm around Len's shoulder.

The day passes faster than Len thought. Before long, they're back in their beds, laying in the darkness. Len waits for the first guard to pass before he slips down and stands in the room. Mick opens his eyes at the movement and looks at him for a minute before drawing his blanket back, allowing Len to slide in next to him. When he hears the numbers Len whispers to him, he chuckles.

“That's right, Len. Try to call at night.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The outtake process is tedious but smooth. He gets back everything he had on him, minus the money stuffed in his pockets from the ATM he had managed to get into. They give him money for a bus ticket, but he is viscerally disappointed when he steps out and Lewis Snart is waiting for him.

“Get in the car, boy,” Lewis order, and Len's shoulders tense as he climbs in. He hates cars, hates driving, and hates being trapped in a tiny metal box with him, but he has no choice. He get in and slides down in the seat, making himself small. Lewis crashes down into the driver's seat and Len can tell he's staring, even though Len keeps his eyes fixed on the dashboard in front of him. Eye contact is defiance and defiance brings anger.

“You better have been practicing in there,” Lewis grunts, starting the car. “Your little ledge idea worked. I've got some work lined up for the Family and I don't want your ass embarrassing me in front of the important men.” Len nods silently. As Lewis pulls the car out, he wonders what it would take to get thrown back in juvie.

Chapter Text

“Hello?”

Click.

“Who is this?”

Click.

“Listen you little punk-”

Click.

“Yeah?”

“...Mick?”

There's a low chuckle on the other end of the line. “You the prank caller my dad's been fuming about?”

“I told you to pick up when I call.”

“I told you to call at night.”

“It's night now.”

“You've called like ten times.”

“Four.” He pauses. “How was your first week back?”

“Coulda been worse. My father's been in a good mood since I got back in time for summer.”

“Why's that?”

“It's when all the hard work has to be done.”

“I see.” Another pause. “So you're going to be pretty busy, then.”

“Maybe. Why? You need something?”

“Just... haven't seen you in a while.”

He gets another low chuckle in response. “Missed you too, Len.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len makes his way through the crowd, fingers dancing in and out of people's pockets. He meanders around, passing idly by the mall stores around him, pretending to look at the flashy window displays. He ducks in the bathroom and removes the cash from the wallets he's gathered and dumps them in the trash, pulling off a few paper towels to cover them. Tucking the money into his own pocket, he strides out and heads over to the food court.

He waits there for a while, mapping out the mall security cameras and noting the other diners who've left their bags and purses sitting too far away from them, easy pickings if he gets bored enough. Instead, he waits, sipping at the drink he's bought and letting his eyes scan the crowd. He spots the other boy first, allowing him to see the small smile that replaces his scowl when he lays eyes on Len. Len can't help himself from grinning back.

Mick slides into the chair across the table from him and leans back. “Been a while since I sat across from you in a cafeteria. Feels like deja vu.”

“It's a food court, not a cafeteria, Mick.”

“Same difference,” Mick says, waving his hand. “Weird to see you in real clothes.”

“You think I look weird? You're wearing flannel.”

“I live on a farm. What did you expect?” Mick asks, shrugging. He eyes Len. “How long you free for?”

“My father's out on a job,” Leonard informs him. “He won't be back until late, if at all tonight. I've got plenty of time. What about you?”

“I can stay out whenever. I did the most important shit, so he won't be too mad.” Mick says. Len arches an eyebrow. “What? I can't do it all. I'd be setting standards I have no intention of living up to. Besides, he'd probably be suspicious if I stopped slacking off all of a sudden.” Len rolls his eyes, while Mick grins again, then leans over and snatches his drink from the table.

“I can get you one of your own, you know,” Len tells him. Mick shrugs again and Leonard sighs. “Are you hungry?”

“Sure,” Mick says. “You wanna grab some food?”

“Yeah, I know a place.” Len stands up and Mick mirrors him, falling in beside him as they leave the area. Along the way, there's a table full of teenagers engaged in a loud debate, totally focused on themselves. As they near, Len slows down, hooking his foot in the strap of a backpack that's strayed just too far from their table and sliding it quietly along the ground before barely bending to snag the top. Then he speeds up a bit, until they're out of the area and headed to the mall's exit. Mick has been watching him out of the corner of his eye and keeps pace the whole time. He dumps the now empty soda cup in the trash as they step out of the building, and no one stops them.

“This way,” Mick says, indicating for Len to follow him through the parking lot. He leads him to a old-looking red pickup truck. He climbed in the driver seat and leaned over to unlock the passenger side door for Len. Len hoisted himself into the old tuck and settled in, snapping his seatbelt on and holding the backpack in his lap.

“Where we goin'?” Mick asked as he started the car.

“Turn right onto main street and stay on the left side,” Len informed him, digging through the backpack. He ignores the folders and notebooks and finds a couple textbooks He pulls one out and puts it on the dashboard.

“Art history?” Mick asks, glancing over at it.

“I like art,” Leonard responds, searching through the front pockets of the bag. “It's pretty and it's worth a lot of money. There's a chemistry book in here, too.” He glances up as he stacks the second book on the dashboard. “Take the next left.” He finally finds a wallet in one of the pouches and pulls it out, quite pleased to find quite a bit of cash in her wallet.

“Looks like you're buying dinner,” Mick comments. Len smirks at him.

“On the right, here.” He points at the place and Mick pulls in. Leonard brings the backpack when they get out and ditches the rest of the contents in a large trashcan outside the diner. He leads Mick in and goes straight to a booth in the back corner, where they slide in on opposite sides. Mick slouches down and stretches his long legs across to rest his feet beside Len. Leonard wrinkles edges away a bit; Mick's boots are caked in dried mud.

“You come here a lot?” Mick asks, picking up a menu from the end of the table.

“My grandfather took me and my sister here when we were younger. While my father was in prison.”

“Hmm. What's good?”

“Everything, honey.” They both look up at the new voice. A short, plump lady with short blonde hair and sharp eyes is standing with a white apron on and a notepad in her hand that Len knows she won't need. Len gives her his best smile.

“Hey, Chris,” he drawls. “How's everything been?”

“Same old, same old,” she replies, eyeing Mick as he eyes her back. “You!” Len is amused when Mick jumps a little. “Get your dirty feet off the seat unless you intend to clean it up.” Len can't stop the chuckle that escapes when Mick sheepishly removes his feet, shooting him a glare when he hears it.

“That's better,” Christine says as Mick shifts slightly. “Welcome to the Motorcar Diner, honey. What do you want?”

“Try the philly cheesesteak,” Len advises. Mick nods. “I'll have the bacon cheeseburger,” he adds. “Fries and coke with both, please.” Chris nods, not having written anything down, and saunters off.

“You must like her,” Mick observes. “Said please and everything.”

“Says the guy with his feet on the floor,” Len shoots back. Mick grunts. Christine reappears briefly to deposit two glasses of soda on their table.

“So how come your dad didn't take you out with him?” Mick asks when she's out of range. “I thought that was his thing.”

“It is,” Len confirm. “But this job was family work, and it's invite only.”

“He's in with the family now?” Mick asks. “Guess your little ledger ploy worked.”

“It did, so far. But he's not really in yet,” Len says, pausing to sip at his drink. “I think it's sort of like an initiation period.”

“So they're testing him out,” Mick muses. Christine reappears from the kitchen bearing a tray with their food on it.

“Enjoy your food, boys,” she says, leaving them again. Len's got his first bite in his mouth before she makes it back to the kitchen, and Mick chuckles as he picks up his sandwich. He takes his own huge bite and chews, nodding once he's swallowed.

“It's damn good, I'll give you that,” he says. Len grins at him as he drags his fries through the puddle of ketchup he's made on his plate.

“I told you so,” he says smugly. They sit quietly for a little while they eat, Len finishing his food before Mick's even done with his sandwich. Len's eyeing the kitchen for a refill of his soda when Mick finished off his last bite of sandwich and pushes his plate towards him.

“Here,” he says gruffly. “You can have the rest.” Len arches an eyebrow.

“I already ate,” he says, gesturing at his own empty plate.

“You eat anything else today?”

“I had a soda, until someone took it,” Len reminds him. Mick rolls his eyes.

“Just eat the damn fries, Len. I'm saving room for dessert,” Mick tells him, flashing him a sly smile.

“Whatever,” Len mutters. He makes it another 36 seconds before he steals the first fry off Mick's plate and avoids looking at the other boy's triumphant grin.

“What's the best dessert here?” Mick asks Christine when she comes back with refills for both of them.

“Coconut cream pie, in my opinion,” she replies automatically.

“Well, you would know,” Mick says, giving her a surprisingly charming smile. Len pops the last couple fries in his mouth. “A piece of that,” he glances at Len quickly. “Please.” She nods with a smile and returns to the kitchen with their empty plates.

“So strange to see you being polite,” Len teases.

“I am a fine mannerly gentleman,” Mick retorts. “What would make you think otherwise?”

Len's still chuckling when Christine brings them their pie, complete with two forks on the plate. Len focuses on his soda.

“You don't like coconut or somethin'?” Mick asks.

“Don't talk with your mouth full, Miss Manners.” Mick glares at him as he swallows.

“C'mon, Len, have a bite. It's really good.”

“I've had it before,” Len says, waving his hand. “I like the pecan more, myself.”

“Oh yeah?” Mick asks, scooping up another forkful of pie. “We'll get that next time, then.”

That idea pleases Len so much that he has some of the pie.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

When Mick has finished off their dessert and Len has paid the check, leaving a generous tip for Christine, they exit the diner and return to Mick's truck. It's nearly dark by then, and they climb in to the truck.

“You need to get home yet?” Mick asks, putting the keys in the ignition.

“They won't be moving in until after dark,” Len replies. “I checked over their plans when he wasn't looking. It's not bad. Probably because he didn't come up with it.” He laughs darkly. “Figures the good plans are the ones I don't go on.”

“Not yet, anyway,” Mick replies, backing out of the lot. Len frowns.

“He can't bring me along,” Len reminds him. “Invite only, remember?”

“How long you think it's going to be before you get an invite, Len?” Mick asks as they pull out onto the road.

“I rob ATMs and pick pockets, Mick. Why would they invite me along?”

When they reach a red light, Mick turns to look him in the eye. “Len. Nick's getting out in a month or so. You really caught his eye in juvie. Between him and your father, how long do you think it is before you get invited out?” Len turns and stares out the window instead of answering. It's crossed his mind, but he's not sure what to do about it yet. “Len.”

“I don't know,” Len snaps. “I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.” Mick sighs.

“Just let me know what's going on, Len.”

“Why?”

“Because it's me and you, idiot. Inside and out.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len isn't sure if his father is home or not, so he has Mick drop him off a few blocks up the street. He takes the art textbook, but leaves the chemistry It's starting to get cool at night, but Len doesn't mind. The house is silent when he enters, and a quick check tells him that his father isn't home. Lisa is still at summer camp for a few more weeks. Len heads to his room, strips down to his underwear, and enjoys the silence.

Chapter Text

“It's your turn to pick.”

“Mmmm.” Len walks along the front of the theater, Mick by his side, eyeing the rows of posters. School started last month, giving Len a perfect time frame to hang out with Mick without having to worry about Lisa being alone with their father. He stops in front of one. “This.”

“Spaceballs?” Mick sighs. “You and the damn sci-fi, Len.”

“It's a comedy, Mick. Don't be so grouchy.” Mick mutters under his breath as they bypass the front door and stroll around to the side. Len slips his tools out of his pocket and has the side entrance door open in under a minute. He cracks it an inch to confirm that the coast is clear, and then he and Mick slip in. “Come on. I'll buy us popcorn,” he cajoles. Mick grunts, but Len knows he's sold. They stop at the front and grab a large popcorn and drink before they head into the theater.

It's late in the movie's run, so they're alone in the theater, freeing them to talk and laugh as loud as they want. By the end of the movie, even Mick's grinning.

“See? You had fun,” Len purrs as he and Mick head back to his truck, shoulders brushing against each other.

“You can't prove that,” Mick replies. He turns on the car and glances at the clock on the dash. “Home or the rink today?”

“The rink.”

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Len leans back in his seat, breathing in the cold air around him. He hugs his jacket a little tighter around him and scans the ice rink, locking on to Lisa's little form as soon as he spots her. He watches her glide along, talking and laughing with the other kids in her class, then turning rapt attention to the teacher as he walks the kid through new moves. Even when she falls, which is less and less every week, she still brushes it off and gets up smiling. Len smiles. Being here, watching her happiness, is one of the only times he feels at peace.

He meets her at the edge of the rink when she's done, crouching down to catch her in his arms as she flies over to him.

“Hey, kid,” he says, hugging her tightly.

“Hi Lenny!” She replies brightly, moving over to flop down on the bench and untie her skates.

“What'd you learn today?”

“We're doing a spin!” she exclaims, face lighting up. “I like the spins, Lenny. It's fun.”

“That's great,” he tells her, completely sincere. Once he has her shoes on, he takes her hand and leads her down to the bus stop, letting her chatter about the class the whole way home.

As soon as they step inside the house, Len has a bad feeling. Lewis appears a few moments later, bringing with him the stench of alcohol. Len immediately shift Lisa behind him, and she goes silent immediately, having already learned the dance.

“What can I do for you, dad?” Len asks cautiously, trying to edge closer to the living room. If he can keep himself between Lisa and Lewis long enough to shift the angle, he can give her a clear break to the upstairs bedrooms while he handles Lewis's mood. Lewis moves too fast, though, lumbering in front of him, caging them both in between him and the door. Len can feel Lisa's tiny hands gripping the back of his jacket and he tries to maintain his calm.

“Where've you been, Leo?” Lewis says, taking a drink out of the bottle he's holding. It's Jack Daniels, a bad sign. If Lewis is still drinking beer, he's much easier to deal with. Once he switches to hard liquor, he's unpredictable. Len knows that the wrong words will just set Lewis off, and he doesn't know what's going on here yet.

“I went to pick Lisa up from her practice after school,” Len says carefully.

“That so?” Lewis staggers a little closer, leaving less than a foot between them. He within reach of Len now, a position Len hates being in, but there's nowhere for him to go in this cramped space. “You made any new friends lately?”

Len freezes. Mick's been using his deep voice to call Len out on the days they skip, reveling in inventing new excuses every time. Len rolls his eyes at each new disease he supposedly contracts, but it keeps the school from counting him as skip and calling his actual father. Still, he could have found out some way, some accident, a slip in conversation. Lewis has never really let Len have real friends, not that Len was ever inclined to bring anyone home to hang out in the first place, with Lewis's erratic behavior. But now... Being cut off from Mick would be bad enough, but Lewis is vicious and resentful, and he's suddenly terrified that he'll hurt Mick. He wants to say something, but he's numb with fear, and suddenly Lewis is swinging the bottle at him, faster than a man his size has any right to be. The bottle hits him just below the temple and shatters, alcohol and blood flowing down his face and into his eyes. His head is throbbing and he stumbles, crashing down on the small end table in the hall, clinging to it for traction. Lisa releases him and shrinks back into the corner, whimpering quietly.

“I have a Family meeting next week,” Lewis growls. Len's head is spinning and he can't seem to get his feet. Lewis still has the neck of the bottle, broken and jagged on the end now. He blurs in and out of focus as he steps nearer again. “And they want me to bring you.”

“Why?” Leonard asks stupidly. Lewis growls and grabs hold of Leonard's jaw, wrenching his face towards him. Len's lost his balance and he's on his knees now, a place he never likes being.

“You tell me,” Lewis hisses. “What did you do, boy? Did you piss off the Family? I swear to god, if you messed this up for me, you both are-”

“Nicholas Santini,” Len gasps, the pieces finally clicking into place. Lewis tightens his grip but doesn't respond. “I met him in juvie. He just got out and he might want to see me.”

“Why would he want to see you?” Lewis asks, eyes narrowing.

“He thought... I was interesting,” Len says. “He found out I worked jobs with you... Must have remembered me.”

“Sounds like you talk too much in juvie,” Lewis sneers. He release Len's face, but immediately brings the sharp edges of the broken bottle up to Len's throat. “You're coming to the meeting with me next week. You better not embarrass me or get my ass in trouble. I better not find out that they heard anything about the ledger business from you either, you understand?”

“Yes,” Len whispers. Lewis eyes him for a moment and then finally removes the bottle.

“Get the fuck out of my house,” Lewis slurs, turning and walking to the kitchen doorway. “I don't wanna see your face for a couple days.”

Len doesn't say anything but he immediately staggers to his feet, grabbing Lisa by the hand and darting outside with her.

He walks to the bus stop with her, taking the next bus to the Motorcar. While she sits at the table, he slips back to the end of the counter and gets Christine's attention.

“Can I borrow your phone?”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len watches out the window at each set of headlights that approaches the diner while Lisa munches on the fries he bought her. He didn't have enough money on him to get anything but food for her, and there weren't enough people on the bus to lift anything safely. Christine had taken one look at him and the gash on his head and brought over a wet dish towel with ice wrapped inside, which he was now holding to his head, and two aspirin, which he had swallowed dry. The throbbing had eased a little by the time he sees the truck pull in and the familiar figure hop out.

Mick saunters in and looks around until he lays eyes on Len. Len can see his back go rigid when he see the towel, and he's glad he had a chance to clean the alcohol and dried blood off his face before Mick got here. Mick's in front of him in three long strides, eyeing the wound on the side of his head. He reaches out and Len flinches instinctively, adrenaline still running high. Mick freezes, then lowers his hand.

“It's not that bad,” Len mumbles, lowering the towel and worrying at it with his fingers. Mick doesn't say anything. “Can you... We need a ride.”

“We?” Mick asks, thrown for a moment. He follows Len's gaze to the booth where Lisa is sitting, watching him cautiously. His eyes widen a fraction. “Uh... Hello.”

“Hi,” Lisa says quietly, looking at Len for guidance.

“Lisa, this is Mick,” Len says. “He's a friend of mine. He's going to give us a ride.”

“Where to?” Mick asks, and Len stares at the floor. His grandfather is out of town and he doesn't have any money for a room in even one of the cheap crappy motels on the bad side of town. Mick notices his hesitation and frowns. “Len? You got somewhere to go?”

“I need to get some money first,” Len replies.

“It's the middle of the night, Len. Where are you gonna someone – somewhere to get some?”

“There are plenty of ATMs around here,” Len points out, knowing that Mick will know he doesn't intend to use a debit card there. Mick sighs.

“Not the best idea,” he says, glancing at the counter where Christine is leaning. “Look, Len... I got an idea.”

“What would that be?”

“Come with me.” Len looks up, surprised. “I can't let you stay at the house, but I can set up something in the barn. Probably cleaner than half the motels you'd be able to get to.” Len chuckles.

“You sure about that?”

“Course, Len,” He glances back at Lisa. “Are you?”

“You're the best thing we've got right now, Mick.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

They travel to the very edge of town, the are that's only loosely considered part of Central City. Mick pulls off the single main road they've been on for the last fifteen minutes and onto a dirt road that eventually leads up to a small two story house and larger barn surrounded by cornfields. He turns the car off and waits a couple minutes.

“Alright,” he says, “Follow me.”

Len gets out and helps Lisa out of the truck. They give the house a wide berth and Mick unlocks the barn, opening the door just enough for them to slip in.

”Just wait here a minute,” He tells them, moving on into the darkness. Len can hear movement just beyond them, soft shuffles and heavy breaths. He hears the his of flame that he's become accustomed to from being around Mick, and then the barn lights up. Mick returns to them with a lantern in his hands. “This way. We're going up to the loft.”

They climb up a ladder after him, leading to a second story of the barn where there's hay bales, barrels, and sacks of food. When they're all up and the siblings have settled down, Mick sets the lantern down near them.

“Wait here,” he says. “I'm going to go get some blankets and stuff. Just hang out and be sure not to knock the lantern down. This place'll go up in a flash.”

“You sure you'd mind?” Len drawls. Mick smirks.

“If you weren't in it, then no. My old man ever dies, this place is going up before his funeral.” Mick's eyes glint and he licks his lips. “All this dry wood, straw, fabrics... It'd be huge.” He's got that distant look in his eyes now, and Len knows he's not seeing them, he's seeing the flame. Mick's fingers twitch a little and Len clears his throat, calling him back to reality.

“We'll be careful,” he promises, and Mick blinks a couple times before nodding and turning to go back down the ladder.

Leonard pulls the deck of cards out and plays with Lisa while they wait for Mick to return. She loves Go Fish, and he thinks of it it as a learning experience for her.

“Got any threes?” She asks, staring up at him expectantly. He smiles at her and holds up a card just out of her reach.

“And how many are left in the deck now?” he asks. She scrunches up her nose and thinks for a moment.

“Two,” she replies, and he rewards her with the card. Mick returns a couple times, first with a bunch of heavy blankets, a little scratchy but better than the floor. The second time he's gone longer, and when he returns he has a large, soft comforter, several pillows, a t-shirt and pair of sweatpants, a towel and a small plastic box. He gets everything up to them with a strange pulley system that seems to function like a supply elevator.

“What's that?” Len asks, indicating the box. Lisa is laying down the pillows and fluffing them up.

“First aid kit my mom keeps,” Mick says. Len narrows his eyes. “Don't give me that look, Len. You need to take care of that injury. Just let me disinfect it at least.” Len is about to protest when Lisa speaks up.

“Let him help, Lenny,” she says softly. Mick cocks an eyebrow.

“Gotta listen to the little lady, Lenny,” he mocks, and Len sighs. Mick opens the box and withdraws some cotton balls and hydrogen peroxide, slowly dabbing at the cut on Len's head. Leonard doesn't even flinch at the stinging as he works, even when he presses a little harder to clean the dried blood around the edges. Lisa studies them silently through the whole process.

When Mick's done, he leans back, tossing the used items in the box. “I gotta go back. You blow the lantern out when you're ready to go to sleep, ok? And don't go wandering around. My dad keeps guns and he's not friendly.”

“Noted.”

“I'll come back in the morning and check on you,” Mick says, stopping at the ladder. “I'll try and bring you something to eat. We'll figure out what to do with you then.”

“Okay,” Len says. Lisa crawls over and wraps her arms around him.

“Thank you,” she says suddenly, and Len looks down at her. “What? Grandpa says to be polite, Lenny.” Mick laughs.

“I like your sister, Len,” he says, before disappearing down the ladder.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Len wakes up the next morning to a lot of noise. The sounds he'd heard before were clearly from animals, and they are awake and moving around now, rustles and hoofbeats and bleats and more. It doesn't seem to bother Lisa, who's sleeping soundly beside him in Mick's shirt, coming nearly down to her ankles because of their size difference. The sun is peeking in through the open air window across from them and it's not much past dawn.

Len lays awake for a while longer, until he hears the barn door creak open and then clatter shut. He sits up immediately, listening to the person move through the barn and under the ladder. He slides his hand across the floor, gripping the extinguished lantern, ready to throw it if the wrong person appears.

Mick's head pops up over the edge and he relaxes immediately, releasing the lantern. Mick walks quietly over to him, carrying a plastic shopping bag. He drops it near Len and leans back against a burlap sack. Len takes the plastic bag and opens it, poking around inside. There some fruit, some toast, a couple of bottles of water, and a granola bar.

“I got what I could,” Mick says. Len pulls out a bottle of water and a piece of toast. Mick watches him, thinking. “You gonna tell me what happened?”

“I got invited to the next family meeting,” Len says, nibbling on the piece of toast. He stares only at the ground in front of him.

Mick waits for him a few seconds before asking, “What'd they do, invite you with a note wrapped around a brick thrown at your head?” Len hesitates, considering what he wants to say.

“It was my father,” he admits. “He doesn't like sharing the spotlight.”

“Hmm,” is all Mick says. They sit quietly for a few minutes before Lisa begins to stir.

“Hey kiddo,” Len says, giving her a smile. She sits up and rubs her eyes, giving him a sleepy smile back. “How'd you sleep?”

“Okay,” she says back. She fidgets a little. “Lenny... I hafta use the bathroom.” Len and mick exchange looks.

“I think I can sneak you in,” Mick says slowly. “I need to get my father out of the house. Once he leaves, you can sneak in the side door; it's unlocked. Turn right immediately and go up the stairs; first door on the right. Mom should be in the kitchen, but if you don't make any noise you should be able to get in and out without her noticing.”

“We're good at being quiet,” Len promises, and Mick nods.

“Just be as quick as you can,” he says, before getting up and heading back down. “Come on.”

Lisa and Len wait at the door of the barn while Mick enters the house. They wait patiently until the hear the bang of the door, and heavy footsteps clomping around the front yard. They come close, and for a minute Len fears that they're going to come in and see them, but they continue on past the barn and a few minutes later, Len hears some kind of motor starting. Mick appears back at the door and holds it open while the siblings slip out.

“Be quick,” he reminds them, nodding at the house. Len nods once and leads Lisa quickly but quietly over to the corner of the house, following the wall around to where the side door waits, staying low to the ground to avoid any windows. It's unlocked when he gets to it – not that that would be much of a deterrent – and he eases it open and peeks in.

A hall leads down from the door, past a staircase to the second level, with entryways on either side of it to what should be the kitchen and the living room. Len creeps in, Lisa on his heels, making it down the hall to the staircase with barely a sound. He tests his weight on the steps, glancing at the kitchen entry. They're not in view from here, but he can hear a soft female voice humming inside. They make it up the stairs with only minor creaking and Lisa slips into the bathroom.

“Don't dawdle,” Len warns her. “And don't flush when you're done.” She nods and shuts the door as quietly as possible.

He should wait. He should stand here and stay on the lookout, but... He walks down the hall. The first room he peeks in is a large room, very mature looking, with a neatly made queen size bed. Parents' room, he decides. He moves on to the next room and finds what he's looking for.

The bed is unmade, sheets tangled and tossed around. There are clothes on the floor, and a small desk under a window with a few chemistry books stacked on it. Len smiles a little. Above the bed is a a poster of a demon coming out of flames, under a band logo. Mick's never talked about the band before, so Len suspects it's more of an aesthetic choice. His smile widens and he slips out of the room and back to the bathroom just as Lisa opens the door again.

“All done?” he whispers. She nods back. “Great. Come on.” He leans over the railing and glances down at the first floor. He decides the coast is clear, and the creep back down, around and out to the door. They manage to make it all the way into the barn, which has warmed up considerably since the night. When they get in, Mick appears from the back of the barn near the stalls, shirt open and sweating. Len swallows hard and turns his attention away.

“Lisa, you did really good,” he tells her, and she beams. “Run up the ladder and change back to your clothes, ok?” She nods and scurries off. Mick watches as she starts to climb the ladder, and Len uses his distraction to rake his eyes over Mick's exposed skin, taking in the sight. He returns his gaze to Mick's face when Mick turns back to him, pretending it was there the whole time.

“I should be able to get you back into the city in a few hours, but I can't get out until I'm done in here or my dad'll lose his shit,” Mick says. Len nods.

“We can entertain ourselves,” Len tells him. “I've got cards and everything. Don't worry about us.”

“All right,” Mick says, and from the stalls there's a loud moo. “Shut up, I'm coming.”

Lisa's face appears over the edge of the loft. “Is that a cow?”

“Yep,” Mick confirms. Her eyes widen.

“A real one?” Mick laughs.

“It sure is. Wanna meet her?”

“Sure!” she chirps, hurrying over to climb back down the ladder. She runs up and clings to Len's leg, looking up at Mick with wide eyes. He leads them back to the second stall on the left and opens it up.

“Stay in front of her,” he tells Lisa. “Don't go around back, because she can kick.” Lisa nods like he's imparting the wisdom of the ages on her. He moves and sits down on a small stool beside the animal and pats it on the side. “You wanna pet her?” Lisa nods enthusiastically. She steps forward and tentatively reaches a hand forward and lays it on the animal's leg. The cow resolutely ignores all of them and chews on some food. Lisa strokes her hand down its side and he face lights up, and so does Len's. Mick has already turned away and Len realizes he's milking the cow.

“Hello miss cow,” Lisa says. “You're very pretty.” A flick of the ear is the only acknowledgment Lisa gets from the animal for her compliment, but she continues to smile and pet it anyway. Mick lets her indulge until he's done, then shoos them all out. As Len is standing back to be out of the way, he feels something pinch a little and tug on his shoulder. He jerks away and whirls, to be met with a long face and big brown eyes so dark they almost seem black. The horse snorts at his rudeness and pulls its head back over the edge of the stall.

“Don't tease the animals, Len,” Mick mocks from the end of the aisle, smirking at him. Len shoots him a glare.

“Yeah Lenny, don't tease,” Lisa echoes, standing up on her toes to try and see the horse. Mick walks over and gives a low whistle, and the horse sticks its head out again. Mick grabs the bridle it's wearing and rubs the top of its nose.

“This is Toni,” he says. “She's really my mom's, but she taught me to ride her too. You wanna pet her?”

“Yes!” Lisa squeals. She can't reach, so she looks up at Len expectantly. He bends down and scoops her up, balancing her on his hip and bringing her over to the horse's face.

“Hand flat, right on the middle, and rub up and down,”Mick says. “Don't go near her eyes, she won't like that.” Lisa nods again and carefully follows his instructions. Toni is less patient than the cow, growing restless after a minute or two and tossing her head. Mick moves her away from them a bit and strokes her neck for a minute before nudging her back into her stall. She snorts and goes off to nose at the trough in the back of the stall that holds her food.

Lisa is still glowing a little when Len hears a mechanical sound approaching; it sounds a bit like an engine. Mick hears it, too, and Len can see him stiffen slightly.

“Back up the ladder,” he tells them, suddenly serious. Lisa, who's back on the ground, follows his instruction immediately, adept at reading the sudden mood shifts of dangerous men. Len follows after as soon as she's far enough up, glancing back at Mick as he climbs. Mick's staring fixedly at the door, but as soon as Len's up the ladder, he hears Mick's footsteps return to the back of the barn. Len curls up with Lisa in their little makeshift bed and strokes her hair.

Nothing happens for a while, and Len's almost relaxing when he hears the whine of the barn door swinging open suddenly. Heavy footsteps stomp forward a bit, and Len hears Mick moving around at the back.

“What the hell,” a deep voice booms. Len finds it vaguely familiar from the few times he's called and it's answered the phone. “You ain't got shit done yet, Mick. What the fuck have you been doing all day, you worthless little shit?”

“More than your ass,” Mick replies, and the other man growls.

“I been out there all day in the sun and your lazy ass is sitting around in here doing fuck all,” the man roars, and Lisa shrinks against Len. He strokes her hair even as he feels a tendril of icy rage creeping up his spine.

“I'll be done soon,” Mick says, and Len can picture him gritting his teeth. “I'll get it all done.”

“Hurry it the fuck up,” the man snaps, and then stomp back out the door, slamming it slightly behind him.

Len and Lisa stay where they are while Mick moves around below them, soft rattles and thunks and the thump of his boots mixing with the noises of the animals into a quiet rhythm. After a little while, Mick appears at the top of the ladder.

“I'm done,” he says, looking tired. “Come on, let's get outta here. Leave all the blankets and shit.” His eyes widen a minute. “I mean... and junk...”

“Don't worry about,” Len tells him. “We've heard worse.” Mick looks ashamed.

“Sorry about that,” he mutters, and it takes Lena minute to realize that he's talking about the man from before.

“Again... we've heard worse,” Len tells him, and Mick's eyes drift over to Len's temple and his jaw tightens for a moment. He doesn't say anything, just heads down the ladder. Lisa follows him down at Len's indication, while Len hurriedly changes back into his own pants. He joins them at the barn door and waits while Mick checks outside.

“Out to the right, head straight to the truck,” Mick tells them. “I left it unlocked.” Leonard nods. Mick steps out first and waves them on, and they head over as fast as they can manage. Mick follows after them, glancing over his shoulder, and they make it to the truck and out of the yard without any indication they've been detected.

- - - - - - - - - -

It's a little after lunch by the time they get back to the downtown area of Central. Lisa wants lunch, and Len needs some money, so Mick takes them out to the mall. Len glances over at them as they enter, and makes a decision that's surprisingly easy.

“Mick, take Lisa around for a walk, ok? I've got things to do,” he says. Lisa doesn't react much but Mick looks alarmed.

“I, uh... I don't really know what to do with kids,” he says, looking helplessly down at her. Lisa eyes him for a minute before sticking her chin out, marching over and putting her little hand in his.

“It's ok,” she says with an air of authority. “I'll tell you what to do.” Mick's helpless look deepens and Len slaps a hand over his mouth in order to not laugh in both of their faces. When he's confident he can speak without giggles, he clears his throat and grins.

“You're all set then,” he declares, turning and leaving them. He hits the biggest crowds, flitting in and out, stopping off in the bathrooms when he starts to run out of pocket space. In an hour, he's more than set. He portions out enough for a motel night in case Lewis is still raging, some spending money for himself, some gas money for Mick, and a chunk of money to try and appease Lewis. He wanders around, skimming the crowds until he spots Mick and Lisa.

They're sitting at the food court, a tray in front of them piled with food. Lisa is munching away at fries and onion rings, a half eaten cheeseburger in front of her. She's also holding a little stuffed bear with a pink dress and a golden tiara. Mick is sucking ketchup off his fingers, which is the most distracting thing Len's seen since he buttoned up his shirt on the way out here. He forces his face blank and saunters over to sit next to Lisa.

“Looks like you had fun,” he drawls. “Where'd you get the bear, Lisa?” Her mouth is full, so she points across the table at Mick. Len raises his eyebrow and is amused to see Mick blushing a little.

“She looked like she was gonna cry if we didn't get it,” he mumbles, slouching down in his seat. Len bites his lip to keep from laughing again.

“Did you say thank you?” he prods. She nods. Mick glares at him and shoves the tray towards Leonard.

“Here,” he says. “There's a cheeseburger for you, and we got plenty of fries an- and junk.” Len doesn't argue, just dives in to the food this time.

They stay for a little while, talking and relaxing more than Len thought was possible after dealing with one of Lewis's fits. He makes a last round of pickpocketing and then they head out to the truck. It's getting late, so Mick takes them back to their house, dropping them off just down the block. Len enters the house cautiously, checking out the are before even allowing Lisa through the door, but Lewis appears to be out somewhere, probably a bar. Len leaves the cash offering to Lewis on the kitchen table, then peers out the window. Down the street, he can see Mick's headlights, sitting there, waiting. Len's confused for a minute until he realizes that Mick's probably waiting to make sure they're not going to be chased back out again. He pulls the curtain all the way back and waves, trying to get Mick's attention. Finally after a moment the truck pulls away from the curb and disappears down the street.

Len tucks Lisa into bed with her new prize bear and some books to entertain her, retreating to his own room when she's settled. He leaves the door open a crack so he can hear if Lewis shows up and starts making a stink, but he ends up sleeping through the night.

Chapter Text

Len stares silently out the window, watching the buildings pass by. When it comes to his father, less talking generally means less reasons to be hit, so he hasn’t said a word the whole ride, and neither has Lewis. It’s not until they’re pulling into the parking lot of a blocky building that Lewis finally turns to him.

“Listen up,” he hisses, voice low and dangerous. “You don’t say shit unless I say it’s ok. You be polite if they talk to you, say as little as possible, and do whatever they want. Whatever, you go it?” Len nods numbly. Lewis shuts the engine off and they both climb out of the car.

The building they enter is large, with a garage taking up most of the first floor. There are a variety of high-end luxury vehicles parked there, as well as some nondescript sedans and a few SUVs and limousines. There’s what appears to be a small bit of office space tucked in the corner, and through a window Len can see people moving around. His father leads him into a small hallway with a staircase to the second floor, which appears to connect to a warehouse space that Len can only partially see, and from there they take the stairs up. There’s a landing with a steel door at the top with a square glass window, and it’s there that they stop. Lewis bangs three short knocks on the door while Len’s eyes dart around, taking in as much as he can. After a few moments, a face appears at the window, eyeing them, though Len suspects that they’ve been watching them approach on the video feed from the camera in the corner since long before that man showed up, and they would have been met with force before they were let in if they weren’t behaving up to expectation. There are layers upon layers, here, and it’s why the Family has lasted as long as it has.

The face disappears and the steel door creaks open. Lewis enters, giving them his best smile, and Len follows in his wake, silent and blank faced. There are a few desks to his right, with bored secretarial type women sitting in two of them, watching them with bland curiosity as they pass. The man at the door leads them down the hallway ahead of them that is lined with offices, down to the end where it branches out in a T, and they enter a large conference room where several men are sitting or standing near a large table, with papers strewn across them.

“Snart,” one of them address Lewis. He has an imposing presence, and Len suspects he’s in charge. “Nice of you to be on time. Is that the boy?” he asks, indicating Len with a tilt of his head.

“That’s him,” a voice from the corner speaks up, before Lewis has a chance. Nicholas Santini steps up, giving Leonard a sly smile. “Nice to see you again, Len. You’re looking… well,” he says, eyes pausing briefly on the healing cut that remains on the side of his head.

“You too,” Len says stiffly. He can feel his father’s eyes burning into him, silently threatening him to watch himself. “It’s been a while.”

“Far too long,” Nicholas comments, leaning back against the wall again. The tall man from before clears his throat.

“Down to business,” the tall man drawls.

“Of course, Benny,” Nicholas says with a shrug of his shoulders. “Go ahead.” Len revises his earlier assumption. While Benny’s clearly the one giving orders, Nicholas, the boss’s son, is definitely in charge.

“We have a very particular goal here,” Benny begins. “The Marino family is trying to move in to our territory. They’ve been hitting at some of our operations and it’s time to hit back. We’ve located an underground casino they’re running, and we’re going to hit it.” He spread the papers apart on the table, tapping a blueprint with one finger. “First, Nick’s going to take Danny and Leonard in through a small grating system used for ventilation. Once you get in, you can bust out the side of the vent, and get out into the building proper. The exit point is marked; go there, and you’ll come out in a storage room just beyond the cage, where you can duck out the hall and down into the boss’s room. . You’ll have a couple of guys there, and you’ll need to take them out quietly. That room’s where they’ll be holding all their player ledgers in the back safe.” He turned a hard gaze on Leonard. “I’m told you pick locks, kid. You good?”

“I am,” Leonard said. “I could use any information on the safe they’re using, though. So I know what to bring.”

“We’ll get you what we have,” Nicholas breaks in. “But bring everything you might need. Just in case.” Len nods and glances at his father out of the corner of his eye. He’s glaring at him, but apparently won’t risk saying anything in front of the Family.

“Good. Next, we’re sending a couple guys inside as players. Lewis, Jason, Miguel, you’re going in as a distraction and muscle if needed. You’ll play some games, look around, and if anything goes wrong with Nick’s team, you go in and back them up. Once they’re done, we’ll give the signal and you head to the exit to distract the guys outside so no one sees the boys leave.” He looks around. “We’ll have a team of hitters nearby in case something happens but we’re going to try and do this quietly. Ok?” He looks around the room and everyone nods their heads. “Great. We go in 9 days. You’ll receive instructions before then. Be ready.”

Everyone begins to break up and head out. Lewis steps towards Len, crowding into his space, but Nicholas is also approaching him, limiting Lewis’s options.

“Here you go,” Nicholas says, holding out a manila folder to Len. “The safe system they should be using, and a copy of the blueprint for the building.” Len reaches out and takes the offered envelope. Nicholas looks impassively at Lewis. “You’ll get your later, with spending money and a fake ID.” Lewis nods, hesitating, but Nicholas continues to stare at him, and even Len can tell that he’s being silently dismissed. Lewis clears his throat and shifts uneasily.

“I’ll be waiting downstairs,” he tells Len, and Len can see the anger boiling in his eyes. He’s going to pay for this, he knows. “Don’t be too long.” He turns and storms off. Nicholas watches him with a bemused expression on his face.

“I honestly don’t know how you stand him,” he comments.

“I can’t,” Len admits, and Nick grins.

“Well. I know how it can be with family,” Nick says, looking pointedly at Len. Len doesn’t respond. “Speaking of. This is one of my first real outings with my father. After I landed myself in juvie, he’s not feeling very trustworthy right now. So this has to go well, or I’m in the doghouse. You understand?” Len nods. “Good. When we get down there, you better be able to get into that safe, Leonard. I’m going to be counting on you.” He turns and begins to walk away.

“Why me?” Len asks impulsively. Nicholas pauses and looks over his shoulder.

“Don’t you see it, Leonard? You could be great.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When Leonard steps outside into the parking lot, Lewis’s car is already running. He swallows hard and fights the dread building in his gut, forcing himself to walk over. He gets in and shuts the door, and Lewis stares at him silently for long minutes before turning forward and putting the car in gear. They’re out on the main roads before he finally talks.

“What’d the Santini boy have to say?” he asks, voice deceptively calm. This is not a good sign.

“He wanted me to know that I can’t make any mistakes,” Leonard says quietly. Lewis glares over at him.

“That’s it? That’s all he had to say to you that whole time?”

“He told me this is a big job for him. To impress his father,” Len nearly whispers.

“He’s not the only one,” Lewis growls. “We’re all going in there to impress Daddy Santini. And you better impress the fuck out of him, AND me, because otherwise I will break every bone in your goddamn body, you hear me, you worthless little shit?” Len’s mouth goes dry and he nods. “And that ain’t just for you. Fuck this job up, and I’ll make sure Lisa never skates again.” Len’s head jerks up at this, turning to face Lewis’s cruel grin. “This is it, boy. After this job, I’m gonna be associated with the Family name. All their big scores and operations. All those fancy cars,” he says, waving his hand in the direction they came from. He’s quiet for a moment, and Leonard knows he’s counting his potential scores in his head. Then he snaps back and turns to Leonard again. “If you fuck this up, you’re ruining both of us. You understand? They might straight up kill us if you don’t get that safe open, or if something happens to Santini’s kid. So if anything goes wrong, you better not bother coming back.”

Len wishes it were that simple.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“It sounds dangerous.”

Len looks over the plans spread out on the bed of the pickup truck. He’s explained everything he knows so far to Mick, and he’s shown him all the information he got from Santini, though he’s fairly sure that’s not allowed. Still, Lewis received his instructions and cash yesterday and he’s already begun spending it – claiming they’ll never know whether it was spent in the casino or not – and so Len figures it can’t hurt much.

“It is dangerous,” Len agrees. “It’s not a bad plan, but they’re relying pretty heavily on their ability to muscle their way out of it. There’s nothing in here on security cameras or anything inside the casino that they would have added, and they don’t have anything on the interior security either.”

“Where would they get that kind of stuff?” Mick ask, leaning in close to Len to look at the plans over his shoulder.

“First they’d have to know what brand of system they use, then they could check the records for what they’ve gotten installed recently.”

“How do they do that?” Len pauses and considers.

“We can try checking out this casino and seeing if they’ve got anything on the outside or front door that would give us an idea,” Len says.

“You know where it is?”

“Yeah, it’s in the instructions,” Len says. Mick leans back.

“All right, let’s go.”

“Now?” Len asks, surprised.

“Sure. Better to go when there’re less people, right?”

“I suppose,” Len muses. He gathers up the papers in the back and starts folding them up. “Ok, let’s go.:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mick pulls up in the parking lot of what looks like a fancy restaurant and banquet hall. Len doubts they do many table covers here, not in the dining sense, anyway. Mick parks and unbuckles his seatbelt.

“Where are you going?” Len asks, reaching for his own belt.

“I’m going over there to look for security signs,” Mick says. “You can’t get anywhere near this place, not when you’re coming back to rob it.”

“The goal is to not be seen when we come back, so it won’t matter,” Len argues stubbornly. Mick rolls his eyes.

“Just sit here and shut up. We’re just looking around right? It’ll be fine.” Mick doesn’t wait for him to answer before hopping out and strolling across the lot. Len ducks down but keeps his eyes on Mick as he circles the building, looking for anything to indicate their security. He lets his eyes wander around the outside of the building, noting a camera on the top of the walls looking down. The truck isn’t in view from where they’re parked, but he suspects there are more cameras along the walls. As he’s looking around, Mick finally returns from the other side of the building and jumps back in the car.

“Anything?” Len asks, and Mick shakes his head.

“No signs, no stickers, nothing,” he mutters, clearly disappointed. “What’s next?”

“Can you circle the building for me? Slowly?” Len asks. “And do go any closer in than you have to. There are cameras on the walls looking out into the lot, and I want to map them out.”

“Hold on,” Mick says. He leans over behind them and digs around in the little space behind the seats where a bunch of garbage and random items are strewn. He pulls out a large black cloth thing and tosses it to Len. “Put this on.” Len straightens it out to find a large black hoodie with a picture of men standing on a burning street above a front pocket.

“Why?” Len asks curiously.

“You wanna drive around looking at cameras without something to hide your face?” Mick points out, and Len blushes. He should have thought of that. He slips it on and pulls the hood up. The hoodie's a little big on Mick, so he practically swims in it, still unable to catch up to Mick's growth spurt. It smells like smoke and earth with a hint of spice, just like him.

Mick pulls off and they do a slow circle around the building. Len marks off all the cameras he can spot, peering out from under the edge of the hood. When they're done, Mick pulls away. He glances over at Len, who's staring at the little marks on the blueprint.

“Where to now, Len?” Len pauses and considers for a moment.

“Let's head over to the convenience store.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mick enters the store first, slouching his shoulders and glaring at everyone, shifting his eyes around and touching too many things. It catches the attention of the clerk almost immediately, and while he's watching Mick suspiciously Len slips in quietly. He slides around the aisles, slipping things into his pockets, angling himself and slipping into blind spots so the cameras can't see what he's doing. Mick's giant hoodie has the unexpected bonus of being roomy enough to store twice as much as he usually can, and he's quite pleased that by the time the clerk is openly following Mick he's got quite the haul. He slides back into the truck's passenger seat, rustling slightly from the bags of chips stuffed into his clothing, and a few moments later Mick heads back. As they pull away, Len starts unloading the bags of chips, candy bars, and even a couple sodas from his person. Mick watches out of the corner of his eye and chuckles.

“You leave them anything to sell?” he asks, grinning.

“Who cares?” Len replies, and Mick barks out a laugh.

Mick drives them out to the forest preserve on the edge of town. There's not many people out in the middle of a weekday, so they bring their snacks to the bed of the truck and spread out the plans to contemplate while they eat. Mick leans sideways across the width of the truck, sprawling out and tossing his feet over one edge of the rails, while Len sits cross legged and stares down at the blueprint.

“When's the gig?” Mick asks suddenly. Len looks up.

“Next Wednesday,” he tells him.

“Why Wednesday?” Mick asks. “Will there even be any people there?”

“Lots of people come in for stress relief on hump day,” Len explains. “Enough there to camouflage us, but not packed like a weekend, when they'd have extra security.”

“Guess that makes sense,” Mick says, crumpling up an empty bag of chips and tossing it aside. Len nods, still staring at the plans.

“They're going to have enough security as it is,” Len sighs. “I hope Nicholas knows what he's doing.”

“Yeah...” Mick mutters. He stares at Leonard for a minute. “Hey Len?”

“Yeah?”

“Be careful.”

“I will, Mick,” he promises. He sighs and leans back. “It's getting late. I better head back.”

“All right,” Mick says, pulling his legs in and stretching out while Len cleans his plans and the various garbage he and Mick have accumulated in the back. Mick stops a couple blocks from his house and he hops out.

“Hey,” Mick shouts as he moves to close the door.

“What?”

“You've still got my hoodie,” he reminds him. “that's my favorite one.” Len glances down.

“Never let a thief get their hands on something you want to keep,” he says, slamming the door and turning. He can hear Mick cursing as he hurries down the sidewalk, smiling to himself.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Len comes home late the next day. It's Friday, and he's taken Lisa out to their grandfather's house, where she'll stay for the week. Lewis gets moody before a job, and if something goes wrong, Len doesn't want her to get caught in his rage. He senses he's made the right choice as soon as he enters the door; the air seems heavier than normal, and he is considering going straight back out the door when Lewis appears in the hallway.

“Get in here,” he growls, and his words are clear and lucid. Len swallows hard. Lewis drunk and mean is usually easy to ride out; he huffs, puffs, throws a few punches and heavy objects, blundering around with his cruelty like bull in a china shop. Lewis sober and mean is an entirely different animal; cold, calculating, and precise in a way he wishes he could be on his jobs, he can inflict pain far more efficiently. Len backs up towards the door but Lewis is in front of him before he can turn the handle, gripping his arm like a vise and dragging him down the hall. He pushes Len into the kitchen, and Len gets a chance to see what's going on.

Spread out on the table are a small floor safe, several padlocks, a stethoscope, a bunch of lockpicking tools, and a stopwatch. Len's mouth goes dry.

“Time for a lesson,” Lewis says, shoving him forward toward the table. “That's a small Schwab, same brand as the one that's gonna be in the casino. You're gonna get it open, in under a minute.”

“I've never -” Len tries, and gets cuffed upside the head. It's a gentle warning in Lewis's world. The chairs are all shoved off to the side, so there's nowhere for Len to sit, just one set off to the side that Lewis sinks into. He grabs the stopwatch off the table and presses the button.

“60 seconds.” Len swallows his panic; he didn't even have tools in his hand yet, but that doesn't matter. He grabs the stethoscope and slips it on, pressing it against the safe. He's only gotten one click when he hears a beep in the background and something slams into his side. He stumbles and clutches at his side. Lewis has a sock filled with something heavy and hard hanging from his hand. He steps forward for a second and spins the dial, resetting the lock. He returns to his chair and hits the button. “60 seconds.”

By his seventh attempt, he almost has it, so Lewis stands and paces while he works. Each time he fails, he gets another hit from the sock and Lewis increases the noise. He does his best to try and focus, shutting out the pain and the noise and the distraction. He gets it open before the beep on his fourteenth try. He turns to Lewis, presenting it, and Lewis stares at it like he's offended. Then he reaches out, slams the safe door closed and fiddles with the dial. He finally turns back to Len.

“Took you long enough,” he growls. “I set a new combination. Now we can move on to thirty seconds.”

Len only has one number down when the stopwatch beeps, and he a sharp pain hits him right between the shoulder blades. He stumbles and is knocked down from the force, chest hitting the hard edge of the table as he falls forward onto his knees. He gasps for breath while Lewis makes a sound of disgust.

“Pathetic,” Lewis snaps as Len struggles to his feet. He sets the sock down and turns and opens the fridge.

Len sees his chance.

With everything left in his aching body, he darts out into the hallway, throwing the door open as he hears Lewis roar in rage from the kitchen. He runs as fast as he can down the sidewalk, and by the time Lewis makes it to the front door he's at the end of the block and not stopping, ignoring the aches and stabbing pains in his torso. He runs for five more blocks before a bus passes by and he flags it down, jumping on.

Chapter Text


Leonard hasn’t broken into many homes before; it’s risky and there’s not usually much of value that isn’t easily traceable. Plus, you never know when the homeowners will return, and Leonard hates being unable to rely on his timing. Still, home locks are generally pretty easy to beat, and this is no exception. There isn’t even an alarm system to worry about. He slips in the now-open door and closes it as quietly as he can behind him. Then he slips off his shoes so that he’ll make less noise as he creeps through the house; he’s really not looking to be shot by an angry homeowner. He makes his way through the dark, hand on the wall until he feels open space. In the dim light he can just make out a staircase. He puts one foot on it and cautiously tests his weight; no significant creaking, so he slowly climbs it, going still every time there’s a noticeable creak or groan. He makes it all the way to the top of the stairs with no sign of detection, and glides down the hall. He stops at the end of the hall and tries the last door; it’s unlocked. He opens it steps in quickly, closing the door softly behind him.

There’s enough light coming in from the large window for Len to be able to see clearly enough in the room. He stakes a step forward, eyes on the sleeping body in the bed against the wall.

“Mick!” he hisses. No response; Mick must be out cold, and he’s a fairly heavy sleeper. Len sighs and creeps up to the edge of the bed.

Mick is lying on his stomach, faces half buried in a pillow that his arms are tucked under. He’s kicked off his blankets, a habit he had back in juvie and that Len suspects has something to do with his high body heat. He’s only wearing boxers, a fact that Len tries hard to put from his mind. He reaches over and gives Mick’s shoulder a gentle shove. “Mick.”

Mick’s eyes fly open and he rolls away, slapping Len’s hand away. Len jerks back on instinct, the sudden movement causing a jolt of pain through his sore body, his already frayed nerves jangling in response to the sudden movement. For a moment both boys stare at each other wide-eyes from opposite sides of the room. Mick blinks a couple times.

“Len?” he croaks, squinting through the dim light. “Is that… that you?”

“It’s me,” Len says, taking deep breaths to try and slow his heart rate. Mick sits up and scrubs at his face.

“What the hell are you doing here? What time is it?” he asks, looking around in confusion. “How did you get in?”

“It’s sometime after midnight,” Len replies. “I picked the lock on your back door and let myself in.” Mick’s eyebrows shoot up.

“You broke into my house?” he asks incredulously.

“Ssshhh! Keep your voice down,” Len hisses. Mick rolls his eyes.

“It’s fine, my parents are heavy sleepers. Mom takes sleeping pills and Dad’s dead to the world once he closes his eyes,” Mick tells him. His eyes narrow suddenly. “How’d you get all the way out here? Please don’t tell me you left a stolen car on my lawn or something.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Len says. He sets his shoes on the ground and steps cautiously over to Mick. “I left the car I borrowed at the gas station and walked the rest of the way.”

“You walked from the gas station?” Mick repeats in disbelief. “That’s like 3 miles, Len.”

“Yeah, well, tell them to get some buses out here.”

“They’re not gonna get buses out here. No one wants to come here but your crazy ass.” Len eases down to sit next to Mick, but even the careful motion causes a spike of pain in his side that he doesn’t quite manage to keep off his face. Mick’s gaze sharpens when he notices.

“Len, what happened?” he asks, suddenly serious. Len shrugs, ignoring the pain the action brings. Mick leans over and switches on a small lamp on the corner of the desk and leans into Len’s space, examining his face. He reaches up and brushes a tender spot on Len’s jaw where there’s most likely a bruise.

“How bad is it?” he asks, and Len shakes his head.

“I’m fine,” he says. “I just need somewhere to stay tonight.”

“All right,” Mick mutters, clearly not happy with the answer but dropping it anyway, which Len is grateful for. He stands up and crosses over to the dresser standing next to the doorway, pulling one open and digging around. He pulls a pair of sweatpants out and tosses them to Len. “Wear those. You can stay here.” He pauses. “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?” Len asks, but Mick is already out the door. He can hear Mick’s heavy footsteps thudding down the hall and then down the stairs, and he’s momentarily annoyed that he bothered to be so stealthy getting in when Mick’s making so much noise. He stands and removes his jeans, slipping into the pants Mick has given him and pulling the drawstrings tight to keep them up on his slighter frame. He eases back onto the bed, wincing and sucking a breath as he gets his legs up and leans back against the headboard. He’s glad Mick isn’t here to see it.

Mick does return a few minutes later, carrying a plate and a glass of water, and sets both down on the desk next to Len. The plate has a sandwich, an apple, and small white pill that Len picks up and examines.

“It’s Vicodin,” Mick tells him. “Mom’s got a prescription. Thought you could use one.”

“I’m not sure I want to start popping pills,” Len says warily.

“You’re not popping pills. It’s like extra strength aspirin. Only lasts a few hours anyway, by the time you wake up it’ll have worn off, but it’ll help you get to sleep.” Mick climbs carefully over Len’s legs to get back in his bed, but he still shifts him very uncomfortably, and Len decides that it’s not a bad idea. He pops it in his mouth and uses the water to wash it down. Then he turns to the sandwich. Taking a bite, he lifts an eyebrow.

“Peanut butter and jelly and an apple,” he comments after swallowing. “I feel like I’m in middle school again.”

“If you want gourmet food then break into a restaurant next time,” Mick grumbles, settling back into his sleeping position. “Just eat the damn food and turn the light off. I gotta get up early.” Len feels a pang of guilt.

“You didn’t-“

“Shut up, Len.” Len’s eaten the sandwich and half the apple by now. He finishes it off quickly and reaches over to turn off the light. He lays back carefully, shifting slightly closer to the heat pouring off Mick's skin.

“Sorry I woke you up.” Mick cracks an eye and looks at him, and Len stares up at the ceiling.

“You can wake me up any time, Len.”

“Thanks, Mick.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Heavy fists pound on the door, and Len jerks upright, instantly on alert despite a slight fuzz that he can’t quite get clear from his mind, and his body aches at the action.

“Get your ass up!” a deep male voice booms, and Len’s mind races as his adrenaline spikes. His eyes dart around, seeing only unfamiliar surroundings. Suddenly an arm snakes around his waist and a hand come up to cover his mouth. He struggles for a moment before a familiar voice hisses in his ear for him to be quiet.

“I’m up,” Mick says, turning his voice back to normal volume. The cobwebs are rapidly clearing and Len blinks rapidly. He can see the sunrise just outside the window

“There’s shit to do, hurry up and get downstairs,” the male voice growls, before he goes clomping loudly down the hall. Mick’s releases Leonard and pulls away, and Len has a flash of disappointment. He tries to collect himself. Mick. He’s in Mick’s room. He came here after Lewis’s lesson. He exhales deeply and flops back, wincing slightly. Mick slides out of bed and starts looking through his dresser again. Len averts his eyes as he pulls on a worn pair of jeans.

“Stay here and get some rest,” Mick says, shrugging on a blue flannel button up shirt. “My parents don't really come in here ever, but I'll lock the door behind me just in case. Once I'm done working I can get us out into the city.” Len nods in agreement and Mick turns and leaves.

Leonard rolls onto his side, curling up and wrapping Mick's blanket around himself. He's barely slept, and the vicodin hasn't worn off yet, so he's able to drift off again fairly easily. He's not sure how long he's out this time, but when he wakes up again, his head is much clearer and there's sunlight streaming in the window. He sits up slowly, testing his body. It aches, but it's the kind of ache that he's learned how to ignore.

He makes it to his feet and walks stiffly to the door. He cracks it open and sticks his head out, checking the hall to see if it's clear. When he's fairly sure there's no one in the area, he pads quietly down to use the bathroom.

When he steps out again, he hears a sound he can't place. It's coming from downstairs, and despite thinking it might be a bad idea, he goes to the top of the staircase and leans over a little. Up closer, he realizes that it's someone – a woman – humming. He thinks the tune is vaguely familiar, but he can't name it; something he's heard on the radio before, he suspects. It reminds him of sitting at the Motorcar with his grandfather listening to the radio piped in over the tinny diner speakers. He smiles a little before he returns to Mick's room.

Mick finds him a couple hours later, lying in his bed reading one of his chemistry books to pass the time. He eyes Len, who's made a little nest of Mick's pillows and blankets to cushion his bruised body.

“Still lounging in bed?” Mick says, slipping his flannel shirt off and pulling on a T-shirt.

“Of course,” Len drawls. “I'm milking this for all it's worth.” Mick turns and glares at him.

“I see you're feeling better,” he grumbles, and Len smiles and set the book aside.

“I am,” he says, and is surprised that it's true. “So if you're done horsing around out there-” Mick crosses his arms and glares even harder. “You want to get headed into the city? I'm starving.”

“Fine,” Mick says. He grabs Len's jeans from the ground and tosses them to him. “We've still got to get out of the house without being seen. Think you can make it?”

“I won't chicken out,” Len promises. Mick looks physically pained.

“Len, I will leave you by the side of the road, I swear to god.”

“What's wrong, Mick? Am I getting your goat?”

“Don't even have a fucking goat,” he hears Mick mutter under his breath. Leonard just smirks and finishes buttoning his jeans.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mick leads Len downstairs, slipping past the kitchen where Len glimpses a woman with long, dark hair and a flowered sundress. When they reach the door and Mick turns the handle, her voice floats out towards them.

“Mick, honey? That you?” Mick moves and pulls Len between him and the door, blocking him from sight with his body as heels click in the kitchen.

“Yeah, mom,” Mick replies. “I'm goin' out for a while, ok?”

“Are you coming home for dinner?” Len presses a little closer, trying to make himself smaller in case she steps out.

“Probably not,” Mick says, and Len can feel the vibrations in his chest from their proximity. It's oddly soothing.

“Ok baby,” Mick's mother replies, and the heels retreat. Mick steps back, giving Len the space to slide out from between him and the door so he can open it. He follows Mick out to the old truck and Mick opens the door and hops in, pulling keys from the sun visor.

“You don't even lock it?” Len asks, rounding the front of the car to open the passenger door. “Someone's going to steal your truck.”

“It'll probably be you,” Mick retorts, and Len shrugs. He puts one foot up on the step rail of the truck and moves to climb up, but when he shifts his weight off the ground pain spikes through his ribs and he lets out a small gasp, dropping back down. Mick's attention snaps back to him.

“You ok, Len?” he asks. Len doesn't reply. He can't bring himself to say no, but suddenly the truck looks a mile high. Mick slides across the faded leather seats until he's at the edge of the passenger side. “Give me your hand.” Len complies, and Mick takes it. When Len starts to step up, Mick pulls him forward, wrapping an arm around chest and leveraging him up. It still hurts, but nowhere near as much, and Len ends up practically in his lap.

“I guess that's one way to do it,” he says, trying for a light tone and probably failing.

“I coulda got you a stepstool instead,”Mick replies, his breath tickling the side of Len's face, which sets Len's heart racing. Shit, he better not be blushing. Mick pulls back and returns to the driver's side of the car, pulling something out of his front shirt pocket and holding it out. Len takes the small pill bottle and examines it as Mick starts the truck; for a moment he thinks it's going to be more vicodin, but it's just regular aspirin. He twists the cap off and swallows two dry.

“Where you wanna go?” Mick asks. Len leans back against the seat and closes his eyes.

“Anywhere you want, Mick.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mick takes them to a small pizza place in the more populated part of his area. He comes around to Len's side after they park and helps him down, letting Len place his hands on his shoulders and gripping Len's waist to half lift him down. Len's half impressed and half embarrassed. He's never needed someone else's strength like this, and he's never had it offered. He tries to put it out of his mind as he follows Mick into the restaurant.

An overly cheerful hostess brings them to a booth near the corner. Len slides in across from Mick, who immediately sprawls out and seems to take up the whole side with his presence alone.

“What do you like on your pizza?” Mick asks. Len shrugs. When the waitress comes with the drinks they asked for, Mick gets them sausage, pepperoni and green pepper. “The pepper is a vegetable, so that means it's healthy,” he informs Len. Leonard takes a long drink from his soda so Mick won't see him smile.

“So you gonna tell me what happened?” Mick asks. Len stares down into his soda and stays silent. The waitress stops by with a basket of garlic bread and Mick waits until she leave before continuing more quietly. “The Family do something to you?”

“No,” Len says quickly. “It isn't like that.”

“Then what the hell, Len?” Leonard worries at a small hole in the plastic checkered tablecloth and remains silent. “Dammit, Len, if someone's messing with you I can help. We can figure it out.”

“You can't help with this,” Len says quietly. “I have to deal with it.” Mick sighs.

“When you decide to quit bein' an idiot, I'll help you out,” Mick tells him. “Until then, just don't get caught breaking into my house.”

“I never get caught,” Len huffs.

“You got caught robbing ATMs,” Mick points out.

“That was a fluke.”

“Yeah well, don't let there be a fluke where you show up while my dad's up taking a piss or something,” Mick tells him. His face darkens a little. “He ain't a friendly guy.”

“Neither is mine,” Len says softly. Mick eyes him for a minute, then holds up his glass.

“To the shitty fathers club,” he declares, and Len chuckles.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When they finish their food, Mick pays and leads them out. Len snags a wallet out of the back pocket of a man waiting to be seated, quickly pulls the cash out, and drops it on the ground just outside the doors. He slinks up next to Mick and slides the money into his front shirt pocket while Mick rolls his eyes. When he gets to the truck and opens the door, Mick steps up behind him.

“What are you doing?” Len asks, turning to look over his shoulder.

“Thought this would be easier on you than yanking you up again,” Mick says. He smirks. “Or I could go see if they have a stool for you, if you'd rather.”

“What uplifting options,” Len drawls, and Mick chuckles for once. “Fine, you win.” He feels Mick's hands on his waist, and when he steps up Mick lifts him up and he gets in smoothly. He waits as Mick goes around and get in the driver's seat.

“Anywhere you want to go?” Mick asks when he's got the car started. Len thinks for a minute.

“Can you take me across town?”

“I can take ya anywhere you want, Len,” Mick replies, giving him a grin. “What's across town?”

“My grandfather's house,” Len responds. “I want to go check on Lisa.”

“Why's she at your grandfather's?” Mick asks as they set off. Len leans his forehead against the cool window glass.

“We sent her there for the week,” Len tells him. “We always send her away when we're doing a job.”

“We being you and your dad?” Len nods. “Why don't you just let her stay there with him all the time?” Len sighs.

“My father won't let her,” he says. “He might not like having her around, but he likes using her against me.”

“Hmm. Well, maybe you'll get lucky and he'll get his dumb ass killed in the casino.”

“If he did, he'd probably take us all out with him. Just out of spite.” Mick glances over at him.

“Seriously, Len, how dangerous is this shit?”

“Incredibly,” Len admits, unwilling to lie to him. “A lot of the success revolves around me getting that safe open. If I don't even if we get out ok, we've just pissed off a rival gang for nothing. I don't know why Nicholas picked me for this.”

“Cause you're good,” Mick replies without hesitation. “Look at the shit you already pulled just in juvie, Len.”

“We pulled,” Len reminds him, and Mick gives him a crooked grin that makes Len's heart flutter a little. “Nicholas seems to think I'm going to be great.”

“You will,” Mick says with certainty. “When you start pulling your own jobs, Len, you're gonna run this town. Santini's just trying to be smart and get you to be his partner instead of his competition.”

“Well too bad,” Len says, as they pull up outside of his grandfather's single story house. “You're my partner, and I'm not in the market for anyone else.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len knocks twice before unlocking the front door and stepping in, grateful that he hadn't had time to put away his keys before fleeing his father's house the night before. He steps in and glances around the quiet house.

“Hello?” he calls, voice echoing slightly. He hears a flurry of movement and suddenly Lisa bursts out of one of the rooms and barrels down the hall into his waiting arms. He bites his lips to keep from showing any pain as she wraps her arms around him.

“Lenny!” she says joyfully. “I missed you! Did you come to play with me?”

“Sure,” he says, smiling warmly at her. “In a little bit. Where's Grandpa?”

“He had to go to work,” she replies.

“All right. Go wait in the living room, and I'll be right back, ok?” She nods and releases him. While she scrambles onto the sofa in the living room, he heads back out and returns to where Mick's waiting in his truck.

“We have the house for a couple hours,” he tells Mick. “Do you want to come in?”

“Sure,” Mick responds with a shrug. He turns the truck off and locks up, the follows Mick back inside and to the living room where Lisa is waiting.

“Lisa, do you remember Mick?” has asks. She jumps up and runs off suddenly, while Len blinks in confusion. He turns to Mick, who looks equally confused. Just as fast, she's back again holding something up for them.

“I brought Dorothy,” she declares, holding up the little bear Mick bought her at the mall. Len grins broadly at her.”

“Dorothy, huh?” Mick says. “Like from the wizard of Oz?”

“No,” Lisa huffs, offended. “Dorothy like Dorothy Hamill. She's a really great ice skater! She won the Olympics!”

“Oh,” Mick says, looking lost. “That's... cool, I guess.” Len chuckles.

“Why don't you two hang out for a while,” he says. “I want to take a shower, ok?”

“Ok Lenny,” Lisa chirps. She turns to Mick. “Come on, Mick, let's watch TV.”

“Uh... ok,” he says, following after her. He shoots Len a helpless look and Len just gives him a serene smile. When he hears the TV click on, he heads into the bedroom that he and Lisa share when they're staying here; although, lately Len hasn't been allowed to go with her much. He does still have a drawer of clothes that mostly still fit in the small dresser, and he locates some clean clothes and brings them into the bathroom with him, closing and locking the door behind him.

He takes a deep breath and slowly peels off his shirt, ignoring the twinge of pain that he gets when he raises his arms above his head. Dropping the shirt on the ground, he stands at the sink and examines himself in the mirror. Mottled bruising covers a large portion of his chest and sides, in small circular patterns. His scars stand out even more, pale against the dark colors of the bruises. He rotates his torso experimentally, thinking that while everything hurts, he probably doesn't have any cracked ribs or internal bleeding, which in his world means that he's fine. He strips down completely and turns on the water in the shower, letting it heat up for a bit before stepping in. He usually takes showers cooler than this, but the heat feels good on his sore muscles. He stays in a little longer than normal, the scalding water pouring down his body and releasing some of his tension.

When he finally feels the water start to cool a little, he shuts it off and steps out, quickly drying himself off and redressing in the clothes he brought in. He's got another long sleeved shirt to wear under the T-shirt he's picked; he's not about to let Lisa see the bruises. He hates the look she gets whenever she sees a new injury on him. He takes two more aspirin from a bottle in his grandfather's medicine cabinet and thinks he's ready.

He steps out of the bathroom, steam pouring into the hallway after him. He drops his clothes and towel into the laundry and follows the sound of the television back to the living room. He finds Lisa and Mick there, sitting on opposite ends of the couch but with the same look of rapt attention on their faces, and Len can't help but smile.

“Having fun watching cartoons?” he asks, directing the question mainly at Mick.

“Hell yeah,” Mick says, eyes not leaving the screen. “I don't get to watch much TV at my place, so I got a lot of catching up to do.”

“He's rooting for the cat, Lenny,” Lisa informs him gravely.

“Oh really? Why is that?” Len asks, stepping over and taking a seat between the two of them. Mick's arm is slung over the back of the couch just behind his head, and it reminds him of lounging around with Mick in juvie to watch movies. He's momentarily tempted to lean against Mick's side just to see what he would do.

“Cat's just doing his job,” Mick replies. “It's his house, and that little mouse just walks in and causes trouble like he owns the place. Arrogant little -” he stops himself and blinks, glancing at Lisa. “Uh... little guy.”

“I like the mouse,” Len says. “He always wins because he's smarter, even though he's tiny. Besides, I always root for the little guy.” Mick snorts.

“Yeah, I guess I can see that,” Mick says. “I like the dog best anyway.” He drags his gaze off the screen and locks eyes with Len. “Big and tough and mean but he's kinda got a soft spot for the little mouse.”

“Sounds like my kind of guy,” Len replies quietly, and Mick's lips twitch in a small smile before he turns back to the cartoon.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

They stay and entertain Lisa for a while longer before Len reluctantly tells her they have to go. When they get back into the car – Len getting himself in, for once – and he asks to be dropped off at his father's house. Mick frowns.

“Why the hell would you go back there?” Mick growls.

“What am I supposed to do, Mick, live in your barn? I have to go back some time.”

“You could at least stay one more night with me,” Mick tells him. “Take a day to rest up and heal. He comes at you again while you're still hurt and he could really mess you up.”

I'm aware of that,” he responds. “But I need to go home and get my plans and work on that safe. I have a lot more than Lewis to worry about if this job goes wrong, and he was right; my times are bad. I need practice.” He turns away from Mick and stares out the window. “Besides, after an episode like last night he's usually much easier to handle for the next few days.”

Mick doesn't say anything, and Len can see him gripping the steering wheel tightly while they both stare out at nothing. Finally Mick sighs and starts the car.

“He does anything and you call me,” he growls at Len. “I'll kick the shit out of him and get you outta there.”

“Sure,” Len says, mostly to placate him. They're both quiet on the drive over, and it goes far too quickly. Mick stops outside the house and Len eases out of the truck, refusing Mick's offer of help. He doesn't want to chance his father to see him being both friendly and weak with another person, especially Mick, but when he cautiously enters the house, he discovers it's empty. He goes to the kitchen and discovers everything about where it was the night before, safe and locks spread out on the table, sock dropped on the ground nearby. He goes over to the kitchen window and pulls back the curtain. He can see Mick's truck still sitting at the curb, and he raises a hand to wave at him, let him know that everything's ok. After a moment, the car engine starts and the truck pulls off.

Len stays in the kitchen for a couple more hours, sitting at the table and testing out the safe. He resets the code multiple times, spinning the dial and listening carefully to the sound the pins make as each number clicks into place. When he's finally tired and his side has started to hurt again, he locates some more aspirin and curls up in his bed. He usually likes the cold quiet of his empty house, mostly because it means Lewis isn't around, but for once he wishes that he were elsewhere, that he'd taken Mick up on his offer and spent one more night lying beside him instead.

Chapter Text



Len shifts quietly in the back, listening to the murmur of voice as the people gathered talk amongst themselves. He can hear Lewis's voice above most of them, trying too hard to be friendly and likeable despite the fact that he's the opposite. They're gathered to prepare for their job and head out, going over anything that needs to be tweaked at the last minute. Everyone's in shades of black except Lewis and two other men, the men set to go into the casino and cause distractions. Lewis is wearing a hideous Hawaiian shirt, while Len has chosen a simple black turtleneck and black jeans.

The voices quiet once Nicholas and Benny step inside.

“All right, people,” Benny barks, and the room goes completely silent. “Everyone know where they're supposed to be and what they're supposed to be doing?” A pause for everyone to murmur and nod in agreement. “Good. This is a big hit. Inside people, your job is to keep anyone from heading to the back room so the boys have time to get in and out as quietly as possible. Vince's kid is going in, so you better take it real fucking seriously, you understand?” The men nod vigorously. “All right. Everyone form up and let's head out.”

Everyone disperses, forming little groups and streaming out the door. Nicholas stands silently with the other boy they're going with, so Len also remains still in his little corner. Once most of the other people have gone, including Lewis, Nicholas strides over to him.

“You look like you belong in a coffee shop reading poetry,” he comments.

“That's what I'll tell anyone who asks where I'm going,” Len replies. Nicholas smiles.

“You bring anything to defend yourself?” he asks, going over to a small metal safe.

“My good looks and quick wit,” Len comments, and Nicholas laughs as he pulls open the door to the safe.

“That's all well and good,” Nicholas says, taking something out of the safe and holding it out to him, “but I think this will be far more practical.”

Len looks down at the gun Nicholas is offering to him. It's sleek metal, and it's outfitted with a silencer. Len cautiously takes it, testing the weight in his hand and being sure not to point it at anyone. He's never been allowed to have a gun on any of his father's jobs; he's not sure if Lewis just wants him to feel as helpless as possible or if he's worried Len will turn against him, or maybe both.

“The safety is one this side,” Nicholas says, pointing at it. “Slide it back or the gun won't fire.” Len nods. “Remember, we're going to have to take out at least two guards by the door to the safe room. Danny and I should be able to handle it, but you need to keep an eye on the hall while we do. Understand?”

“I understand,” Len says, mouth dry. He expected this, knew about it, but now that they're heading out, it's a new level of real to him. He desperately wishes Mick were here with him; he wants just one person here to look out for him, the only one who does. He wouldn't be half as nervous if he had Mick at his side.

“Come on,” Nicholas says, heading to the door where Danny is waiting. “Let's catch up with everyone else.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Danny drives them over to the casino, and Len is a little surprised when Nicholas jumps in the back with him. They’re quiet on the way over, and Danny parks the car at the far corner of the lot on the east side of the building, where they intend to enter. When they all climb out of the car, Len puts a hand on Nicholas's shoulder.

“There are cameras,” he says, pointing to the ones on the roof that he and Mick have spotted earlier. Both of the boys look where he's indicating, and Nicholas's gaze turns calculating. “I'm not sure if it's a monitored live feed or a recording, but it's best if we don't get caught on them.”

“You know a way around it?” Nicholas asks, raising an eyebrow.

