miss_ingno: two white tigers cuddling (Default)
[personal profile] miss_ingno
Fandom: ragehappy/fahc
Ship: Doolray (Jeremy/Ray)
Words: 7.1k
Tags: fahc, established relationship, meet the family, crew politics

Summary: Ray is leaving a lot and the crew is suspicious. What they don’t know is that he has a lover on the East Coast. A lover that is in serious trouble…

Read here on Ao3.

Ray’s halfway out the door when Gavin calls after him. He freezes, heart stopping for a beat, before going double as fast. Surely, surely he simply misheard him. He turns, all casual like, arching a brow at the Brit lounging at the penthouse bar.

“What?”

“You’re heading to the East Coast, right?” Gavin clarifies nonchalantly, glancing up from his laptop. Ray’s eyes narrow - that’s not what he’d implied.

“Yeah, got a couple jobs down in New England. Why?”

At that, Michael looks up from where’s mixing some sort of monster cocktail.

“You gonna hit Jersey without me?” he jokes. “I’m hurt, Ray.”

“Nah, man.” Ray shakes his head. He grins. “I’d call your mom and you’d know by now.”

Michael nods sagely. “Can’t go to Jersey and not go see her. You better not be lying, or she’s gonna be pissed.”

“Gotcha,” Ray says, shooting him finger guns. Michael laughs.

“No, but you’re heading to Boston, right?” Gavin interjects lightly, pretending to busy himself with whatever’s on the screen in front of him. “You’ve been spending a lot of time there.”

“I guess?” Ray says flatly, turning to look at Gavin. His palms are sweating. “Hadn’t noticed, really.”

Gavin hums, turning the laptop to face him. There’s a list of his flights from this year.

“Lately, all your jobs seem to center around that general area,” he continues pointedly. Michael shoots him a sharp look. “And you always end up in Boston for a prolonged period of time, whether you take a job in NorCal or Florida directly after.”

A cold shiver runs down Ray’s spine. He’d been so careful.

“You’re spying on me, Vav?” he bites out, pushing his hands into his pockets to hide the slight tremble. “Rude.”

“I keep track of everyone in the crew,” Gavin counters remorselessly. “It’s what I do.”

“You got a sweetheart there, Ray?” Michael intervenes teasingly, but his shoulders are tense. “Seeing some Boston bitch?”

“None of your damn business,” Ray snarls. His voice is hard as he turns to address Gavin. “I mean it. Keep your big nose out of this, Free.”

But Gavin’s already shaking his head.

“You know I have to take this to Geoff next.” He bites his lips, expression softening. “This is your only warning, X-Ray. Because we’re friends.”

“Thanks,” Ray drawls, sneering at him. “Appreciate it, really.”

“Ray.” Michael reaches out for him, but drops his hand as Ray flinches back. “If you’re seeing some other crew-”

“No!” Ray startles. “Of course not! The fuck, man?”

“Well, I don’t know what the hell else this could be!” Michael roars. Gavin grabs his shoulder and pulls him back.

“Regardless of what it is,” he states coldly, “It has to end after this trip, or you come clean. Your choice.”

Ray stares at him, feeling cold all over. Gavin stares back firmly, gaze not wavering. Ray’s jaw clenches, and he holds tightly onto the strap of his backpack.

“You know what? Screw you. Screw both of you.” He glares fiercely at them. “You gonna call me a traitor? Go ahead, assholes. Spit it out.”

Silence. Ray waits for a moment, eyes flickering between the two of them. Gavin presses his lips together, and Michael lifts his chin challengingly. But neither speaks.

“Thought so,” Ray spits angrily. He turns on his heels and marches out if the penthouse, heart in his throat.

Fucking hell.

***

“-three, two, one… And out! The winner is Rimmy Tim!”

The crowd cheers as the man in the purple and orange mask stumbles to his feet. He lifts his hands in his signature victory pose, followed by that silly little dance. Around Ray, people start chanting his name. He shakes his head, slowly making his way to the back. He blends into the shadows until he’s at the backstage entrance. The guard glowers down at him blankly. Ray simply raises his hands and stops.

He doesn’t have to wait long. Jeremy’s manager hurries past him, talking twenty miles a minute. She freezes just past the guard, turns to squint at him before rolling her eyes. She grabs him by the wrist and waves the guard off, dragging Ray down the corridor.

“Yes, thank you, that’s all. Right. Right. Of course.” She puts the phone away and eyes Ray wryly. “He should be in the changing room, what are you waiting for? Shoo. And make it quick! I have a potential sponsor waiting to meet him.”

“No victory sex, got it,” Ray returns drily. “Don’t worry, he’ll be out shortly.”

“I’ll take your word for that,” she says, pointing at him sternly. “You have ten minutes.”

He waves her goodbye and heads straight for Jeremy’s usual dressing room. He doesn’t care much for underground fights himself - he’s not built for it - and didn’t know much about it aside the small tidbits he’d gleaned from Michael. But then he’d met Jeremy, and now he’s on a first name basis with most of the ring runners in the Boston area.

