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Just Another Damn Day

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It is too early for this shit.

Michael’s eyes are half-lidded as he hunts for a cold RedBull. He curses when he realizes that Gavin’s stupid bragging about having the last chilled energy drink is true — the fridge is empty. Grumbling darkly, Michael slams the fridge door closed, sourly thinking to himself Gavin didn’t even need it that bad while sorely rubbing his tired eyes.

It was Friday – all he had to do was survive the rest of the day and then he could pass out at home on the couch, hopefully with Ray beside him.

They’d spent the night on the couch, co-op completing an insanity run for a video scheduled for tomorrow. Gavin had cheered them on before giving up halfway through and falling asleep on the couch. Michael and Ray eventually finished, but the cost was steep – practically no sleep and work the next day.

Hell, Ray’s probably snoozing at his desk as Michael continues to stare absently at the wall in front of him.

Cursing to himself, Michael hunts around in search of a pick-me-up. There are no Monsters or Redbulls — crunch time for the animators often left the kitchen ransacked. There is some coffee left, however. Pouring himself a big cup, Michael takes a swallow that burns a trail down the back of his throat.

“Yes,” he groans in satisfaction, the caffeine already causing his eyes to bug slightly. He sets the cup down on the counter and savors the feeling.

A light tap on his shoulder rouses him out of his doze, and he turns slowly, stifling a yawn and blinking.

He misses the view of a fist flying at his face.

Pain explodes in his nose, the shockwave from the powerful punch sending him reeling. Back hitting the front of the fridge, his hands automatically shoot up to cover his nose. Something warm and wet slicks his fingers, and curses fall freely from his lips.

Rough hands grab his shoulders and throw him to the ground, his right wrist colliding painfully with the hard tile when he tries to catch himself. As he hits the floor, feet thud by him, four men dressed in all black stampeding into the rest of the building. Screams pierce the air.

A similarly dressed figure grabs the front of Michael’s shirt and yanks him to his feet. Michael is crowded back into the front entrance hall, forcefully shoved against the wall that connects the lobby to the AH office.

The man has slick brown hair and startling black eyes, the color seeming oddly out of place in his face. The predatory bloodlust in his eyes give Michael pause, his stomach churning, palms sweating.

“Where are all the entrances?” the man demands in a silky voice. Michael glances down, spotting a firearm clipped to the man’s waist.

Michael licks his lips and tastes blood, looking back into the man’s stare with wide eyes. Despite the fear resting shrill and biting on his tongue, his voice comes out detached and cold as he says, “I don’t know.”

The man’s sharp eyes narrow, one hand releasing Michael’s shirt so he can press his forearm into Michael’s throat.

“You lyin’ to me, you little shit?” the man growls, voice gruff. “Where are the entrances to the building?”

Michael swallows, the motion tight and uncomfortable against his Adam’s apple. The words are out of his mouth before he can think better of them: “Fuck you, that’s where they are.”

The man looks surprised, easing up on his throat as he double-takes. He’s about to reply, but when one of his… cohorts rounds the corner, the man once more digs the edge of his forearm into Michael’s windpipe.

“Should we start rounding up?” the new man asks knowingly, looking at Michael with a critical eye. He’s tall with black spiky hair and small, brown eyes. “The upstairs and downstairs are gathered in warehouse in back. One outside entrance, no windows; the safest.”

Michael’s attacker nods in agreement, looking pleasantly surprised at this good news.

“The other men are checking the rest of the building as we speak,” the man continues. “Going through rooms.”

Michael’s heart stills in his chest. His boyfriends are holed up just feet from them, oblivious to the sudden disaster that is quickly unraveling at Rooster Teeth. Gus’ office is empty, the older man away on a trip with Burnie and Joel in Australia. If possible, Michael’s stomach sinks lower, mind working quickly and realizing that with Matt out of the office for a meeting, only Geoff is left as one of the main supervisors. The thought of his oldest lover in such a dangerous situation make Michael’s hands clench against the wall.

True to Michael’s prediction, the second man turns to leave the entrance hall but hesitates upon seeing the closed black door. He widens his stance and places one hand on the doorknob, the other unsheathing the weapon from his hip.

Michael has no real explanation for his behavior. Panic overrides him. The sight of the gun — the real, glimmering metal, the glint of cold and unforgiving steel under the lights — forces his mind out of its shocked state, and he bursts from his captor’s grip, easily breaking the light hold on his neck.

He lunges at the man, ignoring the gun entirely as he tackles him, yelling the entire time. His voice is deafening. The loud scream bounces off the walls, familiar in tone but foreign with the thick layer of actual fear, actual emotion behind what is normally mindless shouting.

He has a brief moment to wonder if his friends and coworkers thought he was dying as he and the man crash to the floor. He has no time, however, to yell out any sort of warning to his boyfriends when rough, unforgiving hands wrap tight around his throat from behind, his desperate shriek cutting off with a choked snarl. He feels the man he’d tackled moving out from under him, Michael able to do nothing but gasp for air as he scrambles for purchase on the fingers clenching around his windpipe.

Once the other man was out from under him, the hands relax, and Michael wheezes in gulps of air. The hands move to his hair, finding a good handful and dragging Michael to his feet.

His original attacker meets his eyes with a shockingly light gaze, looking more curious than anything else.

The door to the Achievement Hunter office opens with a loud bang.

“Michael—?” Gavin starts.

All goes quiet at the scene just in front of the door, confusion and terror engulfing his expression.

Geoff’s quick on his feet when he wants to be, but the time it takes him to go from his desk to in front of Gavin has to be a record.

Michael can pick out the moment Geoff realizes what exactly is happening; his eyes go flat, devoid of all emotion and looking, quite frankly, dead.

“Do not move,” the man warns, clicking off the safety and pointing the barrel directly at Geoff’s chest. Geoff doesn’t hesitate to raise his hands in a show of submission, not moving but instead watching the man closely.

The man kicks the black door open wider, exposing the rest of the AH crew in the room. It’s almost comical — their synchronized paralyzation.

“Out,” the man with the pulled gun barks, swinging the barrel towards the hallway in obvious encouragement.

No one moves, the only sound their shuddered breathing.

“Out, out,” the man demands, voice rising.

Geoff gives the man a wide berth as he steps from the room. The rest of the Hunters follow, stunned.

A sharp tug in his hair makes Michael’s breath hitch as he looks back to his own personal tormentor. As the gun-wielding man herd his boyfriends into the other part of the building, the man in front of Michael seems to have no drive to do so. Instead, he leans into Michael, pressing Michael into the wall.

“I like you,” the man decides, grinning. “I like mouthy people. They remind me of my ex-partner. Tend to have a lot of fight in ‘em.”

Michael’s voice is miraculously steady when he spits, “Get the fuck off me.”

“I killed him, so I’d know,” the man continues.

Michael jerks his shoulders, pulling against the man’s hold. His scalp burns where the man has a fist buried.

The man smiles, as if expecting that response. His hand gradually loosens, sliding the red, curly strands through his fingers as he lowered his hand. It’s creepy and disturbing — he has no regard for Michael’s personal space. He drags his hand down, toughened digits lightly grazing over Michael’s lower lip.

Michael flinches back, lip tingling unpleasantly at the unfamiliar touch. A bad feeling has settled in pit of his stomach. The look in the man’s eyes make the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

This is not seriously happening right now, is all Michael can think. This is fucking Vin Diesel meets Bruce Willis action-movie shit. This doesn’t happen in real life, not to him.

A thoughtful expression crosses the man’s face before he suddenly decides against whatever sick idea had struck him earlier. Grabbing a healthy fistful of Michael’s hair, he bodily pulls Michael through the familiar hallways.

He slams open the Warehouse door and practically tosses Michael in. His head spins and there’s been blood still dripping down his chin, but he catches himself and looks around.

The entire company is holed up in here. Everyone they could find, Michael suspects, but his stomach sinks when he realizes that it seems like everyone’s here. No one had escaped to call 9-1-1. A sea of familiar faces turn to look at him with matching, plate-sized eyes and pale complexions.

The company, which currently consists of about sixty people, is gathered at one end of the Warehouse, where the desks have been pushed against the walls to make a large, clear space in the middle of the floor.

Four men with large guns, not including Michael’s personal psycho, stand by the Warehouse’s only exit.

Michael is roughly pushed to join his coworkers. Hands grab him by the arms and he’s tugged to the back. The Warehouse is pitch black, and it isn’t until the person who’s pulling him speaks that he knows who it is.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Michael assures Barbara. She nods shakily, clearly in shock. “Fucker sucker punched me.”

“I can see that,” a different voice spits out. Barbara vanishes back into the crowd. Michael nearly melts in relief at the voice of his boss. Turning to face Geoff, it’s hard to refrain from throwing himself into the man’s tattooed arms.