“There's one small path where neither of the views reach quite far enough to cover, and if we can make it to the wall, we can stay right up against it and be out of view, since they can't record straight down.” Nicholas breaks into a broad grin.

“I knew there was a reason I liked you so much, Snart,” he tells him. “Ok. Lead the way.”

“Follow behind me and walk exactly where I walk,” Len tells them. It's the same trick he used to teach Mick to avoid the cameras in juvie, and he hopes they learn as well as Mick did. Luckily, he's not disappointed. They fall in line behind him like little ducklings, stepping in a perfectly straight line as they follow him, and they all flatten themselves against the wall and slide along it until they reach the small ventilation panel.

Each of them has a small bag over their shoulders. Len's has his safe cracking and lock picking tools; Danny's has a variety of power and hand tools – and weapons, Len learns, as he gets a glimpse of the inside of the bag when Danny opens it and pulls out a screwdriver. He unscrews the panel quickly as Len and Nicholas scan the parking lot. This side of the building is mostly deserted; if it were a busier day, there would be some overflow from the parking in front of the building, but that's why they've chosen this day. Once the panel is off, they start to squeeze inside. Danny goes first, because he's the one who needs to cut open a path for them when they get to the end, followed by Nicholas, and finally Len. The shaft is small; Len can barely see Danny shuffling along on his hands and knees, broad frame scraping the edges of the vent. Any larger, and he wouldn't be able to fit; this is why the boys were allowed out on this, Len realizes.

After then shimmy down the vent for a bit, Danny signals for them to stop. He pulls his bag under him and digs through until he pulls out a hand torch and a hammer. He shuffles around until he's on his side, the only position he can work from in this cramped space. He fires up the torch and runs it along one of the seams where the metal meets metal, weakening it at the joint until he can hit it hard enough that he can slip the plier side of the hammer in and force the metal back. That space allows him to insert the metal cutting shears he has in and begin cutting away the thin metal side of the shaft. Len spends the time wondering if if getting Mick a hand torch would be worth the fires he'd have to run around and put out afterwards.

The whole process takes a few tense minutes, because if anyone's attracted to the sounds they're making then they're all sitting ducks in this little shaft. Len probably has the best chance of making it out, being at the back, but there's no guarantee. Because of this, they've picked to come out in what's marked as a storage room. There's a small layer of drywall separating the vent from the room, but old drywall is no match for a small sledgehammer and Danny's determination. Knocking out the plaster reveals that they're behind a small open shelving unit piled with boxes; Danny reaches out of his ever widening hole and cautiously slides the boxes resting in front of their exit forward, trying not to do it too fast and topple everything over. He's finally able to widen the hole enough that he can just barely squeeze out into the room.

They all wore black, but by the time they get through the wall into the building proper, they've got patches of white plaster dust all over them, ruining the effect they were going for. Nicholas creeps over and eases the door open to check the hallway while Danny widens the hole a little more from the outside; it's easier from here, and they may need to get in a lot faster on their way out.

“All clear,” Nicholas says in a low voice. He and Danny sling their bags over their shoulders and draw their guns; Len mimics them, although he's not entirely sure he knows what he's doing with a gun. The hallway contains their store room, a heavy-duty security door leading out to the casino, and another room across from the one they're in that leads to the cage, where the money is changed. It wouldn't be a bad target itself, if they came in with a few more hitters, but the ledgers are even more important. Those list payments and client names, protection rackets, and all sort of extortion details. That's in the safe waiting in the room just around the corner of the intersection ahead of them.

They step quietly down the hall, Nick and Danny in front, pausing for a moment before whipping around the corner, guns drawn. Len hears two quiet whistles and a couple thuds, a pained sound and another shot. He follows them around and sees two men lying face down on the ground, blood slowly seeping out around them. It's not the first time he's seen someone killed in front of him. His father shot a security guard on a bank robbery once, but Len didn't have to actually step over him to work like he did here.

“Door's locked,” Nicholas hisses from in front of him. Len steps forward, trying to ignore the blood that's inching towards his boots as he pulls out his lock picks and opens the lower lock, then pulls out a magnet to slide back the deadbolt above it. He opens the door and leaves the thoughts of the dead guards behind with their bodies in the hall.

They pile into the room, Danny lingering at the door to keep an eye out for anyone coming down the hallway. Len quickly strides around the large wooden desk in the middle of the room and freezes.

The safe that's there is not the safe he was expecting.

Everything he had been told, been given, said it would be a Schwab. This is a Hamilton – a brand that Len hasn't been practicing with for three days straight. His mind blanks for a moment as he attempts to take it in. He forces himself over to kneel in front of the safe and take it in.

He looks it over. Its a sturdier brand and harder to hear through; if he can't hear a click, he's just going to be guessing. It also looks brand new – there's a few crumbs of styrofoam still clinging to the side, so it can't have been here much longer than a day, two tops.

Wait. They can't be that lazy – can they?

All safes have a default manufacturer's combination code that they come set on, and Len has most of them, including Hamilton's, memorized. If they've been slacking or if it really is super brand new, there's a small, miniscule chance that they haven't changed it, and right now that's his only hope. Heart pounding, Len spins the dial, entering in the code. He hears a click, and when he reached out and grabs the handle, hand shaking slightly, he pulls and it turns.

Len has never, ever been happier for a change in plan.

He yanks the safe door open and signals Nicholas over. He runs over and drops down next to Leonard, throwing open his bag, loading everything from the safe into it. Len sees the ledgers, other paperwork, and even a bunch of stacks of money go flying into Nick's bag, while Nicholas chuckles beneath his breath.

“I hear something,” Danny hisses, and Nicholas ups his pace, scooping things out while Len clutches his gun. Len listens near the door, hearing footsteps approach. If they turn the corner, they’re going to see the dead guards. The footsteps stop, and Len lets out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

Then they start again and a man rounds the corner.

Len freezes, again. Danny yanks his gun up and fires twice at the man, but both shots miss and Len sees a flash of wide eyes before the man ducks back around the corner. The footsteps run down the hall and Danny curses.

“Out! Now!” he hollers at Nicholas, who's already up and heading to the door. They run down the hallway and turn the corner to see men bursting through the door.

“This way!” Len calls, turning and running the opposite way down the hall. A short distance away at the other end of the hall is the door to the kitchen area. The other boys follow him and they dash through the kitchen door just as Len hears a shot ring out.

They run through the kitchen, shoving aside surprised looking people in aprons and uniforms, knocking them down behind them to slow the people that are just now getting in after them. Len's vaguely aware of Nicholas throwing down oils and liquids on the floor. There's a side door at the far end of the kitchen that they're aiming for; it's deadbolted and double locked, but from the inside, not intended to keep people in. He undoes all the locks in seconds and throws the door open, spilling out into the parking lot with the other two boys on his heels.

“Hammer!” Len yells, holding out his hand. Danny fumbles for a second before producing the tool and slapping it into his palm. Len holds the door cracked just a bit and slips the thin edges of the hammer into the space right by the hinges of the door, jamming it in place. There's now not enough room for the door to open or close until someone can get the hammer out; it'll be difficult to do from the inside, giving them time that they desperately need, because they're on the wrong side of the building.

All the Family men and their cars are waiting on the opposite end of the building, because they hadn't planned on getting out this way. Stupid – Len should have seen it, should have pointed it out earlier, but he was so focused on the safe and his role that he didn't think of this. He hadn't spent enough time looking over the blueprints, spotting the other options and thinking of backup plans, and now they're stuck.

While he's standing there cursing himself, Danny and Nicholas have started walking towards the back of the building, which Len realizes with horror is the worst idea. They're in full view of the cameras and they'll be expecting them to go around the back, because that's everyone's first instinct. Len breaks into a run.

“Wait!” he calls, as loud as he dares, and Nicholas pauses and glances back just before he and Danny step out around the corner. Len is close enough to grab him by the arm and drag him back, but Danny makes it three more steps out before a shot rings out, and he just crumples to the ground, twisting as he falls. He ends up on his side facing them, eyes wide as blood pours from his neck and mouth, and Len nearly throws up right there. Nicholas is moving, though, dragging him back now, and when Len turns he can see the door they came through jittering slightly in the frame as the men they left behind attempt to force it open.

“Other way!” Nicholas shouts, turning and running back towards the front of the casino. There will be more men there, maybe, but a better chance that their people will show up and more cover in the parking lot. Len and Nick stop at the corner of the building, peeking around and seeing men running everywhere.

“Run to the cars,” Nicholas hisses, wrapping his hand around Len's wrist. Len jerks against the touch instinctively but tries to cover with a nod. Nicholas waits a couple seconds, watching then suddenly runs, forcing Len after him. They make it over to a short row of cars as bullets ring out in the night, ducking low and trying to avoid being seen, when two men step up from between the rows and point guns at them. They both stop immediately.

“Look what we've got here,” one of them says. “Little Santini boy and his lackey. Where you going with our stuff, Santini?” Neither of them responds or moves.

“How about this,” the other one says. “Santini, you and those bags come with us, and we'll see just how much Daddy loves you. You, kid,” he says, pointing his gun at Len, “You're done. Sorry.”

Len's wondering if he'll be shot or pass out first when suddenly a flash of light flies through the air. It hits the back of the car between the two gunmen and explodes in a burst of glass and liquid and suddenly fire. The gunmen jump and turn, shooting in the opposite direction. Nicholas takes the opportunity to shoot one in the leg and run on. Len follows him on weak legs and glances back as there's another explosion of glass and suddenly another car is on fire. Molotov cocktails, something in his brain whispers, and it sounds so much like Mick that for a moment Len doesn't realize that the insane laughter he's hearing isn't in his mind as well. His heart skips a beat and he looks around wildly as Nicholas slides to a stop in front of a car at the end of the row and uses the butt of his gun to break in the window, unlocking the door and throwing it open.

“I can hotwire this one, get in!” he shouts, and Len races to the passenger side of the car, now unlocked, opens the door and stops before getting in. He should at least be ducking down, because he can hear an increasing number of gunshots and can see Santini men joining the fight but he can't see Mick, so he stands there scanning the lot, ignoring everything else, eyes darting over every shape and body lit by the fires and the casino lights. He has to find Mick. He knows he's here, he can practically feel it the way he feels the heat off the fires Mick has started, but he doesn't hear his laughter anymore, doesn't hear his voice at all, and his chest feels tight as he looks and looks and looks and can't see him. The engine of the car next to him revs, turning over twice before starting with a roar.

“Get in!” Nicholas yells from the driver seat, slamming the door closed, but he can't. He's not leaving without Mick, not leaving him in this war zone. “Snart! You fucking idiot, get in!” He turns away to go; he'll find Mick and they'll get out together, Nicholas can handle himself. He's barely moved when he feels something yank on the back of his jacket, toppling him off balance and sending him falling backwards. He hits his head on the top of the door frame and the world swims for a moment as he's pulled back into the car, the rough action causing a ghost of pain through the mostly healed bruises along his sides. The car takes off with a screech and all Len can think to do is pull his knees up as the door is slammed closed by the force of the forward motion. He flails until he's righted and looks out the window as the lot flies by.

“Wait!” he cries, reaching for the door handle. “I have to-”

Suddenly Nick's gun is in his face. Len doesn't even know where his is, and he stays very still as Nick drives with one hand, half watching him and half watching the road.

“Sorry, Leo, we're going,” Nicholas tells him, a dangerous tone in his voice. Len swallows hard. “I have to get this shit to my father or we're all screwed on this mission. I'm sure everyone else will make it fine.” Len turns and looks out at the side mirror; the casino is a tiny light speeding away in the distance.

“You could have left me,” he says numbly.

“You're welcome,” Nicholas tells him acidly, but he lowers the gun. “You could have told me that you invited your little firebug friend along – not that you were allowed to, you know.”

“You're welcome,” Len shoots back, numbness turning into an icy rage that he's becoming more familiar with. He can't see the casino in the car's mirrors anymore. If something's happened to Mick, he'll burn the Santinis to the ground in his honor. Nicholas stops the car at a light and they stare at each other in silence, Len not bothering to keep the anger out of his eyes, and Santini smiles a bit.

“You're finding new and exciting ways to impress me, Snart,” he says. He reaches into his bag and pulls out two large banded stacks of money, tossing them into Len's lap. Len doesn't reach for them yet, raising an eye brow instead.

“We weren't expecting there to be so much money in that safe,” Nicholas says, the car gliding off. “You can have that, for thinking on your feet and getting us out of there. I won't tell my father it ever existed.”

“I won't tell mine either,” Len replies, and Nicholas grins like they're in on a private joke.

“I won't argue. You earned it,” he says as Len tucks the money away. “You got us out.”

“Didn't get Danny out,” Len reminds him. Nicholas shrugs nonchalantly.

“What happened can't be changed. We'll take care of his family,” Nicholas says. “It's sad, he was a great player, but there are always others.” He glances back at Len. “Why? Getting soft on me, Snart? Because that shit – that is what gets you killed. Like standing around in a gun fight with your head in the air looking for your crazy friend.”

“I'm not soft,” Len replies icily. “I don't give a shit about Danny. But Mick saved us.”

“I'm sure he'll be fine. He's got good survival instincts,” Nicholas says dismissively, and Len grits his teeth. “On the up side, Danny's untimely passing leaves an open space in the roster. On our next job, maybe you can bring him along officially instead of going behind my back.” Nicholas turns a sharp gaze to him, and Len knows a threat when he hears one. “Provided he's still alive by then.”

Len hears his blood rushing in his ears. “Drop me off here.”

Chapter Text

Len drums his fingernails incessantly against the side of the glass. It's been almost an hour, and he's barely fighting off the panic. If Mick doesn't show up in the next half hour, he's driving down to his house; he doesn't even know if Mick would think to come to the diner. You don't even know if Mick's alive, a voice in his mind whispers, and for a moment he pictures Danny's pale dead face and wide eyes. He closes his eyes tightly and takes a deep, shaky breath. Mick is fine. Mick is fine. He repeats it in his mind as though he can make it reality.

He's on his second refill when a truck pulls into the lot, and his breath catches in his throat. He fumbles a twenty out of his bag and drops it on the table before he rushes to the door. He pushes through and races over to where Mick's standing next to the truck, heart pounding. He's fine. There's a streak of soot on his cheek, and more on his clothes, but there's no blood that Len can see.

“You're ok,” he breathes, stopping in front of Mick. Mick gives him a crooked grin.

“Course I'm ok,” Mick scoffs. Len steps closer, into Mick's space.

“You idiot,” he says, anger rising up. “You could have gotten yourself killed! They were shooting at you!”

“Only after I distracted them from shooting at you,” Mick points out, scowling and shoving his hands in his pockets.

“I was supposed to be there! You weren't!”

“Len, those Santinis don't give a shit about you and I wasn't about to let you go in there without someone watching your back. Something coulda happened to you. Almost did.” Len stares at him, mouth open. Mick frowns and furrows his brow, looking down. “Shit, Len, don't be mad.”

Len flings himself at Mick, wrapping his arms around the taller boy's neck. Mick stumbles back a bit at the force of it, arms going instinctively around Len's waist. Len buries his face in Mick's jacket, breathing in the smell of smoke and sweat and feeling Mick's solid body against his. Mick is fine.

“Don't get yourself killed for me,” Len whispers.

“Len...” Mick growls, and he can feel the vibration from Mick's chest deep in his own where they're pressed together.

“Let's get out of here,” Len murmurs. They're in the middle of a parking lot, covered in black soot and white plaster dust, and Len wants to be away from the world for a while. Away from everything but Mick.

“Where to?” Mick asks, as always.

“I don't know,” Len admits. “I'm not going home.”

“Me neither,” Mick says. “So let's find somewhere else to go.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len knows a motel on the east side that takes cash and doesn't ask a lot of questions. It's cheap and probably dirtier than Len cares to think too much about, but it'll work. He still sends Mick alone to check them in with cash that he takes from his bag. Mick raises an eyebrow but doesn't ask questions yet. He returns with a room key and Len follows him down row of doors to where they’re staying, talking himself out of and back into this dozens of times in the time it takes to walk the hall and open the door. Mick enters and takes off his jacket, dropping it on the single wicker chair and kicking off his shoes. Len locks the door and stands there beside it, not sure what to do. Mick picks something up from the nightstand beside the table and comes back to stand in front of Len.

“Stop thinking so loud. Here,” he says, dropping something into Len's hand. It's a tv remote, Len realizes. Mick gives him a mischievous grin. “See if we're on the news.”

Mick turns and walks away, disappearing into the bathroom. The tension flows out of Len like deflating balloon. He removes his shoes and drops his bag next to the bed, then sits down on the edge and clicks on the tv. He locates a news channel discussing it just as Mick returns.

“Reports of fires and 'related injuries' at a local banquet hall where a private event was being held,” Len summarizes for him, as Mick flops down on the bed, putting his arms behind his head.

“Ha! See that, Len? I got top billing,” Mick says with a wink. Len can't help but laugh, which just makes Mick grin wider.

“You're the hot topic of the evening news all right,” Len drawls, and Mick laughs this time.

“Damn right. Turn it up,” he says, reaching out, fingers brushing over the back of Len's hand as he takes the remote from him. It sends a tingle down Len's spine and he watches Mick out of the corner of his eye. The news has video of some cars burning in the lot playing, and Mick has that intense focused look on his face, a small smile on his lips, and Len suddenly has a wild desire to capture them with his own, feel that intense thrill and heat. He swallows hard and fingers the hem of his sweater.

“Think anyone'll get arrested?” Mick asks, and Len's so deep in his own head he has to take a second to remember the news coverage.

“Of course not,” he says. “Even the cops that aren't crooked won't touch a mob on mob hit.”

“Good for us, I guess,” Mick says, stretching out further. Len can see a patch of tan skin and collarbone where the top two buttons of Mick's shirt are open, and he doesn't realize he's staring until Mick looks up at him and arcs an eyebrow.

“You're getting soot all over the sheets,” Len says, the best he can think of. Mick shrugs.

“And you're getting plaster dust all over the blanket.” Mick says. He still drops the remote and stands, and for a minute Len is confused. “I'm gonna take a shower.”

“Ok,” Len replies, trying to force his brain to stay off that path, because he doesn't need those thoughts right now. He tries to watch the rest of the newscast, but it's all about trivial things that don't drown out the sound of the shower running. He sighs and grabs his bag from the floor beside the bed, dumping the contents out in front of him. He's still got the tools from the job, including the gun Nicholas gave him, which he carefully puts aside. He picks up the two stacks of money. He's only used maybe a hundred dollars, and the stack he took it from barely seems touched. He slides the band off and begins counting.

He's barely halfway through when a low whistle interrupts him. Len looks up and his brain short circuits. Mick's come out of the shower wearing just his jeans, skin still damp and glistening from his shower.

“Damn, Len,” Mick says, sauntering up to the bed and eyeing the money. “How much you got there?”

“Lost count,” Len admits through a dry mouth. He swallows hard and tries to refocus.

“Where'd you get all that? And a gun?” Mick picks up the gun, examining it. “You hit up some ATMs on the way out last night?”

“Nope,” Len replies, finishing up with the stack and rebanding it. “It was a gift from Nicholas, for not letting him get himself killed.”

“Not bad,” Mick replies, impressed. Len tosses the untouched stack to the edge of the bed by Mick. Mick wrinkles his brow in confusion.

“Your half,” Len tells him. “For not letting me get myself killed.”

“You don't have to do that, Len,” Mick tells him, though he's eyeing the money hungrily. “I didn't come because I thought you'd have money.”

“I know,” Len replies, because he believes him. “But you're my partner, right?”

“Hell yes,” Mick growls, a grin spreading across his face. “I go where you go, Len.”

“Good,” Len purrs, quite pleased. “Because Nicholas has suggested that you're going to be invited along on his next little outing. I don't know how lucrative it will be, but-”

“Doesn't matter,” Mick says, picking up the stack and flipping through the edges. “So you're doing another job with them?”

“I need to,” Len says. “For now. I'm stuck as long as Lewis stays in their circle, or they get bored of me.”

“They're not gonna get bored of you, Len,” Mick says, suddenly serious. “They know how damn good you are. They're going to use you as long as you let them.”

“And what are my other options?” Lena asks, simultaneously flattered and annoyed.

“Run your own crew,” Mick tells him. “You could do way more than Family shit. You could be a damn millionaire, Len.” Len laughs. “I'm serious!”

“I know,” Len replies, smiling and standing. He steps up to Mick, whose belief in him is starting to feed oddly contagious. Even with the money divided in half and the amount they need for the motel room subtracted out, it's still more money than Len's ever had before. “You going to be on my crew, partner?”

“Fuck yeah,” Mick whispers, leaning into Len's space. “Let's get rich together Lenny.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len leaves Mick to count out his stack and head into the bathroom for his own shower. He'd washed his face at the diner, but he knows there's still some in his hair and his skin feels a little gritty. He starts the shower, letting the water warm up a little, then turns to the sink.

He pulls his sweater over his head, plaster dust floating in the air around him. He looks at himself in the mirror. The bruises are yellowed and nearly faded, so the scars don't stand out as much, but they never needed much help to begin with. They're a map of failures and lessons learned the hard way. He sheds the rest of his clothes and steps into the shower, letting the water run over him, as he closes his eyes and pictures Mick's broad back and shoulders, tanned from working in the sun, and shivers. He runs his fingers over a long thin scar on his bicep, where Lewis had lashed out at him with a knife in the kitchen for burning dinner. Then he thinks of Mick's arms, strong and powerful, and how they felt as the wrapped around him in the parking lot, pressing their bodies together. He slides his hand lower, over a scar on his hip where Lewis caught him with a broken bottle. He shoves the memory aside and thinks instead of Mick, just out of the shower with his jeans riding low on his hips, teasing him with the promise of more. He shifts his hand lower and grasps his erection in his hand, gasping a little and clamping his free hand over his mouth. He leans back against the shower wall as he strokes and thinks about Mick's deep rumbling voice, how he feels it in his whole body when they're close, and that pushes him over, spilling over his own hands and fighting to hold back the sounds he wants to make as he comes.

He finishes the rest of his shower quickly, grabbing a towel as he slips out and drying himself off, staring at his marred and discolored torso in the mirror. Weakness, a voice in his mind hisses, and he yanks on his underwear. He picks up his sweater and holds it up. The heat from the shower has made the plaster dust slightly sticky and the sweater is a mess, but he can't go out without something to cover himself. He resigns himself to ruining the shitty hotel sheets when he spots something on the ground by the sink.

He steps out of the bathroom wearing Mick's shirt and his underwear. The shirt is long on him, the sleeves hiding most of his hands. Mick catches sight of him as he steps over toward the bed, stopping his channel surfing and staring at him with an odd look. Leonard immediately tenses, wondering what he was thinking.

“My shirt is ruined,” he mumbles, fighting a wave of shyness and a bit of shame. “Is it.. ok if I wear this...?”

“Yeah,” Mick says, and his voice sounds hoarse. He coughs, looking away and clearing his throat then tries again. “It's cool, Len. Anything you need.” Mick's suddenly staring intensely at the remote in his hand, and Len's trying to figure out how to back out of the situation, when suddenly there's a knock at the door.

Len tenses and then immediately darts forward, grabbing the gun off the bed like he's got some sort of idea how to use it, his mind full of men with guns, Maroni men, stepping into the room and pointing them at him and Mick, and Danny's pale face. Mick's eyes widen, and then he's jumping off the bed. He grabs Len's wrist and Len jerks away instinctively, snatching his arm back as Mick holds his hands up like he's surrendering.

“Len,” Mick says soothingly. “Len, it's food. I ordered Chinese.”

Len blinks, confused and hyped up with adrenaline. “What?”

“It's dinner, Len. Please don't shoot the delivery guy.” Mick pauses, thinking for a second. “Unless he spilled the food. Or forgot the fortune cookies. Then we can shoot the delivery guy.” Len's lips twitch up in spite of his nerves, and he relaxes his shoulders a bit. Mick grins at him, lowering his hand and walking over to answer the door. Len takes a deep breath. He'd scared the shit out of himself, and Mick too, from the looks of it. He sets the gun down on the desk beside the TV and steps up beside Mick as he pays the delivery guy, a surly Asian man who's handing Mick bag after bag of food. Len steps a little closer to help, catching Mick's attention with his proximity, as well as the delivery guy's. He looks between them, and Len realizes then how they look, two half dressed teenagers alone at a motel together, and the man's lips turn down. Mick takes one look at his face and slides closer to Len.

“Take a few of these, baby?” he purrs in a voice Len's never heard him use, a low and sensual tone that Len is pretty sure he's not going to be able to get out of his head for days. Len's not sure who's blushing more, him or the delivery guy, but Mick is quite amused with himself, because Mick loves nothing more than making people uncomfortable. Mick hands Len a few containers and grins.

“Didn't spill anything,” Mick tells him with a wink, and Len smiles back.

“Did he bring the cookies?” he asks, and Mick holds up a little plastic bag with sauce packets, napkins, and yes, cookies. Len sighs as though he's disappointed and Mick chuckles.

They collect all their food and spread it out on the queen size bed, and Len steps back to survey it.

“You know there's only two of us, right?” Len asks. Mick grins and settles carefully on the bed, doing his best to avoid spilling anything.

“I was hungry,” Mick declares, snatching up a container and popping it open. “And you need to eat more anyway.” Len rolls his eyes but doesn't complain, instead searching through the containers until he finds some fried rice. He grabs a pair of chopsticks out of the little plastic bag and snaps them open.

“You really gonna use those?” Mick asks, looking dubiously at the thin wood that Len's positioned between his fingers. Mick's already appropriated one of the little plastic sporks from the sauce bags, and he's popping egg rolls in his mouth with his hands. Len shakes his head in mock disappointment.

“It's all about the dexterity, Mick,” Len tells him, darting his chopsticks in and snapping up an egg roll from right between his fingers. Mick blinks as it disappears into Len's mouth and he smiles smugly as he chews.

“You've just had more practice,” Mick says sullenly, approaching a pout, and Len can't stop himself from smiling. He grabs another roll from Mick's container, but halfway there Mick suddenly grabs his hand, holding it in place while he leans over and steals the roll back with his teeth. “I got other ways of handling things.”

“You can't just force your way through everything, Mick,” Len chides, trying to focus on his food instead of Mick's mouth.

“Maybe,” Mick admits with a shrug. “That's why I got you, Len.” A warm feeling settles in Len's stomach and he doesn't even mind when Mick steals the remote and puts on the first action movie he can find.

“Feels like juvie all over again,” Len comments as Mick settles back again, a little bit closer than he was. Mick looks at him skeptically.

“I feel like you and I have a very fundamental difference of opinion on the quality of either prison food or Chinese food,” Mick says, and Len bursts out laughing. Mick gets that little self-satisfied look on his face that he always does whenever he manages to make Len really laugh. He finishes off the food in the box he's holding and tosses it in the garbage, then grabs a fortune cookie from the bag. “Let's see what my fortune is, yeah?” he asks Len, cracking the cookie open and extracting the little white paper.

“Well?” Len asks, leaning over a little to read it.

“Don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles you,” Mick reads. “The fuck? This cookie's giving me a headache.” He drops the paper and grabs another cookie; with the amount of food he ordered, they have half a dozen cookies. “I get a do over.”

Len unwraps a cookie while Mick snaps open his second one.

“A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory,” Mick reads, and grins. “Yeah, this one's definitely the right one.” He nudges Len with his elbow. “What's yours say?”

“Take the chance while you still have the choice,” Len reads quietly. Damn cookies. He crumbles the little paper into a ball between his fingers.

“Huh,” Mick says. “Wonder if it's talking about the Family stuff.”

“I don't think they're that specific, Mick,” Len says. Mick shrugs.

“Want another one?” he asks, offering the bag. Len just shakes his head. “Suit yourself.”

By the time the movie's over they've finished barely half of the food Mick ordered and can't stomach any more. Mick relocates the leftovers to the small table in the room while Len burrows under the covers, the combination of the food and the day's stress crashing down on him and wiping him out. He hears rustling and then he feels the bed dip as Mick slides in. Even with his back to him, Len can feel the line of heat from Mick's body.

“I'm glad you're ok,” Len whispers. The bed creaks and he feels the weight of Mick's gaze on his back in the dark.

“Same here,” Mick replies, and Len closes his eyes.

Chapter Text

When Len wakes up, he's curled up on his side, arms stretched out towards the center of the bed, though he'd fallen asleep facing in the opposite direction. The other half of the bed is empty, and Len sits up and looks around.

Mick's not in the room, and a quick shuffle over to the bathroom finds it empty as well. The leftover Chinese food is still sitting on the table where they left it, but Mick's jacket is gone too. His heart sinks, moreso because for some reason he hadn't expected it. He turns the TV on and finds a news channel whose broadcast put the time at half past ten. He flicks through the rest of the channels disinterestedly, eventually ending up back where he started and giving up.

He's just started to eye the leftover Chinese when the locks on the door tumble and someone pushes it open. Mick steps in with two styrofoam cups and a plastic bag and catches Len's eye as he kicks the door shut behind him.

“Thought you were gonna be asleep all day,” Mick comments, stepping over to stand beside the bed. “You drink coffee?”

Len hasn't found his voice so he just nods, taking one of the cups when Mick holds it out to him. He takes a sip and can't help wrinkling his nose a little as a blast of sweetness hits him.

“You trying to sweeten me up, Mick?” Len asks, popping the lid off and peering inside at the liquid. It's practically beige. “How much sugar did you put in here?”

“I dunno. Tasted fine to me.” Mick sheds his jacket, baring his chest again, and grabs the plastic bag he brought with him. “We sticking around here for a while?”

“Unless you have plans,” Len says. He means it as a joke, but he frowns as something crosses his mind. “Mick, do you need to go home?” He knows that Mick's responsible for the morning chores at his family's farm, and even when they meet up Mick does his best to work through as many of them as possible before leaving. He suspects it has to do with Mick's father, who's little more than a ghost to him; unseen heavy footsteps in the hall, an angry, growling voice from below, at once so similar and so different from Mick.

“I don't gotta do anything,” Mick tells him, his face darkening. “Don't worry about it, Len.” Len can see Mick closing up on him, so he changes the subject.

“What do you have there?” he asks, gesturing at the plastic bag with his sugar-coffee. Mick grins, mood clearing up easily.

“I saw this place had a VCR, so I grabbed a couple movies on the way back. Daytime tv is shit,” Mick tells him, pulling two tapes out of the bag. “I even got you a sci-fi flick.”

“What is it?” Len asks, putting his cup down on the bedside table. Mick tosses the tape down next to him.

“Some movie that came out while we were in juvie. Aliens,” Mick tells him. Len smiles. The movie had come out just a few weeks before he went in and met Mick.

“Sounds good to me.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“I need to stop by my grandfather's and get some clothes,” Len declares. Mick looks up from where he's lounging on the bed. After having most of their leftover Chinese for breakfast and watching not only Aliens but the other action movie that Mick had brought back, Len had finally slipped into the bathroom and changed back into his own clothes. His black sweater is wrinkled and stained white, almost certainly garbage.

“What, my shirt not good enough for you?” Mick asks, smirking.

“Come on Mick,” Len says, turning off the tv and standing. “I'm tired of being covered in dust and stains. I want new clothes, and I want to see how Lisa's doing. We can pick her up and get dinner,” he offers, and he can see Mick's sold as soon as he mentions food.

“All right, all right, you win,” Mick pretends to complain, but he's smiling a little. Len grins back at him and grabs his bag. Mick gives him a once over while he gets his shirt back on, then thrusts his jacket at him. “Here. See if this covers up some of that mess.” Len reaches out and grabs the jacket, but Mick holds onto it for a second. “Len.”

“What?”

“I want this damn jacket back,” Mick says, looking stern. Len bites his lip so he doesn't laugh in Mick's face. “I'm serious! You still have my hoodie, and this jacket is my favorite. No keeping it.”

“I promise I'll give the jacket back,” he says with as much gravity as he can manage. Mick growls and releases it.

The jacket is slightly big on Mick and long to begin with, so on Len it comes down nearly to his knees. It smells like smoke and soot and Mick, and Len doesn't mind at all. They gather up their things and Len tosses out all the empty food containers and straightens up a little, checking to make sure they're not leaving anything behind. Mick waits by the door, playing with his lighter, until Len's satisfied and they both climb in Mick's truck and head out.

Len spends most of the ride across town in an unnaturally good mood. He has money, he's with Mick, and he made it through Nicholas's heist. He keeps sneaking glances at Mick from the corner of his eye, enjoying the way he looks in the sun as they drive. It feels silly, but he can't help it.

Mick pulls up just down the street from his grandfather's house, and Len hops out and turns back to him.

“Let me make sure he's at work and I'll come back out for you,” he tells Mick, who nods back to him. Len leaves his bag in the car and heads in.

“Lisa!” he calls, shutting the door behind him and heading down the hall. She doesn't come running and he wonders if she's out with their grandfather somewhere already. He reaches the living room and turns in, then freezes, all his good feelings evaporating.

“So nice of you to finally join us,” Lewis sneers from where he's sprawled in the recliner by the tv. Lisa is sitting in the farthest corner of the couch, curled up and making herself look as small as possible, as position that Len's intimately familiar with. Lewis has a beer in his hand and Len counts two more bottles on the table. Lisa is staring at the floor, and her eyes are red and puffy.

“Been wondering where you got off to,” Lewis continues. “Knew you weren't dead, since Nicholas said you two made it out together. Didn't come back home, and didn't come back here.” He eyes Len suspiciously. “So where you been, Leo?”

“I slept in a park,” Len lies, the first thing that comes to mind. “I was worried we'd be followed and didn't want to risk them tracking me home.”

“How noble of you,” Lewis says, draining the last of his beer and tossing the bottle on the floor. “Well I hope you got a good night's sleep out on the benches, because the Family wants to see us,” Lewis said, pushing himself up out of the recliner. Len can see a gun in a shoulder holster under Lewis's jacket and an icy fear washes over him. Lewis walks over to Len and looms over him. “Come on. I've been waiting on your worthless ass all goddamn day.” He seizes Leonard by the arm and half drags him out into the garage, releasing him with a shove. Len stumbles but recovers quickly, sliding around to the passenger side of the car and getting in. His heart is beating rapidly in his chest. He realizes that Mick is still outside and his heart goes from a mile a minute to stopping for what feels like an hour. Fuck, what if Mick tries to help him or follow him? He left his bag in Mick's truck, and the gun is in there. He's suddenly worried that Mick will see them and do something rash, not knowing that Lewis has a gun as well. He just wants Mick to stay away. He can handle Lewis hurting him. He can't handle Lewis hurting Mick or Lisa.

When Lewis pulls out of the driveway, he can see Mick's truck up the block, engine and headlights now off. Lewis heads off away from the truck, and Len watches in the rear view mirror, praying that Mick doesn't follow after him. He watches until the truck's out of view, letting out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding in.

“I heard you got the safe open,” Lewis says. Len remains quiet. “At least you didn't fuck everything up. Coulda done it without all the goddamn attention, though.” Leonard chooses not to remind him that it was his damn job to keep anyone from going in the back rooms, even though he wants to scream it and rub it in his face. He knows better, especially when Lisa is sitting at that house all alone. Shit. He should've gotten her something to eat; where was his grandfather? Len's mind swirls with thoughts while he absently rubs at a soot stain on Mick's jacket with his thumb.

“I'm keeping your share of the job money,” Lewis is telling him. Len nods silently. His real take is in his bag in Mick's truck, along with the gun he kind of wishes he had. “You better tell them how I helped you study that damn safe and get it open so fast.” Len nods again, because agreeing with Lewis makes life easier. The facts are irrelevant in their world. “And don't embarrass me in there. Speak when you're asked a question and otherwise keep your mouth shut.” Len nods, keeping his mouth shut, as instructed.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

They arrive at the same warehouse that they’d come to last time, wait at the same steel door. It opens much faster this time, and while Lewis is led off by two men for their payout and more orders, Nicholas appears in a doorway just down the hall.

“Leo,” he calls, and Lewis turns to look back at Len, eyes narrowing. “Come on down here for a bit, will you?”

Len glances at his father, but Lewis isn’t about to deny a request from the boss’s son, so Leonard slips by him and down the hallway, heart pounding. Nicholas steps back and allows him in the room, shutting the door behind him.

The room is a large office, with dark cherry wood furniture and a tan paint giving it an even darker feel. There’s a square table in the center of the room, and a lot of paper spread out over it. Benny is sitting at one of the chairs, legs crossed, silently eyeing Leonard like Nicholas has brought home a dirty puppy off the streets. Len eyes him back with just a touch of defiance, but it has no effect on Benny’s face.

“Welcome back,” Nicholas tells him cheerfully, stepping up beside him.

“Thanks,” Len replies curtly. Nicholas turns and looks him over, reaching out and running a finger over some soot at the collar of Len’s jacket – which is actually Mick’s jacket, and he seems to understand that. He rubs the soot between his finger and thumb, smirking, while Len tries to keep his face blank.

“I see you found your little friend. Told you he would be fine,” Nicholas says, turning and stepping up to the table. When Len stays where he is, Nick gestures him over. “Come on, come over here. I want to show you this.”

“What is it?” Len asks, curiosity getting the better of him. Nicholas grins.

“It’s the paperwork we stole from the safe last night.”

“Why are you showing me?” Len asks, picking up some loose papers near him. They’re written in a tight, scrawling handwriting, numbers and letters that don’t entirely make sense to him, but show some indication of a pattern. His eyes drift over to a large notebook with figures written in meticulously ordered columns, handwriting clean and precise. Not the same person, then

“I want to know what you think about it,” Nicholas says, leaning closer. “And I want to know what you think about our plan.”

“And what is your plan?” Len asks, still looking over the papers. The ledger is simple, and the patterns easy. He can see which are credits, which are debits. Some lines appear regularly, some less so.

“We need to cut off some of their cash flow,” Benny says, speaking up for the first time since Leonard got here. “Losing money means losing power. We’re going to hit some of the bigger earners and see what we can do about that.”

Leonard sinks into a nearby chair and draws the ledger towards him. Both Benny and Nicholas look at him curiously. He stares at the book, reading over the numbers until he makes out some patterns.

“Do you know what some of these deposits mean?” he asks. “Do you know where they come from?”

“Some of them,” Nicholas says, leaning in to read over Len’s shoulder. “Those, there, are almost certainly protection money. They get collected by the same guys each time and they don’t vary much.”

“What about this one?” Len asks, pointing. “It’s weekly too, and large, but it varies a lot more.”

“Bookkeeping,” Benny supplies. “That’s what it looks like, anyway.” Now with a name, ti does indeed look like gambling money – that would explain why the amount varies each week.

“It matches up to some of these papers,” Len points out, sifting through the loose sheets he’d been looking at earlier.

“Basically deposit slips,” Nicholas says. “Letting the bosses know how much their bookie’s earned them.”

“So it's not from the casino itself, then,” Len clarifies.

“No, that'd be from the betting – sports and ponies and pools, from individuals. They probably call in and make their bets with the bookie, and then he sends out a team to collect and pay out.”

“Ok,” Len says, lining things up in his head. “So you want to cost them money. Do you know who their protection money is coming from?”

“We can find out easy enough,” Benny tells him, tilting his head. “What are you thinking?”

“Can you find out who the bookie’s clients are?” Len asks, ignoring Benny’s previous question. Benny narrows his eyes.

“It would be harder, but we could do it,” Nicholas tells him. “He certainly keeps notes or a ledger of his own somewhere, probably in his house. We find that, we’d just have to figure out his shorthand and we could find his clients.”

“The bookie and the protection money are two big deposits, and regular,” Len tells them. “You want to come at them, that’s a good way to start.”

“There are much bigger moneymakers on there,” Benny objects. “They have a couple jewelry stores, pawn shops-“

“All insured,” Len cuts him off, and Benny’s eyes narrow again. “It’ll cost them some time, but not real money. They’d be ok to hit, but you want to hit the protection and booking lines. They won't recover as quickly from that.”

“How would we start that?” Nicholas asks, leaning back against the table and crossing his arms. He’s watching Leonard intently.

“Find out the people getting squeezed for protection and hit them,” Len tells him. “They won’t have the money or the inclination to pay their protectors after that. And any you can find that overlap with the bookie’s customers, the better. Particularly the ones that lose, but pay on time. Winners cost them money, and losers they have to chase down cost them money, but the one who lose and pay up are what they’re relying on.”

“We’d have to get the bookie’s clients and ledgers,” Nick muses, to himself more than anyone. “We can do it, though; find out who he is, break into his office, get his little black book.” He looks sharply at Leonard. “Sounds like I need a thief.”

“It would help,” Len says carefully, not wanting to avail himself without a plan. Nicholas gives him a small smile and an appraising look.

“I’ll get some info on the Maroni’s protection racket, see who they’re hitting up,” Benny says, standing up. “Once we find out who their bookie is we can put together a team to hit his house.” He stares hard at Len for a few minutes. “The people we pull out of their protection racket we can pull back into our territory. A double hit. It’s not a bad plan.”

“That’s as close as he comes to compliments,” Nicholas assures him. Len gives a polite nod and Benny remains stone faced. Nicholas pushes off the table he’s been leaning on and strides to the door.

“Always fun to see you, Leo,” Nicholas tells him, opening the door. “I suppose we have to get you back to your father.” Len lets that remark go without reply, aware that he’s being dismissed and grateful to leave, even if it is with Lewis.

When they get to the end of the hall, however, it turns out he’s not leaving with Lewis. The man standing at the door of the room they sent Lewis to informs them that Lewis took his and Len’s payouts and left without him when he didn’t show up after ten minutes. Len is only mildly surprised that he managed to wait ten whole minutes before running out to spend the money, but he doesn’t let this show.

“Well, no ride from daddy dearest, I take it,” Nicholas says, glancing over at him. “You want to call… someone else for a ride? You can use our phone.”

Len knows that Nicholas is referring to Mick without even looking at him, but the truth is, there’s no way Mick would have made it home yet, and that’s the only place Len knows how to reach him at, so Mick is out of the question, and really, Mick’s the only reliable ride he’s got. Besides, he’s not putting Mick’s number into their phones unless he absolutely needs to.

“I can make it home on my own,” Len informs him, grateful for Mick’s jacket now more than ever. It’s nearly summer, but the nights are still cold.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Nicholas says, waving his hand. “We can give you a ride.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you out,” Len attempts, but Nicholas cuts him off again.

“We’re in a garage full of empty cars just waiting for riders, Leonard,” Nicholas says. He leans in and gives Len a dangerous smile. “Besides, it’s a not exactly the best neighborhood.”

“I can handle myself,” Len says, though he senses this is a losing battle.

“I insist,” Nicholas says, confirming Leonard's suspicions. “Wouldn't want anything to happen to you, Leo.”

“I didn't realize you cared,” Leonard says. Nicholas just smirks and turns to the man at the door.

“Pull a car around for us,” he orders, and the man gives a sort bow and hurries off. Nicholas steps over and opens the steel door for Len. Len descends slowly and stops when they reach the bottom floor. Nicholas leads him into the garage where there's a car idling near the exit and holds open the back door for him. Leonard slides into the back seat and isn't terribly surprised when Nicholas gets in beside him. The car takes off as soon as the door closes, without being given directions. Len wonders if this was the plan to begin with.

“Now isn't this much better than having to walk?” Nicholas asks, stretching out a bit. “Leather seats beat the bus any day.”

“I suppose,” Len says cautiously. Nicholas smiles.

“Being part of the family has a variety of perks like this,” Nicholas tells him. “Style matters, you know, when you're in power.” He looks down at Leonard's clothes. “Everything you wear sends a message.”

“True,” Le says, clenching his hands on the overly long sleeves of Mick's jacket. “But the people looking have to know how to read the message right.”

“That is the difficult part, isn't is?” Nicholas muses. “Sometimes, you see things that you just don't know what to make of it.” He narrows his eyes and looks at Len. “Did you bring your gun, Len?”

“You mean the one you gave me?” Leonard asks, stalling.

“Any gun,” Nicholas asks, but he looks pleased, and Len realizes his stall has just given Nicholas a bit of information he didn't have. Leonard curses himself inside. Should've asked which one.

“What does it look like?” Leonard asks, dodging the question. Nicholas leans back against the seat and gives him a sharp smile.

“Awfully hard to tell under that huge coat,” Nicholas says.

“Guess that's not part of my message then,” Len says, turning to look out the window at the passing streetlights. He recognizes the neighborhood; they're not far from Lewis's house now.

“Leo,” Nicholas says, drawinghis attention back. “The Family has a lot of benefits, you know.”

“More than leather seats?” Len drawls, and Nicholas snorts.

“Much more,” he says, crossing his arms. “You did well on our job, Leo. I was wondering if you could think as well without the pressure, and you didn't disappoint. I like the way you think.”

“Thank you,” Len says uneasily. They pull into the driveway and the car stops.

“Well, I guess this is it then, isn't it?” Nicholas asks with a smile that doesn't reach his eyes. Len knows he's supposed to be impressed by them knowing where he lives, but he's also given away the fact that he hasn't even thought to ask if he wants to go to his grandfather's house soothes him. It means that it's not on their radar; it's a safe place.

“This is it,” Leonard agrees, reaching for the door handle. Nicholas reaches over and grabs Len's arm. Len jerks back, ripping out of his grasp, door open and half outside before he gets a hold of himself.

“Well,” Nicholas says, eyes calculating. “Message received.” He gives Len a little half smile. “See you soon, Leo.”

Len walks to the door in an even, unhurried pace. He lets himself in, digging the keys out of his jeans pocket and proud that his hands don't shake. He steps inside and freezes as soon as he eases the door closed, listening carefully for any sign that Lewis is here. The house is dark and silent but that's not a promise. He walks the first floor, finding no one, and checks the driveway from the kitchen window. Nicholas's car has left, and Lewis's car isn't in the garage. He hurries upstairs and changes, tossing the ruined sweater straight in the garbage and putting Mick's jacket back on over his fresh clothes. He leaves as soon as he's done.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

He makes it back to his grandfather's house just before ten. As he shuts the door behind him he hears heavy footsteps coming from the hall and immediately tenses, fearing that Lewis has come here from their meeting, but it's his grandfather who appears from the living room.

“There you are,” he says, giving him a kind smile. “I was wondering why you got pizza and then ran off. Thanks, by the way.”

“You're welcome,” Len replies, confused but trying to conceal it. He steps into the kitchen as his grandfather returns to the living room, and breaks into a grin when Lisa looks up from the table.

“Lenny!” she sings, grinning at him. As his grandfather said, there's an open box of pizza in front of her, and she's happily munching away.

“Hey, kiddo,” he says, stepping in and petting her hair. “Are you ok?”

“I'm good,” she says. “Do you want some pizza, Lenny?”

“Sure,” he says, sitting down in one of the chairs by her. He lowers his voice. “Where'd the pizza come from, Lise?” It's not like Lewis to buy take out for his kids, especially when he isn't eating it, and his grandfather doesn't seem to have any idea where it came from either. She glances back toward the living room, then instead of answering leans over and grabs something from the chair on her other side, holding it up to show him. It's Dorothy the bear, and Len immediately knows what she's trying to tell him.

“He came in?”

Lisa nods gravely. “He wanted to see you, but you left. He waited, but he had to go when Grandpa showed up,” she whispers.

“I see,” Len says. She plays with Dorothy's tutu for a minute.

“Is he gonna come back?” she asks. “He was nice.”

“He'll be back,” Len tells her quietly. “I've got his jacket, see? He's got to come back and get it.” Her face brightens.

“That's good,” she says. “I like him.”

“Because he got you pizza?” Len asks, a smile creeping on his lips. She gives him her best withering look, which just makes his smile grow.

“No,” she huffs. She grabs another piece of pizza and takes a bite. “Because he makes you smile.”

Chapter Text

Len drums his fingers impatiently on the top of his textbook while he stares out the window of the classroom. He's been watching the parking lot every day, taking routes to his classes that let him check it out between periods. It's been three days since he's seen Mick; his phone calls just ring perpetually and he's getting antsy.

Normally it's Mick who gets edgy when they don't have time to meet up. The longest it's been between their meetings since they got out was 3 weeks. It was last fall, and between Mick's father forcing him to help out with the farm's harvest and Len's father bringing him along on a job and being moody, they hadn't managed to make time to see each other. The second week, Len's bad mood got the better of him and he got socked in the jaw for talking back to Lewis; the next week, he read about a fire at a general store that spread through half their dry stock and knew it had been too long. He hotwired a car and drove down to the edge of town that night, calling from a payphone outside the little strip mall. Mick was there in 15 minutes.

Len's wondering if that wouldn't be a bad idea now. It's only been 3 days, really, but he likes to think of it as extenuating circumstances.

He's walking towards the cafeteria for lunch when he looks out the windows and sees the red truck there, sitting in the corner of the parking lot. He immediately changes course. The closest door is being watched by one of the teachers, so he lingers in the hall for a moment, scoping out his options. He spots a group of football players heading down the hall with a few girls, and falls into step behind them, inching closer. He slips out his foot as fast as he can, catching one of the ones in the back behind the knee, and he spills forward, falling into another boy with a girl under his arm. All three go crashing into the ground, books and papers flying everywhere, as Len melds into the crowds around them, working his way to the door. The two boys who ran into each other are shouting and it won't be long before it escalates; the teacher by the door senses this, and steps over to intervene, leaving an easy opening for Len to slip out. He sprints across the parking lot, telling himself it's so he doesn't get caught.

“I was wondering how long before you started missing this jacket,” Len tells him as he climbs into the passenger side of the truck. Mick gives him a small smile.

“It's ok, I had collateral,” he says, shoving the bag on the seat beside him towards Len as he buckles in. It's Len's bag, the one he had left behind when he got caught by Lewis at his grandfather's house. Mick fidgets a little. “Everything's there; I didn't touch anything.”

“I know,” Len says. He doesn't bother to check. “I trust you.” He pauses and drops his eyes. “I'm sorry I didn't come back. My father wanted me to go out and meet with the Family.”

Mick narrows his eyes. “What'd they want?” Len sighs.

“They wanted me to look at some of the paperwork they took from the casino and give my opinion on it. Nothing hard, but they sound like they want to plan some hits against the Maronis.”

“Great, a mob war,” Mick mutters. “You sure you want to get caught up in this, Len?”

“Of course I don't,” Len says. “But between Nicholas and Lewis, I'm not sure I have a choice anymore.”

“If you wanted, we could leave,” Mick tells him. “Just get the hell out of here, go somewhere else and plan our own things.” Len blinks in surprise.

“You'd leave with me?”

“I'd pick you over that shitty farm any day,” Mick tells him with a grin, and Len feels a lump in his throat. He stares down at his hands as his face gets warm.

“I can't leave,” he says at last. “I can't leave Lisa behind, and I can't make her go on the run with me.” He gives Mick a little smile. “Besides, it's not so bad here. As long as I've got my partner.”

Mick grins and turns a little more to face him, and Len notices something on his jaw. Before he think it through, he reaches out and puts his hand on Mick's chin, turning his head to the side a bit to get a better look. Mick tenses under his fingers and his eyes widen just a fraction.

“Mick, what happened?” Len asks, though he doesn't really need to. He knows what kind of bruises a punch to the jaw can leave; one just like this, on the side of Mick's face.

“Got into a fight, that's all,” Mick says, shrugging off both the question and Len's hand. It's the sort of answer that makes total sense; Mick will pick fights to burn off extra energy, especially if he hasn't burned anything in a while. Still, something about the way he says it seems off. But Len knows when someone's avoiding talking about something, so he drops it.

“Come on, let's get out of here.” Mick's smile gets a little bigger.

“Where to?”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

They stop off at a convenience store and grab a few snacks – none of which they pay for, thanks to Mick's oversize jacket and Len's nimble fingers. Then he has Mick drive them out to the edge of the forest preserve, through the side entrance where no one watches who enters and exits. It's the best place to hide out without having to watch for police with too many questions involving the words “skipping” and “truancy”. Mick's started keeping a couple extra blankets in the back of the pickup to spread out so they can lounge around in the truck bed without having to sit on the hard steel.

“Explain it to me again.”

Len sighs and sets down the art magazine he's reading. This is what he gets for watching Aliens with Mick.

“It's called the Fermi Paradox, Mick. It explains why we haven't made contact with any other aliens yet even though it's unlikely that we're the only species in the galaxy.”

“Because we're too stupid.”

“Too unevolved. We can barely make it to the moon, Mick. It's like...” He pauses. “It's like people talking to ants. Why would we?”

“There are people with ant farms and shit. I'm sure some of them talk to their ants.”

“I think you're missing the point, Mick.”

“No, I get it. We're not worth it. Keep going.”

“Not just that,” Len says, sitting up turning so he's facing Mick, talking a little faster. “It's more than that. Even if we wanted to talk to the ants, would they understand us? We don't understand them. And if they could, would they even be listening, would they even know if we're talking to them?” He pauses to take a drink from the soda in his hand, and notices that Mick's looking at him with a bemused little smile on his face. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“It's nothing!” Mick says, raising his hands, but his smile is growing. “You just get so... worked up.”

“Worked up?” Len asks, scowling.

“In a good way,” Mick assures him. “When you talk about aliens, or when you pick apart heist movies. You get all excited and animated and your eyes light up. It's-” he stops abruptly, like he was about to say something he didn't want to. “It's... amusing. That's all.” He leans over and takes the soda from Len's hand.

“So glad I could entertain you,” Len mutters, watching Mick's throat moves as he drinks. He takes the can back and immediately takes a drink of his own, pressing his lips to the same spot Mick's were and trying not to feel too terribly pathetic about it.

“Hey, it's fun to listen to you. I like it,” Mick protests. “Besides, I'm hoping your smarts start to rub off or something.”

“You're smart, Mick,” Len tells him, though Mick just rolls his eyes.

“You're obviously not that smart if you believe that,” Mick tells him, leaning over and picking up Len's discarded art magazine. “What caught your eye in here?”

Len scoots a little closer until he's at Mick's side, then turns a few pages until he reaches the article that had caught his eye.

“Central's museum is doing a special limited display on Monet,” Len explains. “Starts up next month, runs for the summer.”

“You like Monet?”

“One of my favorites,” Len says. “I'm gonna steal one, one day, hang it in my house.”

“Nice,” Mick says, grinning at him. Len smiles back again and then checks his watch.

“Time to go?” Mick asks. Len nods. “All right then, let's go.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“She can sure move,” Mick comments, watching Lisa glide around. Len grins, pride swelling in his chest.

“She's a natural,” Len tells him, leaning forward and resting his arms on his knees. “She wants to start doing competitions soon.”

“Bet she'll kick ass,” Mick replies. “She's already the best one down there.”

“She's amazing,” Len replies, knowing that he's got a big stupid smile on his face and unable to do anything about it. “With that extra money, I'm sending her to a camp with an ice rink this summer. She'll be able to skate every day.” He turns to Mick, still grinning. “I haven't told her yet.”

“She's gonna love it,” Mick tells him earnestly, and Len feels warm despite the cold of the arena.

He turns his attention back to the rink as the kids start migrating towards the stadium seating, a sign that training has ended. He stands and heads down, Mick following at his heels. Lisa's just gotten her skates off when they reach her, and she jumps up and runs over in her socks to hug his legs.

“Lenny!” she cries in that sing-song tone she uses for his name. “I did an axle today.”

“Aren't those for cars?” Mick wonder out loud, and Lisa leans around Len's legs to get a look at him. “Mick! You came back!”

“I told you he would,” Len reminds her, smiling.

“Right, because you stole his jacket,” she says. Mick bursts out laughing while Len tries not to blush.

“I gave it back,” he protests. “Go put on your shoes so we can get out of here, ok?” She nods and runs back, getting her shoes on as quickly as she can.

“There's easier ways of getting me to come out here than stealing my clothes, Lenny,” Mick teases, doing nothing to help Len's attempts to avoid blushing.

“You sure?” he shoots back. “Because I called you for three days and couldn't get an answer. Was starting to wonder if you were avoiding me.”

He can tell immediately that this was the wrong thing to say, because Mick's smile falters and his face darkens. He looks away and gives a small shrug.

“My dad unplugged the phone,” he says, good mood evaporated. “I couldn't do anything about it.”

“It's fine, Mick,” Len tells him, aware that he's ruined the moment and cursing himself inside. “I was kidding, I didn't mean...”

Lisa runs up and takes his hand, ending his desperate attempt to explain himself, fix what he'd broken. Mick turns and starts up the stairs without a word, and Len's heart sinks.

“Come on,” he tells Lisa quietly. “Let's go home.”

- - - - - - - - - - - -

“I think you two are cheating,” Mick declares, tossing his cards down on the table.

“It's not cheating, Mick,” Len tells him. “It's card counting, and I've shown you how to do it.”

“It ain't fair,” Mick grumbles, crossing his arms and leaning back into the couch. “There's no reason a seven year old should be beating me every time.”

“The reason is I'm better,” Lisa tells him in a very matter of fact tone. He blinks at her then shakes his head.

“Ok, Mick, it's fine,” Len tells him, trying not to laugh. “We'll do a board game, ok? No counting needed.”

“Fine,” Mick says, sighing. “Nothing with cards.” Len chuckles.

“I'll get one of the games. Can you clean off the table?” Len asks, gesturing at the mess. They'd stopped for fast food on the way in to his grandfather's house, getting a kids meal for Lisa and a heap of burgers and fries to split between them. Now all that was left was a bunch of crumbled wrappers and ketchup-stained paper bags. Mick grunts an assent and hauls himself off the couch while Len heads into the hall to find one of Lisa's board games. He's examining the boxes stacked in the closet when he hears the sound of the garage door.

“Shit,” he curses under his breath. It's too early for his grandfather to be home yet. He races back to the living room, but Mick's not there. Lisa looks up, eyes wide at his sudden appearance.

“Mick!” he snaps, looking around.

“What?” Mick asks from behind him, and Len whirls around.

“Get upstairs,” he hisses, hearing the sound of a car door slam in the garage. “Second door on the right is my room. Get in, and if you hear someone coming, get in the closet or under the bed or something. Go!”

“Are you fucking kidding?” Mick asks, but Len knows they don't have much time. He grabs Mick and half drags him down the hall to the staircase.

“Mick, go! Now!” he hisses, giving him a shove. Mick looks concerned but goes up the stairs, and Len returns to the kitchen as he hears the door to the garage open. Len waits until he's mostly up the stairs, then hurries into the kitchen.

Lewis eyes him from where he's standing with the fridge door open, and Len shifts nervously where he's standing.

“What's got you all riled up?” Lewis sneers, grabbing a beer and shutting the fridge door. He's got a paper bag in his other hand, and Len can't tell what's in it.

“Just wasn’t expecting anyone,” Len tells him, keeping his eyes down while watching from his peripheral vision. Lewis tended to take direct eye contact as a challenge, like some kind of angry dog. Lewis snorts.

“Lucky for your dumb ass I got things to do,” Lewis tells him. He pops the top off his beer with his keyring and heads past him, shouldering Len out of the way on purpose as he passes. Len stays pressed against the wall until Lewis is into the hallway, then cautiously rounds the corner and checks to see where he's going. He passes the living room where Len left Lisa, which is good, but he starts up the steps to the second floor and Len's heart races. He takes a few steps forward and Lewis turns on him.

“The fuck are you following me for?” he growls, glaring down at him. Len backs up immediately.

“Just wanted to get something from my room,” he says quietly, clasping his hands together tightly and looking at the wall. Lewis snorts again.

“It can wait. Stay down there,” Lewis orders, and Len bites his lip and nods, staying rooted to the spot he's standing on while listening as hard as he can, trying to trace Lewis's movements through his footsteps. He can hear him pacing the hall, heading down towards the middle of the hallway and stopping. Len knows he's near the door to his room, and he holds his breath while he waits. There's a faint rustling sound and a few moments of silence, and then Lewis is stomping back down the hall towards the stairs again. Len hurries into the living room, slipping around and leaning against the wall while Lewis passes by. He peeks around the corner and sees that Lewis has exchanged the paper bag for a gun that he's slipping into his shoulder holster as he reenters the kitchen. Len waits until he hears the car pulling out before creeping up to the window, watching the car pull out and disappear into the night. Lisa is watching him silently from the couch.

“Stay there,” he tells her, turning and taking the steps two at a time. He slides to a stop in front of his room, taking a deep breath before entering.

Mick is stretched out on his bed, lounging in full view of anyone who could walk in, and the combination of fear and irritation shreds Len's patience.

“What are you doing?” he snaps, and Mick looks up, startled.

“Waiting for you,” he says, as though it were obvious.

“I told you to hide when someone opened the door,” he practically shouts, and Mick narrows his eyes as he sits up. He stands up and comes over to Len, reaching out to touch his shoulder, and Len jerks back from the contact. Mick blinks and then drops his hand.

“This ain't a teenage sitcom, Len. I'm not gonna hide in your closet cause your dad came home,” Mick growls.

“You don't know what you're talking about!” Len yells. “He has a gun, Mick! He could kill you! You have no idea what you're dealing with here! Would you just listen to me and do what I tell you?!”

Mick visibly bristles, and Len immediately wishes he could recall the words. Mick shakes his head and brushes past Len. Even angry he doesn't shoulder him out of the way like Lewis does, and Len immediately feels ten times worse. He turns and chases after Mick, who's already halfway down the stairs.

“Mick,” he pleads as Mick walks straight to the front door. Mick pauses and glances over his shoulder before opening the door.

“I'll see you later, Len,” Mick says, stepping out and shutting the door soundly behind him. Len sinks down onto the staircase and puts his head in his hands. How had he managed to fuck up this day so badly?

“Lenny?”

He looks up at where Lisa's hovering in the doorway to the living room.

“Yeah, Lise,” he says, forcing a fake smile on his face.

“Is Mick mad at us?”

“Mick is...” Len licks his lips. “I said something stupid and he's mad at me, yeah. But he's not mad at you, Lise, I promise.”

“Did he hurt you?” Lisa asks, looking worried. Len's heart constricts in his chest.

“No, honey, he won't hurt us.”

“Even when he's angry?”

“Even then,” Len whispers, and suddenly his eyes are burning. He swallows hard and stands up, turning away so Lisa won't see him. “It's late, Lise, why don't you get ready for bed?”

She nods, then pauses. “Lenny?”

“What, Lise?”

“He left his jacket in the living room. That means he'll come back, right?”

“I don't know, Lisa. Get ready for bed.” When she pads off up the stairs, Len stands and enters the living room. Mick's jacket is draped over the arm of the couch, and Len walks over and picks it up. He takes it upstairs with him, back to his own room, and tosses it on the bed while he changes into sleep clothes. He sits down and picks up the jacket, hesitating a moment before slipping it on. He's probably going to stain his sheets with the soot still clinging to the jacket, but he doesn't care right now. Even after wearing it for four days straight he can still pick up the traces of Mick lingering amidst the smoke and soot.

Chapter Text

Len lets the phone ring once, then hangs up. He counts the seconds in his head, a full minute, before picking up and trying again.

“Hello?” The voice on the other end isn't Mick's. It's soft, female, a voice that Len remembers drifting out of the kitchen as they snuck out the door. She's answered a couple times in the last two weeks, but Len's never spoken to her.

“Is Mick home?” the words tumble out of his mouth before he can stop them. He's continually getting her or Mick's father, or no answer, and he's reached his limit. He holds his breath as he waits for her answer.

“He's out in the fields,” Mick's mother replies. “Do you want me to call him in?”

“No,” Len replies quickly. “Can you... Can you just tell him...” He bites his lip. “Can you tell him I have his jacket?”

“I will,” she says. “Who should I say-”

Len hangs up.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len shuffles through the stack of books on his desk. He doesn't really want to read; lately he's been having trouble focusing. He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose, pacing back and forth before running out of energy and flopping down on his bed. He buries his face in his pillow and lets his thoughts wander.

He's not sure how much longer he can take Mick ignoring him. He won't even give him a chance to explain, damn it. His frustration bubbles up again and he stands and paces again.

He's hardly left his room in the last couple weeks, only bothering to go to school in case Mick forgives him and shows up for him. He just sits on his bed, by the phone he managed to get hooked up through an extra jack and some spliced wires. After school he heads straight back to his room and passes time until he can call Mick's house again.

He's trying to read an architecture textbook when he hears Lewis come home. He curls up a little tighter when the footsteps come up the stairs, flinching when Lewis flings his door open. They eye each other for a minute.

“There's a Family meeting this week, and they want us,” Lewis tells him. Leonard nods silently. “I got people coming over now, so get your ass out of the house. Don't want you around bothering them.”

“Okay,” Len says quietly. Thankfully, that seems to be all Lewis wants, because he turns and walks away. Len grabs Mick's jacket and his bag and stuff a couple clothes inside before slinking down the stairs as quietly as possible. He can hear voices in the kitchen; he recognizes at least one of the as Lewis's current crew. He leaves through the back door and starts off down the street.

He's waiting at a bus stop when he hears the thunder rumbling in the distance. He realizes he hasn't brought an umbrella and curses under his breath. By the time he makes it to the diner, it's pouring.

Len sighs and watches the rain drumming on the window of the diner. Mick's probably in a bad mood today; rain always puts him in a bad mood. Maybe it's fitting, then, that the rain meant both of them would be in a bad mood. He drags a fry through the ketchup puddled on his plate and sighs, dropping it. Even though he hasn't been eating much lately, he's not hungry, but he has nowhere else to go. He feels lost.

“Gonna eat that?”

Len's heart leaps as he looks up the familiar voice. Mick's got his hands shoved in his pockets, water dripping down from the ends of his hair and rolling down his cheek. He shakes his head instead of replying, as much to clear it as to answer. Mick shrugs and drops down into the seat across from him, snatching up a couple fries and popping them into his mouth. Len stares at him like he's a ghost.

“You got my jacket all wet,” Mick complains, taking a few more fries.

“It's raining,” is Len's brilliant response, and he wants to slam his head into the table. Mick rolls his eyes, but smiles a little. Len fingers the zipper on Mick's jacket. “I'm surprised you came.”

“Didn't have much else goin' on.” Len winces and slide down a little in the booth. Mick notices and sighs. “Damnit, Len, don't make that face. You look like a kicked puppy.”

“I do not,” Len protests, pride flaring up. Mick grins.

“That's better,” he says.

“You're not mad?”

“I dunno,” Mick says. “You were kind of an ass.”

“I didn't want him to hurt you.”

“I can take care of myself, Len.”

“I thought we took care of each other,” Len says. Mick smiles.

“All right, I ain't mad,” Mick declares. “Provided you buy us some pie as apology.”

Len chuckles and waves to Christine at the counter.

“Glad to see you smile again,” she says, glancing at Mick. “Your bad mood lasted any longer, it'd be raining inside too.” Len scowls as Mick grins and winks at him.

“What kind of pie do you have today?” he asks, trying to divert the conversation.

“Lemon meringue, key lime, and apple,” she replies.

“We haven't tried the lemon meringue yet,” Len says, and Mick nods.

“And a drink too, please,” Mick adds. She nods and walks off.

“So what are you doing out in this monsoon?” Mick asks, snatching up the remaining fries.

“Wanted some delicious pie,” Len says. “Why not?”

“Nah,” Mick scoffs. “You wouldn't be wandering around in the rain unless you had to. You hate being wet; you're like a damn cat.” Len glares and kicks him lightly under the table. “Ow! Come on, Lenny, you know it's true.”

“It's not like you like the rain any more than I do,” Len huffs, crossing his arms.

“That's just cause it gets everything damp and you can't find anything decent to burn for days,” Mick grumbles, and Len rolls his eyes. “Upside is that I don't have as much shit to do on the farm.”

“That's a plus,” Len says, filing that away in his mind. Christine comes back and deposits a large piece of pie in front of them.

“Enjoy, boys,” she says as she walks off. Mick raises his eyebrows.

“I think this pie is half whipped cream,” he comments, scooping up a piece with his fork.

“That's the best part,” Len tells him. He swirls his fork in the cream top and licks it off. “Whipped cream on pies and marshmallows in hot cocoa. That's the key.” He notices that Mick is staring at him, fork paused halfway to his mouth. “Mick?” Mick jerks and looks startled.

“Yeah it's great,” he mumbles, shoving the fork in his mouth and looking away. “So uh... where do you wanna go after this?”

“Somewhere dry,” Len says.

“My kinda guy,” Mick says, pointing his fork at Len. “So where to? How much time you looking to kill?”

“As much as possible,” Len says. “My father's got his crew over at the house, so I won't be going back there tonight.”

“You want to head back to your grandfather's then?”

Len glances at his watch. His grandfather will be home soon, and Lisa is already there, safe, so he doesn't need to go back there if he doesn't want to – and he doesn't, now that Mick's here.

“When do you need to be home, Mick?” he asks, and Mick flashes him a grin.

“I ain't gotta be anwyhere.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len dumps the contents of the plastic bag on the motel bed.

“Four boxes, Mick? How much popcorn do you think we're going to eat in one night?”

“I dunno about you, but I'm eating as much as I can,” Mick declares, tossing his bag on the floor and shaking his head like a wet dog.

“Damn it, Mick, you're soaking the whole room,” Len complains, edging away. He slides around him and takes off Mick's wet jacket, hanging it over the shower curtain rod to dry. When he steps back out, he discovers that Mick's simply shed his wet T-shirt into a heap on the floor.

“What do you have against shirts?” Len wonders out loud, and Mick looks up.

“It was wet,” Mick says with a shrug.

“Well at least put it in the bathroom,” Len says. He sighs as the shirt goes flying past his head and lands on the floor behind him. “Mick.”

“It's in the bathroom now!” Mick says as he tears open one of the popcorn bags and programs the room's microwave. Len shakes his head and leaves the shirt in a pile. Mick can either wear it wet the next day or go without it. Len's pretty sure he's ok with both options.

He settles down on the bed while Mick sets up the movie.

“What do I have to do to get out of watching this?” Len asks, and Mick flicks a piece of popcorn at him.

“I gotta watch your alien movies, you can watch Lethal Weapon,” Mick declares. Len sighs over dramatically. “Don't whine. You lost the coin toss. Mine first.” He sits down on the bed besides Len, then glances over. “Hit the light.”

“What?” Len asks, distracted with the popcorn. Mick sighs.

“The light, Len.” He waits a moment, then leans over him. He comes within inches of Len as he reaches to the lamp on the bedside table, and Len's hand twitches with the desire to touch the bare skin. He clamps down on it and holds himself unmoving, barely even breathing for fear that he'll do something stupid like lean in and sniff Mick. God, what was wrong with him? He's starting to have trouble even pretending to be a normal human around Mick.

Mick turns the light beside him off and shifts back into place beside him.

“Now we get the theater experience for half the price,” Mick declares.

“I unlock the side door of the theater for us, Mick, we don't pay anything,” Len reminds him.

“Half the price we would pay if we paid for things, then,” Mick says with a dismissive wave.

“Mick, that's ridiculous.”

“Whatever.” Len smiles a little in the dark.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Seems like a waste to me,” Mick comments when they finish Len's movie.

“How so?”

“You have a time machine, and you just use it to mess with your own life and then you're done? Boring. Shoulda done something interesting with it.”

“What's more interesting than fixing your life?” Len points out. “Didn't turn out so bad for him. He made it better.”

“After he nearly erased himself.”

“Might've been worth the risk,” Len said, turning towards Mick and propping himself up on his elbow. “You're saying you wouldn't want to try and change your life if you had the chance?”

“Nope,” Mick says, closing his eyes and laying back. “Nothin' wrong with it.”

“You're in a shitty motel room with your old prison buddy because both of us hate going home so much,” Len points out, suddenly bitter. This is what he has to offer Mick; rental tapes and microwave food and god only knows what kind of stains. What does he come out here for?

“Hey,” Mick says sharply, cutting into Len's train of thought. “I'm watching awesome movies with my best friend and no one to answer to. Come on, Lenny. I wouldn't be anywhere else.”

Len stares for a moment, then gives him a small smile. “You thought Back to the Future was awesome?”

“No way,” Mick declares. “I was talking about the other movie I rented. Your movies suck.” Len sighs and leans back.

“Make some more popcorn.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len falls asleep halfway through the third movie. He wakes in the middle of the night, the only light the dim glow from the TV. The movie has ended and the TV's on the black AV channel, the only sound in the room being Mick's snoring. He shifts slowly to his side so he can get a decent look at Mick.

They'd both shed their jeans earlier, before they'd started the second movie, but while Len had kept his shirt on – of course- he'd also dove straight under the covers, whereas Mick had lain and eventually fallen asleep on top of them. The result is that Len now has an unobstructed view of him, one that he takes in greedily.

Len's always heard that people look younger when they sleep, but he doesn't think that's quite right, not with Mick, anyway. Mick has a five o clock shadow from not shaving all day, and he doesn't have that wild spark of mischief that Len's so accustomed to that lights up his eyes like a child. Even so, Len still thinks he's stunning. He's still taller and more built than Len is, although Len's starting to really catch up in the last year. He suspects that it has something to do with Mick stealing him away a few days a week, taking him out to eat and sharing his food. It's been nearly a year now since Mick got out of juvie and Len's not sure how he waited the four months between their releases. He's not entirely sure how he drifted through the fourteen years before, either, although he suspects the idiom “you don't know what you're missing” could go a long way toward explaining.

Len edges slowly towards the center of he bed. He knows better than to touch, but this, the heat of Mick's body by his, he can let himself have.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lewis takes him to a Family meeting the next weekend. He seems to be in a rather good mood, and while Len appreciates any reprieve from Lewis's rages, he knows that it doesn't last, and whatever Lewis has planned that has him so cheerful is likely to go sideways if Len isn't careful. He'll have to see what it is Lewis has planned, see if he can iron out any wrinkles and avoid too much of a downswing. Besides, he thinks to himself, if Lewis is in a really good mood, he'll be able to spend more time out with Mick.

He follows Lewis into the large conference room and retreats to the far corner, crossing his arms and huddling himself down to be less noticeable. He just wants this meeting to be over.

Nicholas and Benny enter with two adult men and another teenager. Len studies them for a second and startles when he realizes that the other boy is Alex Vera, the boy he'd met in juvie. Alex notices him staring and his eyes widen a fraction, before he tries to slink down behind Nicholas a little. Len gives a small shake of his head – he wants no more interaction with Alex than necessary, and suspects the feeling is mutual. They just need to stay out of each others' way.

“Everyone listen up,” Benny begins. “We've got a bit of a project ahead of us. We're routing the Maronis from Central, starting now. First, we're going after an important target: their bookie.”

“The bookie's running a good business, one of their best investments,” Benny continues. “We know his name and where he lives. We're going to get in and get a line on his clientele. Once we have that, we're going to go after a lot of their protection targets. We're going to need to break in to get his info, so we're going to let Lewis run a B&E on his building-”

“Actually,” Nicholas interjects, holding up a hand. “We have a small change. I'm running the break in on the bookie. I'm taking Leo and Alex. Father and I felt it best that we run a small team, and I'm more than capable of running something like this.”

Leonard feels frozen to the spot. He knows that people are glancing at him, mostly curious, but he can feel Lewis's eyes burning into him from across the room.

“All right,” Benny says, continuing on without much interest. “The rest of you, I'm breaking you into teams to scope out the protection clients. Scope them out – discreetly. Come grab some directions from me on your way out.”

Leonard hunkers down and waits as people filter out of the room. Lewis waits as well, and when the room is mostly empty, he jerks his head and Leonard slinks towards the door behind him.

Nicholas stops him at the door, stepping between him and Lewis. “Leo, wait here,” he says. Lewis is stopped in the doorway, eyes flicking between him and Nicholas, and Len feels slightly queasy. Benny steps up and hands Lewis an envelope.