Sometimes he wonders who would win, Mogar or Rimmy Tim.

His hand is on the doorknob when raised voices pull him out of his thoughts. A quick glance around shows the corridor completely empty. Ray frowns, pressing his ear to the door and strains to hear what’s being said.

There- Jeremy’s voice, loud and boisterous with a hint panic hidden behind jokes. Ray can make out Rimmy Tim and win, before a different voice cuts him off.

This one is quiet and lilting and heavy with accent. Ray’s never been good at placing accents, and this one seems forced. Between the slurred speech and low voice, Ray can’t make out a single word. Heavy footfalls and the voice growing louder are his only warning. Ray steps back and leans against the opposite wall, just striking a bored pose before the door flies open.

“-consider it, Mr. Tim,” the voice was saying. “If I were you-” The man trails off, noticing Ray against the wall. A frown crosses his brow as he looks Ray up and down. “Who the hell are you!?”

Ray arches an eyebrow, mustering him in turn. The man is old- older than Geoff probably. Mid-forties, early-fifties if he has to guess. His red hair is thin at the temples, streaks of grey running along the sides. His suit is immaculate and plain - as are his bodyguards. They spill into the hallway and loom threateningly. Ray eyes them lazily, takes in how the jackets are tight around the shoulders. Good to show off, bad for range of movement.

He lets the silence linger for a second longer, then snorts.

“Nobody,” he quips, and makes a mental note to tell Ryan later. He’ll get a laugh out of that one. “Rimmy, your manager says you have a meeting in five.”

“Right. Let’s wrap this up gentlemen,” Jeremy says brightly, but his eyes seem strained. “Thank you for the offer.”

“I expect everything to go smoothly if I don’t hear back from you,” the leader warns, and Ray glances at him sharply. “Good day, Mr. Tim.”

Jeremy watches them leave silently, before turning to Ray, his voice clipped. “Come in.”

Ray shoots him a careful look as he pulls the door shut behind him. Jeremy is still in full costume, including the half-mask over his lower face. He paces up and down the room, now, as Ray takes a seat on the bench.

“You alright, pal?” he asks lightly, watching calmly as Jeremy whirls around and punches the wall. It cracks under his fist, plaster falling to the ground like snowflakes.

“No,” he bites out, ripping the mask off and flinging it into the corner. “Fuck. Sorry.”

“S’all good,” Ray assures him, standing up and slowly walking closer Jeremy’s shoulder slump.

“No, it’s not.” He looks up at Ray, brown eyes bright and earnest. “I didn’t even say hello.”

“Hello,” Ray teases, and a grin flashes across Jeremy’s face. He leans in, their noses brushing. “I’d give you a kiss, but you stink.”

“It’s a manly smell,” Jeremy protests, lifting his arm to sniff the pit. He grimaces. “On the other hand, I’d better take a shower before the meet and greet. You mind?”

“By all means.” Ray spreads his hands and leans back. “Feel free to provide me with a good show.”

“Why, how forward of you, Mr. Narvaez,” Jeremy drawls, plucking his gloves off. He glances at Ray with lowered lashes. “Or have you paid for the post-fight show?”

“As long as it’s a one-man show,” Ray shoots back, casually spreading his legs for Jeremy to step between. “I’m not inclined to share, you know.”

“Shame,” Jeremy jokes, inching his top up to reveals his abs. Ray reaches out and strokes along the hard line of muscles as Jeremy holds his breath to better show off. “Thought we had a good concept there. Could’ve made a pretty penny.”

Ray lets his hands wander over Jeremy’s pecs, before gliding back down to his stomach as he pulls the top off. Now that he’s no longer sucking his gut in, there’s a bit of fat covering his abs. Ray hums thoughtfully.

“No shower sex,” he declares regretfully. “Your manager will have my hide, I promised to have you out there by now.”

“That woman is a menace,” Jeremy complains as he steps back and drops his pants.

“You wouldn’t know what to do without her,” Ray shoots back, staring unabashedly. Jeremy flexes mockingly under his gaze, before chuckling and turning to the shower.

“A blessing and a curse,” he amends, glancing back at him over his shoulder. “You coming to watch or…?”

“Sure,” Ray agrees easily, standing up to follow him to the shower. He leans in the doorway, watching as Jeremy gets wet. “So. Those guys earlier.”

Jeremy turns his back on him, busying himself with the dials. His shoulders are tense.

“Hm? Oh, those guys,” he says dismissively, the spray of water making him pause. Ray watches him appreciatively, the way the muscles on his back move. But he doesn’t let it distract him.

“Yeah, those,” he says lightly, eyes sharp. “You in trouble, man?”

It takes Jeremy a long time to answer. He’s avoiding Ray’s gaze, too, but he can be patient. Finally he steps up and gets Jeremy’s back for him.