“Geoff,” Michael says breathlessly. His eyesight swims, but he grins dopily.

Geoff’s mouth tightens. He pulls Michael into a suffocating, brief hug, patting his shoulder harder than normal. “Goddammit, Michael. You scared the dick out of me. Gavin opens the door and suddenly we’ve been cast in a fucking action movie.”

“You’re telling me,” Michael mutters, throat tightening. He has to take a few deep breaths to focus.

“Where are the others?” Michael asks, worried, eyes searching for the faces of their other boyfriends as they begin walking back to the front of the crowd. There’s no answer. Michael glances up.

Geoff is looking down at him, surprised and seemingly irritated. “What?” Michael says defensively.

“Why the hell are you following me, Michael?” Geoff snaps, real anger burning in his tone. Clenching his jaw and breathing through his nose, he takes a deep breath to calm himself. “Go all the way to the back of the warehouse, by the wall. Jack and the others are there.”

“What? No, I’m with you—”

“I’m not fucking around, Michael,” Geoff says, and Michael suddenly has no delusions that he was. “Go sit with the others. Don’t you dare come anywhere near the front. I’m going to find Joel and we’re going to handle this. They probably just want — want money or something.”

Michael doesn’t miss the slight hesitation. “Robbing Rooster Teeth,” he hisses sarcastically. “Right. Joel’s not even here. I’m coming with yo—”

“No, you aren’t,” Geoff says, setting his jaw. He places his hands on Michael’s shoulders and the low murmur of the crowd seems to fade as Geoff’s intense stare bores into Michael’s eyes. “Go to Jack. Hold Gavin’s stupid hand and let Ray wipe the blood off your nose. Keep your fucking head low, don’t pull any stunts, and for God’s sake stay away from that freak who nearly choked you in the hallway.”

Michael deflates. He stares into Geoff’s eyes, soaking in the dark, stormy gray chaos that saturates the expression. The sight makes Michael nauseous. Those aren’t Geoff’s normal eyes; not his bedroom ones, not his AHWU ones, and not even his teasing ‘I love you’ ones. They’re his army eyes.

“Okay,” Michael whispers numbly. His chest is tight as he swallows and nods.

Shoulder’s lightening with relief, Geoff’s expression clears. Leaning down, he kisses Michael softly, only for the briefest of moments before departing from the younger with a firm pat on the head. With an unhappy expression, Michael watches him push his way through the people.

The faces around him blur into the same face of fear, fear, fear as Michael heads to the back wall. People mill around him, many counting heads, and too many familiar faces are tear-streaked and bloodied. Michael swallows down his nausea and tries to push the images out of his mind, knowing that the panic and sudden rush of this is real, this is happening isn’t going to help.

“Get over here — Christ—” curses a voice right by his ear. Michael jumps and nearly throws a fist at the person who grips his left bicep, but upon seeing Ryan’s pale, worried face, Michael stops.

“Ryan,” he sighs in relief.

Ryan, meanwhile, seems beyond words. He pulls Michael through the crowd at a much faster pace.

Gavin, Ray, and Jack pace worriedly near the back wall. Ray and Gavin are holding hands and walking together, but Jack keeps a few feet of distance between them as he makes shorter, more furious steps. Michael’s stomach flips at the sight of blood on the bearded man’s lip.

“Jack!” he calls out reflexively, beginning to rush forward. Ryan’s tight, rather painful grip on his arm nearly yanks him off his feet when the blond’s hand didn’t budge.

“Don’t make it noticeable,” Ryan hisses before letting Michael go.

“What?” Michael says dumbly as Jack, Gavin, and Ray broke from their repetitive steps and trot towards them.

“Don’t make it obvious that you care about them more just friends,” Ryan explains in a tight voice, just as Jack reaches him.

The bearded man leans down and wraps burly arms around Michael’s shoulders in a brief but heartfelt hug. He lets go almost immediately, just as Gavin flings himself into Michael’s arms. Ray physically tears them apart after throwing a sharp glance at Ryan and an even sharper glance at the men standing by the doors holding the guns.

Ray steps forward and tilts Michael’s head up with a finger under his chin. Squinting in the dim light, Ray tsks. “I dunno… It doesn’t look broken.”

“They snuck up on me in the kitchen,” Michael mumbles.

Ryan gingerly taps him on the nose. Michael winces and makes a face, but it’s only a dulled pain. Ryan nods in approval. “Definitely not broken. Come on, you’re not going anywhere near the front. You’ve had enough action for… for a lifetime.”

Michael laughs weakly and follows without complaint. He lets Gavin guide and seat him on the floor. Ray takes his chin in hand and furiously scrubs the dried blood off Michael’s chin.

“Ridiculous,” Michael mutters, looking at the ceiling while Ray worked on his upper lip. “God, even my fucking wrist hurts. What’s happening? Who are they?”

“Robbers,” Ryan says darkly, sliding onto the desk next to Michael. He’s careful to keep his distance. Catching Michael’s expression, he adds, “Not robbing RT. A few blocks over — we were unlucky enough to be the building they’ve chosen to hold hostage.”

“Hostage,” Michael echoes. He’s heard the word often, especially in video games. He never thought it would apply to him one day. “We’re hostages.”

“I don’t think we’re in much danger,” Ryan assures. “They don’t seem to want to kill anyone.”

The sentence’s spoken so casually. When Michael finally digests it, he jolts slightly. “Right,” he says in a breathy voice. “That’s… good. That’s great.”

Ryan glances at him and lifts a hand to rub his back gently. Michael leans into the touch and takes solace in Ryan’s words: “I’m sorry. It’s okay, we’re going to be fine.”

“Yeah, I know,” Michael says. “I know, Rye-bread. I’m good. What’s Geoff doing? Can you see him?”

“Geoff’s being the grown up,” Ryan replies. “He’s experienced in this. He knows what to say and not say. Don’t worry, boys, it’s fine. We’re going to be fine.”

“I don’t want Geoff to be the grown up,” Michael growls. Completely unsupervised tears spring unbidden to his eyes at the insanity of it all.

This isn’t fair. Why is this happening to them?

“Michael?” Ryan asks in concern, stepping closer. He looks faintly surprised at the sight of watery, russet eyes. “Michael, it’s going to be okay.”

“Yeah, I know,” Michael snaps, wiping the tears away with haste. “I’m just tired.”

Well, it wasn’t a lie.

“Just relax,” Ryan suggests, but it sounds suspiciously like an order.

Standing, Michael turns back to the front of the building. Two lights by the entrance silhouette the men standing there. They shift around, restless and clearly nervous.

Good, Michael mentally hisses. I hope they fucking get caught.

“I can’t see Geoff,” Michael says, voice tight with distress. “I can’t fucking see anyone, it’s so goddamn dark in here.”

“You don’t need to see Geoff, you need to keep your head down,” Jack snaps at him. Michael’s mouth clicks shut, staring at the bearded man in stunned silence. Chocolate eyes stare back at him for a long moment before melting slightly in apology.

“Jack’s right,” Ryan says calmly. “No loud noises, don’t stick your neck out for anyone right now.”

“How could you say that?” Michael blurts angrily. “This is our company, our friends—”

“I realize that, Michael, but right now you come before any of them. You, Geoff, Jack, Ray, and Gavin are my top priority.”

“And yourself,” Jack says aggressively.

“And myself,” Ryan allows.

Michael’s eyes fall to the ground, anger bubbling only inches from the surface. This isn’t fair. This is bullshit. Clenching his teeth, Michael’s eyes rake across the room again before he meets gazes with Gavin.

Despite having been infuriated with him when they first met — mainly a play-up for videos — Michael always felt inexplicably calmed when in the company of the Brit. Even now, in all the panic and chaos, even with Gavin’s eyes filled with fear and trauma and horror – Michael feels his heart unclench slightly. Gavin gazes back at him and Michael wants to think that he has a similar effect on his best friend.

Michael reaches out to take Gavin’s hand.

A scream breaks out like a siren. It’s loud and sharp, like the crack of a whip in an otherwise silent room. Michael’s coworkers — Michael’s fucking friends flinch for their life, ducking close to the floor in a simultaneous instinct.

There are a few screams that follow, most noticeably Kara’s and Emily’s, but soon Michael’s attention is drawn elsewhere. Heart lurching and having no idea what’s just happened, he starts towards the front of the crowd before anyone else had time to react. Noise explodes around him, a sudden wave of mayhem and voices and screaming crashing into his eardrums. His head aches but he ignores it, searching desperately for Geoff.

“Geoff, Geoff!” Michael yells, craning his neck to look over the heads of his coworkers. Hands scrabble at his back, tugging on his shirt, trying to pull him the right way, but Michael refuses to stop. He fights the grain, the flood of bodies suddenly trying to get as close to the back wall as possible.

