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When the universe leaves you to fill in the blanks

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It’s supposed to be like this:

Hidden, exposed, painted, tattooed or bare, that sliver of skin on your wrist does not belong to you alone. At some point in your life, you will find someone else’s name written there, and that person will be your soulmate. It might not happen quickly and it might not be an easy romance, but eventually – eventually it will happen.

That’s the promise.

Gavin does not believe in that promise anymore. Sweating in the Texas summer, he’s hanging onto the last half of his twenties and still blank as ever. The beach is brimming with young people parading about to show off their soulmates’ names and submerge themselves in the scandals brought on by t-shirt season.

It's not that Gavin isn't happy for them. He’s just tired of the glances they send. Ugly pity, unwanted kindness, like they’re all so sorry for him. And it’s not like not having a soulmate bothers him most of the time. He’s got plenty of other things to worry about. Being one of the most wanted men in town, for one. The job tomorrow. The fact that Michael hasn’t showed up yet even though he promised they’d go swimming. Now it’s getting late and golden sunglasses hide Gavin’s eyes as he wanders along a rocky breakwater, finding a boulder to sit on with his feet dipping into the sea.

He doesn’t relax as much as he could. Being alone, his thoughts tend to turn inwards and contort in various ways, boredom making him borderline cruel. He’s thinking about tomorrow, eagerly awaiting the chases and firefights because that’s when he feels the closest to the rest of the crew. When everything between all six of them dissolves into laughter and yelling and sometimes concern, that’s the moment Gavin lives for.

People are leaving the beach. So many couples. He should have brought his camera: The waves look pretty as the sun nears the horizon. The unpredictable movement of the crowd would make for a pretty timelapse. A group of boys in their early twenties run past like tumbleweeds with dust clouds in their wake. Glimpses of their naked wrists: Patricia. Clara. Steve.

”Can I sit here or what?”

Gavin turns his head to see Michael, who crouches uneasily on the rocks. At first he’s embarrassed that he didn’t hear Michael coming – he’d gotten lost in thought, but Michael doesn’t mention it. Perhaps he could not tell.

Gavin says ”Sure” and moves a little to the left.

They end up sitting side by side – not very close, but close enough that it feels like there is some kind of purpose to it.

“Sorry I’m late,” Michael says. “I honestly thought you’d gone home by now. I sent you a text and everything.”

“Didn’t see it.”

“So you’ve just been sitting here?”

Gavin shrugs. ”It’s hot out. ‘S pretty nice.” A lame thing to say, but true enough, even as the day comes to a slow and steady end. He pulls his knees up and looks out across the sea to where the blue contrasts sharply with the warm colours of the sky. Refracted light makes the same colors meet on Michael’s face. His freckles are showing up again, Gavin notices. This time of year already, huh?

”There’s a helicopter out there,” Michael says, pointing to a shadow diving behind a cloud. A white trail of condensation spirals behind it.

”Think it’s the cops?” Gavin breathes.

”Might be Jack for all I know.”

“What were you doing? Instead of being here, I mean.”

Michael folds up his pants, revealing old blue marks as he prepares to get his feet into the water. “Mixing some bombs. That kind of thing. I lost track of time, to be honest with you.” He sighs, splashing water around with strips of black seaweed caught between his toes. ”…This damn beach is getting really overgrown.”

“True.”

“Did you at least swim?”

“Nah. Didn’t feel like it.”

Michael’s feet sink back down as his brows furrow. “Everything alright?”

About to give another one-word response, Gavin catches himself. He can tell Michael whatever. ”I’m  a lil’ bit down and out today, ’s all.”

Michael leans forward, trying to catch Gavin’s eyes. Casually, he makes an offer: ”Anything I can do? Anyone try to fuck with you?” There’s an implicit mention of the baseball bat always in the trunk of Michael’s car, but there’s no need for it now and Gavin respectfully declines.

”Nah.”

There’s not much to do but sit side-by-side and watch the sun sink. Michael checks his phone and Gavin does the same, so they’re not really talking. Something wonderful happens anyway - just Michael being there is enough to make Gavin’s pent-up negativity ebb away. When they do talk, there’s room for snide comments about the whole damn city and the idiocy of the police; Michael shows snapshots of a barricade before and after the Vagabond came crashing through.

