On one memorable Valentines day Ryan gives the whole crew hearts. Not chocolate hearts or candy hearts or even heart-shaped balloons, oh no. Fresh, hand-picked, unequivocally human hearts. More thoughtful than any store-bought gift if he does say so himself.
They’re carefully thought out, each presented differently; If Ryan’s going to do something then he’s going to do it right, wasn’t about to just throw slabs of bleeding meat down on the table and call it a day - he’s not an animal.
While it took the longest to obtain, Geoff’s is the most simple. Sitting in a basic cooler, nothing fancy, easy to identify and not meant to last. For Geoff the gift is not the organ itself but the inevitable demise of the man it came from, the involuntary donor who’s crew will no longer be trying to push their way into Los Santos.
For Jack there is a necklace, long and elegantly simple, the tapered rose-gold vial engraved with a small heart that makes her smile. Its unassuming, decorative and fashionable, perfectly belying the way the lid is sealed shut to preserve the ash within.
Ryan has never stuffed a heart with explosives before, hadn’t quite anticipated the difficulty of it, but his efforts are instantly rewarded by the involuntary way Michael snorts into laughter at the sight of the fuse snaking out of an artery. Its impossible not to join in when it goes off, humour infectious as Michael’s eyes light up, bellowing his amusement as gore rains down around them.
Ray receives what another might consider a serial killer’s love letter. A dismembered hand left in his favourite spot points him in the direction of a warehouse containing carefully arranged entrails which in turn lead to a breadcrumb trail of teeth. Thoroughly entertained Ray follows blood and gore all around the city before finding himself on the roof of an open-air parking garage, a giant blood red heart painted across the floor with the real deal placed carefully at its centre.
Gavin’s heart is in a ornamental jar, carefully preserved, bloodless and somewhat alien in appearance. It’s an almost shocking display of thoughtfulness, concession to the fact that Gavin, of all of them, would be the most disgusted, yet also somehow the one most likely to want to keep his gift. When he doesn’t have to smell it, feel the muscle gone cold in his hands, deal with the red stain of someone else’s life, Gavin is really quite delighted with the whole deal. Absolutely horrified, sure, but in that squirmy gleeful kind of way he gets, amused by his own revulsion, calling Ryan disturbing and lovely in the same breath.
Jeremy, who knows he definitely hasn’t been with them long enough to warrant a heart of his own (thank god?) watches it all play out with a bizarre mixture of amusement, horror and the tiniest pang of longing that comes along with feeling left out. At least until Ryan appears before him, as silent and terrifying as always, and thrusts a black plastic bag into his hands before ghosting away. The moment of shocked dread (whereupon Jeremy instantly realises that yeah nope warm-fuzzies of being included aside he did not need a human heart in his life actually thanks) is instantly washed away by helpless laughter when he opens the bag and catches sight of the anatomically-correct toy heart smiling cheerfully back at him.
Los Santos is toxic, a poisoned paradise destroying gods and demons alike, the evil and the innocent and everything in between. The city draws in victims, providing wealth and fame, power and anonymity, but nothing comes for free.
You don’t get to be top dog without accepting some losses. You sure as shit don’t get to stay there without making sacrifices. It’s all fun and games in the heat of the moment, terror and exhilaration one and the same when blanketed in adrenalin, but this life of theirs doesn’t come cheap.
There’s a debt that must be paid in blood and sweat, in tears and fears and panicked pain. In last breaths and dying wishes, regret and loss and bittersweet survival.
Accepting your own demise is one thing, easy really, the inevitable outcome of the choices they’ve made, the lives they’ve lived. Accepting that you might not go first, that you’ve attached yourself to people who’s deaths loom as imminently as your own, well that’s a truth far harder to swallow.
Most crews create a kind of distance, keep professional loyalty separate from deeper emotions, know that in Los Santos even family can only be temporary. The FAHC displayed no such restraint, but maybe they should have, maybe then they could have saved themselves from the greedy, desperate kind of love that comes with an expiry date. The inexplicably accepted promise that one day it will all be over, their carefully constructed kingdom will come crashing violently down, and there’s no chance they will all make it out alive.
But then maybe it’s not so surprising, such recklessness from a crew who treat devastation like devotion, who smile wide around bloody teeth while they rip their city to shreds. The crew who seek no salvation, who look for comfort in gunpowder and gasoline and find solace in each others ruin.
Los Santos is a deadline, the last stop disguised as endless opportunity, a cemetery that will bury them all, but the FAHC aren’t running. All things end, after all, and what is there to fear when even death itself is merely one last vicious victory.