A flash of red hair has him hesitating. He grabs at her arm before Michael can think better of his action.

A fist swings at his face, catching him in the jaw and sending him reeling. It makes Michael’s entire face ache. He lets go, rubbing the sore spot.

“Michael!” Lindsay gasps, her voice a strange mix of fear, anxiety, and anger. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

“Lindsay, Lindsay,” Michael chants, pulling her close and tucking her head under his chin in a chaste hug. His best friend shudders under his hold, body shivering.

For a long two seconds, it’s just Michael comforting his best friend.

The moment is broken when Michael turns and pushes her towards the back wall, where it was safest. She stumbles but is caught by a passing intern. They’re both gone in seconds in the crowd.

Swallowing, Michael’s eyes desperately search the rapidly thinning crowd, hoping to find a familiar head of messy black hair. It’s too dark — he couldn’t see anything, except…

A figure was making a curiously straight path towards him. Michael immediately freezes in his tracks, but he’s gone too far to back up now. The man is on him in seconds.

Michael should really stop getting punched.

His head snaps back, neck muscles protesting at the stretch. He’s hit in the left eye. Stars bursting from his eyelids, Michael hunches in shock, trying in vain to banish the dizziness from his head. The hand in his shirt is unrelenting.

“Hey!” an angry voice bellows. It echoes in the Warehouse, snapping back and forth between the walls like a slingshot. Though it rings with familiarity, it’s still unrecognizable to Michael.

“Back the fuck off!” the man above Michael roars, a click of metal causing the Warehouse to abruptly descend into an eerie silence. Michael doesn’t — can’t look up, holding his spinning head in his hands.

“Everyone on their knees,” the man orders calmly.

The dead silence isn’t a good indicator that his command is followed, but when Michael looks up at the crowd through his fingers, the entire company, all of his friends, his family by extension — fuck, his boyfriends — are on their knees with their hands raised.

It’s a sight Michael’s never going to forget.

A few clicks above his head are the only warning before something collides with the juncture between Michael’s shoulder and neck, a spike of pain radiating down from his spine to sit tingling at his tailbone. His lungs shudder with the force of holding back a scream.

There are a few stifled gasps from the group of sixty in front of them. For a moment, Michael thinks he might vomit.

Somehow, he’s yet to fall to his knees, making it rather easy for the man to shift his center of gravity too far forward. Michael stumbles and the man bodily tosses him away like a piece of trash.

His shoulder lands on the carpeted portion rather than the blunt concrete that the other half was sat upon. He rolls onto his back, luckily with no stars in his vision, though it’s still a battle to think clearly.

It’s quiet. Motionless. His chest heaves with the force of his labored breathing, the sound audible in the room, and Michael distantly wonders if Geoff can hear the slight wheeze that punctures each inhale. Geoff’s the closest, after all. Michael can see him standing only feet away.

A sudden flashback to this morning invades Michael’s thoughts, the memory of waking up looking into Geoff’s unworldly gray eyes a different reality overlapping over this one. There’s no way that was only a few hours ago. There’s no way they couldn’t have seen this disaster laying so obviously in their path.

As he lies on the floor of the Warehouse, Michael wonders if any of them were going to die.

He doesn’t hear the footsteps nearing him, but he can’t miss the insistent nudge of a large gun butting against his side. Like the sorry sack of shit he’s becoming, Michael obliges and gets to his feet. The gun neatly settles into the space between the two vertebrae at the base of his spine. It’s cold, even through his shirt. Michael’s feet move forward automatically, hands shakily rising to motion his obedience as he’s led to the doors of the Warehouse.

Where the hell am I going?

“Hey!” Geoff yells again, but it isn’t angry. Michael can hear the fucking unadulterated, visceral fear bubbling just millimeters under the words, even as Geoff steps forward. Glancing over his shoulder, Michael feels the gun’s pressure disappear from his spine.

It turns to Geoff.

Pop!

A gunshot is nothing like how it sounds through a headset of a video game. The sound is loud and sudden, sharp at the end and ear-shatteringly loud at the start. Michael has, of course, heard a gun go off before, but in the dead silence of the warehouse, it’s foreign and brutal. Like a strike of lightning. The muzzle flash burns into Michael’s eyes, and he has to repeatedly blink at the scene in front of him to understand what is happening.

He doesn’t understand why Geoff is bent double, clutching at his stomach. He doesn’t understand why people are screaming, why someone in the crowd is trying to fight their way to the front, only to be held back by two coworkers. Nothing made sense.

Nothing is making sense.

“Geoff?” Michael mumbles in confusion, watching as Geoff fell to his knees, hands tightly pressing against his gut as he did so.

Four figures skid to a halt next to Geoff.

The man shoves the gun against Michael’s back again, causing him to trip forward. Michael walks, but he repeatedly glances over his shoulder.

Geoff doesn’t get up and follow this time.

Michael is taken to the Achievement Hunter office. The familiarity of the room, the warmth the walls possessed, the lovely sight of Gavin’s messy desk, the fucked up computer chairs — none of it is enough to level his head. Nearly faint with dizziness, Michael turns to stare at his captor, confused and angry and God — he is going to throw up. He is going to puke all over this fucking prick for ruining his day.

What stumbles out of his mouth wasn’t vomit, however, which surprises him. “Geoff?” he blurts.

His question is met with a backhand to the face. His cheek throbs, and the eyesight in the his left eye goes fuzzy, but Michael stays upright. He grabs his own desk chair to steady himself.

“Don’t talk,” the man orders, and to Michael’s confusion, he begins to unlatch the Velcro strips on his vest. Somehow he manages to keep Michael in the sights of his gun as he shrugs the piece of clothing off. Under it, he’s wearing a plain black tee shirt with a v-neck.

Michael’s stomach twists with abrupt unease, the blood draining from his face as if someone had poked a hole in his chin.

“What are you doing?” he asks through numb lips. Realization leaks like molasses into his mind, his suspicion confirmed when the man placed his gun on Gavin’s desk after giving Michael a contemplative stare.

The man steps forward and shoves Michael in the chest. Michael falls but is grabbed by the upper arm. Pushing Michael to his knees, the man laughs scornfully. “You like kissing boys, faggot?”

Michael’s blood runs cold, a sudden chill descending on his neck. His breath quickens, and he’s unable to reply, instead staring dumbly up at the man.

A small, rather ineffectual smack is delivered to the side of his head. As light as it is, it still makes Michael’s vision swim. His hands grip the man’s pants in a weak attempt to balance himself, despite being knelt on the floor.

“Yeah, that’s it, slut,” the man praises. “I knew you’d like this.”

Michael grits his teeth and fights the nausea rising in his stomach. A quick fantasy passes through his mind of punching this asshat right in the dick and taking his gun.

But it’s only a fleeting idea. His muscles are frozen with fear. Michael isn’t an action hero. He’s concussed. He’s a stupid fucking kid from New Jersey who doesn’t know the first thing about actual combat, and all he wants is to live through this. He isn’t going to hit this guy in the nuts and suddenly save the day.

He’d just get his goddamn head blown off.

“Open that pretty little mouth, just like you open those legs, huh?” the man coos to him, reaching a hand down to weave strong fingers into Michael’s hair. They tighten so painfully that it makes Michael’s eyes water. “You like suckin’ dick, faggot, so you open your fucking mouth and you suck my cock. Show me how much you like my cock.”

The words wash over him like rough tides riddled with thorns, poking holes in his strong will and causing his confidence to deflate. With only one hand, the man easily unzips his pants and palms himself through a pair of black boxers, somehow managing to grab the gun while doing so. Michael’s stomach churns when he sees that the man is half-hard, and this time he does throw up, pitching to the side and retching.

I’m going to die.

The man just smirks and pushes his pants the rest of the way down.

---

Gavin’s hands press hard against Geoff’s abdomen, grimacing at the squelching sensation. The bleeding has slowed after four jackets were pressed to the wound. Jordan shivers nearby due to his donation to the Stop Geoff From Dying on the Warehouse Floor cause.

Ryan nudges at his shoulder to switch places. Gavin moves quickly, happy to relieve the tension building in his arms. Ryan presses down with a lot more force, anyway. Sitting back and tucking his knees under him, Gavin fiddles with his shaky hands, trying to stop the tremors from traveling up his arms.

It’s too quiet. When Michael had been escorted away, a small riot had broken out within the company, but the moment Geoff went down, everything had faded away. The noise, the screams, even the ringing of the gunshot are gone. The only sound is Geoff’s indiscernible mumbling.

Scooting up to sit by Geoff’s head, Gavin cards a shaky hand through Geoff’s moppy hair. He’d showered this morning, leaving the dark strands clean and smelling sweetly of strawberries — using Michael’s shampoo again. Gavin never liked having his hair smell like fruit.

