“Mine hit zero!” Ray cries the moment the door flies open. Michael rolls his eyes as cheers sound out around the room. Ray enters the room, arms still raised high, and strolls towards his desk all the way by the window. (Michael wanted that spot but noooo, he had to choose rock when Ray chose paper. Why does that bastard have to be so good at everything?)
“So it was Courtney?” Jack asks as Ray sits, spinning once in his chair.
“Sure was,” Ray answers giddily and Michael has to hold back a snarl. He glances at his counter and the numbers 00:00:02:18:06:32 stares back at him. Two weeks is such a long fucking time and with everyone around him finding their soul mates, Michael’s starting to feel a little left behind. (Although, it could be worse; Lindsay’s still says two years and Kara’s eighteen months.)
“Man, this feels great,” Ray comments. “It’s like everything in the world makes sense now.”
“Ray, shut the fuck up, no it doesn’t,” Geoff calls, laughing into his bottle. “It feels like every other day.”
Michael tries not to seem too eager to hear the answer. Everyone has a different story when it comes to their soul mates, Michael understands this, but there’s something about knowing all the different possibilities that makes his wait seem a little less aggravating.
“Sure,” Ray agrees, shrugging his shoulders. “But there’s this weight gone so maybe that just makes the world seem better.”
Geoff nods and says, “I’ll give you that.”
They continue to chat as Michael thinks of all the different stories he’s ever heard about The Soul Counter. He, along with every child in the world, was taught early what the clock on the inside of their left wrist meant: it counted every moment between the time you were born and to the very moment you met the person who was your ‘soul mate’. There’s so many way to explain the definition of a ‘soul mate’ but Michael’s fond of the simple one his mother whispered to him at night when he was a boy: it’s the person who will love you for you, and you will love them for them, because you were simply meant to be together.
It sounds easy and simple, but what the classes and pamphlets and experts forgot to tell them when they were young is that it’s not. Sure, for some it’s easy (Geoff and Griffon ran into one another on the street and they’ve been stupidly happy with each other ever since) but for others, not so much. In fact, his own parents hated each other for a very long time when they realized their clocks hit zero at the same moment.
They were fifteen and fought like cats and dogs for years (he gets his temper from his dad and his sailor mouth from his mom) but they never seemed to stray too far from one another, going to the same high school and eventually the same college. Michael has to smile at the story his mom told him when he was fourteen and curious: she never honestly realized how much she loved his father until another girl, whose clock was still ticking, was hitting on him in a class that they shared. She told him about the fear she felt in her gut because the clock was merely a statement and not a guarantee. There was nothing stopping him from taking the chick up on her offer so Mom changed that by marching over there and cussing the chick out and taking his Dad back to the dorm and… Michael had left the kitchen before the end of that story.
He’s even heard rumors that your clock could stop on someone, but theirs keeps ticking. He’s never known a person who that has happened to – it’s always ‘my brother’s girlfriend’s sister’s cousin had it happen to them’ – but it’s most likely his biggest fear. That his counter will stop when he meets whomever he’s supposed to be with but theirs will continue on, because, c’mon, who in their right mind would want someone like him anyway?
“Aww, Michael’s beating himself up again!” Ray cries, pulling Michael from his musings – which was slowly falling into self-loathing.
“What? No I wasn’t,” Michael defends. “Shut up, Ray!”
“Aww, poor Michael thinks he’s going to be alone forever,” Ray coos, poking his lip out, mocking a pout. “Poor Mikey Wikey.”
Anger boils under Michael’s skin and he jumps from his chair, crossing the short space that separates them. “That’s it, you son of a bitch.”
Ray squeals like the bitch he is as Michael pulls him to the floor, locking him in a headlock and rubbing his knuckles against Ray’s skull until his fingers are red and raw.
Some days, he forgets that his counter is even there. He wears hoodies and it’s almost like he doesn’t live in a world where your whole life is like living with breath filling your lungs and you’re literally counting the seconds until you can exhale.
(If that world exists, he’s sure that it must be a perfect world.)
Today’s one of those days. He shows up early for work – because Geoff deemed it necessary not because he’s a good employee – wearing a hoodie against the Texas autumn chill. He chose to walk today because sometimes, a good walk clears his head. And after the nonstop talking about the zeros painting his wrist, a clear head is the only thing stopping Michael from finally killing Ray.
He smiles at a few people he passes and clips the shoulder of a pretty girl. “Sorry!” he says as soon as he recovers. She’s brushing off her shoulder, smiling brightly at Michael. Her eyes are green and Michael’s hit with the shock at how much he seems to love those green eyes. (Even if something tells him they aren’t the right shade.)
“No, I’m sorry. I’m late for work and wasn’t looking where I was going,” she answers, hiking her purse higher on her shoulder. Michael casts a quick look to her chest and sees the Starbucks logo half hidden by the zip up hoodie she’s wearing.
“It’s no problem,” he answers, looking back up before she gets the wrong idea. They stand awkwardly for a moment before she points behind her.
“I gotta go so uh,” she gives an awkward chuckle. “Bye…?”
“Oh, uh, yeah,” Michael answers smoothly and she smiles one more time before she returns to her walk, her bright red hair bouncing with her steps. He watches for a moment before he continues on towards work.
He gets there moments later and Kara smiles when he walks in. “The guys have been waiting. The new recruit’s here.”
“What the hell, I didn’t know we were getting a new one,” Michael says, bordering on the line of whining.
“Maybe if you didn’t stare at your counter all the time, you would have heard it,” Kara says, a sardonic smirk on her face.
“Lindsay is a lot nicer than you,” he replies, pursing his lips. Kara rolls her eyes.
“Yeah, well, Lindsay finds your curls and foul mouth cute while I find it repugnant.”
“How dare you!” Michael feigns outrage, putting his hand to his head. “My hair is fucking sweet.”