“Your directions,” he says. “They've got Leonard's name on them, but you can take them now.” Lewis's face immediately darkens, but he forces his mouth into as close to a smile as he can manage as he takes the envelope. Benny nods to him. “You can wait outside.” The smile immediately falters, and Lewis glares at Len with an unparalleled rage in his eyes before stepping out. Benny closes the door behind him.

“Here,” Nicholas says, holding out another envelope to Len. He takes it numbly and folds it up, tucking it securely inside his jeans. He's glad Lewis hadn't seen it. Nicholas eyes him for a moment. “You don't seem terribly excited about our job, Leo.”

“No reason to get excited before I've looked into it,” Len replies through a dry mouth. “Why do you want me on this? My father has more experience-”

“You're better,” Nicholas cuts him off. “And I don't want to work with your father. This is my gig. We pull this bit off, I'm in charge of the whole clean up.” He leans closer. “You'd best not disappoint me, Leo.”

“I need time,” Len says, mind working. “Three weeks.” In three weeks, Lisa will be off at summer camp, and he won't have to worry about anything happening to her in the fallout of this mess.

“Why?” Nicholas asks, eyes narrowing.

“Because I asked for it,” Leonard says, summoning up all his resolve. He will not panic in front of Nicholas. “If that doesn't work for you, you can use someone else. I'm sure you have options.”

He knows it's a risk even before Nick tilts his head and narrows his eyes.

“Lots of people would kill for this chance, Snart,” Benny warns. He looks extremely displeased and equally dangerous. Len tries to show nothing.

“I'm sure they would,” Len answers. “But you didn't ask them you asked me. So three weeks, or you can give them their chance.”

Nicholas stares at him for a moment, then exchanges a long look with Benny.

“Three weeks,” Nicholas says. “Meet me here for the job. There's a number on the instructions you can reach me at most days; leave a message if I'm not there. Alex will be coming along, as our driver.” His eyes flicker down to Len's outfit, a dark ensemble that is entirely his own. “There's a fourth seat open. Your pick.”

“I'll see who's available,” Len says, and Nicholas smirks.

“All right, be like that,” he says, waving his hand. “I'll work on acting surprised.” Len huffs out a laugh and turns toward the door.

“Can I go?”

“Whenever you'd like,” Nicholas says, stepping aside. Benny glares at him as he passes, but Len refuses to drop his eyes. Benny doesn't hold a candle to what Len finds waiting at the end of the hall.

He know that Lewis is furious. It's in the way he walks down the hall rigidly, the way his hands are clenched into fists that could swing at Len at any second, the silence surrounding him. Len steps as lightly as possible; any reminder of his presence is likely to only fuel Lewis's rage and direct it at him.

When Lewis stops next to the car, Len freezes mid step. Lewis reaches out and rests his hand on the hood, turning to look at Len.

“So I guess you think you're a big shot now,” he starts, and Len considers whether or not he'd be able to make it back to the Santini garage before Lewis caught him. Probably not, he decides, and it doesn't really matter anyway. He knows from experience that running only makes Lewis come back twice as mad.

“Come here,” Lewis growls. Len takes a half step forward, feeling as if he's wading through molasses as he walks towards where Lewis is standing. He stops just out of reach, his blood rushing in his ears. Lewis stares at him, jaw clenched. And Len feels his muscles tensing up further the longer he stands there.

“This was supposed to be my job,” Lewis says, voice low. “I told my crew that this was gonna be a great step in with the Family. What am I supposed to tell them now?”

“You can have my spot on the job,” Len rasps, mouth dry. He swallows hard. “I don't want it, you can take my place.” He's pretty sure it doesn't work like that, but he'll sort it out later, anything that solves his immediate problem. He can plan a solution later.

“Family jobs are invite only,” Lewis says, and Len's heart sinks. There goes one out. He thinks as fast as he can, but not faster than Lewis lashes out. He tries to get back, but Lewis's lunge allows him to snatch hold of the collar of his shirt before he can get away. He yanks Len forward and suddenly the air is knocked out of him, Lewis's knee in his gut. Off balance and out of breath, Len topples to his hands and knees. He gasps for air, but Lewis hasn't stopped; his boot slams into Len's ribcage and he falls to the side, curling up instinctively as Lewis kicks out a few more times.

“You're fucking pathetic,” Lewis sneers. “Get up, you worm.” Len rolls over cautiously, knowing he has to comply but also that he's still in dangerous territory. When he's halfway up, Lewis reaches down and yanks him the res of the way, shoving him hard so he hits the side of the car. “Get in.”

Len braces himself against the edge of the car to get to the passenger door, collapsing into the passenger seat and slumping down in it. He presses against the door when Lewis gets in, retreating as far as he's able.

The first five minutes are quiet, Leonard moving as little as possible and trying to make no sound. He thinks he might at least make it back to the house, at least, until Lewis finally speaks up.

“Who's the bookie?” he asks, not looking at Leonard. Len swallows hard.

“I don't know,” he says honestly. He has the envelope folded and tucked into his pants pocket, as small as he could make it. Lewis is silent for a second, and then his hand shoots out, grabbing the back of Leonard's head and whipping it forward, smashing it against the dashboard of the car. Pain and dizziness hit Len in waves, and he can feel liquid dripping down his lips and chin. It drips onto his jeans and he realizes through his daze that it's blood.

“You think you're better than me?” Lewis hisses, speeding down the road. Every time Len tries to look out the window the scenery flying by makes his head throb. “You think you're gonna take my spot? You think you're even half as good as I am? I made you, you little shit. I taught you everything you know and you think you can just step in and steal everything I've worked for? Just cause you cracked a safe for the boss's kid?” He reaches inside his jacket pocket and pulls something out. He flicks his thumb and a shiny blade pops out – switchblade, Len's brain belatedly provides. “Let's see if he still wants you without a finger or two.”

Panic flares through Len's veins. Lewis has never gone this far before; but he's never been this angry before. His hand fumbles along the side of the door as Lewis turns toward him, scrabbling at it until he finds the door handle. Before he can think too much about it, he flings the door open and leaps out.

Lewis has slowed the car a little, but not that much, and though he tries to tuck and roll, his leap was too unplanned. He hits the asphalt with his left shoulder and pain immediately screams through his whole body. He struggles to his feet; his left arm seems useless all of a sudden, nothing but pain and he can't seem to lift it. He can see brake lights in the distance, and he lurches down the road, forcing his body to move. He thought he could handle anything Lewis had to offer, but this blackness is a new level he hadn't anticipated. He makes it to the grass beside the road, struggling to walk straight while so lightheaded. He walks as fast as he can down the sidewalk, slipping between some buildings as soon as he can. He takes a few more turns, not paying any attention to where he's going, and finds himself just outside of a strip mall. He doesn't recognize the area, but the intersection nearby says 32nd and Adams. He glances around, no idea what to do. Pain wracks his body and he's lost and alone and his arm isn't working. He feels overwhelmed and is fighting back tears when he spots a payphone under a streetlight, beckoning to him like oasis. He forces his feet to move, shuffling down the sidewalk. He gets into the booth, sliding the door closed behind him and leaning heavily against the glass wall behind him. He gets his wallet out out his back pocket and cradles the phone between his good shoulder and his head, trying to ignore the fact that the world seems to be shifting around him. He still can't make his left side work, so he drops his wallet on the top of the payphone and tries to dig some change out with just his fingers, cursing as the pain and frustration build in him. By the time he gets the quarters needed for the call, the edges of his vision are graying and he's hoping that his call and his prayers are answered.

Chapter Text

Mick's eyes snap open as soon as the phone rings. It's some kind of conditioned response now; he's sure Len would have a term for it if Mick wasn't too embarrassed to tell him about it. It's the middle of the night, though, which is unusual. Unusual enough to send a tendril of unease down his spine and get him up and moving faster than normal. He's down the stairs by the third ring and manages to pick up on the fourth.

“Hello?” he rasps, throat scratchy from sleeping. For a moment he doesn't hear anything except harsh breathing on the other end and wonders if it actually is a prank caller like his father thought they had.

“Mick?” someone says on the other end, in a tone nearing a sob, and it's so far from what he's used to that it takes him a minute to realize that it's Len.

“Lenny?” he asks, the unease growing with every moment. “Len, you ok?”

“No,” Len replies, something he usually won't admit to even when Mick can see it on his face. “Mick, I need... you. Here.”

“Where is here?” Mick rushes out. All kinds of alarm bells are going off in his head, and he's starting to feel the itch of adrenaline burning in his system, telling him to move, go, do something.

“32nd and... Adams,” Len gets out, and Mick can hear the pain in his voice between harsh breaths. Mick closes his eyes and tries to picture it, but street names were never his thing.

“Landmarks, Len?” he asks, trying to keep the worry out of his voice. He doesn't need to add to Len's problems.

“Strip mall... by a park... and a gas station...”

“I got it,” Mick tells him. “I'll be there soon, Lenny, hang on, ok?”

“Waiting for you,” Len mumbles on the other end of the line, voice getting fainter. Mick curses and hangs up the phone. He races back up to his room, throws on a shirt and jacket and grabs a bag he's got stashed at the bottom of his closet. It's got extra clothes and a few other things he's collected for nights he doesn't intend to come home, although the collection has expanded since he met Len – he's now got some tools that can be used as lockpicks, in case Len needs an extra set, some painkillers, and most of what's left from the cash Len gave him, among other things. He grabs his wallet from his desk and stuff it in his pocket, then starts down the hall.

He pauses outside the bathroom, then ducks in quickly. He finds the pill bottles that his mother uses, pops them open and takes a few of each.

He heads outside and jumps in his father's truck, nearly dropping the keys because his hands are shaking a little. He gets it started up and heads out as quickly as he can.

He has to go slow once he gets closer to the downtown area; he knows there are cops out there and he can't risk getting pulled over for some bullshit before he can get to Lenny. He feels nearly claustrophobic in this truck right now, his body buzzing with the need to do something instead of just sit here, even though he knows that he is actually doing the most he can right now.

The ride feels like it takes ten times as long as it actually does, but the strip mall finally comes into view and he breathes out a sigh of relief. He pulls into the lot and scans the area. There's no one outside in the middle of the night, and all the shops are closed, so he doubts that Len got inside to call him from there. He spots a payphone a little further down; from this distance, it looks empty, but as he gets closer, he realizes that there's something curled up at the bottom of it, and his heart skips a beat. He slams on the brakes and parks, then jumps out of the truck and runs the rest of the way to the payphone, sliding the door open.

“Lenny?” He murmurs, crouching down beside the figure curled up at the bottom of the booth. He reaches out and cups Len's face with his hand. There's a trickle of mostly dried blood coming from his nose and a little more where his bottom lips is split open. “Len, can you hear me?” Len's eyes flutter a little, and he makes a small noise. “Ok, Len, I'm gonna get you out of here, all right?” He bends over and slides one arm around Len's back, slipping the other under his knees. He feels Len wrap his right arm around his shoulders, though he doesn't move the other. He braces himself and hauls Lenny up in his arms. Len lets out a soft whimper and clutches Mick's shoulder a little tighter, but Mick manages to stand with him. “Come on, let's go.”

“Took you long enough,” Len says, voice barely a whisper, but Mick still smiles a little. He manages to carry Lenny all the way back to the car, a fact that he's briefly proud of. Pays to be strong sometimes.

“Len, can you grab the door?” he asks. There's no way he can get it open with his arms full.

“Can't,” Len mumbles. “Can't move... that arm.”

“Shit,” Mick mutters, anger flaring up. What the fuck happened? He fights himself for control, tries to force himself to think. “If I put you down, can you stand for a minute?”

“Can try,” Len says, turning his face toward Mick's chest. Mick tilts and eases his legs down until they hit the ground, then stands them both up again, clutching Lenny to his chest as Len clings to his neck with one arm. He reaches over and yanks the door open.

“Ok. Can you walk a few steps? Gotta get you in the car,” Mick tells him in what he hopes is a calming tone. Soothing isn't usually a word people tend to use to describe him. When Len gets a leg up in the truck, Mick uses the bulk of his body to help push him up until he's in the passenger seat. Len lets his head tilt back into the seat and closes his eyes again. Mick closes the door and rounds the car to the other side, hands clenched in fists.

He's going to fucking murder someone.

He takes a deep breath before he opens his door and gets back into the driver's seat. He needs to not lose his shit in front of Len. Not that Lenny seems to be paying much attention anymore, because his eyes are closed again and Mick's starting to worry. There's a knot on the side of his head and bruise all around it, and Mick's worried about a concussion. That's a thing he knows is associated with knocks to the skull. He also remembers that you're supposed to keep them awake, so he leans in and gently shakes Len's shoulder.

He's entirely unprepared for the reaction it gets, Len's eyes flying open and his shout of pain. He yanks his hand back like he burned it and stares with wide eyes.

“Sorry,” Len gasps, and Mick is stunned.

“Don't apologize, Len, damn,” he says. “Just try and stay awake, ok?”

“Mmk,” Len mumbles, and Mick looks closer at him. There's something off about the way Len's sitting, but he can't place it. He starts the car and pulls out, going to the only place he can think of.

- - - - - - - - - - -

He leaves Len in the truck while he goes to the front desk. The clerk there eyes him, a small spark of recognition in his eyes; Mick suspects that he's going to be known as a regular soon if he and Lenny keep this up.

“Two nights. Ground floor,” he mutters, sliding across the cash needed plus some. He's not about to carry Lenny up any stairs if not necessary. The clerk palms the money silently and slides a room key back.

“107,” the man replies, and goes back to watching the TV behind the counter.

There's a parking spot right by their room, which is lucky. Mick leaves Len in the truck and goes and props the door open, tossing his bag on the floor by the bed. He's thinking ahead now, so he doesn't run into another no-hands issue. Lenny would be proud, he thinks, if Lenny weren’t half out of his mind with pain.

With that in mind, he hurries back to the truck and opens the passenger door. Len turns slightly to look at him and Mick gives him the closest to a smile he can manage.

“Slide over as far as you can and put your arm around my shoulders again,” he instructs, and Lenny complies without so much as a comment about being ordered around. Definitely out of it. With one foot up on the truck rail, Mick pulls Lenny into his arms again and manages to get them both down without either of them falling. He kicks the truck door closed and carries Len inside the room.

“Y're strong,” Len mumbles against Mick's throat as Mick lays him out on the bed.

“I try,” Mick responds absently as he sheds his jacket and looks Len over. Laid out on his back, Mick's stomach twists as he realizes what's off about Len. His left shoulder's hanging at a slight angle, slightly lower than normal. It's dislocated. It had happened once to Mick, when he had slipped going up the ladder to the hay loft and caught himself halfway down with one arm, jerking it out of the joint. His father hadn't wanted to take him to the hospital – he wasn't worth the bill, supposedly. His father had reset the joint himself. He's pretty sure his dad enjoyed watching him in pain as he relocated the bones. Looks like Mick's going to be glad for the lesson in the end, though.

He ducks into the bathroom and grabs a cup of water. He fishes a few of the pills from his mother's supply out of his pocket, picking out a Vicodin and returning the rest. He returns to the main room and sits down by Lenny.

“Hey Len,” he says, waiting until Len opens his eyes and turns his head to him. “I need you to sit up and take this Vicodin. You dislocated your shoulder.”

“Ok,” Len says, trying to sit up with his good arm. He winces and Mick immediately moves a hand to his back to support him. He hands Len the water, then holds up the pill. Len glances down at his good arm holding the water and then turns and opens his mouth.

Oh. Shit.

He slips the pill in Lenny's mouth, trying to ignore the way it feels when Len's tongue scrapes lightly against his fingers. Now is not the time, but he's sure he's going to be thinking plenty about that later. He waits until Lenny's swallowed and then takes the glass back.

“Ok,” he says. “Now either I can pop your shoulder back in place, or we can go to a hospital. Either way-”

“You,” Len breaks in. “You do it.”

“It's gonna hurt,” Mick warns him.

“Already hurts. I can handle it. You do it,” Len says firmly, and Mick sighs.

“Lay back. I'm gonna move your arm out straight,” Mick tells him, taking hold of Len's left wrist. Len squeezes his eyes shut and nods. Mick maneuvers his arm so that it's making nearly a straight line from shoulder to wrist. He grips it around the forearm and bicep, and places his knee against Len's side. That gets another gasp from Len, and he pauses. He hasn't moved the arm, so that must mean something's wrong with his side too. Fuck. He bites his lip and stuffs his anger down. He has to focus. Fix the problem at hand. His brain briefly registers the pun, making his heart squeeze. Lenny would've liked that one, if he weren't... Mick bites his lip so hard that he tastes blood. Fucking focus. He pulls Len's arm slowly, straight away from his body, his leg holding the rest of him back from going with it. Len pants at first, then after a moment actually starts to whimper, and Mick feels like his throat is closing up. Suddenly he feels something click and Len gasps. His breathing evens out, and he blinks, not fast enough to stop the few tears that trickle down from the corners of his eyes.

“Feels better,” Len whispers. Mick nods, because he still can't get his throat to work. He looks away from Lenny, eyes roaming around the room until he notices the little black bucket beside the TV. Ice. That triggers something in his brain – ice the shoulder to reduce swelling and chances of serious injury. He likes that – an immediate problem he can solve, not the one he can't, the problem of Len laying here beside him like a broken doll. Anger flares up in him again at the thought, white hot.

He leaps to his feet, the sudden pulse of rage turning into a buzzing energy in his veins. Len's eyes fly open and he struggles to sit up for a second. Mick puts a hand on his chest and gently but firmly presses him back down, hoping that Len doesn't notice that he's shaking a little.

“Stay there,” he orders, his voice thick. “Lay down, rest. Don't move your arm if you can help it. I'll be right back.” Len relaxes under his touch and nods a little, and Mick draws his hand back. He grabs the keys to the truck and the room, then grabs the ice bucket and stalks out of the room. He locks the truck up quickly, then stalks down the hall until he finds an ice machine.

He sticks the bucket under the little spout and holds down the button, waiting. The machine appears to be made to produce approximately 3 cubes per minute, and the longer he stands there, his impatience grows, twining around his anger and intensifying it until he snaps. He snarls and punches the machine, leaving a tiny but satisfying dent in the metal frame. He hits it again, then again, losing himself in the feel of flesh and bone on metal, his rage pouring out. He's furious that something so horrible has happened to Len, his Lenny, with his little smirks and his quiet laugh, and those fucking pretty blue eyes that light up when he's really excited and look at him like he's something special. He's pretty sure it's his father that did it, and he viscerally wants to absolutely destroy the man, make him bleed and then light him on fire, watch his skin burn and melt off. The thought of it soothes him enough to get a little control over himself, enough to stop hitting the machine. A few lights have clicked on at the racket he's been making, and now he needs to get out of here before he gets in trouble. The bucket is nearly full, anyway. He hurries back to their room.

He shuts the door softly behind him, eyeing Lenny as he does. His breathing has evened out and he's not making any sounds, so Mick's not sure he's even still awake, but he only makes it halfway to the bathroom before Len's eyes snap open.

“Mick?” he calls out, sounding groggy and afraid and a little bit needy.

“Right here, Lenny,” he assures him. “I'll be over in a minute, ok?”

“Mmmm,” Len murmurs in agreement, closing his eyes again. Mick makes it to the bathroom and set the bucket down. He notices in the mirror that his shirt has some small blood spots on it from where Len had his face pressed against his chest and throat. He yanks the shirt off, tossing it on the ground beside him, then leans over and grips the counter until his knuckles turn white. He breathes hard and tries to clamp down on the anger. He idly notices that his right hand is bleeding a bit from his attack on the ice machine, and that reminds him that Len's got a bunch of blood on his face. Again, the flare of anger that has him actually growling this time. He grabs a hand towel from the stack on the counter and dumps some ice into it, tying up the long ends to turn it into a makeshift ice pack. He grabs a washcloth and wets it with warm water, then picks both up and heads back to the main room.

At some point Len has kicked off his shoes and socks and rolled onto his right side. He approaches quietly, but Lenny still manages to hear him and cracks his eyes open.

“Hey,” Mick says, voice low. “I brought you a wet cloth and an icepack. Kinda.”

“Wet cloth?” Len asks, sounding confused.

“You've got blood on your face, Len,” Mick tells him hesitantly, and Len blinks. He brings his hand up to his face, feeling the crusted blood, then holds out his right hand. Mick gives him the cloth to wipe his face while he gets out of his own shoes. He takes the cloth from Lenny when he's done, tossing it on the floor.

“Really, Mick,” Len mumbles, and Mick smiles a little. Only Lenny would be able to complain in this state.

“Housekeeping's problem,” Mick tells him, lying down beside him. “You feel any better?”

“A little,” Len says. Mick hold up the ice filled cloth.

“Made you an icepack,” Mick tells him. “Need to ice the shoulder, so it doesn't swell up and stuff.”

“Thank you,” Len whispers.

“Course, Lenny. I've got you,” Mick tells him. Len closes his eyes and shift forward, pressing his body against Mick's side, splaying a hand over Mick's bare chest, and Mick freezes.

“You're really warm,” Len slurs against his skin. Damn, that Vicodin must be strong. He maneuvers an arm around Lenny, and uses it to hold the ice pack against Len's shoulder. Lenny makes a small sound and shifts a little against Mick. Within five minutes, his breathing is deep and he's not moving, out like a light.

Confident that Lenny's knocked out, Mick lets his gaze slide down his form while he sleeps. He's always thought of Lenny as beautiful, even if he can't quite place why. It had started sometime in juvie, around the time Lenny was setting up that garage fire.

He remembers how long Lenny had spent working with him on that path, the safe zone where the cameras wouldn't see him. He'd taken Mick by the hand, instructing him to step only where he stepped. They'd gone over it a dozen times, Len never running out of patience when Mick misstepped, even as he ran out of patience with himself. Len had finally stayed behind, waiting at the oak tree for him while Mick walked the path alone. When he'd finally done it correctly, Len had looked at him with pride, his whole face lighting up and his eyes dancing. That was it, he figures. That was when Lenny got him.

He told himself, after Lenny pushed away from his kiss, that it was being so close every day that made him try something so stupid. Proximity attraction, he read somewhere. He figured that Len would get out and they'd both move on while Len was on the outside. He'd traded a couple favors for some porn magazines, trying to refocus himself on anything but Lenny. He hadn't expected to realize while he was jerking off that he was staring at the model's bright blue eyes instead of her tits, or for that to summon up an unbidden image of Len's face that made him come before he could help it. The next day, he'd snuck out to one of the safe areas Len had set up for him and burned the magazine. So much for that idea. He'd tried thinking about other guys, just as an experiment, but that was even worse; the physical similarities just made them morph into Lenny twice as fast. In the end he decided that what he thought about to get off was nobody's problem but his own and figured he'd just get over it eventually.

He really hadn't expected Len to actually call him when he got out. His heart had leapt when he'd heard that voice on the other end of the line. Lenny hadn't forgotten him. And for some reason, Lenny wanted to hang out with him. Not that hanging out with Lenny had done anything for his little problem.

Mick's basically given up on other people, for now. He tried to go out with a couple girls in the beginning, but they just seem so boring now that he knows Lenny. Not that they were all that interesting to begin with; he based his previous partner selection on whether or not they had a boyfriend. He found great fun in making sure that the boyfriend found out they were being cheated on, and hoping they came to pick a fight. Once he'd gotten his kicks, he was done with them. The last guy had brought three friends with him to confront Mick, so Mick set his jacket on fire. He still considers that fair play. The guy ran around flapping his arms for a bit, which was great fun to watch, and resulted in first degree burns before someone reminded him of stop drop and roll. The judge had not been so amused, and had sent Mick to juvie for a year, where Mick got away from the farm and got his hands on Lenny. In hindsight, he considers it one of his best decisions to date.

Len's fingers twitch a bit on his chest, pulling him out of his own head. Lenny's brow is furled a bit, like he's having a bad dream. Mick takes his free hand and hesitates only a moment before stroking lightly down Len's back. Len makes a little pleased sound and his face smooths out. Mick repeats the motion, pleased to have a good excuse to touch him. Usually, the best Mick can get away with is throwing an arm around him, and even that is only on certain days. Other times, he'll get too close and Len will go still. Mick's familiar with that kind of behavior in small animals, holding themselves still so that they won't be noticed by predators. Mick doesn't blame him, not with what he knows and suspects about Len's father. Mick's not as angry or violent as he normally can be when he's around Lenny; somehow Lenny's presence tends to calm him down, distract him from his rage. Still, he knows himself, knows that his anger shines through at times. Lenny's put up with him longer than anyone else, so far; no one else has ever had this kind of patience with him, much less sought him out for company. Lenny wants to be with him, and even if it isn't quite in the same way that Mick wants to be with him, it's still the best anyone's ever given him, and he's gonna hang onto it until Len wises up. Lenny doesn't really seem to have any other people in his life, and Mick's kind of pleased with that. He should feel guilty, he knows that intellectually, but he also knows that he's a violent asshole that really only looks good relative to the other, more violent assholes that Len's surrounded by, and that this is his main claim on him. Len branching out is gonna mean Len figuring out that Mick's star qualities revolve around punching things and lighting them on fire, and a lot of other people have way more useful life skills, ones that don't remind him of his father and his shitty childhood.

For now, though, Lenny needs him, and he's not going to let him down. He shifts the ice pack from the back of Len's shoulder to the top. His hand is starting to get really cold, a little numb, but he's not about to drop it unless he has to. Lenny gives a content little sigh at the adjustment. Shit. Those little noises Len's been making are going to stick with him for a while, he knows. That, and the way Len's managed to wrap his body around Mick's in his sleep like a vine. At some point he's gotten a leg over Mick's, and he's got his upper body practically on top of Mick's as well. Mick thinks he can feel every inch of where Lenny's touching him.

Mick sighs. He needs a distraction, but he left his lighter behind in his rush, and while there's a matchbook in his bag, it's far away and he's not going to dislodge Lenny to get at it. He stops stroking Len and switches the ice pack to the other hand, stretching his left hand as far over as he can, trying to reach the remote. He can just barely brush it with his fingertips. He moves just a tiny bit over, trying not to disturb Len, but just as he's got a couple fingers on it Lenny stirs, pressing closer and nuzzling his damn face into Mick's neck, and Mick twitches, knocking the remote onto the floor. He drops his hand in defeat. Now he's got Lenny's breath on the hollow of his throat, his body all but on top of Mick's, and no fire or TV to distract him from it.

It's going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

Len wakes up in a haze. He's groggy and confused, a muted panic building in him because he's got no idea where he is or why, and nothing seems familiar. His thoughts feels like they're working their way through molasses to get to him. He shifts uneasily, his head aching, and suddenly there's a warm presence beside him, leaning over him.

“Lenny,” Mick rumbles from above him, his face sliding into focus. Len blinks and immediately calms. Wherever he is, Mick's here, so he feels safe. He manages to gain a little bit of focus as he calms, trying to take in his surroundings. He's in bed, and Mick's sitting beside him. He slowly recognizes the awful wallpaper and thin, worn bedsheets as the motel they've been frequenting lately.

“Mick,” he gets out, voice hoarse and mouth dry. He licks his chapped lips with his dry tongue, trying to get his brain to work. Mick turns away and stands, and the panic comes back, because all Leonard's sluggish brain can process is that Mick's leaving. Len rolls closer and reaches out, catching the hem of Mick's shirt and ignoring the jolt of pain in his ribs. Mick turns back immediately, eyes wide.

“Lenny, what's wrong?” Mick says, returning to the bed and leaning over him. “You hurt?” He looks concerned, eyes searching Len's face for distress. Leonard can't think of anything to say, because he's fine except for a sudden extremely embarrassing bout of separation anxiety, so he just shakes his head. Mick frowns, leaning back. “I'm just gonna grab you a glass of water, ok?”

Leonard nods and forces his fingers to release Mick's shirt. While Mick disappears into the bathroom, he shoves himself up into a sitting position, ignoring the slight vertigo he feels from the act. Mick returns and hands him a glass of water, which Len gulps down greedily. He's finished half the glass before he notices the two small white pills Mick's holding out.

“No more Vicodin,” Len says immediately. He probably needed it last night, but he hates the way it's left him feeling disoriented and slow.

“It's just aspirin,” Mick tells him. Leonard gives in and takes the pills from his hand, washing them down with the rest of the water. He sets the glass down on the nightstand and looks over at Mick, who's watching him intently.

“How're you feeling?” Mick asks. In truth, Len's whole torso in infused with a dull ache, and his head is pounding, but he can't bring himself to admit it, especially since Mick seems oddly worn out.

“I'll be fine,” he says, leaning back. “Are you ok? You seem tired.”

“I had to get up in the morning, run back to the farm,” Mick tells him with a shrug. “Had to do the chores so I could come back without worrying about my dad getting too pissed.” Len frowns and glances at the window, where he can see the glow of sunlight from behind the drawn curtains. A pang of guilt hits him; Mick came for him in the middle of the night, patched him up, and then gave up his own sleep to go back to do his work and still came back to Len when he was done. Len's surprised that Mick's not pissed at him, ruining his night like that.

“What time is it?” Len asks, trying to sort everything out. He vaguely remembers bits of last night; of collapsing in the phone booth, wrapping himself in thoughts of Mick until Mick is wrapped around him, lifting him and carrying him away from everything. He remembers taking a pill, and Mick setting his arm back in place, and then it gets fuzzy, a blur of heat on one side and cold on his other, and a sense of Mick there the whole time, watching over him.

“It's after noon,” Mick tells him, and Len is thrown. He's been asleep for half a day, at least; he has no idea what time it was when Mick found him. He slides toward the edge of the bed where Mick's standing.

“Len, why don't you rest a little more?” Mick says, stepping closer to him. A flicker of shame goes through Leonard; how weak does Mick think he is, that he needs to stay in bed all day? His pride hurts more than his body, right now, and he's maybe a little embarrassed that he fell apart like that, showed Mick the truth about how pathetic he really is.

“I'm fine,” he says, going for aloof but ending up closer to petulant.

“Len-”

Len swings his legs over the edge of the bed and pushes himself to his feet. In one moment everything is spinning, and the next his vision blacks and he’s pressed against something warm and solid. Len blinks, trying to clear the spots from his vision, realizing that the pressure around his waist is Mick’s arms, holding him up against Mick's body because he passed out on his feet for a second.

“Think I stood up too fast,” Len says weakly. Mick snorts in response. He rests his forehead against Mick’s shoulder as he focuses on getting his legs to follow orders. When he finally feels stable again, he pushes lightly away from Mick, although Mick keeps his hands on his waist for a few extra moments before dropping them. Probably wants to make sure he doesn’t have to catch me again, Len thinks bitterly. As comforting as it is to have Mick with him, he doesn’t want to know how badly this has damaged Mick’s image of him. He’s spent the whole day helpless, useless, forcing Mick to wreck his own schedule and run himself down trying to save him. He lowers his eyes and shuffles carefully over to the bathroom.

“Lenny,” Mick says from behind him. He turns back to find Mick holding out a bag. “I brought some extra clothes, if you want to change.” Len nods and takes it from him, bringing it into the bathroom with him, where he locks the door behind him.

The mirror gives him a harsh lesson in just how bad he looks. He’s got a knot on his head from where he hit the dashboard, and a black eye and bruising to go with it. He had a bloody nose at some point, dried blood crusted just inside his nostril and few drips down the front of his shirt, although the rest has been wiped away. He thinks he remembers that from last night, but it’s more feelings than solid thoughts. He drags his shirt up, feeling a twinge of pain as he twists his shoulder to get it over his head, but he manages to get it off. There are a couple dark bruises on his right side, where Lewis kicked him in his ribs, which are still sore, but it’s nothing worth mentioning in Leonard’s world. Now that he looks at it, he decides that once he's covered up again he won’t seem so bad. A few bruises and a sore shoulder that was his own fault to begin with, and a knot on the head. He’ll be fine in a few days. He slips on the only long-sleeve shirt he finds in Mick’s bag and a pair of Mick’s drawstring sweatpants, because even as he creeps closer to Mick’s height he still has a much narrower frame, so unless he cinches them up he can’t get them to stay on.

He feels better after he emerges, having washed his face and put on clean clothes. He’s still trying to clear some of the cobwebs from his brain, but it’s more of an inconvenience than a problem, and since he doesn’t need to be anywhere today, he can handle it. When he sees Mick leaning against the wall by the bathroom door, shoulders drooping, he realizes that the other boy looks even worse than he’d thought. He frowns at the dark circles under Mick’s eyes when he looks up.

“What?” Mick asks gruffly.

“You look awful,” Len tells him.

“Like you’re one to talk,” Mick grumbles, and Len smiles.

“What a pair we make, hm?” he says, standing beside Mick, who gives him a smile in return. “Want to see what’s on tv?”

“Sunday tv is shit,” Mick comments. “Want me to run out and get some movies?”

“No, you look like you’ll just fall asleep at the wheel, and then what would I do?”

“Wouldn’t be so bad. Room’s paid up til tomorrow,” Mick tells him, and Len frowns.

“That’s the least important part of it,” Len tries to tell him, but Mick shrugs it off dismissively. Len sighs, then reaches out and grabs Mick's wrist. Mick looks startled, but Len just gives him a gentle tug. “Come on. I'll go rest if you will too.”

“Fine, you win,” Mick grumbles. Len lets go of him to go crawl into bed again, while Mick stops by the chair to shed his jacket. Len grabs the remote and starts flicking through channels on the TV, while Mick continues to undress. He sheds his shirt and has just pulled off his belt when he stops.

“You looking to buy some kitchen appliances?” Mick asks.

“What?” Len says, blinking. His eyes slide back to the tv and he realizes that he's gotten distracted watching Mick and left it on some shopping channel infomercial for a kitchen slicer. “No, I... just nodded off for a second.” Mick glances over his shoulder at him as he resumes channel surfing with a singular focus.

“And you said you were fine,” Mick mutters, kicking his jeans aside and coming around to the other side of the bed. He flops down so hard that Len swears he gets bounced half an inch in the air. He nearly drops the remote, turning to glare at Mick.

“What?” Mick asks, giving him his devilish grin. Then something flickers on his face and it vanishes. “Shit, did that hurt?”

“I'm fine,” Len assures him. “Just wasn't intending to take a flight today.” Mick snorts, and Len hits him in the chest with the remote.

“Find something to watch,” Len tells him. “I'm starving. I'm going to order a pizza.” Mick's eyes light up at the mention of food, instantly sold. He lays back with the remote while Len picks up the phone.

By the time the pizza shows up, Mick's found them some trashy talk shows to mock, full of paternity tests, boot camps, over-the-top secrets, and histrionics. Mick nudges Len's leg.

“What do you think her shocking secret is?” Mick asks, stuffing half a slice in his mouth.

“She's a cyborg from the future... and she's his daughter,” Len guesses.

“Nah, she's a werewolf, and she ate his mother last time she visited,” Mick declares. Len chuckles as he swallows another mouthful of pizza.

“It'll all turn out fine,” Len says, “because he's actually an alien from Jupiter and couldn't figure out how to tell her, and now they can bond over their mutual inhumanity.”

“It'll be like Romeo and Juliet,” Mick agrees. “You want the last piece?”

“No, I'm good,” Len says, licking the grease and pizza sauce off his fingers. Mick's staring at him rather intently now. “What?”

“I think you should have it. You need the energy to heal.”

“I'm full, Mick,” Len says, rolling his eyes. Mick shrugs and takes the last piece. Len turns and slides off the bed, standing up and grabbing the empty box.

“Hey, you stayed upright this time,” Mick teases. Len glares icily at him but Mick just gives him his crooked grin and a thumbs up back. Len sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. He brings the box to the trash can and tosses it down beside it. It hits Mick's jacket just hard enough to knock it off the chair, where it falls to the ground with a thunk.

Len stops, brain backtracking. He steps over and crouches down, picking up the jacket and noticing the strange hunk of metal sticking out of one of the pockets.

“Len,” Mick's voice is beside him as he pulls the gun out of the jacket pocket.

“Is this yours?” Len asks, turning it over and inspecting it. It's similar to the one Len now has in the back of a drawer at his father's house.

“It's my dad's,” Mick admits. “I just borrowed it. He's got a bunch of guns, he won't even notice.”

“Why did you bring a gun?” Len asks, frowning.

“Never know if you'll need one,” Mick mutters, gently taking it from Len's hand and putting it on the chair. Len stares him down.

“Mick,” he says slowly, grabbing his arm. Mick refuses to look him in the eyes. “Mick, promise me you're not going to do something that'll get you in trouble.”

“Thought that was the basis of our friendship,” Mick comments. He glances down at where Len's gripping his arm, and Len realizes he's clenching it like a vise, but doesn't let up.

“Promise me you won't do anything without me, then,” Len says. As long as Mick's with him, he can keep control of the situation.

“Fine,” Mick says. “I'll try. But that means you gotta stick with me, Lenny.” Len finally relaxes his grip.

“Wasn't going anywhere, Mick.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mick doesn't manage to stay awake much longer after they eat, so Len turns the TV down, slips out of bed and heads into the bathroom for more water and a couple more aspirin. The pain's mostly gone but Leonard still has twinges in his shoulder and he wants to cut off the headache he can feel building back up. Len grabs his clothes off the floor where he'd left them when he changed, pausing as he notices the flash of white in the pocket. He pulls out the crumpled envelope he got at the Family meeting, smoothing it on the counter. Len's been so preoccupied that he's completely forgot about it. He unfolds it and lays it down on the bathroom counter, smoothing the wrinkles out as best he can.

Once Len's smoothed it out enough, he rips the envelope open and extracts several papers from it. He returns to the bed where Mick's now snoring and crawls back in, sliding towards the center so that he's as close as he can get to Mick without touching him. Len soaks in the heat from Mick's body as he reads through the information scrawled on the papers in neat, fancy handwriting.

The bookie's name is Carmelo Rossi. He has a house on the west side of town, and it seems Nicholas has had him followed, because there's a whole list of places he apparently frequents included. There's a mix of bars, restaurants, and office buildings on the list that Len wants a look at. There's also a list of people that have been seen with Carmelo, and someone's notated which ones are known as Maroni men. It's not bad information, but Len wants more. He wants to see it for himself, see what Carmelo's doing there and why. You learn a lot from watching people, and Len prefers to do it in person.

At the bottom of the last page is a phone number, with Nicholas written next to it. This is the number Len was promised at the meeting, to contact Nicholas. He reaches over and grabs the phone on the bedside table, pausing for a moment as another thought crosses his mind. Instead of dialing Nicholas's number, he dials a different one and waits as it rings.

“Hello?”

“Grandpa? It's Len,” he says quietly, trying not to wake Mick.

“Oh, hey, Lenny,” his grandfather responds cheerfully. “What's going on?”

“Not too much,” Len half lies. He pauses for a moment. “Look... do you think you could keep Lisa there an extra day or two?” There are a couple beats of silence on the other end of the line as his grandfather works out what he's asking.

“I can if you need me to,” he finally says. And Len relaxes a bit.

“Please do. I'll call you in a couple days when I can come get her, ok?” Len says.

“All right, Lenny. You take care of yourself, you hear?”

“I will,” Len tells him. “See you later.”

When he hangs up the phone he discovers that despite his efforts Mick is awake again, watching him silently.

“I had to check on Lisa,” Len tells him. Mick nods and flicks the papers in Len's lap.

“What're these?” he asks.

“Info for the next job Nicholas wants me to pull with him,” Len tells him. He puts them aside and slides down and turns on his side so he's facing Mick; it reminds him of juvie again. “He's going to hit the Maroni's bookie to grab some client info from him.”

“That was your idea, wasn't it?” Mick asks, and Leonard nods.

“They have a bunch of information but it's not what I want. I want to watch him myself, see his habits,” Leonard tells him. “You up for a field trip tomorrow?”

“I think I could manage that,” Mick tells him, grinning.

“Good,” Len says. “Also... I have an open invite on this job, and I want you with me. If you want to,” he adds hastily.

“Well, you nearly got shot without me last time, so I guess I better go,” Mick declares, and Leonard smiles.

“The actual job isn't going to be for three weeks,” Leonard tells him.

“Why so long? I figured Nicky'd want to hit it right away.”

“He did,” Len tells him. “I asked him to push it back. Told him I wouldn't do it without more time.”

“I doubt he liked that much,” Mick's face darkens, and he surprises Len by reaching out and gently grabbing Len's shoulder, stroking his thumb across the joint. “That what happened to you yesterday?” Len shift uncomfortably under the attention and Mick withdraws his hand. He debates with himself for a minute whether he should try and push blame onto the Santinis. While it's less likely that Mick will do something stupid if the Santinis are involved, it means he almost certainly won't be able to bring Mick along on any Family jobs without worrying himself into an ulcer, if Mick would even come.

“It wasn't the Santinis,” Len tells him.

“Then it was your dad,” Mick growls, and Len is thrown. “Don't look so fucking surprised, Lenny. I heard you tell your grandfather to keep Lisa away. I'm not that stupid. What the fuck did he do to you?”

“It was my fault,” Len says. “I screwed up my shoulder jumping out of a car.”

“Why the fuck did you jump out of a car, Len?”

“Don't worry about it,” Len tells him.

“Don't call me in the middle of the night, beat half to death, and then tell me not to worry about it,” Mick snaps.

“Sorry,” Len mutters, dropping his eyes. “I've never had to deal with someone worrying about me before.” Mick just stares at him. Len bites his lip and refuses to meet his eyes.

“Better get fucking used to it,” Mick snarls, turning back onto his back and closing his eyes. “We'll go out tomorrow. I'm tired, and you should rest too.” Len brings his eyes back up and studies Mick's profile. He's got no idea what to make of him. He moves a little closer.

“Mick...” Mick cracks on eye open.

“What, you wanna cuddle?” Mick asks, and Len can feel himself immediately blushing bright red, in no small part because there's a part of him that really likes that idea. Mick's got a teasing smirk on his face and Leonard can't figure out where this came from.

“I don't... I don't cuddle,” Leonard sputters. Mick raises an eyebrow and chuckles.

“Sure you don't,” he says, closing his eyes again.

“I don't.”

“If you say so.”

“I've never cuddled with anyone,” Len huffs. Mick looks at him like he doesn't believe a word. “Lisa doesn't count.”

“Good to know,” Mick says, a little smirk on his face.

“Why are you smiling like that?”

“Just thinking about something.”

“About what?”

“Secret.”

“I feel like you're making fun of me.”

“Not even close.” Mick rolls over, turning away from him. “Night Len.”

“It's five pm,” Len tells Mick's back. He doesn't get a response. “The sun's still up, Mick.” He glares at Mick's spine and then rolls onto his back, turning off the tv. “Asshole.”

Chapter Text

Mick leaves before dawn, promising to return in a few hours. Len's half asleep, but when he does wake up he discovers that Mick's left a glass of water and a couple aspirin on the bedside table. Len takes them even though he's feeling much better, then heads off to the bathroom.

Leonard exits wearing his own jeans, though he's kept Mick's shirt. He's tells himself it's because he's not about to run around in bloodstained clothes all day. He's just starting to get restless when Mick shows back up.

“Welcome back,” Len greets him. Mick grunts in reply. “Something wrong?”

“Nah,” Mick mutters, rolling his shoulders. “Just tired.”

“You hungry too?” Len asks, and Mick raises an eyebrow. “Ok, silly question. How about we head out for breakfast?”

“Why do I feel like you've got more than food in mind?” Mick asks, crossing his arms.

“One of us has to,” Len shoots back, standing. “Come on. I'll buy.”

“Where you wanna go?” Mick asks.

“Anthony's Pancake House,” Len says, stepping over to him.

“Jonesing for some maple syrup?”

“Something like that,” Len replies. “You in?”

“Long as I get food.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“I sincerely hope you see a dentist regularly,” Len comments, arching an eyebrow as the waitress places a plate in front of Mick with the largest stack of blueberry pancakes he's ever seen, topped with whipped cream, fresh berries, and blueberry syrup.

“I go regularly and I haven't had a cavity yet,” Mick says, stuffing a giant forkful of food in his mouth.

“Seriously? How is that even possible?” Len asks, slightly amazed. Mick just swallows and give him that devilish grin Len's so fond of.

“I floss daily,” Mick tells him. He dips his fork in the whipped cream and holds it out. “Want some?”

“It's way too early for that much sugar,” Len says. He has a much more sensible plate of bacon, eggs, toast, and hash browns that he's working on. Mick shrugs and stabs a few more pieces of pancake to go with the whipped cream.

“So what are we looking for?” Mick asks between mouthfuls.

“Not what,” Len tells him, lowering his voice. “Who. We're looking for Carmelo Rossi.”

“You know what he looks like?” Mick asks, tilting his head.

“Nope,” Len says, nibbling on some toast. Mick raises an eyebrow. “We don't need to know what he looks like. We watch for someone who comes in alone, meets a few different people, maybe takes some money under the table.”

“How do you know he'll show up here today? Or that he'll be doing business?” Mick asks. “Maybe he just really likes pancakes. These are really good.”

“Let's hope not,” Len says, eyeing the door. “Hate for this to be a waste.”

“These pancakes are not a waste, Lenny,” Mick tells him, pointing his fork at Len and looking stern. “Never say that about them again.”

Leonard doesn't reply. He's watching as the man who came in the door shrugs off the hostess, walks in and glances around the seating area. It's only a moment before he heads straight for a man that Leonard had pegged earlier, sitting in a corner booth with a newspaper and a coffee that he's been refilling for as long as Len and Mick have been here. Len watches as the new man slides in across from the newspaper reader, shifting a little. Len's been a pickpocket long enough to recognize a clumsy money pass. The two men exchange brief words that can't be heard from their position, and then the first man, who's been here less than five minutes, stands and leaves. Len can see a small bundle on the booth seat where the man had sat.

“Finish your beloved pancakes pretty quick, Mick.” Len swallows down the last of his food and waves the waitress over. “I don't know if we're going to be here much longer.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

After another fifteen minutes and a second visitor, newspaper man – who Leonard is fairly certain is Carmelo Rossi by now – finishes up and drops a couple bills on the table. Len's glad it took him this long, because Mick's finished his pancakes, and he was not about to put up with Mick's complaining if he had to leave any behind. Len still has to grab Mick's arm to half drag him away from the dessert case as they leave.

“I like your stakeouts, Lenny,” Mick comments as they get in the car. “I could get used to these.”

“Follow the gray Ford,” Len tells him, resisting the urge to smile. “Don't let them see you.”

“I got it,” Mick says, taking off.

They follow Carmelo for a while, Len taking notes on where he stops and how long he stays there. He goes to a couple innocuous places, not staying very long. There are two bars that he lingers at, one for an hour and a half and one for three hours. Just when Len's thinking that Mick's restlessness is going to get the better of him and he's going to start a fire, Carmelo comes out again and returns to his car. Len nudges Mick, who's pulled out his lighter to stare at for the last twenty minutes, and they creep after him.

Carmelo stops at a residential address that's listed in Len's information from Nicholas as his home. When he doesn't come out after 30 minutes, Len unbuckles his seat belt.

“Come on,” he tells Mick, who follows his lead without comment. Mick trails a step behind him as Len slowly walks the perimeter of the building, trying not to miss any details. He eventually brings them around to the front door, which is locked. Len's not willing to risk picking a lock in full view of the street, so they loiter for a bit, trying to look like neighborhood kids, and luckily they don't have to wait long before someone opens it and Len catches the door with his foot, slipping in and pulling Mick along after him.

There's another interior door, and this one's also locked. Len glances up and notices a camera in the corner, immediately turning his back to it.

“Turn a little to your right,” he mutters, and smiles when Mick understands exactly as he wants with no question. There are a line of door buzzers next to the panel, and after scanning the names Leonard picks one that isn't Carmelo's and presses it. When there's no answer, Len gives it a couple more tries before he taps Mick on the arm and turns to the door, Mick imitating him perfectly.

“Good job avoiding the camera getting your face when we left,” Len tells him, quietly enjoying the way Mick's face lights up a little at the praise.

“Just did what you did,” Mick says dismissively, although the corners of his mouth are turned up in a tiny smile. “Gotta pick something up after all this time.”

“Only if you try,” Len replies. “Come on. One more go around the building, then we can get dinner.” Mick nods and they set off, circling the complex again. Len pauses in one of the alleys, looking at everything around them. “What day do you think is garbage day?” he wonders out loud, to which Mick raises an eyebrow.

“Dunno this neighborhood,” Mick says, glancing around. Len trots over to the closest dumpster and opens the lid, standing on his toes to see the inside.

“Len, that's fucking gross,” Mick comments. “You better wash your hands before dinner. Better yet, take a shower.”

“I'm not getting in the damn thing, Mick,” Leonard replies, dropping the lid. “Not much in there. Must have been emptied in the last couple days.”

“You trying to get some of the dude's trash?” Mick asks.

“No, but it's not a bad idea,” Len says, tilting his head as he thinks.

“You're on your own for that,” Mick tells him. “I can smell that dumpster from here.”

“I'll get one of Santini's guys to do it, Mick,” Len says, rolling his eyes. “Come on. One quick stop, then dinner.”

“You said dinner first,” Mick complains as they head back to the truck.

“I'll make it quick. And wash my hands while we're there,” Leonard promises.

“Fine. But don't touch anything in the truck until you do,” Mick grumbles as they climb in.

“Mick, I've seen your room. It's a mess,” Len reminds him.

“Yeah, but city dumpsters are a whole 'nother level,” Mick replies as he starts the engine. On a whim, Len reaches out and trails a finger down the bare skin of Mick's arm just below his T-shirt sleeve. Mick curses and jerks away.

“What did I just fucking say, Len?” he growls, and Len laughs. “I swear your hands are sticky. That's disgusting.”

“Not the first time I've been told I have sticky fingers,” Len drawls, unable to stop the smile on his face. Mick glares daggers at him.

“I am going to drive your side of the car into a fucking telephone pole,” Mick says, and Len's grin spreads. “I'm not even kidding, Len.”

Leonard smiles the whole drive to their next stop.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“What are we doing here?” Mick asks, as Len washes his hands in the bathroom sink of the county records building.

“Getting the blueprints for Rossi's building,” Len tells him. “You can get copies of most residential building plans from here. Commercial property too, although you'd have to submit a written request for them.” Mick grunts in response, following Leonard down the hall and to the main lobby.

The records clerk watches them suspiciously the whole time she processes Leonard's request, but he gives her his most charming smile and is extra polite. Lewis has taught him to always be extra polite to marks or people you want something from, and he has to admit that it works pretty well most of the time.

It takes a long time for her to go through the process of locating and photocopying the correct ones. While they wait, Len can practically feel Mick's attention wandering, especially when people start going through a big stack of papers near them that immediately draws Mick's gaze. His hand's already in his pocket by that point, and Len knows that he's playing with his lighter. He shifts slightly closer and surreptitiously grabs Mick's arm, giving him a gentle tug to guide him closer. He maintains a gentle but firm grip on Mick's forearm, gently rubbing his thumb on the exposed skin, and Mick stops most of the restless fidgeting that he's been doing since they started. Len's a little relieved when the lady finally comes back with a few sheets of paper for him. After a quick glance over them to make sure it's the right plans and a saccharine smile to the clerk, he leads Mick back out, ignoring the mild disappointment when he runs out of reason to hold on to him.

“Dinner time yet?” Mick asks when they get out to the street, foot tapping a little. He's still got that glint in his eye that Len knows well by now. It's going to get worse if he lets it build up, so he makes a quick decision.

“Library first,” Len declares, and Mick shuffles in irritation but doesn't say anything. “I promise it won't take long.”

“You're the boss,” Mick mutters, lighter spinning in his fingers.

Leonard really does make it quick. He makes a beeline for the paperback sale section; used books are a quarter each, and Len picks the biggest and thickest ones he can find, with no regard to content. He gets as many as he can carry in a few recycled plastic shopping bags they have for buyers and still ends up spending less than twenty dollars. He hauls the bags back to the car and drops them in on the seat between him and Mick. Mick raises an eyebrow and picks up the book on top from the closest bag.

“You got some strange taste in books, Lenny,” Mick comments, holding up the book. It's some romance novel with a woman swooning on the cover, caught in the arms of a long-haired man clad only in a leopard print loincloth. Len's face immediately flushes.

“That's... They're not for me,” Len stammers. He maybe should have looked at what he was picking up for a minute. “They're for you!” Mick glances at the cover again and looks dubiously at Leonard.

“You trying to tell me something?” Mick asks, and Len wants to throw one of the books at his head just to end this entire conversation.

“To burn, Mick,” he huffs, crossing his arms and staring out the windshield, refusing to look in Mick's direction. “I got them so you could burn them.” Mick chuckles.

“Now that's a plan, Len.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The abandoned lot that Len's staked out a few months ago isn't in the best part of town, but he doesn't worry much as long as Mick's there. The lot's mostly sand, and he makes a small pit fairly quickly, dumping the books in a pile in the middle. Mick grins and holds up the romance novel he showed Len earlier, holding it over the flame from his lighter until it catches, then nestling it among the other paper pages so the whole pile will go up. Len settles into the truck bed beside him with the bags of fast food they picked up on the way as they both start in on the burgers. With the distraction of the fire, Mick eats far more slowly than he usually does, and his fixation allows Leonard to steal glances of him, the firelight casting flickering shadows across his face and making his eyes shine. Len smiles to himself and is nearly as disappointed as Mick when the flame finally dies out.

“Didn't last as long as I expected,” Len comments. Mick shrugs.

“Paper burns fast,” he replies, balling up their food wrappers and shooting them into a nearby trash can that Len's sure will never be emptied. They both slide out of the truck bed and Mick flips the back gate up. “It was still awesome.”

“Anything to set your heart aflame,” Len drawls, and Mick gives a delighted laugh. Then with no warning, he grabs Len and pulls him against him.

“Thanks, Lenny,” Mick murmurs before releasing him. The hug doesn't last nearly long enough but still leaves Len feeling warmer than the fire had.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mick takes them both back to the motel, where Len immediately claims all of the floor space to spread out his blueprints. Mick rolls his eyes but when he turns on the TV he puts the volume down low, and Len smiles to himself a little.

He takes in every floor, one at a time. He picks out every staircase, elevator, supply closet, window, fire escape, and balcony. He memorizes every hallway's turns and connections, where there are doors and where there aren't, where cameras may be positioned and what they'd be able to see. He looks up positions of the fuse boxes and all the electrical wiring, the materials each and every floor is made out of. He maps out an entrance and an exit. Then another. And another, and another. He plans out exits from each and every room, every hallway, locates all the best hiding places and then plots exits from those. He layers them in his mind floor by floor, mentally rebuilding the entire place until he knows it as well as his own house.

He's still building scenarios in his head when Mick stirs, his feet hitting the floor behind him as he gets out of bed.

“Shit, Len, you're still working on that?” Mick rasps.

“I want to pick up some things tomorrow,” Len says, still half in his own head. “Can we go to a home improvement store or something?”

Suddenly there are strong hands under his armpits, lifting him off the floor. He yelps but by the time his reflexes kick back in he's been tossed on his back on the bed unceremoniously, staring back at where Mick's standing looking stern.

“What the hell, Mick?” Len snaps, glaring at him. Now that he's spread out on the bed, he becoming aware of the stiffness in his joints from sitting on the floor for... he's not really sure how long, actually. He also realizes that the bed feels pretty nice and he's kind of tired.

“You need to get some damn sleep while I'm out.”

“Out?” Len narrows his eyes. “Where are you going?”

“I'm going to the farm to do my work, Len. It's dawn.” Len blinks in disbelief, leaning over to see around Mick. There's a dull glow signaling dawn that's coming from the bottom of the curtains. “You've been sitting there all fucking night, you crazy bastard.”

“I was working,” Len complains, immediately embarrassed by the edge of whininess in his voice. Shit, he does need sleep.

“You have three weeks to figure this shit out, Len, and you'll be better at it if you get some goddamn sleep,” Mick reminds him. Len realizes he's right when he has to suppress an urge to pout.

“Fine,” he mutters, slipping under the blankets. “But I was done anyway.” Mick throws his hands in the air and shakes his head, stomping over to and grab his keys and his bag, muttering the whole time. Len stares at him while he does, a shadow of a thought creeping at the back of his mind. “Mick.”

“What?” Mick asks, pausing halfway out the door.

“You're coming back, right?” Len snaps his mouth shut as soon as the words leave, feeling strangely nervous. Mick stares at him for a minute before tossing something on the foot of the bed and leaving.

For a minute Len's afraid that he's actually not coming back, but when he sits up and grabs the thing Mick threw at him before leaving, he realizes it's Mick's jacket. He smiles for a minute before letting small laugh bubble up out of him, dropping the jacket and laying down. Mick will be back.

Chapter Text



Len doesn't stir until he hears the door creak open. He stretches his body, feeling every ache and stiffness in him as his muscles tighten. When he relaxes and opens his eyes, Mick's standing by the bed, staring at him.

“Morning,” Len murmurs, still sleepy.

“Morning, sunshine,” Mick replies. He holds out a coffee cup. “Got you something. Figured you'd need some caffeine.”

“How much sugar did you put in it?” Len asks, sitting up and eyeing it suspiciously.

“None,” Mick replies, smirking. “Since you were such a baby about it last time.”

“Just because I don't want diabetes before I hit the legal drinking age doesn't mean I'm being a baby,” Len says, sipping the hot liquid. Mick's telling the truth; it's free of cream and sugar and tastes like magic. He feels more awake already.

“I'm gonna take a shower,” Mick tells him, unbuttoning his shirt as he heads for the bathroom. Len's a little too tired to pretend he doesn't watch, but he's pretty sure Mick doesn't notice.

Len flicks on the tv, trying to distract himself from the sound of the water running in the shower – or really, the images that it brings to mind. He goes through every channel three times before dropping the remote and giving up. He pulls out one of his blueprints, but even that isn’t really working right now. He sighs and glances around the room, eyes finally landing on the telephone. That should work. He reaches over and grabs it, punching in the familiar number for his grandfather’s house and waiting while it rings.

“Hello?” His grandfather’s voice answers.

“Hey, Granddad,” Len says, smiling even though he can't see it. “It’s Lenny. Can I talk to Lisa?”

There’s a long pause before his grandfather speaks again. “I’m sorry, Lenny, Lewis came by this morning and picked her up. I thought you knew.”

Len feels all the air rush out of his lungs. He’s silent for a moment before he remembers how to breathe, and how to speak. “You let him take her?”

“Lenny, I didn’t have a choice,” his grandfather reminds him. “I’m sorry, I told him she could stay, he just-“

“I have to go,” Len says, not waiting to hear any more before hanging up. He jumps out of bed and grabs his jeans. He’s gathering up the blueprints when he feels a hand on his shoulder.

Even though he knows there’s only two of them here, he still jumps and whirls around. Mick has come out of the shower, still wet and looking concerned, a towel wrapped around his waist.

“Len, what the hell’s the matter? You look freaked out,” Mick says. “I heard you running around out here, what happened?”

“I need to go home,” Len says, and Micks face immediately darkens, eyes narrowing.

“Why the fuck would you go back there?” Mick asks, half snarling.

“Mick, I live there. I have to go home,” Len repeats, rolling the blueprints up. He doesn't have anything to carry them in because he didn't bring his bag to the family meeting, so he stuffs them in Mick's bag. They're probably safer away from Lewis anyway.

“No, you fucking don’t,” Mick snaps. “You’re not going back so that asshole can beat the shit out of you again.”

“I can't live in this motel, Mick,” Len snarls. “You know that.”

“We can find somewhere for you to stay,” Mick says stubbornly. “Somewhere where you'll be safe.r”

“I'm going home, Mick, and I will be fine,” Len tells him, stalking over to the door. “You can’t stop me.” He barely gets it open an inch before Mick’s hand slams against it, forcing it back closed. Len spins around only to have Mick’s other hand slam down on the opposite side of him, pinning him between the wall and Mick with just a few inches between them.

“I can and I will fucking stop you,” Mick growls, deep and angry. “That fucker beat you half to death and he’s gonna fucking kill you someday. Someday soon, Len,” Mick tells him. Len shakes his head even though it’s something he’s thought before, something he has nightmares about – not the dying part, but Lisa there afterwards, all alone with Lewis. But Lisa’s there alone with him now, and Len has to get to her.

“You can’t keep me here, Mick,” Len repeats, putting his hands against Mick’s chest and shoving. It’s useless; Mick’s always been bigger and stronger than him, and Mick just moves his hands from the wall to Len’s biceps and pins him there like a sad butterfly while Len struggles vainly.

“Why would you even go back there, Len?” There’s a strange tone to Mick’s voice that Len can’t quite place, and it makes him stop struggling for a minute. “You know he’s not going to stop. Why the fuck would you give him more opportunities to hurt you?”

“He has Lisa,” Len cries, giving up and slumping against the wall. Mick stares at him for a minute, face unreadable. “I can’t leave her with him. If something happens to her-“ His voice breaks, and he fights for control. “I can’t live with myself if he does something awful to her.”

“And I'm supposed to live with myself if I take you back there and he kills you?” Mick asks. Len blinks and stares at him. Mick sighs when he doesn't answer. “Why don’t you two stay with your grandfather?” Mick asks.

“We can’t,” Len snaps. “He runs an ice cream truck, and he’s old and… he’s not in great health, Mick. He barely makes enough money to take care of himself.” Len drops his eyes to the ground. “Besides, Lewis won’t let us. His old buddies would block any attempt to get custody away from him while he's outside. If I leave and he wants me back, all he has to do is get them to drag me home. I'm not even sixteen until next month; I don't have a choice. And even if I did, he'd just use Lisa to get what he wants.”

“So get rid of him,” Mick says bluntly.

“I can’t,” Len says.

“I can,” Mick tells him, and Len looks up, startled.

“Mick, no,” he says, alarmed. “You can’t, please.”

“Why not? You two would be free. You can go live with your grandfather,” Mick says. “You can figure out the money, with the Family work you’ve been doing.”

“And you’ll go to jail,” Len reminds him bluntly. “For decades, Mick. You’re seventeen already, they’ll sentence you as an adult.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Mick says dismissively, and Len is suddenly straining against his grip, leaning into his space.

“Of course it fucking matters!” Len yells, hands balling into fists. “Mick, you can’t just fucking leave me alone like that!”

“You’ll be fine,” Mick tells him, looking slightly surprised at his outburst. “You’ll have Lisa and your grandfather, and you can find someone else to plan your heists with. It’s the best way it can go down.”

“No it’s not,” Len hisses. “It’s you and me, Mick, not me and somebody else while you rot to try and save me.”

“You think I won't be on my own if he takes you out, Len?”

“I’ll be ok, Mick,” Len tells him, and Mick glares again.

“Yeah, you were really fucking ok yesterday, passed out in a phone booth with a dislocated shoulder and all,” Mick growls. “He can't just get away with that shit.” Len looks away. He hates that moment, hates everything about that night except for Mick, coming for him with his strength and his warmth. Mick came for him. Mick would kill Lewis for him. His chest constricts suddenly, heart fluttering. It’s not like he hasn't fantasized about killing Lewis before; he has. But it was always just a daydream to comfort himself on a few of Lewis's worst days. Mick, though, Mick would do it; he can see it in his eyes. All Len has to do is ask.

And that's exactly why he can't let him do it. No matter what, Len needs him. If getting rid of Lewis means losing Mick too, it's not worth it.

“This isn't the way to do it,” he says evenly. “I have to go home. I’ll stay out of his way and I’ll be out of the house as much as possible. I won’t give him a chance to take me out. And when I figure out a way – a better way –“ he continues, before Mick can work himself up again, “When I figure out a good way, we can take him out instead.” Mick doesn’t say anything for a few minutes, staring at him while he stares back and tries to calm Mick by sheer force of will. Eventually Mick's grip relaxes a little. Len can feel the heat from his bare skin, wet and shining from his shower., suddenly hyper aware of Mick now that he's calmed. Len flexes his fingers, suddenly itching to run them down damp skin. Then suddenly Mick’s pulling back, dragging Len with him. “Mick?”

“Sit down and wait there,” Mick tells him, shoving him lightly toward the bed. Len backs up as Mick grabs some clothes from his bag. “I’m gonna get changed and then we can go back to your place.”

“We?” Len asks, confused.

“I ain’t letting you go alone,” Mick calls from the bathroom, over the sound of cloth rustling. “I don’t care what you say. I’m going with you.”

Len bites his lip and considers. The idea of Lewis laying eyes on Mick terrifies him; he can’t keep Lisa from him, not yet, but Mick is safe as long as Lewis doesn’t know about him. On the other hand, Lewis’s last rage fit still scares him, if he’s being honest with himself, and he kind of wants Mick there with him. It’s selfish, and foolish, to put Mick in danger like this, but Mick's not exactly accepting his opinion on the matter.

When Mick's fully dressed, he grabs his jacket, and Len gets alarmed again when he see Mick pull the gun out of the pocket and stick it down the back of his pants. He's on his feet in a heartbeat, striding over and getting right into Mick's face as he turns.

“Promise me you won't do anything that'll get you in trouble,” Len says.

“I'm always in trouble,” Mick scoffs, but Len grabs his arm and grips it tight.

“Promise me,” Len growls, voice serious. Mick stares him down for a minute.

“I will if you promise me something,” Mick replies, leaning in close. “Promise me we'll take that bastard out as soon as we can.” Len tilts his face up just a bit; he wants to lean in, taste Mick's lips – he's so close – but he forces himself to speak instead.

“I promise.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The drive back to Lewis's house is quiet and slightly awkward. Len doesn't know what to say to Mick. He's been around men who've killed; he and Mick even took out Martin, but that was different. That was a plan, a job. He's not sure what to do with someone who would kill just because he thinks it would make Len happy, protect him. He knows that most people would call that wrong and horrifying, but it throws Leonard off for the exact opposite reason. It warms something inside of him to even think about it.

Mick doesn't bother parking down the street like he usually does. He stops right in front of the house, and he's around the car and at Len's side by the time Len's feet touch the ground. Len can't think of any good way to get him to stay away from the house. Mick stays so close while they approach the door that their arms brush against each other every other step.

He makes Mick hang back a bit when they enter, allowing Len to go first. Len's always on alert in Lewis's house, but Mick's presence doubles it. It's much easier to deal with Lewis's rage if he can take it on himself; it would hurt more to watch him hurt Lisa or Mick.

Len hopes he at least looks as fearless as Mick does; Mick strides in right at his heels, looking perfectly calm in a way that Leonard envies right now. He keeps Mick behind him as he leads him slowly down the hall, checking each room as they pass. There's a little sound that has him stopping, Mick pressing up against him from behind.

“What is it?” Mick asks, but before Len can answer, a tiny ball of energy bursts out from the kitchen and slams into Len's legs. He would've been knocked back off his feet if it weren't for Mick, who grabs him and hold him against his solid chest.

Len closes his eyes and runs his fingers through Lisa's soft hair. He's got her wrapped around his legs and Mick pressed against his back, arms around his waist, and suddenly he doesn't ever want to move.

“Lenny,” Lisa whines, squeezing his legs tightly. “I'm so glad you came back!”

“I always come back, Lisa,” Len says, trying not to think about Mick's breath ghosting over the side of his face.

“Dad said you weren't coming back,” Lisa says sadly, and Len snaps back to full attention.

“What?” he asks, frowning. She peers up at him nervously.

“He said you weren't coming back,” she repeats, like he's slow. “Said he taught you your place.” He can feel Mick's grip tightening around his waist.

“I'll always come back to you, Lise,” Len tells her, absently placing his hand over Mick's and stroking his skin to calm him. He relaxes, but not much. “Don't listen to dad, ok? Just trust me.”

“What happened to your face?” she asks suddenly. For a second Len doesn't know what she's talking about, but then he remembers the bruises blooming across his face from being smashed against the dashboard.

“Just a little accident, Lise, nothing to worry about,” he tells her, and Mick growls, right by his ear. He tries to shoot him a glare over his shoulder before continuing. “It'll be gone soon. Don't worry-”

Everyone freezes when the garage door that connects through the kitchen bangs open. Len pries Lisa off his legs and Mick's fingers off his waist.

“Lisa, go upstairs,” he hisses, and she nods and takes off. Len turns to Mick, who hasn't moved an inch away from him. “Mick. Stay calm.”

Mick gives a small grunt in response as footsteps pound towards them. Lewis turns the corner and stops. He and Mick size each other up from opposite ends of the hall, like two angry dogs. Lewis finally drops his gaze back down to Len.

“Who's your friend, Leo?” he asks, voice cold. Len opens his mouth, but can't force Mick's name out. For some reason, it feels like giving Lewis power over them, to know Mick's name.

“Family sent me to look out for him,” Mick speaks up suddenly in the absence of Len's reply. Len glances over at him, startled.

“Look out for him?” Lewis repeats, eyes narrowing.

“Yeah,” Mick growls. “Seems that someone jumped him after he left the Family meeting. Beat him up real bad. Nicholas really didn't like that. Hates when people mess with his things.” At the mention of Nicholas's name, Lewis's expression shifts to wariness. “He's really pissed about the whole thing. Gonna tear the bastard apart when he finds him,” Mick continues, an angry smile on his face. Len's pretty sure he's not talking about Nicholas anymore. “Hate to be that guy. Anyway, until he's gone, I'm making sure he's safe.”

“Well, isn't that nice of you,” Lewis says, giving a fake smile. Mick stares impassively back at him, but Len can see the tension in his body, muscles tight and jaw clenched. Lewis turns his sights back to Lenny. “You know how dangerous it is out there, Leo. You shouldn't trouble Nicholas and his friends with your problems.” Len can hear the edge in those words, a subtle undertone of threat. Lewis takes a couple steps forward and Len can see Mick's arm move, reaching slightly behind him, and he grabs his wrist and digs his fingers into Mick's skin. When Mick turns to catch his gaze, he wills him to understand. You promised.

Mick returns his arm to his side, but Len doesn't release him. Lewis stops a few feet away, eyes flicking between the boys.

“You did your job, then. Leo's home, safe and sound,” Lewis says, then gestures to the door. “You can go now.”

Mick's jaw tightens, and he doesn't move for a few moments. Len loosens his grip and slides his hand down to Mick's hand, giving it a quick squeeze, making sure that his father can't see from this angle. Mick snaps his gaze to lock eyes with Len, and Len is just starting to get nervous when he finally nods.

“Stay safe,” he says, voice deep and low in that tone that sends shivers down his spine. Len forces those feelings down and simply nods instead. Mick turns to Lewis. “Thanks for the hospitality,” he sneers, and Lewis glares at him. Mick steps over to the door, casting one last look back at Leonard before stepping outside.

Lewis waits a couple minutes before closing the distance between him and Len. Leonard automatically shrinks back a little, hunching his shoulders and stepping to the side, but Lewis doesn't go past him.

“You telling stories to the family?” Lewis hisses, breath full of stale alcohol. Len shakes his head.

“Didn't tell them anything. Couldn't hide it before they saw,” Len mumbles. He stares at the ground, not looking Lewis in the face.

“Well next time suck it up instead of going crying to them for help like a fucking baby,” Lewis snaps. “And you better keep your mouth shut, you understand? I don't need you bringing any heat from the Family onto me because you can't handle a little boo-boo.”

“I won't say anything,” Len says stiffly. He won't say anything to the Family, and he won't say anything to Lewis, won't breathe a word of passing out or being cradled against Mick's chest, of pain and pills and dislocated joints. Most of it wouldn't matter to him, and anything that did would just be so he could destroy it. He's not about to let Lewis do that. He won't let Lewis take Mick from him.

“Good,” Lewis says, leaning back and crossing his arms. “So did you get the shit from the bookie?”

“What?” Len asks, unable to latch onto the sudden change in conversation fast enough. He gets an open-handed smack upside the head for it, right against the bruising from the previous night. He suspects it's not an accident.

“Did you get the shit Nicholas wants from the bookie?” Lewis repeats impatiently. Len finally gets himself up to speed despite the throbbing in his head.

“We didn't go yet,” Len says, tensing. “We're not going in on him for a couple weeks.”

“Why the hell not?” Lewis says gruffly. “I thought Nicholas would want to get that done as soon as he could.”

“Needs time to plan,” Len says, careful to avoid the fact that he asked for the time. Lewis never remembers Lisa's summer camp until she's gone for a few days.

“So who's the bookie?” Lewis asks, staring intently at him. Len eyes him warily. He left his instructions with the blueprints in Mick's bag, after memorizing Nicholas's phone number. Still, he doubts that Lewis will believe that he left knowing nothing.

“Carmelo Rosssi,” Len reluctantly tells him. Lewis narrows his eyes and nods thoughtfully. Then to Len's surprise he turns and walks away. It's unusual, but Len never passes up an opportunity. As soon as Lewis turns the corner Len turns and hurries up the stairs as quickly and quietly as possible. He slips into Lisa's room and sits down on her bed. Her eyes open immediately, and he gives her a reassuring smile while he reaches out and pets her hair. His mind drifts back to earlier, being wrapped in both Lisa and Mick's arms at the same time, and it makes him ache a little. He's focused for a long time on the immediate future; keeping Lisa out of his father's way, making sure they had enough money between his father's heists to keep him placated and still buy food. Len never really thought or cared much about his future. Some days he wasn't even sure he'd have one. Now he realizes he's been silly. If you want something, you make it happen, he realizes. He's going to have a future, and so is Lisa. He needs to do more than just worry about the immediate future. He needs to be ten steps ahead. He needs to plan.

He eventually leaves Lisa asleep in her room and returns to his own. He sheds his jeans, but doesn't change his shirt – it's Mick's, and it grounds him, reminds him of his purpose. He grabs a small notebook and pen from his desk drawer and curls up on his bed to start writing.

Chapter Text

 

Len and Lisa only make it about a block down the street on their way to school before the truck pulls up beside them. Len eyes the dirt-stained red paint and smiles.

“Lisa, looks like we have a ride to school today,” Len tells her, leading her over to the door. She looks up at him skeptically.

“You said never to get in cars with strangers,” she reminds him as he opens the door.

“I ain't that strange,” Mick drawls from the driver's seat, and she grins.

“Mick's back!” she cries, trying to get in the truck. It's way too tall for her, so Len lifts her up and lets her scramble in before climbing in after her. Len gives Mick directions to her school so they can drop her off.

“Why do I have to go to school?” she pouts when they arrive.

“You need an education,” Len tells her.

“No I don't,” she says, pouting. “You can teach me everything, Lenny.”

“No, I can't,” he says quietly. A distant memory echoes in his mind. I'll teach you everything you need to know, son, but you better keep up, because these are hard lessons.  That's not the education he wants for Lisa. “Just go to school and be good, okay, Lise?”

“Okay,” she says, pouting. When they stop in front of the school, she grabs her backpack and the little pink duffel bag she keeps her skates and outfits in.

“I'll pick you up after practice,” he calls as she runs off into the building.

“Where you wanna go?” Mick asks gruffly when Len closes the door and settles back in.

“Drugstore,” Len says. “There's one a few blocks down, I think.” Mick grunts in reply and starts off in the direction Len indicates. Len watches him out of the corner of his eye. “You've never come out here this early before.”

“Finished my work early,” Mick replies. Len narrows his eyes. Mick's got dark circles under his eyes and he doesn't have quite that spark of energy that he normally does.

“It's really early, Mick. How'd you manage that?” Len asks conversationally. It's Mick's turn to narrow his eyes.

“I couldn't sleep, so I started working early. Wanted to get done as soon as I could.”

“Somewhere to be?”

“Just here. You sayin' you don't want a ride?”

“You checking up on me, Mick?” Len asks, suspicious.