“Nah, not really. At least not yet.” He finally turns to face Ray. “Thanks. And don’t worry, yeah?”

His front is getting wet from the spray, but he doesn’t care. He musters Jeremy’s face, searching for something but only finding a sort of tense earnestness.

“Alright,” he says, handing the soap over and taking a step back. “You know you can talk to me, right? Just because we don’t usually talk shop doesn’t mean…”

Ray trails off, looking down with a grimace. They both know the other is part of the criminal underworld but not much else. Ray’s pretty sure Jeremy’s seen his rifle case and, considering his constant travels, put two and two together. And well. He knows where Jeremy fights and that he works with one of the local crews.

“I guess.” Jeremy sounds hesitant. He sticks his head under the spray, washing out the shampoo, before turning the shower head off. “It’s just- I don’t want to involve you in my shit, y’know? It’s hard enough to make it in this life without me dragging you down.”

“Jeremy,” Ray starts, tone serious. He tears his gaze from how the rivulets of water cling to his sculpted body to meet his eyes. “I get that, okay? But promise me-” Jeremy opens his mouth, but Ray shakes his head insistently. “No, listen. Promise to tell me if you need an out. From your crew, the ring, the city - it doesn’t matter. Just… promise me.”

“I will,” Jeremy rasps, voice hoarse with some unnamed emotion. He swallows hard. “I will, I promise. If it comes to that- I will.”

“Good,” Ray says slowly, nodding. He flashes Jeremy a grin, trying to lighten the mood. “Better get dressed, tiger. Unless you want to seduce your future sponsor?”

“Oh, fuck off,” Jeremy laughs, throwing the soap at him. Ray ducks out of the room, chuckling. But while Jeremy’s finishing up in the bath, he checks his schedule app on his phone. It’s one of Gavin’s and password protected in addition to his emoji-riddled code. He’s not an idiot.

Ray frowns. He hasn’t more than a week left in Boston before his next flight to his first job. He peeks through the door, watching Jeremy get dressed while singing Linkin Park under his breath. It brings a reluctant smile to his lips.

He’ll be fine. Jeremy can take care of himself.

…he hopes.

***

“I can’t do it, Trish,” Jeremy pleads, rubbing at his forehead. “I don’t have the manpower or the resources needed to pull it off by the weekend. You know this is bullshit.”

“I know that the boss expects results by then,” Trish replies blandly. Jeremy once more feels the urge to throw something, his hand clenching into a fist by his side. “I can’t help you there.”

“Just, talk to him. Get me a couple more days, that’s all I’m asking.” Jeremy takes a deep breath. “The others are dead, Trish. As far as I can tell, they hunted down everyone else.”

There’s a shaky inhale on the other hand of the line. “Kenneth is here, too. They’ve- we’ve recruited him last week.”

“Trish,” Jeremy starts, then stops. He lets his head bang against the fridge. “Be honest with me. Why did they let you live?”

A long silence ensues, in which Jeremy starts pacing up and down in his kitchen. The place is too small, but too empty. He’s used to hanging out with someone, even if Ray’s off on a job. One or more of his crew - but they’re dead now. All of them are dead or scattered in the wind. Except for Trish, and as relieved as he first was to hear she survived the slaughter when the Irish dismantled their little crew, suspicion is niggling at the back of his mind with an awful idea.

“I did what I had to,” she finally says, and her voice is flat. “We all did.”

“Did you give them Andrew?” Jeremy asks even as he knows it’s useless to prod. “Daniel? Sarah?”

“I’m not a traitor, Jeremy. But our crew doesn’t exist anymore,” Trish returns calmly. “We were small and stupid and arrogant, and they tore us apart. Circle of life. You should worry over your own survival.”

“I am,” Jeremy bites out, drawing a shaky breath. “Which is why I’m asking you, I need more time. Tell Brendan-”

“Tell him himself,” Trish snarls. “I’m not putting my head on the line for you, Dooley. We’re not crew anymore, get that through your thick head.”

“Did you give me up to them? Is that what saved you?” Jeremy questions sharply, pacing like a caged tiger. “Did you tell them where to find me-”

“You’re a lot of things, Dooley, but subtle is not one of them,” Trish snaps back. “Rimmy Tim is the opposite of subtle. They would have found you sooner or later anyway.” A crackle, and he’s not sure if it’s the line breaking or something on her side. She comes back a second later, her voice hushed. “Jeremy, you stupid bastard went back to the ring. Everyone knew we had a ring fighter and you just went back there. I couldn’t have saved you even if I wanted to.”

“And you didn’t want to. No, I get it. I’m on my own,” Jeremy snaps, abruptly ending the call. He drops his head against the fridge again, taking a deep breath. He slams his fist against the surface, exhaling shakily. “Fuck.”