Kara laughs, shaking her head. “Whatever, I don’t wanna hear it. Go on, get to work.”
Michael salutes, about faces on the balls of his feet, and marches to the beat of Kara’s laugh. He drops the act and smiles to himself as he approaches the door to the Achievement Hunter office. It’s cracked slightly and he can hear Geoff’s stupid laugh over everyone else’s.
“My hair is not stupid!”
The unfamiliar voice holds both a whine and a British accent. Something weird twists in Michael’s stomach. He presses his hand against it and pushes hard. Maybe he should have eaten something for breakfast. He reaches for the door, and just before his fingers grip the doorknob, he realizes that the feeling is that of butterflies. He has butterflies over meeting some British dork with, apparently, stupid hair.
Michael shakes off the feeling – it’s still sticking to his ribs like molasses – and enters the tiny office. He quickly picks out the new face and green eyes lock with his and his heart falls through the floor before it jumps back up and pounds a mile a minute. Some of the guys greet him but Michael doesn’t say a thing.
The newcomer’s smile falls and Michael feels offended that his arrival could take any smile away. The guy looks down and then back up, the smile instantly returning, twice as bright.
“Hi,” he says, sheepish and bordering on breathless.
“Hey,” Michael replies.
He doesn’t know how but the guy’s smile gets even bigger and the corner of his green eyes crinkle. Michael smiles back.
“I’m Gavin,” he says.
“Yeah, yeah. You do the rage quits,” Gavin says, coming a little closer. Michael wants to take a step back but he doesn’t want to offend the new guy. “Those are top.”
“Thanks,” Michael replies, feeling a little red creep into his cheeks. “I think?”
“Yeah, they are great,” Ray says. “They’re the only reason why we keep his useless ass around.”
“Shut up, Ray,” Michael snaps, pulling out his chair and taking a seat. Gavin’s smile slowly fades until it’s gone and Michael wants to do or say something to change that, to bring back that ridiculous grin but he doesn’t. He listens as Geoff tells Gavin the general shit of what they’re going to do that day, about how they’ll get him a desk probably tomorrow (which means next week) and to just observe for the day.
Gavin responds positively but Michael can tell that he isn’t half as excited as he was when he first got there and he can’t help but wonder if it was because of him.
“Michael,” Gavin whispers, accidently knocking his knees with Michael’s. “Ray’s right over there.”
Michael smiles as Gavin points out Ray’s hiding spot. “Thanks, Gav.”
With a few quick clicks, Ray is down and Michael is declared the winner of their Let’s Play. Michael and Gavin cheer while the rest of the guys groan.
“Mogar, bitches!” Michael cries, flipping Ray off. Ray sneers, yanking off his headphones.
“You cheated! You had help!”
“Well, no one ever said that I couldn’t help,” Gavin pipes in, smiling. Michael glances over and is momentarily struck stupid. That smile is…perfect.
Wow, that was easily the gayest thing Michael has ever thought or done, and that includes his brodate with Ray.
“That is true,” Geoff states, always the voice of reason.
“Whatever, I’m over it.” Ray stands and stretches, raising his arms over his head. “Who’s up for chow?”
“Can’t,” Geoff answers. “Griffon and I have a date.”
The office mockingly coos and Geoff flips them off as he stands, leaving the office with a quick, “Be back on time today, fuckers.”
“I’m brown bagging it; Burnie’s on my shit about this video,” Jack says, not moving an inch from his chair. He closes out of his recording screen and opens his editing software.
“You suck,” Michael says, smiling when he notices Gavin chuckling at his words. “I’m in.”
“Me too,” Gavin instantly replies.
“Great!” Ray exclaims. “Let’s get Jersey Mike’s.”
Michael rolls his eyes, waiting for it. “You own that place, right Mike?” Jack asks, snickering to himself as Ray joins in with his own laughter.
“What’s funny?” Gavin asks and Michael wants to laugh at the confusion that’s painting his face.
“Jersey Mike’s. Cause I’m Mike. From Jersey.”
“You’re from Jersey?” Gavin asks, tugging the sleeves of his hoodie down further. “That’s interesting.”
“Dude, you’re from England. That’s, like, a million times cooler,” Michael replies, slapping Gavin on the back.
“Not really,” Gavin answers and Ray rolls his eyes.
“Are we gonna go or are you girls going to keep fawning over each other?”
“Fuck off,” Michael says but he’s smiling, already walking towards the door.
They all pile into Michael’s car and Gavin loses rock-paper-scissors to Ray so Ray rides shotgun. Gavin climbs into the back and blabbers on about how weird driving in America is.
In the last five hours, something between the two of them just kinda clicked. Gavin was a fucking moron but he was also clever and kind and silly. Plus, he helped Michael kick everyone’s ass in their Let’s Play today so he was okay in Michael’s book. But he was also a little weird. During their recording, Michael would notice Gavin just staring at the side of his face, with this awed look in his eyes, like he was shocked that he was really there. He also noticed that Gavin enjoyed wrapping the ends of his sleeves in his fists, like he was hiding something.
(But some people are embarrassed about their counter for whatever reason. Michael’s guessing that Gavin’s just insecure. When he was young, he always hid his counter too, until he came to the acceptance that he didn’t give a shit that his said ten or twelve years.)
And Michael’s not gay but Gavin’s something to look at too. Sure, his nose is a little too big but it fits nicely in his long, slender face. He’s tan and Michael wonders how because isn’t England supposed to be cold and cloudy all the time? Sure, he could agree with the other guys with the idea that Gavin’s hair is stupid but it’s really not. It’s sandy blond and feathery, falling into his green eyes and Michael could wax poetry (completely not gay poetry) about how great those eyes are. Those eyes are the prettiest shade of green in the world but they also hold every single emotion Gavin’s feeling in them.