”He stole dynamite for us.” Michael says it in the same tone of voice as he bought me flowers.

“You know you can just buy it online, right?”

“What’s the fun in that?”

“Point taken,” Gavin concedes. He takes Michael’s phone, studying the black skull mask up close. “Bet they think the man’s a right monster.” An impulse strikes him as he remembers Ryan’s face on one of the rare occasions he was without the black skull mask – he’s never seen his bare wrists. ”D’ya think Rye has a soulmate?”

Michael nods slowly. ”Sure, why not?”

”Think he’d ever tell us?”

”I think you’re gonna try to make him.”

But Gavin can respect that anyone might want to keep that kind of information close to their body. Ryan especially. ”That’d just be rude,” he huffs.

It’s the same reason he has never asked Michael the same question.

He has an idea, though. When he gives the phone back, he sees Michael’s wrist and there’s nothing there. Gavin always feels awkward staring at that. He doesn’t look at Michael’s body too long – not the naked parts, not at his bare skin. And Michael could, for all Gavin knows, be like Ryan, who covers up his wrist in makeup to hide the letters. It is easy enough with the right concealer.

Gavin came clean early, and there was no pity for him in the crew, only shrugs and brief acknowledgements and some lighthearted riffing. It fits well enough with his fickle persona – not bound to anyone, above such things as petty romantic troubles.

(It’d be nice if it was true).

Gavin catches himself thinking about Michael sometimes. Times like these, when the red light of the setting sun hits them and Michael is grinning because of something he’s found on Twitter. He’s about to show Gavin the video, but Gavin doesn’t want to look at anything but the sand sticking to Michael’s cheek or the way the screen is reflected as a glimmer of light in his eyes. This moment would make a perfect too-good-to-be-true lovely-dovely Instagram post.

Which is why he hesitates and doesn’t say a thing, doesn’t move. He wants to kiss Michael in that moment, but he won’t. There’s no point.

”Do you want to head in?” he asks. Standing up, he finds that the rocks are still seaweed-slippery and the waves reach a little higher now that the tide is coming in. His shoes wait on the sand. Michael leads the way, jumping from rock to rock with secure footing.

Gavin… not so much. A wave hits his feet, the cold water startling him. He squawks, falls - before he knows it, he’s in the air and then in the water, sitting on his ass in the shallow surf. Cool water washes over his back, soaking him completely. When he opens his stinging eyes he sees a beach empty but for Michael, hears noting but the sound of laughter.

Okay, fine, he probably looks ridiculous.

”Did you film it?” he yells.

”Sorry!” comes the response. Michael wades into the water without flinching, extending one hand to pull Gavin up on dry sand.

”Bloody waste then,” Gavin says. He takes the help he is offered, scattering droplets of saltwater on Michael’s hand. They run down his wrists in gentle rivulets and then Gavin can’t help himself – he fills his other hand with water and brings it, cupped, to Michael’s wrist. He erases nothing. ”I thought there might be makeup,” he says. ”But you’re the same as me.”

A crease forms between Michael’s brows. ”Why wouldn’t I be? What kind of person do you think I am to cover something like that up?”

”I don’t know.” Gavin lets go of Michael’s hand though he already misses its heat. ”The kind of person who deserves a real soulmate. I thought you had someone.”

Michael goes quiet. His eyes are fixed on something behind Gavin, who brushes seaweed off of his shoulders.

Oh, fuck. Major faux pas, right there. Gavin wouldn’t care if he had insulted anybody else, but now -    

Suddenly Michael heads past him, out into the water again. Gavin turns and watches him fumble for something underneath the white foam and scattered, floating cigarette butts and bottles. He finally straightens his back and returns waving Gavin’s sunglasses around. ”Almost forgot these, idiot.”

”Thanks.”

Michael hands them over, his fingers brushing against Gavin’s. The glasses are all wet, and Gavin keeps them in his pocket as they head back home. The streets are quiet for once, and there is time to walk slowly with bare feet warmed by the still-hot asphalt.

As they stay side by side, Gavin thinks that if he had a name on his wrist, it would be nice if it was someone like Michael. Knowing for sure that this is not the case, he is wary of letting himself think too long about the other man. About what-if’s and possibilities that won’t come to pass.