He’s not sure how to get out of this mess. The Irish are expecting him to pull this job off by Monday at the latest, alone and without resources. Most of his old allies are in hiding after what happened to their crew, and he doesn’t have to money to pay for additional muscle, especially since he won’t get paid himself. Except being allowed to keep his life and maybe be initiated by the Irish if they so damn well please.

Fuck. He’s really hoped to get this done before Ray comes back, too.

Jeremy glances at the clock and curses. He’ll have to do it tonight, before he picks Ray up from the airport in the morning. He’s managed to scrounge up some outdated blueprints and scouted the area, there’s not much left to do but wing it.

He’s gonna break into the police station. Fuck.

***

Ray’s already waiting at the front entrance when Jeremy pulls up in his old, beat-up car.

“Sorry I’m late,” he apologizes immediately as Ray opens the passenger door. “Hope you didn’t have to wait long?”

“It’s fine,” Ray waves him off, mustering him intently. “You okay? You look tired.”

Jeremy grimaces, stifling a yawn. He’s hoped Ray wouldn’t notice. But of course he has, there’s no sense in trying to deny it now. “Rough day. I’ve been up all night.”

“Work?” Ray inquires, his brow furrowing with concern. “You sure you don’t need help?”

Jeremy hesitates, but… he won’t drag Ray into this. He’s sure his boyfriend wouldn’t bat an eye before he throws himself into it if he asked. They’ve never talked much about work, but he’s seen Ray’s gun case. He’s sure the Irish would fall over themselves to bag them an independent mercenary. Jeremy can’t let that happen. For one, they’d use his life as blackmail to keep Ray on their payroll. And on the flipside, they’d have Ray to keep Jeremy compliant.

They’d never let either of them go.

“Nah, it’s fine,” he hedges instead. “I managed. The job just went a little sideways, had to lay low all night until the heat died down.”

And that’s mostly true. He’s swapped the evidence he was supposed to, but a copper surprised him as he tried to navigate their computer system. He could’ve really used a hacker on this job. He just hopes Brendan won’t be too pissed about Jeremy abandoning the secondary goal to get the hell out of there.

“If you’re sure,” Ray trails off, obviously not quite buying it but also not willing to push. Jeremy smiles, then has to stifle another yawn.

“I’m pretty sure. I just need some sleep, s’all.”

Ray hums thoughtfully. “Well, let’s head back to yours then.”

Jeremy glances at him, surprised, but Ray just looks back steadily.

“That really okay with you? I know we were planning a date…” He can’t quite recall what plans they’d made and wow, if that doesn’t drive the exhaustion home. Usually he’s really excited for these special moments spend just the two of them, all too aware of how rare they are. “I’m sure I can push through if I get my hands on a coffee or two.”

“No, I mean it. You need some rest.” The corner of his mouth ticked up into a crooked grin. “Let me take care of you, shorty.”

He knows he should protest but that… that sounds way too tempting. “Alright.”

Jeremy has to admit it’s probably the right choice as he’s dozing off on the couch, Ray rummaging through the kitchen in the background. The worry of Brendan’s reaction is still niggling in the back of his mind, but with Ray’s reassuring presence, he lets his eyes slip shut to rest just for a moment.

“Come on, Big Guy,” Ray says softly. There’s warm hands on his shoulders, gently pulling him up. Jeremy grumbles half-heartedly. “Let’s get you to bed.”

***

Ray wakes with a start, instantly alert. He’s not quite sure why, but something feels off. A glance to his side assures him that Jeremy’s alright, sleeping soundly on his stomach. One of his arms is thrown over Ray’s waist, pinning him down. He can’t help but smile fondly, his heart warming at the thought that even in his sleep, Jeremy wants to keep him close.

There’s a muffled thud, and Ray freezes, straining his ears.

Against the quiet sound of distant traffic and the Boston night life, there was the creaking of floorboards and the scraping of the bathroom door opening. Ray wiggled out from Jeremy’s arm, dropping quietly to the floor. He’s glad he decided to keep his socks on overnight as they muffle his steps. Jeremy stirs with a questioning murmur, and Ray glances back at him, debating whether or not to wake him.

The low hiss of voices is his only warning, and he quickly scrambles up to lie flat on top of the wardrobe, just as the door to the bedroom flies open.

Five men storm in, two stepping forward to rip Jeremy from the bed, two others taking guard by the door and the window respectively. The fifth man is wearing a suit, and Ray recognizes him from when he visited Jeremy at the ring. The two men drag a struggling Jeremy forward, forcing him to kneel in front of the Suit.

“What the fuck,” Jeremy snaps, squinting through the darkness. Ray can appreciate leaving the lights off, both as an intimidation tactic and so no one notices the going-ons. Still. Right now, it’s their second mistake.

“Mr. Tim,” the Suit intones darkly. “I thought we had an agreement.”

“We have!” Jeremy squawks. He glares blearily up at the Suit. “The fuck, Brendan. You could have just called.”