Michael’s known Gavin for half a day and he can already tell that Gavin wears his heart on his sleeve. (Although, technically, so does everyone, so that’s not really saying something.) If he was really thinking about it, he should be creeped out that he can understand a perfect stranger so well. But he doesn’t. There are some people in the world who just click, who just understand each other instantly and Michael thinks that he’s found that in Gavin.
Too bad Gavin’s not a chick; maybe his counter would have stopped on him.
“You think too loud,” Gavin says, leaning forward. Michael can see his smile in the rearview.
“What the hell does that even mean?” Michael asks, feigning annoyance. There’s a smile tugging at the corner of his lips but he refuses to let it bloom.
“Don’t listen to him Gavin. He’s always in mourning over the fact his hasn’t hit zero yet,” Ray says and Michael slides into a parking spot and throws the car in park. Gavin tilts his head to the side.
“Yours is still ticking?” Gavin asks, sounding curious but his eyes tell a different tale. Michael wants to do something to make those eyes look a little less sad but, instead, he just shrugs.
“I guess. I think I have a week or so left.”
“Are you excited? Lord knows I was,” Gavin says but there’s something bitter in his voice. Michael opens the door and pushes the seat forward for Gavin to climb out.
“Yours stopped?” Ray asks as he slams the door shut. Michael locks the car with a gentle beep.
“Yep.” Gavin says the word harshly, shutting the topic. Michael recognizes it and lets it go but Ray’s an idiot.
“Who was it?” Ray’s practically bouncing on his feet. Gavin tugs on his hoodie, wrapping them in his fists. He shrugs and rubs his cheek against his shoulder.
“Some bloke whose clock’s still ticking,” he says softly. Michael stops walking, shock and anger settling into his gut. He feels like the world has fallen out from underneath him, the unfairness of it all. Gavin’s too great of a person for something so tragic to happen to him. Where the hell is this guy? Michael’s going to shake him until he wises up and realizes what he’s missing in Gavin.
(And why in the hell is he feeling so defensive of Gavin, he just met the guy, like, five hours ago. What the fuck?)
“Whoa,” Ray says, slow and regretful. “That sucks bro.”
Gavin smiles thinly and enters the restaurant without another word. Michael quickly follows, sliding up next to Gavin. He bumps their shoulders and Gavin smiles weakly back.
“Maybe he’ll come around?”
Gavin scoffs. “Yeah right. That’s not how the world works. I’ll just have to live with the fact that he’s my soul mate but I’m not his.”
Michael frowns as Ray comes up behind the two of them. He slaps Gavin on the back, squeezing his shoulder once before dropping his hand. “Some food will cheer you up.”
“Yeah! Have you ever had Jersey Mike’s?”
Gavin shakes his head. “Can’t say that I have.”
“Well, you’ve been missing out, dude.”
Michael takes the lead and smiles flirtatiously at the new girl at the counter. (And don’t judge him because he knows new faces. He really likes this place, fuck off.) “Hey there.”
“Hi! Welcome to Jersey Mike’s. What can I get for you?”
He orders his regular while admiring her green eyes (again, not the right shade) and coaches Gavin through his order. He pays for both while Gavin fumbles with his wallet and tugs the Brit along down the counter to wait for their food.
“You never pay for mine,” Ray whines, shoving his own wallet back into his pocket. Michael shrugs.
“You’re a piece of shit. Gavin’s not.”
“Not yet,” Gavin answers, smirking mischievously. “You’ve never played Minecraft with me yet.”
“The fuck is Minecraft? Is that that stupid 8-bit, block building game?”
“It’s a lot more fun than it seems,” Gavin replies, picking up their tray. “It’s the main reason Geoff brought me on, actually.”
“That and he thought you were cute,” Ray inputs. Gavin tips his head to the side, pondering.
“Is that why he made me send him a shirtless picture of me bending over?” Gavin deadpans. Michael and Ray burst out laughing and Gavin quickly follows.
They all take a seat and for the next thirty minutes, they talk and laugh and act as if they’ve been friends forever. And Michael isn’t going to lie; that’s exactly what it feels like.
Michael closes the door to his apartment later that night with a new number stored in his phone. It’s saved in his phone as Gavvy Wavvy and he smiles every time he looks at the damn thing. He’s even snapped a photo of Gavin with his cheeks full of food staring at his camera in shock as the pic ID. He stares at it for a moment before he tosses it on the couch, yanking off his hoodie and letting it follow his phone’s path.
He moseys over to the kitchen, opening the fridge with his left and reaching in for a beer with his right. In the corner of his eyes, he sees the green bar imprinted into his skin staring back at him. His stomach falls through the floor and he slowly rises from the fridge, the beer can in his hand slipping before it falls to the floor.
He stares in shock at the numbers that are innocently staring back.
His fucking counter hit zero and he didn’t even fucking notice. There was no “moment”. There was no “world clicking into place”. There was no “feeling of completion”.
…This is what he gets for going to public school!
In a daze, he walks towards his phone, picking it up and replacing it with himself. He holds the button until Siri answers. He says, “Call Ray,” and the phone dials for him. He presses the phone to his ear and Ray answers after a few rings.
“I missed it. My fucking counter hit zero and I fucking missed it!” He shouted, his disbelief melting into rage.
Ray’s silent for a moment before he falls apart laughing.
“Fuck you, Ray!” Michael cries, nearing the anger point of his Rage Quits. “I missed my motherfucking soul mate and the only fucking thing you can do is fucking laugh at me!?”
“I’m sorry that I laugh at funny things!” Ray cries through his laughter.
“What the fuck am I supposed to do?” Michael shouts, staring at his left wrist, tightening the anchored hand into a fist. He squeezes his fingers until he’s leaving crescent moons on his palm. “There’s no fucking do overs, Ray!”
“Well, I guess you have to find her, don’tcha?”