They’ve kissed before. Once or twice. The thing is that it only ever happens when at least one of the parties involved has plausible deniability – high from danger, drunk as hell or otherwise unable to remember in the morning. And for the most part, Gavin really can’t remember, and that’s good because a rational part of him says that even if they got together, they would only ever be able to imitate what soulmates are like. Maybe he only feels the way he does because he wants that perfect Instagram shot, and he’s convinced himself, forced himself, to feel. He can’t shake the thought that he just latched onto Michael because he was there and had nobody else, too, and now he’s just pretending there’s something between them.

His fingers trace the shape of his sunglasses in his pocket, and he slows down so he can stare straight ahead at the wolf on Michael’s back. He can’t fathom why on earth Michael insists on wearing that stupid jacket.

 


 

The next day Gavin has sunburns on his neck, which is not only not very stylish, but also distracting. The complacency that many fall victim to in the summer heat has not found a foothold among the Fake AH, where Jack is giving a briefing that Gavin is supposed to be listening to. Gavin mostly focuses on feeling jealous that she gets to wear her short shorts and he has a suit looming in the distance. All six of them surround a table with a laptop showing images of a mansion ripe for some Robin Hood-esque action. It’s mostly Jeremy’s idea; rumor has it that there’s a party coming up... And there’s something about a vault in the basement.

“But!” Geoff cuts in, “We’ll need to distract Mr… What was his name again?”

“Fuck it,” is Jeremy’s response. “What is it we always call them? Can we get a code name for the mark?”

“Flynt Coal,” Michael suggests.

“Coal it is,” Geoff agrees. It’s the easiest to choose a name they’ve used before when there’s a chance they might be screaming it over comms or bad radio-equipment later on. They’ve had a few Flynt Coals, and every time they use that or any other nickname he’s invented, Gavin feels a bit proud of himself. That good feeling fades, however, when Geoff’s eyes come to rest on him. “Is that a job for you, Gavin?”

“Why me?”

“You’ve got that old fake-name hustle, and he’s got a name but not the soulmate yet…”

So that’s the deal. Gavin really doesn’t feel like playing that particular trick, but if that is what stands between them and the vault full of gold bars or whatever… He has scammed people like Coal before, nervously, awkwardly, but still. He could do it. 

“You don’t look thrilled about it,” Michael says. “How ‘bout I go in with him in disguise and get ready to haul him out when shit goes south?”

Jeremy points with a dry-erase marker and shakes his head. “No. We need you on explosives. Jack’s our driver, Ryan’s armed and ready to make a run for it with the cash, Geoff’s gonna be… What are you going to be doing, Geoff?”

“I was hoping for an open bar sort of party.”

“…They’ll recognize you the moment you show those tattoos and you stupid face in public-“

“I’ll wear gloves!” Geoff straightens his back and adds a somewhat pitiful sounding, “I’m scouting out the ballroom.  Aren’t I the boss or what?”

Michael turns to Gavin and lays a hand on his shoulder. “You gonna be alright in there with Geoff?”

“I’ll be fine,” Gavin says.


 

He thinks it all through during the day and on the car ride to the mansion. It’s not terrible; He will not be straight in the line of fire in the case that Coal’s bodyguards realize what is happening. As long as nobody recognizes him, he should be fine to keep talking to Coal until he can make a quick escape. He’ll hop into the getaway car… And Michael will have set off an explosion earlier, so he’ll still smell of gunpowder and smoke. That’s what Gavin looks most forward to. Small pleasures, he thinks, fiddling with his butterfly. Why on earth he ever decided to buy a white suit, he no longer remembers. It’s going to be hell to get bloodstains out…

He leans against the window, settling into the backseat. Jack is driving, having already dropped the rest of the crew off at their designated locations. There’s no visible stress on her face yet. Just new lipstick and a floral band-aid on her brow.  

“Did you get the name on?” she asks.

Gavin nods, catching a glimpse of his face in the rear-view mirror. He looks confident. He’s run this hustle several times before. He turns his wrist to check that the temporal tattoo still looks perfect. Flynt Coal’s real name. Awfully boring.