The Suit - Brendan - signals one of Jeremy’s captors. The man grins viciously and stomp-kicks him in the side. Jeremy cries out in pain, and Ray twitches on his perch. His fingers brush against his sniper case, the lid parting easily. In his paranoia, he didn’t zip it shut earlier after checking all the pieces. Ray bites his lip and prays the men will be distracted long enough for him to quietly assemble his gun.

“Did you really think we’d be tricked that easily, Mr. Tim?” Brendan asks silkily, brushing off the jacket of his suit. “Did you seriously believe we would buy it?”

“Buy what?” Jeremy asks, sounding honestly confused. One of the grunts punches him in the face, and Ray grits his teeth. His fingers dance over the familiar scope and grip, scrambling to assemble it properly in the dark and in close quarters.

“I must admit, it was masterfully done. The perfect accident - a silent alarm triggered while an officer just happened to pass by. And yet! You escaped without anyone catching sight of you, but too little time to back out of the computer system.”

The Suit is pacing now, gesticulating wildly. Ray slips the magazine in, timing the sharp fall of footsteps with the quiet click of it sliding home.

“Conveniently leaving the file of our man open on the monitor. Pure coincidence, I’m sure.”

The Suit stops in front of Jeremy, and Ray bites hack a curse, inching forward and over his rifle to line up the perfect shot.

“Do you really think I’m that stupid?” He rears his hand back and slaps Jeremy across the face. “Did you really think I would wave off that near impossible timing and not grow suspicious?”

“What? No!” Jeremy splutters. He spits a glob of blood on the floor. “Why the fuck would I do that?”

“Andrew? Daniel? Sarah?” the Suit mocks, and Ray can see Jeremy flinch from the corner of his eyes. He sights down the scope, aiming for the Suits’ left eye. “That’s right. Did you honestly think we wouldn’t supervise your call to your old friend?”

“Look, man, I don’t care about revenge. I just want to fucking survive-” Jeremy rambles, his eyes flickering about the room. Ray takes a deep breath, finger closing on the trigger.

“Then you chose the wrong people to piss off,” the Suit snarls, pulling out a gun from a hip holster. He lifts it up to Jeremy’s pale face. Ray can’t see his expression from this angle, but the line of his shoulders is tense. “However, I am a merciful man. I shall reunite you with your dead friends-”

A shot rings out.

For a second, no one moves. Then, chaos erupts.

Ray pulls over and shoots at the window guard without aiming properly, but the man goes down with a cry. At the same time, Jeremy lurches forward, throwing one of the man holding him over his shoulder. The Suit dropping dead to the floor with a dull thud seems to spur the others into action. The door guard pulls out a gun, and Ray swings around to aim at him, leaving Jeremy to wrestle with the other two.

His first shot splinters the wooden doorframe, the next one grazes the guard’s arm. He ducks low and fires into Ray’s general direction blindly. With a curse, Ray rolls off the wardrobe, landing awkwardly on his side. He hisses in pain, but uses the momentum to roll further, until he comes up on his knees, lifting his sniper shakily.

One of the man on the ground cries out, distracting the door guard for a millisecond, and Ray uses the opportunity to his advantage. He fires two shots rapidly, and the guard doubles over, crumbling to the floor.

Another yell, and Ray whirls around reflexively, pulling the trigger point blank as the window guard staggers towards him. Another shot rings out, just as the window guard topples over with a hole straight between his eyes. Ray turns to see Jeremy pinning down one of the men and holding the Suit’s discarded gun. The other man goes down, clutching his shoulder, while the first reaches up to grapple for the gun.

Ray doesn’t think, he just aims and exhales, and the wounded man is dead.

A second shot goes wild as Jeremy’s opponent forces him to empty his gun into the ceiling. Ray takes aim but hesitates. He can’t get a clear shot. He circles them slowly, putting his back to the door. Jeremy shakes the man’s grip off, whipping the pistol across his face. The man goes down and Jeremy doesn’t wait, just aims and shoots.

Ray holsters his sniper over his shoulder, exhaling shakily.

Jeremy looks up, staring at him blankly. Then he lifts the gun, pointing at him, and Ray freezes, his eyes going wide.

“Jere-” He shoots. Something bumps into Ray’s back, making him jump. He turns, stepping back as the door guard’s corpse slides to the ground.

For a moment, there’s only their heavy breathing breaking the silence.

“Nice shot,” Ray says at long last, turning to face Jeremy. He’s dropped the gun and his hands are trembling, Ray notes as he musters him.

“Thanks. Been working on my aim,” Jeremy jokes, rubbing the back of his hand over his forehead. Then he stares at the hand, surprised.

“Impressive,” Ray comments drily. Warily, he steps closer. “We need to talk.”

“Yeah,” Jeremy breathes out, shaking his head and looking up. “I figured.”

***

They take the next plane to Los Santos. Jeremy’s pretty sure Ray dropped some jobs to return early, but he’s too thankful to ask. All his belongings fit within one suitcase. Ray sold his remaining weapon stash for some quick cash, while Jeremy pushed clothes and mementos into a bag. There’s no space for his xbox, and maybe it doesn’t matter in the long run, but Jeremy can’t shake the thought.