Ray says it so reasonably that it quells Michael’s anger. Finding her – his soul mate – is literally the only think he can do and getting angry about it isn’t going to change anything.
“Yeah,” he sighs. Michael hangs up, drops the phone and lays his head against the back of the couch.
But where the hell does someone even begin to look for their soul mate?
“It’s almost ironic,” Lindsay says, picking at her sandwich. “The boy obsessed with his counter misses The Moment.”
“It’s not ironic, it fucking sucks,” Michael moans into his Coke can. “And I’m not obsessed.”
“Do you have any idea who it could be?” she asks, reaching into her bag of chips. Michael shakes his head and glances around the break room. No one is paying attention to them which is a silent blessing because he doesn’t want the whole fucking office knowing how goddamn stupid he is to miss his own soul mate.
“I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary,” he says, snagging the chip out of her hand. His eyes catch her counter and it still says a little under two years. He frowns because Linds is a great chick – hot as sin – and he’s almost jealous of the lucky bastard who’s going to love her the rest of his days. (When he first met her, he wished it was him but his counter didn’t agree. They’ve been real good friends ever since.)
Michael looks up at the sound of the door opening. Gavin pokes his head in and a relieved look washes over his face. Michael smiles at the other man and Gavin gives a little wave before walking to the fridge and sneaking one of Ray’s RedBulls.
“This place was difficult to find,” Gavin says, taking a seat right next to Michael. “Ray’s shit at giving directions.”
“Get used to it,” Michael replies, popping his stolen chip into his mouth. “I once asked him what he did with my controller and he said, and I quote, ‘It’s by the thing over by the other thing, underneath the thing’.”
“Did you ever find it?”
“I had to buy a new one,” Michael mumbles and Gavin starts laughing. Michael grins at the sound of Gavin’s stupid laugh and gives a chuckle of his own. The laughter fades and they spend a moment just smiling at one another.
From the other side of the table, Lindsay sighs heavily. Both of the boys turn to look at her and she shakes her head at Michael.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” she says, but there’s no heat – just fondness – and Michael furrows his eyebrows, watching as she stands and takes his can of Coke. “I’ll see you two around.”
She leaves the two of them alone – sort of, the few scattered employees are looking at them out of the corner of their eyes – and they glance at each other.
“Well. That was odd,” Gavin says lightly and Michael nods. “That was Lindsay… Tuggey, right?”
“Yeah. She’s sweet as dicks.” Gavin slowly turns his head to look at Michael. He innocently stares back.
“How in the world are dicks sweet?”
Michael turns a little red. “Shuddup, it’s something that Geoff says. You’ll pick it up too.”
“I certainly hope not,” Gavin says, putting too much emphasize on his British accent. “I’m much too good to lower myself to the level of you common Yanks.”
Michael stares at Gavin, who has his eyes closed and a hand pressed regally to his chest. He peeks open one of his eyes and Michael starts to laugh.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” he says, shaking his head. He stands and gathers up his trash, taking it to the garbage. Gavin stands as well, locking his hands behind his back.
“I guess we’re two of a kind then,” Gavin says, rocking on the balls of his feet. Michael rolls his eyes and holds open a door, motioning for Gavin to walk through.
“After you, your majesty.”
Gavin smiles wide before schooling his face into a passive blank. “Thank you, Bitterman.”
They leave the break room laughing loudly together and Michael can’t remember the last time he had so much mindless fun with someone.
Don’t tell anyone about last night.
I’m not just a one night stand you can shove under the rug, Michael.
Michael stares at his phone, blinking a few times before he looks over at Ray, who’s not-so-innocently playing on his computer. “Go fuck yourself, Ray.”
Geoff and Jack start to laugh as Gavin snaps his head up from his desk (which actually came when they said it was supposed to; shout out to AH). Michael can see the cocked eyebrow from his peripheral as he continues to stare at Ray.
Ray picks up his phone and types out a message as he says, “There’s a lot of love in this room right now.”
Michael’s phone chimes as Ray sets his down.
Dude, you’re my bro. I’m not going to say a thing about how you suck at life.
Michael sighs, knowing that that’s as close as he’s going to get to Ray’s word, so he puts his phone in the pocket of his hoodie and continues to work.
Several minutes pass before Michael feels his personal space being breached. He looks to his right and Gavin’s the perpetrator. Michael stares at the newest addition to the team as he watches Michael’s editing.
“Michael,” Gavin whispers, which is not really a whisper because everyone can hear his stupid British voice. “What are you doing?”
There’s something about Gavin, Michael decides, that makes him want to act like a total and utter fool with him. He whispers back, “I’m editing a rage quit.”
“What did you play?” Gavin whispers again, leaning closer. Michael leans in as well.
“This shitty game that Ray insisted wasn’t shit.”
Gavin bites his lip to hold in a giggle. Suddenly, his green eyes light up and Michael finds it’s hard to breathe. “Do you know what we should do? We should play a rage quit together!”
“How would we even do that?” Michael whispers, feigning annoyance but the excitement in Gavin’s voice is infectious and Michael’s already trying to figure out how to do a co-op Rage Quit.
“Well, we could find out together.”
“I’d like that,” Michael replies quietly, raising his voice a little from the whispering.
There’s a sudden clattering as Ray drops his xBox controller. Both of the boys jump as they turn to look at Ray. Ray’s brown eyes are wide and there’s a look of horror on his face. Michael opens his mouth to snap at him when the horror morphs into a wicked smile.
“What!?” Michael snaps, leaning forward a little, subconsciously putting himself between Gavin and Ray.
“You,” Ray says before he dissolves into laughter. “Are a fucking idiot!” He finishes in a flourish, his laughter taking over the office. Geoff and Jack turn, watching the scene with amused confusion.
“Are we calling Michael an idiot again?” Jack asks as Ray doubles over into his chair, holding his stomach.