“And I’m pretending to be…?” he asks.

Geoff pulls up a picture on his phone and shows Gavin a candid snap of Coal’s arm where a sleeve has ridden up just enough to expose a name. Then he grins. “Alex.”

“I bet he’s crossing his fingers it’s a girl,” Gavin says. “Might be a bit of a hard sell.”

Geoff shrugs. “I believe in you, buddy.”

“Thanks, Geoffery.”

The driveway-gravel crunches under the wheels as Jack pulls up. Gavin more or less kicks open the door and emerges into the yellow light spilling out of the mansion windows. He wasn’t allowed to bring his sunglasses – too recognizable, apparently – but he gets an instinctive urge to hide his eyes here. Well, there’s no time for that. He tries not to look too much in Geoff’s direction and heads in. There are guards at the door – the classic flavor all in black with intimidating stares and packing at least some heavy-duty stun-guns. Gavin passes between them like a breeze, flashing an invitation. Fake, of course. Ryan knocked out a man who had one and then it was easy for the good old B-team to make a good copy.

Gavin takes a deep breath and reminds himself that he knows this as he enters the ballroom.  

In the whirling crowd, Geoff locates the bar while Gavin locates Coal. People mull about in fine dress everywhere, as colorful as the pictures on the walls. So much modern art. Might be worth coming back to liberate that, too, if any of the Fakes knew what to do with it. Gold and cash – that’s easy to know the value of. And Coal must be pretty loaded judging by the amount of uniformed severs bringing glasses and dainty foods to groups of chatting guests. The tables are covered in burgundy tablecloths and golden-orange flower arrangements. Striding across the floor, Gavin almost believes he can hear echoes of footsteps as Michael, Jeremy and Ryan infiltrate through the kitchen and cellar, headed for the vault. If they show up on cameras– and he knows they’re not the stealthiest of types - it’ll be over unless someone else keeps Coal occupied

There. Up a staircase, on the balcony. Matching the Facebook-photo – yeah, that’s Coal. Black-and-white suit, as classic as his guards. Gavin snatches a glass of champagne from a tray for some liquid courage. Then he makes eye contact. Not too much, not too long. Just enough to get noticed. Then he acts surprised, one hand darting down to rub his wrist though it is mostly feigned out of fear of ruining the temporal tattoo. He has practiced the expression in the mirror, and if he does it right, he should look awestruck and afraid all at once.

The look on Coal’s face tells him that he did get it right. It lasts only a moment, but soon Coal is making his way down the stairs. Before Gavin can figure out where Geoff is in all of this, Coal is upon him. He smells like the wrong kind of smoke. Cigarettes and cancer. Otherwise he seems okay, early thirties with a sly smirk on his face. The lights give a golden tinge to his dark skin, matching the details on his tie. Gavin tenses in the jaw; gold is his look. But he can’t let anything negative show.

“Have we met?” Coal asks, squinting a little.

Gavin gives a calm, confident smile. “I don’t think so... But I’m glad I came.”

“It is a very lovely evening so far.”

“Oh,” Gavin says, forcing the English accent up, “I bet it can get even lovelier.”

“Is that so?” Coal starts walking, motioning for Gavin to follow.

“Yeah. The name’s Alex.” Now a little false uncertainty – he’s supposed to look like everything is hanging by a thread, like he is in love already just at first sight –

Coal looks at him closely, eyes wide. “Wow,” he says.

And that’s it. Gavin knows he’s got Coal on the hook. When people want to fall in love, they’ll convince themselves that’s what they’re feeling. Idly, he wonders if Coal is a lonely man. It doesn’t always go over this easy.

They show each other the soulmate-marks and Gavin’s heart beats faster out of nervous concern for his friends underneath the floor. He doesn’t feel much pity for Coal. Even if he is desperate for a soulmate, he can take comfort in knowing he’ll find his Alex eventually, if only he waits long enough, and he’s got the wine and women he wants to make it a comfortable wait.