“Stop worrying,” Ray sighs, and when Jeremy glances over his eyes are still closed. “I’m sure they’ll like you.”

“Right.” The Fake AH Crew. He’s heard of them, rumours of impossible heists and a gang taking over an entire city over in San Andreas. Nothing concrete,and it’s always been far enough away not to bother with.

“You’ll be fine,” Ray assures him, opening one lazy eye. “Geoff would be an idiot not to hire you. But I can introduce you to our people in the fight ring at the very least, if he doesn’t. On that note, did your manager make it out okay?”

“Yeah. She wasn’t happy at the news, but she’s laying low for now.”

“That’s good.” Ray closes his eyes again and Jeremy bites his lip, watching him intently. Ray makes an amused noise. “Something on my face?”

“Nah.” Jeremy can feel the sappy grin stretch across his face. “Just glad that I still have you, despite everything.”

He’d been scared, being woken by Brendan and his goons in the middle of the night to find Ray gone. He hadn’t dared calling attention to it, hoping against hope that Ray had managed to evade them or hide somewhere. At the same time he worried that Brendan might pull him out to threaten Jeremy or make an example of him.

He didn’t have time to think after Brendan’s death, too busy fighting his goons. But now the relief hits him again, and he leans in to press their lips together.

“Whatever else happens next,” Jeremy whispers, holding Ray’s gaze steadily. “As long as you’re by my side, I don’t care what it is.”

“Sap,” Ray accuses him, but he’s smiling, and Jeremy can’t help himself, he kisses him again.

***

The Fakes are nothing like he’d imagined.

Oh, sure, they’re quite the impressive welcoming committee, arms crossed as they present a united front, obviously expecting them. Or at least… expecting something, judging by the visible double-takes as Jeremy follows Ray into the penthouse.

There’s five of them with Ramsey standing front and center. He’s flanked by a red-head with an impressive beard on one side and the Vagabond with his signature skull mask on the other. Behind the red-head there’s a blond toothpick with golden sunglasses and a shorter man with a fearsome scowl.

“Sup,” Ray greets them, coming to a slouched halt several feet in front of Ramsey. Jeremy steps up behind him, glancing curiously between the crew and Ray.

“You’re back early,” Ramsey frowns, and despite everything he resembles a disappointed parent more than a scary mob boss. “I thought you had some jobs queued up for at least eight weeks.”

Ray shrugs nonchalantly. “Things changed.”

“Ray…” the blond pipes up warily. “I meant what I said.”

“That next time I come back I better come clean?” Ray returns sharply, before relaxing into a grin. “I know, dude. That’s what I’m here for.”

He jerks his head to indicate Jeremy, who waves awkwardly as every gaze turns to him.

“Um, hi?”

“Explain,” Ramsey orders shortly, eyes flicking between them.

“This is Jeremy. He’s looking for work. Thought you might like him.” Ray shrugs, shooting Jeremy a glance. “He’s a pretty good fighter. Great shot. Could probably take on Mogar, hand-to-hand.”

“I’ll consider it,” Ramsey says dismissively, pinning Ray with a stern look. “Not what I was asking, asshole.”

“Did you fucking find us a replacement?” the angry one spits. “The fuck Ray. Are you leaving us?”

“No!” Ray protests immediately. “It’s not that.”

He gives Jeremy a tight smile, before turning to address the scowling man in the back.

“You asked me if I had a sweetheart a couple weeks ago,” Ray starts, reaching out and entangling his fingers with Jeremy’s. “If I was seeing some Boston Bitch, as you put it.”

The man’s eyebrows are flying up to his behind his curls. “I thought it was a metaphor another crew. Damn, Ray, I didn’t think you’d take it so literally.”

“Very biblical, too,” Jeremy quips, squeezing Ray’s hand.

“We’ve been dating for a year now,” he continues blithely, turning to face Ramsey. His chin juts forward defiantly. “You said I could take some time off, spread my wings, find myself and all that shit. Well, I did. Didn’t realize everyone would jump to crazy conclusions, but here it is: the truth.”

Geoff eyes him lazily for a long moment, before nodding. He jerks his head to indicate Jeremy.

“You think he’s got what it takes?”

“I don’t think so - I know,” Ray states confidently. Ramsey hums contemplatively.

“Michael? Thoughts?”

The scowly man in the back bares his teeth. “I can take him. No matter what Ray says, he’s clearly biased.”

“If I were biased I’d say he could beat Ryan,” Ray drawls, giving the Vagabond a nod. Then he glances at Jeremy. “No offence, babe.”

“None taken,” Jeremy chuckles, feeling himself relax. He turns towards Michael. “Rules?”

The other looks him over scathingly. “No weapons, no serious injury or death. First to lose consciousness or surrender.”