“Why is he an idiot today?” Geoff asks, leaning back in his chair, gently picking up his bottle and taking a sip.
“He’s just a fucking moron!” Ray answers, in-between his giggles.
“Shut the fuck up, guys,” Michael mutters, his confusion muting his anger at being laughed at.
“Yeah, leave him alone!” Gavin cries. Michael smiles at him over his shoulder to the man who smiles back.
“Leave ‘im alone!!” Ray mocks because he’s a fucking dick. Michael’s blood starts to boil because Gavin has nothing to do with this. They can call him an idiot all they want but Gavin’s not even been here a week, there’s no fucking reason to bring him into this. This is between Ray and Michael, not Gavin. Gavin’s innocent. “They’re both idiots!”
Michael puts his hands on the armrests, ready to shove himself up but Geoff steps in at the last moment. “Alright, kids, enough’s enough. Back to work. I don’t want to clean Ray’s blood out of the carpet today.”
Michael takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly as Ray’s chuckles finally die down. His blood’s still boiling from Ray’s mocking words and he should really read into why he feels the need to defend Gavin so fucking much but his head’s still filled with Ray’s harsh laughs. He feels his lip start to curl into a snarl when gentle fingers touch the inside of his right wrist.
He snaps his head towards the offending hand and sees Gavin smiling weakly, something akin to fear in his eyes. Michael’s anger falls away like a maple leaf in autumn and he tentatively returns the smile. Gavin squeezes Michael’s pulse point once before he takes his hand away, leaving Michael feeling cold.
The fear drains from his eyes as Gavin asks, “Have you ever heard of Slender?”
The zeros are always floating around in the back of his head but Michael’s a decently busy person. There’s videos to record, videos to edit, meetings to attend and bars to drink at. He and Gavin are attached at the hip, at first under the guise of showing him the ropes, then under no guise at all. Michael likes spending time with the bumbling idiot, even if he does feel annoyed with him most of the time. (And it’s never a real annoyance – Michael’s a lot of things but a liar is not one of them – but a feigned annoyance so people in the office don’t start calling him soft.)
And the best part is that it wasn’t just Michael he clicked with. Gavin clicked with almost everyone in the entire RoosterTeeth office but he got on famously with the Achievement Hunter crew as well. Michael learned that Gavin was staying with Geoff until he could find an apartment and Geoff practically adored the younger one for taking to his daughter the moment he walked in the door. Jack enjoyed making fun of the way Gavin would talk – he has his own language, Michael’s discovered – and it was always with a sense of fondness. After saving Joey the Cat from a tree, Ray and Gavin even started this stupid idea of a superhero duo, named X-Ray and Vav.
But he and Gavin? (Or Team Nice Dynamite, as Michael dubbed them in their third Let’s Play Minecraft, in which they wiped the floor with everyone.) Inseparable. They hit a level of friendship that usually takes people months in a few days. Gavin could look across his pop filter and make a face and Michael knows exactly what he wants. Or Michael would throw a ball of paper at Gavin’s head and in return, he would get the last of Gavin’s Twix bar. When not in the office, they would text each other for hours or talk over XBL well into the night. Some of the assholes at work (i.e. Ray) has even started to refer to them by their “official” portmanteau, Mavin. (And Michael will never admit it but he’s okay with that name.)
Logically, he knows he should be wary about how easy their friendship came to them. But he’s not. He figures that some people just click in certain ways and Gavin’s just filled an empty spot in his life; he fits seamlessly, like the spot was held open for him and him alone. And, although, Gavin’s never said anything of the sort, Michael likes to think that Gavin feels the same. Like Gavin had an empty spot until Michael came and filled it.
It almost felt like they completed each other.
He knows that he should be thinking about the zeros and who caused them and where she is and why he’s a “fucking idiot” but whenever he does, Gavin sweeps into the room with another crazy plan and a camera in hand and, instead, Michael puts the thoughts to the side and gets swept up in the hurricane that is Gavin Free.
And he’s more than happy to get lost in the storm.
“So. Any idea who it is?” Ray asks, about twenty-five days after Michael’s counter hit zero. It was one of the rare moments where Gavin is dicking around somewhere without Michael. They’re alone in the AH office and Michael really doesn’t want to talk about this. He slowly turns towards Ray, who’s smiling wickedly again.
“Fuck off,” he murmurs bitterly. He doesn’t know who it is and doesn’t know why this happened to him and he’s tired of thinking about it.
“None whatsoever?” Ray asks, except there’s no hint of compassion in his voice. Michael wants to punch his oldest friend in the face (because, Gavin’s kind of usurped Ray’s former position as ‘best’ a long time ago.)
“No. And why are you so concerned with it?” Michael snaps, turning in his chair to stare at Ray. “It’s my counter, my life, my own stupidity.”
Ray shrugs. “You’re my friend and you don’t deserve to be lonely the rest of your life.”
Michael rolls his eyes. “Yeah, well if I never find her, Gavin and I can wallow in pity together.” Ray cocks an eyebrow. “Y’know. Because his counter stopped while his mate’s kept ticking.”
“I don’t think that that actually happens,” Ray says, something knowing in his voice. Michael squints, hoping the narrowed eyes will make the space between his words have context. (It doesn’t.) “I don’t know why we have these stupid counters.” Ray holds up his left arm, waving it gently. “But it has to be for a reason and that reason can’t be so we’re lonely for the rest of forever.”
Ray’s phone starts to ring and Michael has to withhold a smile at the way his friend’s eyes light up at the name on the screen. Ray picks it up, ready to answer when he says, “It has to be the exact opposite. So we’re given someone – someone we might never expect – to make sure our lives aren’t lonely. Right?”
Ray answers the phone and starts his conversation with Courtney as Michael turns back to his computer. Although he always likes to act like an utter knob (and there he goes, picking up Gavin’s words again), Ray sometimes has a serious moment where he makes a valid point.
