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Crime Does Pay

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Joven slept better than he'd slept in months. 

He woke up at the crack of dawn, trying to untangle himself from the sheets as Wes slept softly next to him. Joven lay in bed for a second, watching Wes breath, his hair had fallen in his face, and it took all of Joven's strength not to push it away. 

He pulled himself out of bed, grabbing his phone off of the nightstand and pushing the door open as quietly as possible as he stepped out into the hall. Joven walked to the end of the corridor, looking up to see that Mari's door was open at the top of the steps. She hadn't made it home last night. He sent her a text, checking that she was out, and hadn't just forgotten to close her door.

Boze and Wes's doors had been shut, as had his own, but Damien's room was empty, his door ajar. Joven hoped that he'd just gone out for a morning walk or had changed his mind the night before and gone over to the house of one of the girls that he'd met bartending.

Joven liked how quiet it was in the mornings, how the silence poured over the building, and every single step he took could be heard clearly as he took the stairs down to the main floor. He wasn't entirely sure what to do that morning. Normally there were plans to worry about, and people to pay off, and checks to write, but today felt like a day where he could finally take a second to breathe. 

He took some food from the kitchen and popped open a can of that gross fizzy water one of the stripers had brought and left. Joven drank the whole thing before he realized that he hated it, and crushed the can in his hand before tossing it into the garbage.

Joven opened up the safe behind his painting, and pulled out the briefcase, snapping it open and pulling out some of the contents. He opened up Boze's laptop, which was technically his, but she had sort of never let him use it again after he'd given it to her. She had her pet project open, and he was glad to see that she had made some headway on it. 

The notification of a chat post caught his attention, and he clicked on it to find the following message.

B78s4w: Greetings Jackrabbit. This is Matt Raub. We are calling a meeting at your headquarters at approximately three o'clock today. Prepare for planning.

Joven thought out his message, deleting it and rewriting it at least three times before he finally sent it.

J4ckrabb!t : Good to hear from you. We'll be ready by then. Come in through the back entrance, we'll have someone let you in.

Joven set the computer aside, pulling out a few maps and other papers Boze kept in there from the briefcase. He got to work on cleaning off his desk, and filing the papers, knowing that he'd have to clean the conference room last minute. There was a message less than five minutes later.

B78s4w Prepare space to accommodate four people, including room for several computers.

J4ckrabb!t: Will do.

Joven snapped the computer shut, setting it back in the newly-cleaned briefcase. He set about cleaning the meeting room, something they hadn't used in a while, and was due for a good dusting. Joven worked for a few hours before Wes came downstairs, the bruise around his eye looked like it had begun to heal, and the scratches on the rest of his face were less red than they'd been the day before.

"Something up or are you just obsessively cleaning the conference room?"

"Ha-ha Wesley." Joven stood from where he was leaning over the conference table with a washcloth and a bucket of warm water and soap. "No, the Korol of the Bear Brotherhood just sent a message. He's bringing some friends over at three. I'm just getting the conference room ready."

"So you're obsessively cleaning and something's up," Wes laughed.

"Shut up Wesley."

"An excessive use of Wesley too, you must've slept better than normal last night."

Joven grumbled under his breath, but he was really more happy that Wes was back to talking to him again than anything else. Someone passing by the entrance to the conference room caught his eye, and he looked up, not quite catching who it was.

"Boze must be up," Joven noted. "I'll go fill her in while you finish cleaning the conference room."

"Joven-"

"Have fun cleaning under the table!" Joven grinned as he exited the room, laughing as Wes as he did. 

Joven turned away from Wes to see Boze standing at the entrance to the club through the hallway, talking to someone through the door. Whoever it was, Boze seemed as ease, joking as she leaned against the door. Joven waited as she said goodbye, pushing the door slowly closed behind her. Boze was grinning as she turned around, but her expression quickly mutated as she saw Joven.

"Shit," she tensed. "Joven you scared the hell out of me." Boze relaxed, raising a eyebrow at him. "How long were you standing there?"

"Why does it matter?" Joven raised his own eyebrow, feeling a coy expression cross his face. "Oooh, did little Boze get her freak on?"

"Really Joven? 'Get my freak on'? You can do better than that," Boze sighed. She changed the topic quickly. "Any updates on the Bear Brotherhood?"

"Yeah actually, they'll be here at three."

Boze's eyes bugged out of their sockets. "What!? What time is it now?"

"I dunno, like noon?"

"Shit, I've gotta get that thing done before they get here."

"What thing?" Joven turned with her as she blew past him, pulling open the door to his office.