“Sounds good to me.” Jeremy shrugs.

“Alright, assholes, that settles it,” Ramsey pronounces, clapping his hands and rubbing them together. “If Jeremy wins, he gets initiated. If not-” Ramsey shrugs. “Hell, might still sell tickets.”

“I’ll set up a betting pool,” the bearded man offers.

“Great!” Ramsey grins sharply, and finally Jeremy can see the shark-like mob boss in his expression. He shivers. “This’ll be fun.”

***

“You’ll be fine,” Ray reassures his boyfriend, feeling a little exasperated. “Even if you don’t win, you just need to impress Geoff and that’s not hard, honestly. Besides, you’re good. You’ll wipe the floor with Michael.”

“And then he’ll be pissed because I made him a laughing stock and I’ll have to run again,” Jeremy rambles, pacing nervously. Ray snorts. “Don’t laugh, this is serious!”

“You’ll be fine,” Ray repeats, stepping up to him and cupping his face. He leans down a little and brushes their mouths together gently. “Now go out there before they disqualify you for dawdling.”

“You’re an ass,” Jeremy accuses him, closing his eyes and pressing his forehead against Ray’s. He exhales slowly. “Alright. Here goes nothing.”

“Go get ‘em, tiger,” Ray drawls, swatting his butt. Jeremy shoots him a baleful look but makes his way over to his entrance. The announcer is already getting the audience hyped. Ray uses a side-door to slip past unnoticed, before joining his crew in the private booth.

“-and now! The match you’ve all been waiting for! He’s made a name for himself in Jersey, now he’s raising hell in the streets of Los Santos! The Fake’s very own Mogar!!”

The crowd goes wild, cheering and clapping as Michael saunters in wearing his brown leather jacket with the snarling wolf on the back. He circles the ring, posing with a cocky grin before finally taking his jacket off, revealing a black tank underneath.

“And on the other side, a new challenger appears! He fought his way up and down the East Coast to find a rival good enough to test his skill. All the way from New England, here is Rimmy Tim!”

The crowd explodes as Jeremy jogs in. He’s wearing his hideous orange and purple wrestler outfit, but forewent the mask that usually goes with it. Instead he’s wearing a white cowboy hat that he assured Ray is part of his heist ensemble.

Climbing the rope, Jeremy poses before taking a flying leap into the ring. At the last second, he tucks into a ball and rolls to his feet.

“Frontflip for style,” Ray comments, a grin spreading across his face. Gavin glances at him curiously, but before he can add anything, Geoff stands up with a mike. Instantly, the crowd falls silence.

“Welcome to this special exhibition match of Mogar vs. Rimmy Tim. As always, there are no rules. Both fighters have agreed to unarmed combat, but that’s it, no holds barred. We’re all here to find out one thing.” He pauses dramatically. “Does Rimmy Tim have what it takes… to join the Fakes?”

The crowd roars, as the announcer starts the countdown. “…one- Begin!”

They start circling each other, Michael with a cocky smirk and Jeremy warily.

“Ready to get pummeled into the mat?” Michael calls out. Jeremy snorts and makes a come hither gesture with his hand.

“You can try,” Jeremy taunts, pausing dramatically. “If you dare.”

“Bitch, please,” Michael shoots back, stepping closer. “You calling me a coward?”

“I call ‘em as I see ‘em,” Jeremy retorts. He closes the distance between them and takes a firm stance. “You gonna attack or should I go ahead and take a nap?”

Ray shakes his head as he watches Michael lunge forward. Jeremy dances out of the way, going for a kick to the shins to trip him up. Michael jumps over and punches Jeremy, his fist grazing his shoulder. Jeremy retaliates by ducking in close with an uppercut that Michael barely manages to dodge. Jeremy twirls around and drives his elbow into Michael’s stomach just as the other pulls him into a headlock.

They collapse to the ground and roll apart, squaring off again once they’re back on their feet.

Ray watches curiously. Technically, he knows their fighting styles are different, but it’s something else to see them in action. Michael relies on upper body strength and speed, punches and dodges turning into grapples at every opportunity. He’s faster than Jeremy, Ray has to admit. Jeremy is steadier, dodging less than redirecting his enemies. It’s a combination of wrestling-inspired martial arts moves.

Just then he faces Michael’s tackle head-on, only to throw him over his shoulder.

“One grand says Micoo finishes this in the next minute,” Gavin says, offering Ray a smug grin. “Your boy is good, but mine’s better.”

Ray hums disagreeably. “He’ll have to finish in the next minute if he wants a chance. Jeremy’s got better stamina.”

“Know that from personal experience, hm?” Jack teases, as he jots Gavin’s bet down. “Any takers?”

“Yes,” Ryan joins them quietly, cocking his masked head. Ray glances at him in surprise. “Ray’s right, Michael’s more of a short burst fighter. Dooley seems like the wiley sort. If this comes down to a test of endurance, he has a better chance to win.