There are only two men guarding the door now. Gavin doesn’t want to think about that. No, he definitely wants to focus on keeping Geoff alive and well. And that involves petting Geoff’s fruity-smelling hair, maybe patting his cheek a little to let him know he wasn’t alone, wipe away the stray tears that manage to slip from Geoff’s tightly closed eyes. Gavin doesn’t think they were emotional tears because while Geoff may be a complete wuss when it came to tear-jerker movies, Geoff is a strong man. They were probably pain tears.

Getting shot in the stomach seems pretty painful.

Taking a deep breath, Gavin leans down, thumb moving in soft circles on Geoff’s forehead. “Hi, Geoff,” he whispers.

Gray eyes flutter open to look at him. “S-Stomach… hurts,” he grounds out. “Wh-wh—?”

Gavin shushes him quickly. “It’s fine, it’s fine. Don’t try and move.” He swallows. “You’ve been… shot.”

“Don’t s-sound so… freaking happy.”

Gavin chuckles humorlessly. “Don’t sound so strained,” he counters.

Geoff struggled to get the words out. “Excuse me for — getting—”

“Stop talking. You’re gonna be fine,” Gavin tells him firmly, adjusting so he could look into Geoff’s eyes. “It’s — it’s not that bad.”

“You’re so… confident,” Geoff pants out, face paling with the effort of speaking.

“Shut up, Geoff,” Gavin says fondly. “What is it they say in movies? Conserve your energy or strength or something.”

Geoff’s brow scrunches as he presumably tries to remember how the saying went.

“Stop thinking so hard,” Gavin interrupts. “How do you feel?”

“How do you think I feel?”

“Being the center of attention, you seem to be doing pretty well,” Gavin jokes, sniffing. “Everyone’s worried.”

“Tell them not to worry,” Geoff says stupidly. “Has anyone been able to call the cops?”

“Uh,” Gavin hesitates, a cold pit growing in his stomach. “I’m not… I don’t know. They haven’t said anything. To us or to each other, really. We have no idea why they’re here or what’s happening.”

“Well, we can guess,” Ryan says lowly, keep careful eyes on Geoff’s face.

“Guess what?” Gavin says.

“They don’t even know what we do here,” Ryan says. “They don’t know what Rooster Teeth is. They’re robbers, we’re just unlucky enough to be the building they’re taking hostage.”

“But there are no cops—”

“There will be. They just want to get away cleanly.”

“You don’t sound angry,” Gavin observes.

Ryan’s Adam’s apple bobs in a thick swallow. “I’m trying not to dwell,” he admits, adjusting his hands slightly. Geoff’s face scrunches up in pain. “Sorry, Geoff,” Ryan whispers.

Ray and Jack are quiet, watching with big, worried eyes. Ray clutches at Geoff’s hands and Jack clutches at Ray’s.

All five still sit in the middle of the warehouse floor, separated by feet from the squirming crowd of coworkers and the two guarding the door. The latter stare at them emptily. Gavin doesn’t understand how they could be so damn cold. They hadn’t blinked when that man shot Geoff, not even attempting to stop their out-of-control cohort.

And now they were down one person and missing another.

Gavin can’t deal with that right now. Can’t deal with Michael. It’s easier to focus on Geoff, who’s here in front of him.

It isn’t as bad as they’d originally thought. Ryan assures them that it isn’t life-threatening, at the very least, because the bullet hadn’t gone in that far. There was a lot of blood, but it wasn’t buckets like it had been when that one girl got shot in LOST. I’s terrifying, and Gavin feels like his heart was trying to claw its way up his esophagus, but Ryan’s reassurances keep true panic from setting in.

But we do need to get to a hospital, Ryan had said. Infection could start to set in — the warehouse isn’t exactly sterile.

“Just hold on, Geoff,” Gavin says in a watery voice. “We’re all here with you, just lay still—”

The loud bang from the door flying open interrupts him. The two men guarding the door wordlessly move to the side.

Gavin’s heart seizes at the sight. Frozen, he watches the man tug a rather apathetic Michael back into the warehouse. Many pairs of eyes, including Gavin’s, rake the redhead’s body in search of another bullet hole. He seems unharmed. Except, of course, for the bruise around his eye and the blood on his nose and mouth. His eyes carry a rather haughty stare.

Scrambling to his feet, Gavin rushes forward when Michael is physically thrown to the ground. He kneels next to him and places his hands on either side of his face, wincing at the blood. “Michael. Boi. Are you okay?”

Stupid question, but Michael nods regardless. He doesn’t say anything except for a very soft, “Geoff?”

“He’s… okay,” Gavin says unsurely. Glancing over Michael’s shoulder, Gavin pales slightly at the sight of the three men chatting together, one hoisting the gun on his shoulder like some sort of toy. “Let’s move back, Michael.”

Michael nods again and follows, hand tightly gripping the back of Gavin’s shirt. Gavin took up his spot by Geoff’s head once more, while Michael simply plunks down next to him. Ray is staring.

“Michael?” Ray ventures.

Michael’s eyes are slow to find Ray. He looks at him questioningly.

“What happened? What did he want with you?”

Michael doesn’t reply. He shakes his head.

“Not yet, Ray,” Jack says quietly, placing a hand on the brunette’s shoulder.

Allowing his eyes to fall back to Geoff, Michael shifts closer. He seems… off. Vacant. There’s more blood around his mouth than there had been when he’d first been shoved in here with the rest of them.

Ryan grunts, pulling Gavin’s attention back to him. Geoff is squirming, trying to meet eyes with Michael, causing Ryan to fumble his hold on Geoff’s wound. “Geoff, stop fucking moving.”

“Michael,” Geoff says, clearly relieved. “I thought — he was taking you—”

“Why did you do that?” Michael spits, fingers curling into fists on his knees. He keeps his head bowed. “You ran forward and got—got—”

“He’s going to be fine,” Ryan says, pushing firmly on Geoff’s stomach. His voice is tight. “We can talk about stupid decisions later.”

“Can we move back some?” Jack asks quietly, contributing to the conversation for the first time. He glances nervously at their captors. “I don’t like how close they are.”

Ryan bites his lip. “I don’t think we ought to move him.”

“I thought you said he was going to be fine,” Gavin says, voice pitching louder.

“Shh,” Ryan hisses, obviously paranoid about being overheard. “I said he’s going to be fine, not that he can start doing cartwheels.”

“If we can’t drag him on the floor a couple of feet, then he’s in more danger than you’ve let on,” Gavin snaps.

Geoff coughs wetly. “Stop arguing,” he croaks.

“Stop talking,” Gavin retorts.

“We’re not moving,” Ryan says with finality. “I — I think the bleeding stopped. I don’t want to risk reopening the wound and causing more bleeding.”

Gavin can understand that. He smiles weakly at the news and looks down to Geoff. “Hear that? You stopped bleeding.”

Geoff laughs breathily. “I was shot in the stomach, not the ear.”

“Shush,” Ryan admonishes, lifting one of the jackets to peak at Geoff’s stomach.

They spend the next twenty minutes crouching and sweating in the intense heat that had set in. The two men with guns stay with them, lurking by the door and scaring the absolute shite out of every hostage in the room.

---

Geoff wakes up with one helluva jolt.

He’s staring at a ceiling. That’s new, he thinks. Last time his eyes had been opened, all he could see was the dark warehouse.

It’s a… nice change of scenery. Geoff frowns and lifts his head, realizing he was having trouble remembering what had happened. There had been… robbers. Right. And, uh, guns. A lot of guns. Specifically, a gun aimed at him.

Geoff glances down, running his hands over the woolen blanket covering his stomach. Everything is completely numb. He can see his feet at the end of the bed, but they weren’t moving when he told them to.

“Nurse,” Geoff croaks, voice cracking. He clears his throat. “Nurse!”

The room is quiet, the low beep of the heart monitor the only sound exception. It’s four minutes until a nurse finally comes into the room, trailing in with a stacked tray of food. She has a bright smile on her face when she sees that Geoff is awake and blinking at her.

“Good morning, Mr. Ramsey. I’m Nurse Reed,” she says in a friendly tone. “Did you just wake up?”

“Yeah, a few minutes ago,” Geoff says, not bothering to hide his annoyance. “I have a few questions—”

“Only if you answer a few of mine,” she replies, wrestling out a small table on wheels that stretched over his lap. She puts the food tray on top of it and pulls off the blue lid, revealing a small lump of meat that resembles meatloaf. “You were brought here by paramedics six days ago. Is this the first time you remember waking up?”

Geoff swallows heavily. “Y-Yeah. Because I was shot, right?”