“Course not,” Mick says, his eyes never leaving the road. Len figured out a long time ago that this means he's lying. He can't bring himself to be annoyed at him, though, given the last few days. Len's more worried about Mick at this point.

“You need to take care of yourself too,” Len reminds him. Mick still refuses to look at him as he pulls into the store's lot and parks.

“We're here,” Mick announces, as if Len can't see that. Len sighs at the stubborn set of Mick's face. He's never had any luck yet getting Mick to talk if he doesn't want to.

“Give me your jacket,” Len says as he unbuckles his seatbelt.

“You could say please once in a while, you know,” Mick grumbles. Len gives him a big fake sweet smile.

“Pretty please,” Len drawls sarcastically. Mick mutters something Len can't hear under his breath before handing the jacket over exactly as he asked.

The drugstore doesn't have anyone at the front register at the moment; most likely they're in the back or the aisles doing restock. Len motions for Mick to stand next to him, indicating a spot that will put his body blocking several camera angles so that Len can grab some things from the front. He swipes a few things from near the register while he has the chance, including a couple plastic bic lighters from the counter display for Mick, plus some candy and gum. The more he can find to lift Mick's spirits, the better. That done, he leads Mick down the aisle with the cosmetics.

“What are we doing here?” Mick asks, picking up one of the little sample body mist spray bottles on display beside them. “You looking for a new perfume, Lenny?”

“That's not perfume,” Len replies, rolling his eyes.

“I think you're a lily,” Mick continues, ignoring his response. “Or maybe jasmine? What's your favorite?”

“Would be better than smelling like smoke all the time like you do,” Len retorts.

“That what I smell like to you?” Mick asks, eyes snapping over to Len to look at him curiously. Len feels his face heat up a bit. He's glad he's got at least enough sense not to mention that under the smoke Mick also smells like spice and pine. It's actually rather embarrassing just to think about.

“It's what you smell like to everyone in a fifty foot radius,” Len shoots back, trying to cover his embarrassment.

“That's not bad. I don't mind smelling like smoke,” Mick decides. “It's better than... Tahitian Orchid? That's a thing?”

Len ignores him. He's running his fingers over a few foundations, trying to find one that matches his skin tone. Len's glad he doesn't pay for these; they're ridiculously expensive. This section is on the outer aisles, against the wall, which means more camera angles. He finds one that's a match and turns back to Mick, who's moved on to glaring at the displays of nail polish and eye shadow like they're going to bite him.

“Mick, c'mere,” he calls. When he catches Mick's attention he flicks his fingers to indicate where he wants him to stand, and Mick moves there for him, blocking another camera's view.

“What're you looking for over here?” Mick asks, before following his gaze to the concealers. His eyes drift between them and Len's bruised face and his eyes darken. Len doesn't lift his gaze from the display, palming a couple bottles of the foundations and then snagging a matching powder.

“You used this stuff before?” Mick asks, voice low and dangerous. Len sighs.

“Once or twice. It's not a big deal,” Len says. Mick gives one of his angry growls as a response. “Seriously, Mick, it's been years since I've needed it.” Leonard doesn't mention that it's because Lewis has gotten smarter about leaving bruises where they can't be seen, or finding new ways to inflict pain without leaving marks.

“Need it now,” Mick points out.

“Had a bad day,” Len replies. “I've got it under control.” Having grabbed what he wants, Len turns and walks down the aisle, walking quickly like he can outpace his bad mood.

“Hey Len, I think we need some of these,” Mick calls out after him. He holds up a package of panty hose.

“Why the hell would we need those?” Len asks, confused.

“To wear on our heads when we rob banks,” Mick says giving him that devilish grin. Len snorts and rolls his eyes.

“I've robbed banks with my father,” he reminds Mick quietly, smirking. “No one wears those. It's a TV thing.”

“I dunno. I think you'd look good in it,” Mick says with a mischievous glint in his eye. Len snorts out a laugh before he can stop himself, and Mick's grin grows. He turns and ducks down another aisle, Mick following him.

“You need some scrunchies, Len? To do up your hair?” Mick asks, running his handover Len's close cropped hair. Len halfheartedly swats at his hand, fighting a smile. “Or here – get me these ear plugs. Then I don't have to listen to you boss me around all the time.”

“If I get ear plugs it'll be so I don't have to listen to you snore next time we're at that motel,” Len replies, making Mick grin even wider. He continues through the aisles, pocketing the things that catch his eye while Mick follows along, picking up increasingly absurd items and explaining to Len why they need them. By the time they slip out of the store, Len's got a stupid grin on his face.

As they step away from the store, Len stops and turns abruptly. Mick stops short in surprise.

“I think you're apple daffodil,” Len tells him, pulling the stolen little body mist bottle out of his pocket and spraying a large blast right at him. He turns and runs toward the car while Mick coughs and sputters, but a few seconds later Mick growls and takes off after Len, shoes slapping the asphalt behind him. For all that Mick's bigger and stronger than Len, Len has always been faster, so he makes it to the truck and inside before Mick can catch him, locking the doors as soon as he gets it closed. Mick slides to a stop a few seconds later, hitting the door with a thunk from his inertia. He pulls at the handle, sees that it's locked and starts digging around in his pockets.

“Hey Mick,” Len calls, rapping on the window to get his attention. When Mick looks up, Len dangles the car keys from his fingertips. “Looking for these?”

“What the- Dammnit Len,” Mick growls. He pulls ineffectually at the door handle again. “You know you can't stay in there forever!” He's trying to look menacing, Len thinks, but he's ruining the effect with the little smirk he can't keep off his face. Len just grins and jingles the keys again. Suddenly Mick pulls back, going to the back of the vehicle and digging around in the truck bed. Len tries to see what he's doing though the back window, but it's a bad angle, so it's not until Mick gets back to the door that Len sees he has lock picks.

Len and Mick have a deal; Mick's been teaching Len how to fight, while Len's teaching Mick how to pick locks and work with security systems. Len presses his forehead against the cool glass of the car window to watch Mick work the lock. He silently times him in his head, so fascinated that it's only when Mick gets the lock to click open that Len realizes he probably should be moving. He tries to scramble over to the driver's side door to get out but Mick catches him by the ankle and drags him back across the seat, vinyl scraping against his back and threatening to pull his shirt up as he slides, a couple stolen items spilling out of his pockets from the awkward angle. Len kicks out but Mick's ready for him, pinning his legs and pulling himself up into the car. Suddenly Mick's looming over him, holding him down.

“Gimme those,” Mick mutters, snatching the keys from Len's unresisting fingers. He glances down and frowns. “The hell? You have my wallet, too?” he asks indignantly, plucking it out of one of Len's pockets by the corner that's now sticking out.

“You need to pay more attention to your surroundings,” Len tells him with a self-satisfied smirk. “You're an easy mark, Mick.”

“The fuck else do you have in here,” Mick mumbles, digging through Len's pockets with one hand while Len squirms under his grip. Mick pulls out some of the candy and tosses it on the dashboard before he finds the body mist.

“I think this is more your style,” Mick comments, spritzing him on the neck.

“Mick, stop!” Len orders, but he's also laughing a little, so it's not terribly effective. Mick Grins and sprays him a couple more times while Len tries to shove his hand away.

“Why? You want me to go in and get you that Jasmine instead? Or maybe morning glory,” Mick teases, while Len smacks him on the chest and pushes at his shoulders to no avail. Len's brain is working overtime trying unsuccessfully to suppress the thoughts he's having about this. Mick's searching through his pockets again, and Len can feel his fingers brush his sides through the material, feeling like they leave trails of sparks on his skin in their wake. “Wait, you actually stole the ear plugs?”

“You really do snore,” Len complains. His body is starting to react in a way that is going to be very uncomfortable if it gets noticed. “Now get off. I'll let you keep the candy, ok?”

“I already have the candy,” Mick points out. Len quickly wracks his brain to think of something else.

“I can tell you where I hid your lighter, then,” Len offers, smirking as Mick swears and pulls back to check his pockets. With Mick's hands occupied Len slides out from under him and presses his back against the driver's door. He's both relieved and disappointed to be out of that position.

“You didn't even have it,” Mick complains as he pulls it out.

“I'm a thief, Mick, not suicidal,” Len drawls. “Come on, let's get going. I want breakfast.”

“You're buying,” Mick tells him, shifting so that Len can slide over and he can get behind the wheel.

“That's fine,” Len says, giving him a sly grin. “I'll just use your wallet.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It's not too hard to convince Mick to take them back to Anthony's for breakfast, with the memories of their pancakes still fresh in Mick's mind. He's so happy about the idea that by the time they get there Len kind of wants some, too.

“So what're we looking for?” Mick asks as they head in.

“Pancakes,” Len replies, and Mick raises an eyebrow. “No, really. We're here for food.” Mick laughs and claps him on the back.

“I like your plans more every day,” he tells Len as he holds the door open.

Despite not being there to see him, Leonard does look around when they get in, but Carmelo Rossi isn't there. Len doesn't mind; him not being there is as much important information as him being there, helping to form a schedule in Leonard's mind. Mick gets chocolate chip pancakes, and while Len is still not sure how a person manages to eat that much sugar first thing in the morning and not be sick, he orders the plain buttermilk version of the same. Len also silently notes that Mick gets coffee as well.

“So are you going to tell me what we're doing out here?” Mick asks while drowning his stack in syrup.

“We're going back to Rossi's neighborhood,” Len tells him. “I'm want to practice getting in his building.”

“If you're breaking in already why not just grab the stuff now?” Mick asks.

“We're not going in Rossi's building,” Len corrects him. “We go in and screw up, they'll be on high alert and we'll never get what we want. We're breaking into one of the other ones nearby.”

“How does that help?” Mick asks, perplexed.

“A lot of building on that block are cookie-cutter buildings, all slapped up at the same time with the same layouts and materials. I want to go in one and take a look around.”

“Whatever you say, Len,” Mick says, soaking syrup up with his last bite of pancake. At this point Len wouldn't be surprised if he licked the plate. He's also had two refills of his coffee, one before the food even got here, and while it's helped a little he still seems tired.

When the waitress brings their check, Len sees Mick slide his hand back to make sure he still has his wallet, and Len gives him his best innocent smile as he lays down the cash for the bill.

“I'm keeping my eye on you, Len,” Mick tells him as they walk out of the building.

“That so?” Len asks, smirking. Mick eyes him suspiciously.

“What'd you do now?” he growls. Len's smirk grows as he holds up Mick's lighter and wiggles it back and forth. “Oh, for fuck's sake- give me that,” Mick snaps, snatching it out his hand while Len laughs. “You think you're really cute, don't ya, Lenny?”

“Aren't I?” Len jokes, batting his eyelashes at Mick as best he can.

“Yeah, you are,” Mick says, so nonchalantly that Len nearly trips over his own feet. He glances up at Mick's face, but Mick's flicked his lighter on and the only thing he's showing is a laser focus on the flame. Len's not even sure he knows what he said just now. Which doesn't mean he can't quietly enjoy it for the rest of the ride to Rossi's block.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len has Mick park up the street and then enter one of the apartment buildings three doors from Rossi's. All the buildings on this block were put up at the same times, and the only difference between them is the street numbers on the front. They pull the same trick as last time to get in the front door, slipping in after someone leaves. In the airlock area, Len glances quickly over his shoulder to discover that there's no camera in this building.

“Security's different here,” Len comments to Mick. “Door locks look the same, though.” If there’s cameras in Rossi’s building but not this one, it’s almost certainly because Rossi put them there; he doubts any of the other residents have much to hide. So Rossi will be watching for any intruders. Leonard slips his lock pick case out of his pocket and takes out the tools he wants, handing the plastic case to Mick to hold while he works the building’s inner door open. It doesn't take long before he's got them in.

The building is only six floors, and the apartments don't start until the second. The first floor is reserved for storage and the building's maintenance and mechanical systems, accessible only through a back staircase that each floor has access to. With that in mind, they head up to the third floor first, the floor that Rossi lives on in his building.

As soon as they get to the floor, Len scans the ceiling and the walls for cameras and again finds nothing. He picks out the places that they'd most likely be placed, contemplating the angles.

“What're ya thinking, Len?” Mick asks when he's quiet for a while.

“Hallways are narrow. No way to avoid the cameras if they have them.” Len leads them down to stand in front of the door that would be Rossi's in another building. He crouches down and examines the door's handle and lock.

“Think anyone's inside?” Mick asks.

“This one, no idea,” Len says. “Come on. Fourth floor.”

Mick follows without asking any questions. Len leads him to a room on the fourth floor, one that had no name on the mailbox and a few junk mail envelopes sticking out of the slot.

“Keep watch down the hall, warn me if anyone comes up the stairs,” Len tells him, and Mick nods and positions himself at the corner so he can see both halls. Len knocks, then pauses a moment to listen for anyone in the nearby apartments who might be getting ready to head out through the hallway, then when he's decided it's safe pulls out his picks and goes to work on the door. It's not hard, even with a deadbolt, and he's got it open in under a minute. He stands and opens the door cautiously, checking inside the apartment. It's empty and bare, just as he's hoped. He snaps his fingers to get Mick's attention and waves him over. When Mick gets there they both slip inside and Len shuts the door behind them. He turns and examines the other side of the door while Mick wanders into the apartment.

The door has a regular lock, a deadbolt, and a chain, nothing that Len can't handle quickly. He heads into the apartment, checking out the layout. All the apartments are the same save for the corner apartments, so this should be essentially the same room as Rossi's. He knows the layout from the blueprints, but it's still nice to see it in person. He heads over to the window and looks out, taking in the view.

“You planning on sticking around to watch the sunset?” Mick asks, heading over and leaning against the window frame.

“Could be nice,” Len says. “But no. Come with me.”

Mick trails behind him as they head out of the apartment, going around to the back staircase this time. He leads them down to the ground floor, where the landing leads to the large area that functions as a basement. On the right is a large area filled with the building's maintenance equipment, including the water heater, a water softener, the fuse boxes, the phone lines, and other such items. On the opposite side of the room are several built-in storage areas for the tenants. A few items are scattered around – a batter couch leans against the wall, a couple bikes are chained to the wooden support beams, and a few cardboard boxes are stacked in a corner. On the far wall opposite the stairwell they just came down, there's a heavy steel door. The door leads outside, and while it has a heavy duty deadbolt and door lock, Len could still get through those, if it weren't for the steel latch with a padlock securing the top of the door.

“Looks like we won't be coming in the back door,” Len says, giving the padlock a gentle tug.

“Could always bribe someone to come and unlock it the day of,” Mick suggests, but Len shakes his head.

“Too risky. Anyone on this block has a lot more incentive to sell us out to the Maronis than to help us out. There are other options.” He glances around, then heads over to the right side of the room, over to the machinery. He glides around the metal forms and over to the back wall where the circuit box is. He opens the cover and examines the switches, conveniently labeled with apartment numbers for residents and your friendly neighborhood thief. He turns and motions Mick over.

“This is the power box,” Len tells him when Mick steps up beside him. Len doesn't mind at all that he has to press in close to get a good look. “Rossi is 213; that's this one. Should be the same switch in his building if it isn't labeled.”

“So we flick the switch and he loses power,” Mick says. Len smiles at him.

“Flick a switch, it flicks back on.” He pulls a small screwdriver out of his toolkit, deftly turning a couple screws and getting the panel cover off to expose the wire beneath it. “Cut a wire, it's off for good.”

“Nice thinking,” Mick rumbles beside him, and Len smiles a little bigger while he replaces the panel. He takes a moment to stare at the replaced panel, making sure he knows which switch is the one that would correspond to Rossi's apartment in his building.

“Come on, I think we're done here for now,” Len tells him.

“Where do you wanna go now?” Mick asks as Len leads the back up the stairs and out the front door. Len glances back at him.

“Let's head out to the forest preserve and just relax for a while,” Len suggests. Mick looks over at him, then smiles a little, shrugging.

“Let's get out of here, then.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The forest preserve is still pretty deserted this time of year. In a couple more weeks, schools will let out, and it'll be harder to find a spot away from people, but for now, there's a small clearing where people sometimes camp that's empty, where Mick can park the car in the shade and they can climb into the truck bed and stretch out. Len slouches in one corner, stretching his legs out across the width of the truck, with both his and Mick's bags beside him. His blueprints are still there, so he pulls them out and starts to study them again while Mick leans against the wheel well to play with his lighter. Len glances at him a couple times while he thinks, noticing that Mick's not got the same intense look he normally does; his eyelids are drooping and his flame is small. It's not too long before Len's worried that he's going to fall asleep with the lighter in his hand and burn himself.

“Mick,” he murmurs, watching as Mick blinks rapidly at the sound of his voice.

“What's up, Len?” Mick asks, flicking the lighter off to Len's relief.

“Do you want to go somewhere else? You're half asleep,” Len says. “Let's go find a place for you to sleep.”

“Don't need to go anywhere else,” Mick says, shrugging and putting the lighter in his pocket. He flashes Len a mischievous smile before suddenly turning and flopping down on his back, dropping his head onto Len's lap. Len stiffens, staring down at Mick, who closes his eyes and ignores him. “I'm fine here.” Len attempts to force words through his malfunctioning brain, which is focused on the way Mick feels, his body heat soaking through Len's jeans and burning into his skin.

“You better not drool,” Len finally manages to get out, and Mick chuckles, relaxing fully onto him.

The blueprints are too large to read without draping them over Mick's face – which he's tempted to do, just to see Mick get all annoyed at him, which Len will never admit to finding rather cute. Still, Len is worried enough about Mick that he actually wants him to get some sleep right now, so he snags an architecture textbook he stole from his bag to read instead. Mick's asleep pretty fast, the heavy sound of his breathing nearly the only sound around them. Len's really starting to become fond of this forest preserve. It's quiet and secluded, and the bits of sunlight filtering through the trees makes it feel peaceful. Len lets his eyes drift from the pages over to Mick's sleeping face. Out here, it almost feels like it really is just the two of them. Before his brain can stop him, he reaches out and slides his fingers through Mick's hair. Mick stirs slightly and Len freezes, but Mick doesn't wake, just shifts a bit so that his cheek is resting on Len's leg instead. He cautiously sifts through the soft strands of Mick's hair again, enjoying the silken feel of it between his fingers, and Mick doesn't move. He lets himself keep stroking gently while he reads.

He's made it through two thirds of the textbook before Mick begins to stir. He makes himself remove his hand and focus on his book again, slightly guilty. A part of him wonders what Mick would do if he left his hand there, if he let his fingers trail down Mick's jaw and neck, but before he can get too far down that train of thought, Mick hauls himself up and stretches, muscles rippling beneath his T-shirt. Len looks away, embarrassed by himself.

“Feeling better, sleeping beauty?” Len drawls, closing his book and trying to cover his own self-imposed discomfort.

 “Of course,” Mick says, giving him a sleepy smile that makes his heart skip a little. “Sleep and food cure anything, Lenny.”

“Why does anyone bother with hospitals, then?” Len asks, shaking his leg. Now that Mick's moved the circulation he hadn't realized had been cut off was returning with an uncomfortable pins and needles feeling. He glances at his watch while he rubs his leg with the other hand.

“Somewhere you wanna go?” Mick asks, picking up on thoughts.

“Just thinking that Lisa should be at practice by now,” Len admits.

“You wanna go check it out,” Mick concludes. “All right, let's go.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

They're not sitting on the bleachers long before Mick starts to shiver. He's in a T-shirt, and even his furnace of a body can't hold up to the cold of the ice rink. Len's still got his jacket, so he starts to pull it off, when Mick puts his hand on his shoulder to stop him.

“Leave it,” Mick tells him, still watching the ice. “I'm fine.”

“You're shivering,” Len points out, and Mick shrugs. “I have long sleeves on already.”

“And your hands are still always freezing,” Mick says, smirking and finally looking at him. “Won't be much longer. I'll be fine.”

Len frowns, but Mick's stopped looking at him again. Len glances around at the mostly empty rink for a moment before making a decision and sliding over, pressing himself up against Mick's side the way he used to in juvie. That gets Mick's attention, but Len's the one staring at the ice now, not looking even when Mick slips an arm around his shoulders. This time, Len shivers.

Once Lisa's practice is over, Len stands, stepping down the aisle while Mick trails behind. Lisa cheers when she sees Len, running over and throwing her arms around him.

“Good practice?” Len asks, brushing her wild hair out of his face.

“Yeah! The coach said I did the best spin,” Lisa says proudly. She pauses, tilting her head and looking at him funny.

“What?” Len asks, slightly concerned.

“Are you wearing perfume?” Lisa asks, wrinkling her nose. “You smell like apples.”

Mick can't contain his laughter, even when Len kicks him in the shin.

Chapter Text

Leonard smooths Lisa’s hair down with one hand, causing her to turn her face up and grin at him. He gives her a warm smile back as he listens to the two cheerful adults giving out instructions for boarding the bus. Hearing that they seem to be winding down, he crouches down next to her. She turns to him, grinning like a maniac and clutching her little stuffed bear Dorothy, who apparently “had to” come to camp with her.

“Are you excited?” he asks, though he already knows the answer. It’s in her glowing face when she nods enthusiastically, head bobbing up and down and eyes bright. “That’s great, Lise. Listen to what the counselors tell you. Call granddad if you need anything, and I’ll get the message. Be good while you’re gone and I’ll see you in a couple months, ok?”

“Okay,” she says. “I’ll write you letters, Lenny. I’ll send them to Grandpa’s house,” she says, already smart enough to know what he’d say next. He smiles and gives her a kiss on the forehead as he hears the attendants start trying to get everyone together for roll call. He waits with her until they call her name, taking her little duffel bag and putting it in the luggage compartment under the bus. She waves to him before stepping onto the large bus, hesitating only a moment. He feels a wave of loss mixed with relief, the same thing he always feels when he sees her off for summer camps. He hates having to let her go but he knows it’s better to have her out of Lewis’s reach. Without worrying about leaving her to Lewis’s mercy, he can spend his time out of the house, away from Lewis. Len doesn’t have to worry about looking after her, making sure there’s food for her, making sure she has school supplies and practice gear and all the other things she needs. As much work as it is, she’s worth it, and a tiny piece of him likes feeling needed like that, not that he’ll ever admit to it. Despite that, there’s still relief in the freedom of only having to look out for himself.

And sometimes Mick, as well, although he requires an entirely different kind of attention than Lisa.

He waves at the bus as it pulls off, unable to see Lisa through the reflective windows but still going through the motions. Once it’s out of sight he heads down the street, towards the large shopping center. He paces the outside parking lot, trying to look like he’s forgot his parking space, until he sees two women get out of their car and head in together, talking animatedly. They seem to be about the same age, and they’re not rushing, so there’s a good chance he has at least a couple hours before they miss their car, and he barely needs half of that to get over to the other side of town. There’s a long strip of metal down the leg of his jeans, which he pulls out when the lot is sufficiently deserted. He expertly slips it between the window and the door panel, sliding it down at just the right angle and wiggling a little until it hooks, drawing it up and unlocking the door. He unhooks it and slides it out quickly, slipping into the car like he belongs there and tossing his bag in the passenger seat. He yanks the lower panel off the steering column and tries to remember the exact way Mick showed him how to hotwire a car. Of all the skills that Lewis had taught him to steal with, hotwiring had been skipped over. Lewis already had a getaway car ready for all his plans, and as far as he was concerned, if you missed that ride, you were on your own. Once or twice when escaping from a poorly timed robbery of his fathers, his short legs pumping twice as hard to try and keep up with the running adults, Len’s thought to himself that Lewis wouldn’t mind if he got left behind, there to take the fall for him so the heat would be off Lewis, confident that Leonard wouldn’t dare sell him out as long as he had Lisa as his bargaining chip. Lewis wouldn’t have been wrong, so Len learned to run fast, hide and blend in, never willing to give his theory a chance to be tested.

The wires touch and the car starts with a cough that turns into a purr. Len smiles to himself, before sighing and carefully maneuvering the car out of the parking lot. Len grips the steering wheel with white knuckles as he drives, even though he drives cautiously, never exceeding the speed limit or missing a light. He doesn't look old enough to drive, even if he's only three weeks away from being able to actually get his license, and he doesn't need to be pulled over right now. Even without that risk, he's never liked driving. Still, he manages to get all the way out to the general store on the edge of town near Mick's house without incident. He leaves the car in the lot and goes in, buying a bottle of water and starting to walk. It's nearly four miles from the store, but Len's not willing to risk leaving a stolen car any closer to Mick's farm than this. It takes him nearly an hour, but he comes up on the edge of the farm before lunch.

It’s been two weeks since he last saw Mick, after he dropped them off after Lisa’s practice. He’d only managed to get him on the phone once, and that had been fairly brief, Mick being called away by a rumbling voice on his end and hanging up hastily. Len’s been trying to be patient, give it time, but yesterday Lewis had stormed into his room, towering and dangerous.

“Santini boy wants to see you,” Lewis told him. “About the bookie job.” Luckily, that had been all Lewis had wanted before turning on his heel, door banging closed behind him. Len had set a time with Nicholas to meet – tomorrow, now – and he needs Mick there with him.

Len lingers at the edge of the fields, scanning for movement across the farm. He’s not sure where to go. It’s early in the day, and he’s not sure exactly where Mick would be or what he would be working on. For the most part, Mick doesn’t like to talk much about what he does at home or the work he does around the farm. Len has always figured that Mick prefers to leave it behind him when they’re together, the way Len rarely talks about jobs with his father unless he wants to vent about poor planning. Now, though, Len’s got no idea where to find Mick, and a pretty decent chance of running into his family if he picks the wrong option.

So he waits. He lingers under a small stand of trees on the outskirts of Mick’s family’s land, waiting for a glimpse of someone to point him in the right direction. Finally, a low mechanical sound catches his attention. Len moves behind the tree closest to him, angling himself so he can see around the trunk. Someone is riding some sort of tractor in to park near the barn. The figure looks too large to be Mick; he assumes it’s his father, which is confirmed when someone steps out of the barn to speak to the man for a few moments. He can’t see well from this distance, but Len still knows it’s Mick somehow. He watches as the two figures talk for a moment, then the larger one heads toward the house while Mick returns to the barn. The other man isn’t even across the house’s threshold before Len is moving, crossing the grassy lawn next to the fields where greenery is just starting to poke out. Being so out in the open with nothing nearby to hide behind gives Len an uneasy feeling, even though there’s no one out and the curtains in most of the house’s windows are drawn. He still hurries, half jogging until he reaches the relative cover of the truck, where he crouches down and slides along the side until he reaches the front end, leaning over and looking around. He’s not far from the barn now, and there’s nothing moving from around the house, so he sprints the last hundred feet or so to the barn door and slips in.

It’s a bit darker inside the barn, with most of the windows being along the stalls of the animals, but Len can still see Mick’s form at the back of the barn, moving things around. He looks like he’s been working in the heat for a while, because he’s not wearing a shirt and he’s covered in sweat, facts that send a flush of heat through Len. He swallows hard and does his best to ignore it, getting close to Mick but not quite within reaching distance in case Mick is so lost in his own head that he startles when he notices Len.

“Hey buddy,” Len drawls, though he might as well have shouted it for the way Mick’s head snaps toward him immediately, eyes wide. Mick's standing in an instant, crossing the short space between them and grabbing Len roughly by the arm and dragging him toward the back of the barn. It's definitely not the reaction Len was expecting. He stumbles and drops his mostly empty water bottle as Mick pulls him along, around the corner and then up against the wall. At some point Len has braced his hands against Mick's shoulders, and he can feel the smooth skin and slick sweat beneath his palms, and he can feel the heat from Mick's half naked body and fuck, it goes straight to his groin and his jeans are suddenly very uncomfortable. He's briefly terrified that Mick's going to notice, wonders if he can get his bag in front of him at all, but he realizes that Mick isn't even looking at him. Mick's leaning around him, looking at the barn door, face intense and as nervous as Len's ever seen him. Len fights down his lust and forces himself to speak.

“Mick, what's wrong?” he asks, and Mick's attention snaps back to him.

“Lenny, what the hell are you doing here?” Mick growls. “Are you ok? You hurt?” His eyes start to trail down Len's body and Len panics a bit.

“I'm fine, damn it,” Len snaps, shoving at Mick's shoulder. It doesn't move the other boy, which he expected, but it does distract him. “I needed to see you. You weren't answering the phone.”

“Sorry,” Mick mutters, eyes drifting back to the door. “I've been busy, and I think my dad might've figured out our phone trick.” Mick returns his gaze to Len's face and loosens his grip a little. Len becomes aware that he hasn't moved his hands from Mick's shoulders yet, but Mick doesn't seem to be paying it much mind right now, so Len leaves them, indulging in the feeling. “What do you need, Len?”

“Nicholas wants to meet to talk about the job,” Len murmurs. “I need you to come with me.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow afternoon,” Len tells him. Mick is quiet for a second before he nods.

“I can do that,” he says. “What do you think-”

Mick's cut off by a bang as the door to the barn knocks open, and suddenly Len is being shoved towards the wall at the far end of the barn.

“Get behind those bales and don't make a fucking sound,” Mick hisses, turning on his heel and heading back around the corner they came from. Len hurries over to the corner, where there's a wall filled with hanging tools and some stacks of hay bales near the corner. He slides between the wall and the hay stack, trying to be as still and silent as possible while he listens intently to the sounds from the rest of the barn.

“Yer mama says lunch is ready soon,” a gruff male voice says, deeper even than Mick's.

“Okay, I'll be in in a bit,” Mick says. “I'm almost done.”

“Fine,” the man says, and suddenly heavy footsteps are approaching Len's hiding spot. “I'll finish up the weeding and then we can head in.” Len glances at the wall next to him, the one with the tools hanging off of it, realizing that this must be what he's headed for. By the time he gets to the tools Len will almost certainly be seen, and he has a feeling that if it were safe for him to be here, Mick wouldn't be frantic to hide him. He calculates the distance between him and the nearest sharp-ended tool and wonders if Mick would forgive him if Len hurt his father, if he'll even be able to when it comes down to it.

“Oh, so now you wanna pretend to be working,” Mick scoffs suddenly, and the footsteps stop.

“The fuck do you think you're saying to me, boy? I can't have heard that right,” the other man snarls, voice a tone that some would mistake for soft but Len knows all too well is only danger.

“I been out here working all day while you ride around on your little tractor, and now that Mom's gonna be cooking and looking out the windows you wanna stand in the sun like you were doing hard work all day,” Mick taunts. There's a moment of silence, then three thunderous steps and then the sharp sound of flesh on flesh, a sound that has Len flinching out of reflex, so used to it being connected to his own pain. He fists his hands on his bag’s straps so tight he thinks briefly that he might rip it and bites down on his lip so hard that he tastes blood. His instincts are screaming at him to run out and try to help Mick, and he eyes the sharp tools again, but he forces himself to stay put for the moment. Mick hasn’t given any indication that he should move, and Len’s not sure if he’ll make it worse.

“You don't appreciate any of the shit I do for this family, you little brat,” Mick's father snarls. “I'm holding this place together while you skip out on your responsibilities to get into trouble, joy ridin’ around town chasin’ tail and fightin’ while I break my back.” There's a pause before he speaks again, and Len chances leaning over slightly to see around the hay. All he can see is Mick's father's broad back and shaggy hair, and Mick just beyond him, glaring hatefully. “You oughta see just how much work I do around here.” He leans forward and jabs Mick in the chest with his finger. “You're finishing the rest of the day's work yourself. Maybe then you'll appreciate what I do.” He steps forward a bit and gives Mick a shove, a heavy thunk sounding as Mick hits the stall wall behind him. Mick clenches his fists and Len can see the anger on his face, but he doesn't react. Len ducks back behind the hay as Mick's father heads toward the door. Suddenly there's a skittering sound, and Len realizes that it's the sound of an empty water bottle being knocked across the floor. “What the hell's this?”

“It's just water,” Mick responds through gritted teeth. His father snorts.

“Something wrong with our tap? I'm working to the bone to afford to feed your ass and you're running around buying fancy bottled water?”

“You never seem to run out of money for booze,” Mick spits, earning him another hard slap across the face.

“You got money for fancy bottled water, you can buy your own food. Don't bother coming in for lunch!” Mick's father calls as he stomps out the door.

Len waits for a few moments before coming out from behind the hay and heading toward where Mick stands, rubbing his jaw. Mick sees him coming and moves to meet him halfway, keeping them both out of sight from the door.

“Mick...” Len starts, reaching for the red mark on his jaw that surely going to bloom into a bruise. Mick catches his wrist before he can touch.

“Don't, Len,” he mutters. “I'm fine.”

“The bruise that's gonna show up on your face says otherwise,” Len points out. Mick snorts.

“I've had worse hits from girls,” Mick says dismissively. “It's nothing.”

“Like how this was nothing?” Len asks, brushing his fingers over the faint remnants of bruising on his own face. It's hard to see now, but they're still barely there.

“It's not the same,” Mick says stubbornly. “He might get mad and swing some fists, but he's never tried to really hurt me. He's not gonna hurt me like that.”

“So it's okay for him to hurt you like this?” Len snaps. “Don't be ridiculous, Mick.” Mick's eyes narrow at Len's tone.

“It barely hurts. I can handle him.”

“Yeah, if taking a couple punches is handling him.”

“I had to piss him off to distract him! I was doing just fine until you showed up here!” Mick barks, and Len jerks back like the words are a punch.

“Sorry I came,” Len mutter, chest aching. He tries to turn and go, but he doesn't make it far; Mick's still got his wrist in an iron grip, and he yanks him back towards him.

“Lenny, fuck, I didn't mean it like that, don't get pissed,” Mick says in a tone that's gone from angry to bordering on desperate, and Len pauses, giving Mick enough time to drag him closer, managing to get an arm around his waist and give Mick the leverage to hold him in place even as Len tries and fails to twist out of his grip. “I don't want you to go, I just... I don't want you to get hurt.”

“Why is it ok for him to hurt you then? That’s not better, Mick.”

“Yeah it is,” Mick says dismissively. “Besides, he won’t hurt me as bad as he’d hurt you. We’re family. He ain’t your problem.”

“Your problems are my problems, Mick,” Len reminds him. “You and me against the world. Including our shitty fathers.” Mick barks out a sharp laugh and drop’s his hold on Len’s wrist, and Len stops struggling.

“You don't need to worry about me,” Mick says. “Another year or so and I'm out. No one's coming to drag me back.”

“Sounds nice,” Len says, a little wistfully.

“It will be,” Mick says. “It'll be better when we get rid of your old man.”

“That would be nice,” Len mutters.

“It will be nice,” Mick growls. “Right, Len?”

“It will… when I’m ready,” Len says, staring Mick down. “I promise, I’m working on it, Mick.” Mick stares back for a moment before nodding, then releasing his hold on Len and stepping back. He heads over to the barn door and looks out, checking around a bit, then shuts it and turns back to Len.

“Are you sticking around?”

“I’d like to,” Len says. “Will it be a problem?”

“Not really,” Mick says. “Can you get up in the loft for a while, though? Just wait there and stay quiet until I finish my work.”

“I guess I can do that,” Len says, heading over to the ladder. He adjusts his bag and starts to climb, glancing over his shoulder halfway up. Mick hasn’t moved, and he’s looking at Len rather intently. “Mick, I’m not going to fall,” he says, startling Mick out of his focus.

“That’s what everyone thinks before they slip,” Mick mutters, turning away quickly. “I’ll get done as soon as I can and come back.”

“Don’t push yourself, Mick,” Len tells him from where he’s now sitting in the loft. “We have all day. I can wait.”

Len means it, which is good, because it takes Mick a really long time to finish up. Luckily there are still some extra blankets folded up in a corner, and he brought a few books and his blueprints out with him, so he passes the time pretty well. When his mind wanders, Len can sometimes catch a glimpse of Mick through the large open window directly across from the loft, spreading something on the ground or digging something up. It looks hard, like nothing Len’s ever had to do. He suddenly has a deeper understanding of just why it is that he’s never been able to develop anything close to Mick’s impressive physique. Len he would make it even an hour, but Mick works without stopping.

At one point, around two hours after Mick gets out there, his father comes out. Len moves down the loft a bit so that he can see what’s happening, automatically nervous, but Mick’s father doesn’t do much. He’s got a sandwich in one hand and a beer in the other, and he just stands there, staring Mick down while he eats and watches him. Mick glares back at him when he can, but they don’t interact other than that, and Len finally recognizes it as a show of power from the older man. He stays until he finishes his sandwich and beer, chucking the empty bottle into the dirt at Mick’s feet when he’s done and giving a nasty grin before turning and walking away. Mick flexes his hands on the pitchfork he’s holding while he watches his father leave, but his gaze drifts up to the window Len’s watching from and he gets back to work after a moment.

It’s been over four and a half hours by the time Mick returns to the barn. Len swings his legs over the edge and watches him return his tools and sort out a few things before he comes over to lean on the ladder and look up at Len.

“How you doin’ up there?” he calls, just loud enough for Len to hear.

“Peachy,” Len replies. “You done?”

“Yeah, but I need a shower first,” Mick replies. Len eyes the dirt streaking Mick’s face and hands and nods.

“You certainly do,” he says. “Should I wait here?”

“Yeah,” Mick says, glancing at the door. “I won’t take long, I swear.”

“No need to rush, Mick,” Len tells him. “I really am fine up here.”

“All right,” Mick says. “Be right back, Lenny.”

As he leaves, Len settles back into the corner he’s staked out and picks up where he’d left off in his book. It’s another fifteen minutes before he hears the barn door open again. He closes his book and crawls towards the edge of the loft, but hesitates before he gets there. The person below is moving around, but hasn’t acknowledged his presence. When the person moves towards the back of the barn, Len slides back to his corner as silently as he can, huddling in around the hay bales and blankets and trying not to move. After a few more minutes, the door opens again.

“What’re you doing out here?” a rough voice asks. For a moment Len thinks that it’s talking to him, that he’s been seen and he freezes, heart racing, but then Mick’s voice answers.

“I came out to check on the animals,” Mick says. He must have been the one that opened the door to come in. The other voice snorts.

“Maybe you’re finally learning something about responsibility,” the man growls.

“Any chance I can get some gas for the truck then?” Mick asks, and the voice laughs.

“I shoulda known you were just tryin’a get something,” his father says. “Fuck off, kid. You ain’t getting shit. You wanna waste my gas you can walk your ass up to the gas station and buy your own.”

“Maybe I will,” Mick says defiantly, and the man chuckles. Heavy footsteps cross the floor beneath Len, and then the door bangs open and closed to signal his exit. Len stays put, just in case, but a few moments later Mick is up the ladder and climbing into the loft. He strides quickly over to where Len is sitting and drops himself down into Len’s space, squishing him between a hay bale and Mick’s body even though there’s plenty of space on his other side. Len leans against him, without pointing out how there’s plenty of space on his other side.

“What’s going on with the truck?” he asks after a few minutes of silence. Mick looks at him for a second before answering.

“He siphoned out all the gas and locked it in the shed,” Mick admits. “He does that when he thinks I’m slacking off or going out too much. He thinks I don’t have any of my own money, so I can’t fill it up myself and run off.” Mick chuckles. “I never told him about that cash from the casino gig, and I still got a lot left. I’ll head out in the morning and buy some gas so we can head out without any problems tomorrow.”

“Why don’t we just get the gas from the shed?” Len asks, tilting his head. He considers whether Mick would react if he laid his head on Mick’s shoulder.

“It’s a heavy duty lock,” Mick says. “It’s a bolt with a combo and a key. You ever opened something like that before?”

“Not that exactly, but give me some credit, Mick,” Len says, faking offense. “Let me take a look at it before you go running off.”

“Sure, whatever you want,” Mick says, and Len’s slightly relieved. Seeing Mick work without food for hours on end bothered him more than he cares to admit. “So what do you want to do for the rest of the day?”

“I didn’t have many ideas for today once I got here,” Len admits. “Do you have anything you need to do?”

“Not really,” Mick says. “Since I did all the work, Dad’s got an early start on the beer. I could smell it on him. That means he’ll be out like a light probably right after dinner.”

“Think you’ll be able to sneak me into your room tonight, then?” Len asks.

“If you want,” Mick says, narrowing his eyes. “That gonna cause you any problems? Or is that why you’re here? You need somewhere to stay?”

“No Mick,” Len says, slightly frustrated. “I came because I wanted to see you.” He snaps his mouth shut suddenly, afraid of saying too much, but Mick’s already looking at him speculatively.

“Shouldn’t be hard to get you up to my room in a little while,” Mick tells him, stretching his arms up above his head. It makes the muscles in his chest ripple in a very appealing way and Len slides his eyes down Mick’s form appreciatively while he’s distracted, knowing that he’ll make good use of the memory at some point.

“You want me to try the lock now?” Len asks, peeling his eyes away before Mick notices.

“Nah,” Mick says. “He might check in the morning or something. We’ll have to do it tomorrow.”

“All right,” Len says. “What do we do until then?” Mick turns to look at him then, eyes dark and intense, and Len pulls away a bit to prevent himself from leaning in. Mick’s eyes drop back to the barn floor and he stands up abruptly.

“You eat anything today?” he asks as he strides over to the edge of the loft.

“I… a little,” Len lies. It doesn’t look like Mick believes him.

“I’ll walk out to town and get some food. I’m hungry, and I’m not about to sit across from that asshole at dinner.”

“Wait, Mick,” Len says, scrambling after him. “Let me come.”

“It’s a long ass walk and you’ve already done it once,” Mick tells him, hesitating on the ladder.

“I don’t care,” Len tells him, climbing down the ladder after him. “I’d rather go out than hang out here with the animals.”

“All right then,” Mick says, grabbing a shirt hanging over a piece of equipment by the door. “You’re with me, then.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

They end up walking all the way out to a fast food place nearly three miles away, buying five bags of food and two giant drinks between them. They’re both too hungry to wait, so by the time they make it back to Mick’s farm, two of the bags are gone, as is most of the daylight, and they walk back along the dirt roads in the twilight. He’s still laughing over some ridiculous thing Mick has said when Mick grabs his arm to stop him.

“I’m gonna run in and see if my dad’s still up,” Mick says, and the smile Len’s had since they left fades.

“I’ll wait here,” he says, taking the bags Mick’s carrying. Mick nods and turns, jogging off while Len waits by the trees, digging into the dirt with the toe of his boot. He waits for what seems like too long, finally sitting down in the dirt and unwrapping another sandwich, his drink long finished. He’s digging through the bag for the last of the fries that are hiding at the bottom when Mick finally returns, breathless from running and looking apologetic. Len stands immediately and looks him over, searching for anything wrong. Mick notices immediately.

“I’m fine Len, I’m sorry,” Mick says, stepping closer. “He was still awake and he wanted to bitch at me, I couldn’t get back out without him knowing until he passed out. I didn’t mean for it to take so long.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Len tells him, relaxing a little. “I don’t mind waiting.”

“You always have been the patient one,” Mick says, smirking. “Come on. My dad’s out, we should be able to get up to my room now.” Len nods and follows Mick, keeping close to his back as they cross the open space, feeling safer partially hidden by Mick’s broad shoulders. Mick opens the door cautiously, glancing around before he pulls Len in behind him, keeping Len behind him as they enter. Len has a sense of deja-vu as they enter, remembering when he brought Mick into his house the day Mick met Lewis. This isn’t Len’s first time in Mick’s house though; he remembers the layout from when he broke in one night long ago, knowing already where they’re heading, that they just need to make it up that staircase. He can hear buzzsaw snoring from a room to their right; as they creep past it, he sees one arm stretched over the edge of an armchair, an empty beer bottle laying on its side near the bottom of the chair. The back of the armchair is to them, so that’s all he can see, but he notices immediately when it moves, even before the snoring cuts out and Mick’s father starts shifting around. Len and Mick both freeze in place, but before they can make a dash for the stairs Mick’s mother drifts out of the kitchen. She stares them down for a moment, with eyes that seem to see right through them, the same eyes that Len thinks are so entrancing on Mick. She’s in a sundress that flows around her, and against her pale skin it gives her an almost ghostly quality. Len wonders for a moment if they’re completely screwed, because Mick’s father is moving around more, but she just drifts past them.

“Honey, would you like another beer?” she asks, voice light and dreamy. He makes some sort of affirmative grunt – Len supposes Mick had to learn it somewhere. “Stay there dear, I’ll bring it to you. She turns that look on them again, then shoos them away with a couple flicks of her wrist before drifting back into the kitchen. Mick grabs Len’s arm like a vice and hurries him up the stairs while they have time, not slowing until he’s got Len in his room with the door locked.

“Sorry about that,” he mutters, opening a drawer and grabbing a pair of sweatpants while Len drops down on his bed with the rest of their food. “You want something to wear?”

“I brought clothes,” Len says, and then as Mick pulls his shirt off his heart jumps. Does Mick intend to change right here? Shit, Len doesn’t know if he can control himself. The thought that follows that, though, crashes over him like an icy wave – what if Mick wants him to change in here too? He looks at Mick’s smooth muscular back and feels nervous all of a sudden. Mick just stood up to his father, took a hit and shrugged it off like it was nothing. What would he think of Len’s patchwork of scars? Len’s not sure he can handle Mick looking at him like he’s weak, with pity or disgust. Maybe he can leave his shirt on. He hadn’t intended on sleeping in it, but he’s not about to take it off yet. Thankfully, Mick takes the pants and heads over to the door.

“I’ll be back in a couple minutes,” he says quietly, and Len nods as he grabs his own clothes out of his bag. As soon as the door closes Len changes his clothes with a speed only gained from practice, then sits back on the bed and wonders what the hell he’s going to do about his problem.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Waking up warm and comfortable is not a feeling Len get very often. When he feels the warmth retreating, he reaches out blindly, fingers hitting warm flesh and pulling it closer. He snuggles closer, expecting Lisa’s small, soft form and instead getting something firm and broad that vibrates under his touch. He blinks his eyes open in confusion and it vibrates again, and Len can make out his name, and then his brain kicks into gear and he realizes that the vibration is Mick’s chest, rumbling under his hands as he says Len’s name, because oh god he’s been trying to cuddle up with Mick in his sleep thinking it’s Lisa. Or maybe not, he thinks because he’s also apparently woken up hard, because of fucking course. He shoves back hard, trying to pull the covers over himself as surreptitiously as he can, praying that Mick hasn’t noticed. Mick holds his hands up.

“Calm down, Lenny, It’s just me,” Mick says, in a voice that’s still thick with sleep and is definitely not helping Len get control of his body. “You’re in my room, it’s ok.”

“Right,” Len says hoarsely, swallowing hard. “I’m ok.”

“Ok,” Mick says rolling over. “That’s good.” He slides his legs over the edge of the bed and rolls his shoulders, and Len snaps his eyes down to the bedsheets and tries to think unappealing thoughts. Mick stands and shuffles across the room, grabbing his pants from where he’d draped them over the desk chair last night, pausing and glancing back at Len.

“I’ve gotta head out and start workin’,” Mick tells him. “Once my dad goes out on the tractor I’ll run back and sneak you out to the barn. We can leave when he goes in for lunch.”

“Okay,” Len says, because if anyone knows his father’s schedule, it’s Mick. And that gives him time to take care of his problem.

“Be careful, Lenny. Try not to go out more than you need to,” Mick says. Len makes a vague noise of agreement as he shoves his face deeper into the pillow. The door clicks shut behind Mick as Len inhales and damn if it doesn’t smell just like Mick. Len squeezes his eyes shut and thinks of the most off putting things he can dredge up.

By the time Mick gets back to the room Len’s got himself under control again, and gotten dressed and ready to go, so it’s easy to follow him down and shimmy back up to the loft while Mick works in the barn. He goes over his blueprints again, plans out what he wants to say to Nicholas again and again, navigating different responses in his head while he flips through his notebook, trying to make sure he can get each one to go where he wants it to. By the time the door to the barn opens and Mick’s father stomps in, Len’s had what feels like a hundred version of the same conversation with himself.

“Your momma says lunch in ten minutes,” the gruff voice declares.

“I’m in the middle of something… tell her I’m fine, I’ll work through lunch.” There’s a moment of quiet between the two men.

“Just get all your shit done today,” his father replies, and the heavy footsteps retreat. Len packs his things up and waits patiently until Mick climbs up to meet him.

“You doing ok?” Mick asks, and Len nods. “All right. Dad went in, so we should be fine. We’ll get the gas and head out the see Nick.”

“You going to be okay leaving like that?” Len asks, glancing at the bruise on Mick’s face. Mick scowls at him.

“Everything’s basically done, Len.”

“I just don’t want you to get hurt,” Len says, immediately embarrassed by the words. Mick raises an eyebrow.

“It’s gonna be fine, Lenny. You wanna see that shed?” Mick asks, and Len nods, relieved. Picking locks is much safer ground for him. “Come on then.”

Mick goes down first, checking outside before motioning Len to come down after him. Len sticks close to him as he leads him around the back of the barn, to where a little shed stands next to a small silo. Both look battered and worn, but the shed is sturdy and has a shiny new lock on it. Mick wasn’t lying, it’s a fancy one, a slide bolt that has both a rotary combination and a key lock. He’s seen them before, and he knows that the thing can’t be unlocked without the dials being set on the right combination first. An awfully strong lock for a shed that’s bordering on dilapidated.

“I’ve tried all the combinations I can think of,” Mick says. “Mostly dates, but there’s a lot of them, and they haven’t worked. I haven’t been able to find anywhere that he’s got it written down.”

“We don’t need it,” Len tells him. He pulls out his tools and opens them, picking out one he doesn’t have to use often, a tool with a long end and a tiny globe on the end. Mick eyes it curiously.

“Where do you even get stuff like that?” Mick asks curiously.

“Lots of them are dental tools, actually,” Len tells him with a grin.

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m telling the tooth, Mick,” Len says sweetly, but it still gets him a punch in the arm. “Seriously, though, turns out that finding tiny grooves and holes in people’s teeth is a lot like finding tiny grooves and pins in lock systems. I’d like a wider range, but the professional sets are expensive and monitored. I’ve gotten some from my father and the rest I’m going to have to get someone to make for me. Until then, these will work.” Mick gives a thoughtful hum while Len slides the tool between the first combo wheel and the side of the lock. He waits while Mick slide closer to him for a better view, pressing behind him and leaning his chin on Len’s shoulder.

“You want the tool between the wheel and the side. You turn the wheel one number at a time. When you hit the right number, you’ll feel the tool slip into a little groove that wasn’t there before.” Len spins the little wheel slowly, one number to another, until he feels the tool click. “There. That’s the first one.” He moves the tool over and does the same for each other number, until he’s got all four lined up. He smiles and pulls it out. “Now all that’s left is the lock. You wanna try?”

“Nah,” Mick says, glancing over his shoulder. “You do it. You’re faster.” Len nods and sets to work; the key lock part is very basic, and he has it open in a matter of seconds. Before entering, he pulls his little notebook out of his back pocket. There’s a small pen tucker in the spiral, and he quickly writes down the lock’s combination on a blank sheet and tears it out, handing it to Mick.

“Just remember to lock it when you’re done,” Len reminds him, and Mick nods. He tucks the paper into his pocket like it’s a treasure and slides the bolt back, throwing the door open and leading Len into the darkness.

The first thing that Len notices when they step in is the scent of gasoline. It shouldn’t be surprising, since they’re here for gasoline, but it’s stronger than he expected. He pauses and lets his eyes adjust while Mick stride forward confidently, already knowing what he’s looking for. At the back of the shed, leaning against the wall, are two dirtbikes, not new but seemingly well maintained. Along the wall are several rusted metal shelves that Len scans while Mick obtains the gas can. On the shelves are a collection of items that send a spike of unease through Len. Lighter fluid, propane tanks, firewood stacks, as well as the gasoline cans Mick has taken from, what look a bit like fireworks in the corner, with a few items that seem like welding torches and large lighters, like you would use to light large fires and avoid burning yourself. All of it here, in the rickety shed with a shiny new high-class lock.

Mick makes it back to him with the gas can in hand, and his eyes are still darting around the shed, shining with a feverish sort of excitement that makes Len’s unease grow. He finally stops and returns his gaze to Len’s face.

“You ready to go?” Mick ask.

“I’m ready,” Len tells him, because it’s the only thing he can think of, can make himself say. Len doesn’t have the words to even describe the discomfort he’s feeling, and he doesn’t know if it would make a difference if he did. Mick waves him out, as Len’s blocking most of the door, and Len wonders if it would do any good at this point to steal the lock’s combination from Mick’s pocket.

He doubts it.

Chapter Text

 

Len taps his foot incessantly, leg jiggling with the motion until Mick finally reaches over from the driver's seat and puts his hand just above Len's knee. Len glances over at him for a moment before stilling his movements.

“Sorry,” he mutters, and Mick just grunts before removing his hand. Len makes it a few more minutes before his fingers are tapping his leg, and Mick sighs. “I'll stop.”

“Don't matter,” Mick says. “This is it, right?” Len stares up at the orange brick building they're approaching, giving a small nod. Mick parks, and he slides out of the car. He stares at the nondescript brick building, feeling a trickle of unease and trying to calm his jangling nerves. He needs to be calm for this meeting or he won’t get anywhere. Mick slides up next to him, and Len takes a long look at him, taking in the other boy. There’s a bruise on his jaw from yesterday’s altercation with his father, though they’d managed to get in and out of the house the next day with no further issue. Mick had laughed off Len’s offer to cover the bruise with his makeup. “Let them see it,” Mick had said. “I don’t care if they know I can take a hit.” Len’s not sure that’s what they’ll think, given Mick’s penchant for starting fights in juvie – particularly before Len showed up to reign him in – but he’s not about to push the issue. He wants Mick here no matter what. Mick’s presence helps, a warm constant beside him as they walk in. Len can't stop glancing over at Mick while they climb the stairs, as if the other boy might disappear when he's not looking. He stands as close as he can get away with while they wait for the steel door to open.

It's Alex who greets them on the other side, looking nervous and uncomfortable, as usual. Len's beginning to think that that's just always how he looks. Alex leads them down the hallways, into a room similar to the one where Nicholas showed him the ledger, but slightly larger. Nicholas is waiting at a small wooden table with four chairs, and Alex scurries over and takes the chair across from Nick. Benny is there as well, sitting with his arms and legs crossed in a smooth leather chair. He watches them closely, but otherwise doesn't acknowledge their presence.

“Welcome back, Leo,” Nicholas says, smiling. His eyes slide over to Mick and his smile turns to a bit of a smirk. “Rory.” Mick gives him a disinterested grunt in greeting and Nicholas rolls his eyes.

“How've you been, Nicholas?” Leonard asks, walking over to the table and taking the seat closest to the wall. Before he sinks down, he meets Mick's eyes and flicks his gaze to the wall. Mick moves over to him, leaning against the wall behind him instead of sitting at the table across from him. Len's once again glad that Mick knows him so well, that he can take orders without even a word. Having Mick standing puts him above all the others, looking down at all of them, which makes him seem more powerful somehow. Plus, from his position Len could reach back and touch him if he wanted – he won't, but for some reason it puts him at ease.

“So Leo,” Nicholas begins conversationally. “Tell me your ideas.”

“We should go in on a Monday,” Len says, not as a suggestion but a statement.

“Your reasoning?”

“It's baseball season. The weekend game bets will pay out on Mondays. We should also go in before noon. That’s when most people will be at work and out for the day. There should be hardly anyone in the building, including Rossi. If we wait too long, everyone comes home for dinner, and if we go in too late Rossi will definitely be there.” Nicholas nods thoughtfully.

“We can go this Monday,” Nicholas declares. Len figures he would want to move as soon as possible, so this doesn’t surprise him. He nods his consent.

“Excellent,” Nicholas says. “Rory, what about you?”

“I go if he goes,” Mick grunts, and Nicholas tilts his head.

“How very loyal of you,” he comments. Mick says nothing. Neither does Leonard. “Right. Monday, then. Meet me here, and we'll head out together. Alex will be our driver; I think it would be best if he stayed outside waiting with the car.”

“Most likely,” Len agrees. Alex's look of perpetual nervousness makes him seem guilty even when he's not doing anything wrong that Len knows of. He probably won't be doing them any favors going in with them.

“Well, then,” Nicholas says, leaning forward. “Anything else you need?”

“I want to talk payment,” Len says. Nicholas’s gaze sharpens and he folds his hands in front of him.

“Talk, then,” Nicholas says Benny has turned to full out stare at Len, attempting to stare holes into his head, it seems, but he hasn’t otherwise moved, and Len knows he can’t show the slightest sign of intimidation or he’s not getting anything.

“Rory and I get the same fee,” Len says. There was a payment promised at the bottom of his instructions, a number that gave no indication of what they would offer to Len’s open seat invitation. Len could keep quiet, let Mick get whatever they gave him, and he knows Mick would be glad for whatever it is, but he wants this. He’s setting a precedence here, and he wants both Mick and Nicholas to know that he’s not willing to settle for less than what he thinks is right, and letting Mick take a lesser share isn’t it. He’s not letting Mick think he’ll leave him out in the cold. It’s a risk; there’s the possibility they’ll say that Mick’s not worth it and just find someone else to do the job, cutting both of them, but Len knows the risk and he’s not letting Nicholas think that Len will allow them to take advantage of Mick just to keep on Nicholas’s payroll.

“That hardly seems reasonable. You’re the brains here. Rory’s just the muscle,” Nicholas says, confirming Len’s suspicions about their intention to short Mick. Len hears just the slightest shift behind him, and he knows that if he turned right now he’d see Mick’s anger, jaw tight and eyes burning, but Mick doesn’t leave the wall. Len gives Nicholas a tight smile.

“No one thinks muscle is important until they need it,” Len comments, leaning back and folding his arms. “I got us in and out of that casino and it was still Rory who made a difference at the end. You need balance. Rory is my partner. In order to get me, you get him, for the same fee. That’s the deal.”

“And if I take neither?” Nicholas asks, tilting his head. “You’ve already given us plenty to work with. We could find someone else to take your place.”

“I gave you a few tips,” Len says, rolling his eyes before he can stop himself. Nicholas arches an eyebrow. “If you think you can get in on any given Monday with someone else, someone who doesn’t know their security and electrical systems and floorplans, be my guest. It’ll be twice as hard after you fail and they triple security, so our fees will be much higher if you want to try again.” Mick chuckles behind him, and by now Benny has leaned forward, scowling. Len knows he’s pushing it now, but he can’t stop. He has to show Nicholas that he’s willing to walk away from all he has to offer if he can’t get what he wants. Otherwise, he and Mick will be dragged under their current and swept away.

“If that’s how you want to play it, you’d better deliver on all you’re offering,” Nicholas says. “We won’t be accepting failure on this job now.” Len knows he needs to project confidence on his response; he digs for it and ends up taking it from the heat behind him.

“We’re not offering anything less,” Len says, smiling. “And don’t despair. You don’t have to pay my fee entirely in cash.”

“Is that so?” Nicholas asks curiously. “What is it you’d prefer?”

“Fake IDs,” Leonard tells him firmly. “Three for me and three for Rory. Driver’s licenses. Good ones. Two of mine should be over 21 and one over 18. All of Rory’s should be over 21.”

“I don’t know that you’re going to pass for 21 anywhere,” Nicholas scoffs, and Leonard fights down an urge to scowl, keeping his face neutral. Nicholas is right, after all; all his growth spurts have done for him so far is manage to finally make him look his age, while Mick just needs to stop shaving for a day and he looks like he could fit in at a college campus. But as long as he has the IDs, they’ll be valid for a few years at least, and Leonard can hopefully grow into them a bit.

“I’ll worry about passing,” Leonard tells Nicholas. “I just need the IDs. Take the cost of all of them out of my fee only; Mick’s is all cash.” He sees Nicholas working that over in his head for a moment, trying to place the last bit of that request, and eventually he nods. Len’s not sure how he interpreted it, but he seems to be getting what he wants. “And they’re given only to me, and not mentioned to anyone else.”

“I can do that,” Nicholas finally agrees. “Anything else before we go?”

“Bullets,” Leonard replies automatically. “Bring more bullets for the gun you gave me.”

“You want those out of your fee too?”

“I would think that they would be considered tools for the job rather than something for me.”

“I’m not exactly planning on shooting our way in or out of a residential building, Leo.”

“Neither am I,” Leonard agrees. “But we’re going into Maroni territory. Something can always happen before, during, or after that you don’t want to be unprepared for.” Len smiles sweetly. “I wouldn’t want to have an empty gun while someone’s standing over you.”

Nicholas gazes at him for a moment before answering. “I’ll have ammo in the car. You can use what you need from there.”

“Good enough,” Len says, conceding a small point. He’ll be sure to pocket a couple boxes while they’re there.

“Anything else?” Nicholas asks, his tone suggesting that there had better not be. Luckily, that’s everything Leonard wants for now.

“I’m good with that,” Leonard says. Nicholas nods.

“All right then. We’re in agreement. I'll see you Monday morning, at seven.” Len turns and glances at Mick at this; seven in the morning is awfully early for him. Mick just gives a small nod. Len turns back and stands.

“We'll be there,” he says, starting toward the door. He can feel Mick following right behind him.

“Can't wait,” Nicholas calls out the door after them.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len takes a deep breath after they leave the room, heading through the hall and out into the garage. He's just starting to relax when they walk out into the parking lot and he starts to feel strange. He's close to the door of the truck when it hits him. He remembers being here, standing next to a car with Lewis, and suddenly his legs feel weak. He stops and stares for a minute while he tries to force the feeling down, but he can’t stop the memories.

“Len?” Mick asks, but Leonard can't answer. His breathing quickens and he feels a little dizzy. His knees are threatening to buckle beneath him when suddenly he's being pulled back, turned and pressed against Mick's warm chest.

“Lenny, what's wrong?” Mick rumbles, hands gripping Len's biceps. Len takes a deep breath, focusing on the smoke and spice smell he inhales from Mick, and centers himself.

“Just had a moment. Nothing's wrong,” Len lies. He takes a half step back but doesn't turn back towards the truck. He's annoyed at himself; the truck looks nothing like his father's car, there's no reason he should be freaking out. And even if it did, he shouldn't be freaking out, really, it’s just a car. He’s ridden in plenty since then, hell, he rode in this car just a little while ago. There’s nothing to be nervous about, even in the Family’s parking lot, but he still can’t shake the nerves that are jangling in his whole body. Mick sighs and runs his hands down Len's arm, then suddenly grabs his hand.

“Come on,” Mick says, not waiting before he turns and tugs Len along behind him. Leonard starts walking automatically, even though they're heading away from the truck.

“Mick? Where are we going?” Len asks, glancing back at the parking lot.

“Just gonna take a walk,” Mick tells him.

“A walk to where?”

“Dunno yet,” Mick says. Len doesn't know what he means by that, but as he's thinking about arguing Mick squeezes his hand and Len decides to just go with it.

They walk a few blocks before Mick finally stops and drops Len's hand. Len glances up at the building they've stopped in front of and finds it's an Italian restaurant.

“Should've known you were taking us to food,” Len drawls, sticking his warm hand in his pocket. Mick grins at him.

“I just thought we should get some air. How was I supposed to know that there would be at least one Italian restaurant within walking distance of a mob headquarters?”

“Gold star for deductive reasoning, Mick,” Len says, smiling.

“After you, boss,” Mick says, holding the door open and giving him a mock bow.

“I want you to remember that next time you complain about me telling you what to do,” Len says as he enters the restaurant. It smells good, and his stomach rumbles a little. He can't remember eating anything else today, and it's starting to catch up to him. He's glad that Mick has such a fixation on food.

The hostess leads them to a small booth near the front window. Len pegs half the patrons as mob men, and most of the others are either girlfriends or wanna-bes. Len wonders briefly what they think of him and Mick; he catches people giving them everything from attempts at sneaky glances to full on 'intimidating' stares. Mick doesn't seem to care at all; he's barely looked at anyone else in here after a cursory glance. He's far more fixated on the menus they were given when they sat down. The food is pretty standard for an Italian place, nothing memorable, but Len doubts that a place with a high mob patronage will have bad food. It doesn't seem like a good way to stay in business.

The waitress eventually comes by and takes their order, leaving them with glasses of water and a bread basket. Mick pounces on one of the pieces of focaccia bread immediately, with such vigor that Len chuckles a little. Mick just gives him a wink and tears into the bread with his teeth.

“So what’s with the IDs?” Mick asks after he polishes off a couple pieces of bread.

“We ought to have them if we’re going to be running on jobs with the family,” Len tells him. “They won’t help us if we get to the fingerprinting stage, but they’ll buy some time, and if anyone’s looking for us or has any warrants out for us, then having an ID with a different name may help.”

“Warrants?” Mick asks, raising an eyebrow. “Man, I was thinking you just wanted to get into bars.”

“You don’t need a great ID for that,” Len scoffs. “I wanted something good. That’s why I asked Nicholas to get them. The Santinis will get us top-notch ones from their contacts. Once we have them in hand, always have one in your wallet that you can give to someone you don’t want to know your real name. If we’re going on a job, don’t bring your real ID at all.”

“Why did you want to pay for all of mine, though?” Mick asks, the question that Santini got caught on earlier as well. “I don’t mind paying for my own. You already got me more money than I thought I’d get outta them.”

“It’s better like this,” Len tells him. “My father will probably take my share anyway. Might as well leave as little for him to take as possible.” There’s another reason that he doesn’t share with Mick, though. After Lewis’s outburst over Len’s unasked for takeover of this job, he wants it to appear like he’s being paid as little as possible. It will soothe Lewis’s ego, and Len can perhaps insinuate the idea that he was given the job so they could get it done cheaper or that it wouldn’t have been worth Lewis’s time to begin with.

“I can give you money for my IDs,” Mick tells him. “Ain’t fair for you to pay for those, and your dad won’t know.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Len says dismissively. He’s pleased that Mick’s willing to offer, but as much as he would like a little extra cash for his plans, he already feels like he owes Mick a lot, for everything with Lewis and more. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, although not as bad as he expected. He suspects that it’s because it’s with Mick that it’s not truly eating him up.

The waitress shows up with their food then, saving Len from having to fend off any further protests that Mick seemed about to make about Len’s paying for his IDs. Food does tend to distract Mick, a fact that Len’s put to use many times in the last couple years. Mick barely waits for the plate to be set on the table before he dives in, and Len smiles at the waitress as she deposits his food in front of him, hoping that it looks like a polite smile and not one brought on by an absurd fondness for his dinner partner. She smiles back and heads over to another table to speak to them. Len gives the room a quick scan and notices that he and Mick are still getting a lot of looks. He frowns down at his chicken parmesan and wonders if he’ll ever feel fully comfortable in this world.

“Hey,” Mick says, catching his attention. He holds up his fork, a few pieces of pasta speared on the end. “Penne for your thoughts?”

“Really, Mick?” Len asks, arching an eyebrow.

“Hey, laugh, you asshole. Do you know how long it took me to think of that?” Len does laugh then, which gives Mick a pleased little smile.

“I was thinking that I hope these people watching us don’t realize I’m an impasta,” Len says, making sure that Mick hears his pronunciation. Mick rolls his eyes, and while he’s distracted, Len leans over the table, opens his mouth and snaps the pasta off the end of the fork. Mick makes a small noise, staring at him in shock. “What? Those were my thoughts, that my penne.”

“Right,” Mick says, voice rough. He clears his throat and stares down at his plate intently. “Um. So why are you worried about what these guys think?”

“I don’t know. Just doesn’t feel like I belong here.”

“You don’t,” Mick says, and a flash of hurt jolts through Len. “You should be running this whole thing. You probably will. You don’t belong down here eating with the grunts,” Mick continues. The hurt Len had felt a moment ago fades.

“I’m not about to run a mob,” Len scoffs, though the fact that Mick thinks he could pleases him.

“Nah, not a mob, you hate people too much,” Mick says, and Len snorts in agreement. “But you’re gonna be name on the street in crime someday, Lenny. You’re gonna be on top.” His eyes flicker over to the people around them. “Just be careful.”

“Careful of what?”

“Being the best means having enemies,” Mick says. “And Nicholas is starting to get real attached you.”

“I’ll deal with him,” Len says. “When the time comes I’ll think of something.”

“You can’t plan for everything,” Mick tells him. “But I’ll be around to watch out for you, so we’ll be fine.” Len’s heart skips a beat and he doesn’t know what to say, so he just makes a small noise and focuses on his food. They finish their food in a surprisingly comfortable silence, and Len pays, leaving a generous tip for the waitress. Right before they leave, mick knocks a fork to the ground, and Len frowns, because it seems deliberate. When Mick leans down to pick it up, he stretches in just the right way for his light jacket to ride up, exposing the butt of the gun he’s got down the back of his pants, one that Len hadn’t even realized he’d brought until now. Len notices eyes cut away from them, their presence seemingly validated by the implication of violence while tolerated due to the lack of it. Len suspects if Mick had pulled this move before they paid they’d have had problems, and he also suspects from the look in Mick’s eyes when straightens up again that Mick knows that. Len gives him a small, proud smile and Mick grins back, sticking close to him as they walk back.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As they approach the Santini’s parking lot again, Len begins to notice Mick sneaking glances of him out of the corner of his eye. It takes him a moment to realize that Mick’s worried about his reaction. He almost says he’s fine, but hesitates when he realizes he thought he was going to be fine last time. He takes a deep breath as they approach the car and looks over at Mick, who’s watching him. He looks back at the car. Its fine. Everything is fine. Its just me and Mick.

The thought calms him, and he manages to take the door handle and get it open, climbing up into the seat. He closes the door and waits as Mick goes around to the driver’s side and climbs in with him.

“You gonna be ok?” Mick asks as he starts the engine.

“I’ll be fine,” Len said. “Just needed air.”

“Hmmm,” is Mick’s only comment. He pulls out and starts them back toward home. “Once you get those fake licenses, you still gonna bother to get your real one?”

“Yes,” Len answers unhappily. “Much as I hate to drive, it’s necessary, and if I have to use my real name I don’t want to be stuck being unable to.”

“Why do you hate driving?” Mick asks curiously. Len shrugs.

“It’s stressful,” Len answers. “I learned to drive as my father’s getaway driver, and I think I’m always going to associate that stress with driving. Plus, cars feel claustrophobic. I hate being trapped in them.” He waits, tense, for Mick to scoff or dismiss his fears – fears he hasn’t shared before, ever – but Mick just nods as if it’s completely reasonable.

“You ever tried a motorcycle?” Mick asks, and Len blinks.

“No, I haven’t.” He pauses and considers that. “Have you?”

“Yeah, they’re great,” Mick tells him with a grin. “Fast and sleek, and really agile. Just your style. Plus you’d be out in the open, so you might feel better on one than a car.” He glances over. “I’ve got a class M license so I can ride one. Borrowed someone’s for the test, but I learned the basics on dirtbikes. I can show you how to ride sometime.”

“That… would be nice,” Len admits. He thinks for a moment, then pulls out his notebook. “What was the license you said you had?”

“Class M,” Mick repeats, looking over curiously at the notebook Len’s got. “What’s that, anyway? You been carrying it around for a few days now.”

“It’s for planning,” Len tells him as he scribbles in it. “It’s in code, but I can teach you how to read it. We should have a way to communicate that other people won’t understand anyway.” The code in his notebook is simple, mainly involving switching out certain words for others. It’s a trick that he and Lisa had started using a few years ago, so they could talk about things in front of their father without worrying about setting him off, or warn each other about his bad moods. He’s upgraded it for his purposes, adding in a lot of words that he and Lisa wouldn’t have needed to use back then and upping the complexity of it, but the groundwork was the same.

“Fake IDs and secret languages,” Mick says contemplatively. “You’re getting really into this, Len.”

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, Mick.”

Chapter Text

It’s still dark when Len gets up on Monday morning and begins sorting out his supplies while he waits for Mick to arrive. He grabs all his lock picks, some hand held bolt cutters, a flashlight, a few other tools, and his gun, packing a few clothes around the items to conceal and cushion them. He slings the bag over his shoulder and heads down the stairs. He’s passing the door to the kitchen when Lewis suddenly steps out, huge form blocking his way, Len’s whole body immediately tensing in response to the man’s presence.

“It’s four in the morning, Leo,” Lewis sneers, stepping forward so that Len is forced to either step back or touch him. Leonard picks the first option. From the stench of alcohol coming from Lewis, Leonard can imagine what Lewis is doing up at this hour. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I have the bookie job for the family today,” Leonard mumbles, watching Lewis closely but not meeting his eyes. Lewis tends to think of that as a challenge, Len’s learned. Suddenly Lewis’s hand snaps forward, bunching in the front of Leonard’s shirt and slamming him back against the wall. Len ignores the pain in the back of his skull where his head hit the wall and holds very still, hoping that Lewis’s next move will be a clue to defuse him rather than pure violence.

“You gonna sneak out on this job and not even tell me, Leo?” Lewis says, voice dangerously soft, and Len doesn’t have a good enough answer for him. He had been hoping to get out without telling Lewis, because telling him was almost certain to bring back up his resentment over the job being given to Leonard and result in… pretty much this exact situation, really. Len curses himself for not checking on Lewis’s position before heading down the stairs. Or he could have stayed up all night, making sure he knew where Lewis was so he could avoid this, but no, he wanted sleep, wanted to be fresh for the job. He should have stayed somewhere else tonight. Should have stayed with Mick, even though Mick said he had to work, or gotten them both another night at the motel room. So many scenarios fly through his mind that when Lewis slaps him hard across the face with his free hand it takes him by surprise. “Answer me, boy!” he roars.

“I didn’t know-“

His words are cut off by a pounding on the front door, which is good, because he doesn’t think there exists a way to finish that sentence without getting hit again. Lewis stop and turns to look at the door, staring at it suspiciously until the person pounds again, louder and more insistently. Lewis releases his hold on Leonard’s shirt and steps back.

“Stay there,” he growls, jabbing his finger in Leonard’s face. Len just nods numbly as Lewis stalks over and throws the door open.

“What the hell do you want?” Lewis growls, but Len can tell that it lacks a bit of confidence. He leans over, but he can’t see anything around Lewis.

“Came to pick Leonard up for the Family job,” a familiar voice rumbles, and Len’s heart skips a beat. Lewis moves back to look at him and yes, it’s Mick standing there just outside the door. Mick gives him a tight smile. “Come on, kid. Time to go.” His gaze drifts back to Lewis. “Don’t wanna keep Nicholas waiting.”

“Course not,” Lewis mutters. Leonard takes the opportunity to slink past Lewis and out the door, where Mick moves in front of him as soon as he’s within range.

“We’ll see ya later,” Mick says, putting a hand around Len’s bicep and guiding him to the car. His grip is light, but Len suspects that to Lewis it seems he’s being dragged off, which seems to relax him a bit. Figures. As they approach the truck he hears the front door slam and Mick drops his hand from Len’s arm.

“I thought you were going to wait outside,” Len says once they’re safely in the car. Mick glances over at him.

“I was, but then you were running late, so I went up to the door. Heard some shouting.” He fixes Len with an even stare, and Len stares back.

“He shouts a lot, Mick. He just wanted to know where I was going. Seemed upset I didn’t tell him before that I was going.”

“What does he care?”

“He usually doesn’t,” Len says, rolling his shoulders before sinking back against the seat. “Probably just wanted to make sure he has a chance to get to my payment before I can spend any of it.” Len suspects that aside from being annoyed by losing ‘his’ job, Lewis resents not controlling Len in every aspect, the very idea that Len might have a life that isn’t under his thumb. He and Lisa have never been allowed to have friends and he has to sneak Lisa out whenever he wants to take her somewhere fun, like a park or a movie or somewhere similarly appropriate for children like her. He’d begun keeping a small list in his mind at all times of fun places and events, so that when they were thrown out or he had to whisk her away due to one of Lewis’s rages and moods, he’d have somewhere to plant a happy memory in her mind, as if it could distract her from or replace the fear (and in his case, pain) they were running from.