He’s still pondering Ray’s words when Geoff and Gavin return from…whatever the hell they were doing. Michael looks up and from the cups in their hands, he’s guessing a Starbucks run.
Bright red hair and not-right green eyes come slamming back to him like a tidal wave. Michael’s jaw drops as Gavin sits in his chair and slides over to him. “What’s with the face, Mi-cool?”
Usually, the nickname makes him want to endlessly mock Gavin but this time it doesn’t even phase him. He slowly stands as a thousand thoughts run through his head. Ray, who’s off the phone, watches in amusement, something smug on his face. Michael turns and says, “To answer your question, yes. I know who it is.”
“Good!” Ray exclaims, picking his headphones up. “I’m tired of watching you two anyway.”
“What are you talking about? It’s the Starbucks girl!” Michael replies. There’s butterflies in his stomach and his legs feel like jelly and Ray looks so disappointed in him but he doesn’t give a fuck. He figured out who it is! He’s found his soul mate.
“Who’s the Starbucks girl?” Geoff asks, taking a sip of his coffee.
“I’ll tell you after I find her,” Michael answers, looking over to his boss. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Ray stone his face and angrily puts his headphones on. Gavin sits silent as Michael grabs his keys off his desk and quickly zips up his hoodie. “I’ll be back in a few Gavin. Wipe that pathetic look from your face.”
Gavin gives a forced smile but Michael’s too preoccupied to read into it. The Brit slides back over to his desk and fires up his computer, setting his coffee down, looking green around the gills.
Michael heads to the door and closes it behind him, but still catches the soft, “I’m sorry, Vav,” that Ray says. He doesn’t catch Gavin’s reply.
But he’s a man on a mission. Apologies will have to wait until later.
Michael goes to three Starbucks before he gets to the right one, less than four blocks from the office. He wants to choke on the irony of her being so goddamned close the entire month. He takes a deep breath and pushes open the door, the bells jingling lightly at the sound.
Her red hair is the first thing he sees but there’s no real click inside of him that screams, “This is it! This is the one. I made her for you and you for her!” All he feels is a teensy bit nervous at the stupid speech he has prepared in his head. He takes another deep breath and crosses the room to the counter, thankful that there’s less than a handful of people in the café.
She turns towards him when he approaches and she smiles, the ‘I recognize you’ smile. His heart is hammering because, goddamn, he hates feeling like an idiot but he opens his mouth anyway.
“Hey,” he says in almost a squeak. He clears his throat and tries again. “Hey. I know this is gonna sound stupid but I think you’re my soul mate.” He says it all in one breath. The redhead, whose nametag proudly proclaims CHARLIE, blushes and the smile morphs into a shy one. He still doesn’t feel any connection or affection for that smile but maybe it’ll come with time.
“You’re really cute and all,” she starts and oh Christ, he is one of those rumors – he fucking knew it but denial is such an easy state to live in after all - “But my clock is still ticking.”
“What?” he asks, his stomach falling through the floor. Okay, maybe he and Gavin will live together in self-pity for the rest of their days: both of their soul mates aren’t theirs. They really are two of a kind.
“Yeah, see,” Charlie holds out her wrist and it reads less than thirty minutes. “I mean, when I first saw you come in, I thought ‘maybe’ but you’re about twenty minutes early.” She smiles quickly as Michael’s chest tightens.
“Oh,” he says blankly. “Okay. I’m gonna go and wonder why this is happening to me.” Michael pats the counter once and frowns. “Have a good day.”
“Do you want to have a coffee with me?” she asks suddenly. Michael stops and glances up over the line of his glasses.
“Your clock says about twenty though,” he answers and Charlie huffs a laugh.
“And yours stopped almost a month ago. Let’s talk.” She unties the ugly green apron and yanks it over her head, tossing it under the counter. “Gabby, I’m going on break.”
Charlie taps the computer screen in front of her and quickly whips together two coffees. Michael waits awkwardly and wonders to himself why the hell he hasn’t ran back to the office yet. (Probably because he doesn’t want to see Ray’s stupid face or Geoff’s pitying eyes when he has to explain and he really doesn’t want Gavin to try and comfort him even though his whole body is screaming that he just wants a hug from the skinny bastard.) Charlie brings the coffees around the counter and walks towards an empty table, facing the doorway. She takes a seat and he mimics her.
It’s mostly silent, them sipping their coffees, looking around the room at everything but each other.
“So, how many people did you meet that day, other than me?” Charlie asks bluntly. Michael nervously looks around, sparing a thankful thought at the fact that Charlie wasn’t made for him because she does not know how to beat around a bush and Michael’s blunt enough for two people.
Michael sets his cup down and rubs the back of his neck. “Well, I walked that day, there was a lot of people on the street. I ran into you, there was a new girl working at Jersey Mike’s, I finally met an intern that was floating around the office for a while. She was kinda pretty.”
“You do know your counter doesn’t care about your preference, right?”
Michael looks up, confused. “What?”
“So, I’m a lesbian, right?” Charlie says and Michael blinks. “But, for all I know, there’s gonna be a man who walks through that door in about fifteen minutes and there’s nothing I can do about it other than accept it.”
Something cold settles into Michael’s gut. “So you’re saying it could be a guy?”
Charlie winks and clicks her tongue, “You got it, kiddo.”
“I didn’t think about that,” Michael mutters because it’s true. He’s always held an appreciation for the female form and never once thought a guy in that way. (At least until Gavin came around but he has that sexy British accent so he could fool himself into overlooking that.) Charlie takes a gulp of her coffee and smiles around the rim. “So are you nervous?” he asks to get the focus off of him.
“Of course I am!” Charlie laughs, setting her cup back down. “I’m about to meet my soul mate. Weren’t you nervous?”
“Well, I didn’t notice…”
“Did you feel anything?”