“Let’s go somewhere more private,” Gavin says. Most of the time this would be awfully forward – but when you have just met your soulmate? He makes Coal believe that he can’t take his eyes off of his gaudy tie and too-small eyes, that he can’t wait to pour out his heart to make sure they match. They head back up and then out onto a balcony where cool evening air makes the suit a little more bearable to wear. Gavin ladles out lies and half-truths in equal measures. He stumbles on the way to the bannister, but keeps himself from swearing. He says he’s clumsy like it’s a cute endearing trait. He says he hates boredom, gesturing towards the party, but not that it makes him borderline murderous. Coal keeps looking at him. Gavin looks out across the garden.

The lawn is freshly mowed, the scent still noticeable. Outside the range of the lights, shrubs and bushes lie in shadow. Gavin looks to this dark border. He sees something moving between rhododendrons. A shadow. Michael. He is rushing from hiding spot to hiding spot, making his way to the mansion from God knows where – maybe he forgot something? Maybe he saw or heard something? He’s alright, it seems, though Gavin finds it hard to turn back to Coal and pretend he didn’t see anything. Michael had at least a couple dozen sticks of dynamite with him. The vault is fucked and now Gavin needs to focus on its owner, pretending they're going to fuck. 

Coal places his hand on Gavin’s on the banister.

He's gentle.

Gavin pretends to like it and tries not to dry-heave. Fingers brush against his wrist. Those names get to dictate Coal’s love-life. Now Gavin feels pity... Then he feels an explosion more than he hears it; the building shakes a little bit and back in the ballroom there are screams.

“What was-?” Coal gasps.

“I don’t know,” Gavin replies. This is his moment. “I’m sure it’s all under control, right? Your security looked really good down there. Did you hire them personally?”

“It’s just- I – “ Coal glances over his shoulder. People are whispering and chatting in the ballroom. “I think my guests need me. I’ll call someone and then-”

And then you’re going into the basement, Gavin thinks. Calling the police. Not on my watch.

“Please don’t,” he says, thinking quickly, grapping onto Coal’s sleeve. “We only get one first meeting. Stay here. Let someone else handle it.”

“…I know.” Coal turns back. Still looking at Gavin. Good.

“I’ve been waiting years for this.”

“I hope I’ll be worth it.”

“I think so.” Gavin steps closer. He has never felt so fake in his entire life. “I definitely think so. Before you go…”

He hates the smell of Coal, but he takes a deep breath like he wants any of that scent in his lungs.

He draws out the moment. “Please,” he whispers, wordlessly adding that they should linger in the breeze a little longer with a light touch… He is sure there’s another Alex out there who likes just this kind of man. He is sure his acting is good enough that Coal can see the hint and take it.

An alarm goes off, siren blaring. Someone yells about calling the cops. A guard comes running but only Gavin sees him – “Sir, there’s an emergency!”

Coal twitches and unfortunately, he looks down onto the lawn. Now it’s Ryan's silhouette – unmistakable with that skull mask – followed by Jeremy who holds onto his cowboy hat for dear life. They’ve got bags full of money and a trail of grey smoke. Coal has a gun. The guard might have given it to him, or he could have had it hidden somewhere all along. Gavin doesn’t know, because he can only watch the exhilarated look on Jeremy's face down below and recognize the same excitement bubbling up inside himself.

Coal takes aim but Gavin pretends nothing is serious, nothing bad is happening, he’s in love - he doesn’t want to be kissed or held now when all he can think of is the police and if Jack is close, if Geoff has been found out. But he presses his lips against Coal’s and pretends to melt. Coal can’t fire the gun like this, and when they part, he can’t gather himself enough to lead the security in any decisive way. No orders escape his lips; they were soft but did not push against Gavin’s the way he wanted – wants - and the hand on his waist did nothing for him. Coal stands still, stunned.

Gavin steals his gun and takes one step away. He thinks about taking one of Jack’s knives and carving that name straight out of Coal’s body.

Then he takes aim and fires once, aiming for Coal's shoulder. Flesh wound. Instead of sticking around to see the sticky red results, he starts running.

In the ballroom, he has no problem picking Geoff out of the panicking crowd – the man is waving a broken bottle around, headed for the front door like the whole house is filled with snakes. Gavin catches up though he’s out of breath already, and before the two security guards at the door can comprehend the shouted command to get them, right now, he is breathing fresh evening air. Floodlights have turned on all over the lawn, sirens blaring in the distance to join the howls of the alarm. It doesn’t matter. Jack is coming around the bend in an armored car – but she’s worried, and Ryan shows up covered in ash and coughing.