“Lenny?” Mick’s voice breaks into his thoughts, and he mentally shakes himself out of his little trip down memory lane.

“Just thinking,” Len tells him, turning to look out the window at the dark streets as they pass by. Mick grunts. “Did you bring all the supplies I told you to?” He’d left Mick a list of items to bring with him on the job after the meeting, almost the same list he’d later given to Nicholas over the phone when he called back and asked the licenses he’d requested all be certified class M as well. It’s a lot of the same things that Len has in his bag, like the bolt cutters and flashlights, because if one of them loses their bag then they won’t be stuck somewhere.

“Yeah, I brought everything you told me to,” Mick tells him, pulling in to the diner parking lot, some shitty little place that’s open 24 hours and probably has awful food but also probably won’t tell anyone about two teens stopping in for food before dawn. The waitress still eyes them suspiciously when she comes over, so Len tries to compensate by giving her his best “I’m a good boy” smile, kicking Mick under the table until he gives her a smile as well. She softens a little, pulling out her notepad and pen.

“What would you boys like?” she asks.

“Coffee,” Mick answers instantly, and she chuckles a little. “I want the breakfast platter. Scrambled eggs and white toast.” He flicks his eyes over to Len. “What about you?”

“Just coffee,” Len tells her. He doesn’t have much of an appetite, and he’s still going over scenarios for this morning in his mind. Mick sighs and rolls his eyes.

“Just bring him the same thing,” Mick tells the waitress, and Len frowns. “Ya gotta eat, Lenny.”

“Whatever,” Len mutters, because Mick never loses this argument. He hopes that Mick feels bad about all the food that’s going to go to waste when they leave. Especially since Len’s making him pay now.

The coffee comes first, and Mick immediately begins doctoring it up with packets of cream and sugar. Len suppresses the urge to roll his eyes and takes a sip of his black coffee instead. He likes the bitter taste; it focuses him. He takes small, slow sips while Mick drains half his cup in one go.

“You nervous?” Len asks softly. Mick glances up at him.

“No,” Mick says. “Just wanna be ready for anything. Gotta be alert.”

“You’re gonna drink that and then eat all that food, and it’s going to make you sleepy all over again,” Len says.

“Better than getting distracted by an empty stomach, or passing out because you haven’t eaten enough,” Mick counters, looking pointedly at Len. “You eat anything yesterday, Len?”

“Yes, I did,” Len says stiffly. The half bag of stale chips that Len had scrounged out of one of their mostly empty cupboards counted, he thinks. Mick doesn’t look like he believes Len either way though.

And damn if the food doesn’t smell good when it shows up. The eggs are greasy, the toast is burnt and so is the bacon, but the pancakes look alright. Len drags the syrup over and starts in on them despite his earlier protests. He ignores Mick’s smirk.

“Are you nervous?” Mick asks, having practically inhaled his toast and eggs and already starting in on the pancakes. Len thinks for a moment while he chews.

“A little,” he finally concedes. “There are a lot of things that can go wrong.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure you’ve already thought of them,” Mick says. He’s managed to eat two thirds of his pancakes since asking his question, and Len’s not even halfway done with his own. “Besides, if things go wrong, you know I’ll look out for ya.”

“I know,” Len says, because it’s true and it warms his chest a little to think it.

Mick’s done with his food before Len’s done with his pancakes, eating everything on the plate, including the eggs that Len ends up leaving behind on his own plate because they look somewhat toxic. He waits patiently while Len eats everything else, making good on the free coffee refills while Len finishes up.

“Good thing you ordered so much food,” Mick comments when Len finally pushes the plate away.

“Guess so,” Len comments, giving Mick a sweet smile instead of his usual glare. “Thanks so much for buying breakfast, Mick.”

“Oh, I’m paying now?” Mick asks, as Len takes the bill that’s been left on the table.

“Looks like you are,” Len says, still smiling, as he holds up Mick’s wallet and takes out a few bills for their meal. Mick curses and snatches it out of his hands as Len grins.

“You coulda just asked, you asshole,” Mick grumbles. “This is what I get for lookin’ out for you.”

“You should start looking after yourself more,” Len says. “By which I mean your wallet.”

“You’re robbing me now, Len?”

“I’m teaching you to be vigilant,” Len says. He cracks a bit as Mick glares at him and holds out the bills. Mick snatches them from him and sighs, then drops them on the table.

“You’re a little punk,” Mick tells him as they walk out of the diner into the dim light of dawn. Len slides a little closer to him as they cross the lot, bumping their shoulders together. Suddenly Mick snakes an arm around his waist and pulls him up against his body and Len’s heart rate skyrockets.

“Trying to steal from me again, Lenny?” Mick asks, his dark eyes intense as he stares down at Len.

“It wasn’t really stealing,” Len says lamely. “I gave it back.” Mick snorts. “You mad at me?”

“Nah,” Mick says after a moment. “Can’t stay mad at your stupid face, Lenny.” He tilts his head and grins. “Besides, I’ll figure out a way for you to make it up to me.” And oh, but those words give Len all the wrong kind of ideas, standing as close as he is to Mick with Mick holding on to him. He swallows hard and can’t seem to find the words to reply, so he just nods. Mick releases him and opens the truck door.

“Time to go, Len. Get in.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mick pulls up to the Santini building and Len stares for a moment before they get out. Mick reaches over him and pops the glove compartment of the truck open, pulling out the same handgun he’d had the night he picked Len up from Lewis’s rage. Len had asked him to bring it, but seeing it makes the air feel a little heavier somehow. Mick hops out of the car and slides the gun into the waistband of his jeans right at the small of his back, pulling the loose T-shirt over it to conceal it. Len hops out and mimics him with the handgun from his bag, the cold press of metal against his spine a constant reminder of what exactly he’d just gotten himself into.

Nicholas and Alex are waiting for them in the garage areas, so they get to skip the whole steel door nonsense that they’ve been made to go through every other time, finally. They’re wearing fairly plain clothes, Alex in a simple button up shirt that suits his mousy looks somehow, while Nicholas is also in a regular T-shirt. They need to look as normal as possible to blend in with a neighborhood on a weekday.

“Lovely to see you both on time,” Nicholas says, grabbing his bag from the ground beside him. “You ready?”

“We’re good to go,” Len says, and Mick grunts his agreement. Nicholas motions for them to follow, and he and Alex lead them to a plain blue sedan. Alex takes the driver seat, and Len goes to the door behind him. Nicholas and Mick circle around to the passenger side, but Nicholas stops by the back door instead of the front, like Len had assumed.

“You can have shotgun,” he tells Mick. Mick looks at him warily. “It’s probably best if the son of the Santini family isn’t seen riding into Maroni territory right before a robbery. Might make our lives a bit harder.” Mick ignores him and flicks his eyes back to Leonard. Len gives him a tiny nod; Nicholas has a point, and this isn’t a battle worth fighting right now. Mick makes a vague grunt of acquiescence and pulls the front passenger door open.

Len catches Mick’s eye as they both buckle in; from this angle, they can see each other without too much movement on either of their parts, and Len’s glad for that. Nicholas is an imposing presence beside him, even though he’s done nothing. Mick is an imposing presence too – he’s seen it around other people, how they react to him, but it’s never had quite the same effect on Leonard.

Nicholas is pulling a small box out of his bag, setting it between the two of them and removing the lid. Smaller boxes of ammo are lined up inside; Len picks two out and shoves them into his bag. The gun’s fully loaded, having never used it yet, so he doesn’t need to add anything there. He grabs two more and sets them on the console between the driver’s seat and passenger seat, nudging them toward Mick. They’re nine millimeter, and Len realizes he has no idea what kind of gun Mick has, so he flicks his eyes down at the ammo when Mick looks and then raises an eye brow just a fraction, Is this what you use? Mick grunts with a slight nod, yes, thats the right kind. He makes a mental note of that for the future while Mick stashes his ammo. Good talk.

“Alex will drop us off a couple blocks up from the building, and we’ll walk the rest of the way,” Nicholas says. “Not too far, but not too close, in case anyone’s there. He’ll be driving around the area, not parking, so if there’s trouble run for it and if you can’t get to the car, find somewhere to lay low.”

“Got it,” Len says. He pulls up the layout of the building in his mind and spends the rest of the drive mulling over it. Bored with the quiet, Mick pulls out his lighter and flicks it on, staring at the flame, which only seems to make an already jittery Alex even more twitchy. Len rolls his eyes and ignores both of them.

It doesn’t feel like it takes as long as he knows it does to get to the other side of town, but before long they’re in Rossi’s neighborhood. Len reaches up quickly and squeezes Mick’s arm, breaking his focus on the flame. Mick glances back at him and then snaps the lighter off and slips it back in his pocket. Three blocks from the building, Alex slows and then pulls over at the curb, and the rest of them jump out of the car.

“Stay close,” Nicholas tells him before slamming his door, and Alex nods and pulls away. Mick is at Len’s side as soon as his feet touch the curb, and Len keeps to his side, letting Nicholas walk behind them. Nicholas doesn’t say anything.

Len slows as they get onto Rossi’s block, and Mick automatically matches his pace, used to it from when Len takes him on his shoplifting jaunts. Mick glances at Len, and Len meets his eyes, then looks ahead. Mick follows his gaze to the front of Rossi’s building.

There are two men loitering at the front door, two men far too old and well-dressed to be anything other than members of the Maroni family on lookout. Len glances over his shoulder at Nicholas, and he can see from the look on his face that Nick sees it too. Len stares straight ahead as they walk past the building.

“What now?” Mick rumbles quietly as they turn the corner.

“Back door,” Nicholas suggests automatically, and Len shakes his head.

“These buildings have padlocks on the inside of the back doors, and Rossi’s building has a camera on it too,” Len says, as they turn another corner.

“Any suggestions then?” Nicholas asks.

“I have an idea,” Len says, giving him a small smile over his shoulder. “Just follow me.”

He leads them down a narrow alley, one that cuts the whole block and goes conveniently past Rossi’s building. They stop by the corner of the building while Len looks around.

“Ok,” he says. “We’ve got our way in.” He points up at one of the windows on the second floor. Nicholas raises an eyebrow.

“You fly now?” Nicholas asks, crossing his arms.

“Don’t need to fly,” Len says. “We grab the dumpster, push it under the window. Should give us enough height if we stand on it to reach that air conditioning unit. We lever it out of the window and then boost each other up in the opening.”

“And what if there’s someone in that apartment?” Nicholas asks, frowning.

“This is the largest, most expensive air conditioning unit in this building, but of all of the ones in these windows, it’s the only one not running. Nobody buys a fancy AC unit and then doesn’t use it in the summer heat unless they’re not home,” Len points out. He could be wrong, but if he is, then they’re not getting in today, so he has to trust his instincts.

“Not bad,” Nicholas says, sounding actually impressed. “I wouldn’t have thought of that.” Mick nods and grins at Leonard, and Len feels a burst of pride go through him. Nicholas grabs one side of the dumpster to push, and Len and Mick pull from the other – not before Len gets a death glare Mick. Len gives him a shrug and his most innocent of faces, which he’s pretty sure does nothing more than annoy Mick further.

Once the dumpster is positioned under the window, the three of the climb up onto it, and Len glances around, checking for faces in windows before producing a crowbar from his bag and handing it to Mick, who’s the tallest. Mick finds a place where he can get the tip of the crowbar between the window pane and the air conditioner, levering it up until the window slides up a bit, loosening the stability of the machine, which tilts outward precariously. Len hastily gets his hands under the bottom of it to keep it from falling while Mick slides the crowbar back in Len’s bag.

“Be careful,” he warns as the two boys on either side of him work the supporting edges of the machine which are holding it in. “This falls, we’re going to draw attention.”

“Got it,” Nicholas mumbles, as his side starts to pull free. Mick gets his off first, though, and the way the unit tilts pries Nicholas’s edge off after it. Suddenly it’s out, and it takes all three of them to stop it from crashing down on Len. Once they regain their balance, they lower the machine down to rest on top of the dumpster.

“So who wants to go up and find out if anyone’s home?” Nicholas asks, clearly not looking to volunteer.

“I think if there were anyone in there we’d know by now,” Len points out, although you can never be certain. They were fairly quiet, after all. Before Len can say anything else, Mick takes a half step forward.

“I’ll go,” he says, looking at Len, who frowns.

“I’m the smallest; I’ll be the easiest to boost up in there,” Len points out.

“Don’t need a boost,” Mick says. Without waiting for a response, he steps up onto the AC unit, then jumps up and manages to grab the edge of the window. He pulls himself up on pure strength; apparently all those gym hours and the farm work has made him more than just eye candy for Len, and he makes it inside on his own. Len holds his breath for the few moments that Mick is out of sight, but after a few seconds Mick pokes his head back out and gives a thumbs up. Len lets out his breath in a whoosh and grins.

Nicholas goes next, getting a boost from Len and a hand from Mick. He’s up in a minute, and Len steps up onto the AC unit. Mick’s at the window again, leaning out and holding a hand down to Len. Len jumps as high as he can, grabbing the edge of the window, and Mick reaches down and grabs his arm, hauling him up. When he’s halfway through the window Mick wraps his other arm around Len’s waist and drags him the rest of the way in. Len stumbles trying to get his feet under him, tripping Mick in the process, and takes them both to the ground.

“Dammnit Lenny,” Mick mutters from beneath him, and Len pokes him hard in the ribs. Nicholas turns from where he’s standing near the room’s door.

“What are you two doing?” he snaps, impatient.

“Snart can’t dance,” Mick says, and Len glares at him, though he’s pleased Mick used the right name this time. Mick grins up at him.

“Would you two stop screwing around, we’re wasting time,” Nicholas says, turning again and heading out of the room. Len slides off Mick and they both stand, and Len heads out to the room where Nicholas is waiting.

“Doesn’t look like anyone’s home,” Nicholas says, waiting near the front door. Len nods and walks up to check out the peephole of the front door. Shitty view, but better than stepping out completely blind. He unlocks the door and cracks it open a bit, poking his head out and checking the hall before opening the door and striding out. There’s no one out there, so he motions the other two to follow him out. He takes them to the winding staircase and heads up to the third floor.

Len peers into the hall. There’s no one in this end, and a quick glance up confirms no cameras either. He can hear the murmur of voices from beyond the corner, and he motions for the other two to wait where they are. He slips out and heads down to where the hall turns sharp to the right and stops at the edge of the wall, slipping his hand into one of the smaller pouches of his bag and pulling out a compact mirror. He angles it around the corner.

Still no cameras, but that doesn’t help with the two men standing in the hall, right where Rossi’s door should be. They’re standing like very bored-looking sentries, leaning against the wall and occasionally muttering to each other. Len closes the compact and returns to the stairwell quickly.

“There are two guys outside Rossi’s door,” he tells Mick and Nicholas in a low voice. They both frown.

“Rossi’s never had this many men hanging out here before,” Nicholas mutters. “What the hell’s going on today?”

“No idea,” Len replies, frowning. He wonders if they should come back another day. They can always make it look like the AC unit fell out of the window and probably no one would suspect.

“We have to figure out a way to get them to out of that hall,” Nicholas says.

“Maybe we should come back later,” Mick rumbles, echoing Len’s thoughts. Nicholas shakes his head.

“We’ve put this off for too long,” Nicholas says, annoyed. “I told you to pull this off, Leo. Can you do it or not?”

“Snart can do anything,” Mick snaps at him, and Nicholas narrows his eyes. Len tries to think as the lights in the stairwell buzz and flicker.

“Rory,” he says slowly, Mick’s attention immediately turning to him. “I need you to go downstairs and knock out the power. Hit the switches but cut the wire to Rossi’s room.” Mick grunts and takes a step forward, but Len grabs his arm. “They’re going to send at least one person to investigate. Don’t let them catch you.”

Mick gives him that wild grin that lights up his eyes in a way that always makes Len’s breath catch.

“No way they’re getting me, boss.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len and Nicholas wait on the landing a floor up while Mick disappears down the staircase. Len listens to the echo of his footsteps until the door to the basement opens and closes, uneasy to have Mick away from him, especially to draw attention of dangerous men. It’s not much longer before the lights are out and they’re suddenly plunged into darkness. They wait on the stairs, and soon enough the door below them opens.

“Go find out what happened,” a man’s voice says. “It’s probably just the wiring in this shithole but be on the lookout. You know we’re expecting visitors today.”

“We know,” another man replies, and there are footsteps again. The steps come too close together to be from a single person. Probably both men from the hall, then, and there’s at least one more. Len grabs Nicholas’s arm in the darkness and steps down the stairs as quietly as possible, slipping out the door just in time to see the shadow of the third man round the corner in the darkened hall. Nicholas hurries after him before Len can stop him, counting on the lack of windows and the power outage to cover him. Len dashes after him, trying to step lightly, and he gets there just in time to watch the man turn towards Nicholas as Nick pistol whips him across the jaw. The man goes down hard, and Len steps over him as he heads straight for Rossi’s door. They’re on a time limit now; those men could come back any minute now and they need to get in the apartment. He tests the handle, just in case, but it’s locked.

Len kneels in front of the door and takes his tools and a flashlight out. Holding the flashlight in the crook his neck and shoulder to see what he’s doing, he slides the tension rod in the left side of the lock, holding down the cylinder, and slides his pick along the key pins, notching each one up as quickly as he can. It’s a simple lock, and as he feels it click open he thanks the universe for old buildings and standardized materials. The whole effort has taken less than thirty seconds.

He turns the handle and throws the door open, one hand behind his back, ready to pull out the gun there if needed, but no one is inside. The light from the windows in the apartment spills into the hall, making him blink rapidly but giving him enough light to see Nicholas and the man in the hall. Nicholas moves to go in the room, but Len holds up a hand.

“Grab his shoulders. We can’t leave him in the hall for anyone to trip over,” Len says, moving to grab his legs. Nicholas does as he asks and together they drag the man into the apartment.

“Dump him in the side room,” Len says, indicating a small kitchen-dining room space to the right. They leave him in a heap on the floor and head back into the main room.

“Anything he has is probably in his office or his bedroom,” Len says. “Which do you want?”

“Office,” Nicholas says, turning and walking off. Len lets him go and heads into the bedroom.

He stops as soon as he gets in and looks around. There’s the standard furniture, the bed, dresser, a small nightstand, and a standing wardrobe. He spots a phone on top of the nightstand next to the bed and crosses over to it, opening the drawer on the front and examining it. It’s fairly empty, a few pill bottles, some nail clippers and an old glasses case rattling around inside, but Len pushes them to the back.

Len can hear Nicholas clattering around in the office, but he doubts the other boy will find anything, not while Rossi’s out. If he were in, they might find something, but it’s silly to leave something so important where you’d most expect to find it if you broke in. If he was a bookie, he’d probably get calls at all hours and want his stuff close at hand. Leonard reaches in and feels around the edges of the drawer, pressing and scraping until he feels a little give in the bottom. He pushes down and the wooden bottom tilts, allowing him to get his other hand on the side of the thin plywood and pull it up entirely. It pulls up easily; a false bottom. Len smiles proudly to himself and examines his findings.

There’s a book, and Len grabs it immediately. Quickly paging through it, he finds each page is a customer name and scrawling list of totals, scratched in and crossed out as they pay off and double down and come crawling back each time. This is what they need. Len slides it into his bag, glancing at the rest of the items in the bottom. There’s a gold watch, a few pieces of paper, some little plastic baggies with white powder in them, a diamond ring, and a few other items that don’t seem important but are most likely very valuable. Len picks up the rest of the papers and sorts through them, coming across endorsed checks, car titles, and even a house deed. Collateral, Len realizes, and immediately stuffs them into the bag with the book. He eyes the watch and rings and other fairly valuable items. Those would be hard to do anything with without knowing exactly who they belong to, but his father might know a decent fence he can sell them to, so Len scoops them all into his bag. He leaves the drugs, though, because he doesn’t want to be caught with those on him should something go wrong. He replaces the false bottom and turns.

He’s about to call Nicholas when he hears a rattling at the front door; someone’s trying the knob. They start knocking, and Len returns to the hall, Nicholas appearing from the office at the same time.

“We’re out of time,” Nicholas hisses.

“I’ve got the book,” Len tells him, and Nicholas’s eyes widen.

“Where did you-“ He’s cut off as the knocking becomes pounding, and a gruff voice calls out.

“Charlie! You in there? Open the door, Charlie!”

Len and Nicholas exchange glances. Len thinks as fast as he can. When they get in, they’re going to see Charlie, presumably the guy slumped in the entrance to the kitchen, and hopefully go straight to him. If they pass by Len and Nicholas without noticing them, they can sneak out the front door and maybe evade at least one man. Len grabs Nicholas’s wrist and drags him into the hall as the door shakes on its hinges – their assailant is kicking it now, going to kick it in any minute. Len slides to a stop and opens the door in the hall – a closet, he remembers from the blueprints, because it’s a tiny space on them, too small for anything else, anything except the two of them to hide in. He shoves Nicholas in among the coats and presses himself in with him, shutting the door not three seconds before he hears the sound of wood splintering, followed closely by footsteps thundering down the hallway. Len listens again; there’s the murmur of voices, two of them, meaning both of them that had gone down are back up. Len’s blood runs cold. Where’s Mick?

He inches the door open a crack, pausing and listening.

“Aw hell, what do you think happened? Who got in here?”

“We gotta search the place,” the other voice replies, and a burst of fear and adrenaline runs down his spine. Wait here? Or run now?

Simple inaction makes his choice. He can hear the men split up, nearly laughs when he realizes they’re walking into the bedroom and office. He opens the door wider and steps out as quietly as possible; if they can make it to the front door, they’re ok. He creeps down the hall with Nicholas just behind him, and just as he thinks they’re free, Nicholas trips over a shoe in the hall.

Len doesn’t wait for the men to come running, though they do. He and Nicholas are at the door and through it by the time the men are back to the hall, careening down the hallway and into the stairwell as the men pound closer.

“Basement,” Len shouts as they run down the stairs, the men on the landing above them. They make it to the second floor landing and one of them splits off.

“I’m getting Rick and Jerry!” the second man calls, darting off to the front door. Rick and Jerry must be the men guarding the front door, Len realizes. Nicholas throws the basement door open, but the pause allows the man still after them to get far too close. He’s right behind Len and as he reaches the bottom of the stairs the man reaches out and snags the back of Len’s shirt. Len snaps his arm back across the man’s wrist; he dislodges the other’s grip, but also loses his balance, and ends up tripping and sprawling on the basement floor. Nicholas is still dashing to the basement door, pulling the bolt cutters out of his bag as runs. Len reaches behind him and yanks the gun out of his pants, fumbling the safety off as the man stands on the stairs, firing off a blind shot that goes wide and hits the wall. The man rushes him, kicking his hand then stomping it flat to the floor at the same time that Len hears metal snap at the far end of the room. He feels oddly satisfied that Nicholas is going to make it out empty handed; he still has the ledger.

The man standing over him pulls out a switchblade, grinning in the dim light from the machines. Len’s so focused on his impending gutting that he misses the shadow in the dark, doesn’t realize what’s happening as something whooshes through the air and slams the man upside the head, dropping him like a sack of potatoes. The blade falls out of the man’s hand, and Len stares wide-eyed up at Mick.

“C’mon,” Mick grunts, holding out his hand. Len takes it and lets Mick haul him to his feet.

“Hurry up!” Nicholas calls from across the room. Suddenly, there are footsteps at the top of the stairs. The basement door is a hundred feet away, and Nicholas isn’t waiting for them. Len makes a split second decision, grabbing Mick by the arm and dragging him to the back, where the building’s machinery sits. He pulls Mick close and forces them both between the small space between the row of water softeners as Nicholas throws open the basement door and runs for it, and the three men pound down the stairs.

Len’s pressed against Mick chest to chest, practically fused together in the tiny space as they stand as still as possible and listen carefully.

“They ran out the door! Go after them!” One of the men shouts. Footsteps slap the concrete, and Len hears the door open and close again. Mick moves a bit against him, but Len fists his hand in Mick’s shirt and shakes his head when Mick looks at him. They stand silently for a few moments, staring at each other, until there’s a sigh from the area where the unconscious man is laying.

“Stupid bastard,” someone mutters, and then footsteps come closer. Mick’s got a hand on Len’s waist, and his fingers dig in a little as they both tense. Mick’s other hand holds his gun, which he raises as the footsteps come closer still. Len presses his face against Mick’s shirt and wills himself not to breathe, praying they aren’t noticed. He can feel Mick’s heart racing under the palm of his hand, matching his own adrenaline fueled heartbeat.

The noise stops, and Len and Mick stand like statues, tense and waiting for the man to choose where to go and decide all their fates. Finally, the man turns and walks away, climbing the stairs and going through the door.

Len starts to breathe again, but gives it a few more moments before he wiggles his way out of the tiny space, Mick sliding after him. He steps cautiously over to the downed man, who still isn’t moving; there’s a small trickle of blood down the side of his face, but he’s breathing, so Len tries not to jostle him. He grabs the man’s switchblade and folds it up, handing it to Mick, then carefully extracts the wallet from the man’s back pocket and slips it into his bag. Then he glances around, trying to see where he dropped his gun. He spots it halfway under one of the machines, snatching it up and resetting the safety, then returning it to his waistband.

“Let’s go,” he says quietly to Mick, who nods and follows at his heels as Len leads them up the stairs and out the first floor door, now unguarded. Mick keeps close to him as they trudge down the sidewalk, away from the building. It’s probably the opposite way that Nicholas ran, and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to get picked up by Alex now – not that either of the others even know or suspect that they made it out.

“So is this just my job now?” Mick asks suddenly, and Len blinks in confusion.

“Is what your job?” Len asks.

“Stopping people from stabbing you?” Mick ask, a small smile on his face. Len smiles back, then grins, then bursts out laughing. Now that he’s started, he can’t seem to stop, laughing so hard that he has to stop walking and lean over, bracing himself on his knees. Mick watches with amusement until Len finally gets a hold of himself and catches his breath.

“I got the ledger, Mick,” Len tells him, brushing tears of laughter from the corners of his eyes. “We did it. I got the ledger.”

“Of course you did,” Mick says, a look of fierce pride on his face. Len grins wider, basking in that look. “You always get it done, Lenny.” As Len stands and starts walking with him again, Mick slings an arm around Len’s shoulder and pulls him closer. “Now let’s go hotwire a car and get back to the Santinis. Then we can talk about getting you some shooting lessons, because you’re a crap shot.”

“It was my first time,” Len protests, elbowing Mick in the side.

“Well it ain’t gonna be your last,” Mick says, pulling Len a tiny bit closer. “So you better get good.”

Chapter Text

 

Len pages through the stolen ledger as Mick drives them back towards the Santini’s building. The first few blocks were nerve wracking, though Mick showed no change in demeanor, but once they’d made it out of Rossi’s neighborhood, Len had relaxed significantly. Now he was reading through the pages, trying to match up names on the pages with names on the papers that had been with it. He’s got a few matches so far. The book uses shorthand, but no real kind of code; it’s clearly not meant to leave the possession of the person it belongs to. Poor planning, Len thinks to himself, remembering the little notebook he carries. It’s almost always on him, hidden as best he can at any given time, and written in code to boot. He considers anything less than that sloppy.

There are a few names and numbers in the very back of the book, ones that Len can’t match to anything. There are little abbreviations next to their names, but Len hasn't figured them out yet. He frowns and then looks up.

“Mick, where’s that switchblade?” Without answering, Mick takes one hand off the wheel and pulls the blade from his pocket, offering it to Len. Leonard takes it and opens it, enjoying the sound the blade makes when it snaps out. He flattens the book, holding it open, and with a surgical precision removes the last page with the very sharp blade. He then folds them up and slides them between the pages of his own notebook.

“What’s on those?” Mick asks as Len hands him back the switchblade.

“Not sure yet,” Len says. “And I’m not handing the Santinis any wild cards, especially not for free. I want to know what I’ve got to deal with first and what it’s worth.” Mick smirks. “What.”

“You’re gonna take this town for all it’s worth,” Mick rumbles, leaning back and resting his arm half out the window. “It’s gonna be a hell of a lot of fun to watch, Lenny.”

“You better do more than just watch, Mick,” Len tells him, opening the ledger again. “I’m not doing this by myself.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When they get to the Santini building, Len has Mick park at the back of the lot. When he gets out and turns toward the front of the building, Len puts a hand on his arm.

“Get in the truck,” he says. “We don’t want to go in there if Nicholas isn’t back yet, or if something’s happened to him. And even if he is, I want him to come to us next.”

“You’re the boss,” Mick says with a shrug. He pulls the keys from his bag and unlocks the truck. Len hops in and waits as Mick gets them out of the neighborhood.

“Take us to the mall,” Len commands. Mick raises his eyebrows.

“What about Nicholas?”

“We can meet him later. Let him stew for a bit. First, we hit the mall.” Mick shakes his head, but begins the drive. Len reaches into his bag and fishes out the wallet he pulled from the man who attacked him and flips it open. He studies the driver’s license in the clear plastic slip.

The man’s name is Johnathan Brown. Len pulls out his little notebook and scratches down his name and address, noting that it’s quite close to Rossi’s building. He pokes through the rest of the wallet, pocketing the cash almost reflexively, and pulls out two credit cards. He flips them over to see the signature on the back and smiles. Perfect.

When they get to the mall, Len has Mick practice John’s signature in his little notebook, because between them Mick actually looks old enough to have a credit card. Len takes Mick to one of the large attached department stores, leading him to the hardware section. He grabs a cart and begins pushing it through the aisles, while Mick follows him curiously.

Len grabs a wide variety of things he’s been thinking about; air compressors, power drills, bolt guns, and more, until his cart could put a carpenter to shame. Len tracks the total in his mind, adding each new item up. He’s got no idea what kind of limit there is on either of Brown’s cards, but he figures that if they get rejected here there are a couple other department stores they can try at before they’ll have to give up and abandon everything. When they go to check out, Len selects a bored looking teenage cashier, a young girl with a long line that looks like she’s just waiting for the day to end. Len doubts she’d care even if they checked out with a card under the name Jane Doe so long as she didn’t have to do anything about it. He and Mick unload their cart and she swipes each item through with only a brief look of surprise at the two boys buying it all. When Mick pulls Brown’s wallet out and swipes the card at the end, Len tries not to look nervous as he waits.

The cash register dings with approval and prints out a long receipt. “Sign here,” the girl instructs, holding out aa pen and the paper. Mick signs the signature he’s practiced as smoothly as possible, and the girl doesn’t bother to even look at it before stuffing it in her drawer and handing them their copy. “Have a great day,” she says apathetically.

“You too,” Len says, flashing her a smile that she doesn’t acknowledge, already looking to the next customer. They shove their bags of tools into the cart and return to Mick’s truck, where they transfer everything to the truck bed. Len waits while Mick sets up the cover and locks up.

“Back we go,” Len tells him, heading toward the store again.

“Seriously? How many tools you need, Len?” Mick asks, raising his eyebrows.

“That’s all for now,” Len says. There are other tools he wants, but they’re not the kind sold in department stores. He needs more connections to get those kinds of tools. “Now we’re getting new clothes.”

“I hate clothes shopping,” Mick mutters, and Len smiles. He hates it too, most of the time, but getting to dress Mick up in the fancy clothes he intends on getting will probably be worth it.

Mick is far less patient with their second shopping trip, looking physically pained when Len drags him to the dress clothes.

“What size do you wear?” Len asks.

“Large,” Mick replies. Len frowns.

“Mick, dress shirts measure in neck size.” Mick gives him a blank stare and Len sighs. He holds a couple shirts up and evaluates them in his head against Mick’s shoulders and chest. He picks one he thinks is the right size, grabs a pair of slacks to go with it, and thrusts them towards Mick. “Go try this on.”

Mick scowls and snatches the clothes out of Len’s hands, shuffling off towards a dressing room. Len grabs some clothes in his size while he waits, tossing them in the cart and contemplating whether he should get them ties. He hears Mick’s grumbling approaching from behind him and turns to see how the shirt fits.

Mick looks oddly embarrassed when he comes out, fidgeting with the cuff of one of his sleeves. Len’s not really sure what he has to be embarrassed about, because the shirt stretches across his broad chest very nicely, tight enough to show off the definition in his broad chest and shoulder but still leaving him enough room to move without straining the material. Len’s not entirely sure why it’s so stunning, seeing Mick like this; he’s certainly seen Mick shirtless enough times. Maybe it’s because it’s so different from normal this his immediate reaction is a nearly overwhelming desire to offer to help Mick right back out of those clothes.

“I feel silly in these,” Mick gripes.

“You look amazing,” Len replies automatically, clamping his mouth shut as soon as the words leave. Mick narrows his eyes and stares hard at Len, searching for insincerity. Len prays he isn’t blushing as much as he thinks he is.

“You think so, Lenny?” Mick rumbles, taking a step forward.

“Yeah,” Len says, slightly breathless. He clears his throat and turns away, pretending to look at more shirts. “I’ll grab a few colors in that size.”

“All right,” Mick says. “I’ll go take this off.” Len swallows hard and nods, gripping the edge of the shopping cart. He tries very hard not to let his mind run away with those words because he absolutely cannot afford to get hard in the middle of a department store.

Len manages to get himself back under control by the time Mick returns, wearing his regular clothes. He grabs them some shoes and belts and takes them to the checkout, where they use the second credit card with no problems. They lug all their shopping bags to the truck again and drop them off.

Len has a place in mind that he wants to meet Nicholas at, a small restaurant that’s rarely busy on weekday and should give them space to discuss things without much fear of being overheard. He finds a payphone just outside the mall and dials up the number Nicholas gave him before.

“Hello.” Len smiles; that’s Nicholas’s voice.

“Nicholas, we missed you,” Len drawls, hearing Nicholas suck in a sharp breath on the other end of the line. “I’ve got what you wanted. And I’ve got some bonus items to sell you that I think you’d be really interested in.”

“What sort of bonus items?” Nicholas asks, interest piqued. Len smiles even though Nicholas can’t see it, knowing it will carry through in his voice.

“Oh, some lovely items to disrupt the power dynamics between the Maronis and their pawns,” Len says. “You’ll see. What do you say we meet up at Angie’s Diner on the east side and discuss it? I’ll give you the package we picked up today and then you can decide if you’d like to get the add ons.”

There’s a moment of quiet on the other end of the line which Len patiently waits out, knowing that Nicholas must be discussing the meeting with someone else. Mick’s leaning against the outside of the phone booth, flicking his lighter on and off, watching the flame dance. Nicholas finally clears his throat and speaks again.

“We’ll meet you at five pm,” Nicholas tells him, and Len grins.

“Perfect.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When they enter the restaurant, Len requests a booth near the very back corner, where there are no nearby tables. He has Mick get in first, being sure to put them on the side facing the doors with their backs to the wall. They get themselves drinks and sip at them while they wait.

Even though they were a half hour early, it only takes about ten minutes for Nicholas to show up with Benny in tow. Len briefly wonders if he resents being a babysitter or thinks of it as a road to power with the future boss. Benny’s face gives nothing away about his feelings, the same flat and mildly disapproving expression that he always has firmly in place. When they slide into the opposite side of the booth, Benny’s suit jacket falls open a bit and he gets a glimpse of a gun in a shoulder holster concealed beneath it. Len’s nervous for a millisecond – he’s going to press these guys for money? – but then he feels Mick press his knee up against his, and he calms again. He gives Nicholas a mostly friendly smile and waves the waitress over.

“Good to see you, Leo,” Nicholas says conversationally once the overly cheerful waitress has taken their orders and departed. “Wasn’t sure we’d be seeing you again so soon.”

“Same to you,” Len says. “You have been running around quite a bit lately.”

“You know how it is,” Nicholas says, smirking. “People are always after you for something or other.”

“I certainly do,” Len says, as the waitress sets down drinks for Nicholas and Benny. Once she’s left again, he picks back up. “I have something for you.”

“It’s not even my birthday,” Nicholas purrs, and Mick rolls his eyes. Len just smiles at him and extracts the ledger from his bag. He’d already committed most of it to his memory, and taken notes on anything he thought he might have need of later. He slides it across the table and Nicholas snatches it up, immediately paging through it while Benny looks over his shoulder. He doesn’t close it until the cheerful waitress brings them their food, snapping it shut and tucking it safely under his arm. He and Benny exchange a look and Benny gives a slight nod.

“This is good work, Leo,” Nicholas says. “I was worried back there, but you pulled through.”

“Just like I said I would,” Leonard agrees. “And like I said, I’ve got something extra for you.”

“And that would be?” Nicholas asked, leaning forward slightly. Len smiles a little at that little betrayal of Nicholas’s eagerness.

“I have some of Rossi’s collateral,” Leonard tells him, checking the room quickly to make sure no one was in hearing range. “The deed to someone’s house, some signed over paychecks, a couple car titles, and more. All sorts of possibilities there. The losers aren’t going to be terribly inclined to pay Rossi when he’s lost their collateral, and the winners, well they’ll be expecting that back, won’t they? And Rossi can’t give it back.” Len gives a calculating smile. “You’ll have loads of leverage to press the gamblers with, and you’ll cost the Maronis twice as much.”

“Sounds like quite a prospect,” Nicholas says. “And what do you want for it?”

“We left a car in the back of your lot,” Len tells him. “Send it out to one of your chop shops. I want it back with new paint, new plates, keys, and clean papers, registered to one of the names you’re going to put on one of Mick’s new IDs that we’re getting. Sound good?”

“We can handle that,” Nicholas says. “Now the collateral, please.”

“I stashed it before we headed over,” Len tells them, pleased by the glare that he gets from Benny. “I’ll hand over the collateral when we pick up the car and the IDs. An even exchange.”

“What if we don’t want to wait?” Benny asks. Len stares at him coolly.

“I suppose you could get the car cleaned quickly. Or live without the collateral. Either way, you know where to find me.” He tilts his head. “Speaking of payment, did you bring our fees for the ledger?” Nicholas looks at Benny, who stares at them for a moment before reaching in and pulling out two manila envelopes. His hands disappear under the table, and Leonard waits patiently, finishing off a few bites of food until he feels Mick squeeze his knee with one hand. Leonard smiles and snags a fry from Mick’s plate.

“You gentleman are a pleasure to work with,” Leonard lies.

“You too,” Benny replies, not meaning it in the slightest. Len smiles wider.

“We’ll see you around, then,” Leonard says, grabbing his bag and sliding out of the booth. Nicholas and Benny look at each other for a moment, having the sort of silent conversation that Len often has with Mick. Mick makes it out of the booth as well, and Nicholas turns to them decided.

“We’ll call you when the car is ready,” Nicholas says, a sour look on Benny’s face. Leonard gives him a big grin.

“Can’t wait to hear from you,” he says cheerfully, leading Mick out and leaving them with the bill.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“You sure know how to play them,” Mick comments as he drives Len home. Len gives him a small smile.

“I was bluffing through most of it,” he admits, almost shyly. He likes the way Mick seems to think of him as this brilliant figure, but it doesn’t feel right to lie.

“Same thing,” Mick says. “Takes a certain kind of magic to pull off a bluff. ‘Specially a big one, to a heavy hitter like that.” He gives Len a sideways glance. “You got that magic, Lenny. Just be careful. People are gonna want a piece of it.”

“Even you?” Len asks, heart racing.

“Of course,” Mick says, not even hesitating. “So be careful around me too, Lenny.”

“I’m always careful,” Len says. Mick grins.

“Then how do you keep ending up nearly getting’ stabbed?”

“Gotta give you something to do,” Len scoffs, smiling. Mick chuckles and Len relaxes, pulling out his envelope and sliding the money out. There are three bundles of cash in it; he takes two and slides them into Mick’s bag, then puts his gun in there as well. Mick frowns.

“What are you doing?” he asks, watching as Len digs out the extra gun ammo and transfers it to his bag as well. Len then returns the final bundle of money to the envelope and reseals it.

“My father is going to take my share,” Len tells him. “Just hold on to the rest of it until next time I see you, when he won’t expect me to have any money and I can sneak it in. And I don’t want him to know about the gun.” Mick nods in agreement at that.

“So what’s up with the car?” he asks suddenly. “Why you registering it under my name? My fake name, anyway.”

“I figured we could park it by your farm,” Len says. “I don’t have anywhere to leave it out here without my father or grandfather noticing. So if it’s going to be by you it should be in your name.”

“Okay,” Mick says, blinking. “There’s an area I know of that should be a decent place to hide it.”

“Good,” Len says. “Then we won’t need to rely on your dad’s truck anymore.”

“I can get into the shed now, though,” Mick says. Len averts his eyes.

“It’s still better to have a backup plan,” he says, staring out the window. “This way if he starts hiding the keys or locking it up or something we won’t be affected. And if you want to ditch the farm when you turn eighteen, then we still have transportation.”

“That’s true,” Mick says, and Len relaxes a bit. The less Mick goes in that shed, the better Len will feel.

They pull up to Lewis’s house far too soon. Len wishes he didn’t have to go, that Mick didn’t either, but he knows that they both have fathers waiting for them, fathers that will be angrier the longer they’re gone. Len sighs and unbuckles his seatbelt. He’s got his hand on the door handle when Mick reaches out and grabs his other wrist. Len’s been thinking about Lewis, so the sudden action makes him flinch, and he see a pained expression cross Mick’s face for a fleeting moment.

“Are you gonna be okay?” Mick rumbles.

“I’ll be fine,” Len says. “I’ve got money for him, so he’ll be in a fairly good mood today.” Mick drops his hand and gives a sharp nod, but he still looks displeased. “What about you?”

“No need to worry about me,” Mick says, shrugging dismissively. “It’s not a problem.”

“Liar,” Len says, and Mick glares at him.

“I’ll be just fine,” Mick growls. “Go on, if you’re gonna go.” Len snorts.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Len says quietly as he opens the door.

“You better.”

 - - - - - - - - - -- - -

Len makes it three steps down the hall before Lewis appears, beer in his hand and looking rather smug.

“How’d it go?” he asks.

“We got the ledger,” Len tells him, and Lewis looks surprised.

“You actually got the damn thing? You’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” Len says, uneasy. He expected anger or happiness, but the confusion Lewis seems to be going through is now confusing Leonard right back.

“Where is it?” Lewis asks suspiciously.

“Nicholas took it,” Len replies, shifting uncomfortably.

“I’ll be damned,” Lewis mutters. “Maronis must be shit at their jobs if they let some idiot teenagers get hold of their ledger.” Leonard clamps his mouth shut, forcing himself to hold back all that he wants to tell Lewis about the guards and nearly getting stabbed and everything else, because he knows it wouldn’t do any good. “You get paid?”

“I did,” Leonard replies. He reaches into his bag, pulling out the envelope and passing it over to Lewis. Lewis snatches it out of his hands like it’s going somewhere, ripping it open and counting it quickly. When he’s finished he snorts and shoves the bills into his pocket.

Len’s prepared for the blow so it doesn’t hurt as much as Lewis probably hopes. He’s glad that Lewis has gone for a fist in the gut instead of the face; body work is easier to hide, even from Mick.

“That all there is?” Lewis growls, crowding into Len’s space. Len nods, wondering if leaving behind so much was a good idea. Maybe he should have taken two stacks for Lewis instead of one. Lewis shoves Leonard hard against the wall with one huge fist, grabbing the bag from his side and flipping it open. He unceremoniously dumps it in the hallway, watching the contents scatter as they hit the floor. He spots the watch and rings immediately and scoops them up, turning to glare at Leonard.

“You think you were gonna hold out on me?” he snarls. Leonard’s already shaking his head before Lewis finishes his sentence, but Lewis backhands him, and while Len’s off balance Lewis slams his knee up into Len’s already aching gut. Len doubles over and fights off the urge to vomit, sucking in shallow breaths as his eyes water. He can’t find the breath to even try to tell Lewis that he meant for him to have them. “You little idiot. You oughta know better.”

“They – they were-“ Len struggles to get out, but Lewis just snorts and gives him a kick to the shoulder, knocking him onto his side. He uses the new position to roll to his back and scramble backwards with his hands and feet.

“You got paid shit,” Lewis says, cruel smile twisting his lips. “Guess the family knows you ain’t worth shit. I tried to warn ‘em. I’m takin’ all this shit and your pay. Next time don’t come back without twice as much. I don’t give a shit where you get it.” He glares again. “And don’t try to hide shit from me, boy. I’m smarter than you.” He flings the beer bottle suddenly, hitting the wall just inches above Len’s head, and Len throws an arm over his face as he feels drops of beer and glass shards rain down the back of his neck and shoulders. When he lowers his arm, he discovers that Lewis has disappeared.

Len crawls over to where his bag lays on the floor by its former contents and begins putting them back inside, swallowing hard and fighting back the roiling in his stomach. Once he’s gathered everything back up and calmed his nerves a bit, he staggers to his feet and trudges up the stairs towards his room. He stops in the bathroom, wetting a washcloth and wiping the beer from his skin. Len pauses when he hears something, dropping the cloth and leaning out the doorway to listen. There’s the sound of a door closing, somewhere in the kitchen, and then a car starting. Lewis is going out, then. He waits until he hears the car pull out and the garage door close, then heads back to his room.

Len tosses the bag on the floor by his bed, then strips down to his underwear. He stands by his dresser, checking himself out in the mirror attached to it. Definitely going to be bruising around his stomach, but probably not too bad. Nothing noticeable, in any case; if he meets up with Mick tomorrow, he can still hide it. He pulls open the drawer with his sleep shirts in it, and instead of going for one of his regular ones, he pauses for a moment and pulls out the shirt of Mick’s that he’s had since wearing it home from the motel last time. He pulls it on; it’s loose on him, but he feels comfortable. He doesn’t bother to button it up before he throws himself down on his bed.

Leonard closes his eyes for a moment. Lewis has run off somewhere, probably to fence the items he got from Len. If he left now, maybe he could head over to Mick’s house and sneak in again. Len sighs and cuts that thought off before it can get too far. Last time he went over there he got Mick a bruised jaw and cost him his lunch; no telling what could happen if he snuck over there now. What would he even do all day? Sit in the loft and watch Mick work again?

Len remembers how Mick looked then, shirtless and shining with sweat in that barn, and a shiver runs down his spine. He lets his hand slide down his stomach, dipping under the elastic of his underwear to stroke himself. He licks his lips thinking of Mick’s skin, wondering what it would taste like. He lets his mind drift back to those moments he spent pressed against Mick in that basement. He’d been too focused on the danger and adrenaline to properly appreciate it then, but he can recall it almost perfectly now, the heat and the hard line of Mick’s body, Mick’s fingers digging into his side and hip. He pretends he can feel it now, Mick’s body pressing him down, and digs deeper for the fading memory of Mick’s lips on his own, letting it push him over the edge. He bites down hard on his lip as he comes, holding in his voice as his body shudders.

Len sighs and relaxes his body against the bed. He needs to clean up, and he’s going to be sore tomorrow, but for now he feels fine.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lewis ignores his existence for the next three days, and Len has just begun to relax when the door flies open.

“Santini boy’s on the phone,” he says gruffly, glaring at Leonard. “They want us to come to a meeting on Friday night, but he wants to talk to you first.” Leonard nods and stands, hoping the Lewis will move, but he doesn’t. In order to get through the doorway past him, Len has to turn to the side and slink by pressed against the door frame. He’s almost past when Lewis grabs his arm.

“Don’t say nothin’ to screw up our Family work,” Lewis growls. Leonard nods, and thankfully Lewis releases him. “Go on, the boy’s waiting.”

Leonard doesn’t need to be told twice. He hurries downstairs to the phone, although Lewis follows him like a shadow, listening for every word.

“Nicholas?” Len asks, glancing over at Lewis.

“Hello, Leo,” Nicholas replies. “Your father mentioned that we’re having a little get together on Friday?”

“He did,” Leonard confirms. “You want me there?”

“Of course,” Nicholas says. Leonard waits a few moments; Nicholas wouldn’t just call for this when he knows that Lewis would either pass on the message or bring him along. “And speaking of meeting, I have everything ready if you’d like to drop off your little package.” Leonard knows immediately what he’s talking about, and also that he has to choose his next words carefully with Lewis practically breathing down his neck.

“I can get that for you,” Leonard says. “You want it tonight?”

“As soon as possible,” Nicholas confirms.

“I’ll get it to you right away,” Len tells him, aware of Lewis’s eyes burning into him.

“Bring it to my house,” Nicholas says, and Len frowns. “You know where it is?”

“I do,” Len replies, because Lewis has shown him before, that giant mansion on the best side of town. He never thought he’d go there.

“Great. I’ll see you soon, then,” Nicholas replies, then hangs up. Len quietly returns the phone to its cradle.

“What does he want you to get for him?” Lewis asks suspiciously.

“Just some building plans,” Leonard lies. “He doesn’t want to be seen requesting records for building in Maroni territory,” Lewis snorts.

“You gonna pick up his dry cleaning on the way in too?” he sneers, and Len bows his head. “Fucking gopher. Least you can’t screw that up.”

Leonard ignores Lewis’s insults and head back up to his room, grabbing his bag and slipping out of the house again without running into him. He hops the first bus he can get and heads over to the Motorcar, where luckily Christine is on shift. He sweet talks her easily into letting him borrow the phone behind the counter, then goes to an empty booth in her section to wait. He passes the time staring out the window at the police station, watching how they move, how often they come and go, and when there’s a lull there, timing them as he waits. Mick doesn’t keep him waiting long, and Len smiles when Mick slides in across from him.

“Hey Lenny,” Mick says, flashing him a grin.

“Hey, Mick,” Len replies, grinning back. “I ordered us some food, to go.”

“To go?” Mick asks, tilting his head.

“Nicholas wants to see us,” Len tells him. “He’s got our IDs and the car. You bring the stuff?”

“Of course,” Mick says, patting the bag at his side. “We’re heading to the warehouse then?”

“No, he wants us to meet him at his house,” Len says. Mick frowns.

“Why would he want us there?” Mick asks.

“Not sure,” Len replies. “Going to have to see, I guess.” Mick looks concerned, but the food arrives at that moment, bagged up and ready for them, and Len puts on his sweetest smile for Christine as he hands her the money for it plus a generous tip. “Come on, Mick. Let’s get out of here.”

Chapter Text

Leonard’s never been this close to the Santini mansion before. It’s huge, a giant Victorian monster of a house, with a half-moon driveway and a goddamn fountain in the middle of the estate, because what’s the point of being rich if you can’t waste it showing off? Len hopes that someone robs them just for karma’s sake.

Mick stuff the last of his sandwich in his mouth and licks his fingers, staring up at the mansion thoughtfully. Len leans over a bit and elbows him.

“You ready?” he asks, unbuckling his seat belt and opening the door.

“Ready as I’m gonna be, I guess,” Mick says. He jumps out of the car and walks around to the front, hesitating there. Len watches him glance between the house and his truck, looking uncomfortable. Len finally realizes that Mick’s feeling awkward about the state of his truck compared to the Santini’s obvious wealth. Anger flares in Len at that; the Santini’s little mind games are working on Mick, and he doesn’t deserve that. He eases into Mick’s space and leans against his side.

“Nothing they think matters,” he tells Mick, whose eyes widen a bit, surprised and maybe a bit embarrassed that Len’s caught on to his insecurities. “One day we’ll come back and piss in their ridiculous fountain.”

Mick tosses back his head and laughs, like a rumble of thunder on a rainy day, and Len can’t help but grin. There’s his Mick, wild and confident.

“You’ve got the best plans, Lenny,” Mick says fondly, and Len nods. He leads Mick up to the front doors and presses the doorbell.

The door opens just a couple seconds later, as though the butler that opened it has just been standing there the whole time waiting for them. Hell, maybe he had been. Said butler gives them a short bow and gestures them in with a sweep of his arm. Len takes Mick’s wrist and drags him in behind him, pausing in the opulent hallway to try and figure out which way to go. The butler steps up to them after closing the door, eyes flickering between them before settling on Leonard.

“You are mister Snart?” The butler asks, and Len nods. “This way, sir.”

The butler leads them up a curving staircase, down a hall lined with fancy wall sconces into a large open room with several plush couches that look like they could have come straight from a French palace. The room is lit by large picture windows, with gauzy white curtains framing them, tied to the sides to allow the sunlight to stream in onto the dark wood floors. There are several paintings hanging on the wall opposite the windows, a couple of which Len recognizes from his art magazines. If they’re replicas, they’re damn near perfect imitations.

The butler leaves them there, promising that Nicholas will be along as soon as he can. Mick plops down right in the middle of one of the couches, grunting a little when he sinks down farther than he had thought. Len smirks a little and goes over to take a closer look at one of the paintings.

They’re only there a couple minutes before someone enters, Len turns, expecting it to be Nicholas, but instead finds Alex standing there. He shifts, expecting that Alex has been sent to get them, but Alex simply drifts over to him.

“You like the paintings?” Alex asks, stopping next to him.

“They suit the room, I suppose,” Len drawls. Alex chuckles a little.

“They do not,” Alex says. “They’re just the most expensive ones Vincent could find, all rare and original works, because this is the room where they send people to sit and be impressed and intimidated while they wait to see them.” His eyes dart between Len, Mick, and the painting. “Is it working?”

“Why would we be scared of paintings?” Mick mutters, and Alex laughs.

“I have trouble picturing you scared of anything,” he admits. Mick snorts. “When Nicholas showed up without you, I was worried about you two.”

“Not worried enough to wait around for us,” Len drawls. Alex shrugs.

“I don’t get a lot of input on decisions like that. Nicholas says to go, we go, with or without you. And yet, here you are, back to see him,” Alex points out. “Why did you come back?”

“I have a deal to make,” Len says cautiously.

“Selling your soul to the devil?” Alex asks lightly, crossing his arms and hunching in on himself a bit.

“It’s just business.” Len says, frowning.

“You think so?” Alex asks, tilting his head. “Business is Nicholas’s life. He’s supposed to run this family when Vincent steps down, and he’s hungry for it. He wants to be bigger, better, badder than his old man in every aspect.” Len stays silent. He understands the feelings, but he’s not sure what Alex wants to get at. “When you and Rory showed up here, I was happy that you made it, but I still feel bad for you. Nicholas wants only the best things in life, and you’re on your way to being the best thief in the business, and every success will just make him want you more.”

“It’s always nice to be wanted,” Len drawls. “But I’m still free to decide whether I want to work with him.”

“Nicholas doesn’t believe in freedom,” Alex says, face darkening. “Nicholas believes in owning people. Nicholas believes that you’re for him, or against him. And he doesn’t give up on what he wants easily.” He turns his face back to look at the painting again. “I liked art, you know. Thought about going after it seriously. As soon as they found out, they wanted me to start doing art forgeries for them.”

“Did you?” Len asks, intrigued.

“I did,” Alex says. “Not a lot of choices when your family is… well, Family.” He gives Len a thin smile. “I did your IDs, you know. The ones you wanted for payment?”

“Are they any good?” Len asks bluntly, and Alex laughs.

“They’re the best. They’re practically legitimate,” he says, a hint of pride in his voice. “But that’s the problem. I’m good, which means that’s what I’ll be doing now, no matter what I want. That’s what the Family’s like, when they want you. They get what they want until they don’t want it anymore.” He turns to look Len in the eyes. “You understand?”

“And if you won’t to give it to them?”

“Nicholas doesn’t give up on what he wants easily,” Alex says. “Once you’re in his sights, you’d better have a damn good exit plan, because he’s ruthless, and he won’t play by the rules.”

Leonard is quiet for a few moments, staring at the painting in front of him. Alex stands silently beside him, glancing at the door every few seconds. When he turns to go, Leonard looks back at him.

“I thought you said these were all originals,” Leonard says lightly. Alex turns back and narrows his eyes, fingers drumming nervously at his sides.

“I did,” Alex confirms.

“Interesting,” Len drawls. Alex, stares hard at him now, fully focused.

“Something wrong with it?” Alex asks, voice tense. Before Len has a chance to answer, there are footsteps in the hall, and then Nicholas is rounding the corner. He stops short, head tilting when he sees Alex.

“Alex,” he says, warning in his voice. “How nice of you to greet our guests.”

“Heard they were okay, wanted to say sorry I left them,” Alex mumbles, looking down at the floor. Back to the nervous, shy Alex, then. Len wonders how much of it is real, brought on by Nicholas, and how much of it is Alex trying to be invisible.

“Of course. I’m sure they understand; they were aware of the possibility. Anyway, I’ll take over from here, thank you,” he says, gesturing for him to leave. Nicholas waits while Alex heads out and then disappears down the hall before speaking. “Sorry. Hope he wasn’t being odd.”

“Just wanted to say he was sorry for leaving us behind the other day,” Len confirms Alex’s lie. “He said he was glad we made it out on our own.” As soon as Leonard says we, Nicholas’s eyes scan the room and finally notice Mick, still sitting on the sofa. Len gives him a tiny nod, and Mick stands and comes to Len’s side.

“I see,” Nicholas says, “Well, we are quite glad you made it out, of course. If you’ll come with me, we can get that payment taken care of.” He turns and starts out the hall. Len follows him, Mick in step beside him. They go down a couple more halls, and just when Len is starting to wonder how many rooms this place actually has, Nicholas opens the door to a room that looks to be a small study.

“Nicholas,” a voice calls from the other end of the hall, and they all turn to see Benny standing there. His eyes travel over Len and Mick, his customary frown deepening. “A word, please.”

“Of course,” Nicholas says, though his face and his tone are annoyed. He waves Len and Mick into the room, shutting the door behind them.

The room is filled with dark wood furniture; huge bookshelves stuffed with books that look like they were selected by a university committee, a large desk with a leather chair behind it, and two plush chairs in front of it for taking visitors. Mick hovers near Leonard, eyeing the books on the shelves. Len steps lightly over to the door, turning the handle at a glacial pace to keep it from making any noise. He eases the door open just a crack and angles his ear to it, allowing him to just barely make out the voices down the hall.

“…can’t believe you’d let them in the house.”

“They’re here for business.”

“You shouldn’t be letting someone like him in here.”

“I wanted him to see what life with the Family could be like.”

“He has no place in the Family.”

“He’s a great asset. You’ve seen what he can do.”

“I saw that he nearly got you killed.”

“That wasn’t his fault. He got the ledger despite the extra presence. He’s had great ideas so far.”

“Yes, great ideas for taking down crime families. He’s dangerous, Nicholas. You can’t trust someone like that. I’m not going to let you ruin this family because you’re impatient to be the boss.”

“You don’t get to decide that, Benny. It’s my call.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Leonard eases the door closed and crosses the room quickly, sinking down into one of the chairs and folding his hands together in front of him. Mick drifts closer to the bookcases and runs his fingers over the book spines. A few moments later, the door opens and Nicholas steps in. He rounds the side of the desk and sits down across from him.

“Sorry for the delay,” Nicholas says briskly.

“No worries,” Leonard drawls. “Chair’s comfy.” Nicholas stares at him for a moment, then clears his throat.

“First off, here’s your new IDs,” Nicholas says, passing Len a small rectangular manila envelope. Len cracks it open and slides out the IDs, inspecting Alex’s handiwork. He wasn’t lying, he’s very good; the IDs should pass just about anywhere. Len recognizes Mick’s actual driver’s license photo on his new IDs, only slightly surprised that they managed to get a copy of it. He’s stumped for a minute as to where they would get such a good picture of him, though, since he hasn’t gotten his real license yet, until it strikes him that it’s actually a heavily edited version of his intake photo from juvie. He smirks a little while he confirms that all the other information he asked for is there and correct.

“Those good enough?” Nicholas asks, as though he doesn’t know what excellent quality they are. Len nods and returns them to the envelope, which he then tucks into his bag.

“I take it you’d like to see the collateral I have to sell you now?” Len asks, and Nicholas smiles. He reaches into his bag again and pulls out the items he’s brought from Rossi’s apartment. He spreads the out over Nicholas’s desk so he can examine them.

“A house deed,” Nicholas comments, raising an eyebrow. “Amazing the things a person will bet.”

“They all think they’re going to win,” Len says with a shrug.

“Well, even if they did, they’re still quite screwed now,” Nicholas says. “This is great stuff, Leo.”

“Yes, very valuable,” Leonard says pointedly.

“Yes, I know you’re eager to get to your rewards,” Nicholas says, and Leonard forces his face to stay calm. Nicholas says it like a parent handing out a gold star to a small child rather than a payment to an employee who’d impressed. Still, when Nicholas slides the forged car title and papers across to him along with the keys, Len lets it go. He slides the papers inside a textbook he’s brought to keep them crisp and unbent and tosses Mick the keys. Mick snatches them out of the air easily despite the lack of any warning from Leonard, and Len’s lips curl up a bit because of it.

“Now, you know there’s a meeting Friday,” Nicholas says, drawing their attention back to him.

“I do,” Leonard replies.

“I want to know what you think the next step should be,” Nicholas says. “We’re doing great here, but we need to hurt them more. We’ve had men out hitting anywhere on their territory that uninsured, but they’re small fish, and we need to keep the heat up. What do you suggest?”

Leonard leans back, folding his hands in front of him again. He’d suspected this question would be coming, and he’s been thinking about it ever since they finished the Rossi job.

“The places bringing in the most cash are the smuggling operations and the legal high end operations, which are insured,” Len says. “You don’t know where they’re routing their smuggling operations, so you need to hit the insured operations.”

“Which would be pointless, since they’re insured,” Nicholas cuts in. “You said so yourself.”

“It would be – unless you can get rid of their insurance.”

“How exactly would I do that?”

“It’s not as hard as it sounds,” Len says. “You get in the insurance building and destroy their insurance files. All the records. Then you just have to watch and be careful when you hit the insured targets, grab any records they have of their insurance, destroy that too. No records, no insurance, no money. But you’d have to move fast, hit as many places as possible before someone figures out what you’ve done and gets the insurance back in place.”

“We can do the hits the same day,” Nicholas say, picking up Len’s train of thought. “Send one team in to destroy the records, then signal the other teams to do the hits. They won’t even know what hit them.” He grins. “You’re always fun to chat with, Leonard. You ought to stop by more often.”

“I’ll pop in next time I’m in the neighborhood,” Len drawls, and Nicholas gives a huff of laughter. “I do need to be on my way, though.”

“I see. Well, I guess I’ll see you Friday. Are you coming as well, Rory?” Nicholas asks, addressing Mick for the first time.

“Sure,” Mick replies curtly. Nicholas nods and stands.

“Your car is in the garage. I’ll show you the way, if you come with me.”

Nicholas leads them through the maze-like hallways again, twisting and turning until they come to the garage. The place is huge, stark white and able to fit two rows of six cars with enough space between them to park a few more.

“This place ought to have its own damn zip code,” Mick mutters, and Len chuckles. At the end of the row, he spots the car that they’re looking for. It looks almost shabby next to the expensive high-end cars that fill the rest of the garage, its shining new paint job managing to seem dull in comparison to the gleaming chrome and bright paint surrounding it. Len doesn’t mind in the least; he’d much rather have the car that no one looks at than drive around in a car that drags every eye to it – including Mick’s. He’s openly staring at the fancy cars, and Len surreptitiously tugs on his jacket to get his focus back.

“Your truck is parked out front,” Nicholas tells Mick, smirking a little and not bothering to hide much of the disdain in his voice. Len can feel Mick stiffen, see him start to glare, and he leans a little closer to Mick, tightening his hold on Mick’s jacket and letting Mick’s arm brush against his side. Mick glances over at him and a little of the tension drains out of him.

“Rory, go get your truck and I’ll follow you out,” Len tells him. Mick gives a short nod and heads out, stalking past Nicholas without a backward glance. Nicholas watches him go with a glare. Len heads over to the car and unlocks it, opening the door and climbing in the driver’s seat. When he goes to pull the door closed, it resists, and he looks up to see Nicholas gripping the top of the frame.

“Your friend’s a bit prickly,” Nicholas comments. “I’m surprised you insist on bringing him around to everything.”

“He’s not much of a people person,” Len replies. “We’ve got a lot in common like that.”

“Still. He could give you trouble someday, in the wrong situation.”

“Then I’ll be sure to stay out of those situations,” Len says. “He’s certainly prevented a lot of trouble for me, in certain situations.”

“Prevented, or caused?” Nicholas asks. “There are easier ways to get out of trouble, Leo. Even I know he has a bit of a reputation.”

“Good,” Leonard replies coldly, anger rising. “Then you know better than to mess around with him.”

“He’s wild, Leo,” Nicholas says, ignoring his response. “How long do you think you can control him?”

“I don’t control him,” Leonard says. “I work with him. He’s my partner.”

“Then you’re being more foolish than I thought,” Nicholas says. “Someone like that needs to be controlled. He’s a loose cannon, he can’t be given free rein to do whatever he pleases.”

“That sounds like my problem,” Leonard says.

“It’s our problem if you’re going to keep bringing him around,” Nicholas argues, and Len bristles.

“If you don’t want Rory and I around,” Len says, making sure to speak slowly and enunciate, “then neither of us will be your problem anymore. Now, if you don’t mind, my partner is waiting.”

Nicholas stares at him for a moment, still gripping the door frame, and Len stares right back defiantly.

“All right then,” Nicholas says. “Have it your way.” He pauses, then releases the car door. “I’ll see you both on Friday.”

Leonard shuts the car door with perhaps more force than necessary and shoves the key in the ignition. Technically, he’s won, but for some reason it doesn’t quite feel like it. The whole conversation leaves a bad taste in his mouth, and he’s relieved when he finally pulls out to follow Mick back to his side of town.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“What if someone comes out here?” Leonard asks, looking around at the old barn they’d parked the newly acquired car in.

“No one comes out here,” Mick says. “This farm went under a long time ago. There’s a bunch of abandoned barns like this out here. It’ll be fine. Besides, even if someone found it, it’s not like there’s a bunch of criminal masterminds out here looking to steal cars.”

“You’re out here with a stolen car,” Len points out.

“I ain’t a criminal mastermind,” Mick declares. “That’s your job. Too much thinking.”

“You’re perfectly capable of thinking, Mick.”

“Yeah, but it’s too much work,” Mick declares, grinning when Len shoots him a withering look. He leads Len out of the barn and shuts the doors as securely as possible.               “There. At least it’ll be easy to get away from the house now.”

“That’s good,” Len says. He pulls the envelope with the IDs out of his pocket and opens it up again, spilling the contents on the hood of the car. “Here. The paperwork is in the glove compartment if you get pulled over, and it matches this ID.”

“Patrick O’Brien,” Mick reads. “I look like a Patrick?”

“It sounds a bit like Mick, so it’ll catch your attention easier,” Len tells him. “But you should still look over all of them and start saying the names inside your head so you get used to them. I’ll try to call you by them once in a while too.”

“Not sure I want you callin’ me by another guy’s name, Len,” Mick says casually, and Len’s eyes snap towards him. Mick’s not even looking at him, busy checking out the other IDs in the pile, and Len’s face burns. He tries to seem as unaffected by what Mick’s just said as he is by all Mick’s other jokes when Mick turns back to him.

“Levi? Seriously, Len? This one for when you go undercover at the fancy prep schools?” Mick taunts, dangling the ID from his fingertips.

“It’s a perfectly good name,” Len says. “And we’re going to be going into some high-end places if we keep working with Nicholas. I need to be able to blend in a little.”

“Hope you don’t intend on takin’ me,” Mick mutters, dropping the ID and turning back to the others. “I ain’t ever gonna blend in somewhere fancy like that.”

“Sure you would,” Len says, stepping closer. “A nice suit, a shave, you’d knock ‘em dead.”

“All the fancy suits in the world can’t polish me up,” Mick scoffs. “It’ll be over as soon as I have to talk to someone.”

“So stick with me,” Len says. “I’ll do the talking for both of us. You can just be all silent and imposing like normal. But fancier.”

“Fancy and imposing don’t exactly go together,” Mick says drily.

“They can,” Len says. “Think secret service. You could totally pull it off.”

“You think so?” Mick asks, attention back on Len now. With Mick’s intense stare focused on him, Len suddenly feels incredibly shy.

“Definitely,” Len murmurs. He turns and grabs his IDs from the car hood, then clears his throat. “You think you’ll be okay getting to the meeting on Friday?”

“Sure,” Mick says. “Isn’t that the day after-”

“Thursday?” Len interrupts, crossing his arms. “Yes, it is.”

Mick eyes him for a moment but lets his answer stand. “You need a ride?”

“No,” Len says regretfully. “I need to head out with my father. I’ll have to meet you there.”

“All right,” Mick says, though Len can see he’s displeased. He seems to get that way every time Len mentions Lewis now, and Len knows why. There’s nothing he can think of to do about it yet, though. “By the way… what took you so long getting out of Nicholas’s garage?”

Len’s stomach clenches at the recollection of his conversation with Nicholas, but he knows that telling Mick about it would just rile him up. He’d made it very clear to Nicholas that he and Mick were a set; hopefully that would be the end of it.

“He just wanted to ask me a few things about the insurance hit,” Len says. Lying to Mick makes him feel a little sick inside, but he needs to maintain a balance between Mick and the Family until he’s got everything he needs.

“I don’t trust him,” Mick declares. “Guys like him are always trying to pull one over on you.”

“You shouldn’t trust him,” Len agrees. “I don’t. We just need to be careful around him. Around all of them,” Len revises.

“All of them?”

“Nicholas, Benny, Alex, anyone else from the Santini clan.”

“You think Alex is trying to pull something?” Mick asks, leaning back against the car hood. Len slides a little closer. “He sounded more like he was trying to warn us off.”

“You know that painting I was looking at?” Len asks. Mick frowns, puzzled at his response. “It’s a forgery. A very good one. And if Alex likes art so much, he would know that.”

“Maybe the old man just got ripped off,” Mick suggests.

“I doubt it. A man like that, he’d have it appraised by professionals before he bought anything. Plus, there’s a tiny strip of wall on one side of the painting that’s darker than the rest of the wall.”

“Meaning?” Mick asks, frown deepening.

“Meaning there was a painting there before and someone moved it, but they didn’t get the new one back in the exact same spot,” Len explains. Mick raises his eyebrows.

“You think Alex stole the painting and replaced it,” Mick says, and Len grins. He knew Mick would understand. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Len admits. “That’s why I don’t trust him.” Mick gives a low rumble of agreement.

“He’s got one thing right though,” Mick says. “Nicholas has way too much interest in you.”

“Jealous, Mick?” Len asks far more lightly than he feels.

“Sure,” Mick growls, and Len’s heart leaps. “He ain’t stealing my partner.”

“No, he won’t,” Len agrees. “We just need to use him for a while longer. Which means showing up to this meeting Friday.” Mick grunts.

“I’ll see you Friday. Be careful, Lenny.”

Chapter Text

Len waits in the hallway, back pressed against the wall, trying to blend in with the wallpaper. He’d already gone around the house earlier in the day, making sure to put his father’s keys on the little hall table where they were easily seen, sneaking into the garage to make sure the car had gas, and trying to think of anything else his father might need before they took off. He’d learned very early on that anything forgotten, out of place, difficult to find, or otherwise causing any kind of delay would be deemed Leonard’s fault, and that staging the things Lewis wanted would make his life significantly easier.

It doesn’t mean they make it out on time, though. Lewis storms through the house for ages while Len tracks the time silently in his head. By the time Lewis shows up and snatches the keys from the table, Len estimates they should have left 8 minutes ago.

Lewis seems intent on making up for this by driving like a mad man, as per his usual. He changes lanes the moment the one he’s in slows down, cuts people off, curses at all the other drivers, honks his horn if someone in front of him isn’t halfway through an intersection the moment the light turns green, rolls through stops signs, and alternates between flooring the gas pedal when the lane’s open and braking hard and barely in time to avoid rear ending people. Len spends the drive with a white-knuckled grip on the seat, marveling when they actually arrive at the warehouse in one piece.

They’re still technically five minutes late, although once they’re led into the large conference room, they can see Nicholas and Benny aren’t there yet. Mick is, though, leaning against a wall near the back and sporting his usual scowl. Len notices Lewis giving him a long look, recognizing him from their house, and Leonard’s simultaneously relieved and nervous. He hates every moment that Lewis has Mick in his sights, but it does help for him to be seen here, with the Family, since Mick’s positioned himself as working for them. When Lewis drops down into one of the chairs by the table, Leonard stays standing, moving to the back as well. He’s still a few feet from Mick, but he doesn’t want to chance moving any farther away from Lewis in case it catches his attention. Mick pushes off the wall, wandering over to the trash can to toss something out, and when he returns, he passes by his previous position and picks a spot inches from Len, leaning against the wall again and flicking on his lighter. Len doesn’t risk turning to look at him, but he smiles just a tiny bit and suspects Mick will notice.

Nicholas and Benny arrive not too long afterwards, their presence quieting the room; even Mick puts his lighter away. Nicholas takes a seat at the head of the table while Benny stands near the door.

“Welcome back, everyone,” Nicholas says with a shark-like grin. “Great to see you. We’ve got a lot of action planned for the next few weeks, so get ready. We’re hitting Maroni territory hard and fast. We’re going after their highest earners, all at once. In order to hurt them as much as possible, first, I’ll be taking a small group to break in at Integral Insurance, where we’re going to trash all their insurance records, so they can’t make any money back on what we steal or destroy. One we’ve gotten that taken care of, we’ll send a signal, and the three of you will be leading teams to hit them at the same time. Lewis, Alan, and Jimmy, you get the jewelry store on 52nd, the car lot on Kennedy, and the fashion and jewelry store on Pierce, respectively. Once we’ve hit the insurance building my team will move on to take out the art gallery on Adams. Make sure when you get in that you find and destroy any insurance records that the store has copies of.” He looks around at them. “You can use any of our men for your team; if you want to use your own, they have to be vetted by the Family first. My team’s already set up. We’ll meet up with you and your teams individually to go over the specifics at certain times. We’ve got a set of basic information to start you out with, and we’ll go from there.” Finished, Nicholas claps his hands together. People slowly get up and start moving around. Lewis glances over his shoulder at Leonard, then jerks his chin, signaling for him to head over with him. Len slinks away from the wall – away from Mick, who stays there, staring after him – and stands by his father as he goes up to Nicholas and Benny.

“Hello, Lewis,” Nicholas says, holding out an envelope. “You get the jewelry store, of course.”

“No problem,” Lewis practically simpers. It’s pathetic, Len thinks, how he half grovels in front of these men. “You know Leo and I have robbed quite a few jewelry stores, so we’ll do great, of course.”

“Leo is going to be with me,” Nicholas says calmly. Lewis’s face freezes for a moment while his eyes dart between the two of them, then returns to his sniveling, though it’s visibly strained.

“Oh, sure, if you want him, he’s ok. I could help you out too, if you’d like-“

“No, you’re fine on the jewelry store,” Nicholas says dismissively. “Leonard will be more than good enough, we won’t need you.”

Leonard and Lewis go still at almost the same time; it’s the worst possible words that Nicholas could have used, and Leonard feels a spike of cold fear go through him. He hears a noise behind him, Mick pushing off the wall and coming to stand near him. Nicholas smiles pleasantly and pushes an envelope across the table towards Len, who reaches out and takes it numbly.

“Your information on Integral and the art gallery,” Nicholas says, and Len nods on autopilot. He can feel all three of them staring at him, but he can’t seem to think. “We’ll meet up next weekend to talk about our plans for them It’s going to be a double hit; you up for that?”

“I will be,” Leonard replies. It’s the least of his problems right now.

“Good,” Nicholas says. “We’ll be counting on you.”