Michael shakes his head.
“I’m fucking terrified,” Charlie says and that’s when Michael sees the little tremors that cause the cup to shake in her hands. “I’m trying to play it cool because who wants to fall in love with a sweaty, shaky freak?”
Michael really hopes that she doesn’t want an answer.
She barrels on, apparently not needing one. “There’s, like, a million butterflies making my stomach their summer cottage and no matter how much I try to shake them off, they’re sticking to my ribs.”
“Like molasses,” Michael murmurs, his own stomach turning into knots.
Charlie huffs a laugh, “Yeah.”
Michael stares into his cup and knows that he’s felt that same feeling before. “Is that what they call ‘The Moment’?”
Charlie shrugs. “Maybe it’s the pre-moment moment. I haven’t met them yet so I don’t know how I’ll feel once I do. And maybe The Moment isn’t what everyone says it to be.”
Michael looks up, curious.
“Perhaps it isn’t just one big moment but little moments that add up to become a big one. Little things that most people shrug off. Once you add all the little things together – like how easy it is to talk to them or the way you smile together or just knowing they are somewhere near makes it easier to breathe – maybe all of those add up to The Moment.”
“How do you know so much about this gaff?”
Charlie raises her eyebrows but doesn’t make a comment of the Gavin-ies. “I took a Soul Counter course at my university. It was a detailed history about the counters, how long they’ve been around, the possibility of the counters manifestation being encoded to our DNA, theories about how the counter knows who to stop on and different versions of “The Moment”. And let me tell you!” Charlie leans forward, pointing her left forefinger at Michael; he can see her counter reading less than sixty seconds. “Public schools don’t even scratch the surface of the mythology behind the mystical Soul Counter.”
“You have fifty-five seconds,” Michael states. He just wants these fifty-five seconds to fly by so he can get out of this stifling café and get some fresh air. He has a lot of pieces in front of him now and all he’s missing is one; maybe the clean air will push away some of the fog clouding his vision.
“It appears that I do.” Charlie drinks the last of her coffee like it’s a shot of whiskey and crosses one leg over the other. “Did this conversation help you at all?”
“I’m not sure,” Michael answers quietly. Charlie hums but her eyes are trained on the door. “Ten seconds.”
“I’m going to tell you what my professor told me,” she says, still not looking at Michael. “The counter may not stop on who you expect or even who you want. But it always stops on who you need.”
The bells on the door jingle and Charlie whispers, “One.”
Michael turns and looks at the beautiful brunette who walked in the shop like she owns it. She’s wearing jeans and a plaid shirt over a black tee. Her hair is long and gently curls at the ends. She has great hazel eyes and they glance around the room before falling on Charlie, who’s already standing and crossing the café. Charlie lets out a shaky breath and the brunette responds with a cocky grin.
“Did your counter just hit zero?” Charlie asks and the other girl smiles, honest and bright.
“It sure did. Deanna.”
Michael watches – fondness filling his chest – as the two merely stare at each other, smiles so bright that the LEDs look dim. Then they start to giggle over absolutely nothing. The laughs and the smiles look like secrets shared between the two of them that only they would understand and all of it seems too familiar. Achingly familiar.
The last piece falls into his lap and the finished puzzle is staring him back in the face and he is a fucking idiot! The last month flies through his mind as his mouth hangs open, and every smile and every laugh, every retarded thing they did during LPs and AHWUs fill his mind until he’s blinded with his own stupidity.
He softly laughs at himself before he stands. As the stupidity falls away, he’s left feeling almost…giddy. Excited. This is his Moment. A month late and his soul mate four blocks away but this is his Moment nonetheless.
He lets his excitement overtake him, and in his joy, he rushes towards Charlie, grabbing her waist and lifting her off the floor. He sets her down and exclaims, “I know who it is! Thanks.”
“Who the fuck was that?” Deanna demands as Charlie laughs. Michael’s already half-way out the door though so he pays her no mind.
He still catches Charlie’s response over the jingling of the bells though, “That’s a man who just needed a little help finding The One.”
“You!” Michael cries as he throws the door open. The whole office stops and looks up but he only has eyes for Gavin. The Brit’s eyebrows raise as Michael crosses the short distance between them. “You’re coming with me.”
“What?” Gavin asks, voice squeaky.
Michael ignores Gavin’s confusion – and Ray’s proud smile – and grabs Gavin wrist, tugging him up from his seat. Michael keeps his grip tight (because Gavin can be a slippery bastard, he’s learned) but not so tight that Gavin will start whining about it. Gavin’s stumbling along behind Michael as he drags them towards the break room, probably one of the only places they’ll be able to get any sort of privacy, short of Burnie’s office. (And he really does not want to do this in Burnie’s office.)
“Out!” he barks at the few employees dicking around the room. Lindsay’s one of them and she smiles fondly at the two of them before she grabs Barbra’s arm and tugs her from the room. The rest scurry out after the two women, muttering under their breaths about “fucking Rage Quit”.
Once the door is closed, Michael backs Gavin into the nearest wall. He glares at Gavin who nervously glances around the room, refusing to look at Michael.
“When did your clock stop?”
The question causes Gavin’s attention to snap back to Michael, eyes wide and holding just a hint of fear. Michael’s nervousness comes back full force before he reminds himself that he’s right; Gavin’s his. The nerves fall away at the thought and something bigger, brighter, takes its spot. Happiness.
But Gavin blinks and the green eyes (the most perfect shade) become guarded. “Months ago,” he replies, pulling his hoodie’s sleeves over his hands. Michael knows he’s lying and it’s making his blood burn. “When I was still in England. It stopped then.”
“Liar,” Michael snarls, coming closer to Gavin until they’re practically chest to chest.
“What is it any of your concern? It’s mine! And if I said it stopped months ago, it stopped months ago!”