He’s grateful her voice was professional. “Yes, in the abdomen. Luckily, it didn’t perforate any organs, only nicking your large intestine.”

“What about everyone else?” Geoff asks. “I was with about sixty other people.”

“A few minor injuries,” she answers. “A lot of concussions, but most were discharged the first day we got the call. Our staff has been harassed by Mr. Burns the past few days, so I’d say they’re in good hands.”

“Who else is in the hospital?”

“Well, the waiting room is overbooked right now—”

“Sorry, I meant who is admitted,” Geoff quickly adds.

“I don’t know, you’d have to check with the other staff members,” she says in an apologetic voice. “I’m the charge nurse for this floor, but you’ve sustained a life-threatening injury. If anyone else is admitted to this hospital, they wouldn’t be on the fifth floor.”

Geoff sighs and nods, throat uncomfortably tight. “Uh, my friends,” he starts awkwardly. “They’re probably in the waiting room.”

She studies him, smothering a smile. “Yes, the troublemaking five, I’m guessing? Not including Burns, who has been pestering me nonstop.”

Geoff distantly worries about whether or not anyone had informed Griffon of the incident. Shaking his head, he says, “Yes, the troublemaking five are definitely mine. Can I see them?”

“First we’re going to administer your medicine. I have a few questions, if you’re feeling up to it?”

“Yeah, of course,” Geoff says, pushing himself up slightly. He winces at a tug in his gut but grins sheepishly at the disapproving glare the nurse is giving him. “Won’t be doing that again,” he assures her.

“Good, because if you do, I’ll have to restrain you,” she jokes, grabbing a clipboard from the bedside table. “Alright, what would you say that your pain level is right now?”

Geoff thought about it. “Two,” he says honestly. “It was a zero when I woke up.”

“That’s good,” she nods. “We’re going to start dialing down the pain medication so we can wean you off.”

“You said I’ve been here six days?” Geoff asks. She nods. “What does that mean? When do I get to leave?”

She laughs quietly. “Sorry, dear. It’s going to be a while before you can be discharged.”

Geoff frowns, groaning as he shifts in the bed. It’s strangely difficult to move anything below his armpits, the muscles of his chest stiff and sore, but he manages to arrange his body in a sitting position.

He gives the nurse an alarmed stare when she snaps on a pair of gloves. “I’m going to check your staples,” she explains, pulling back the sheets. Geoff groans aloud at the ridiculous gown they have him wearing. “Tell me if there’s any pain when I pull the adhesive.”

There wasn’t, so Geoff is quiet while she examines the wound. He didn’t look down at it, but there’s a taunting glimmer of metal in the corner of his eye.

“Looks good,” she praises. “No redness, swelling, or heat — no sign of infection.” She straightens and removes the gloves. “These are your antibiotic pills,” she says, handing him a small plastic cup. “You’ll take them three times a day.”

Geoff tosses them back, chasing them down with ice water. “When am I going to be able to walk on my own?” he asks regretfully.

“Sooner than you think,” she says, patting his thigh. “We have patients with hip replacements walking after only two days. I’m positive your recovery will be a fast one.”

Geoff’s glad to hear that, almost dizzyingly so. He relaxes into the pillow and says, “Thank you. I don’t suppose you know what happened? Before I got here?”

“All I was told was that it was a hostage situation at a local building,” she says. “Four shooters, but only one shooting victim.” She points playfully at him.

“Did the police come, or…?” Geoff asks, desperate to fill in some holes.

“II’m afraid I don’t know,” she says apologetically. “We weren’t told.”

Geoff bites his lip. “In that case, can I see my friends? The five idiots?”

She laughs. “I’ll go tell them that you’re awake.”

Unsurprisingly, Geoff doesn’t have to wait long. He hears them before they got there, the five practically stampeding down the hall and bursting through the door. Jack is the first one to lock eyes with him.

Jack smiles gently, throwing an arm out to slow Gavin’s sprint.

“Hi,” Geoff whispers, chest shuddering. The relief nearly overwhelms him, flooding his stomach with warmth and causing his toes to tingle. Funny that he can feel that despite the drugs.

“How do you feel?” Ryan asks as they all enter. Geoff’s eyes can’t take them in fast enough.

“Not bad,” Geoff says, grinning. “Though, they have me on enough drugs to not feel anything.”

“That’s sort of the point,” Ray says, smiling unsurely as if afraid he was talking too loud.

Geoff hums and shut his eyes. Soaking in the presence of his lovers, Geoff can’t help but feel significantly calmer. “What happened?”

“You — you don’t remember?” Jack says, glancing at Ryan.

“No, no,” Geoff interjects quickly. “I remember most of it. But, on the floor, I fell asleep and don’t remember how we got out of there.”

“Oh,” Jack breathed, clearly relieved. “Well, they had us sit there for a little while. After you were — after what happened, they didn’t say anything else to us. Just waited.”

“For what?”

“No idea,” Ryan says, shrugging. “I’m guessing for some brilliant idea to strike, but they gave up pretty quickly when the police finally showed up.”

“Who called them?”

“Someone a few blocks over heard the gunshot,” Ryan answers. “The moment we heard sirens, they just hightailed it and ran.”

“Glad to hear there wasn’t an epic shootout while I was gone,” Geoff mutters, rolling his eyes.

“You weren’t gone,” Gavin says sharply. He looks uncomfortable when everyone’s attention turns to him, and his concerned expression shifts to an annoyed one. “You scared us, you big idiot.”

Geoff is suddenly struck with the memory of why he’d been shot in the first place and looks at Michael, fear striking his heart. “Are you alright?” Geoff asks, eyes examining the crude bruises covering the redhead’s pale skin. He feels a surge of anger but tries to reign it in. “They sure hit pretty damn hard.”

Michael smiles weakly at his concern, and Geoff makes a face at the grotesque picture. Michael’s lips are cracked and bruised, obviously battered from the punches he’d endured. Geoff is angered to see that they were still just as prominent even six days after the fact. The smile the redhead wears is shaky and rather horrific. “I’m good.”

“Did they treat you?” Geoff pushes, gesturing to the hospital.

Gavin beats Michael to the punch. “Yeah, he was hospitalized for a few hours after we got here.”

“Injuries?” Geoff requests.

“The guy kicked my ass,” Michael confesses, scratching the back of his head. God, there are bruises up and down his arms, too. Geoff tenses. “You… you didn’t have to—”

“I did exactly what I wanted to,” Geoff says firmly.

“You wanted to get shot?”

Geoff rephrases himself. “I wanted you safe. I was trying to keep you safe.”

“Yeah, well, that was fucking stupid, wasn’t it?” Michael bites out. “I can’t fucking believe you did that. You just ran forward like that, waving your arms around.”

Jack clears his throat, resting a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “I think we can talk about that at a different time.”

Michael’s eyes cut to the side and he falls silent. Geoff stares at him, confused and slightly worried. Michael looks like absolute hell, anger and what looks like paranoia broiling in his dark eyes. He’s dressed in normal clothes, but Geoff can see the hospital band around his wrist.

“I meant what I did, Michael,” Geoff says. “And I’d do it again.”

Michael looks away, and Geoff can see his jaw clenching.

“We can move onto a less morbid conversation now,” Ray mutters.

Geoff sighs. “Anyone want my Jell-o?” he asks.

Jack jumps at the offer while the others settle around the bed, pulling up chairs and getting comfy. Ryan ruthlessly quizzes Geoff on how he feels, what his pain level is, and even whether or not the medication is working. Geoff begins to think perhaps Ryan would be better suited as a nurse or doctor than a Rooster Teeth employee.

A different nurse comes in hours later with more medicine. She eyeballs the group sitting at his bedside, but says nothing in regards to them as she checks his temperature and blood pressure. She leaves quickly, but her presence reminds them that they’re seated in a hospital.

“Did the doctor say when you’ll be able to come home?” Jack asks after a long, sober pause in conversation.

Geoff hums into the straw of the ice water he’d been sucking on. “I haven’t talked to the doctor, but the nurse said it was going to be a while.”

Gavin snorts. “Good, because no offense to anyone sitting here, that would be some seriously crap room service.”

“Excuse me, even when I do get discharged, you’re expected to wait on me hand and foot.”

“If we just put you in the living room, next to the kitchen, you should be fine,” Gavin says dismissively.

Geoff glares at him. “You’re going to be the one holding my bedpan.”

“No, I’m n—”

“Mr. Ramsey?” a nurse says gently from the doorway. “Your guests can stay as long as they want, but the doors lock after eight PM. You’ll have to go through the ER to get into the main parking lot.”

“Okay. Thank you,” Geoff calls after her. He looks at Jack, who’s presumably driving the rest of the boys home. “When are you leaving?”

“How late do you want us to stay?” Jack asks instead.