Lewis stalks out the door and Leonard follow him on auto pilot. Lewis is halfway down the hall by the time he gets out the door, though he pauses at the end.

“Hurry the fuck up,” Lewis snarls, before turning the corner and disappearing. Len makes it a couple more steps before someone grabs him by the arm like a vice. He jerks and hisses on instinct, swiping at the other person, but they catch his wrist midair, ready for him.

“Chill out, Len,” Mick says in his quiet rumble. Len stops struggling, though he can’t get the tension out of his body. When Mick leans closer, he pulls away, and Mick frowns.

“Come with me,” Mick says, leaning back and tugging at him.

“No. My father is waiting,” Len tells him.

“Yeah, you look so eager to get there,” Mick says. “I saw the way both of you looked. You ain’t leaving with him.”

“We’ve been over this before, Mick,” Len says, glancing at the end of the hall. “I don’t have time for this.”

“I don’t have time to drag your half dead ass out of any more phone booths,” Mick growls. “He’s got that look in his eyes, Lenny. Just come with me. We can figure something out.”

“I can’t right now,” Len says. Facing his wrath now will be easiest in the long run. He tries to pull away again, but Mick’s not letting go. “Mick, come on.”

“Just stay away from him for a while. Go back when he’s calmed down,” Mick says stubbornly. Len sighs.

“It’s not like that, Mick. That’ll just make him angrier. He’s not going to do anything bad to me with this job coming up.”

“He thinks I’m with the Family. He won’t do anything to me either if I take you with me,” Mick argues.

“Yes he will!” Len hisses. “Mick, what do you think you’re gonna tell him? What excuse do you have to drag me off tonight?”

“I’ll think of something,” Mick says. “But you ain’t going with him.”

“Mick, he will hurt you,” Len says desperately. “Just let me go.”

“Leonard!” Lewis’s voice booms down the hall, and Len flinches reflexively. Mick growls and pulls him in closer as Lewis’s footsteps approach. Len lets him, for a moment, close enough that Len can bring up his knee and hit Mick in the side. Mick coughs, and his hold loosens enough for Len to pull free.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, before he turns and runs off. When he rounds the corner, he nearly runs into Lewis, who grabs him by the throat to stop him.

“What the hell took so long?” Lewis snarls.

“Nicholas just wanted to ask me a couple things,” Len chokes out. Lewis scoffs and shift his grip, moving it to the back of Len’s neck and using it to propel him forward.

“Maybe he should ask someone who knows shit instead of you,” Lewis mutter. Len glances back while he’s talking; Mick is at the corner, hand on his side and glaring after them. Len swallows and faces forward again. Better for Mick to be angry with him than to start a fight with Lewis. “Why the hell does that kid think you’re so fucking great?”

“He doesn’t want great,” Len lies. “He wants someone that won’t overshadow him. Someone he can control.”

“Yeah?” Lewis says as they step outside. “You are pretty worthless without someone to tell you what to do. Now if only you listened.”

“I listen,” Leonard argues before he can stop himself. Lewis hits him upside the head with an open palm, hitting right on his temple and making him stumble. Stupid, he tells himself, why would you say that. Keep your mouth shut.

“Shut your fucking mouth,” Lewis says. “Who do you think you are, talking back to me?”

“Sorry,” Leonard mumbles, because that’s the only sort of answer Lewis accepts at times like these. He lifts his head, trying to ignore the throb, and sees the car in front of them.

It hits him suddenly, a wave of weakness and nausea that buckles his knees and spikes his heart rate. He’s suddenly sitting on the ground, head spinning.

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Lewis growls, and Leonard echoes the question to himself in his own mind. He needs to get up. He forces his body to move, or tries to. He gets halfway to his knees before he loses strength and sinks down again. “Hey! Get the fuck up, you goddamn idiot. What’s wrong with you?”

“Don’t feel well,” Leonard whispers. Lewis makes a frustrated sound and grabs him by the arm, yanking him up to his feet.

“Get in the fucking car and stop making a goddamn scene,” Lewis hisses. Leonard tries to force his feet to obey him, takes two stumbling steps forward, and ends up on his knees again.

“Can’t get in there,” Len gasps, chest tight. Lewis snarls and drops his arm, and for a moment Len is relieved. He tries to get himself together as he hears the sound of a car door opening; maybe Lewis will just leave him here, he thinks. Then again, Lewis might just run him over on the way out, so maybe that’s not a great option. He’s trying to get up again when Lewis grabs him by the shirt, hauling him to his feet again and dragging him back, away from the front of the car. Len doesn’t have time to feel relieved before Lewis is turning him away from the car, then hitting him straight in the gut. Leonard doubles over, unable to breathe for a moment, the hit sucking what little air he had out of his lungs. Lewis takes the opportunity to shove him back hard, and Len falls back, not as far as he thought. The back of his legs hit metal and he tumbles backwards, landing on something hard. He’s trying to catch his breath and figure out his surrounding when Lewis shoves at his legs, pushing them up at his chest. Len’s mind finally seizes on his surroundings as Lewis slams the trunk lid down.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The car ride feels a lot longer from the trunk. It’s a lot rougher than riding in the seats, too; every bump and pothole bounces him roughly and raps his head against the bottom of the trunk, every hard brake and sudden acceleration sends him sliding across the floor. Leonard eventually manages to maneuver himself from his back to his side, pillowing his arms under his head to lessen the impacts. The space is cramped and stuffy but not unbearable, and Len settles in to wait until they get back to the house, but when the car stops and the engine shuts off, Len can hear more noise than there should be. He closes his eyes and listens carefully; there’s loud music, some dull country tune, and a few moments later he can hear other men’s voices, laughter and hollering. Bar, his mind supplies. Lewis stopped for drink. Of course.

Len takes deep breaths. It’s gotten steadily warmer in the trunk, his own trapped body heat having nowhere to diffuse to, and he’s starting to sweat. He stops and considers his options. He remembers seeing a documentary about being kidnapped in a trunk that recommends kicking out a taillight, but he’s pretty sure that drawing that kind of attention to Lewis is not going to result in anything good. Being in a stuffy trunk is still better than facing Lewis’s full wrath. He’s uncomfortable, but he’s safe, for now. Still.

Lewis’s back seats don’t fold forward, so that’s out. Len tries to remember more of that stupid documentary. Some cars have trunk release latches on the inside. Len starts feeling along the insides of the car, unable to see anything in the pitch blackness of the trunk. He moves his fingers slowly and meticulously over every inch of the sides of the trunk. It takes a long time, and he doesn’t feel anything that seems like a release or anything even remotely useful, not that he even knows what he’s really looking for. He sighs and shifts around in the tiny space until he’s on his back again. He places his hands against the top of the trunk and pushes as hard as he can. The trunk doesn’t move. He takes a few more deep breaths, braces his feet against the floor, and pushes again, even harder. He pushes until his arms ache and sweat stings his eyes and the futility of his efforts breaks through his denial. He drops his arms to the side and closes his eyes again. His muscles feel weak and he feels slightly dizzy. His throat is dry and he’s already sweated through his shirt. He lets his mind drift for a bit while he tries to think of his next step.

Leonard wakes up with a start when he feels a rumble beneath him. For a moment he doesn’t realize what’s going on; he’s surrounded by darkness and vibrations. Then he snaps back to the present; he’s in the trunk of Lewis’s car. He must has drifted off for a while when he closed his eyes. Lewis backs out and Len goes sliding again, hitting the side of the trunk with a thud. He attempts to shift himself back onto his side again, but it’s hard to keep his balance. He’s not sure how long he was out for, but Lewis is definitely drunk. The car sways and swerves harshly, sending Leonard sliding back and forth as he scrabbles for purchase on the trunk floor. It’s a mercifully short drive that he has to endure, and Leonard thanks his lucky stars that Lewis likes his local bars so much, and that he managed to drive them both home without getting into an accident.

The car slows, then stops for a moment. After a few seconds it pulls forwards and stops again, finally shutting off. Len listens carefully and can hear the mechanical whirr of a garage door coming down. They’re home, then. Leonard braces himself to face Lewis. Hopefully the drinking has put him in a better mood, but there’s always the chance that it’s simply allowed him to stew in resentment. He steels his resolve for whatever’s coming as the car door slams.

Nothing happens.

Leonard can’t hear Lewis’s footsteps from inside the trunk, but he can hear the door to the house open. He can’t be leaving, Len thinks. He pounds his fists against the trunk lid as hard as he can. Maybe Lewis forgot that Leonard’s in here. He stops pounding and listens. There’s a few beats of silence, and then a door slams.

Len sits there for a few moments, hands pressed against the roof of the trunk, straining his ears for any sounds. He counts in his head until five minutes have passed. Lewis is gone. Lewis doesn’t sit still for five minutes, sober or drunk.

Lewis left him here.

Leonard scrapes his fingers across the metal trunk, then drops his hands to his side. The air is heavy and hot and Len can feel the sweat on every inch of his skin. His throat is dry and he still feels weak and dizzy. He knows it’s because of the heat, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Anger surfaces briefly, and he kicks up at the trunk lid, trying to make it move even a little. All he succeeds in doing is tiring himself out further. He’s breathing harder now, gulping in the stale air. He knows he won’t suffocate, but alone in this trunk overnight he’s not sure he can outlast the heat stroke.

Lewis can’t possibly intend to leave him here all night. Leonard bites his lip. Even Lewis isn’t that stupid; if something happens to him, how would he explain that?

Then again, it’s not like Lewis thinks these things through. Len rolls onto his side and pushes himself against the back of the trunk. There’s a compartment under him, holding the spare tire and a tire iron, maybe some other things. Why doesn’t Len know this? He should know this. He vows to learn a lot more about being kidnapped in a car trunk if he gets out of this. He finds the seam in the carpet on the bottom of the trunk and works his fingers in, peeling it back as far as he can. He can see the edge of the opening, but it’s really close to him. He wriggles a bit but he can’t get any father back. He slides his fingers into the notch and pulls up. It only comes up a little bit before his weight blocks it from moving any farther. He shifts his body, trying to raise his torso up off the floor as much as possible, but the space is so small that he only manages to get his torso up by bracing himself on his knees, which are still on the top of the hatch. He tries every position his can think of and can only manage to get his fingers about halfway into the compartment. As his arms and legs start shaking he yanks his fingers out and drops down, punching the metal in frustration. His eyes burn and his throat is tight and it feels like it’s a hundred degrees in this space, his fruitless exertions raising the temperature further.

Len scoots closer to the side of the trunk where it’s latched to the car again. He feels at the compartment housing the latch mechanism, fingers scratching and scraping uselessly at the metal. There’s no way he’s getting through it and getting a crack at the lock.

Len sighs and slumps against the floor, curling up on weak limbs. No one but Lewis knows he’s in here, and Lewis doesn’t seem inclined to let him out. He wonders if he’s going to die in this stupid trunk. The irony of a thief dying because of a lock he can’t pick pulls a weak laugh out of him. He closes his eyes and wonders what Lewis will tell Lisa.

Chapter Text

A shock of something cold hits Len in the face and he jolts. He blinks, water dripping down his face and off his eyelashes, bright lights in his face and hurting his eyes. Hands grip his shoulders, dragging him forward, and he tries to resist but his body feels weak. He blinks again, trying to erase the bright after images from his vision. He’s panting and his stomach is churning, his skin drenched in sweat and still burning, and he feels lost.

“Lenny,” a voice rumbles next to his ear, washing over him and calming him. Mick. Mick is here, somehow, and he’s safe with Mick. Len gropes blindly in the harsh light until his hands hit Mick’s solid form, clutching at him and trying to drag himself closer. He tries to say Mick’s name, but it comes out as a dry hack of a cough from the desert that is his mouth. “Hold on Lenny, I got you.” The hands on him shift and travel along his body until he feels an arm around his shoulders, the other sliding under his legs. He’s lifted up, causing his head to spin a little and an ache to throb behind his eyes as he’s fully exposed to the bright light. The trunk, Len pulls from the recesses of his spinning mind. That’s where he was. That’s why the light hurts, why it makes his eyes water and burn, because he’s been pulled suddenly out of pitch blackness. Len squeezes his eyes shut and presses his face against Mick’s chest to block out as much of the light as he can, pressing his body in close and gripping Mick’s shoulders with all the strength he can muster as Mick carries him away. Len can tell that Mick’s brought them outside when the air cools a bit and the bright lights dim. He cautiously opens his eyes, able to see more now that they’re more adjusted and there isn’t as much light.

Mick carries him through the open gate in the fence, down to where their newly acquired car is parked outside Lewis’s house. Len shifts slightly and tilts his head to peer over Mick’s shoulder at the house behind them. It’s dark, but he knows Lewis has to be in there somewhere. Len tightens his arms around Mick’s shoulder just a fraction as he stares down the dark house, expecting light or movement from it at any moment. Len finally gives up and turns again, looking at the car as they approach. He knows this started because he didn’t want to get in a car, but he can’t summon the same fear right now. Lewis’s house seems far more intimidating than this car, and he wonders what he was afraid of in the first place that caused such a mess.

Mick manages to wrestle the passenger door open with minimal jostling. He helps Leonard slide out of his arms and into the seat without Len passing out or throwing up, though he suspects those are near misses.

“Jesus, you’re a mess,” Mick mutters, pressing a hand against his forehead. It feels cool against his skin, and considering that Mick is a human space heater most of the time, Leonard knows that’s a bad sign. “You’re burning up, Lenny.” Len’s pretty sure that his dried, cracked tongue can’t make any proper sounds, so he settles on a rather pathetic whimper, the best he can do. Mick curses and shuts the door, reappearing in the driver’s seat a few moments later. “Just hold on a little, ok?” Len gives a small nod and lets his eyes slide shut again as Mick starts the car. Len’s not sure where they’re going, but he’s fine going anywhere else as long as Mick is with him.

After a few minutes, Len cracks his eyes open as they drive to look at the dashboard. The clock reads half past three in the morning. The meeting had been at nine and hadn’t lasted that long, meaning that Len must have been in that trunk for nearly six hours. A new wave of sickness hits him at that realization, and he makes a small distressed noise that snaps Mick’s attention back on him.

“It’s ok, Lenny,” Mick says, though he doesn’t look the least bit convinced of that. “Hang on.” Len nods a little, closing his eyes and leaning his forehead against the window. The glass feels cool and soothes him a little.

Len’s eyes flutter open again when the car stops. Mick’s unbuckling his seat belt, sliding out of the car, and Len reaches out for him in a moment of fear. He doesn’t want Mick to go.

“I’ll be back in just a minute, Lenny,” Mick tells him. Len swallows down the rising panic and gives a short nod. Mick closes his door and jogs off, into a 24 hour convenience store. Len scowls. He should be in there with him, lifting things while Mick distracts the cashier, but he’s fairly certain that he can’t get his hands to stop shaking long enough to steal anything properly right now. He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, trying to summon calm. Being alone in this car is making his skin crawl.

Thankfully, it’s only a couple minutes before Mick reappears carrying a plastic shopping bag, ducking back into the car. He drops the bag on his lap and pulls out a water bottle, opening it and passing it over to Leonard. The bottle is ice cold in Len’s hand, and he immediately brings it up to his chapped lips and starts draining it as fast as he can.

“Damn it, Len, slow down,” Mick says, forcing the bottle away from his lips. “You’ll make yourself sick. Just sip it, ok?”

“Okay,” Len croaks, the first thing he’s managed to say in hours. He forces himself to slow down, taking a couple gulps and then counting to ten before repeating while Mick resumes driving. When he finishes off the bottle, Mick hands him a second one. He’s nearly done with that one when Mick pulls into another parking lot. The car is bathed in the neon glow of a motel sign, and Len smiles a little.

“Wait here,” Mick says, leaving yet again. Len doesn’t feel quite so nervous this time. He finishes off the rest of the water bottle in his hand and tosses the empty into the plastic bag. He’s feeling a little better; he still feels weak and dizzy, but the nausea has retreated a bit, and his hands aren’t shaking as much. His body still feels hot, but he can breathe easier and his mouth isn’t dry as dust.

Mick appears at his side of the car and opens the door for him. Len hands him the shopping bag and slides his legs out of the car, grimacing at the way his sweat-soaked shirt sticks and then peels off the faux leather car seat. He forces himself to stand, hands gripping the car frame for assistance. He manages it, but it sparks another wave of dizziness through him, and he sways on his feet a little. Mick’s immediately in his space, wrapping his arms around Len’s torso and pulling him close, supporting him. Len releases the car and wraps his arms around Mick’s shoulders instead, leaning against Mick’s solid body. One of the more fried parts of his brain wonders if he could just sleep right here, standing in the parking lot with Mick. He’s sick and miserable and exhausted and he just wants this whole night to be over.

“Want me to carry you in?” Mick asks, and a functioning part of Len’s brain kicks in. He shakes his head and pulls back slightly.

“I think I can walk. Just… Help me in,” Len says, and Mick nods. He keeps one arm wrapped around Len’s waist and lets Len continue to clutch his clothes as they make their way to the motel room.

Mick kicks the door closed behind them once they get in and leads Len towards the back. Len lets himself be led, at this point willing to go wherever Mick wants to go. Mick ends up taking him into the bathroom, sitting him down on the closed toilet and manually detaching Len’s hand from his shirt when Len’s fingers refuse to work.

“What are you doing?” Len asks suspiciously as Mick yanks back the shower curtain.

“Cold shower’s a good way to cool your temperature down,” Mick tells him, turning the water on. “It’s what we do on the farm when we’re working in the sun during summer. Don’t got air conditioning or anything, so it’s the best way we got to avoid heat stroke.” Mick eyes him up and down. “Think you might be halfway there, Lenny. You’re lucky you didn’t end up in the hospital.”

“I know,” Len whispers. Mick sighs and stands, looking down at him for a minute.

“You need me to help you in?” Mick finally asks, and Len’s head snaps up. He’s abruptly thankful that his skin is so red from the heat exhaustion that he can’t blush.

“I think I’ll be fine,” Len mumbles, shifting uncomfortably where he’s sitting. Mick bites his lip, then nods.

“Here,” Mick says, dropping his bag on the floor. “I’ve got some extra clothes in there that you can wear.” Len nods, and Mick heads for the door, pausing in the doorway. “I’ll be right here, so just holler if you need help or anything, okay?”

“Okay,” Len says, and Mick gives a final nod before leaving, closing the door softly behind him.

Len picks at the hem of his shirt, drawing it up, grimacing as the sweat-drenched material peels away from his skin. He tosses it aside and braces himself against the wall and the counter, standing cautiously. His legs are shaky, but they hold, and he manages to get his jeans and underwear off, the damp material scraping down his legs before he kicks it aside. He takes a deep breath and heads over to the shower. At this point he could probably use a shower on the basis of smell alone, lying as he was in his own sweat with practically no air circulation for hours, but Mick hadn’t complained. When he steps in, the water hits his overheated skin like thousands of tiny, icy needles, and he gasps. He forces himself to stand still and endure it, clenching his hands into fists and leaning against the wall, and after a few minutes the pain ebbs into a more soothing feeling, bordering on relief. Still tired, he lowers himself to the shower floor, sitting down and bringing his knees up to his chest, letting the cold water rush over his back.

He feels fragile, and he hates it.

Len stays in the shower for a long time, until he finally gives a little shiver. Only then does he shut the water off and climb carefully to his feet. Standing isn’t as hard this time as it was in the parking lot; his head doesn’t spin and he doesn’t feel very nauseous anymore, though he still has a headache. He carefully climbs out of the shower, because the last thing in the world he needs is to slip and fall and hit his head and have Mick come find him passed out naked on the bathroom floor. He’s not sure his pride could ever recover from that.

He dries himself off as quickly as possible, then kneels down and opens Mick’s bag. He digs through the clothes inside until he finds a lightweight long-sleeve shirt. He slips it on and pulls out a pair of boxers, pulling them up over his hips. They’re Mick’s, which means they slide down a bit on his narrow hips, and Len tugs at Mick’s shirt, pulling it down to make sure it compensates for the low-hanging boxers. The cool clothing feels good against his skin, and he stops and sits down on the bathroom floor, taking deep breaths. He feels brittle and weak, and he needs to calm himself down and put himself back together before he can go out and face the world. He needs to be sure that he can face Mick without falling apart. When he’s confident enough that he’s fully ready, he slips out of the bathroom.

Mick’s sitting up against the bed’s headboard, bare-chested and wearing only a pair of boxers. There’s another water bottle on the small table next to the bed, condensation pooling on the sides and then dripping down. Mick watches Len as he climbs up onto the foot of the bed and crawls forward until he can settle in beside him. Mick reaches out slowly and presses his wrist against Len’s forehead again.

“Still warm, but you’re not burning up anymore,” Mick murmurs as he withdraws his hand. “You feeling any better?”

“Yes,” Len says. He picks the water bottle up and fiddles with the cap, staring down at it. “How did you find me?”

Mick sighs and stares at the silent tv across from them for a minute. “I got down as your dad was pulling away, and I decided to follow him. I jumped in the car and caught up with him, saw him stop off at the bar and get out. I got out and looked in the car ‘cause I didn’t see you go in, but you weren’t there.” He pauses and frowns, turning to look at Len. “Not in the seats, anyway. Were you…?”

“Yeah,” Len whispers. “He tossed me in before we left.” A flash of guilt streaks across Mick’s face.

“Shit, Lenny, I’m so sorry. I was right there, I should’ve-“

“Known that I was in the trunk?” Len asks drily, raising his eyebrows. “Come on, Mick. It’s not exactly a common occurrence.”

“Still…”

“Still nothing,” Len cuts him off. “You found me. I’m fine. If you hadn’t come looking, I might still be in there.”

Mick sighs again and scrubs his face with one of his hands. “I used one of those IDs to get in the bar. I knew I hadn’t seen you in the Santini’s parking lot when I left, so I thought I might’ve missed you going in. I went in and looked around, but all I saw was Lewis getting’ drunk off his ass and bitching.”

“What was he saying?” Len asks. Mick drops his eyes and shifts uncomfortably. “Mick.”

“He was just talkin’ shit, Lenny. Don’t worry about him.”

“Mick.”

Mick groans a little. “He said his kid was messing up his jobs and that he needed to be reminded that he was nothing but a weak little screw up,” he mumbles, watching Len out of the corner of his eye. Leonard keeps his face a mask of calm and nods. It’s hardly the worst thing Lewis has ever said about him. “I sat there for a while, then headed out and went over to his house. I thought you might be back at his house already, maybe you left first, you know? So I went back there and snuck in, looked around, but you weren’t there either. So I left and went to the Motorcar, and then I went home, just in case you snuck over there again. I tried to go to sleep, but it was bugging me that I couldn’t find you, so I gave up and snuck back out to Lewis’s house again. I was looking for something that might gimme an idea where you went. I started searching the car, and I popped the trunk, and…” Mick’s voice trails off, and he turns back to stare at Len again. “You were there the whole time?”

“He was just leaving me in there a while to teach me a lesson,” Len argues. Mick glares at him.

“Lenny, I snuck back into the house when I came back the second time. He was passed out in your living room, snoring like a chainsaw. He wasn’t coming back for you.”

“But you did,” Len murmurs.

“Of course,” Mick scoffs. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because I was a jerk,” Len says, scowling down at his water bottle. “I hit you and ran off, when you were just trying to protect me. Maybe I deserved it.”

Mick’s head jerks up and he growls. “Don’t fucking say that, Lenny. I thought it, for a minute, after you left. Thought that it would serve you right if something happened since you were bein’ an idiot, but when I saw you laying there… You don’t fucking deserve that. You scared the shit out of me.”

“Was the smell that bad?” Len jokes, and Mick narrows his eyes, crossing his arms. Len holds up his hands in surrender. “Just trying to lighten the mood.”

“You’re a terrible comedian,” Mick tells him, scowling.  “Seriously, Lenny, I opened that trunk and you were barely breathing… I thought…” Mick’s face darkens, eyes blazing with anger. “I went in to get some water to try and wake you up, and he was just passed out in his armchair, and all I wanted to do was light him on fire, watch him twist and blacken until there was nothing left but ashes.” Len’s breath catches; the thought is terrifying and exhilarating. “If you hadn’t woken up…”

“I’m here, Mick,” Len murmurs, and Mick turns and studies his face. “I’m fine.”

“This time,” Mick grumbles, but he relaxes a little, shifting down the bed to stretch out, flicking on the tv.

“Thank you,” Len says suddenly, forcing the words out in a rush. It’s nowhere near close to how he really feels, the feeling in his bones that Mick’s the only one who cares enough to hunt him down against all odds, but he doesn’t know how to put that into words; not ones that he can force out of his mouth, anyway. Mick stares at him silently for a minute, and then the corners of his mouth twitch up a little.

“Don’t sweat it, Lenny,” he rumbles, a mischievous smile spreading across his face. Len’s mouth drops open a little.

“You – I can’t – you just-“ He wants to be mad at Mick for mocking his predicament, he really does, but the laughter is forcing its way out of his mouth before he can complete a whole sentence, and once it starts, he can’t stop. He laughs until his stomach physically hurts and only then does the pain allow him to regain some control.

“Finally manage to get a hold of yourself?” Mick teases as Len takes deep breaths to steady himself. Len glares at him, but Mick just smirks up at him from his place on the bed, looking like the most goddamn beautiful thing Len’s ever seen.

“You’re unbelievable, Mick,” Len gasps, and Mick gives him a rakish grin and a shrug before returning his attention to the tv, seemingly content now that Len’s relaxed a bit.

“Turn off the light, will ya?”

Len obediently reaches out and flicks off the light. The room plunges into darkness and Len’s heart jumps. He swallows and clutches the water bottle in his hands. There’s nothing to worry about. He can still see from the faint glow of the tv, and Mick is right beside him. He tries to shift as close to Mick as possible without him noticing, and fails miserably. Mick notices as soon as he’s moved a few inches, reaching out and wrapping his arm around Len, dragging him closer and tucking him against Mick’s side. Len doesn’t fight it, letting himself go with the motion and settling in. He sips at his water while Mick flicks through channels, stopping on whatever he can find something trashy or amusing that they can enjoy. Len can feel the exhaustion seeping into his bones now that he’s out of immediate danger, and it’s getting hard to keep his eyes open. He’s barely aware of it when Mick takes the water bottle from his hands.

“Get some sleep, Lenny. You need it,” Mick rumbles from beside him, and Len doesn’t disagree. He lets his eyes slide close and nods off.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len wakes up hot and cramped, can feel the sweat on his back, and immediately his brain spikes with fear, thinking that he’s dreamed seeing Mick and that he’s still there, in the car trunk. He squirms against the heat and confinement, only to have it shift and press in closer. He stops, trying to think. He’s on his side, looking at a nightstand with a water bottle sitting on it. Len turns his head a little and his breath catches.

The heat and pressure against him is Mick, pressed up along his back with an arm draped across his waist. Mick’s body heat is searing into his back, and for a minute Len’s body and mind are at war with each other. The ridiculous amount of heat that Mick gives off at all times is incredibly uncomfortable to Len’s oversensitive body, already making him sweat and agitating his stomach a little as his own temperature rises, but Len is silently enjoying the feel of Mick’s body against his in all other regards. Then again, he may be enjoying it a little too much, Len considers, as Mick shift a little and his breath runs across the nape of Leonard’s neck, making him shudder. Len sighs quietly. He’s getting too hot in more ways than one, and he needs to get away.

Len inches towards the edge of the bed, sliding out from under Mick’s arm, shivering a little when Mick’s fingers slide over the skin exposed where Len’s shirt – Mick’s shirt – is riding up on him. He stands and glances back, watching as Mick shifts in his sleep, moving into the space Len’s just left, hand splaying on the sheets, sliding across them for a moment like he’s searching for something.

Len forces himself to turn and plod into the bathroom. A cold shower seems to be the answer to all his problems right now.

He doesn’t turn the water quite as cold as Mick had it last night, or stay in as long as he did before, but he stills comes out feeling refreshed. He redresses in the same clothes and heads back out.

Mick’s awake now, stretching out in a very pleasing manner. Len climbs back onto the bed and sits down cross-legged beside him.

“Hey,” Mick greets him in a sleepy rumble. “How you feeling?”

“Almost normal now,” Len says. “How about you?”

“Long as you’re good, I’m good,” Mick says, waving his hand dismissively. He looks over Len appraisingly for a moment. “You feel up to going out?”

“Out where?” Len asks, tilting his head.

“It’s a surprise,” Mick declares, sitting up and grinning. Len narrows his eyes.

“I’m sure you’ll understand if I’m a bit leery of surprises,” Len says warily.

“Yeah, but you trust me, right?” Mick asks, leaning towards Len.

“I do,” Len confesses, surprised at how easy it is to admit. Mick’s face lights up when he says it and Len feels his heart flutter a little.

“Well then,” Mick says, standing up, “go get dressed.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len drums his fingers on his thighs as Mick drives. His jeans were irredeemable without a good washing, so he’d ended up using a pair of Mick’s and belt that managed to hold them in place. He scans the buildings passing by as Mick takes them deeper downtown, trying to figure out where they’re going. As they head farther into the heart of the city, Mick reaches over and flicks him in the side of the head with his fingers.

“Ow!” Len protests, rubbing his temple. “What the hell, Mick?”

“You’re thinking too loud,” Mick says. “Just relax and stop thinking.”

“Some of us like to think things through, Mick,” Len says, glaring at him.

“Yeah? Then why you got that angry little crease in your forehead?” Mick asks, poking his forehead between his eyebrows while Len tries to bat his hand away. “Just stop pouting and enjoy the drive.”

“I am not pouting,” Len says indignantly, glaring harder. “I am glaring very viciously at you because you’re keeping me in the dark.”

“It’s a surprise, Len, keepin’ you in the dark is the point,” Mick says with exasperation. “And it’s definitely pouting when you do that thing with your lip.”

“I am not doing anything with my lips,” Len argues, flattening his mouth into a line even though Mick is clearly being ridiculous. Mick just chuckles.

“Don’t matter; we’re here,” Mick declares, and Len looks up to realize that Mick’s pulled into a parking garage while he was distracted.

“Where’s here?” Len asks as Mick pulls into a space and shuts the car off. Mick rolls his eyes and gets out of the car. Len throws his seatbelt off and scrambles out after him.

Len doesn’t recognize the building until they pass through the glass doors out of the parking garage, heading into the building proper where the gilded lettering above the entryway declares “Central City Art Museum.” Len looks over at Mick, thrown as to why he’d want to come here.

“That Monet thing you wanted to see is here, isn’t? You said it was running for the summer,” Mick explains, hands jammed in his pockets. He looks almost shy for a moment. Len nods mutely in confirmation, shocked that Mick remembered something like this that he’d mentioned months ago. “Well, you wouldn’t come out on Thursday, but I figure better late than never, right? It ain’t exactly a sweet sixteen, but…” Mick shrugs as his voice trails off, staring down at his shoes.

There’s people milling around – not many, but enough that it would normally make Len think twice about his actions as he steps forward quickly and throws his arms around Mick’s neck, pressing his face against Mick’s shoulder. Right now, though, no one else matters to Len.

“Thank you,” he whispers, afraid to say too much more in case he can’t stop himself. He can’t remember anyone ever going out of their way like this for him, just because he’d like it. He holds on for a few long moments, until he catches a couple people looking curiously at them over Mick’s shoulder. He forces himself to release Mick and step back.

Mick’s staring at him, wide-eyed and looking a bit dazed, as are several other people in the area, and Len is immediately mortified. He clears his throat, knowing he can’t fight the flush that’s working its way up his neck, and turns on his heel to head into the museum. He pauses halfway there, glancing over his shoulder. Mick is still standing in the same spot, staring at him. Len frowns, nervously wondering if he’s crossed a line.

“You coming?” he calls with far more confidence than he feels, and Mick blinks, giving his head a small shake like he’s just realized where he is and trots over.

“Sorry,” Mick mutters when he catches up, not meeting Len’s eyes. “I’m here. Where do you want to go first?”

“Follow me,” Len says, and Mick finally looks up and smirks at him.

“Always do.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mick has been letting Len lead him around for nearly an hour now. He looks far less bored than Len had anticipated, listening with a little smile as Len points out paintings and tells him little tidbits about them, the kind you don’t find in the little pamphlets – which one is the most valuable, which one is the easiest to forge, which one’s been stolen before.

“Which one’s the one you were telling me about?” Mick finally asks. “Your favorite?” Len gives him a little grin and motions for Mick to follow, leading him around the exhibit to a corner where the painting is listed as showing.

That one,” Len says, gesturing at it.

“Figures it’d be a snow painting,” Mick says, smirking. Len chuckles. Mick grins and then leans in suddenly, so that his face is just inches from Len’s ear.

“How would you steal it?”

The words send a shiver of excitement down Len’s spine, and he licks his lips. He’s thought about this before, ever since his father took him on his first heist.

“The easiest way is to hit it in transport,” Len says under his breath, quiet enough that Mick has to linger near him to hear, shoulder to shoulder with Len. “There’s one, two people at most if you can get it in the transport van. If not, it’s best to wait ‘til it displays at a smaller gallery, or a private event. Small places have less security, fewer alarm systems, and their people aren’t usually very well trained.”

“Think the gallery we’re gonna hit with the Santinis will be like that?” Mick asks, and Len frowns. He hasn’t thought about the Santinis since they left the house, and even the name seems like an intrusion on his time with Mick right now.

“Probably,” Len says dismissively. “We’ll check the place out later, see what it’s like.” A thought occurs to him, and Len glances around, spotting a plastic holder full of pamphlets and plucking one out. He scans it quickly, finding the information he wants and dropping it off again.

“Come with me,” he tells Mick, gently tugging at the hem of his shirt. He leads him to a less populated room, where a guard stands bored. Len nudges Mick and discreetly points out the guard. “Give me a minute, then ask him where the Matisse displays are.” Mick raises an eyebrow but nods, and Len slips away, skirting the room to come around to the guard’s other side. He pretends to examine a painting a couple feet away and gives Mick a quick nod.

“Hey,” Mick says, stepping up and catching the guard’s attention from the other side, allowing Len to slide closer. “Where’s the Matisse displays?” The guard lifts his arm and points back in the direction Mick has come from, giving him a few simple directions, while turning his back to Len, allowing Len to swipe the keycard clipped to the man’s left pocket. He immediately backs away, going around the outside of the room until he’s back beside Mick again.

“What was that for?” Mick asks, as Len leads them away from the Monet displays and down a couple more halls.

“Follow me,” is all Len says in reply, and Mick does as he says, in step with him as they turn down a narrow hall and stop before a locked door. There’s a keycard reader beside it, and Len swipes the stolen badge through it, earning him a green light and the sound of an electronic lock releasing. Len grins and ushers Mick through the now-unlocked door. Mick follows, watching him curiously as Len navigates the halls, leading him to a door labeled “Restoration Room”. It’s locked, but just with a regular door lock, which Len makes quick work of.

Len and Mick slip inside, shutting the door quietly behind them and relocking it. Len flicks the light switch and the room lights up. The room smells of paint and turpentine, and several easels stand with paintings on them, in the process of being retouched or repaired, with more on easels in the back covered in sheets. Len doesn’t immediately see the one he wants, so he steps to the back and starts peeking behind the sheets.

“You looking for one to steal?” Mick asks.

“Sadly no,” Len says regretfully. “Getting in is easy, but getting out with one of these would be far more difficult without a lot more planning. I’m just looking for…” Len finally locates what he’s looking for and yanks the sheet down triumphantly to pool on the ground.

“I think you’d like this one,” Len says, smirking as Mick’s eyes widen a little. “JMW Turner. The Burning of the House of Lords. Although, several of his paintings are about burning things down.”

“Sounds like my kinda guy,” Mick says, lips twitching upwards. Len chuckles.

“Well, when we steal my Monet, we can grab this one too,” Len tells him. Mick looks over at him, startled for some reason. “What?” Mick shakes his head, turning and taking a couple steps closer until he’s directly in front of Len, just a few inches away, and Len frowns and tilts his head. “Mick?”

Before Mick can respond, the handle on the door rattles and he can hear the lock tumble as someone unlocks it. Len grabs Mick by the wrist and drags him towards a solid metal work desk, where they can crouch down and not be seen. Someone steps in and stops. Len can’t tell what they’re doing, but he doesn’t want to risk sticking his head up to look around. The person takes a couple steps, stops again, and then there are footsteps heading in the opposite direction. The overhead light flicks off, plunging the room into darkness, and the door swing open, then shut. Len gives it another ten seconds before he peeks over the top of the counter. The room’s empty again, but he doesn’t want to hang out in the dark waiting for anyone else to show up.

“Come on,” he whispers to Mick, who follows him as they slide over to the door. Len cautiously cracks it open and checks the hall before they step out. He drops the keycard on the floor by the door before they return to the public section of the museum.

As they meander through the crowds Len glances back to see that Mick has a mildly annoyed look on his face.

“Hey,” he says, bumping Mick’s shoulder. “We’ll come back for the painting someday.” Mick looks at him blankly for a second, then blinks and shakes his head like Leonard’s being ridiculous. Len frowns. “What? I can find a way to get it.”

“I know, Lenny,” Mick says, chuckling. “I believe you. Now how about we go get somethin’ to eat?”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len always seems to forget that he’s hungry until food is right in front of him, and then the hunger comes rushing back tenfold. He hadn’t eaten much before the Santini meeting, and he’d been too sick to eat after it, but now, sitting in the car with Mick with two hot pizzas in his lap giving off the most delicious smells, Len’s stomach feels like a black hole in his body. He licks his lips and tries to make sure he’s not actually drooling.

“Just open the box and eat some, Lenny, damn,” Mick mutters from the driver’s seat. “You’re looking at them like you’ve never seen food before.”

“I can wait,” Leonard insists stubbornly. His stomach growls loudly in protest, and Mick gives him one of those ‘you have to be kidding me’ looks. Len clenches his hands on the sides of the boxes. He knows that Mick hasn’t eaten, either, and he’s not about to eat in front of Mick when he’s probably even hungrier than Len is. Leonard can wait. He wants to eat with Mick.

Thankfully, they’re not very far from the motel, so it’s less than ten minutes that Len has to suffer through his own self-imposed torture. As soon as they get in, Len kicks off his shoes, drops both boxes on the bed, and scrambles up on it. Mick settles in beside him, flipping through the TV channels to find them something to watch. Len opens the first box and the smell of grease and tomato sauce hits him full in the face, making his mouth water, and he can’t wait anymore. He practically inhales the first slice. Len can hear Mick laughing beside him, but he pointedly ignores him, and only partially due to the fact that his mouth is far too full to produce any sort of clever reply.

Mick clears out the pizza boxes once they’ve eaten everything, which doesn’t take long between the two of them. He stops in the bathroom, and when he comes back out, he’s dressed in just his sweatpants again. Len stands and slips into the bathroom himself, shutting the door securely behind him. He gathers up the clothes that Mick’s tossed on the floor and folds them, stacking them on his own clothes .He pauses as he touches his jeans; he can see a scrap of white peeking out of the pocket, and when he tugs it out, he finds the instruction letter from Nicholas. He sighs; it isn’t something he wants to look at, but he knows he needs to. Later. He puts it aside and slides the pair of jeans he’s wearing off and adds them to the stack. He opens Mick’s bag again and digs through the shirts.

There’s two more long sleeved shirts in the bag, despite being in the middle of summer. Leonard swallows hard. That can’t be an accident, he’s sure. He drops the shirts back into the bag and pulls out one of the short sleeved ones. It’s one of Mick’s favorites, with a snake coiled in flames. Leonard is suddenly overcome with the urge to try it on; he yanks the long-sleeved shirt he’s been wearing all day off and drops it on the floor, pulling the T-shirt on in its place.

Len stands and look at himself in the mirror. This is one of Mick’s bigger shirts, hanging fairly loose on him, with the sleeves coming down nearly to his elbows. That hides all but the three slash marks of the backs of each of his forearms, where he’d throw up his arms to protect his head from the broken bottle Lewis had been swinging at him. He’d saved his face but gained three scars on each arm, faded into harsh white lines after a few years. They’re still not that bad, compared to the rest of his collection, as thin and pale as they are.

He still spends a couple minutes extra staring at the door, working up the nerve to go out to where Mick is waiting. Mick’s eyes are immediately drawn to the newly exposed skin on his arms, and Len fights the part of himself that wants to hide, forcing himself to return to his side of the bed like nothing is different, dropping the instruction letter he’s brought out with him on the side table before he climbs up onto the bed. Mick watches him the whole way, an unreadable expression on his faces that makes Len nervous, paying no attention to the TV program he’d been engrossed in a moment ago.

“What’s on?” Len asks, the only thing he can think of to say. Mick blinks and then shrugs one shoulder.

“Same old shit,” he grunts. “They’re playing Aliens on this channel though.”

“Sounds good,” Len replies, curling up into the pillows. Mick tosses the remote down and settles in closer to him, his arm brushing against the newly bare skin of Len’s. It immediately sends goosebumps up his entire arm, and Len jerks away unused to the feelings.  Mick blinks up at him, surprised.

“Sorry,” Mick mutters. “Didn’t mean to crowd ya.” He deliberately puts a few inches between them, and Len’s heart sinks.

“It’s fine,” he tries. “I wasn’t – I was just…  surprised,” he finishes lamely.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mick says, and frustration bubble up in Len. This wasn’t what he wanted, Mick treating him like he was delicate or something. He grits his teeth and before he can think better of it, he slides over, shoving himself into Mick’s space, up against his side like he sometimes let Mick coax him into when they were alone in juvie. Mick immediately freezes against him.

“I said it’s fine,” he says, face set in what he hopes is a confident look, while his mind screams at him what an idiot he is. Mick chuckles, finally relaxing, and snakes his arm around Len’s shoulder, a familiar weight that puts Len oddly at ease. Len feels a tension he hadn’t even realized he was carrying ease in his shoulders.

“You’re the boss, Len,” Mick rumbles, and Len’s lips quirk up. He likes the sound of that.

Chapter Text

Leonard’s just waking up when Mick arrives back at the motel room the next morning, bearing coffee and donuts, and Len is starting to think he could get used to this. He savors the sharp bite of the coffee as Mick flops down on the bed and crowds into his space, flicking on the TV to find something trashy. This early in the morning, they settle on a talk show running a paternity test episode.

“She better hope he’s not the father,” Mick comments as he tears into one of the donuts a few minutes later. “He’s ugly as fuck.”

“Considering that the other option’s his brother, I think the kid’s screwed either way,” Len points out. Mick grunts.

“Makes me glad I don’t have siblings,” Mick comments as Len plucks a donut covered in powdered sugar from the box.

“Just need one of the opposite gender, like me and Lisa,” Len says, taking a bite. It’s far too much sugar for this early in the morning, but the coffee helps wash it down. “There’s not much overlap there.”

“You think?” Mick asks, watching as Len eats. “Because I’m pretty sure we’ve seen a few episodes that prove you pretty wrong.”

“Hmmm,” Len comments, swallowing the last of the donut. “Suppose you have a point. Guess I have to hope Lisa and I don’t have the same taste.” Len can’t muster up much worry over that. As long as Lisa doesn’t want Mick, he’s pretty sure they’ll be fine. He pushes that thought out of his mind and turns his attention to licking the powdered sugar off his fingers. He chuckles as the crowd on screen goes nuts.

“Guess those brothers don’t have to worry about it anymore either. Maybe the real father’s better looking,” Len says, sucking the last of the sugar off. When Mick doesn’t respond he turns to find him staring at Len, mouth open a little and face intense. Len frowns. “Mick?”

“What?” Mick asks, snapping back to reality. Len raises an eyebrow. “Um, yeah sure.”

“Sure what?” Len asks, confused. Mick just turns and stands up abruptly, heading away. “Where are you going?”

“Bathroom,” Mick replies in a clipped tone. Leonard stares after him as the door slams.

The TV shows holds little interest for him with Mick gone, so Leonard grudgingly turns his attention to the thing he’s been putting off since he stepped out of the Santini’s conference room. He picks up the small white envelope and opens it, pulling out the paper inside.

The information this time is pretty thin, barely more than the addresses and some dates. Leonard frowns. Nicholas is giving them barely more than a week to prep a double hit, and they’ve already spent two days holed up here, because Leonard couldn’t handle his father. He sighs.

“What’s wrong?”

Leonard looks up at the sound, not realizing that Mick had returned. He waves Mick back over to the bed, and hands him the sheet once he’s situated.

“They’ve barely given us anything to go on,” Len comments as Mick’s eyes skim the paper. “I think a field trip is in order. Did you grab those shirts while you were home?”

“Yeah, I did,” Mick says, sighing and shaking his head. “Two art galleries in two days. Don’t say I never did anything for you, Len.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The gallery they arrive at is a small private place set into a brick building that houses several other boutique stores, with a dress shop to the right and a bakery to the left. It seems to be in what’s considered the artsy section of the Maroni’s territory, definitely on the higher end. The front of the store has two large window displays on either side of the door, each of which has three paintings, spotlights angled to light them up just as soon as it gets dark enough. The sign above the door declares “Impreza Galleria” in a stylized calligraphy.

Len looks up at the doorframe as they step inside the tinted glass doors. The steel frames snick in and out of place as they open and close, a fact that he makes note of. When he looks around the front room they’ve walked into, they’re greeted with a giant painting directly across from them. It’s the only item hanging on the stark white wall facing the doors, and it has two giant spotlights illuminating it from above. The display wall opens into little entryways on either side, leading farther into the gallery. Two large, plush armchairs frame the display wall, angled to draw attention toward the painting and the table directly beneath it, which has what looks like a large art book on it, the kind that fancy houses have sitting on their coffee tables for people to flip through. Len drifts over, examining it. The glossy pages highlight a painting each, a little info blurb printed under each one on the left, with measurements and a price on the right side. Under a few of them, there’s a little ‘SOLD’ stamp. Flipping back and forth through the book, Len finds that the painting before him occupies the first page, marked as ‘not for sale’ where the price is usually written. He also notes that the artist just happens to be the same person the gallery is run by, and that the rest of his collection does in fact seem to be for sale, at what Len considers a very inflated value.

“You enjoying our catalogue?” a slightly nasal voice asks from off to his side. Len looks up to find a small man, with dark hair and a slender, finely trimmed mustache standing off to the side of the display wall, watching him suspiciously. He seems to be in charge, and Len tries to imitate a bit of the simpering manner he’s seen of his father he’s seen his father use on important men, hoping to stroke the man’s ego and pushing down how the feeling grates on his nerves.

“It’s a wonderful selection,” Len purrs. “Hard to decide what I like best.”

“Well, what are you after?” the man asks, raising an eyebrow skeptically. Though Len’s had them dress in a couple of the nicer shirts that Mick’s brought from the mini spree they went on last month, he’s clearly wondering if they’re just kids wasting his time here.

“I’m going to college over in Opal City this fall, and my father said I could get some art to decorate the apartment I’ll be staying in,” Len lies. He’s seen the type around in certain college areas, listened to them brag about their fancy toys loudly while he lifted them right out of their pockets. The kids in the artsy areas like to brag about the original paintings they have hanging in their places, as though they can gain talent through osmosis. From what Leonard has seen, the opposite tends to be true. The lie seems to hit, though, because the man’s eyes light up with greed, an expression Len is intimately familiar with.

“Well, that’s lovely, mister…”

“Call me Levi,” Len says, and Mick makes a strangled noise behind him that sounds like a cross between a laugh and a groan. Len only refrains from hitting him due to the fact that it would break his cover, and the mustachioed man ignores him completely.

“Levi, then. I’m Richard Rose, the director.” This was his painting, then, self-indulgently displayed as the gallery’s centerpiece. “Well, Levi, you have any idea what sort of works you’re looking for? What are you studying?” the man asks, stepping closer, reaching a hand out to stroke the edge of the catalogue.

“Architecture,” Len replies smoothly. “I was thinking some sort of city skylines, for inspiration, you know? You have anything like that?”

“Oh, certainly,” Richard says. He turns a few pages in the book, but Len waves his hand in the air dismissively.

“Anything you have on the walls? It’s always so much easier to see in person,” Len says. He doesn’t particularly care, he just wants to see what the inside of the gallery looks like.

“Of course!” Richard says, voice bright. “I can show you several lovely works in person and send you home with a catalogue. Just follow me,” he says, leading them around the display wall and into the rest of the gallery. The space it opens up to is technically one whole room, with several free standing walls and square pillars in the same stark white as the display wall out front set up in a labyrinth manner, forcing them to make a zig-zag pattern around one wall set far to the right, a pillar in the center, an L-shaped wall behind that, another to the left, continuing on in such random patters. The walls of the actual building were left in uncovered brick, with gauzy curtains draped around to break out designated sections, and a few strung up between the brick foundation walls and the white display walls, so that you had to brush them out of your way to pass through. It was probably supposed to look ethereal or something, but mostly Len just finds it prissy. He glances back and gets a glimpse of Mick swatting some of the delicate material out of his way like it’s an annoying fly and smiles a little.

“We have a wide variety of artists, both fresh local talents and established masters,” Richard says as he leads them on. “Which would you prefer?”

“I want something recognizable,” Len says, watching Rose mentally translate that to ‘expensive’ and brighten a little. “The best paintings for the best inspiration, right?”

“Of course,” Richard says. “We have a few good options available on order from Antonio Lopez Garcia, although we’re not displaying any at the moment. We have a lot of beautiful one by Richard Estes, as well-“

“What was there?” Len interrupts, gesturing at one of the sectioned areas that’s surprisingly bare. There’s only two paintings hanging there, one a dark forest nightscape, full of shadows and trees with sharp, twisting branches, looking like it belongs out during Halloween. Another, hanging across from it, depicts another forest scene, but with the complete opposite tone. This one is full of a glowing pink sky, the grass shades of yellow and a light green, the tree full of leaves of orange, red, green, and yellows. The path down the center is full of golden earth tones, reminding him more than a little of the Wizard of Oz’s yellow brick road. Despite the radical difference in tones, the brush strokes, paint density and structuring of the painting indicates that they’re by the same person.

“Oh, that’s Alice DeVito’s section. She’s quite good – does a lot of opposite pair paintings like those two still there. You know, the same scene, but one usually very dark and gothic, and then one bright and cheerful. Two sides of the same coin, she likes to say. We usually have a lot of her stuff up, but she sent word the other day that she’s going to be doing a private showing for a couple weeks. She’s been exhibiting here for a while; rents some studio space to paint in, as well.”

“Studio space?” Len asks, eyeing the blank walls as they pass.

“Oh yes!” Richard gushes. “Do you paint yourself? We rent space to work to those who don’t have the space to paint where they’re staying; mostly hobbyists, of course, the heavy painters have their own studio space, usually, but it’s always nice to have options.”

“Of course it is,” Len agrees. “Can I see it?”

“Certainly!” Richard says, brightening. “Follow me.” Rose leads them to the back of the gallery, through a wooden door and into a smaller hallway. To the left are two more doors, one wooden one and a steel one that has an electronic key pad on the wall next to it. To the right is a glass door. Richard stops and peers in before he leads them inside. “Don’t want to interrupt anyone, you know. it’s rude.”

Len can see they’re not interrupting, since no one is in the little studio area at the moment. There are a few areas sectioned off with curtains or small partitions, other areas where easels are lined up against the wall.

“You can either rent out one of the sectioned areas, like some of our artists do, or rent the entire area out for periods of time. That doesn’t mean you can use every inch, but it does mean that no one else will be allowed in at the same time, in case other people bother you.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Len replies, but what he’s really checking out right now is the large metal door on the other side of the room, where they undoubtedly load art for transport. The metal door is padlocked to a metal ring on the floor, something they’ll have to take care of if they want to get any of the art out of here.

“See something interesting?” Richard asks, and Len realizes he’s been caught staring. He shift his gaze slightly to the right, to one of the uncovered paintings on the line of easels.

“Just checking out the works in progress,” Len lies. Richard follows his gaze to the painting.

“Ah, another Devito. Seems she really tickles your fancy, eh?”

“I suppose so,” Len says. “Shame she pulled her works.”

“Well, we have her listed in the catalogues, of course, so if you wanted to buy one I can put in an order and then when it returns to the gallery you can pick it up.”

“That might work,” Len says cautiously, seeing an opening. “What if I can’t pick it up right away? Do you have somewhere safe you can store it for me until I make it back here?”

“Oh, of course,” Rose says breezily. He gestures for them to follow him and brings them to the steel door Len had seen earlier. “If you don’t want it displayed after you’ve bought it, we have a vault in the back where we keep the most valuable paintings while they’re not on display. We can put anything you order or buy now in there until you can return and pick it up.”

“It’s very safe?”

“Oh of course. Reinforced steel door, six digit keypad lock, nothing to worry about,” Richard says, and Len smiles even as his heart sinks. This is going to be tougher than he thought. “Now, if you’d like to resume our tour of the paintings we have on hand…”

Len nods patiently and make the appropriate complimentary sounds as Richard leads them back to the main room. He shows them a couple sections with city skylines and Mick shuffles and fidgets beside him. Every once in a while, Rose shoots Mick an annoyed glance.

“So how long have you been the director?” Len asks, trying to divert his attention.

“Oh, nearly ten years now,” Richard gushes. “I used to just display here, but then I sold three paintings in one day, and they knew I had an eye for talent. They were right, of course, and I’ve been here ever since.” He leans in conspiratorially. “I’m going to have a big showing on the ten-year anniversary. It’s in a couple months, if you’re interested. Plenty of impressive paintings to see.”

“Sounds great,” Len lies. “You do showings here often?”

“Yes, we close the galleries for private events on occasion, but we make sure to list the days ahead of time. Our next showing will be next weekend – a great photography showcase, including several famous paintings being shown by private owners.”

“Sounds fantastic,” Len says, and this time he means it. It sounds like a great time to hit the gallery.

“Oh, it is,” Richard says, nodding enthusiastically. He leads them to a back area set up almost like a gift shop, where there’s a long table set up with brochures and frame corners to allow people to customize their framing choice for the paintings they buy. Behind it, there are several shelves lined with paints, brushes, and other art tools and supplies for sale. Richard snatches up one of the brochures from the table and hands it over. “This lists all the exhibitions and displays in the next three months. Some are private, of course, but the open ones are clearly marked You can come to any of them for just a small cover charge.” The curator clasps his hands together and looks hopefully at Leonard. “Did you see anything you like?”

“Many things,” Len tries to assure him. “But I’ve got to come back with my father, of course, since he’s buying. Maybe I’ll check out one of the exhibits and pick up a couple things while I’m there.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Richard replies, though Len can see he’s a bit disappointed. “And please, take a catalogue, check out our artists. Just give us a call if you see something you like; we can take orders over the phone and hold works for you. The number’s on the front page. And if there are any paintings you hear of that you want that we don’t display, let us know anyway. We have an art broker we deal with that can acquire rare paintings for our clientele.”

“A broker?”

“Yes, John Santiago. He’s got great connections in the art world.”

“Excellent,” Len says, as the name rings a bell in the back of his mind. He allows the man to load him up with promotional material while Mick fingers some spray paint cans. Richard follows them all the way back to the door, talking up some of their paintings – the most expensive ones, based on what little Len’s seen of the catalogue – and even Len is relieved when they make it to the door. Mick steps ahead of him and holds the door open. Len goes through slowly, looking up as he passes through. There’s a small panel on the top of the door frame, a different color metal than the rest of the frame. Len turns and looks at the top of the door itself; he thinks he can see a matching discolored panel on the top of the door, and when Micks steps out and it closes behind him, the panels line up.

“See something interesting?” Mick asks when they’re both outside.

“Saw a lot of interesting things. Heard a bunch too.” Len starts down around the block, turning and checking out the back of the strip mall. There’s a small lot behind the stores, where vans and cars can pull in or park. Len locates the back of the gallery, the only store with the same metal door on their cargo bay. He can see two cameras on the outside of the building, angled to catch cars coming in and out of the lots.

“I want to stop at the records building again,” Len tells Mick as they head back to the car. “You remember where that is?”

“Yeah,” Mick grunts. He pauses and then brightens a little. “We gonna go to the library afterwards?”

“Maybe if you’re good,” Len teases with a small chuckle.

“Hey, I was really good,” Mick protests as they climb in the car. “I wore this stupid shirt and I didn’t even light that guy’s stupid mustache on fire.”

“A remarkable show of restraint,” Len agrees. “We’ll see about the library. I want to look into the info we have on this gallery and on Richard Rose.” He smirks at Mick.. “He seems a little… sketchy.”

“Len.”

“But if you really don’t like him, maybe we can set up a frame job.”

“I hate you so much.”

- - - - - - - - - - -

They don’t actually end up going to the library. Instead, Len appeases Mick with his second favorite form of tribute, food. They return to the motel room with three blueprints, five bags of take out, the brochures that Richard Rose loaded them up with, and two movies to combat the terrible television selection. Mick’s got his dress shirt half off before they even make it in the door, tossing it on the floor as soon as he’s put the food down and can get it all the way off. Len sighs as he picks it up and drapes it over the back of one of the chairs so it doesn’t wrinkle, in case they need to go anywhere else that might require them to look nice. Once they’ve both changed into comfortable sleeping clothes, with Len opting for short sleeves again, Mick pops his video into the room’s VCR. Len doesn’t argue, instead pulling out the brochure and catalogue from Impreza. He opens the brochure and reads through it, tuning out the sounds of gun fights and explosions that feature in most of the movies Mick picks. The brochure touts an event next weekend showcasing photograph prints from some of the most famous artists in what it calls ‘a new and quickly catching medium’. A variety of famous photo prints will be available for viewing. Len smiles to himself.

“You got that look on your face,” Mick says from beside him. “What’re you thinking?”

“Gonna be a lot of fancy art in town next weekend,” Len says. “Fancy, expensive art.”

“Sounds like a hell of a party,” Mick says. “We gonna crash it?”

“Not exactly,” Len replies. “Too many people around to walk in. But they’ll bring in all the paintings they want to show ahead of time.” Len drops the brochure and pulls out the catalogue. He flips to the contact information in the back and finds the name that’s been bugging him since he heard it. He rolls over and fishes his little notebook out of his bag. He finds the page he’s looking for and frowns.

“Something wrong?” Mick asks. Len motions him over and is pleased when Mick leans into his space.

“See this name?” Len asks, pointing at the name in the brochure.

“John Santiago,” Mick reads. “Didn’t Rose mention him?”

“Yeah, he’s their art broker,” Len says. “But his name is also one of the ones that Carmelo Rossi had written in the back of his ledger.”

“Well, they both work for the Maronis,” Mick points out.

“Obviously,” Len says. “But why would a bookie need an art dealer’s contact?” Mick frowns. “Mick, I think he’s a fence. I think he’s running black market sales and forgeries through the gallery.”

“Damn,” Mick mutters. “You think Rose knows?”

“Probably,” Len replies. “He was really pushing that ‘we can get whatever you want’ vibe.”

“Hmmm,” Mick says, and Len can see him working it over in his mind. “What about those other names you got?”

“Probably other black market contacts for other specialties,” Len muses. “If the bookie needs to pawn off drugs, jewelry, or other assets, he’d need those contacts, you know?”

“Makes sense,” Mick replies, rolling out of Len’s space and onto his back. “So what next?”

“Next, I need to see the insurance agency,” Len says. “Are you going back to the farm in the morning?”

“Yeah,” Mick says. “Why?”

“I need you to drop me off outside the agency on your way out,” Len says.

“You know I leave at like, four thirty, right?”

“I know,” Len says regretfully. “But like I said, I need to be there when they open, so there’s not much choice.”

“Well, then put your stupid blueprints away. We’re gonna need to get to sleep early if I hafta drag your lazy ass out of bed that early.” Mick stops and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Fuck, Lenny, you’re making me sound like an adult and shit now. You see what you’ve done to me?”

“Going to have to learn how someday, Mick,” Len says as he folds up his blueprints. “At least you look the part already.”

“Awww, Lenny, don’t jealous. You’re almost there now. Few more inches and you’ll be as tall as your old man.”

“I want to be taller,” Len grouses. It’s one of his deepest desires, to be taller and stronger than his father. Until then, all he has is Mick. Len eyes the lines of muscle on Mick’s arms and chest, disappearing under the thin tank top.

“You wanna get taller you gotta eat more,” Mick says, oblivious to Len’s staring.

“So you keep saying,” Len replies, tearing his eyes away. He sets the neatly folded plans and catalogues from the gallery on the side table and flicks off the lamp. Mick gets up and pops out the first video, which had made it to the credits while Leonard read and thought. He slips the second one in, Len’s pick, but when he slides back onto the bed he’s within inches of Len, and Len can’t bring himself to focus on the tv properly even without blueprints to distract him. He settles in to the bed with a lot of movement, trying to cover the fact that he’s shifting closer. Mick doesn’t comment, so Len considers it a success.

He tries to sleep, he really does. But his mind just won’t stop. He keeps seeing the rooms from his blueprints, the names from his notebook, the paintings from the gallery, and if he can shove all of that down, Mick pops right up to take its place. A click startles him back to full consciousness, and he realizes that the movie Mick had put on has just ended. He fumbles between them for the remote, clicking the TV off. He can still see enough with the dim lights coming in through the thin curtains, a mix of moonlight and neon. Mick’s breathing hasn’t changed, and Len knows he’s a fairly heavy sleeper. He also knows that he shouldn’t be giving in, letting his hand slide up Mick’s forearm. He revels in the feeling of Mick’s soft skin over hard muscle under his fingertips, a little thrills running through him. He’s always avoided skin contact, touching and being touched, but he’s never wanted to touch anyone like this before. He’s also never had anyone treat him like Mick has, like he’s special and important and amazing. He wishes he knew how to tell him that.

Instead, he settles for leaving his hand on Mick’s arm while he falls asleep.

Chapter Text

“Lenny.”

Mick’s voice is deep and rough, and it makes Len shiver to hear his name like that. He curls toward it and sighs a little. “Shit, Len, you gotta get up.”

“No,” Len mumbles, still half asleep. He’s drifting back toward unconsciousness again when someone grips his shoulder, giving him a shake. His brain immediately flares to life, fear lighting up his synapses as he gasps and jerks away, eyes flying open.

“Jesus, calm down,” Mick says, pulling his hand away. “It’s just me, Lenny. Just me.” Len blinks, scrubbing at his eyes with his hands and trying to breathe deep.

“Surprised me,” Len mutters, trying to get a hold of himself. He glances around. “Why’d you wake me up?”

“I gotta head out soon,” Mick reminds him.

“Seriously? It’s still dark out,” Len groans.

“Yeah, I noticed,” Mick says with a roll of his eyes. “Come on, Len. You want a ride, you gotta get out of bed.”

“Or you could just come back to bed with me,” Len says, before his sleep addled brain can stop the words. He buries his face in the pillow to try and hide his embarrassment.

“Very tempting,” Mick says, in a low growls that makes Len’s body heat up. He feels the bed dip as Mick sits down next to him and his heart rate spikes, not daring to peek up and see what Mick’s doing, although his mind supplies plenty of potential images. Suddenly the pillow he’s hiding in is yanked up, and his face hits the mattress.

“What the hell, Mick?” he complains, rolling over. He’s just managed to sit up when the pillow hits him in the face.

“Leaving in ten minutes, Len,” Mick tells him. “Get your ass up.”

Mick doesn’t leave in ten minutes, instead waiting twice as long while Len forces himself out of bed and through his morning routine. Len had stayed up far too long last night, his thoughts bouncing back and forth between his plans for the heists and highly inappropriate thoughts about the man next to him. By the time he’d wound down enough to get to sleep, it was much later than he’d hoped.

When they finally get out to the car, he slumps down in the seat and half-dozes as Mick drives them over to the neighborhood where the insurance agency is located. The sky is just turning pink when Mick pulls over to curb.

“We’re a little down the street from the place,” Mick tells him. He points out Len’s window at the little cafe on this side of the street, just opening their doors.. “Go get some coffee and get your brain working again, you damn zombie.”

“I’m not a zombie, it’s just too dam early,” Len protests. “Human beings are not meant to be up at this kind of hour. If the sun can’t be bothered, we shouldn’t either.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you were out here to steal something,” Mick counters, and Len thinks that maybe he has a point. But still.

“Wait here for a minute,” Len tells him. He hops out and rounds the back of the car, opening the trunk. The tools and other items they’d bought are still in the back, and Len digs through the department store bags until he finds the pair of binoculars they’d grabbed out of the sporting goods section. He returns to the passenger side of the car and leans in.

“Can I borrow your bag for the day?” Len asks, once again cursing himself for not bringing his own bag to the meeting.

“Might as well. It’s mostly your stuff in there by now anyway,” Mick says. Len stuffs the binoculars inside and throws the bag over his shoulder.

“When will you be back?” Len asks, and Mick turns to stare out the window.

“I gotta get everything done, but I can probably make it back out before dinner. Maybe right around then.” He glances back at Len. “You wanna meet somewhere?”

“There’s a diner not too far from here,” Len tells him. “Meet me there for dinner? I can occupy myself until then.”

“Deal,” Mick says, and Len unbuckles his belt and opens the door. “Stay safe, Lenny.”

“You too.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len finds a seat inside the coffee shop near the door, where he can just see the front of the agency. It’s a little past five in the morning at this point, and while the store’s business hours are seven to six, he knows that the first people in generally arrive before the door open. At six am, Len gets his third refill of coffee and heads out. He walks slowly down the street, trying to find somewhere where he can lay in wait with his binoculars.

Across the street from the agency is a store front for lease. Len checks up and down the street, noting no one on the street and no traffic cameras that might catch him. He sets his coffee down in front of the door and slides his lock picks out of his back pocket. The door has a regular lock and a deadbolt, but they’re both standard fare, easily flipped open. Only one car passes by before Len has the door open, and it doesn’t slow down or give any indication that he’s been noticed, so he picks up his coffee and slips inside. He relocks the door behind him and heads straight to the back of the store.

There’s a staircase near the back, and once he’s climbed it he opens the door at the landing, which no one’s even bothered to lock. There’s a small landing area, and rooms to his right and left. The left appears to be some sort of storage area, metal shelves and a couple scattered cardboard boxes covered in dust from disuse. The room on his right is smaller, with an old wooden desk and chair next to a window. Len smiles as he heads in. He sets his coffee down on the dusty table and pulls out from the bag the shirt he’d worn the night he got stuffed in the trunk. It needs a good wash anyway, so he uses it to wipe down the chair and the desk. Once he’s satisfied, he peeks through the blinds on the window until he finds a good angle on the insurance agency, then drags the chair over.

Then he waits.

He has to wait until six thirty before someone shows up. He raises the binoculars, watching the middle aged woman as she holds a keycard up to a little black box beside the front door. There’s a small light on the box that turns from red to green for five seconds, long enough for her to pull the door open and step inside. He continues to watch through the clear glass door as she steps up to the solid wood one, using a regular key. He watches as she goes in, making a beeline for the opposite side of the room. Len’s able to track her when she passes by the window, but loses her for a few moments. When she walks by again, she’s moving with a lot less purpose, ambling along until she drops into one of the office chairs at what is presumably her desk. Len watches her shuffle through papers and check herself out in a compact mirror, ending his surveillance when she picks up the phone and stays on for fifteen minutes and counting.

Len packs the binoculars back in his bag and picks up his coffee cup. It’s empty, but he’s found that props tend to make you more invisible. He walks right out the front door of the abandoned shop, turning left and heading down to the end of the block. He crosses the street there and doubles back, heading right past the front of the insurance agency. He walks slowly, pretending to drink from the coffee cup as he passes the agency. He looks in as he goes past, trying to gauge where the woman had gone when she had first come in, and it doesn’t take long for him to figure it out. On the wall near the back, next to a time punch machine, is a small box with a number pad and a few wires running out of it. She was deactivating an alarm, and from the looks of it, one that Len’s fairly familiar with. He smiles.

Len returns to the coffee shop, grabbing a danish for breakfast and settling in to watch the shop front. More people pour in just before seven, a couple more of the chronically late types appearing just after, and then everything dies down. He leaves the coffee shop after eight, taking three wallets from the people in line with him. Len walks slowly past the agency again on his way out, looking in the windows as he passes and trying to memorize every stick of furniture and item on the walls that he can see.

Len’s got plenty of time until he’s going to be meeting up with Mick, so he hops a bus and heads over to the public records building, where he gets access to the land titles and house deeds.

The little list in Len’s notebook consist of six names with phone numbers. Len uses the area codes of the phone numbers as a starting point and starts looking through the records. He finds only one item of interest, a residential title on file to the name Mario Miliante. Leonard copies it down beneath the number he has for him, making a note to check it out later. He doesn’t find anything else connected to any of the other names in the residential sections, which is disappointing but not entirely unexpected. The others may rent, they may have someone else’s name on the house they own, or a fake one, or the numbers given may just be for commercial places. Len recognizes Santiago’s number as a couple digits off the Galleria’s main number; it must be a second line into the place. He retreats from the deeds section and returns to the front desk.

“Do you have a phone book?” he asks the lady behind the front desk. She pulls out a thick yellow pages and drops it on the counter with a thud, saying nothing. He gives her a friendly smile and slides it down to the end of the counter where he begins to page through it. He browses through the commercial section checking phone numbers until his eyes hurt, and finally finds an ad for a jewelry store that has the same phone number as Angela Castro from his list. He writes down the address in the ad and continues on, until he reaches the end of the commercial section with nothing else sticking out. He returns the phone book to the disinterested clerk and heads out.

Len’s still got hours before he needs to start waiting for Mick, so he hops back on the bus. He rides down to the jewelry store that Angela might be found at. It’s a high-end place, and his street clothes raise a few eyebrows when he steps in. Everyone’s dressed in blazers and fancy blouses, and he tries to pretend that the lightweight Henley of Mick’s that he’s wearing and his loose jeans belong anywhere in this store.

“Hello, Sweetie,” a velvety voice says from his left. He turns to see a woman with long, dark hair, dark eyes behind cat’s-eye glasses, and is dressed in a maroon silk blouse and tan skirt. He gives her what he hopes is a timid looking smile.

“Hello,” he says shyly. “I, um… I’ve been seeing someone for a while now, and I just thought...” He pauses, as though trying to gather courage, and sees her soften a little bit. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to take a look around. I won’t bother anyone.”

“What’s her favorite color?” She asks as he turns, and he stops.

“Red,” he replies immediately, because though he intends to roll with whatever she says, all he can think of is what Mick likes, and the best lies have elements of the truth in them. The thought makes him blush a little, prompting a smile from the woman.

“Come with me,” she says, leading him over to one of the counters. “These are some nice pieces. They’re gold plated, with red carnelians. Cheaper than rubies, but still beautiful.” Shit, she thinks he’s poor. He casts his eyes down and bites his lip, trying to think.

“It’s nice,” he says hesitantly. “But I want to get her something really nice, you know? Show her what she means to me. She’s always… been there for me, when no one else has,” he forces out, his throat tightening up as he says it. For a moment he can’t shake the memory of Mick lifting him out of that car trunk, carrying him away from Lewis’s house, and he has to blink a few times and force himself back on track. “I’m willing to save up for something really nice, but could I maybe see a couple pieces so I know what I’m working toward?”

“Sure thing, sweetheart,” she says kindly, and leads him over to a different counter. “These start in the hundred range and go up. Are you thinking necklace, earrings, bracelet..?”

“Earrings,” he says, and she nods approvingly. She shows him a couple pairs, talking about cut and flaws, and he nods along like she’s telling him the secrets of the universe.

“What about real rubies?” He asks, because she’s showing him the red beryl and carnelians, but he needs a reason to see the higher end things.

“We don’t keep those on the floor,” she says. “Let me grab a pair and I can show you what you’re thinking of.”

“That would be great, thank you,” he says earnestly, and she beams at him. He watches as she heads through a door behind her, and he leans over just a bit to see as much of the hallway she enters as possible. He can see a steel door with a keypad just down the hall. It looks nearly the same as the door in the gallery, and Len wonders if that’s not a coincidence. He can see the lady stop in front of the keypad just before the door cuts off his view. Leonard bites back his frustration and distracts himself by scanning the room for cameras. One in every corner and a dome camera in the center. Much more heavily guarded than the gallery; probably means they have more valuable items. Len drops his eyes to the jewelry in the glass case in front of him. Not the highest end stuff, nothing more so than any other jewelry store, but if Maria works here as a fence, who knows what she could have hidden in that back room. The thought excites him. He could beat these cameras, easily, black them out and never be seen. He could get through the door alarm, which looks the same as the one in the gallery as well, which he already has a plan to defeat. He could bring Mick here, get them in and out so fast that they’d never even know what hit them.

Len smiles to himself. He’s surprised by how much he likes that idea – no Nicholas, no family, just him and Mick, hitting up banks and jewelry stores and wherever else they feel like. His heart flutters in his chest. Despite his growing plans, it’s the clearest vision of the future he’s had so far, and he’s never wanted anything more.

The door swings open and slams him back to reality. He looks up at the woman as she returns from the back with two velvet-lined boxes.

“This one is a simple stud, the rubies set in fourteen karat gold. This pair is a little more glitzy, a little more expensive.” The pair she’s referring to has several red gems linked together in a chain from a hook.

“They’re both beautiful,” he says. “Which one is a little less…?”

“The studs,” she says automatically. “They’re nice, but on the lower end. Start around five hundred.”

“I see,” he says. “Well, that’d take me a while, but I could save up for it.”

“Well...” she says, pausing a moment. “You know, if you’ve got time, why don’t you go check out the pawn shop a couple blocks down? Mister Morelli runs the place and he can keep an eye out for you. Might find what you really want for a really great price there.”

“That might work,” he says, heart rate picking up. “Morelli, you said?”

“Yeah, Marcus Morelli,” she says, nodding. “Just ask for him and tell him what you want.”
“Can you give me the address?” Len asks, pulling his notebook out. As she recites it for him, he writes it down under Morelli’s name, fourth on his list from Rossi’s ledger. He thanks her profusely, meaning every word, because she’s given him far more than he’d hoped for when he came in.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len hops back on the bus and heads toward the edge of the neighborhood where the diner is, lifting several more wallets and a watch from a gentleman who should pay more attention to his personal belongings and less attention to the low-cut shirts of attractive female passengers. Watch in hand, an idea forms in his mind and Len abruptly changes paths. He gets off at the next stop, snatching up a baseball hat sitting on the seat beside someone as he exits.He heads off on foot, knowing that he’s close but not the exact layout of the neighborhood. Eventually Leonard comes to the pawn shop run by Marcus Morelli. He puts on the baseball hat he snagged and steps in.

There’s a man reading a magazine behind the counter who looks up briefly before dismissing him and returning his gaze to the magazine. To his right are shelves of power tools and small appliances; to his left are shelves full of tapes, and next to those a guitar on a music stand and three televisions stacked in a pyramid. The reading man is sitting beneath several shelves mounted to the wall, which hold a variety of sports memorabilia and collectibles from shows and movies, some Len recognize, some he doesn’t. There’s a glass display counter in front of him, with a camera pointing down at it in the corner, though it’s the only one Leonard can see in the store. Len marches up to and glances down at. There’s a variety of jewelry and coins and other such items on display, but nothing that strikes Len as terribly valuable. He’s starting to have second thoughts about this place when the man speaks up.

“Looking for something, kid?” the man asks, looking bored. Len digs the watch out of his bag and places it on the counter.

“I’m trying to buy a birthday gift for my girlfriend, and I need some cash,” Len tells him. Once the man lays eyes on the watch, he closes the magazine and sets it aside. “This was my grandfather’s watch, and I’m wondering how much you would give me for it.”

“Should probably stick with the watch, kid,” the man says, picking it up. “It’ll probably last you a lot longer than the girl.”