"Y'know, the thing!" Boze started pulling the door closed after her. "Make sure no one bothers me, under no circumstance should anyone come in this room unless someone's bleeding out and I'm the only one that can help, or the building's on fire, okay?"

"Okay-but Boze, wait!" 

"What?" She paused with a tiny gap left in the door.

"You wouldn't happen to know where Damien is, would you? He wasn't in his room, I assumed that he went somewhere last night. I thought that he'd have told you if he left though, right?"

"Yeah, he went to go get ramen, I'm gonna guess that he met someone or ran into someone or something, alright?" She waited for a response by Joven put up his hands in surrender. "No distractions!" Boze slammed the door shut behind her and Joven was left in the darkened hallway.

Joven sent Damien a text, and got a response a few minutes later.

Haas: Sorry, should've sent you a message. Went to Shayne's for some video games. Be back in 20.

Damien was always punctual, something that Joven admired about him. He knew that when Damien said twenty minutes, he'd be there in twenty minutes. Joven then sent a few messages to Mari, but he knew that she was probably asleep.

He called her twice, and the third time left her a short message. Joven started to get a little worried after he sent the seventh text. She normally responded by now, even if she was busy. Mari was the kind of person to get back to you unless she didn't want to be found.

Joven tried to ignore his worries by cleaning up office side of the building. He organized the kitchen in a way that looked presentable, and took the trash out for the first time in months. 

He had started considering grabbing some of the less harsh chemicals from downstairs to try and address the problem that was the Jackrabbit's bathroom when Mari called him back. Joven let her talk about her night for a little before filling her in on what was happening back at the headquarters. She promised to be back in time to meet with their guests before she said goodbye.

Joven couldn't help but feel a little more at ease. After all that had happened, it was almost strange to feel that way. Everything had been so chaotic for the past few months, but now it felt like they were slipping back into their old routines, making each other laugh and running the club like the weird little family they were.

Joven was almost happy. But he didn't let himself get that far.

He checked in on Wes, who had begrudgingly finished the cleaning in the conference room.

"Was it Boze?" He asked, wiping his forehead with the back of his arm.

"Yeah, and she was seeing someone out the door."

"Really?" Wes raised an interested eyebrow. "Last night when I got up, I heard her going into her room, and I swore I heard another person with her. Did you see who it was?"

"No, but I'm guessing that it was one of her, friends, she has on speed dial." 

"Maybe." Wes got a far away look in his eyes. His lips turned up into a smirk. "Do you think people talked like this about us when we were together?"

"All of this talk about us Wes. Did you fall in love with me again?"

"Ew gross," Wes scrunched up his nose sarcastically. "Nah, it's just kinda one of those weird intrusive thoughts. I thought you might find it funny."

"I do," Joven grumbled with a smile. He considered Wes's question. "I'll ask Mari or Damien about it."

"Not Boze?"

"I already know what her answer is gonna be." 

Wes chuckled, handing the bucket of water to Joven. "I did what you asked, but you've gotta deal with the clean up, bud."

"What are you gonna do in the meantime?" Joven hoisted the bucket over his shoulder. 

"Mmm, I was going to go try out the pole of a little, see if I'm still in shape." Wes stretched, showing off his shoulders as he did.

"Really?"

"Yeah, why, you wanna watch or something?" Wes bit his tongue in a mock flirty way. Joven was hit with the sudden nostalgia of an older time, one where Wes still talked to him like that, instead of curt nods and quiet responses. Wes wiggled his eyebrows as Joven, who rolled his eyes.

"Get outta here Wesley," Joven sighed. Wes let out a little giggle and left the room, leaving Joven to organize the it. 

His phone buzzed, and he assumed that it was Mari or Damien updating him on where they were. Instead, a cold shock sent itself down his spine.

Missed Call From 555-0930

He picked up his cell, his brain going into autopilot as he slid the phone into his pocket.

Joven closed the door to the conference room quietly behind him, making sure to lock it several times. He drew the blinds on the conference room, ensuring that he hadn't missed a spot. Joven pulled out a key that hung around his neck under his shirt. He always wore it on his just in case he needed it, and there was a spare copy hidden on Boze's keyring.

Joven faced the painting on the far wall, and felt along the frame with his fingertips. His found the spot on the painting and flipped open the small hidden panel on the side with the tip of his fingernail. Joven slotted the key in place, turning it slightly in the wrong direction with the key halfway in before pressing it all the way in and turning it back all the way in the right direction. There was a series of clicks, and Joven removed the key, swinging the painting off the wall to reveal a small door just big enough for him to fit through behind it. 