Geoff hums thoughtfully, but doesn’t add anything as they all return to watching the match.

Down in the ring, the fighters have taken to rolling on the mat, trying to pin each other. Michael’s got a busted lip, and Jeremy’s face looks like he’ll develop one hell of a black eye. Michael has his legs pinned and is trying to grasp his arms. Jeremy, however, is a slippery bastard, worming his way out of the pin just enough to flip Michael on his back.

Instead of pinning him, though, Jeremy scrambles to his feet. He whirls 360 degrees, lifts his leg up high and aims for Michael’s stomach. Michael’s eyes go wide and he lurches to the side, barely escaping the danger. The kick leaves a nicely sized dent in the mat. Next to Ray, Gavin winces.

“Ouch. That’s-”

“Powerful,” Jack agrees.

“But showy,” Geoff points out, frowning.

“It’s an exhibition match,” Ray pipes up, because duh. He’s not sure how it isn’t obvious to them. “The goal is to impress, not to be efficient.”

“But he can be efficient?” Geoff asks pointedly.

“Yes.” Ray nods decisively. He hesitated for a moment, then added, “He ran with a crew until recently the Irish mob wiped them out. They came after Jeremy in the middle of the night while I was there.”

“That’s why you came back early,” Jack realizes. Ray just shrugs.

“He’s good. Definitely kept up with me so.”

Geoff is nodding thoughtfully. “East Coast, you said?”

“Massachusetts,” Ray agrees.

In the ring, Michael pulls Jeremy into a chokehold, before Jeremy ducks down and rolls him over his shoulder. Going by both of their grins, they’re having fun at least.

“Alright. We’ll give him a trial run,” Geoff declares, stroking his mustache.

“Cheers, boss.”

Michael seems to slowly be running out of energy. He’s panting hard and his eyes narrow as he stares Jeremy down.

“Ready to give up yet, Boston Bitch?” he calls mockingly. Jeremy laughs.

“Not before you surrender, Jersey trash.”

The crowd boos and ooohs s they trade insults. But Ray knows Michael is stalling, and clearly Jeremy can sense it, too. He rushes the other man with a yell, grabbing him around the waist and throwing himself to the ground, dragging Michael to the ground with him. They roll across the mat, a flailing mess of limbs, fighting for the upper hand. They’re very clearly evenly matched.

Silence descends on the bleachers as Jeremy pulls out on top.

Sitting on Michael’s thighs to keep him pinned and with one arm across his throat, Jeremy gasps for breath, before ordering loudly, for all to hear, “Surrender.”

Everyone holds their breath as one.

The referee seems lost, glancing up to the Fake’s booth. Geoff nods and waves him off, his face serious. Ray eyes him warily before focusing back on the match. Michael is glaring up at Jeremy jaw clenched. He bares his teeth and-

Then he taps out.

The crowd stares in shocked silence, no one quite daring to move. Jeremy sits back with a not, gaze not wavering from Michael’s. He slowly stands up and offers the other man his hand. Ray tenses, and for a split second it looks like Michael’s gonna spit on him. But then a grin grows on his face and he laughs, clasping the offered hand.

“Hell of a match, man.”

“Thanks. You, too.”

They grin stupidly at each other  and shake hands. Something in Ray snaps into place.

“Parkour!” he calls out, jumping over the balustrade and landing on the bleachers, startling the audience sitting there. Without paying the strangers too much mind, Ray hops down the benches until he’s at the outside of the ring. No one stops him from slipping under the ropes and joining the fighters. He wraps an arm around Jeremy’s waist and takes the man’s weight as he leans into him, exhausted but unwilling to show it in front of everyone.

“Good job, babe,” Ray praises him, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “I knew you could do it!”

“Not without some effort,” Jeremy admits, giving Michael a thumbs up. “You put up quite the fight, dude.”

“Can’t throw a match this important,” Michael offers, grinning. “Besides, I needed to make sure you were good enough for our Ray.”

“Asshole,” Ray groans, rolling his eyes.

“Micool! You lost me several bets!” Gavin squawks as he joins him, throwing an arm around Michael’s shoulders. The lad staggers before regaining his balance. Gavin frowns, immediately concerned. “You alright?”

“I’m fine, just beat up,” Michael waves him off. He turns to stare over Ray’s shoulder. “So. What’s the verdict, Boss?”

Ray and Jeremy turn, and there stand the Gents, Geoff at the forefront. He’s smoothing out his mustache, eyeing Jeremy with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“Welcome to the crew, Rimmy Tim,” he announces, holding out his hand. Jeremy shakes it, quick and firm. “Good match, boys. You’ve done well, Michael.”

Michael shrugs. “Should have listened to Ray’s assessment,” he admits ruefully.

Ray sticks his tongue out at him, and Michael instantly mirrors him. Smiling, Ray leaves the ring with his family and boyfriend, all part of his crew now.

The next outside job could wait. He doesn’t need to find himself anymore, he found something more important.

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