“I’m more attached to the girl,” Leonard says, smiling through gritted teeth. The man snorts but turns the watch over, checking it for flaws and engravings as well as overall quality. He finally puts it down and looks Leonard over.

“I’ll give you seventy five for it,” the man says. Leonard’s stolen more than a few watches for Lewis before, knows what a good one’s worth. He knows this one should be worth around two hundred new, and at least a hundred from a pawn. He frowns, trying to look disappointed rather than irritated that he has to play this haggling game.

“I don’t know,” he says hesitantly. “I was hoping to get a little more for it. Maybe you’re right, I should stick with the watch...” Leonard lets his finger drift toward the watch, slowly, and the man draws it back instinctively.

“Look, if you want the money so bad, I can go up to ninety,” the guy says. “But that’s it, kid.”

Leonard thinks for a moment. It’s not what the watch is worth, but he decides it’s close enough. He pulls his hand back and nods. “That sounds good,” he says. Good enough, anyway.

“Gonna need a copy of your driver’s license,” the man says, and Len slides across the license of the man who owned the watch. The man picks it up, glances down at it, and does a small double take. Leonard and his mark look nothing alike, and he’s significantly younger than the birthday on the stolen license, but he waits with a blank face to see what the man will do. Leonard can practically see him turning it over in his mind, weighing the profit margin against the potential trouble. The clerk finally turns and walks to the door at the far right end of the counter with the watch and the ID in hand. He unlocks the door, regular lock and deadbolt, and when he goes in Len can see another steel door just past it. It looks like the ones in the gallery and the jewelry store, and he suspects that there’s a keypad off to the side that he can’t see. Good to know that the family seems to use the same interior decorator in all their favorite properties.

Leonard taps his fingers on the glass as he waits, clamping down on his nerves. There’s always a chance that this man will call the cops on him, but he’s banking on this being the cover for one of the Maroni’s fences. He scans over the items in the case. Nothing special, nothing fancy, nothing that’s even terribly valuable, yet he was sent here to get a nice piece of jewelry cheap. If this is part of the Maroni’s crime ring, then he’s betting that all the good stuff stays behind that fancy door.

A few moments later the man thankfully returns with the ID Leonard gave him in one hand and cash in the other. He slides both across the counter and Len takes them, flipping the bills open briefly to make sure the money’s all there before tucking everything away into his back pocket.

“What kind of prices do you have on pawned jewelry?” Len asks. “Necklaces or earrings, if you have any.”

“Real gems come in anywhere from two fifty to five,” the guys says, sitting back down and picking up the magazine he’d discarded earlier. “Come back with some money and I’ll show you some options.”

“Fair enough,” Len says, bowing his head. He turns and heads out.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len manages to make it to the diner by three, and though it’s early he seems to still have beaten Mick there. He folds up the blueprints into quarters so that he can look over them without calling too much attention to himself. Len doesn’t mind sitting around for a while to wait for Mick to get there.

That’s what he tells himself for the first hour, getting his drink refilled by the waitress he keeps slipping fives to in hopes that she’ll stop glancing at the empty seat across from him and giving him pitying looks like he’s been stood up for a date.

The second hour, the dinner traffic starts to pick up a little and Leonard gives in and orders some food to keep the waitress off his back for taking up table space. He eats as slowly as he can, not a difficult task when he keeps getting lost in his plans. Half his food goes cold as he plots all the entrance and exit points in the gallery.

The third hour, the diner starts getting packed, and Leonard slips the waitress a twenty when her glances start to turn from pity to irritation at the space he’s taking up without ordering anything else.

By seven o’clock Leonard’s lost any ability to focus. His mind refuses to be diverted from the myriad of doom scenarios it’s throwing at him in regards to Mick. While he wonders if Mick’s been hurt or kidnapped, the loudest and most insistent of the voices is the one of the back of his mind, whispering that Mick simply doesn’t care. He isn’t coming. Len has shown himself weak, and useless, and Mick has lost interest in playing keeper to him, the voice whispers. It sounds a lot like Lewis.

At seven thirty Len stands and drops another twenty on the table, the last of the money from watch man’s wallet. He still has the cash from the wallets he’s taken from the others on the bus and a few people on the streets, as well as the pawn money from the watch, which is good, because it’s looking like he’s going to have to hunt down a pay phone and call a cab. He steps out of the diner and scans the parking lot.

Nothing looks familiar – he doesn’t see either the truck or the car anywhere. He lingers outside the doors for a while as the twilight fades to night. Every minute that ticks by in his head increases his certainty that Mick, for whatever reason, isn’t coming, but there’s a part of him that can’t bring himself to leave, in case Mick does come and he misses him. When he finally glances inside and see that the waitress is looking at him through the window with pity again the embarrassment finally overcomes him and he starts walking.

Len debates his options as he walks toward an area he knows has a little strip mall. There will probably be both a payphone and a bus stop there, meaning he can either call a cab and head back to the motel, but he doesn’t have the door key, so he’d just end up waiting there. He sighs. Len tries to tell himself that if Mick found him in a car trunk, he can find Len wherever else he goes, but the voice in his head reminds him that he’ll only be found if Mick bothers looking.

When Len gets to the strip mall, he wavers between the bus and a cab again before giving up and settling on the bus. He heads over to the stop and checks the schedule, noting there’s a half hour to go before the next bus comes. He sighs and retreats to the bus shelter, leaning against the dirty plexiglass while he waits. He’s still pondering Mick’s whereabouts and inventing increasingly convoluted scenarios when a strange car pulls up.

“Hey, kid,” the man inside calls. Leonard glances around, but he’s the only one here. “It’s late and the bus won’t be here for ages. You want a ride?”

“No,” Leonard replies shortly. He fingers the strap of Mick’s bag. Surely if Mick were going to ditch out him he’d at least come get his clothes back. Len knows that at least one fo Mick’s favorite shirts is in here…

“Come on, son. It’s getting really late and you wouldn’t want to be caught out past curfew, would you?” the man in the car says, interrupting Len’s train of thoughts. Leonard glares at him. “Don’t be mean, sweetheart. I’m just trying to help. Just let me give you a lift, wherever you wanna go.”

“Piss off, asshole, he’s got a ride,” a familiar voice cuts in, and Len’s heart jumps at the sound. Mick’s rounding the corner of the shelter, headed straight to Len and grabbing his hand. He lets Mick pull him close. “Go bother someone else.”

The man in the car spits a couple half-hearted curses at them before peeling out, and as soon as he does Mick heads back the way he came from, tugging Len along behind him.

“You’re late,” Len points out, because it’s easier than saying I missed you. He silently enjoys the way Mick’s warm hand feels around his own.

“My dad wouldn’t let me out of the house,” Mick explains. “I had to bring him a whole six pack before he passed out. It took forever.”

“I almost left without you,” Len can’t help but saying. Mick snorts.

“You ain’t getting away from me that easy,” Mick tells him.

“That so?” Len asks, secretly pleased.

“Yeah, it is,” Mick says, squeezing his hand a little. Len enjoys the feeling while it lasts, which isn’t long, because they’re soon at the car and Mick releases him.

“You know,” Len starts, as they’re driving down the road. Mick glances over at him. “We’re going to have to go home soon.” He doesn’t miss the way Mick’s grip on the steering wheel tightens. “I won’t go back to Lewis’s house,” he adds hastily, and Mick eyes him doubtfully. “I can go to my grandfather’s house.” Mick sighs.

“Okay,” he finally says. “But not tonight, right? Just come back to the motel with me one more night.”

“Okay, Mick.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len calls Nicholas’s number as soon as they get back to the motel, while Mick pops in one of the movies. He waits patiently while the unfamiliar male voice that answers fetches Nicholas for him while Mick settles in beside him, propping his chin up on one hand and watching Len like he’s the night’s entertainment.

“Leo,” Nicholas greets him eventually. “I’ve been waiting for you to get back to me.”

“Well, I’ve been busy,” Len says, a sinking feeling in his stomach. If Nicholas has been trying to get in touch with him, it must have been through Lewis, which means that Lewis will be getting antsy to have Len back in his hands. He knew that returning to Lewis would be inevitable, but he was hoping to put it off for a while, until Mick had cooled off a little more. Now he’s going to have to find a way to go check in without Mick knowing.

“So it seems. Must have been important,” Nicholas says, and Len thinks he can hear a bit of irritation in his voice.

“Wild weekend. Best years of our life and all. Wouldn’t want to miss out,” Len says, rolling his eyes for Mick, who smirks.

“Invite me along next time,” Nicholas says smoothly. “I love a good party.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Len says. “In between all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, I did manage to case the gallery and the insurance agency.”

“Is that so?” Nicholas says, voice rising with interest. “Care to share?”

“We need to hit next weekend,” Len says. “They’re having a showing featuring private collector’s art. We hit it then, we get the art, they’re out the insurance money.”

“Not bad,” Nicholas says. “Now, if you can cut into your partying for a bit, you care to come over tomorrow so we can finalize everything?” Len places his hand over the phone’s receiver and turns to Mick.

“Nicholas wants to meet tomorrow,” he says in a low voice. Mick thinks for a minute.

“After dinner, I can make it,” Mick says. Len nods and removes his hand from the phone.

“We can be there around eight,” Len tells Nicholas.

“We can, huh?” Nicholas asks. “All right. Eight it is. Looking forward to hearing what you’ve thought up.” Nicholas hangs up without any further word.

“He’s charming,” Mick says, rolling over onto his back and picking up the remote.

“Don’t have to be charming when you’re in charge,” Len comments. He pulls out his blueprints while Mick hits play on the movie he’d put in.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Does anything happen in this movie besides car chases and explosions?” Len asks, looking up from his blue prints.

“More explosions, and murder,” Mick says, fixated on the screen. Len rolls his eyes and hides his smile behind his hand. The plans for the gallery are pretty simple, which actually presents more problems than advantages. It means there are fewer ways in and out, fewer options if things go wrong. Which means that he can’t let anything go wrong. He scans over the blueprints again. All the rooms marked off on the gallery line up with the mini tour they’d taken the other day. He’s taken black marker and marked off all the cameras, using highlighter to estimate their views, and made notes on all the windows and doors as per what kind of locks they had and what size they were. After all that, the gallery still only has two real ways in and out: front and back.

“You’re looking at that paper like it offended you,” Mick says, breaking into Leonard’s thoughts.

“It has,” Len declares, rubbing at his forehead. He glances up at the tv. “What happened to the movie?”

“It ended,” Mick says, rolling his eyes. “Off in your own little world again, huh?”

“I tend to call it working,” Len says, rolling his eyes. “And don’t pretend you were going to pay me any attention when there were all those explosions on.”

“That what you want, Lenny?” Mick asks, leaning closer. “Want me to pay attention to you?” Len huffs and turns away, staring down at the plans while he tries to fight the visions in his head of just what kind of ‘attention’ he’d like Mick to pay him. Suddenly the plans are flying away, and he whips around. Mick holds them up in the air, the pages crinkling. “I’m payin’ attention to ya now, Lenny,” he says with a devilish grin.

“No, you’re wrinkling my blueprints,” Len growls, snatching at them. Mick puts a hand on his chest and leverages him away, holding the plans out behind himself.

“Can’t have that, huh?” Mick says, and the papers make another sharp, deliberate crinkling sound. Len snarls a little and pushes closer, but Mick’s still got reach on him even without the arm across Len’s chest adding more.

“Those are important, Mick, give them back,” Len warns, although part of him is enjoying the game. It’s freeing to be allowed to fight for himself and be aggressive without worrying about actually being hurt. He’s never had either of those options before, and it’s a heady sort of feeling. From the look on Mick’s face, he can tell what Len’s thinking. He manages to duck under Mick’s arm, but Mick gets a hold on the back of his shirt and keeps him in place, twisting a little so that the paper at Len’s fingertips is out of reach again. Len glares at him to no effect, then reaches up and grabs the elbow of the arm holding him, squeezing at the joint until Mick has to let go to shake him off. Mick tries to grab him again but he grabs Mick’s wrist this time, trying to hold him off while getting close, which isn’t working at all. He shoves Mick’s arm away and lunges at him, but Mick is ready, shifting backward to avoid him.

Mick shifts all the way back off the edge of the bed.

He lands with a thud and a variety of colorful curses, while Len sits frozen for a full three seconds, staring at the space where a moment ago there was a Mick, and now there is no Mick. Then his brain kicks in again and he crawls to the edge of the bed and peeks over.

Mick’s on his back, rubbing the back back of his head, but he looks ok.

“You ok?” Len asks anyway.

“Ow,” Mick replies. Len leans over and snatches the blueprint from the ground beside Mick.

“I win,” Len informs Mick.

“Fuck you.”

“You need me to help you up?”

Fuck you.”

Len shuffles backward and curls up by the pillows, smoothing his blueprints and folding them neatly while Mick picks himself up. Mick scowls at him when he’s standing again.

“Stop smirking at me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Len says, as innocently as he can manage. It’s not very convincing, because he can’t force the smile off his face.

“Asshole,” Mick mutters, but he’s already sliding into bed beside him. Len smirks, setting the blueprints on the side table and shutting off the light. He shifts so that he’s laying down and is surprised when Mick rolls towards him.

“So what did you find today?” Mick asks. Len smiles.

“I think I found our way in.”

Chapter Text

Len manages to get to sleep fairly early, thanks in large part to a lack of sleep the previous night, so when Mick starts moving around the next morning he manages to drag himself awake. He sits up with a yawn as Mick gets out of bed.

“You gettin’ up?” Mick asks, picking up his shirt and pulling it on.

“Yeah,” Len replies. “You mind dropping me off at my grandfather’s house?” Mick pauses at that, looking over at him suspiciously. “Mick, I need to get some tools and look through a few things before the meeting, make sure I know what I’m doing.”

“Your grandfather’s house,” Mick says cautiously.

“Yes, Mick.”

“Fine,” Mick agrees begrudgingly. He grabs his jeans from where he’d tossed them on the floor last night and yanks them up over his hips. Len grabs the bag of clothes and slips into the bathroom to change.

The drive over to his grandfather’s house is fairly quiet, but not terribly tense. The sky is just starting to turn pink with sunrise, and there aren’t many other cars on the road. Len’s always been a bit of a night owl, preferring to stay up late and avoid people and sleep in when he can. Lewis’s late night jobs solidified the habit. That means that this isn’t the first sunrise Len’s seen, but it still feels different. It feels oddly pleasant, so much so that he’s a bit disappointed when they make it to his grandfather’s house.

“You need your bag?” Len asks, and Mick shakes his head.

“I’ll grab it when I come pick you up,” Mick says, and Len nods.

“Any idea when that’ll be?”

“Not really,” Mick says, looking away. “I’ll make sure to be back in time to get us to the meeting, though, I swear.”

“I believe you,” Len says honestly. He hops out of the car and gives Mick a reassuring smile. “See you soon.”

Mick waits until Len’s gotten inside and stayed there before leaving; Len watches him go from the kitchen window as he makes coffee. It’s not the first time he’s snuck into his grandfather's house in the middle of the night, with or without Lisa, but he’s found that when people wake up to the smell of fresh coffee they’re far less likely to shoot you or call the cops. Although, his grandfather is really too kind for his own good; if he found a robber making coffee in his kitchen he’d probably offer them a cup. It seems to be how he handled Lewis all these years, even as Lewis stole from him and broke his heart.

Len pours himself a cup of coffee and stuffs the memories down. They do no good. He takes his coffee and empties Mick’s bag, stuffing all the clothes into the washing machine. He leaves the blueprints and other records inside and stuffs it under his bed. He wants those safe.

Len waits until the washing machine is done and transfers the clothes to the dryer. As he’s working, his grandfather shuffles out of his bedroom.

“Lenny!” the old man says, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiles. “How are you, kiddo? I missed you.”

“Missed you too, Gramps,” Len says sincerely. “You been good?”

“I’m fine,” the old man scoffs, shuffling off to the kitchen. Len drifts in after him, watching as he makes himself a cup of coffee. “Have you been okay?”

“I’m fine,” Len says, frowning at the tone. “Why?”

“Lewis came by the other day,” his grandfather says, paying far to much attention to stirring his coffee. Len’s heart sinks. “He was looking for you, seemed like he hadn’t seen you for a few days. We were worried.” Len scoffs at that internally. His grandfather might be worried, sure, but Lewis wasn’t. Or rather, Lewis would be worried about what not producing his son would do to his standing with the Family. Still, Len hates when Lewis comes to see his grandfather. It breaks the old man’s heart a little more each time, even when Lewis doesn’t misbehave too badly.

“I’m fine,” Len repeats. “Just stayed out a little later than I expected and forgot to call. I’ll straighten it out with him.”

“You could call him,” his grandfather suggests. “Stay here a while.”

“I think I will stay here a while,” Len says, and his grandfather smiles again.

“Okay, great,” the old man says, taking a sip of his coffee. “Well, I’m gonna go get the truck warmed up. Gotta get out early during summer.” He pauses. “You wanna come with? Like when you were a kid? I could use some help.”

“I can’t,” Len says regretfully. “I have plans with a friend.”

“A friend?” His grandfather asks dubiously, looking worried.

“Yes,” Len says, knowing what he’s thinking. “A friend. An actual friend.” He leaves out the part where he and his friend are going out to meet the mob and plan some robberies, but that’s really just a footnote.

“You should bring them by,” his grandfather says.

“Maybe I will,” Len says. His grandfather gives him a pat on the back before heading out.

Len waits until he’s gone off with his ice cream truck before grabbing one of his own bags and heading out. It’s a short bus ride back to Lewis’s house, where he stops in and checks the garage first. There’s no car there, meaning Lewis is out somewhere. Probably for the best. Len wants some time to get ready before he faces Lewis.

Len heads up to his room first. In his closet on some small shelves are stack of manuals for security systems. He browses through them until he finds the ones he wants. He can’t be sure it’s the same systems as they have in the gallery, but it’s the closest thing he’s got. He sticks them in his bag, then raids his drawers for some of his own clothes and adds them in. He’s digging through his toolbox to see if he needs anything else when his door opens.

“Well, Houdini finally came crawling back, eh?” Lewis growls. Len whirls and reflexively pushes himself back against the wall, knees coming up to his chest. If you can’t escape, it helps to block your torso. Lewis doesn’t come after him yet, instead standing in the doorway blocking Len’s exit and crossing his arms. Leonard eyes him silently from the floor.

“Nicholas has been calling for you,” Lewis says, taking a few steps closer. Len tries to determine if he would be able to get around Lewis to get out, but the room is little more than a shoebox and there’s no space to get out of arm’s reach. “I went over to your grandfather’s house to get your ass, and you weren’t there. So where’ve you been, Leo?”

“Broke into an abandoned store and slept there,” Leonard lies. “And I called Nicholas. I have to go meet him tonight.”

“He’s been calling me since Sunday. You better remember your responsibilities next time you wanna have a little bitch fit just cause I taught you a little lesson.”

“A little lesson?” Leonard can’t help but repeat, and Lewis’s eyes narrow. Len snaps his mouth shut.

“Taught you to get out of a car trunk,” Lewis sneers.

“I nearly died of heat stroke,” Len can’t help but reply, and Lewis snorts.

“Don’t be such a whiny shit. You’re obviously fine,” Lewis says, waving his hand dismissively. Leonard swallows hard and forces his mouth to stay closed. Nothing he says here will do him any good. “You’re going to see Nicholas tonight?”

“Yes,” Len whispers, slowly pushing up to his feet.

“Well, you better have your shit together,” Lewis growls. “You gottta have that knock off at the insurance agency perfect. You hear me? I don’t want any fuck ups in there.”

“I’ll get it done,” Len says cautiously. Lewis smiles coldly.

“You better. Or you better not come back. Family’s really starting to notice me,” Lewis boasts. “Benny himself is coming on my crew. You hear that? Vincent Santini’s right hand man, taking orders from me. About time someone recognized that I’m the real brains of this operation.”

“That’s great,” Len says, although he doesn’t believe for a second that Benny is there because of Lewis’s impressive skills. He suspects that Benny is more likely to be there to try and keep an eye on Lewis, but he wisely keeps that to himself. A thought occurs to him. “Which jewelry store do you have again?”

“The one on 52nd street,” Lewis says, eyeing Len suspiciously. “Why?”

“I’ve been there,” Leonard says, against his better judgment. If Benny is going on this job, it’s dangerous to screw up, and Len needs to help Lewis as much as he can. “They’ve got a steel door with a keypad lock. That’s where all the really good stuff will be. You need to find a way to-”

He’s stopped by the blow to the face, staggering back until he hits the wall. It’s been a long time since Lewis just straight punched him; he has a lot more creative ways to hurt Len than that. Len braces himself for more but Lewis just stands there.

“Don’t think you can tell me how to pull a heist, boy,” Lewis hisses, eyes flashing with rage. “I taught you everything you know. I don’t need your help on anything.”

“Sorry,” Len says, watching carefully to try and catch Lewis’s next move. “I was just trying to be useful.”

“That’s what I get for letting you around the family,” Lewis says, as though he brought Len in and not the other way around. “You think because Nicholas likes you for some fucking reason that you’re so special now. Well, you ain’t. Even if Nicholas has a little crush on you or however you got him so interested in you, he’s just a little kid trying to wear Daddy’s shoes, just like you. He ain’t the one calling the real shots. In the end, Vince and Benny are the ones calling the real shots, and Nicholas is just the spoiled brat playing crime boss.”

“Yes sir,” Leonard whispers, which seems to calm Lewis a bit. Seeing the fear he’s instilled in his children usually does.

“Well, get your shit together and get to your little meeting. Gotta keep the boss’s baby happy,” Lewis scoffs. Len nods, but doesn’t move until Lewis tuns and leaves the room, slamming the door behind him. Leonard waits until he hears Lewis’s footsteps stomp down the stairs before throwing a few tools in his bag and tossing it over his shoulder. Len stops at his dresser, where he shoves aside some of his socks to dig out the makeup hidden at the bottom, tucking it into his bag as well. He probably doesn’t need anything else, and he’s not willing to stick around and search for it if he is. He can come back another time. Len crosses the hall of the second floor, listening at the top of the stairs while Lewis rummages around in the kitchen downstairs. He’s not keen to chance catching Lewis’s attention on the way out. Len heads to the end of the hall, where there’s a window over looking the side of the house, right over the roof of the garage. He slides the window open and slips out, balancing carefully on the slanted tiles while he closes the window behind him. He lets himself slide down carefully to the edge of the roof, dropping his bag down on the grass before jumping down himself. He hits the ground and rolls, standing and brushing himself off before grabbing his bag and heading back to his grandfather’s house.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By the time Leonard gets back to his grandfather’s house and heads into the bathroom, he can see the dark shading of a black eye beginning to come up. He silently curses Lewis’s bad timing and applies heavy coatings of makeup to hide it, making a note to stay on Mick’s left side as often as possible, just in case. Once he’s done, he finishes the laundry and settles in with his safe manual. It mostly confirms that he has a very difficult time ahead of him with the keypad lock. He pulls out the brochure that Richard Rose gave him and thinks about him and the gallery’s running.

The anxiety from Lewis’s earlier fit hasn’t entirely worn off, because when someone knocks at the front door a little after noon, Len nearly jumps out of his skin. It’s silly, in large part because Lewis has never bothered to knock in his life, but Len still has to remind himself of that fact and take a couple deep breaths before he goes to the front door. He peeks through the window to see who’s there before throwing the front door open.

“Hey,” Mick says from the front porch. He’s got sweat stains on his shirt, as though he’d run off in the middle of work.

“You’re early today,” Len says, stepping aside and waving him in.

“Yeah, I didn’t want to be late so I snuck out first chance I got,” Mick replies. “You mind if I shower or something? I didn’t want to hang around and give my old man a chance to stop me.”

“No problem,” Len says. He leads Mick over to the bathroom. “You can use any of the towels over there. Also, I washed the clothes from this weekend, so you can change into those.”

“Right,” Mick says, stepping in. “Be out in ten minutes.”

Len passes the time trying to remain intensely focused on his security system manual. It’s not as hard as it is when they’re in the motel, as the sound of running water and the thoughts that come with it are much quieter and easier to block out. He still only manages to make it through half the section before Mick reappears suddenly, wrapped in a towel, and Len’s brain completely derails.

“Where’re the clothes?” Mick asks, and Len stares at him for a minute, wondering the same thing, watching as drops of water roll down Mick’s skin. “Lenny. Hello? My clothes?”

“Just trying to remember,” Len replies, although now that his brain has rebooted he knows exactly where they are. “Hold on.” He stands up and fetches the laundry hamper, depositing it in front of Mick. Mick raises an eyebrow.

“You folded them?” Mick asks, picking up a T-shirt folded into a neat little rectangle.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Len asks, and Mick just shakes his head.

“Huh, I thought I brought more than that,” Mick says, grabbing a pair of jeans. Len just shrugs. He figures it doesn’t count as lying if he doesn’t explicitly deny sneaking a couple of Mick’s shirts into his drawers with his clothes. “Be right back.”

Len’s got a much better hold of himself by the time Mick gets back, able to think coherently and everything, even when Mick sits down right next to him. In fact, he realizes that it’s actually calming to have him nearby. He slowly stops jumping at the little noises like he has been since he got back from Lewis’s house and manages to read more than a single page every ten minutes, even when Mick flicks on the tv. He presses closer against Mick’s side, the way he used to in juvie when there were too many people around or he’d caught someone staring in an overly aggressive manner, and though Mick eyes him a little, he doesn’t ask any questions. Len stays there until it’s time to leave.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As annoying as the steel door checkpoint routine is, Len is actually glad to not go back to the Santini’s mansion. The mansion seems to be a special privilege, and Len doesn’t want to be special – not t the Santinis, anyway. He remembers the conversation he had with Alex at that mansion, and as much as he’s trapped with Lewis for now, he fully intends for the day to come when he answers to no one but himself.

Alex greets them at the door again, looking decidedly unhappy.

“Nicholas brought his friends today. Be prepared,” Alex warns quietly. Len tilts his head but Alex refuses to look him in the eye, and Len and Mick share a glance before following him down the hall. When they enter the conference room, Nicholas is waiting there with two other boys.

The first boy, who’s sitting at the table, has light brown hair and hazel eyes, and a cheerful smile. He gives a jaunty wave when the two of them enter. The second boy is leaning against the wall not far from them, and has dark, nearly black hair and darker eyes, and looks slightly familiar, though Len can’t place his face. He has a stormy look on his face.

“Ah, there you are,” Nicholas says, as though he wasn’t expecting them. “Allow me to introduce everybody. This,” he says, indicating the cheerful boy, “is Alfonso, and this is Dario.” He nods toward the angry looking boy at the last. “They’ll be assisting on the jobs next weekend, seeing as how you have convinced me that more muscle is an asset. Boys, this is Leonard Snart, our thief, and his associate.” Nicholas doesn’t even bother to give Mick’s name, and Len can feel himself tensing. “Leo, care to explain the plan?”

“This weekend, the Galleria is hosting an event featuring expensive pieces on loan from private collections,” Leonard explains. “We hit them then, steal the collectors’ pieces, the gallery will be on the hook for the reimbursement. We hit up the insurance agency first, get their records. The agency’s security is pretty low-end, so that’s the easy part. We go in and split up, search out the records we need. Then we hit the gallery. Some of us go in the front, while the rest go around the back. There are cameras there, so we’ll need a good shot to take out the cameras from a distance so they don’t get any of our information. There’s a cargo door at the back, and the team that goes in the front can head straight back there and unlock it for the second team so that we can load the paintings we’re taking out from there.”

“Sounds good,” Nicholas says. “You’ll be able to get us into both places?”

“I will,” Leonard says.

“All right. Then Dario will go around the back of the gallery; he’s an excellent shot.”

“I’ve had a lot of practice,” Dario says, staring at Len. “And I don’t miss.”

“Kudos to you, Annie Oakley,” Len drawls, and the other boy glares even as Mick snickers.

“Alex will be coming as well,” Nicholas continues, ignoring all of them. “Art is a bit of a hobby of his, so he’ll be able to pick out the most expensive paintings and make sure we get them for as much as possible.” Alex does not look pleased at this, staring at the same spot on the floor as he has been since they walked in the room. Len nods.

“There’s not much else then,” Len says. “I have a list here of the items that you should bring with you in case we need them. There’s a diner on the edge of town that we can meet up at around five and head out from there.”

“Sounds good,” Nicholas says. “We’ll be ready.” Dario look back and forth between them.

“That’s it?” Dario says suddenly. He looks Len up and down appraisingly. “Nicholas speaks so highly of you. The great Leonard Snart. I was wondering what you’d be like. And honestly, I’m not impressed.” He pushes off the wall and walks toward them “What’s so special about you anyway?”

Mick is in front of him before Leonard can even form a reply, stopping Dario’s advance cold. Nicholas watches them calmly.

“He’s the best thief in town and if you can’t see it you’re an idiot,” Mick snarls. “How many Family joints have you planned break ins for? L- Snart probably makes more money for them than you’re even worth.”

“Pretty face like that he’d probably make twice as much on his back than running jobs,” Dario sneers. Leonard barely registers the insult, but he does register when Mick lunges forward, though not in time to stop Mick from getting a solid right hook in on Dario, though. Len throws himself forward and grabs Mick’s arm, holding him back as Dario stumbles into the table and braces himself.

“You son of a bitch,” Dario growls, straightening, and Len wraps his arms around Mick’s waist to drag him back, out of range.

“That’s what you get for talking shit,” Mick growls back.

“Mick, stop it,” Len hisses. He manages to pull Mick a few steps farther back and get in front of him to prevent him for going after Dario again.

“All right, boys, let’s all calm down,” Nicholas says. “Dario, step off and cool your head.”

“Me?” Dario asks incredulously. “He’s the one that-”

“Just go,” Nicholas says curtly. Dario makes a frustrated sound and stomps off, glaring at Leonard and Mick as he goes. Mick pulls Len a little closer as Dario passes them. “Leonard. A word.”

Len releases his hold on Mick and steps away, Mick watching him intently. Len silently wills him to wait there while he steps into the hallway with Nicholas.

“You need to control your attack dog,” Nicholas says after closing the door behind them. Len immediately bristles.

“Really? Because it seems like your boy was the one who started talking shit,” Len spits back.

“They’re just words, Leo,” Nicholas says. Leonard doesn’t exactly disagree. He’s heard the insinuations before, at juvie and among his father’s friends, carrying various degrees of disdain and desire, but he’s never paid much mind to them, especially after Mick started hanging around him and people were less inclined to risk the bloody nose to say it to his face. “You need to get him to calm down and obey. Your men should always listen to your orders.”

“Like yours do?” Len asks archly.

“Yes, exactly,” Nicholas says. Len hums. “Dario may be a bit aggressive, but he’s an excellent part of the team. And you certainly don’t want him making trouble with his father.”

“His father?”

“Benny.”

“I see,” Len says, as the familiarity of Dario’s face clicks into place. Len crosses his arms. If Dario is Benny’s son, then he’ll practically have free reign to antagonize whomever he wants, something that Nicholas would certainly understand. They’re going to have to be very careful with him. “I’ll talk to Mick.”

“Good,” Nicholas says, giving a shark-like smile. “See that you do. We’ll see you this weekend then.”

“Yeah, we’ll be there.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mick is quiet when they get in the car, but he only lasts until they’re ten minutes out.

“Was he mad?” Mick asks, breaking the silence.

“Of course he was mad,” Len says, smirking a little. Mick glances over at him before returning his eyes to the road.

“Are you mad?” Mick finally asks, and Len chuckles.

“I’m not mad, Mick,” Len says, and Mick eyes him suspiciously.

“Why?” Mick reluctantly asks.

“Nicholas said that I needed to get you to take orders,” Len relays, and Mick’s brows furrow. “He says that all of his men obey him.”

“Okay...”

“Which means that if he’d ordered Dario to shut up, he would’ve. He wanted to see what would happen,” Len clarifies, and Mick’s face immediately darkens. “He wants to see what’ll happen when he needles at us.”

“What do you wanna do about it?” Mick asks, and Len looks over at him. There’s a faint hint of red along the knuckles of his right hand where he hit Dario for Len’s sake.

“Not much,” Len says, leaning back into the seat. “I don’t want Nicholas to think he can control us – either of us. And Dario will think twice before he opens his mouth now, regardless of what Nicholas says.” He opens his eyes and fixes them on Mick. “But we have to be careful, Mick. Dario is well connected. We can’t push them too much. Let me handle some of it. They won’t be as forgiving with you.”

“I know,” Mick says quietly. “I’m expendable.”

“Not to me,” Len says fiercely, surprising even himself a bit. “So don’t worry about what Nicholas thinks, because he doesn’t matter. Only you and I do.”

“You’re right,” Mick says, relaxing.

“As usual,” Len says breezily, and Mick chuckles.

When they pull up at his grandfather’s house, Len turns back to him.

“Come inside with me,” Len says, and Mick looks surprised.

“You sure?”

Mick,” Len says with extra exasperation.

“All right, don’t get all dramatic,” Mick says, turning the car off and unbuckling his belt. Len smirks and hops out. He leads Mick to the door and lets them both in.

“Gramps?” Len calls into the house.

“Oh, welcome back, Lenny,” his grandfather says, shuffling in from the kitchen. He blinks when he sees Mick.

“This is my friend Mick,” Len tells him.

“Oh, nice to meet you, son,” Len’s grandfather says, giving Mick a friendly smile.

“You too, sir,” Mick says, for once trying to hide behind Leonard. Len tries not to laugh.

“Is it all right if Mick stays over tonight?” Len asks, ignoring the way Mick startles behind him.

“I suppose so,” his grandfather says. “There’s some food in the fridge from dinner if you boys would like.”

“Thanks, we will,” Len says. His grandfather nods and ambles off to the living room, where Len can hear the tv going. He turns to Mick and grabs his wrist. “Come on.”

Mick lets Len lead him down the hall to Len’s bedroom, where he stands while Len digs under his bed for the item he’s been hiding for a while now. He was going to save it for Christmas, but after the last weekend Len wants to give Mick something. He snatches the item and pulls it out.

“Got you something,” he tells Mick triumphantly, holding up the chemistry book. Mick takes it, opening it and paging through it. Len suddenly feels rather shy. “It’s, uh...”

“The one from juvie,” Mick finishes for him. “The one we burned when we took out the guard.” He grins. “So sentimental, Lenny.”

“Shut the hell up,” Len replies with no heat. Mick grins at him and Len turns his face, trying not to blush. He stands quickly and yanks one of his drawers out, grabbing a shirt and some sweatpants. “I’m gonna go change in the bathroom. You can change here.”

“Okay,” Mick says, distracted by the book in his hands. Probably the napalm section. Len sighs.

“Mick?”

“Yeah?”

“No making any napalm without me there.” Mick looks up and stares for a minute.

“Whatever you say, Len.” That’s probably the best that he’s going to get, so Len heads over to the bathroom. He tosses on his clothes quickly, then checks his makeup in the mirror. He adds a little extra foundation and cements it in with powder. He’ll have to be careful which side he lays on so it doesn’t rub off in his sleep, but the makeup is expensive – or would have been, had he paid for it – so it should last fairly well.

When he returns to the room, Mick’s already changed into soft flannel pants and a tank top and sprawled over the side of the bed near the wall. Len’s feeling pretty good until Mick looks over at him and his eyebrows shoot up in surprise, stopping Leonard mid-step. His mind races – is his makeup off? Did he miss a spot? Not possible, he literally just checked it. Mick’s gaze is on his torso, anyway. Has Mick just now noticed the scars on his arms? Is he put off?

“So that’s where that shirt went,” Mick comments. Len looks down. It’s definitely Mick’s shirt, one that Len’s had possession of for a while, he thinks. He would have the bad luck to pull one of the T-shirts he’s pilfered from Mick out on the night he invites him to stay over.

“It must have gotten mixed up in the laundry,” Len says lamely.

“Been missing for months.”

“Can’t have missed it too much, then,” Len says, sliding into bed beside him. The bed is small, almost as small as their juvie bunks, and he can feel Mick’s warm presence at his back.

“Guess not,” Mick says with a chuckle. “Looks better on you anyway.”

“Then quit complaining and go to sleep.” Len can feel the bed shift as Mick rolls toward him.

“Wasn’t complaining, Lenny.”

Chapter Text

Leonard decides to leave far earlier than he needs to on the day of the double hit, due in large part to the fact that he’s been back at Lewis’s house for a few days now. All it had taken was one drunken visit to his grandfather’s house from Lewis the night Mick left – though thankfully not before Mick was gone; Len doesn’t want to think about what would’ve happened then. Lewis had thrown a bottle against his grandfather’s wall before Len had immediately folded and promised to come home, just as soon as he cleaned up the glass and liquid with a rag and his bare hands while his grandfather watched sadly. Though Lewis has been in a fairly good mood since, Len still opts to sneak out for the job while Lewis is distracted, even though Lewis knows where he’ll be going and wouldn’t stop him, seeing as how it would jeopardize his own job tonight. That fact still doesn’t mean that Leonard wants to show up for the job with more bruises to cover, because Lewis is always wound up before he pulls a job and it only serves to exacerbate his hair trigger temper, which in turn winds up Leonard. Before he goes, Len sets up Lewis’s bag on the kitchen table, filled with all the tools he’ll need and then some, even though Lewis will undoubtedly bitch about lugging around all the extra weight of every single tool he doesn’t use. Leonard’s been on jobs with him where he doesn’t have the right tools, though, and those have always ended poorly, at least for Len; most of those times involved setting off alarms and running from the cops with their score, which Leonard was always blamed for. Once they got nothing at all, except for Leonard, who got a new cracked rib. He’s been packing Lewis’s bags ever since, and he’s not about to stop now, when Lewis screwing up this job could get them both on the Family’s bad side. He’s not sure what kind of contingency plans Benny has for his father’s potential screw ups, if any, but seeing how little Benny apparently likes Leonard he’s fairly certain that even a close call could be enough to get them both in a lot of trouble. Len’s spent a lot of time since his father got back from his prison stint wondering if this would be the night that Lewis didn’t come back from a job, and he would have to try and fight to keep Lisa out of foster care. Now that Lewis is working the Family jobs on his own, Len’s bypassed that option completely and gone straight to worrying that Lewis’s poor planning will get them both killed, and he won’t be there to try and fix any of his father’s mistakes on this job. This is all Len can do: provide him with all the tools he might possibly need since he won’t plan for it himself, and hope that someone else picks up Lewis’s slack for once.

The more Len thinks about it, the more jittery he gets. He can’t stay in this house. When Lewis shuts himself in his room to stomp around and curse and whatever else he’s doing up there, Leonard grabs his own pre-packed bag and slips out the front door, checking himself briefly in the hall mirror to confirm that his makeup’s still covering his black eye completely, and then heads down to the bus station a block over. He nervously taps his foot as he waits, haunted by the idea of Lewis showing up suddenly and dragging him back for reasons Len can’t even imagine. He lets out a small sigh of relief when the bus finally shows up and he makes it on with no trouble.

The tension eases out of him gradually, until he makes it to the Motorcar, where he’d told Mick he’d meet him. Len’s an hour earlier than he’d said he’d be, but he still finds that Mick’s beaten him here, the semi-stolen car of theirs sitting in the lot like a welcome sign. Len walks a little faster as he crosses the lot and enters the diner.

The familiar scents of greasy food and coffee hit him as soon as he walks in, and it only takes a moment for him to locate Mick, at one of the tables in the back that they usually get. Mick’s back is to him, and as Len approaches, he realizes that Mick’s got the chemistry book from last week spread open in front of him, next to a coffee cup that, based on the amount of empty sugar and creamer packets littering the table, has probably been refilled a few times. Mick’s got his lighter in his right hand, flicking the lid open and closed and twirling it around, but not lighting it; all it took was one cringe-inducing lecture from Christine about burning down the diner and he’d never lit it up inside again. Len needs to get her to teach him how to do that.

Len slides in across from Mick, who looks up and blinks in surprise.

“You’re early,” he grunts, shutting the book with a snap.

“I keep a watch in my back pocket so I’m always ahead of time,” Len drawls. Mick groans and puts his head in his hands.

“I’m gonna have to put up with this all night, aren’t I?” Mick demands, and Len just grins at him as Christine saunters up.

“You ready to order some solid food yet?” she asks, looking back and forth between the two of them.

“Reuben sandwich with the fries,” Mick says, like he’s been waiting for it. Len smiles a little.

“Just a cheeseburger for me,” he tells Christine.

“Get him fries too,” Mick says, and Len frowns at him.

“I don’t want fries,” Len argues.

“You don’t now, but when my fries get here, you’re gonna want fries, and then you’re gonna end up eating mine. And I want to eat my fries. So we’re getting you your own.”

“You’re being ridiculous just because I eat a couple of your fries sometimes?”

“It’s not a couple, Len. It’s like half of them. We’re getting you fries. You don’t eat enough anyway.”

“I do so.”

“What’ve you eaten today?” Len scowls at him, racking his brain to try and come up with something other than the toast he knows he had this morning, but nothing comes to mind.

“Two combos then,” Christine says as the silence drags on, jotting something down on her notepad before heading off. Mick grins like he’s won at something and Len scowls harder, unsure how he’s been embroiled in this sudden conspiracy.

“Whatever,” Len huffs, unwilling to participate any further in this ridiculous discussion.

“Only you would be pouting about getting extra fries,” Mick says, shaking his head.

“I am not pouting, Mick,” Len says, cringing slightly when it comes out with an edge of whininess. “I don’t know why you keep saying that.”

“Because you keep pouting,” Mick says with a smirk.

“That is not even a real argument,” Len says in exasperation. He considers kicking Mick under the table. Mick is saved when Christine returns with a drink for Len.

“You ready for tonight?” Len asks.

“Yeah, no problem,” Mick replies easily.

“You seem rather confident about our chances,” Len observes. “You know we’re going to two places tonight, right?”

“Yeah, and I am confident. I’m confident in you,” Mick says, jabbing a finger in the air at him for emphasis. “You’ll get it done.”

“So what were you reading about?” Len asks abruptly, as embarrassment and pleasure war for dominance within him. He still doesn’t know how to handle Mick’s unwavering confidence in him, particularly since Mick doesn’t seem to expect anything from it. It throws him off balance.

“Reading about napalm again,” Mick tells him. “Never got to finish it before, you know. In there. And I thought it might be useful someday… for work.”

“I suppose so,” Len says thoughtfully. “Just promise me you won’t try and make any without me around?” he asks, figuring a reminder won’t hurt.

“I won’t,” Mick says, only slightly reluctant. “I don’t really have anywhere to do it on the farm anyway.”

“We’ll find somewhere,” Len assures him, as Christine arrives with the food. They dive in and eat quietly for a few minutes before Mick speaks again.

“Are you nervous?” he asks, and Len pauses mid bite. He thinks it over while he chews.

“Not exactly,” Len finally replies after swallowing. “I am, a little, but I keep it away by thinking of all the solutions I can come up with for the potential problems. As long as I don’t feel like I’m missing something, I feel pretty calm.”

“That’s so you,” Mick declares with a grin. “Too busy thinking to be scared.”

“Well, being scared rarely helps,” Len said. “Thinking almost always does.”

“It does when there’s someone like you to do the thinking.”

“Everyone benefits from thinking things through a little, Mick. It just takes patience.”

“Nah, it’s not just that. You see things and think of things that other people don’t. You have a special kind of brain, Lenny.” Mick grins. “And patience, which is good, cause I don’t.”

“You certainly don’t,” Len says, rolling his eyes and shoving his plate away. “And patience is one thing, but we have a schedule to keep. Let’s head over to the insurance company and stake out so we can catch someone leaving.”

“Gimme a few minutes,” Mick protests. “We’re early already, and I haven’t finished my fries yet. Unlike some people.” Len drops his eyes to the plate he’d pushed away, which is empty. He meets Mick’s smug grin with a glare.

“I just didn’t want to waste the food,” Len mutters. Mick snorts.

“Sure, Lenny. Whatever you say.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Someone coming out.”

Len looks up from his blueprints and focuses on the movement at the door of the insurance agency. A young man waves as he heads out, letting the door shut behind him. Len can see the red light on the scanner blink once to show that it’s relocked behind him, and notes a keycard hanging from a lanyard around his neck.

“He might do,” Len muses. “Follow him out, Mick. Don’t let him know.”

“Got it,” Mick says, starting the car. He pulls out smoothly as Len packs his blueprints away again, keeping an eye on the car as they follow it at a distance through the city. After about ten minutes, the man pulls in to the parking lot of a sports bar.

“Pull in and park on the other side of the lot,” Len instructs, flexing his gloved hands. Once they’re parked, he opens the door and steps out, peering over the top of the car. He waits until he sees the man from the agency get out, then grabs the slim jim he’s hid under the seat. Once the man disappears into the bar, he strides purposefully over, glancing around the empty lot before slipping a fingernail under the weather strip of the passenger side window on the man’s car. He pulls it away from the glass and inserts the thin metal between the window and frame. It takes him just a few moments to get it in position, and then the lock pops up. Len smiles as he quickly unhooks the slim jim, pulling it out smoothly and opening the passenger side door. The man’s keycard sits in one of the cupholders, and Len plucks it out and tucks it into his pocket before relocking the car door and shutting it. When he slides back into the car where Mick’s waiting, it’s been less than two minutes by his count.

“Damn, that was fast,” Mick says approvingly, and Len can’t help but puff up a little at the praise, a warm feeling in his chest.

“It was an easy lift, I’ve done stuff like it a thousand times,” Len says, trying to brush off the praise. He’s still not entirely used to returning from even a lift as small as this without a litany of things he’d screwed up or could have done better. He watches Mick from the corner of his eye as they drive away, heading over to the meeting place they’ve set up with Nicholas. Mick’s got a little half-smile on his face, looking like he enjoys nothing more than driving around to commit crimes with Len. Leonard lets his eyes drift down to Mick’s lips. The urge to kiss him, one that always seems to be creeping around the shadows of his mind whenever Mick’s around, surges to the front of it. He bites down on his own lip and forces his eyes away. They have work to do.

They get to the restaurant and head in. Leonard was hoping to beat Nicholas and his crew there, but they have no such luck. Nicholas is there already with Alex, Dario, and Alfonso, plates with the remnants of mostly-eaten dinner in front of them. Nicholas looks up as they enter and waves them over.

Upon approaching the booth, Leonard represses a scowl. The four of them have positioned themselves two on each side, so that there’s no way for them to sit beside each other. He now has to choose which is the lesser of two evils: sitting beside Nicholas, or sitting beside Dario. He decides after a moment that while he wants nothing to do with either of them, he’s at least more comfortable being within arm’s reach of Nicholas than Dario. When Len sits down, Nicholas gives a pleased smile, and he wonders how much of a hand Nicholas had in the seating arrangement. Mick slides in next to Dario, a disgruntled look on his face that Len can sympathize with. Dario scowls and glares at him, and Mick gives him the same look right back, not giving an inch. Len gives his own little pleased smile.

“Welcome, boys,” Nicholas says, eyes flicking over Mick briefly before turning to look at Leonard. “You’re early.”

“It’s a good habit,” Len replies. “You’re early as well.”

“We are. We didn’t expect you yet, so we ate already,” Nicholas says, gesturing at the table.

“So did we,” Len replies.

“Nothing better to do?” Dario taunts. Mick growls a little and he and Dario glare viciously at each other.

“Actually, we stopped by and grabbed a keycard for the building before we stopped over,” Len says in a low voice, mindful of being in public. “But that didn’t take very long, with our skills, so yes, we had some free time.” Nicholas chuckles a little, but Mick and Dario are still giving each other hateful looks. Len slides his leg forward a little until his knee is resting against Mick’s under the table. Mick turns his attention back to Len, who gives him a tiny smile, and Mick relaxes a bit, leaving his eyes on Len and pointedly ignoring Dario, no matter how much the other glares. Neither of them moves their leg.

“When do we head out?” Nicholas asks, and Len glances at the clock on the diner wall to confirm it matches his own inner clock, which it does.

“They were just closing up when we stopped by, so they should be nearly empty by now,” Len says. We can head out and check it out, and if it looks all clear, we go in.”

“Sounds good,” Nicholas says, raising a hand to signal the waitress over. “Let’s head out.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Nicholas convinces them to leave their car in the lot and join the others in the cargo van they’ve obtained for this job. It’s too conspicuous to leave sitting outside the agency, so once the office appears empty, Len, Mick, Nicholas and Alfonso end up hopping out while Dario and Alex head down the block to wait with the car. They’ll drive by every ten minutes until the four of them come out.

The keycard that Len swiped works perfectly, beeping as the front door unlocks and letting them in to the small waiting space leading to the second door. As soon as the door is unlocked, they have three minutes to make it to the alarm system and disengage it. As soon as the lock tumbles, Len starts the countdown in his head. He heads straight back to the wall where he’d spotted what he’s pretty sure is the alarm system when he’d staked out the agency, and he isn’t disappointed. There’s a small box with a keypad on it, bracketed to the wall. The code should be four digits, but it could be any number of combinations, and a wrong one will set the alarm off.

So Len doesn’t enter a code.

He pulls two screwdrivers out of his bag, waving Mick over and handing him one. He steps up to the right side of the box and loosens the screws on the bracket holding it to the wall. Mick takes the cue and begins working on the left side. With both of them working together, it takes only forty seven seconds to remove all the screws, allowing Len to gently pull the box forward from the wall. There are several wires attached to the back of the box, coming up through the wall, but only two matter – the power cord and the phone line. Len pulls the phone line first; without connection to that, the system has no way of transmitting a signal to either the police or the alarm company that it’s been activated or terminated. Then he pulls the power cord for good measure. The screen goes dark with fifty five seconds to spare.

He lets the little box dangle from the wall while he heads into what he suspects is the head office. It has a large polished wooden desk and leather chair, and two filing cabinets behind it. He tries the first one, and it’s locked.

“Okay,” Len says when returns to the main room. “Nicholas and Alfonso, start checking out some of the desks for important paperwork. Don’t take your gloves off. I’ll unlock the filing cabinets in the head office. Mick…” Mick watches, him, attentive. “There’s a side room in by that corner,” he says, indicating it. “I think it’s a storage room. Might have filing cabinets with more paperwork. Can you go check it out and open the filing cabinets in there?”

“He can pick locks?” Nicholas asks, raising an eyebrow, and they both glare at him.

“Yeah, he can,” Mick sneers. He turns and gives Len a curt nod. “I’ll get it done, boss.” Len nods back and watches him head away for a moment, noting the way he stuffs his hand in his pocket, undoubtedly running it over the lighter inside. That’s the only indication that Mick gives that he’s nervous, though Len’s learned it well. He just has to trust that Mick can work through the nerves. Turning on his heel, he heads back into the main office.

The locks on a filing cabinet are smaller, requiring more precision, but simple for a steady hand. Len yanks open the drawer and starts rifling through the papers in there. They’re in alphabetical order, which is handy. He finds the papers for the gallery and the two jewelry stores quickly, dropping them on the table, before moving on to open the second cabinet and search out the luxury store’s papers. That done, he returns to the cabinets and starts looking through the files more slowly, pulling out anything with an address in the Maroni’s neighborhood or under their name that he can find and putting it in a second pile. He’s looking through the C section, trying to find any properties insured under the Maroni name, when he comes across Century Auto.

Len almost passes it up, because at first glance there’s nothing that says Maroni about it at first, but the name catches his eye and snags something in his brain that makes him stop. Frank Napolitano – one of the names from his list. His heart rate picks up and before he can think too hard about it, he’s folding up the papers, tucking them into the back pocket of his jeans.

“Snart.”

Leonard flinches just a bit before he can clamp down on it, even as his brain points out that it’s Mick’s voice, there’s nothing to fear. His heart still races like he’s been caught doing something wrong.

“Yeah, Rory?” Len responds, standing again.

“Found the room you wanted,” Mick tells him, leaning against the door. “Full of file cabinets. I got them all open.”

“Knew you would,” Len says, giving him a grin, and Mick visibly brightens a bit. “What’s in ‘em?”

“Old files,” Mick tells him. “Looks like just copies of the expired insurance forms. What do you want to do with them?”

“Grab a trashcan from one of the desk and start pulling papers,” Len instructs. “Find the jewelry stores, the gallery, and the luxury store first, then anything you can find under the Maroni’s name or in their neighborhood and dump it in. Grab Alfonso to help you out.”

“Yes sir,” Mick replies, smirking a little. He turns and heads out, and Len can hear him talking to Alfonso briefly in his deep rumble. He kneels down in front of the second filing cabinet and pulls open the bottom drawer.

It opens slowly, because it’s heavier than he expected, and Len has to up his force to get it all the way out. When it is, he finds himself looking down at a small safe, placed so that the dial faces up towards the ceiling. Len frowns. It’s a pretty simple safe. He spins the dial to clear it and places one hand on the smooth metal door of the safe. Leonard leans close, closing his eyes and listening carefully as he very, very slowly spins the dial. He feels the first catch and mentally notes the number.

“Leo,” Nicholas calls, stepping into the room. “We-“

“Ssshhhh,” Leonard hisses, cutting him off. He continues to spin the dial as he distantly hears footsteps approach.

“What-“

“SSSSHHHHH!” Leonard hisses again, sparing a moment to shoot a glare at him. Nicholas snaps his mouth shut and stands silently, watching over his shoulder. Leonard ignores him and continues his process. He finds the second and third numbers’ catch, mentally noting them as well. Now that he’s found all three numbers, it’s a matter of finding the right combination, because they don’t necessarily fall in that order. He tries the combinations one by one, and on the fourth try, he hears the locks tumble. He pulls the handle on the safe and is pleased when it opens.

“Nice,” Nicholas says approvingly, crouching down to dig through the safe while Len watches. He pulls out a large manila envelope and stacks of money that are banded together. “You have some kind of luck, Leonard.”

“You know what they say,” Len replies. “Once is luck, twice is coincidence, three times is skill.”

“I’m looking forward to number three then,” Nicholas says. He holds out two stacks to Len, who eyes him for a moment. “Your good luck charm bonus.” Len takes the money and slips it into his bag, stuffing it in a nearly invisible side pouch that zips closed.

“What’s in the envelope?” Len asks, as Nicholas pulls out the rest of the cash and dumps it in his own bag. Nicholas shrugs and hands it over. Len rips the top open and pulls out dozens of document, two or three pages stapled together in neat little packets. He takes the top one out and looks at it. It looks like normal insurance paperwork, but there isn’t much of it.

“Look at it later,” Nicholas says. “We need to move on.”

“Right,” Len mutters. He tucks the papers back in the envelope and stacks the loose ones from the filing cabinet on top. “You should look through the cabinet, pull any files for property that you know belongs to the Maronis. I need to see how Mick’s work is going.”

“All right,” Nicholas says, standing and pulling open one of the other cabinet drawers. Len heads out of the room and towards the back where he sent Mick off.

Mick and Alfonso are both in there, tossing files into a metal garbage can. Mick looks up when he enters, somehow always able to sense him coming even when he’s being quiet, and drops his latest handful in.

“Snart,” Mick rumbles, glancing at Alfonso. “Just about got everything. What did you want us to do with it?”

“Drag the can out the back door,” Len says. “I’ll get Nicholas and meet you there.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Mick drawls, and Len’s lips twitch into a quick smile. He’s starting to like that word.

Len returns to the main room and heads back over to the alarm box. He plugs the power cord back in, but not the phone line. He picks up the screws they’d removed to get the box off the wall and begins carefully replacing them.

“What are you doing?” Nicholas asks from the doorway of the office with the safe.

“Making it look like we were never here,” Len replies, tightening the last screw and stepping back. The alarm flashes benignly at him. “It’ll be a lot harder for them to try and claim they were robbed if there’s no evidence of it. By the time they figure out that their alarm’s not even transmitting, hopefully everything’s been settled.”

“You really do think of everything,” Nicholas says.

“No point in doing it if you’re not going to do it right,” Len comments, and Nicholas nods in agreement.

“I dunno,” Mick says, carrying the garbage can from the old file room over to them as Alfonso trails behind. “Even if you do it wrong, if you had fun, it’s usually worth it.”

“Until you have to live with the consequences of fucking it up,” Len points out. Mick’s face darkens a bit, but he shrugs, then rattles the trash can at Len.

“What d’ya wanna do with these, boss?” Mick asks, staring deliberately at Leonard.

“We’re taking them with,” Len tells him with a smile. “Removing their backup will make it more difficult for them to prove anything was there in the first place.”

“You really do think of everything, don’t you?” Nicholas says, clamping a hand on Leonard’s shoulder. Len jerks away from the touch.

“No touching, thanks,” Len says. Nicholas narrows his eyes and Len avoids his gaze, glancing around. “We have everything we need from here, I think. Ready to head out?”

“Ready,” Nicholas confirms. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

They only have to wait a few minutes on the agency’s block before Dario and Alex swing by to pick them up. Upon being told that everything went off without a hitch, Dario remains stone faced and Alex becomes even more twitchy and nervous. Leonard begins to wonder if Alex wouldn’t have been happy for the whole thing to fail so he wouldn’t have to go through with the second, arguably more difficult part. He also wonders if Dario was hoping the whole thing would fail just so he could hold Len accountable, and shifts a little closer to Mick, pressing up against his side. Mick watches him out of the corner of his eye, his face silently asking if Leonard’s okay, and Len gives him a small, tight smile to reassure him.

Dario drops them off at the end of the block before heading around the back to take out the cameras with Alfonso.

“Okay,” Len says. “We can’t have too many people hanging around the doorway while we break in, or it’ll draw attention. Alex and Nicholas, wait here; Mick will come with me while I get us in.”

“Don’t take too long,” Nicholas says. Alex just nods mutely, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. They remain on the corner while the other two head over to the door. Len can practically feel Nicholas’s eyes on his back the whole time.

The interior of the Galleria is dark, but Len doesn’t need to see to get the lock on the front door open; locks like that are more feel than sight to begin with. The tricky part comes after that. He pulls out his flashlight and aims it where he remembers the two small metal panels on the doorframe being.

“Hold this right here,” he orders Mick, who takes the light and holds it on the exact spot. Len pulls a small length of metal wire from his bag, spliced at the ends to expose the conductors. He pulls out a small roll of duct tape and scissors and attaches a little piece of the tape to each end of the wire. That done, he very carefully eases the door open just a crack.

The metal panels on the top of the door are an alarm system. If the signal between them breaks, one side will set off an alarm and the police will be sent in. Len keeps the door open just enough that he can attach the ends of the wire to each of the panels with the tape without breaking contact between the two yet, using a thin piece of metal to slide the second piece in. This lets the wire conduct the signal and maintain the connection while allowing them to get the door open just wide enough to slip inside. It’s a tricky game; make the wire too long, and the signal won’t conduct fast enough to avoid setting the alarm off; too short, and there won’t be enough space to get in. Len slides through, the metal door frame scraping against his chest and back as he enters, then holds the door open just enough for the others to do the same after Mick waves them over. Len eases the door almost all the way closed before carefully removing the wire. Then he waits for a few minutes.

Nothing happens.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re in the clear, of course. It’s not uncommon for galleries to use silent alarms such as many banks have, but it’s more reassuring than red flashing lights and sirens. Len leads the way towards the back of the gallery while the other three drift behind him. There are no cameras in the main show floor, a perk of hitting a smaller venue. It’s not until they reach the far door leading to the back hallway that Len has everyone stop.

“There’s a camera in this hall that I need to take out,” Len informs them. “Wait here, and keep an eye on the front door.” Mick and Nicholas nod, while Alex stares out at the show floor. Len drops his bag on the floor and digs out a pair of pruning shears. The door itself isn’t locked, so Len opens it up, just enough to get through. The camera is up in the corner, pointing down the hallway; while he calculates that the angle of the camera should allow him to slide under it unseen if he’s very careful, any movement too far into the hallway and he’ll end up the only one on film. He slides in sideways, keeping his back pressed against the wall as tightly as possible, trying to compress himself as he edges over. When he makes it to the corner and is standing directly under the camera, he slide the shears up to try and get the tips of the blades under the small wires on the side. It takes a few moments; the shears are heavy and the blades are long, and they’re not made for such delicate work, especially at such a distance, but it’s the best solution Len could think of without trying to drag a stepstool in. After a few seconds of maneuvering, Len gets the wire between the blades and snips. He’s deeply satisfied when the little power light on the side dies out.

The hallway clear, Len opens the door and grabs his bag. Mick and Nicholas look over from where they’ve taken up positions on either side of one of the partition walls, while Alex is leaning against the sales desk right where Len had left him.

“Camera’s down,” Len informs them, and they head over. Len leads them over to the steel door and code panel even as his heart rate picks up. This door is key; all the most expensive paintings will be in here. If they don’t get in, then there won’t be much point of hitting this spot to begin with.

“Here,” Len says, taking a pair of bolt cutters out of his bag. “The cargo door is in the other room on the opposite side. Someone needs to clip the padlock and open it up for Alfonso and Dario.”

“Rory can go,” Nicholas says, turning to look at Mick. Mick stares him down for a moment, then looks at Len. As much as it rankles, Len knows this isn’t a battle worth fighting.

“Mick, get the door open,” Len says, and Mick glances at Nicholas before nodding and taking the bolt cutters. Len is left with Alex and Nicholas, both watching him silently.

“All right,” Nicholas says, gesturing at the steel door. “Let’s see the magic.”

Len turns and looks at the door. He takes a breath, trying to make sure that his hands are steady. He doesn’t have the tools or the time to plan a better way into this room than through the keypad, but if he enters the wrong code, the alarm triggers, and they have somewhere in the vicinity of three minutes to grab as many paintings off the front wall as they can and run for it, and none of those are going to be too terribly valuable. But sometimes, security weaknesses aren’t just a matter of wires and metals. People are often the weakest part. People like Richard Rose, who’s probably in charge of the security and password on this door since he uses it most often. There’s a chance that Santiago controls the code, but Len doubts it. Rose is too vain to let someone else be in charge of his gallery. And because he’s that vain, Len is willing to take a chance on the door code, that Rose would use something very simple that he could not only remember but strokes his ego. Like the date that he sold three paintings and got appointed the director of the museum, which he helpfully celebrates every year with a small showing of his collection, this year being no exception. Len types in the numbers, praying that he’s right, and holds his breath as he hits enter.

The half second between hitting enter and the light above the keypad changing to green seems to take five minutes, but when Len hears the telltale sound of an electronic lock releasing everything rushes back to normal speed. He reaches over and half expects resistance when he pulls the door handle, but gets none. The door swings open cleanly and Len turns to the other two boys.

Nicholas and Alex both look a little stunned, although Nicholas recovers quickly.

“I have no idea how you managed that,” Nicholas finally says. He looks caught between impressed and suspicious. Len gives him a tight smile.

“Third time is skill, remember?” Len says. “Trust me, there’s always a way.”

“Wow, you did it!” A cheerful voice says from down the hall. Mick’s approaching with Alfonso and Dario from down the hall.

“He always gets it,” Mick says confidently. Len relaxes his smile into something a little more genuine. Dario remains silent. Len figures it’s a family trait.

“Let’s get on with it,” Nicholas declares. “Alfonso, you watch the front door while we sort out the paintings,” Nicholas instructs, heading into the room. Alex follows him, casting a suspicious glare at Leonard that surprises him a little. Len jams a screwdriver between the bottom of the door and the floor to prevent it from closing before he heads in, just in case.

The room is large, and there’s a thermometer on the wall that has far more settings than a normal one. Len guesses that this room is temperature controlled. The room is lined with slatted metal shelves, where the paintings are stored individually. Some of the slots have names on them of the artists that presumably show primarily at this gallery, and some slots are empty, but only Alice DeVito’s slots are all completely empty. Len almost wishes he could see more of her work.

Alex is already moving around, instructing Dario, and Mick on a few names from the labels that they should start taking from while he begins checking the paintings in the unlabeled slots. Alfonso is sent to the show room to keep an eye on the front door.

“Don’t touch the picture at all if you can help it,” he’s instructing, sounding more confident than Len’s ever seen him. If he didn’t seem so unhappy it would be charming. “Be gentle. Don’t scratch the paint or tear the canvas; that could be thousands of dollars worth of damage on some of these.”

Len leaves them to it, stepping out into the hallway and walking over to the room at the end of the hall that he’s pegged as Richard’s office. It’s got beautiful wood furnishings buried under all sorts of papers and clutter, and Len’s heart sinks. The odds of finding anything useful in this place are not in his favor, but it’s worth a try, and in any event, he has to find any copies of the insurance papers that Rose might be hiding.

This is easier said than done. Richard’s desk is awash in papers, most of which are useless to him. His determination is beginning to give way to frustration when Nicholas steps into the room.

“What a pit,” Nicholas comments.

“No kidding. Wanna help me out here? I haven’t found any insurance papers yet,” Len says. Nicholas heads over and starts opening drawers. They’re still going at it when Len hears a distant sound.

“What was that?” Len asks, freezing. Nicholas looks up and frowns.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Nicholas says, but Len is already moving to the door. Years of practice listening for the slightest warning of Lewis coming has honed his instincts, and not a minute later, Alfonso appears at their doorway.

“There’re cops out front,” he hisses.

“A patrol passing by isn’t uncommon-”

“No, like looking in the gallery,” Alfonso stresses, and Len and Nicholas share a look. Len drops the papers in his hands back on the desk and heads toward the front of the gallery.

“What’s going on?” Mick asks as Len passes by, and Len hold a finger up to his lips.

“Cops might be investigating. Load up what you can and get the van running, just in case,” Len tells him quietly. Mick nods, jaw tight, and heads back into the room with Alfonso to tell the others while Len continues on.

Leonard slips around the wall partitions in the dark, trying to stay out of direct line of sight of the Galleria’s front windows. He finds a half-wall he can crouch under and still barely see around the edge to the door, where he sees that there are indeed police there. Leonard’s mind races; why are the police here? He’s pretty sure that if they had tripped the alarm on the door somehow, the police would’ve been here sooner, and he was certain that the keypad door hadn’t been an issue. He’s also seen no indication of any secondary security system that they might have tripped, on this visit or during their tour. He watches the police as they examine the door with their flashlights. It’s a good sign; they’re most likely looking for anything that indicates a break in so they have a reason to enter. If it was a tripped alarm, the police would be able to simply enter at will. It also means that someone probably phoned in a report on them. Len tries to think; there was no one on the streets when they broke in, but there’s always the chance that there was someone in one of the adjoining buildings, working late or just lingering, who saw them through a window and called the cops.

“What’s going on?” Nicholas hisses from near him, and Len jumps. His shoulder hits the wall, and the poorly anchored thing shakes. A large, misshapen vase on the top of it tips and pitches over the side facing the front window. Its three second fall feels like it takes years.

It shatters on the floor and all hell breaks loose.

Mysteriously tumbling vases are all the excuse that the police need to enter the building, breaking the glass on the door with a kick and unlocking it. A red light flashes near the ceiling and there’s a tinny ringing sound as the door’s alarm triggers. Len and Nicholas are up and moving as the sound echoes through the gallery, but the police have a head start, flooding in and pulling their guns. Len has long since memorized the strange maze-like pattern of the interior partitions, but he’s suddenly hit from behind and falling to his knees.

“Don’t move,” a voice behind him orders, though Len disobeys to crane his neck and get a look at the cop speaking to him. “Shit, you’re just a kid aren’t you?”

Len ignores him and glances around. Nicholas is still standing near another wall not too far from Len, but he’s not running anymore either, instead holding his hands in the air in surrender. Shit. Len’s going back to juvie, best case, and it’s going to be twice as hard because Mick…

Mick won’t be there. The breath in Len’s lungs freezes as he realizes that Mick’s in the back, with a gun, and old enough that he most likely won’t be let off easy. Len prays to who or whatever is listening that Mick will have the smarts to cut and run with Alfonso and the rest.

“Stand up,” the cop orders Len. Len stares at him. “You listening, kid? Don’t make this harder-”

“Shut the hell up,” a voice growls, right before Mick runs around from behind one of the partitions and tackles the man. The cop lets out a huff of air and hits the floor hard, his gun skittering away. The other cops by Nicholas let out shouts, and two more are coming from the front of the gallery.

“Get back,” Mick says, and Len get to his feet and shifts behind him as Mick pulls out a can of spray paint. He hold it up towards the oncoming police and holds his lighter in front of the nozzle. He flicks it on and when he hits the nozzle, a gout of flame explodes from the front.

The gauzy curtains between the partitions catch immediately, the flames spreading quickly to the walls that are little more than plaster and drywall. While the cops by Nicholas turn with surprised shouts, Nicholas uses the opportunity to bolt. Mick aims another flame burst toward those cops to block them, then turns and heads towards the back with Len at his heels. Mick stops at the sale rack, taking a couple bottles of turpentine from it, unscrewing the caps and dumping the over the floor and splashing the walls. He pulls out one of his matchbooks and strikes a match, dropping it on the ground near one of the wet spots. The chemicals catch and make a small line of fire to block anyone coming after them.

“We need to go, now,” Nicholas says, ducking around a flaming wall.

“No kidding,” Len says. “Come on, Mick, let’s go.” He knows that look on Mick’s face, so just to be safe he grabs Mick’s arm, pulling him along behind him as they head through the door. Once they get through, instead of heading to the studio to go out the cargo bay, Nicholas turns in the opposite direction and heads back into the office.

“Mick, go get in the van,” Len orders. “I’ll be there in a minute.” Mick’s looking over his shoulder, back at the door where the flames are visible. Len grabs his arm. “Mick!”

“Yeah,” Mick says, blinking. “Ok, Len.” Len releases him and stalks over to the office after Nicholas.

“What are you doing?” Len demands. “We don’t have time for this.”

“We need the insurance papers,” Nicholas says.

“This place is on fire and there are cops at the door,” Len says. “You want to get out, we go now.” He holds up the item he snagged from Mick as he dragged him from the show floor: the matchbook. “Let this place go with the rest of it.”

“I suppose Rory has his uses,” Nicholas murmurs, and Len’s temper flares. He fights it back down and lights the match, setting it on top of one of the stacks of papers. They catch quickly, the edges curling and blackening as the fire spreads to the other papers cluttered together.

“Come on,” Len says, turning and marching away without waiting. Nicholas comes, though, following close behind him as they rush through the studio to where the van is waiting. Nicholas climbs in the open back door, but Len freezes just outside of it.

“Where’s Mick?” he demands of the other three men inside. Dario smirks from behind the wheel, and for a long moment no one says anything.

“I think he headed towards the show floor,” Alex finally says, looking over his shoulder at them from the passenger seat. Dario glares at him, but Alex turns back around and faces forward with no further comment. Len curses and turns back to the gallery, his heart racing.

“Leonard!” Nicholas snaps. “You want to get out, we go now.” Len turns back and glares at him.

“You want to go, then go,” Len says. “I need to find Mick.” He turns and sprints back into the building, ignoring Nicholas’s shouts.

There’s already smoke drifting into the hallway from the show room, dark and heavy, and Len blinks rapidly as it stings his eyes. He steps through the door into the front room and coughs as the smoke hits his lungs, pulling his shirt up over his mouth and nose to try and breathe easier. Len looks around wildly until he finally spots Mick near the corner.

“Mick!” he shouts, triggering another bout of coughing but no response from the other boy. Mick is staring at one of the partitions where a hanging painting is burning, the chemicals in the paint turning the fire into a rainbow of colors. The flames are spreading across the walls and the wood floor, aided by the paint and chemicals. The heat already has Len sweating, and he hurries over to where Mick is standing.

“Mick!” Len shouts, pulling his shirt down. Mick is still transfixed. “Dammnit, Mick, look at me!” Len screams in frustration, grabbing Mick’s shirt and yanking so that Mick turns toward him. Mick blinks at him.

“Len?”

“We have to leave, Mick! Get it together!” All the screaming triggers yet another coughing fit, and Len’s starting to feel a little lightheaded as well. Mick’s eyes widen and he nods, wrapping an arm around Len and walking with him back to the hall, giving only a brief glance back before they head out of the room.

Once they’re in the hallway and the smoke isn’t so thick, Len can breathe more easily, and he grabs Mick’s wrist and starts to run for the cargo bay door.

There’s no one outside when they step out, nothing but an empty alley and the sound of sirens growing louder by the second. There’s people shouting around the front, and Len knows that at any moment one of them is going to get the brains to check the back door.

“Run,” he wheezes. Mick nods and shifts their grip so that he’s the one holding Len now, and they take off across the lot.

“Turn right,” Len pants when they get to the street, and Mick obeys without breaking stride. Len takes them on a zig zag path through the neighborhood, deliberately avoiding the routes that cops might be likely to come down. When they get six or seven blocks away, Len slows them down, pulling them into an alley so that he can catch his breath. He can’t get the image of Mick standing in the gallery surrounded by flames out of his mind. He wipes the sweat from his face with his sleeve, trying to ignore how his hands are shaking.

“You okay?” Mick asks. Len glares at him.

“What the hell were you thinking?!” Len snaps, and Mick jerks back like Len kicked him. “You could have gotten hurt. Or arrested. What is wrong with you?”

“I did keep the cops from arresting you,” Mick points out defensively.

“Which is great, until you nearly fry instead!” Len yells. He needs to get a hold on himself. He stalks out of the alley, rubbing at his eyes. He tells himself that the reason they’re burning is because of the smoke from the gallery.

“Len, wait,” Mick calls, jogging after him. Len stops and leans against one of the streetlights. “I just lost it for a minute, but I can-” He stops as he comes up in front of Len, frowning.

“What?” Len demands, scowling.

“What happened to your face?” Mick growls, eyes narrowing. He leans in and brings his hand up to Len’s face. For a minute Len doesn’t understand, until Mick’s thumb brushes over the bruising from Len’s black eye and the jolt of pain connects the dots for him.

“Don’t touch me!” Len hisses, smacking Mick’s hand away, a bolt of shame going through him. A quick glance down at the stain on the sleeve he’s been rubbing across his face confirms his realization that all the sweat and touching has rubbed off some of his makeup covering up Lewis’s handiwork.

“Where’d you get that, Len?” Mick asks, voice low and dangerous. “Why were you hiding it from me?”

“None of your business,” Len says, turning and walking away. “We need to get off the streets.”

“To where?” Mick asks, grabbing Len’s arm to stop him. “You going back to your grandfather’s again, Snart? What, you gonna tell me you walked into a door there or something?”

“I told you not to touch me,” Len snarls, yanking his arm free. “Just stop asking questions and follow me so we can get out of here.” Leonard turns and continues on, stopping after a few feet when he doesn’t hear Mick following after him. He turns to see Mick’s back, retreating from him. “Mick, where the hell are you going?”

“Getting off the streets,” Mick calls.

“Mick, you’re going to get caught!” Len shouts, the tingle of fear crawling up his back. He walks a few feet back the way he came, suddenly not wanting Mick to leave his sights.

“I’m not an idiot, Snart, I can handle myself!” Mick yells, not slowing down at all. As he turns the corner and disappears from sight, Len can hear more sirens in the distance. He stands for a minute, frozen in place while his brain tries to process everything. Finally, he falls back on the familiar.

Len turns and runs.

Chapter Text

Len’s anger doesn’t last long; it never does. It’s the stubbornness that persists, that prevents him from picking up the phone and calling Mick, even as the solitude sets in.

It’s been a week, and Len’s been reading the police blotter every day. There’s no mention of any arrests, which means that at least Mick didn’t get picked up after they parted. Their fire made the top of the list; it actually made headlines in the local papers, although it’s being described as accidental. But buried in the listings for that day as well is the note that police were dispatched to respond to an alarm triggered at a jewelry store on 52nd street. Len knows that the normal response time is five to seven minutes in that area, but when there’s a raging fire and request for police backup ten minutes prior, it goes to the back burner, and they aren’t reported as responding to the scene for twenty three minutes. Len isn’t sure if he’s relieved or bitter to have helped with Lewis’s job from afar.