Joven punched in the code to the room on the keypad lock on the door. The mechanics in the door whirred to life, and Joven pushed the door open, closing the painting hatch behind him.  He flicked on the light in the corner, listening to his back-up generator whirr to life. The room was small, but it was big enough to fit a small bed, a desk in the corner piled with heaps of electronics and wires and a smallish monitor, and a wire rack filled with rations and bottled water. Joven crossed the room to the desk, flicking on a few switches. He pressed a giant yellow button on one of the consoles as he sat down in the chair. Joven pulled his phone out of his back pocket, loading up the app he kept hidden on his phone. 

The home screen blank white, with an oscillating grey circle in the middle. Text appeared on the blank white space. Connection Secured

Joven took a breath before dialing the number, putting his phone up to his ear. The phone rang three times before there was an answer on the other end.

The voice on the other end of the line had said nothing, but Joven knew that she was listening to him.

"I was wondering if you'd even call me back," the voice sighed. "Last time we spoke, you were in quite the hurry."

"Are you here to tease me, or do you want something?"

"Temper, temper, Joven." He hated how she said his name. Joven could hear every little syllable as if it had been spoken with an overly pronounced staccato. "I come bearing news, more than anything else."

"Good news or bad news."

"Bad news I'm afraid, though I wish it were good." He waited for her to continue, there was no use rushing her or else he wouldn't get any information at all. "I'd thought, that you might like to know that some upstart journalist is going after your friend."

"I have a lot of...those kinds....of friends. You're going to need to be more specific."

"The fuck-up you keep trying to save, the one with the purple hair."

"What about her?"

"The police found the kill site you sent me to Joven, it was on Channel 5 this morning. I cleaned it the best I could, but I couldn't really conceivably burn it, so..."

"What." Joven felt his heart stop. "Shit. Oh, fucking hell, how did they find it?" He pressed his free hand against his temples. "Kate, I swear to god if you told someone-"

"Joshua, I would never dream of doing such a thing."

"Joshua?"

"If we're using our real names, why shouldn't I be able to give yours for a spin?"

Joven held back from using a few choice words very loudly. "Fine, Prime, whatever, that's not important right now-" Joven leaned his head back- "what really matters, is...no one else knew Kate. Just you, me, and Mari. and if...if you so much as referenced that building to someone, anyone, doesn't matter who, I will find you, and I will choke that sick, psychopathic light out of you-"

"Joven, please." Kate sighed loudly. "As if you could even find me in the first place-"

"This isn't something to laugh about," Joven spat. "Mari could be in danger because of this." He rubbed his eyes, trying not to let his anger get the better of him. "How much did it cost you?"

"How much did what cost me?"

"HOW MUCH DID IT COST YOU?" Joven roared, slamming his fist into his desk, stinging hot pain radiated up his arm.

Kate's voice became deadly calm. "Joven even if someone promised to pay me all the money in the world, I would never betray you like that."

"Then who did?" 

"How the hell should I know?" Kate sounded annoyed. 

"You're Katherine Prime, you know everything."

"I do," she sighed, her voice honeyed with bravado. "It's a gift and a curse, really."

"So you know who it was that tipped them off?"

"No, I don't know that, but I do know the reporter that's going after your friend in the first place, the guy who's trying to get to the bottom of this."

"Who?"

"His name's Ryan Todd, he's some big city hotshot or something, runs a podcast about true crime."

"And he's looking into old gang activity, isn't he?"

"Yep, went straight for Loisoz and Los Banditos."

"God," Joven felt his blood run cold. "I haven't heard that name in a while."

"Loisoz?"

"No, Los Banditos."

"Surprising with who you've associated yourself up with." He could hear Kate grinning over the phone. The was a slight silence before Kate spoke again. "Alright Joven, gotta run."

"Kate?"

"Hmm?"

"If you hear anything else about this, I'm the first one you call, got it?"

"'Course."

"And, um..." He could almost visualize the coy look on her face. "Thanks."

"No problem," she purred. "See ya."

The line went quiet as Kate hung up on him.

Joven turned off the devices on the table, sitting back in his chair. He let out a sigh, crossing his arms over him as he looked over at the security feed on his monitor. Boze was hard at work in his office, and Wes, true to form, was actually on the stage, cleaning off the pole in between routines. Joven watched him for a little bit, trying to get his mind off of Kate's words.

He felt the tiniest bit of worry creep into his mind, but flushed it out quickly. This wasn't a time for doubt. He needed to be strong.

The Bear Brotherhood was coming, and they were going to help pave his way to the crown. Joven didn't care what he had to do to get to it.

In fact, the deadlier the better. From the amount of anger and fear coursing through his veins, he wouldn't mind to crushing a few skulls.