“Where’s-“ Gavin begins, but Ryan cuts him off.

“Michael’s still back there.”

Gavin clenches his hands into fists but stays still only for a moment. Alright, then. He’s well aware that he’s got guards right behind him and the others can’t wait long, so he sets off across the garden as fast as he can. It’s not impressive, but he does not need to go far to see the smoke swelling and bursting from a hole in the building. A half-collapsed wall, burning shrubs. Michael, somewhere inside it. Gavin calls out but gets no reply.

There are flames inside, and he can’t come very close before the air is too hot to breathe. He stands, watching, contemplating whether to throw himself inside. He’s reckless enough to try it. He takes a deep breath, feels the heat on his face – and then sees a moving shape a little further in, just behind the first curtain of smoke. Thank God, he thinks, and concentrates on reaching just that silhouette. Soon his fingers brush against familiar leather, and Michael takes his hand and lets Gavin pull him out until they both fall to their knees on the lawn. The sprinklers turn on – someone’s bright idea to contain the fire, perhaps – and the cold water helps Gavin stay alert and aware. He drags Michael, coughing and wheezing, to his feet again.

“Run!”

Up ahead the sound of gunfire grows in strength. Michael clumsily searches for his own pistol and, apparently realizing that he can’t take a shot with watery eyes, gives up and trusts Gavin with the shooting. Gavin holds his own heavy weapon but focuses on finding the car again. It is a great black shadow against the trees lining the driveway. They can’t reach it, not in time -

“Drive!” he yells, waving his arms around for emphasis. He exchanges looks with Michael, wordlessly promising they’ll all be alright in the end even as Jack speeds away from the scene of the crime. The two of them can leave the way Michael came, running through the woods around the property.

Gavin’s heart beats so fast and his grip on Michael’s sleeve is tight, but he knows that he can run.

There’s a minute of absolute chaos where he is vaguely aware of firing and hitting one of the guards square in the chest. Of dodging people who are shooting at him. And of his whole body turning light with sheer joy even when it is wrecked by recoil.

The crew splitting up appears to throw the pursuers into disarray; Michael and Gavin run until they reach the shadows between bushes and then the shots stop. Police-radio chatter crackles over Michael’s walkie-talkie, half-smothered by his bag. 

Michael is the first to laugh. When he has caught his breath again, he says, “Wow.” A pause. “That was too much dynamite."

"You think?" Gavin gasps. 

"It looked cool, right? Are you alright?” 

“I’m good,” Gavin answer, looking around to get his bearings. The road is up ahead. There are not yet choppers in the sky. “But next time, I want to be on the fun team.”

“Sounds like he was a tough sell.”

“I had to bloody kiss him! I probably got mouth fungus for you.” Just the thought makes Gavin gag a little, messing up his already messed-up breathing.

“Fuck that." Michael reaches into his back and pulls out a solid gold ingot. "Burn the suit he touched and get a new one.”

“Thanks, boy.”

The banter stops. It has to. Gavin’s gun is pointed at the low-hanging moon, though clouds quickly sweep in to cover it. Shadows move around the garden and lights turn on, but all that yellow and gold don’t reach into the hills.

“I think we’re good,” Gavin says.

Michael lowers his gun without holstering it, swallowing. They move quietly back towards the road that curves around behind the next copse of trees, dodging branches and chasing taillights. Gavin texts Geoff, hoping that his phone doesn’t somehow attract unwanted attention. Pick us up.

While they wait Michael wipes dust off of his face, swaying in the night breeze. “Thank you,” he says.

“For wha’?”

“Coming back for me.”

Gavin shrugs, staring ahead, trying to guess if the shape out there is a police car or not. “Of course I’d come back for you.”

“Still. I fucking love you sometimes.”

“Love you too,” Gavin breathes, and then there’s… silence. At the same instant they both realize what they’ve just said. It came so easy. They smile adrenaline-fueled madmen-smiles, Michael running fingers through singed hair with a sense of pure relief about him -

“Fucking thank you,” he repeats, like the words mean something entirely different. The cadence and tone is all wrong. Or right. Gavin rolls with it, coming closer with his pulse beating in his head.