“It did not! At least, not when you were in fucking England,” Michael snaps, using a mocking posh tone for the final word. His blood has reached his boiling point and Michael reaches for Gavin’s left arm. Gavin holds it above his head, using that few inches to his advantage. “Tell me the fucking truth!”
“I am telling you the fucking truth,” Gavin returns the mocking tone and that’s what sets Michael off.
“You British prick,” Michael snarls.
What was supposed to be a nice moment filled with confessions and apologies and first kisses turns into an impromptu wrestling match. Michael continues to reach for Gavin’s arm as the other squirms and fights it. Gavin slips out from his position against the wall but Michael’s learned most of Gavin’s tricks and trips him. Gavin starts to fall but Michael follows the Brit’s descent as he grabs Michael, hoping to steady himself. They land and continue to scuffle on the floor until Michael has Gavin pinned, straddling his hips, a hand holding both of Gavin’s wrists by his head.
They’re both panting and Gavin’s has both malice and defeat in his eyes as Michael shoves his hoodie sleeve up, revealing an empty soul counter, just like Gavin said.
“Just tell me,” Michael says, voice on the line of pleading.
Gavin says nothing and refuses to look at him, lying his head to the side, staring to the right. “Gav.”
“Shut it, you knob.”
“No. When did it stop? Honestly?”
Gavin stubbornly abstains from speaking.
“Tell me, you fucker!” Michael shouts.
“When I met you, you git!” Gavin shouts back, finally looking at Michael. His eyes are on fire and Michael wants to kiss him right now but there are some things that need to be discussed first.
There’s a world of weight off of his shoulders as Michael asks, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Yours is still ticking, right? It figures.” Gavin’s voice is flat and he goes back to staring at the fridge. Michael lowers his hips until he’s fully sitting on Gavin, releasing his wrists and placing his hands on the man’s waist. Gavin instantly brings his arms in, crossing them over his chest: protecting himself, Michael notices. “So I couldn’t say a bloody thing.”
“Why does it figure?” Michael asks. Gavin stays silent so he squeezes his thighs causing Gavin to look at him. “Tell me.”
“I’ve had problems with my counter for almost a year,” Gavin whispers. Michael reaches forward and gently pulls Gavin’s left hand from its crossed position and holds it. Gavin stares at their cupped palms as he continues. “I’ve been a part of the RoosterTeeth website from its conception. I loved it, all of it. I was on top of all the newest things and one day, its newest thing was called RageQuit. You. So I watched your videos. They were so funny, so ridiculous.”
Michael feels himself start to turn red but he ignores it and stays silent.
“And the first moment I heard your voice, my counter flickered.”
“What?” Michael asks, confused.
“Yeah,” Gavin replies. “When I first clicked on the link, my counter read about eleven months but when your voice came into my headphones, it flickered to zero before bouncing back. Like it was confused. Like the damn thing thought it met my soul mate but knew it wasn’t time yet.”
Michael feels floored. What Gavin’s saying is something that he’s sure has never been taught in a university class or even told to the scholars who’ve spent their lives studying the Counters. Michael comes back to the situation when Gavin keeps talking.
“And every video I watched after that, the stupid thing would flicker every single time. I got the hint; you were my soul mate and I was almost meeting you before the time. And I’m impatient, if you haven’t noticed.”
“I’ve noticed,” Michael says. The words must have reminded Gavin of the situation because he starts to pull his left hand back but Michael twists their hands until they’re interlaced. Gavin stops fidgeting and stares up at Michael.
“I heard from a few people that Geoff and Jack wanted to start Achievement Hunter and I really wanted in. So I got on my xBox, sent Geoff a message, and started playing video games with him. He wanted to bring me on as soon as they got an okay but my counter still said six months.”
“So you waited.”
Gavin nods. “I’ve known you were mine for almost a year before I actually met you. And then I met you are you were even more amazing IRL and my counter stopped the moment you entered the room but yours didn’t and now I have to live with the fact that I’m yours but you’re not mine and your clock is still ticking and I’d really appreciate it if you let me get up because I want to go hide and never come back.”
Successfully yanking his hand away, Gavin starts to struggle but Michael’s not having any of it, especially now that he knows everything Gavin’s had to go through just to get to him; how much Gavin was willing to go through for someone as stupid as him. Michael doesn’t budge but he grabs Gavin’s flailing hands, holding them together in his palms.
“Michael, please,” Gavin says weakly. “Let me go.”
“I’ll let you go if you let me show you something.”
Gavin sighs. “Fine. I doubt it’ll change anything.”
“It’ll change everything.”
He lets Gavin’s hands go and they fall uselessly to his chest. Slowly, Michael reaches for the left sleeve on his hoodie and pushes it back, revealing his green counter. He turns it towards Gavin and Michael feels all of the breath leave Gavin’s body.
“Zeros…” he whispers, reaching forward and grabbing Michael’s wrist with both hands. “Yours stopped.”
“Almost a month ago.”
Their eyes lock and Gavin’s are pleading with him for this not to be a joke. Michael smiles wide and soft, sliding back just a little so Gavin can sit up. Once he’s vertical, Michael crosses his legs behind Gavin’s back.
“Me?” Gavin whispers, staring at the zeros painting Michael’s wrist.
“You.” Michael answers. “I didn’t notice before. My bad.”
“Better late than never,” Gavin answers. He starts to laugh and Michael is amazed at how the whole room lights up around them. “You are a fucking idiot.”
Michael knows Gavin’s response before he says it (“Make me.”) so he bridges the small space between them and presses his lips against Gavin’s. Gavin drops his arm and sneaks his hands to Michael’s back, pulling him closer and drinking him in like a parched man. Michael tips his head to the right as Gavin mimics to the left and they move together effortlessly, like they were made for this moment.
Gavin licks at Michael’s lips and he opens for his soul mate and thinks to himself, We were made for this moment.