Geoff rolls his eyes. “Right. I want you to stay here, all night, and sleep in these uncomfortable chairs and hurt your backs, so you can complain about the back pain all while I’m immobile in bed.”

“That we can do,” Ray grins, stretching out and kicking his feet up in Michael’s lap. The redhead sends him a disgusted look.

“Ray, get your fucking nasty, flea-bitten shoes out of my face,” he says. “We’re in a fucking hospital; I could catch the plague from what’s on the bottom of those.”

“A hospital is sterile and clean,” Ray scoffs. “Probably cleaner than our house.”

“Sick people go to hospitals,” Ryan points out. “Which means there’s going to be more germs here than the average public place.”

“But they also clean more than the average public place,” Gavin argues. “They sterilize everything.”

Ryan takes a long moment to chew over Gavin’s answer. He doesn’t look convinced. “I don’t think that’s true,” he says finally.

Geoff breaks up the debate before it can really get started. “Anyone want to get me more pudding?”

“I will,” Michael volunteers immediately, standing up before the words were fully out of Geoff’s mouth. “What flavor? Another chocolate one?”

“Please” Geoff says sincerely, stomach growling. “They don’t feed grown men enough.”

“Yeah, or you just eat too much,” Michael mutters as he left the room.

“Is he okay?” Geoff asks the moment the door closes.

Jack and Ryan trade glances. “We don’t know,” Jack admits. “He won’t talk to us.”

Oh, great.

What?” Geoff demands. “What the hell happened? Did I miss something when I was—?”

“No, he sat by us the whole time,” Gavin whispers, as if Michael might hear them from down two stories. “He — the guy who shot you, I mean — took him out of the warehouse for ten minutes. Michael won’t tell us what happened.”

“He’ll tell me,” Geoff says confidently, despite the rising sense of unease. Something flutters uncomfortably in the back of his mind.

Ray sends him a doubtful glance that clearly says, no, he won’t.

“He will,” Geoff insists. “I fucking got shot for his ass, he better tell me.”

Gavin’s face darkens and he bites out a sarcastic response of, “Don’t be so persuasive, Geoff, I doubt he’ll be able to restrain himself from telling the truth if you sweet talk him like that.”

“You know me, I’m good with my mouth,” Geoff taunts before turning the topic serious once more. “Well, something’s wrong with him,” he says worryingly, pushing the food tray away from him. His appetite has vanished. “He’s all twitchy and flustered.”

“He’s always—”

“No, he’s not,” Geoff says with an exhausted sigh. “He’s not always about an inch from biting our heads off, not like this. Not even with Gavin.”

“And I haven’t even done anything,” Gavin agrees.

“Maybe he’s just freaked out like we are,” Jack suggests quietly, leaning back in his chair and linking his fingers together. “I’ll be honest: I haven’t been able to get a good night’s rest since.”

Geoff resists the urge to argue with the bearded man. Jack probably just didn’t want to believe it. Michael is strong, but there was something wrong. He needs help, needs support, but if he’s already refusing to talk about it, Geoff knows that bigger problems are on the horizon.

“Haven’t you been sleeping at the hospital?” Gavin asks tiredly, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, shut up,” Jack says. “You spent the night here just yesterday.”

Gavin sneers at him.

“I think we all just need a good night’s rest,” Geoff says bracingly. “Go home before you have to carry Gavin through the E.R.”

“They only had vanilla,” Michael says, appearing at the doorway and tossing Geoff his snack pack. “I asked and I think they somehow managed to tell me to ‘fuck off’ but politely. And in medical terms.”

“Thanks, buddy,” Geoff says gratefully, opening his second dessert up and digging in.

Michael hums in acknowledgement and sits back down, plopping into his chair with enough force to make the wood creak. Geoff doesn’t like the way his hands shake as he rests them on the arm rests.

“Like I was saying, go get some sleep, guys,” Geoff says.

“We just got here,” Michael says, sounding annoyed. “Why are you kicking us out?”

“You’ve been here for hours,” Geoff points out with a raised eyebrow. Michael seems confused before he looks at the clock. His eyes widen. Geoff sighs. “Go home. Get some sleep. And then tomorrow, bring me back real food.”

---

Michael coughs up the missing piece to his chipped tooth nearly twelve days after the hostage situation at Rooster Teeth.

Standing in the bathroom cupping the small piece of white enamel in one hand and his toothbrush in the other is probably the second most traumatic thing to happen to him in his life. His throat burns from where it’d scraped along the walls on its way back up, and there are even a few drops of blood in the sink.

“What the actual fuck,” he announces, dropping the toothbrush back onto the counter. His hands are shaking too much to hold it right, anyway.

His reflection stares back at him, unimpressed. It had every right to. Not only did he look half-dead, his temper’s fuse has dwindled down to a few centimeters. Just a few minutes ago, he’d snapped at Gavin for moving his shoes to the other side of the bed. Gavin had looked at him as if he’d lost his mind, and… yeah, he might be right.

“I should tell them,” Michael says over the sound of the shower running. It waits for him to get in, but Michael knows once he was under the water, he wouldn’t be able to stop turning it up until it scalds him. He’d done it three times this week.

“I’m just tired,” Michael tells himself, and it’s true. He’s exhausted.

You have PTSD, he thinks.

Michael scoffs. “I’m not a veteran coming back from the war,” he tells himself. “I don’t deserve to have leeway like that. What this is called — is being a pussy.”

Michael looks at the shower and back at his reflection. The glass is beginning to fog up, obscuring his image. Without another word, he abandons the frustrated picture of himself and ducks under the spray, but it’s too cold, like ice on his skin. He nearly shouted in shock before hastily turning the handle closer towards the ‘H’.

He washes his hair as fast as possible and scrubs his body until the skin was bright red. His wrists bleed in a few places. The water went cold quicker than he thinks possible, and soon the dial was all the way up to HOT, but he can’t feel it.

Despite getting done in record time, he remains in the shower well over half an hour. While toweling himself off, he finds he can’t remember what exactly he’d spent so long doing. The pain in his wrists distracts him.

His reflection stares at him, looking disappointed as it watches him comb out the tangles in his hair.

Ryan looks up from his computer when Michael walks into the living room, glasses sitting on the very tip of his noise. “Good morning,” he says.

“Morning,” Michael greets. The kitchen is empty. “Where is everyone?”

“Hospital,” Ryan answers nonchalantly. Michael sighs.

“Are they going to stay long?”

“Probably,” Ryan says. “I was planning on joining them later. I was waiting for you to wake up.”

“I don’t need a babysitter,” Michael murmurs. He isn’t sure if Ryan even heard him. Louder, he says, “When did they say Geoff could come home? Tomorrow?”

“Day after tomorrow,” Ryan replies. He shuts his laptop and stands up. “Want some coffee? There’s still some left in the pot.”

The thought of coffee makes his stomach turn over. He’s jittery enough, thanks, and a heart attack isn’t exactly on his to-do schedule. “I’m good.”

Ryan smiles at him from the doorway. Great. There’s a concerned glint in the steely blue eyes. “Did you sleep?”

Michael doesn’t miss the absence of the word ‘good’. “Yeah, of course. Next to you, if I recall correctly.”

“You tossed and turned next to me,” Ryan corrects gently. “Didn’t feel much like sleeping.”

“I didn’t hear you complaining to Gavin, who kicks like a fucking mule in his sleep,” Michael says, crossing his arms.

Ryan’s gaze softens as he steps away from the door and closer to Michael. “At least he’s sleeping,” he says quietly.

“If you have something to say, Rye-bread, I’m standing right here.”

Ryan frowns. “I’m not trying to confront you—”

“You leering over me and breathing down my neck sure feels like a confrontation,” Michael snaps.

Ryan looks alarmed. “Michael, I’m just standing here.”

Michael bites his tongue. Right. Boyfriends stand close to each other sometimes. Have conversations. That’s… utterly reasonable.

“I just want to make sure you’re alri—” Ryan continues.

“I’m fine,” Michael says, exasperated. He leans back slightly. “I’ve been asked that like seven times already. My answer isn’t changing.”

“Are you sure it’s the truthful answer?”

“You’re saying I’m lying?”

Ryan laughs in disbelief and takes a step back. “Michael, do you hear yourself? When did you get so damn defensive?”

Michael takes a deep breath and tries to calm his rising anxiety. His skin itches. He needs another shower. “I’m not defensive, I’m annoyed! I’ve been getting grilled constantly and no one seems to believe me when I say that I’m okay.”

Ryan opens his mouth but stops himself from saying whatever was obviously on the tip of his tongue. He snaps it shut before running a hand through his sandy hair. “Your track record isn’t exactly squeaky clean, Michael. You’re very sneaky when you’re quiet and the past week and a half, you’ve barely said a word.”