There’s no question as to how the alarm was triggered, either; Lewis has been drunkenly bragging about how he blew the steel door right off its hinges ever since he got back with his money. He’s also been bragging about the hundreds of thousands of dollars of jewelry that he and Benny lifted from that room, including the expensive pieces that he lifted for himself. Len’s suggestion that he keep that part to himself was met with resistance from Lewis, in the form of fists. Lewis did have the grace to keep them to the torso, so Len thankfully doesn’t have to cover any more facial bruising now that his black eye has started to fade out.

Not that he has anyone to hide them from, until he calls Mick.

Len still hasn’t called the week after that, unsure what to say to Mick if he did. He can’t say he’s sorry, even if he was, which he isn’t. Mick may have gotten them out of a sticky situation but he nearly got himself hurt, and as far as the black eye goes, he’s not required to tell Mick everything. Especially things that would just make him angry and behave recklessly. Len’s been dealing with Lewis’s rages for nearly a decade, and he needs Mick to trust him a little. He’s been at Lewis’s house ever since the job and he’s managed to dodge most of the things thrown at him so far.

It’s going on two weeks when Lewis gets the call from the Family for another meeting. Surprisingly, Len is not invited, watching cautiously from the top of the stairs as Lewis heads out.

The sudden silence of the house is usually a welcome thing; generally, anything that signals that Lewis is far from him is a positive thing, but today it feels suffocating. Lisa is away, will be for almost another month, and he hasn’t seen Mick in nearly two weeks. Suddenly, the loneliness is crushing. Len turns on the TV, flicking through until he finds one of the silly talk shows that he usually watches. He watches it numbly, trying not to let the creeping thoughts of what Mick would say about each guest creep in. Usually, these shows are the best way to let his brain shut down and relax for a little while; now, it almost seems to intensify the thoughts he’s trying to avoid.

“This woman has so many potential baby daddies I don’t think she had time to do anything else that month,” Len comments. He startles at the sound of his own voice in the empty room; he hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

His chest aches a little and he shuts the TV off.

Len sits there in the dark, staring at the blank TV screen for a while. Finally he gives up. Leonard stands and walks into the kitchen, stopping in front of the phone hanging on the wall. He stares at it for a moment, trying to figure out exactly what he wants to say before he commits to this. Len finally gives in and picks up the receiver, dialing the numbers he knows by heart now and waiting.

The number you have dialed is no longer in service...

Len holds the phone away from him and stares at it as the recorded voice repeats its message, uncomprehending. Why would Mick’s number be out of service? He hits the button to hang up and dials again, hitting each number with precision in case he misdialed. He gets the same message. Even though he knows he did it right, he tries a third time.

Same message.

Len hangs up the phone and leans against the wall next to it. His first thought is that Mick hates him, even as the logical part of his mind points out that it’s unlikely that Mick’s parents would let him change their phone number just to avoid a person his father doesn’t even know exists. The problem with being logical is that it means something else might be wrong.

Anxiety claws at his gut and suddenly Leonard wants nothing more than to see Mick, make sure that he’s ok. He turns and heads toward the kitchen door, trying to decide whether he should wait on the buses or steal a car, when the door flies open. Leonard freezes halfway across the kitchen as Lewis lumbers in.

“Going somewhere?” Lewis asks, slamming the door behind him.

“No,” Len lies, glad he hadn’t bothered to grab his bag. “Just hungry.”

“You eat too damn much,” Lewis snaps. “Goddamn teenage boys. You’re a damn money pit. Lucky the Santinis were still willing to pay us for your job, even when you fucked it up so bad.”

“You picked up my pay?” Len asks, and Lewis turns from where he’s dropping some shopping bags on the counter, taking two steps towards Leonard. Len backs up as quick as he can, until the back of his legs hits the edge of the kitchen counter.

“Ain’t your pay,” Lewis says gruffly. “I taught you everything I could and got you into this work. All those lessons and you still couldn’t get it right. Waste of effort, you are. Maybe I ought to start teaching Lisa a thing or two.”

“No,” Len whispers. “I can do better. I promise. I won’t screw up again.”

“Better not,” Lewis says. “Family’s offered me some more jobs. They know real skill when they see it. But Nicholas still wants to talk to you for some damn reason. So we’re goin’ back tomorrow.” He eyes Leonard. “Don’t fuck it up.”

“I won’t,” Len repeats. Lewis snorts, turning back to the bags. He pulls a bottle of whiskey out of one and stalks into the living room. Len stays where he is. He can’t sneak out while Lewis is all worked up like this. He wanders blankly over to fridge and pulls it open. There’s some beer, some sliced deli meat that may or may not still be good, some cheese, a few slices of bread, and a carton of eggs. Len had the last box of macaroni and cheese a couple days ago, using water instead of milk because they didn’t have milk. There are some chips in the cabinet, he thinks, but not much else.

“Leo!” Lewis yells, and Leonard jumps. Lewis appears around the corner.

“What the hell are you doing standing there and wasting electricity?” Lewis snarls. “Make yourself useful and get me something to eat.”

“Yes sir,” Len replies. Lewis vanishes back to the other room. Lewis digs out the meat, cheese and bread, scrounging up a nearly empty bottle of mayonnaise from the back of the pantry. There’s a little mold on the top, but he scrapes it off into the sink and uses the part that seems fine, hoping that Lewis doesn’t notice anything off. Hopefully the booze will have numbed some of his senses by now. Len adds the last few chips to the side of the plate and brings it out.

“Is that it?” Lewis snaps when Leonard brings him the plate. Len lowers his eyes and nods. He notices that the whiskey bottle is already half empty. “Worthless. One of these days we’re gonna have to find something you’re good at.”

“Yes sir,” Leonard replies woodenly. When Lewis returns his focus to the TV, Leonard slinks out of the room.

Len drifts back into the kitchen and idly opens cabinets. He’s not likely to be able to get out of the house with Lewis right here, not without serious consequences that he can’t handle right now. Not until he sees Mick.

In the back of one of the cabinets is most of a sleeve of saltine crackers. Leonard grabs it and tries one. A little stale, but as close as he’s getting to food for today, and he doesn’t remember eating anything else today. Until he gets a chance to go out and grab some groceries, this is all he’s got. Len puts his back to the counter and slides down to sit on the floor, eating the crackers more from necessity than desire.

Tomorrow he needs to see Mick.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Leonard’s plan fails before it even begins, when Lewis barges into his room in the morning and yanks his blanket off. Len jerks awake, immediately pressing himself back against the wall while he tries to force his brain into gear.

“Get up, you lazy shit,” Lewis tells him. Len tries to edge to the foot of the bed, avoiding getting closer to Lewis. He had stayed up as late as possible, on edge while Lewis stumbled around downstairs drinking and knocking things over.

“What’s going on?” Len asks cautiously. He gets his feet on the floor and stands, trying to make it over to his dresser without turning his back on Lewis.

“You fucking stupid?” Lewis sneers. “I told you we were going to see the Santinis today, you idiot. Get your ass dressed and get downstairs. You got three minutes, or I drag you down myself.”

“Yes sir,” Len says, opening his drawer and grabbing a pair of jeans while Lewis stomps out. He yanks them on quickly, then opens another drawer to grab a new shirt. He has to shove aside a few of Mick’s shirts to get at one of his own, feeling the twinge in his chest that’s growing increasingly more familiar. He changes as fast as he can and grabs his bag, heading downstairs quickly.

“You’re late,” Lewis growls, leering at him. Leonard knows that he took 73 seconds since Lewis left his room, a fact that he knows is utterly pointless to mention out loud. He simply nods and tries to look sorry. “Whatever. Come on. Get in the car.”

When they step into the garage, Len closes his eyes. He knows the position of every item in there, using his hands along the car’s frame to lead him along its exact positioning to the passenger door. Len hopes that this will avoid any sort of car-related meltdowns. It mostly works, though he can feel his breathing and heart rate quicken despite his efforts. He made it in, though, and that’s what counts. He keeps his hands clasped tightly on his lap the whole drive.

Len follows Lewis through the doors and halls at the Santini’s warehouse, drifting like a shadow behind him, hoping not to be noticed. It fails as soon as they enter the conference room where Benny sits with several other of the Santini’s men, most of whom Leonard doesn’t know by name. Benny zeroes in on him immediately, eyes narrowing and posture stiffening.

“You intend to bring the boy on your jobs, Lewis?” Benny asks, disdain dripping from his voice.

“Oh no,” Lewis assures him. “Don’t need the brat for this. Nicholas asked me to bring him, though, so I brought him.”

“Did he,” Benny says, more of a statement than a question. “He’s in his office. Jim, take him there, would you.” One of the men stands and heads toward them. Len follows him out, glancing at Lewis as he goes. Lewis stares back at him, and Len can practically hear him thinking don’t fuck it up.

The man takes Len down the hall and to an office near the corner, knocking twice. When the person inside calls for them to enter, he opens the door and waves Len in.

“Ah, Leo,” Nicholas says, dismissing the man behind him with a wave of his hand. Len hears the door close and footsteps heading away. “How have you been?”

“Fine,” Len replies stiffly. “You?”

“Oh, fine,” Nicholas says. “Go on, sit down. How’s Rory? Did you find him?”

“I found him,” Len replies. “He’s fine.” Probably. Maybe. If he weren’t here, Len could go find out.

“I guess the police questioning didn’t bother him much then,” Nicholas says, and Len’s head snaps up before he can help it. He knows that Nicholas noticed, because Nicholas gives him a wolfish smile. “Oh? He didn’t tell you about that? How odd. Not very surprising, is it? Huge fire, three teenage boys involved, question the local teen pyro.”

“You’d be surprised how often the police miss the obvious,” Len comments. He hopes that his limited commentary will prompt Nicholas to talk more, give him some of the answers to questions he doesn’t want Nicholas to know he has.

“Not terribly surprised,” Nicholas says. “Your little friend had better not talk, though.”

“He would never,” Leonard says fiercely. Nicholas raises an eyebrow. Leonard stares him down.

“We’ll see,” Nicholas finally says, breaking off his stare to turn a bit to the side. He reaches down and Leonard can hear wood scrape as he opens one of the desk’s drawers. “So, Leonard. Want to hear something funny?”

“A good laugh never hurts,” Len replies warily.

“True, but this isn’t the amusing sort of funny. More… the strange kind.” Nicholas sets a stack of papers in front of him. “The gallery produced their own copies of their insurance papers.”

“How?” Leonard asks, puzzled. He wasn’t stupid enough to go back to the gallery after that night – rule one, never revisit the scene of your crimes, even Lewis knew that – but he’d read enough in the various papers and police news that he knew the Galleria was little more than a husk. The brick walls, thankfully, had prevented the fire from spreading much to the surrounding buildings, but anything not burnt to a crisp had been destroyed by smoke and water damage from when the fires were put out. There was no way they rescued insurance papers from that mess. “Someone had to have had a copy off site.”

“Ah, very good,” Nicholas says. “The director had copies of the insurance papers at his home. Not exactly company policy, but no one’s about to argue the point now.”

“What about the other locations?” Len asks.

“None of them were able to produce insurance papers,” Nicholas informs him. Len narrows his eyes, the implications of that swirling in his mind.

“Maybe that’s just something the director does,” Len suggests, though he doesn’t believe it himself.

“What a coincidence that would be,” Nicholas says. “Just like all those extra men at Rossi’s building. What was it you said? Once is luck, twice is coincidence? What do we get if this happens three times?” Len doesn’t say anything. They both know the answer isn’t skill.

“Well,” Nicholas says, looking down and drumming his fingers on the stack of papers in front of him. “Hopefully, it’s just a coincidence. Now then,” he continues, sliding the stack of papers across the desk towards Len, “Care to take a look at these and tell me what you think?”

Len takes the papers and looks through them. He recognizes them as the ones taken from the insurance agency. They’re clipped in two bundles, and though they all look similar, the two bundles are clearly a little different. Len sets them side by side and compares them.

The second stack seems to be the ones they’d taken from the safe. Len looks over every line and compares them to the sets in the first stack. He quickly realizes that there are three pages per set in the first pile, and two in the second. He reads over the third page carefully. It’s an underwriter’s copy. He’s not entirely sure what that means, but he puts it in the back of his mind. Len takes each bundle and compares it to the others in the bundle.

“Hmmm,” he comments, and Nicholas tilts his head.

“What do you see?”

“The sets on the left are missing their third page,” Len begins.

“Yes, we figured that out,” Nicholas says dismissively. Len grits his teeth and calls up all the patience he can. “No underwriter page for coverage details.” Len stares down at the papers as something clicks.

“There is no coverage,” Len says. Nicholas frowns.

“What do you mean?”

“Look at the sets from the safe,” Len says, pushing the stack back at Nicholas. “They’re all signed by the same agent. Every one. The sets from the cabinets are signed by a few different people – and none of them are the same guy that signed all those.”

“Okay...”

“No coverage details,” Len says, growing more confident as the details come together in his mind. “No coverage. I bet that agent doesn’t exist. I bet these sets are for people who are paying for coverage that they don’t know they don’t have. It’s insurance fraud. If they come forward, with papers signed by a guy who doesn’t exist and no underwriting, they’ll be denied.” Len smiles triumphantly. “You wanna cancel out the insurance on that gallery? Report the agency for insurance fraud. I bet they have coverage for people and places who don’t exist. They’ll be shut down in no time.”

Nicholas stares at the papers for a few moments, thinking it over. Len tries to remain as still as he can, not letting his nerves show on his face or body. Eventually Nicholas lets out a small chuckle and leans back.

“You have the most amazing mind, Leo,” Nicholas says. “I’ll see where my guys can get on this.”

“Glad to be of assistance,” Len says. A knock at the door interrupts anything else that he might have said.

“Come in,” Nicholas says. Len turns his head and watches as Alex enters, followed by Dario. Dario lays eyes on him and immediately scowls.

“Brought Alex like you asked,” Dario says. Alex has moved to the far side of the room, eyeing Dario. Apparently Alex likes Dario about as much as Len does.

“Thank you,” Nicholas says. “Leonard just came in to give us some fresh perspective on the insurance issues.” Len reluctantly turns back to face Nicholas again. The skin between his shoulder blades itches with the burn of Dario’s stare. He can hear Dario take a few steps closer, and his heart rate accelerates. Turning to watch him would be as good as admitting fear, though. He hates not being able to see what’s going on him, because despite all the people in the room, he’s still alone here. The thought hits him hard.

He wants Mick here with him.

“Once we work out a few things we’ll see about our next step,” Nicholas is saying. “I can’t wait to see what else we can do with you, Leonard. You could make a real name for yourself in the Family, you know.”

“I have a name already,” Leonard replies. “But that’s good to know.” Nicholas stares at him for a moment, then nods.

“Dario,” Nicholas says smoothly. “Why don’t you get Leo back to his father.”

Len can’t help jumping as a heavy hand clamp down on his shoulder. He shoves it away, shifting to the far edge of his seat.

“Come on, kid,” Dario growls, and Len twists to glare up at him. He hates having to look up at him, so he stands quickly and puts a few inches more between them.

“I can manage without a backseat driver,” Leonard says icily. Dario snorts.

“Whatever. Just get moving,” Dario growls.

“Calm down, Dario,” Nicholas says. “Play nice with Leo.” Dario rolls his eyes at that, and Len heads for the door. Alex gives him a look as he passes, and it seems half ‘I feel for you’ and half ‘I told you so’. Dario is close at his heels. Len tries to put some distance between them in the hallway but Dario speeds up, and suddenly he’s grabbed by the shoulder and spun around, then shoved against the wall.

“You just keep coming back, don’t you?” Dario growls in his face.

“I come when asked,” Len grinds out. He tries to smother the fear that’s creeping up his spine. Len glances down the hallway, looking for someone or something he can use if needed, but it’s empty.

“What’s wrong? Lost your little pet?” Dario taunts, a cold smirk on his face. He tightens his grip on Leonard’s shirt, bunching the material in his fist. “Least he knows his place. You fucked up the last job, nearly got us all arrested. Nicholas should’ve never trusted you.”

“I didn’t fuck up anything,” Len snaps, anger overriding his fear and common sense. “I got us in without a hitch. The cops should’ve never been there.”

“Don’t fucking argue with me,” Dario snarls. “My father is right. You have no place here in the family.” Dario punctuates his sentence by shoving a finger in Len’s face, and Len has to resist the sudden urge to bite it.

“I’ll stop arguing with you when you stop being wrong,” Len shoots back, knowing as he always does that it’s the wrong thing to say before he even finishes the sentence. Dario yanks him forward a few inches only to slam him back again. A jolt of pain goes through him as his skull connects with the wall, followed by another as Dario follows it up with a hard right to the jaw. A burst of pain explodes in Len’s head, and the coppery taste of his own blood trickles into his mouth; Lewis rarely pulls his punches, but the most violent attacks are usually when he’s drunk and sloppy, nothing compared to a young man primed to fight and hurt someone. Len kicks out, trying to distract Dario, but Dario just moves in closer, giving him no room to work with. Len sees movement out of the corner of his eyes, and catches a glimpse of Lewis, standing at the end of the hall with his arms folded, watching. He’s distracted enough by that that he doesn’t even see the hit to the stomach coming, not that it would have helped him much. He’s pinned down, alone, and not the best fighter to begin with.

“That’s enough,” Nicholas’s voice comes from the other end of the hall. Dario draws back a bit but doesn’t release him. “Dario, I said enough.”

Dario finally lets go of Len’s shirt, and Len falls to his knees, coughing as he tries to catch his breath. No one moves to help him up. Mick would have. Len wants Mick here, to pick him up and keep everyone away from him. Instead, it’s Nicholas who steps up to him, shooing Dario away.

“So sorry about that,” Nicholas says, his tone the opposite. He holds out a hand to help Leonard up, which Leonard ignores. “Dario can be a bit aggressive with outsiders sometimes.”

“A bit?” Len chokes out, stumbling to his feet. Dario leans against the wall behind him and crosses his arms. Len stares at the floor while he wipes blood from his mouth with the back of his sleeve, his bottom lip stinging where it’s split open.

“A bit,” Nicholas says. Leonard hears heavy footsteps approaching from behind and tenses automatically. He’s not surprised when Lewis’s hand clamps down on his shoulder, though he still can’t stop himself from flinching.

“Leo doesn’t mean to cause trouble,” Lewis says, half dragging Len back. “He’s young, and he doesn’t understand the rules. He just needs some lessons in the proper behavior.”

“No worries,” Nicholas says. “Leo’s just fine. I’m looking forward to having him back,” the other boy continues, directing it at Leonard.

“Anytime, just let us know,” Lewis says. Nicholas glances at him briefly.

“See you soon, Leonard,” Nicholas says, ignoring Lewis. Leonard feels Lewis’s grip tighten briefly on his shoulder.

As soon as Nicholas returns to his office, Lewis yanks Len towards him, releasing his shoulder to grip his jaw in a painfully tight grip, fingers digging into the sensitive skin where Dario’s already hit him. Len bites back the sound of pain his body wants to make, knowing that it will just encourage Lewis.

“Go down to the car and wait there for me,” Lewis growls. “You better not start any other shit before we leave and you better be fucking waiting there patiently when I get down there.”

“Yes sir,” Len mumbles as well as he can through Lewis’s grip. Lewis finally releases him and gives him a shove down the hallway. Dario’s laughter follows him down the hallway.

When he gets through the steel door, he finds Alex is already there, leaning against the wall on the small landing where the stairs turn.

“You just lurk around here in your free time?” Len asks, descending a couple stairs but still leaving himself on the higher ground.

“I don’t have free time,” Alex replies, looking up at him. “The Family owns it all.”

“Should’ve had higher rates,” Len says.

“There’s not a lot they can’t afford,” Alex counters. He looks Len over. “Saw your little run in with Dario.”

“Yeah, I don’t think he likes me,” Len drawls. “And here I’m so charming and all. Can’t imagine why.”

“Really?” Alex asks, smiling a little. “A boy as young and smart as you, making his mark taking down crime families, while refusing to join one? Can’t imagine why Benny doesn’t find that endearing.”

“And Benny is passing his opinions down the line,” Len says.

“The jobs you’ve been pulling are important,” Alex says. “Not the kind of position the Family usually hires out for.”

“I’ve been told that they’re not big on outsiders,” Len replies.

“There are no outsiders in the upper tiers,” Alex says. “The upper ranks are only for the Family. And in the Family, you’re either in, or you’re out.”

“Sounds great,” Len says numbly.

“A golden cage,” Alex says.

“Why are you telling me all this?” Len asks suspiciously.

“Because you might still have a chance,” Alex responds. “If you’re smart, you’ll grab your friend and run.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Leonard says. Alex shrugs.

“It’s what I would have wanted someone to tell me.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It’s twenty minutes before Lewis comes down to the car. Len has been waiting patiently in the passenger seat, not wanting to chance another ride in the trunk, but when Lewis exits the building and begins crossing the lot, Len’s can feel his heart rate pick up anyway. He tries to focus on breathing evenly while Lewis gets in. Instead of starting the car, though, Lewis turns to stare at Leonard, and breathing becomes a lot harder anyway. Finally Lewis turns away and starts the car, pulling out and heading home.

The drive there is silent, which isn’t a good thing. Silence usually means that Lewis is thinking, and when Lewis thinks for too long, he tends to work himself up. When they make it to the house, Len exits the car quickly, stepping into the kitchen through the attached door. He only makes it halfway across the room.

“Leo.”

Leonard stops and turns. Lewis is standing in front of the garage door, arms crossed.

“Yes, sir,” Len says quietly.

“How did your chat with Nicholas go?” Lewis asks, falsely pleasant. Leonard swallows hard.

“It was okay,” Leonard says, not sure whether it going good or bad would please Lewis more. It’s a hard guessing game to play when he has no idea what Lewis’s mood is right now.

“He invite you on another job?” Lewis asks.

“No,” Leonard says. “Just wanted to ask me about some things we took from the last one.”

“Is that so?” Lewis asks. Leonard can sense that something’s going wrong, but he’s telling the truth. He’s willing to give Lewis whatever answer he wants, but he doesn’t know what that is.

“It is,” Leonard says. Lewis stares at him for moment, turning something over in his mind. Len waits, body tense, for Lewis’s next move.

Lewis shifts his weight and Leonard turns and runs.

He tries to, anyway. Lewis is too close and Len doesn’t move fast enough. Lewis gets him by the collar of the shirt, jerking him to a stop.

“Think you can lie to me?” Lewis sneers.

“I swear, he hasn’t told me about any other jobs yet,” Len says, his voice edging on pleading even though he hates it.

“Maybe he cut you out because you started shit with Benny’s son,” Lewis says. “You do know who that was, right?”

“I know,” Leonard replies. “I wasn’t fighting him, he just-”

Lewis steps forward, pushing Leonard ahead of him until he hits the kitchen counter, slamming him face first into the polished faux-marble counter top. Lewis shifts his grip so that he’s pressing down on the back of Leonard’s neck with his hand. Len slides his sweaty palms across the counter, but even if he could get the leverage to escape Lewis’s grip there’s nowhere to go.

“Listen up, boy,” Lewis says. “You fucked up your last job, and Benny ain’t pleased. I’m finally getting him to warm up to me, and you go and pick a fight with his goddamn son. You think hanging around with Nicholas makes you hot shit? Nicholas ain’t the boss. His daddy is. And I’m the boss here. And I’m telling you, you keep fucking around and screwing up my standing with Benny, and I’ll make damn sure you’re as worthless to them as you’re turning out to be to me.” Lewis stares down at him as Leonard tries to prevent himself from hyperventilating. Lewis reaches over into one of the shopping bags full of alcohol and draws a large whiskey bottle out, holding it by the neck. “That’s today’s lesson, Leo. Always know your place. Don’t try and overreach.” With no warning, Lewis raises the whiskey bottle above his head and smashes the base against the top of Leonard’s left hand, still splayed on the counter, crushing it between the two. Leonard screams, the pain racing up his arm like a lightning bolt. Lewis finally releases him and he immediately snatches his hand to his chest, cradling it with the other hand while he sinks into a ball on the floor. Lewis towers over him, a cold, mocking smile on his face.

“That’s it,” Lewis tells him, ripping the top off the whiskey bottle. He takes a long drink straight from it. “Huddled down there on the floor, looking up at me. That’s your place. Don’t forget it.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len loses track of how long he stays in that position, curled up on the floor, shaking with pain. Lewis drifts in and out of the kitchen once in a while, always smiling when he sees Len in the same place. Eventually, Lewis starts snoring from the living room, and the sound triggers something in Leonard. He forces himself up off the floor, clutching the counter with his good hand to pull himself up. He staggers through the house, up to his room, where he grabs his bag from the closet. It’s buried under some dirty clothes in case Lewis comes sniffing around, but it has a bunch of tools, clothes, and some cash tucked in a hidden pocket. He slings it over his shoulder and heads down, straight through the hallway and out the front door without bothering to check on Lewis. Let the bastard chase him down the street, if he dares. Leonard is too numb to care.

It’s twilight outside, slowly turning from pink to deep purple as Leonard waits for the bus. He sits on it silently, the fingers on his good hand itching to lift the wallets and valuables poking out of handbags and pockets, the whole of his other hand throbbing with pain. He takes nothing, feeling listless as he waits for his stop.

By the times he gets off the bus, twilight has passed and it’s just dark now. There are no streetlights in this part of town, so Leonard has to rely on the moonlight to lead him down the road for a couple miles. When Len finally comes up on the house he’s looking for, he feels a wave of relief.

All the windows are dark, a good sign for him. Leonard skirts around the side of the house to the back door, where he tries the handle to discover that it’s locked. He bites back a whine of frustration and kneels in front of the door. Len roots around in his bag with his good hand until he finds one of his lockpicking sets. He puts the tension bar in his left and has to use his right hand to position it while he’s holding it, because his fingers won’t bend properly, and the throbbing ache is getting worse. He works at the lock, a very simple one, but he can’t get it because his left hand keeps shaking and releasing the tension bar he needs held back. The third time he loses it and the pins reset he lets out a small snarl of frustration and knocks his forehead against the door, tears of frustration burning at his eyes. He tries to take deep breaths and calm himself before trying again. Leonard dredges up every ounce of strength he has left and tries to hold his hand as still as possible on the tension bar while he lifts the pins. When the lock finally opens he nearly sobs in relief.

Leonard locks the door behind him after he enters, not stopping to look around before he heads to the staircase. While it’s not terribly late in the evening, he’s banking on the old ‘early to bed, early to rise’ idiom holding true. And honestly, if it doesn’t he doesn’t even care. Leonard is exhausted, trembling with pain and a cold that seems to be seeping into his bones despite the warm summer night. Something in his brain whispers shock at him, and he pushes it away as he climbs the stairs. He doesn’t bother to try and be as quiet and stealthy as he usually would; he doesn’t have the energy, and it doesn’t seem to matter. No one stops him as he heads down the hall to the last room on the right.

The door isn’t locked when he tries it, but Leonard locks this one behind him after he enters too. He leans back against the door and stares across the room.

Mick is laying in his bed, sprawled out on his back and snoring lightly in just a pair of boxers, and Leonard drinks the sight in. Mick is here, Mick is fine. He hasn’t left town with his family or been arrested for the gallery fire or any of the other scenarios that Len’s mind has invented since he first heard that little recorded message deny him access to Mick. Leonard toes off his boots in a corner and drops his bag on top of them before heading over to stand next to the bed.

“Mick,” he says quietly, but Mick doesn’t stir. Leonard knows it will take more than that to wake Mick. He lifts his hand to give Mick’s shoulder a shove, then stops, hand hovering above Mick’s sleeping form. If Mick wakes up, Leonard’s going to have to explain, have to talk about why he’s here and what happened at the Gallery, and Leonard can’t handle that right now. He can barely handle standing right now. Len lowers his hand and bites his lip. He’s not about to leave, but he can’t exactly face Mick properly. All he wants, with a feeling bordering on desperation, is to be close to him for a while.

The thought settles in his mind and forms into a decision. Leonard moves his hand from above Mick to the corner of Mick’s blanket, pulling it back enough for him to slide under. Mick’s sleeping on top of it, but Len’s practically shivering from cold right now, so he burrows under it and as close to Mick’s side as he can get. Mick’s radiating an intoxicating warmth, and Len sighs a little as his tension and anxiety bleed out of him, muscles relaxing in what might be the first time in days. Mick stirs slightly, but doesn’t wake, and Leonard lets himself drift into sleep beside him.

Chapter Text

“What the fuck. What the fuck.”

“Shut up,” Len mumbles, half asleep. Mick’s cursing is coming from the same place as his warmth, and Len shifts a little closer to soak some of that warmth in, triggering another bout of cursing.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Mick hisses in his ear.

“Trying to sleep,” Len says grumpily. When he feels Mick shift to sit up, he cracks his eyes open to look at him. Mick’s staring incredulously down at him. Len stares back calmly. Even if Mick’s still mad, anything he does will be better than being at home. At least he’ll really deserve it this time.

“You can’t just break into my house and…” Mick waves his hands in Len’s direction, “…show up… in my bed.”

“Evidence proves otherwise,” Len points out. Mick stares at him for a minute, speechless, before giving up and dropping back down on his back with a frustrated groan. Len plucks at the seam on the pillowcase he’s using.

“Why’d you come here, Snart?” Mick finally asks. Len curls in on himself a little. He knew Mick would be mad, but hearing Mick use that name while they’re alone still stings.

“I came to see you,” Len replies honestly. He can feel Mick turn to look at him, but can’t bring himself to meet Mick’s gaze, instead keeping his attention focused on a loose string from the pillowcase’s seam. He grows more uncomfortable by the second as the silence stretches on. Len had figured that Mick’s anger at him would be the same as always, hot and quick and easy to burn out. He doesn’t know what to do if Mick doesn’t want him around anymore. The thought makes Len’s chest ache.

“Hey,” Mick rumbles beside him, shifting so that he’s facing Leonard. Len pulls harder on the string, afraid to look at Mick, at what he might see on his face. It seems like Mick’s about to say something when suddenly there’s a loud pounding on the door. Len jerks as his system kicks into high gear, already on edge from weeks alone with Lewis. Mick reacts automatically, curling an arm around Len’s waist and drawing him closer, and Len goes with the motion, pressing his face against Mick’s chest.

“Get your ass downstairs!” a rough voice on the other side of the door calls. Mick’s father. Len closes his eyes and tries to calm himself. The same thing happened last time he snuck in here. He’ll be fine. And if not… he’s less worried about himself at this point than he is about the trouble he’ll have caused Mick.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” Mick shouts at the door.

“You better, or you ain’t getting breakfast,” his father yells back, before his footsteps retreat towards the stairs. Mick sighs, then looks down at Len again. Len leans back a little so he can meet Mick’s gaze.

“I gotta go downstairs,” Mick finally says. Len nods. “You gonna wait here?” Len nods again, and Mick sighs. “You are the weirdest fucking guy, Len.” Leonard hesitates for a moment, then nods, even as his heart flutters at the familiar name. Mick shakes his head before sitting up and sliding out of bed. He hesitates at the foot of the bed for a minute, staring at Leonard. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Leonard waits until the door clicks shut before rolling over. He’d been lying on the side with all the bruising, both on his face and hand, and it feels good to take some pressure off of them. Len holds his damaged hand up over his face to examine it in the sunlight filtering in through the window. There’s a large area above and bellow his knuckles that’s turning black and blue and most of his hand is swollen and puffy. He holds his breath and tries to make a fist, trying to ignore the pain. He can’t entirely close his fingers like normal, but they all move, so he thinks they’re probably not broken. That’s a good sign. Len settles back into the warmth of the bed with Mick’s scent all around him and closes his eyes for a little more sleep.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Leonard hears a rattling at the door and yanks the blanket up over his head, curling up into a ball on the bed. He has no idea what time it is or how long he’s been asleep but most of his body aches dully. The door opens and closes as someone steps inside, and there’s a pause.

“Hey. It’s me.”

At the sound of Mick’s voice, Leonard cautiously pulls the blanket down and glances back. Mick is there, with a plate of food in his hand.

“I brought you food, so get your ass up,” Mick says, stepping over and sitting down on the edge of the bed.

“How’d you justify the extra food?” Len asks. Mick remains silent and realization strikes him. “You’re giving me your lunch. Mick, I don’t need it. I’m fine.”

“When was the last time you ate?” Mick asks.

“Yesterday,” Leonard replies automatically. He can’t say what, exactly, but he’s pretty sure he had something.

“I ate this morning. Take it.” Leonard sighs. Mick’s not going to let him win this one, even angry. Without thinking, Len tries to push himself up on his elbow, and get a spark of white hot pain in return. He hisses and drops back down, and suddenly Mick is leaning over him.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Len doesn’t answer, but he rolls onto his back and sits up, shifting to turn and face Mick properly. Mick blinks in surprise when he gets a look at Len’s face. Len hasn’t taken the time to check himself out in the mirror since his fight with Dario, but the way it hurts when he or anything else touches it suggests that he’s got a pretty decent bruise there.

“Lewis do this?” Mick asks, reaching up slowly to touch Len’s face. Len hold as still as possible; even if Mick digs his fingers into the bruises like Lewis, he refuses to pull away. Mick doesn’t do anything like that, though; his fingertips trace lightly over Len’s skin, tracing the area Len presumes the bruise covers before brushing lightly over his split lip. The touch raises goosebumps on his arms.

“Wasn’t Lewis,” Len says softly. Mick’s eyes narrow. “Got in a fight.”

“Bad idea,” Mick tells him. “You’re a terrible fighter.” Len chuckles a little. Mick’s fingers are still on his cheek, and he ‘s tempted to turn his face to press into the touch. “Who were you fighting?”

“Dario,” Len whispers, and Mick’s fingers still. Mick opens his mouth like he’s about to say something, then snaps it shut and drops his hand.

“Shoulda burned him in the gallery when I had the chance,” Mick snarls. “Why the hell would Nicholas let him get away with that?”

“I think Nicholas is trying to get me to come to him for protection,” Leonard says.

“Only people you need protection from is them,” Mick mutters. Len shifts a little, sliding his injured hand under his other arm, but Mick catches the subtle motion. “What’s wrong with your hand?” Len bites his lip, wincing when the cut there stings. “Show me.” Mick orders.

Leonard only hesitates for a moment before holding out his hand to Mick. Mick hisses as soon as he sees it, reaching out and taking hold of it with a gentleness that surprises Len. Mick turns it cautiously, eyes flickering between Len’s hand and face.

“You should go see a doctor,” Mick says. Len immediately stiffens and shakes his head vigorously. “Len, this could be broken.”

“I can bend them,” Len says. “They’re not broken. No doctors.” Mick stares at him for a minute before getting up and walking away. “Mick?” Mick doesn’t answer, but he leaves the room and shuts the door behind him. Leonard sags on the bed. He turns his head a little to glance at the plate Mick’s left behind. There’s a sandwich and some apple slices, and his stomach rumbles. Len reaches over and plucks one of the apple slices off, crunching down on it hungrily. His stomach practically aches when the food hits it, and Len thinks that maybe he was wrong about eating yesterday. Now that he thinks over it more carefully, he can’t actually remember having eaten anything. He takes another apple slice, justifying it with the fact that Mick doesn’t even like apples that much, or any fruit, really. He’s eaten half of them with two more in his mouth when the door open and he freezes.

“Knew you were hungry,” Mick says, shutting the door and returning to the spot on the bed he’d vacated earlier. He’s got some things in his hands.

“So you brought me a bag of peas?” Len asks, arching an eyebrow. Mick sets a glass of water down on the nightstand with a cloth and some pills while he takes Len’s hand in his again.

“The peas are for your hand, dumbass,” Mick tells him. He wraps the bag of frozen peas around Len’s injured hand, and Len shivers a bit at the cold. “If you won’t go to the doctor, you at least need to ice it to reduce the swelling.”

“Mick...” Len whispers. Mick slides his fingers under Len’s chin and tilts his face up a little.

“Hold still,” Mick instructs. “You’ve got blood on your face.” Len slides his eyes closed as Mick brings up the wet washcloth he’s brought and cleans him off. “There you go.”

When Len opens his eyes again he realizes he’s subconsciously leaned in as Mick had touched him. He draws back and shifts uncomfortably, clearing his throat. “Thanks.”

“I gotta get back to work,” Mick says. He hands Len the pills he brought up with him before standing again. “Take these. They’re just painkillers, but if you want something stronger, I can get it.” Len shakes his head. He’s got a much higher tolerance for pain than for being muddled. Mick nods. “Eat the food, ice your hand, and stay here. I’ll be back later.”

“Okay,” Len says. Mick glares at him for a minute like he doesn’t believe him, so Len picks up the glass and swallows the pills just to please him. Mick hums in approval and heads out of the room again.

Len eats his sandwich and ices his hand, twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off, a more familiar pattern than he cares to admit. After almost two hours, the peas have thawed and he’s starting to get bored. Len stands and walks to the window, checking out the view. He can see the front of the barn and most of a large field. The old truck is parked in front of the field in what passes for Mick’s front yard, along with a few other machines. One looks like a tractor, but the others are completely foreign to Leonard. Mick sits by one of them. He has a panel pulled open and appears to be fiddling with the inner workings of the thing. Len’s curiosity slowly gets the best of him, and he cracks.

A quick peek down the hall reveals no one in the area. He creeps down the stairs, slipping around the corner and towards the back door.

Once Len’s outside it’s much more difficult. The farm is mostly wide open spaces with just a few small buildings and machines dotting the grounds, so he’s got a much higher chance of being seen if he’s not careful. It’s oddly thrilling. Len creeps around the side of the barn, trying to listen just as closely as he’s watching for movement. The machine Mick’s working on is near the back of the barn, so he heads that way. He starts to hear voices before he reaches the edge.

“Can’t you just fix them?” a gruff man’s voice is asking. Len’s pretty sure that it’s Mick’s father.

“No, they’re screwed. They mighta been fixable if you’d bothered to check the damn thing out before it completely broke down.”

“Oh yeah? That what you think?” the voice snaps. Len reaches the edge of the barn and cautiously peeks around it. Mick is still sitting in front of the same machine, but now his attention is on his father, who’ standing over him with his arms crossed. “Well just to be safe then, why don’t you check out all the machines this week.”

“You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me,” Mick says. “That’ll take forever!”

“So?” his father shoots back. “You got plenty of time, doncha?” Mick glares at him for a minute before turning back to the machine and pointedly ignoring him. “What, you mad that your little girlfriend dumped you? I don’t know why you’re so pissy. Ya shoulda known that she’d get tired of you eventually. She put up with your sorry ass a lot longer than anyone else ever has.” Len feels a stab of jealousy. Mick’s never mentioned a girlfriend to him, although Len knows he’s been with more than a few girls. He’s only a little guilty about how pleased he is that she’s apparently gone.

“You wanna quit botherin’ me so I can actually get shit done?” Mick snaps, clearly frustrated. His father chuckles.

“Don’t get your panties all in a twist, boy. You’re the one who’s been slacking this summer,” his father replies. “Maybe if you had been here doing your work instead of running around chasing tail you wouldn’t have such a hard time.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Mick mutters. His father shakes his head and turns to leave.

“And don’t come in til you got that fixed!” his father calls over his shoulder.

Len watches him leave, tracking his movements until he enters the house. Mick keeps working, and when he thinks it’s safe, Len creeps out from the shadow of the barn to go stand by him.

“Mick,” he says, and almost jumps when Mick startles and falls of his chair. Mick blinks up at him in shock for a minute before he recovers.

“Damn it, what part of ‘stay there’ did you not understand?” Mick hisses, heaving himself up and striding over to where Len is, pulling him back around the side of the barn again. “You’re a goddamn stalker.”

“I’ll leave the stalking to the crops,” Len says. Mick glares at him. “What? Too corny for you?” Mick sighs and leans against the barn, closing his eyes. It’s not quite the reaction Len had hoped for. By now, Mick would usually either be laughing or trying to tackle Len to stop him, both of which please Len in different ways. Now Mick’s just shutting him out, and it hurts. Len drops his eyes. “Mick...”

“What?” Mick asks.

“Heard your dad say you broke up with your girlfriend,” he says, and Mick looks surprised. “Hope that wasn’t my fault.” Mick bursts out laughing suddenly, and Len frowns. “What’s so funny?”

“It’s totally your fault, Len. You’re my girlfriend,” Mick says, chuckling.

“Excuse me?” Len asks, frown deepening.

“Well, I wasn’t about to tell him that I was running around doing Family work,” Mick says, smirking. “And I’ve spent so many nights out with you he just assumed I was sneaking out to see a girl. I figured that was the easiest explanation so I just let him keep thinking it.”

“Oh,” Len says, a little embarrassed. “I see.” He fidgets uncomfortably and Mick looks away.

“Why’d you come here?” Mick asks suddenly. Len blinks at the sudden change in conversation, trying to figure out what to say. There are a lot of answers to that, but Len can’t force them out. He swallows down the truth and goes to the next best thing he can think of.

“I got bored upstairs and I figured I could make it down without getting caught.”

“No,” Mick says, shaking his head. “I mean, why’d you come all the way out here?” He throws his arm out, gesturing at the expanse of the farm. “There have to be other places you can hide out from your dad.”

“I wanted to see you,” Len says. “I wanted to make sure you were okay. I heard that the cops came around...” Len can see Mick’s face darken at those words.

“Don’t worry, Snart,” Mick says, and Len’s heart drops. “They don’t got any evidence, thanks to you, and I won’t say a word even if they find something on me. You’re safe.“

“That’s not what I meant,” Len says helplessly. The words he needs won’t seem to come to him, and he seems to be making things worse. Len silently curses himself as his chest starts to ache. He shouldn’t have waited to come see Mick, should’ve gone as soon as he could get out of the house. Maybe then Mick wouldn’t be so angry, wouldn’t have had to deal with the cops on his own. Len hadn’t even thought of that, had just left him him and only come crawling back when he needed protection. Guilt eats away at Len, and the ache in his chest grows. “I don’t care about them finding me. I just don’t want anything to happen to you. They can’t take you away from me,” he blurts out, and Mick immediately focuses in on him again. Len shuffles uncomfortably in place. “I tried to call,” he says lamely. Mick tilts his head. “Your number’s not working anymore.”

“Wait, seriously?” Mick asks, frowning. Len nods miserably. “That bastard. He changed the number. I didn’t even know.” Mick pushes off the wall and comes over to Len. “Lemme see your hand.”

Len holds his hand up cautiously and lets Mick take it in both of his. Mick runs his thumbs over the back of it, and though it hurts a little, it’s nowhere near as bad as it was. Mick makes a vaguely approving sound.

“Looks like the swelling’s gone down a little,” Mick says, releasing his hand. Len lets it drop to his side. “You should still see a damn doctor.”

“I don’t need a doctor,” Leonard says stubbornly. Memories are creeping in on him, whispers in the darkness of his mind, Lewis’s voice low and dangerous.

“It’s your hand, Len. It’s important. You should see a doctor just to make sure-”

“I’m not going to a doctor!” Len practically shouts, loud enough that Mick looks around nervously to make sure that he hasn’t attracted attention. Len doesn’t care; he’s lost, remembering white hospital walls and pain. It had only been a sprain of his wrist, to start with, but his grandfather had taken him to the doctor’s office, and Lewis had been incensed, particularly when he saw the hospital bill. ‘I’ll give you something to see a doctor about,’ he’d growled as he came after Leonard. The sprain had turned into a compound fracture and two cracked ribs on his second visit, while Lewis had alternated between tearful faked concern for his son’s well-being and scolding Leonard for riding his bike in the street without checking for traffic.

Leonard didn’t even own a bike.

Lewis had told him when they got home that the hospital bill was his responsibility, and that if he didn’t get enough safety deposit boxes open on their next bank robbery to cover it, there would be a second bill to cover. It had been hard working with a cast, but Len had managed.

“Hey,” Mick’s voice breaks into his thoughts, snapping him back to reality. He blinks up at Mick, who puts his hands on his shoulders. “Jesus, Lenny, you’re shaking.”

“No doctors,” Len whispers. “Just you.”

“Okay,” Mick murmurs, drawing Len towards him. Leonard moves into him, resting his forehead against Mick’s shoulder while Mick moves his arm down and hooks it around Len’s waist. “Just me. I got you.”

Mick lets him stand there for a few minutes until he’s calmed down, hand running lightly over his spine. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, but one that Len finds almost intoxicating. It takes a lot of willpower to pull back a bit. Mick looks down at him, eyes traveling down his body before he moves his hand to run up Len’s side, over his ribcage while Len chokes back a sound of pleasure.

“You’ve lost weight,” Mick says. “You been eating at all the last few weeks?”

“I’d be dead if I didn’t eat, Mick,” Len points out, and Mick rolls his eyes.

“So no, you haven’t been,” Mick says, dropping his hand much to Len’s disappointment. “Hmmm. All right. When I’m done working on this tiller I’ll take us out for dinner, ok?”

“Okay,” Len says. He’s fine with anything Mick wants to do. “What’s wrong with it?” Mick sighs and crosses his arms.

“The heat sink failed, so it started overheating,” Mick says. “Wouldn’t be so bad, but my old man ignored it long enough that it melted some of the surrounding parts. Now I get weld them off and replace them, but he doesn’t wanna get new parts.”

“Where would you get them?” Len asks.

“Hardware store has most of the stuff,” Mick says, tilting his head. “Why?”

“Show me the parts,” Len says. “I can help.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Len’s first circuit of the hardware store is slow, a trip down every aisle to plot out the layout of the store, where the items he needs are, where the security cameras are and what angles they capture, and how many clerks are wandering around. It’s not as bad as he thought it might be; the high shelves that the materials are stacked on provide good coverage for the small lifts. Len’s glad Mick let him use Mick’s bag, because he has to slip most of the smaller items into separate pockets to keep them from rattling around together and making noise, and his jeans wouldn’t cut it. Even still, the small parts are the easy ones. The next part is a little harder.

Len heads over to the counter near the back where the more expensive items are held in a locked case. He strolls over to the man working the counter and catches his attention.

“What can I do for you son?” the man asks. Before Leonard can respond, his eyes widen and he leans in a bit. “My goodness! What happened to your face? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Leonard says, mildly annoyed. “Just a little scuffle.”

“Poor thing. Was it that Rory boy?” The man mistakes Len’s look of surprise for some sort of confirmation, nodding knowingly. “He’s a bit of a bad seed. You’d best stay away from him. Been to jail, you know.”

“Juvenile detention,” Len corrects automatically, irritation bubbling up.

“Same thing,” The man says dismissively. “He won’t end up anywhere else, regardless.”

“I need to see some of the items in your case,” Len says, trying to move this along. If he lets this man get under his skin he’ll never get what he needs.

“Okay,” the man says. “Which ones?”

Len points out a few different circuitry parts so that the man will take them out. He picks each one up and pretends to examine it, making sure to set the one he wants farthest from the man. Len holds up the most expensive one of the bunch.

“Can you tell me a little more about this one?” he asks. The man’s face lights up and he launches into a little spiel about the item. Len hums and tries to ask little leading questions to keep him going while he leans over the counter, positioning himself so that he’s obscuring the other man’s view of the item he wants. While the pitch goes on, Len drums his fingers against the countertop.

There’s a crash near the end of the aisle to their right, and the man turns towards it in alarm. A quick glance shows that hundreds of bolts have fallen to the floor in a puddle, spreading outward like some sort of metal bloodstain. The man who’d been helping Leonard starts cursing and Leonard takes his opportunity to slip the circuitry off the counter, sliding it into his bag once it’s out of sight.

“That looks like a problem,” Leonard says, full of false concern. “I should let you go. I need to check with my father before I get this, make sure it’s the right one.”

“Oh, of course,” the man says, gathering up the boxes remaining on the counter. “Go ahead, son, I’ll take care of this. And stay away from that Rory boy!” he calls cheerfully at Len’s retreating back.

Len meets ‘that Rory boy’ outside at his father’s truck, Mick having exited swiftly after knocking down that display of bolts. Len grins as he approaches, hopping into the passenger seat.

“I got it all,” Len declares triumphantly. Mick grins at him.

“Guess you really can do it with one hand tied behind your back,” Mick says, brushing his fingers over the back of Leonard’s injured left hand. “Knew you were the best.”

“Petty theft is hardly the thing of legends,” Len says. He’s absurdly pleased, though, not only that he could, in fact, steal all of these things with a busted hand, but with how pleased Mick is with him. It’s an almost giddy feeling, one he hasn’t had since the gallery heist. He’s missed it.

He’s missed Mick.

Len leans over and switches the radio station from the channel it was on to a new one, synth-pop blasting from the speakers. Mick narrows his eyes.

“I ain’t listening to this shit,” he says, switching it back. Len darts his hand out and turns it back. “Lenny, you still wanna have at least one working hand, you better stop touching the radio.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Len says.

“Why not?”

“Because I still have the parts you need,” Len replies smugly, holding up the little box he’s stolen. “And your wallet.” And five others from the store. Mick glares at him, but doesn’t move when Len switches the radio back to the pop channel. He grinds his teeth a little when Len turns it up and starts singing along.

“I hate you,” Mick says through gritted teeth. “So much.”

“Too bad,” Len says. “You’re stuck with me. Because...” Len leans over in his seat, closer to Mick, and sings louder. “I’m never gonna give you up, never gonna let you go...”

“You’re a shitty singer and this is a shitty song,” Mick says, shoving him away. Len laughs and leans back into the seat. “Don’t know why I hang out with you.”

“My stunning sense of humor and excellent taste in music and movies, obviously,” Len says. Mick snorts as he pulls into the parking lot of the pizza parlor.

“Of course, that’s it,” Mick says, parking the car. “Don’t know why you hang out with me, then.”

“I like hanging out with you,” Len says, frowning, but Mick’s already getting out of the car. Len hops out after him. As they’re walking up the door, a man who’s just exited with two pizza boxes in hand does a double take, blatantly eyeballing Len’s bruised face and then looking suspiciously at Mick. Len glares directly at him and he averts his eyes, at least having the grace to look a little embarrassed.

“Mick,” Len says, quietly, and Mick pauses with his hand on the door. “You wanna maybe get the food to go?”

“We can,” Mick says, looking at him questioningly. “Up to you, Lenny.”

“Let’s do that.”

The lady behind the counter widens her eyes a little when she sees Len’s face, and he slides over so he’s standing behind Mick’s shoulder while he orders, most of his face out of her view. Mick glances back once, still questioning, but Len doesn’t say anything. He slides Mick some money for the food when he’s done.

“You could just give me back my wallet,” Mick says after he’s led Len over to the side to wait.

“That’s no fun,” Len says.

“You and I got different ideas of fun sometimes,” Mick grumbles. Len gives him an innocent smile and Mick sighs, but the corners of his mouth are twitching a little. He watches the customers pass by while they wait, only moving once when he’s unable to resist the wallet sticking half out of a man’s back pocket as he leaves, the lady behind the counter having turned her back to check on the upcoming orders. Mick chuckles when Len settles back in besides him.

“I guess I should be happy you at least give mine back,” he mutters under his breath, smirking.

“With everything still in it, too,” Len says, smirking right back. “Usually.” Mick rolls his eyes. He’s still smiling, but Len can see a little restlessness setting in, his fingers tapping on his leg. Len frowns; something’s off, but he can’t quite place it. Before he can think about it too much, the lady calls Mick’s name and sets their order on the counter.

“All right,” Mick says, brightening a bit. “That’s what I like to hear.”

- - - - - - - - - -

Mick drives them over to the abandoned barn where their car is stashed, parking the truck there and spreading out the blankets in the back of the truck bed so they can have their own little picnic. Mick leave the car idling so they can have the radio on, though he makes sure to put it on a rock station and won’t get out of the car until Len’s in the back to ensure it stays that way. Len gives a fake sigh and spreads out the food in the back, humming along with the chorus.

What Len thought would be too much food turns out to almost be not enough, as once he starts eating he can’t seem to stop himself. He finishes off a whole pizza by himself, along with several pieces of garlic bread and breadsticks. Mick watches him with quiet amusement through the whole process.

“You could try eating every day instead of eating enough for a week in one day,” Mick suggests. Len glares at him while he sucks crumbs and garlic off his fingers. “Just sayin’.”

“This is more fun,” Len says. He shifts back, sliding up until he’s pressed against Mick’s side. Mick glances at him quickly, but doesn’t move otherwise, and Len frowns a little. Usually Mick would be moving, stretching out and allowing Len more access and putting his arm around him. Len draws his knees up to his chest and rests his chin on them, worrying. It had seemed like they were getting better, like Mick’s anger was cooling. He closes his eyes and wonders if he can fix this.

“What’s wrong?” Mick asks, and Len tilts his head to look up at him.

“I may have eaten too much at once,” Len says, and it’s not a complete lie. His stomach is complaining a bit now that he’s stopped eating, but that’s not what really bothers him.

“I told you to slow down,” Mick says, shaking his head. Len gives a half shrug, letting his eyes travel down Mick’s body. The shirt he’d thrown on is still only half buttoned, which Len isn’t going to complain about. Mick’s got a breadstick in one hand, and the fingers of his other hand twitch and drum on his jeans, just like at the restaurant. Len frowns as a thought hits him.

“Mick, where’s your lighter?” Len asks, frowning. Mick freezes momentarily, then gives a small shrug. Len frowns deeper, thinking back. Mick’s got plenty of lighters, courtesy of Len’s light fingers, but Len hadn’t felt it in Mick’s pockets when he lifted his wallet, now that he thinks of it. “Mick? You’re not even carrying one. What’s going on?”

“I’m tryin’ to not carry one,” Mick mumbles, shifting farther away.

“Since when?” Len asks, concerned. As much as he would like for Mick to have better control of his little habit, it hasn’t ended well in the past.

“Well.. first the cops showed up, and they were kind keeping an eye on me, so I thought it would be a good idea if I didn’t have them on me...” Len nods, trying to keep him going. “I thought it wouldn’t be so hard. I could handle it, especially after the gallery.”

“Have you set any fires since then?” Len presses, and the way Mick’s gaze turns away immediately gives him all the answer he needs. He still wants to hear it. “Mick.”

“Just one,” Mick finally admits. “I was gettin’… angry, and I’d been fightin’ with my old man. So I set a little one, on the edge of the field...” Len watches him silently and Mick sighs. “A few of the corn stalks caught. Luckily they aren’t full grown yet so they didn’t spread much, but I didn’t stop it. Let ‘em burn out. My dad was pissed.”

“I see,” Len says. Mick glances at his expression and turns away. Len leans back and tries to think it out.

“We’ll need rocks,” Len says, and Mick looks back at him, confused.

“Rocks?” Mick asks blankly.

“Yes… but bricks would work too. I bet we could find some at construction sites, or some abandoned buildings. And maybe some grating. We could pull down some old chain link fences...”

“For what?” Mick asks, lost. “You building a house or something?”

“A fire pit, Mick,” Len says patiently, and Mick’s eyes widen. “We can make it over here. Clear out a space on the dirt patches, ring it out with bricks so it can’t spread, add the grating to catch any stray sparks.”

“Why?” Mick asks, staring at him. “Why would you do that?”

“So you can set fires safely,” Len says, rolling his eyes. “We can light up before we go on jobs. Might help you keep your focus if we have to start any more fires at the scene.”

“We?” Mick repeats. “You’d… you still wanna do jobs with me? Even after I burned the gallery down?”

“I never cared that you burned the gallery down, Mick,” Len says, raising an eyebrow. “That was actually pretty helpful. We just need to work on keeping you focused while there’s fire around so you don’t get caught or miss your cue.” Or worse. Len doesn’t mention that. “We’ll figure it out, Mick.”

Mick stares at him for a few moments, not saying anything, and Len starts to feel nervous. What if Mick doesn’t want his help?

“Why do you wanna waste all this time on me?” Mick finally asks, and Len blinks.

“It’s not a waste,” Len says, and Mick shakes his head. Before Len cans tart to worry again, Mick’s arm snakes around his waist, yanking him over to press into Mick’s side.

“You’re an idiot,” Mick informs him, fingers pressing into Len’s hip.

“You think so?” Len asks, smiling and tilting his head against Mick’s shoulder. “Because I still have your wallet.”

- - - - - - - - - -

Mick drives them back up to the house, parking near the barn.

“I need to do a little work on that machine before I go in,” Mick tells Len as he gets out. Once it’s done, then I can try and sneak you back up to my room.” Len’s nodding when he hears the sound of a house door slam.

Thankfully, Len’s side of the car is facing away from Mick’s house, so he immediately ducks down and slides to the ground. He can hear footsteps stomping towards them across the dirt and grass, so just to be safe, he lays on the ground and rolls under the truck.

“Where the hell have you been?” Mick’s father growls. Len can only see his boots from his position on the ground, heavily scuffed and streaked with mud. “You missed dinner.”

“I went out to get the parts for the damn machine you broke,” Mick snarls right back.

“With what money? I didn’t give you anything to pay for new shit. I told you to fix it,” his father snaps.

“And I told you it’s fucked cause you didn’t maintain it,” Mick says, voice growing loud with frustration.

“Oh, please. You’re just tryin’ to cover the fact that you’re too stupid to fix it so you had to go waste money on new parts.”

“Well, I didn’t use your money, so don’t fucking worry about it.”

“Oh yeah? What money did you use? You ain’t got a job,” his father sneers. Mick remains silent. Len can see the boots take two quick steps forward and then there’s a metallic thunk, the sound of a body hitting the car’s frame, and the metal above him rocks slightly. “You better not be stealing shit.”

“I didn’t steal anything,” Mick says, and Len smirks. It is true, after all.

“Good,” his father says. “Cause if you get us any more cops showing up over here, I’m gonna kick the shit out of you, hear me? We don’t need that kind of trouble.”

“Ain’t gonna be no cops,” Mick says. “Don’t lose your shit. You said fix it, I’m gonna fix it.”

“Good. And next time, don’t be gone so damn long.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Mick mutters at the retreating boots. Len waits until he hears the door open and close again before sliding back out from under the truck.

“You okay?” Mick asks, rounding the front of the car to come over to Len’s side.

“I’m fine,” Len says, brushing the dirt off his clothes. “Just dusty.”

“Gonna have to wait a while to get you in the house,” Mick says, crossing his arms.

“I can go home,” Len reluctantly volunteers. He doesn’t want to, although he knows there’s no real escape, but he also doesn’t want to cause Mick any more trouble. Mick is immediately shaking his head, though.

“No, you’re staying here,” Mick says, as though it’s a forgone conclusion. Len is a bit pleased at that. “You can wait in the barn while I work on the tiller. Once I’m done I’ll go check and see if I can get you in.”

“Okay,” Len says, following Mick as they head into the barn. Once they get in, Len pauses as he sees the ladder. Getting up there with his hand injured is going to be a pain, but he’s had worse. He takes a step forward, but Mick lays a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey,” Mick says, pulling him back a little. “No need to try and get up there. It’s just for a little while today, so if someone come in just hide out in one of the stalls, ok?”

“Oh,” Len says, feeling a little foolish. “Okay.”

“It’s just for a little while,” Mick says. “As soon as he goes to sleep I can sneak you in.”

It ends up being a couple of hours that Len spends in the barn, By the time Mick comes to get him, he’s draped himself over a stack of hay bales, daydreaming about pawn shops and steel doors and lists of names. Len’s barely thought about any of it since the gallery. Honestly, he hasn’t thought about much but Mick since the gallery.

Mick checks the house quickly before ushering Leonard inside. Mick leans in close, and for a moment Leonard thinks Mick is going to kiss him, but Mick turns his face just enough to speak into Len’s ear.

“I don’t want to turn any lights on,” Mick says. Leonard shivers a little; he can feel Mick’s breath ghosting over the shell of his ear, and when Mick lowers his voice like that, it turns into a deep rumble that make Len think of summer thunder. He nods in the darkness and Mick takes his hand. It’s pointless; Len’s navigated these halls multiple times in the same darkness that faces them now, but he says nothing, enjoying the warmth of Mick’s hand in his. Mick pulls him close as they creep down the hallway past his parents’ room, only releasing him once they’re safely in his room.

“Here,” Mick says, pulling one of his flannel shirts and a pair of sweatpants out of his drawers. “You can wear these, since you got yourself all dirty.” Len rolls his eyes. “Don’t roll your eyes at me.”

“There’s no way you saw me in the dark,” Len protests, taking the clothing from Mick’s hands.

“I can feel it when you do that, Len,” Mick informs him. Len rolls his eyes again. “See, you did it again.”

“I did not,” Len lies. “You’re imagining things.”

“Whatever you say, Lenny,” Mick responds, stepping back to the door. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Ok,” Len says. Once the door closes, he quickly strips, throwing on Mick’s flannel shirt and buttoning it up. He pauses halfway up, leaving the top three buttons open. It doesn’t expose too much, although it comes dangerously close to showing a long white scar across one of his pecs where he’d gashed himself open with a jagged glass shard while being shoved through a broken window by his father. Having someone inside was the only way that Lewis could think of to get the heavy-duty deadbolt open, and Leonard was the only one small enough to fit through the window. When Len had suggested that it would be even easier for him to get in through the ventilation systems, he’d gotten a beating for questioning Lewis in front of his men. Len suspects that the glass wound was just icing on the cake.

Leonard hears Mick’s footsteps in the hall and shakes himself out of the memory. He makes a split second decision and tosses the sweatpants Mick gave him over the chair, leaving himself only in his boxers.

Mick steps into the room and freezes, eyeing Len in the moonlight. Mick doesn’t comment on Len’s clothing, simply sits down beside him on the bed holds out a glass of water. When Len takes it, Mick sets two small white pills on the nightstand beside him.

“For your hand,” Mick says, and Len nods. Mick stands and pulls off his shirt while Len washes the pills down and tries not to stare too hard at the way the muscles on Mick’s back move under his skin. When Mick unzips his jeans, Len has to turn away or risk having a very uncomfortable night. He slides over on the bed, slipping under the thin blanket and putting his back to the wall, this time resting comfortably on his uninjured side. A moment later the bed dips and Mick joins him. He tries to keep his breathing even as Mick moves in closer and rests his hand on Len’s hip. It feels comfortable and safe, like old times. It feels like a piece of him that was missing.

“How long do I get to keep you?” Mick asks.

“I don’t know,” Len admits. Mick’s fingers tighten for a moment on Len’s hip. Len shifts a little closer and Mick relaxes a bit. “Even if I have to go, I’ll come back.”

“I’d understand if you didn’t,” Mick says suddenly, and Len blinks. “I didn’t think you would this time.”

“Of course I would,” Len says. “You’re my partner, Mick. Right?”

“Long as you still want me,” Mick says. “I’ll be here to look out for you, Lenny.” Len nods, sliding a little closer. Mick’s been looking out for him a lot lately. He needs to pay more attention to Mick. The fire pit’s a good start.

“We’ll look out for each other,” Len tells him. “I’m not about to let anything happen to my partner.”

“You tryin’ to say I should get used to waking up to you havin’ snuck in my bed?” Mick asks, smirking a little.

“Well at least until we figure out what your new phone number is,” Len says. Mick hum in agreement and closes his eyes. Len looks up at his face in the moonlight and has to stop himself from reaching up and touching him.

“We’ll work on it tomorrow. Go to sleep, Len.”

Chapter Text

It’s not Mick’s father that wakes Len the next morning. Len wakes himself, warm and wanting, from the middle of a dream starring Mick that has him so hard it practically hurts. Once he’s awake, it’s not hard to figure out where he got his inspiration; at some point during the night he’d shifted, turning to face the wall, and now Mick’s coiled around him like a snake, Mick’s arms wrapped around his torso and his face pressed against the nape of Len’s neck. Micks fingers are brushing against Len’s skin at his collarbone, having found their way into the gap of Len’s shirt where he left it unbuttoned, and his skin tingles like it’s on fire where they touch. Len swallows hard and tries to stop himself from panting. He’s been so stressed out and unhappy since the fight that he’s barely touched himself, let alone let someone else into his space like this, and his body seems to be craving it, regardless of whether it’s a good idea or not. Len tries to shift away, but as soon as he moves Mick’s arms tighten around him, pulling him even closer. When Mick sleepily nuzzles at the back of his neck, the stubble from his chin scratching across Len’s skin, Len grips his pillow with his good hand and bites down on his lip to stop himself from whimpering, hard enough that he tastes blood from where he’s reopened the cut.

The more Len squirms, the closer Mick seems to get, even when Len doesn’t think it’s possible. The way he moves against Len is certainly not helping his problem. Len places his hand over the one Mick has wrapped around his waist; he intended to try and pry it off, but suddenly he doesn’t want to. He lays his hand over Mick’s, sliding his fingers up the bare skin on the back of Mick’s wrist and forearm. Mick groans a little against his neck and turns his head, lips brushing over Len’s neck in a way that makes him gasp. He slides his hand back down over Mick’s; if he would just move it a little lower…

It’s a pounding on the door that interrupts Len’s fantasies, the noise startling Mick’s awake, and as soon as he realizes what he’s doing Mick yanks his hands off of Len like he’s been burned.

“Sorry,” Mick mumbles, backing away from Len as quickly as he can manage, before Len can get a grip on him and pull him back. The sudden absence of Mick’s warmth makes Len shiver a little, and the pounding rattles the door again.

“Get the hell up before I break this damn door down!” Mick’s father commands, and Mick grabs a pair of jeans and yanks them on as quickly as he can.

“I’m coming, just a minute,” Mick shouts back at the door. Len rolls over, trying to make sure to shift the blankets to cover his lap. Mick glances over at him. “Stay here this time. Get some sleep. I’ll be back with some food and some more pills.”

“Okay,” Len says quietly. He wants to say come back now, as ridiculous as it would be with Mick’s father waiting on him, but he clamps down on it. Mick grabs one of his shirts and leaves in a hurry.

Len sighs in frustration. He pulls the blanket up a little higher, trying to recapture some of the warmth stolen from him, but he knows that nothing’s as good as the source. Len’s skin still tingles a little where Mick’s hand found its way under his shirt, and he slips his own hand under the waist of his boxers. Len turns his head, inhaling the unique mix of sweat, smoke and nature that make up Mick’s scent and have saturated the bedding. He should probably feel more nervous, jerking off in his friend’s bed, but right now he doesn’t particularly care. Len can still feel the ghost of Mick’s lips on the back of his neck, and the thought speeds up both his hand and his heart rate. When he comes, he clamps his injured hand over lips that want to form Mick’s name and ignores the pain.

Len sighs as his body slowly relaxes in the aftermath, kicking the blankets off and withdrawing his now sticky hand from the mess he’s made of his boxers. He sighs and searches around for some tissues, grateful that he at least didn’t make a mess of the bedsheets. That would be very difficult to explain.

Once Len’s cleaned up and changed into new clothes – aside from the shirt, which he’s keeping on – Len slips back into bed and tries to sleep come more. After twenty minutes, he gives up. His mind is too awake to get any more sleep. He starts rummaging through Mick’s room, looking for something to entertain himself. He finds a few books, mostly ones that he’s passed on to Mick and therefore already read, and a few comic books that Mick’s already shown him. He locates a stash of candy bars in the back of one of Mick’s drawers and grabs a Snickers bar, mentally promising to steal two as a replacement later. He finds a lot of matchbooks and lighters in a shoebox shoved under Mick’s bed. One in particular stands out; it’s just a small plastic bic, the kind you find in any gas station, but it’s been wrapped up in paper and set aside from the rest, even though it’s the only empty one. Len frowns. There’s some scratches near the bottom; bringing it closer to inspect it, it looks like someone's carved an L into the bottom of the lighter. Len carefully rewraps the lighter and puts it back. He’s not sure what’s up with it, but it seems important to Mick, so Len is careful with it.

When Mick comes back, Len’s found one of his chemistry books to read through, hoping to find something in there that he can use to make Mick happy. Len closes the book, a few ideas already jotted down in his little notebook, and turns his attention to his partner.

“Made yourself right at home, huh?” Mick asks, looking at Len and raising his eyebrows. Len’s piled up all the pillows behind him, cocooned himself in the blanket, and there are at least three candy bar wrappers littered around him.

“I stayed inside like you asked,” Len points out. Mick sighs and crosses the room, heading toward the bed. Len scoots over a bit, a little eager to have Mick beside him, but Mick just flops down on his back across the foot of the bed. Len swallows down his disappointment.

“How’s the work going?” Len asks

“Not bad,” Mick says. “I fixed the tiller with the parts you got. Works great now, thanks to you.”

“Thanks to us,” Len says. “You’re the one that actually fixed it.”

“That’s easy,” Mick says. “Might’ve bought myself some time off though. You wanna go out and catch a movie tonight or something?”

“Sure,” Len says. “Anything in particular?”

“As long as it’s not one of your damn sci-fi films,” Mick says. “Anything but that.”

“Aw, come on,” Len says, poking Mick in the side with his toes. “You liked Predator.”

“Predator wasn’t about aliens, it was about hunting,” Mick says, swatting at Len’s feet. “There was just an alien in it.”

“Whatever,” Len says, getting up on his knees and shuffling closer to Mick. Mick watches him warily, and Len’s a little nervous. He wonders if Mick is unhappy that he woke up with Len in his arms instead of whoever he’d been dreaming about. “I’m down for anything. Your choice.”

“Anything, huh?” Mick asks, that wariness disappearing into Mick’s normal mischievousness. Len smiles. “You’d go to see one of those cop movies with me?” Len grimaces; he hates those. “Or maybe one of those chick flicks...”

“I said anything, I meant it,” Len says. “Just means that I won’t have to feel bad next time when we see Killer Klowns From Outer Space.”

“No,” Mick says, sitting up and glaring at him. “No way am I seeing that. Don’t care how many parts you steal me.”

“We’ll see,” Len says. “I’ll find a-” He stops, listening, some distant sound having caught his attention. Mick tilts his head, and Len points at his ear. They both concentrate on listening.

At first all Len hears is Mick’s father’s voice, coming from somewhere downstairs. Nothing that should be dismissed, but nothing overly concerning. But there’s too much talking, and after a moment Len realizes that it’s not just his father talking a lot, it’s actually two men’s voices that sound very similar. He slides off the bed and stands up, on alert.

“What’s wrong?” Mick murmurs, standing up as well.

“There’s someone downstairs with your father,” Len says. “A man. Don’t know who.”

“We need to get you out of here,” Mick says immediately. “We can sneak you down and stash you in the barn.” Mick heads over and opens up the door, but as soon as he does they can hear heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. Mick shuts the door, locking it again, and curses quietly. “You need to hide.”

“Where?” Mick glances around, eyes settling on the closet.

“In there.”

“I seem to remember you getting annoyed when I asked you to hide in the closet from my father,” Len reminds him as Mick ushers him over.

“Not the time, Lenny,” Mick says, opening the closet door. “Stay quiet. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come out.” Len slips into the closet, yanking one of Mick’s jackets off a coat hanger. He curls into as small a ball as he can in the corner, draping the coat over his head and pooling a few stray clothes around his feet. It should hopefully allow him to be mistaken for a pile of clothes as long as no one looks too hard.

It’s worked on his father before.

Len’s been in the closet for less than a minute when someone pounds on the door. He can hear Mick cross the room to open it up, and people enter. Len tries to be a silent as possible.

“Why the hell you got your door locked, son?” Mick’s father growls.

“Maybe I wanted to jerk off,” Mick says. “The fuck does it matter? Why’s he here?”

“I’m with the police,” a second man’s voice says. “We’re looking for a boy, a runaway. Disappeared two night ago.” Len’s heart rate picks up. They’re looking for him. This has to be one of his father’s friends. But how the hell did they know to come here? Len’s body feels cold all of a sudden. Lewis can’t know about Mick. He can’t.

“Okay,” Mick says. “What do ya want me to do about it?”

“Mind your mouth, boy,” Mick’s father growls. Len swallows hard.

“You seen this boy before?” the police officer asks.

“Seen him in town before,” Mick replies. It’s what Len’s told him to say if anyone asks; it leaves a lot more wiggle room for your next few answers. He’s pleased that Mick remembers, but Len had hoped he wouldn’t be asked.

“In town? He lives in the city. Why would he be out here?” the man asks.

“Dunno. Should ask him.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“Think he was around yesterday. Only saw him for a few minutes.”

“That so?”

“Yeah.” There’s a brief moment of silence that ratchets up Len’s nerves.

“Lady at the pizza parlor said she saw you two there together. That ring any bells?” Len stops breathing for a second. Of course. He should have known they’d be seen.

“Yeah, I saw him. He seemed hungry, so I let him have some of the pizza I ordered.” Len smiles from his spot on the floor, pleased with Mick’s quick thinking.

“So you two aren’t friends?”

“Nah. Don’t really have friends. People don’t like me.”

“So you’re saying you don’t know where he is?”

“Nope. Gave him some pizza and then he left.”

“Didn’t say where he was going?”

“Nope.”

“Any idea where he might have gone?”

“Nope.”

“He didn’t tell you anything?”

“Like I said, we ain’t really friends. He just puts up with me longer than a lot of other people.”

“He ever been out to the house?”

“No,” Mick’s father breaks in. “I never seen the boy before.”

“He’s never been out here,” Mick confirms.

“I see,” the cop says. There’s another long stretch of silence, which is starting to drive Len insane. He hates not knowing what’s going on. “This is my number. Contact me immediately if you see him in town again.”

“Sure thing,” Mick says.

“Right,” the cop says. It doesn’t sound like he believes Mick, but there’s not much he can do.

“I’ll make sure that if we even see him in a crowd we’ll call you,” Mick’s father promises. “Anyway, it’s summer, so my boy won’t be going out much either way. Plenty to keep him busy right here.”

“Right. Well then. I’ll be heading out.”

“We’ll walk you out,” Mick’s father says. “Come on, boy.”

Len huddles in the closet and waits, listening to the three of them tromp downstairs together. He waits for a bit before he slowly extracts himself from the clothes and peeks out of the closet. He creeps over to his bag, which thankfully no one had bothered to look through, and slings it over his shoulder, slipping his shoes back on after. He steps over to the door and cracks it open a bit. There are voices coming from the ground floor, and Leonard cautiously steps down the hall to hear them.

“… told you not to be bringing trouble to our door, boy.”

“I didn’t do anything. They just wanted to know if I saw some kid. Loads of people probably saw the guy.”

“You were out in town getting pizza with some kid that’s wanted by the cops. You tryin’ to get sent to jail, you idiot? That kid doesn’t give a shit about a loser like you. He’s just gonna use you and let you take the fall. You stay the fuck away from him. And stay the fuck out of town. You don’t need to be anywhere but here, doing your work. You see that kid anywhere you better turn and walk the other way, because if I find out you saw him or even stepped one foot off our property before harvest, you’re gonna wish you were in jail.”

Len turns and walks down the hall. Instead of heading back to Mick’s room, he turns into Mick’s parents’ room instead. Theirs is the only room that has a window opening up over a section of roof that he can use to slide down and jump off of, minimizing the height he has to fall. It’s facing the back of the property, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about running into the cop that’s hopefully headed out by now. He can’t stay here. He can’t risk staying in Mick’s house and causing Mick trouble, and he can’t risk going out and being seen around town while Lewis has people out looking for him. He needs to head back.

It almost works perfectly, but Len’s reflexes betray him. When he hits the ground he automatically throws his hands out to catch himself as he rolls and sharp spikes of pain lance up when his injured hand touches the hard dirt. He can’t stop a small yelp of pain t