“Thank me by making sure we don’t almost burn to death next time.”

“Like you haven’t had your gasoline accidents-”

“Those were experiments -!”

Michael pulls Gavin roughly back as the car comes closer, comes to a stop.

It’s theirs.

Gavin gets in, following Jack’s voice, hands and arms pulling him into the backseat, Michael landing on top of him, both of them dripping ash, smearing soot on the seat.

 


 

 Of course they make their escape.

Though it seems perilous at first, the police only chase them so far before they lose them on backroads and in the dark.

Ryan and Jeremy have the prize on their laps. Geoff somehow found the time to kidnap a bottle of wine, and he strokes his moustache as he studies the label – as if he knows what he’s doing, Gavin thinks. He himself brings only a sour taste in his mouth and the bitter tang of smoke. The fake name is long scratched off his wrist, Coal's gun abandoned in a ditch.  

They find their way not to the penthouse – they’re not going straight back into the city looking like they do – but to a smaller safehouse settled an hour’s drive away. He sees Jack’s reflection in the mirrors and she looks proud.

They drive through the night and spill out in front of the house with only stars above them, no police choppers, no planes. They can barely see each other in the dark. Geoff swears as he stubs his toe on the doorjamb and Ryan is a black shadow in his wake.

Inside, it’s cold. Damp beds. Quiet, which is appreciated. After taking stock of the building, Ryan volunteers for lookout duty and leaves the rest of the crew to their thoughts and their slumber, all too tired for revelry as they come down from adrenaline highs. Gavin likes this slump, too, the way they lazily smile at each other. Usually there’s no more talking now.

He goes upstairs and finds a bedroom where Michael is already setting up, scattering sheets and pillows over two single beds.

“Should be good enough for one night,” Michael says.

Gavin nods and claims one of the beds as he takes off his suit jacket. He cleans his mouth in a bathroom where he finds one of Jack’s old undershirts forgotten in a dusty corner – sloppy, that; a potential clue that he’s not going to do anything about. He’ll just wipe the sweat off of his face and go back to find Michael on his phone. The whole room is blue in the light from the small screen.

“Turn it off,” Gavin says. “Or turn on some other lights. You’re ruining my eyes.”

“If you’re finally done with the bathroom. I need a shower.” Michael gets up, stretches his arms. New bruises, blue marks along his shoulders. “Did you bring cologne?”

Gavin throws himself onto the bed, limbs sprawling every which way. Maybe he looks stupid. Who cares here where there are no crowd to watch him? No cameras, no on-lookers. “Why would I?”

“I can smell it from here.”

“That could be from anyone in the party.” But I probably know who.

“True.” Stopping halfway through the door, Michael turns. “How was it up there? Because the basement sucked, let me tell you that. Though the vault was fun. And the guards…” He mimics shooting a gun, two fingers blowing out imaginary brains. Gavin understands why that shower is so urgently needed now.

“I’ve done that scam with the names a couple times,” Gavin says. “This time, it got me thinking, though.”

“About…?”

“Things,” Gavin shrugs.

I fucking love you.

Michael gives him his space and Gavin lies back, listening to the sound of his shower, turning thoughts over in his head as he waits.

It’s not supposed to be like this.

Six criminals getting away with it. Michael’s bloody jacket on the floor. Gavin free to scroll through his phone, uploading another taunting Instagram photo of himself with the golden haul. Bad people having good lives. What kind of world is that?

Michael comes back yawning and dripping wet. The dust and blood washed so easily off, it seems.

“What’re you doing?”

“Pictures,” Gavin replies.

Michael sits down on the other bed, just a short gap between them. He’s in boxers and a towel, but the bare wrist makes him as good as naked. He leans back against the wall. Then he grins. Gavin shifts uneasily, knowing that good things rarely come from that.

“I was thinking too,” Michael says. His eyes meet Gavin’s for just a moment before he glances away again. “Could I get your name tattooed on me?”

“What.”

“Would that be alright?”

Gavin stares. It’s too sudden for him to wrap his head around. Maybe he’s always been the more withdrawn one, more worried about commitment, but this is a whole other level. Michael looks like he just asked if he could borrow a pen. Would that be alright?  