“So you think I’m hiding something?” Michael is surprised how scared he is at the thought of Ryan being so close to solving what Michael actually is hiding.

Ryan stares at him before answering plainly. “Yes.”

Michael gapes at him before closing his mouth with an audible crack. “I don’t want to talk about it, is that so hard to understand?”

Ryan’s hard expression falters slightly. “I can understand that,” he says softly. “Of course I can. I don’t want to think about it either.” Ryan seems to deflate entirely, broad shoulders slumping a few inches as he leans against the cabinets. “It scares me, too, Michael. I have dreams every night about opening endless doors to see one of you being executed.”

Michael’s skin rises in goosebumps. That is a far stretch from his own fears, but when Ryan puts his into words, Ryan’s was much more selfless and noble. Michael just relives his own fucking memory over and over again.

“I’m sorry,” Michael whispers, not knowing what else to say.

“I wasn’t asking for sympathy, idiot,” Ryan chides lovingly. “We were all there. We can come back from it.”

We were all there.’ Michael’s heart skips a beat. You weren’t in that room with me. While he — While I was…

“Right,” Michael says breathlessly, nodding too fast to be normal. “Come back from it.”

Ryan is probably looking at him in concern, but Michael turns away before he can catch sight of his expression. He doesn’t miss Ryan’s sigh.

“Do you want to go to the hospital?” Ryan asks, changing the subject.

“No,” Michael says truthfully. He cringes. “I mean — not right now. We’ve just — we’ve been there every day for most of the day. He comes home soon, anyway. I’m sure he wouldn’t miss me for just one day.”

“That’s not true,” Ryan immediately rebukes.

“Yeah, well,” Michael says unsurely. “You should go ahead and leave, Ryan. Tell Geoff I said hi and to get his ass back home. I’m tired of the frequent car trips.”

Ryan still looks uncomfortable, but he nods. “Alright. Call me if you change your mind and want me to pick you up.”

As if. “Will do.”

Ryan leaves only minutes later, as if he’d been waiting for Michael to give him the go-ahead. He calls out a hasty I love you! before the door closes behind him.

Plopping down on the couch, Michael stretches out and allows his sore muscles to loosen up.

His mouth hurts. Throat, specifically. The back of it, the walls, fuck even his stomach hurt. His tongue feels as if he’d stretched it out and skipped rope with it. Though it isn’t quite what he focuses on when he looks in the mirror, he knows by his boyfriends’ reactions that ugly bruising still mars his skin. His lips are still bruised and bloody, splitting open every few hours because Michael has trouble following doctor’s orders to stop talking already.

They’d heal in their own time. He wishes a similar scar tissue would form over the memories he’s harboring unwillingly. They, however, are still as raw and painful as they’d been when he’d been taken to the hospital.

He remembers it vividly. He wasn’t tended to first, not like Geoff was. And he hadn’t wanted to be. He refused medical aid at first, pushing away the many nurses who approached him with a napkin for his bleeding nose. Unhappy, the nurses had forced him out of the waiting room and onto a cot at the ER, but he hadn’t been treated until Geoff was out of surgery. By then, Michael was throwing up because he’d been swallowing the blood dripping down the back of his throat.

A sprained wrist. Ten stitches on the inside of his lip and seven on his scalp, hidden in the hair. A few fingers that had been dislocated were set back into place and a concussion.

Brain damage would account for a lot of his recent behaviors: the time loss, the panicky feeling he constantly has. Michael is half-convinced that the scans lied, and that he cracked his skull open. There has to be something wrong with his brain to be suffering this level of anxiety.

The nightmares are the worst, by a mile. He can forget about the pain in his lips, he can ignore the poke of stitches in his mouth. But he can’t get away from the dreams. They come to him even while he was awake: vivid images flashing behind his eyelids at every blink. The moment Michael begins to drift off, the moment an actual inkling of peace began to trickle into the corners of Michael’s broken mind — a sudden hand weaved into his hair, something is slamming into the back of his throat, tears are running down his cheeks, and his knees are being rubbed raw against the carpet.

He was back there. Back in that room.

Rooster Teeth hasn’t kicked back into gear yet. Burnie, Gus, and Joel had caught the earliest flight back from Australia the moment they heard about the shooting, but the company is taking some much needed time off. Everyone was on leave. Michael isn’t sure when they’re due back, but he dreads it.

The day passes with Michael lying uselessly on the couch. He turns on the TV around four and mindlessly watches the pictures, but he doesn’t hear a word.

He goes to bed around eight, too tired from doing nothing to stay up any longer. While he didn’t want to dream, Michael can’t drive himself to true exhaustion. Crawling into bed, his eyes are half-closed by the time his head hits the pillow, but his brow furrows in confusion. The pillow is wet. It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s from his tears.

He falls asleep alone.

---

“Gavin does not get to guide the wheelchair.”

“But Geo–”

“Gavin does not get to guide the wheelchair.”

“I can’t crash it that bad—”

“Hey, Jack? You know who doesn’t get to guide the wheelchair?”

“Who’s that, Geoff?”

“Gavin. Weren’t you listening? I said it, like, two or thirteen times.”

Geoff lets loose a giggle at the frustrated noise Gavin produces when the Brit finally relents. Glancing over his shoulder, Geoff shoots Ray a grin, which is returned with a snicker.

It’s only two weeks after he was shot in the stomach, and he can already walk to the bathroom and bathe himself. He no longer needs the damn catheter, too, which was always a plus.

It’s his release day, which meant he could get the IV out of his arm. He can also wear his civilian clothes, but he will need someone to pull up his pants. That’s gonna be fun. Geoff doesn’t get embarrassed, but Gavin sure does.

“Jack gets to push the wheelchair,” Geoff decides as he’s helped over to the contraption itself.

“Why him?” Gavin demands.

“Because I made fun of him for your expense, so I’m making it even. Besides, Gavin, he’s three times your size,” Geoff answers. “If I happen to drift too close to a flight of stairs, then Jack will be able to pull me back up.”

“Good thing you won’t be doing any drifting,” Ryan says pointedly.

“We’ll be taking elevators,” Ray adds with a sharp nod.

Geoff rolls his eyes. “No shit. Alright, losers, wheel me away. And no funny business, Jack. You deliberately aim for speed bumps, and I’ll deliberately aim for your toes.”

“Don’t worry, Geoff,” Jack says sweetly as he begins to push. “We’ll only hit the potholes.”

They pack into the car with little difficultly. Geoff is smiling the entire ride, excited to be back at home.

Geoff is beside himself with happiness as he’s wheeled through the front door.

“Home fucking sweet home,” he shouts in bliss, arms spread joyously. The stretch only tugs at his wound a little. There isn’t even pain. “Michael!” Geoff calls.

Michael greets him in the kitchen, face pale but smiling nonetheless. He bends, hugging Geoff gently, careful not to jostle him.

“It’s been too quiet,” Michael drawls, pulling away.

“Hell yeah it has,” Geoff agrees.

“Where is—?”

“Giving us a moment,” Geoff says, smug, even when Michael’s face falls.

“A moment?”

“Alone,” Geoff nods.

Michael’s upper lip curls, but he’s still cautiously smiling. “Er, why?”

Geoff doesn’t immediately reply. He pushes himself out of the wheelchair, clearly surprising Michael, who’s hands shoot out to help. “Stop, stop,” Geoff rebuffs, waving him off. “I’m good.”

“The hospital gave you a free wheelchair?” Michael questions, eyebrow raised.

“I mean the company paid for it,” Geoff grins. “But I don’t need the wheelchair.”

“Yeah, well I don’t need you bleeding all over the kitchen floor either,” Michael mutters, but he keeps his hands to himself. His expression, already bordering on fragile, takes on a surly edge.

“Hi, buddy,” Geoff says, smiling serenely. He takes a moment to just look at him.

“Hi, Geoff,” Michael says, reluctant. The bags under his eyes look like a physical weight.

Geoff studies him, smile fading. “You still look like hell,” he points out.

“‘M working on it,” Michael mutters incredibly unconvincingly.

“Working on what, exactly?” Geoff says, looking away casually. Ryan’s mentioned that Michael’s been as high-strung as a new violin. A neutral approach to his hot-tempered boyfriend was probably the only way to crack his shell.

“Healing,” Michael shrugs.

Geoff sets his teeth. There’s a long pause.

Michael just stares back at him.

“You’re a horrible liar, dude,” Geoff says bluntly.

“I’m not lying when I say I don’t want to talk about what happened,” Michael says bracingly. After a thick swallow, he falters. “I mean — if you want to talk about it, about what happened to you, that’s — I’m here for that. For you.”

Geoff’s shaking his head before Michael’s even finished. “Michael, I was shot.” Michael flinches. “But I’m dealing with what happened.”