“Like we’re soulmates?”

Nodding slightly, Michael comes closer. “I know none of us are supposed to have one-“

“Because we’re both blank,” Gavin interrupts. “Yeah. You never talked about it. I didn’t know how you felt about…” His eyes drift towards Michael’s wrist. “That.”

Michael puts his hands back into the pockets of his jacket. “Never talked about it, no. It’s not something I feel the whole world needs to know, Gav.”

Sitting up and straightening his back, Gavin brings them eye to eye. “It bothers you.”

“…Wouldn’t that be the normal thing to feel? …I realize this sounds rich coming from a guy with a rocket launcher, but yeah, I wanted someone eventually. Like... a family.”

“Aren’t we your family?”

Michael sighs in soft agreement. ”You are. It’s just that… It sucks to feel that something’s gone wrong, right? I mean, you’re the same-“

“Maybe I like not having a stupid name on me, telling me who to fall in love with.” Though there is undoubtedly something harsh in Gavin’s tone, he’s relieved to see that Michael doesn’t get upset. He realizes, then, that he isn’t afraid of Michael’s reaction like with Coal, like with so many other people. No need for acting. Michael won’t push him away. “But I’ve also thought that… Maybe there is something wrong. For Christ’s sake, Michael, we blow up buildings.”

“True. And?”

“We’re not good people. Maybe it’s different for us. When we’re together - me and you - people die. We blow up buildings! A little more C4 or another stick of bloody dynamite and you’d be gone by now. I have theories! Maybe we're just fundamentally not the kind of people who get soulmates. Or maybe there’s a tragedy just up ahead and that’s why we don’t have each other’s names...”

In the silence that follows, Gavin looks out the window, seeing his own red-rimmed eyes staring back at him. He needs a good night’s sleep. He needs Michael to say something, but he doesn’t quite know what.

Michael shifts forward, and suddenly there’s no space between them anymore. They’re both out on the edges of their mattresses, knees knocking together.

“So what if we’re not good people? What’s your point? You’re saying you don’t think we deserve soulmates or something like that? We’ve never been about getting what we deserve.” Michael’s knuckles are white and his face is a little red. “Even if everything goes south - fuck fate, Gavin, let’s go all Bonnie and Clyde on this shit.”

“That’s one way to look at it.” Not knowing what to do with his hands, Gavin ends up placing one on Michael’s leg. “ ... I’m just unsure about a lot of… this. Thought maybe I was just projecting into you. Just acting.”

Their eyes meet. That’s all it takes before all the gold in the world doesn’t matter. Even though Gavin wants to kiss Michael it does not become an irresistible urge – there’s no time limit, no point at which they will wake from a stupor and it will be too late. He feels something slower, a desire built to last now that he dares to accept it.

“This isn’t acting,” he says. “I was acting earlier today, and it felt so fake I wanted to puke. This doesn't. This is real.” He takes Michael’s hand and lifts it, turning it over and stroking his thumb over the soft underside of his wrist. "I know that now."

In the end they lie together, two bodies in a single bed in what would be a single white line of moonlight were it not for headlights, porch lamps, distant signal masts. Michael's life is on the floor around them, in small pieces dragged along in his bag or forgotten from the last time they had to hide away. Old pictures and the safety pins that used to keep them pinned to the walls. Socks he never got around to putting back into drawers. Open video game cases, soda cans. Gavin takes it all in, and then he reaches out, picking a pen from the mess. With his other hand he lifts Michael's wrist into the light.

“Here’s a thought,” Gavin whispers. “Let’s just treat this as a write-in space.”

Michael does not speak. He waits, looking puzzled but staying quiet.

Gavin places the tip on Michael's skin and writes. He catches Michael's scent when he inhales slowly to keep his drawing hand steady, and his own name appears there letter by letter. He looks up.

That grin again. “Whatever happens.”

Gavin hands over the pen and is pretty sure his heart stops working for a split second while Michael writes. “At least we have this.”

“They’re all going to stare at breakfast,” Michael mumbles, caught in that sleepy drawl Gavin loves.

“Let them.”

Gavin flexes his hand, pushing it into the light.

On his wrist is a promise he can believe in.