Michael’s mouth twists. “Implying I’m not?”

Geoff opens his mouth to reply, but a voice from the kitchen doorway beats him to it.

“You’re not,” Ray says, voice hard.

Michael’s russet eyes dart to him, narrowing. “I’m working on it. We all had a hard time.”

“You’re fucking hiding something, Michael,” says Ray.

“I’m a grown man!” Michael exclaims. “I’m not keeping secrets or whatever, I’m dealing with my goddamn trauma.”

“Let us help!” Ryan damn-near shouts.

“You can’t!” Michael says before he realizes he sounds like a complete brat. He gives himself a little shake. “I mean — you are helping. Of course you’re helping me. I’m just trying to deal with it, okay?”

“Repressing and denying what happened is not dealing with it,” Jack says carefully.

Michael’s eyes dart around the house, like he’s looking for a safe place to glare.  He backs away, and Geoff can tell he’s feeling increasingly cornered.

“Wait, wait,” Geoff says quickly. “Michael. Please. Just talk to us?”

“I’m talking,” Michael says stubbornly. The twitching of his chin is more telling than Michael knows.

“Not to us,” Gavin pushes. “You’re being an asshole.”

“I mean that’s who you’re dating,” Michael says, trying for a weak joke.

“We’re trying to fucking help, Michael,” Jack sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. “If you aren’t going to open us to us, maybe we should take Burnie up on his offer of a therapist—”

“Absolutely not,” Michael growls.

“Well if you’re not dealing with it, and you’re not letting us help, and you won’t accept help from someone else, then…?” Ray trails off, staring at Michael.

Michael stares back at him, eyes brimming with mistrust. His jaw is clenched hard, the bruises on his face standing out more as his complexion grays.

Finally, something in him seems to concede.

“You don’t want to know.”

The words make Geoff’s skin ice over. It’s not only a confirmation that Michael has been hiding something, but the coldness in his tone makes Geoff think it’s worse than what he’s been suspecting.

The others seem to have the same feeling. They shift with discomfort, a tension thickening the atmosphere. It stretches for an immeasurable amount of time.

“He…”

Michael stops short. He doesn’t choke, mostly just bites down in the middle of his confession. His cheeks, colored with fading purples from the residual bruises, have gone from flushed with embarrassment to a sickly pallor. Geoff stands perfectly still, watching and waiting. Geoff forcibly smothers the ache in his heart, knowing that Michael needed to come to terms with sharing by himself.

“You’re all staring at me,” Michael suddenly snaps, withdrawing.

Dammit, Geoff thinks. He bites down on the verbal curse, though, and stays quiet. The other four men in the room seem content to follow his lead, letting Michael work through his thoughts.

“I’m trying to deal with a few different things,” Michael tries after a pause. He seems resigned with honesty, though he continues to skirt around whatever thing he’s obviously trying to bring himself to say. “Dealing with you, Geoff, getting — getting shot. For me. I’m not a martyr, so I wouldn’t say it was my fault, but it was for me. That’s — a lot to take in.”

Maintaining eye contact, Geoff nods slowly. He tries to convey his sympathy through the stare-down Michael’s forcing him into, to communicate his encouragement without completely scaring him off.

“Plus, I mean — c’mon,” Michael says, laughing unsurely, rubbing the back of his neck and then reaching around to cup at his throat. He’s wrought with nervous energy. “I think I deserve some credit. I’ve never been in a fight fight before, and that was — not really a fight, more like a beating.”

Geoff nods in sympathy, waiting for Michael to finish.

Michael licks his lips. His eyes dart from Geoff’s open expression, to the four men behind him. Luckily, all seem to sense that Michael shouldn’t be approached. Michael’s personal space was coveted even in normal circumstances.

“He — uh—” Michael starts and swallows. He takes a moment to think, to put words to his thoughts. He raises his eyes to meet Geoff’s waiting gaze. Visibly steels himself, as if expecting a backlash.

Backlash ended up being not being a ridiculous expectation, not with the next words that Michael grates out.

“He made me suck him off.”

---

Michael doesn’t cry much. When he is brought to tears, it’s usually a result of something he’s ingested. The barbecue sauce bet comes to mind; all that spice had easily made him tear up. The pixie sticks, too, had brought his eyes to a burn. Emotional tears are fairly rare for him.

Despite this, he’s damn close to them now. He can pin down the source: humiliation. It burns like a molten pit in his chest, bubbling up his throat like hot vomit. In fact — he’s pretty close to throwing up. His stomach rolls, churns, and for scary moment he gags.

It’s a sacred reprieve when no one approaches him. Michael can’t really chalk it up to them knowing what he needs — he needs not to be touched right now, not be to coddled or petted or hugged — but he wants to pretend. They’re most likely in intense shock, frozen in place.

“I’m — I don’t know what else to say,” Michael finds himself saying. And just like that, his floodgates open. “I feel so fucking sick. All the time. My throat still — still feels like there’s something in it—” and here Michael’s throat convulses, and he has to swallow hard, “—and I can’t stop dreaming about it. So now I can’t sleep.”

He breaks off, licking his lips compulsively and breathing. The air tastes like semen and blood. “I hate this,” he says with no small amount of anger. “I fucking hate this — I hate what happened to me, I hate that I can’t deal with it, and I hate that I can barely talk about it.”

Michael’s determined stare aimed at the far wall falters, and he glances at Geoff. Then at the four other men.

It’s like looking at five trauma patients. They stare at him. And stare. They don’t even blink and Michael can’t take this—

“Not what you were expecting,” Michael warbles out. His voice pitches wildly. “I’m not stupid — I don’t expect you to feel, like, disgusted with me or anything.”

That shocks Ryan, at least, out of his stupor. “Wha—No! No, of course not. ‘Disgusted’, please. Michael…”

“That,” Michael snaps, pointing viciously at him. “That is what I don’t want.”

“Pity?” Ryan guesses with equal vigor. “Michael — let people feel bad for you!”

“I don’t want pity!” Michael shrills out. “I want to not feel pitiful!”

“You are not — and never were — pitiful,” Jack practically snarls, jolting out of his shock. “Michael, you are the least pitiful person I have ever met.”

Gavin nods along, his sickly pallor not dampening the fire in his hazel eyes. He’s the only one to step forward, but makes no move to touch Michael. He leans, however, and doesn’t break eye contact. “Bad things happened to you. To all of us. No one’s thinking Geoff’s pitiful for being bloody shot.”

Michael’s eyes burn. He doesn’t bother screaming, That’s different! though that is exactly what sits on his tongue. Instead what slips out, utterly unintended, is, “I didn’t even fight back.”

“He had a gun,” Gavin points out shakily.

“He would’ve killed you,” Geoff says slowly, voice trembling.

“It feels like he did,” Michael whispers.

Geoff shakes his head violently. Michael can hear his teeth grind together.

“Michael,” Ray says softly, holding up his hands.

“I know,” Michael spits out. “I know, I’m lucky to be alive. I’m lucky to have you guys, to have support. To have all my fucking teeth—”

“That wasn’t what I was going to say,” Ray says gently, unperturbed. “I’m sorry it happened to you.”

“I am too,” Michael says, laughing harshly. “It fucking broke me.”

“It hurt you,” Jack says in a voice that’s meant to be correcting.

Michael looks away. He knows they aren’t looking at his mouth, but he feels like their gaze is drawn there, perhaps imagining the act. They have fucked his mouth before — with consent, of coursehave commented huskily on how good he looks on his knees, how obscene and delicious his lips look stretched around a cock. Michael had loved it, glad to bestow his boyfriends with a pleasing sight.

And the sight had been ripped open by a stranger, exposed unwillingly to someone that revolts Michael. It makes his stomach clench and turn, and if he’d eaten a full meal today, it would no doubt be all over the tile floor by now.

“Michael,” Geoff says, drawing him out of his disassociating stare. Michael looks at him, and his gaze holds no pity — no disgust. Michael’s breath catches. Geoff simply looks… relieved. “Thank you for telling us.”

Something drops in his gut, but it’s not a bad thing — it’s what he needed to hear. It’s exactly what Michael needed to soothe the magnified burn under his skin. He gasps in a breath, one that seems to fill his lungs completely for once.

Michael’s lips quiver when he tries to reply, so he just settles for a weak nod. There are no tears, but the fresh wound that splits open Michael from hip to hip feels a little less… gaping.

Not quite healing, not yet. But Michael doesn’t need to hold it closed by himself any longer, and with so many hands willing to help him, he can’t help but feel that soon not even the scar will ruin his recovery.

So Michael nods. Michael concedes, bows his head, and reaches for the many helping hands offered to him. And he works towards normalcy, just like any other damn day.