When the doctors finally left and room grew quiet, Joven finally let himself breath. The past two days had been a nightmare, and he was just glad to feel like things might be moving towards the better. The news about the Titans had done nothing to calm his nerves, but the bare fact that Mari was going to be okay was enough to keep him going.
Matt Raub and Sarah Whittle had arrived first, Boze and Wes a few minutes behind them. Damien had arrived ten minutes after everyone else, his hair a mess and his eyes bleary. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week, and from the amount of times he'd been gone on 'Leo business' recently, Joven wasn’t sure that his assumption was much of a stretch.
Sarah and Boze chatted with one another, grins on their faces as Wes made sure that Mari was entirely okay. She looked a little tired, but the smile on her face was the most genuine Joven had seen in a while. Matt Raub made polite conversation with Damien, the two seeming to get along surprisingly well.
“Okay, everyone seems to be settled in,” Joven cleared his throat. “It’s time we talked about the topic at hand. The reason I had everyone come here, rather than just meet at the Jackrabbit.”
Matt Raub moved to close the door, and Sarah and Boze nodded to one another as they both pressed something on their phones. “In short,” Matt Raub spoke. “We’ve been double-crossed. But in long….things are a lot more complicated than we even realized. The Titans...well...it turns out that they lied to us a lot more than they let on.”
“What exactly happened?” Damien furrowed his eyebrows. “I’ve been out of the loop for a few days.”
“Bussy, you remember him?”
“Very clearly,” Wes grumbled through gritted teeth.
“He flipped a few days ago, came to me with information in exchange for a promise of his freedom and safety.”
“He told us everything he knew,” Matt Raub’s eyes flicked across the room. “But let’s just say, he isn’t exactly on a beach in malibu right now.” He wrung his hands. “The Titans and Los Bandidos are connected more than we realized. And the link....is Lasercorn.”
“He’s Losioz protege and successor, isn’t he?” Damien spoke quietly.
Matt Raub furrowed his eyebrows. “How the hell did you know that?”
"I knew him, when I was really young, like just barely into grade school young." He dipped his head just slightly. "I knew him as Max Raelnamm."
A sharp shiver buzzed through Joven's head, and he squeezed his eyes shut rubbing his right temple with a finger. The pieces of the puzzle began to make sense. Joven knew that he recognized Lasercorn, but he'd never know how. He and Mari made eye contact and he nodded. Yeah, same guy. She raised her eyebrows in response.
“I should’ve told you all of this earlier, but...there wasn’t a good time.” He paused quickly. “That doesn’t matter. Leo finally came in handy.”
Joven raised his eyebrows. “He did? What did you find?”
“Records. Everything from the Black Blade. Journals, money-books, death-ledgers, all of it.”
“I’d heard rumors that the Scalpel," Damien winced just slightly at the name, "ordered everything to be destroyed when the cops closed in." Matt Raub leaned forward slightly, “though I guess you’d really know better than any of us.”
“I wasn’t there that night,” his voice cracked. “Bereta had gotten me out by then.”
“Bereta?” There was a tinge of amusement in Matt Raub’s voice. “I haven’t heard that name in years...shame what happened to him.”
“Joe was a good man, mostly.” Damien blinked slowly, turning fully towards Matt Raub. “You knew him?”
“We both frequented the same bars in our prime. Most of the foot soldiers of the various gangs knew one another,” he paused. “At least the ones brave...or stupid, enough to break the unspoken rules. I got drunk with a lot of the Black Blade, and sometimes a Los Bandidos or Xiaolong member here and there.”
“Things were less tense back then...but now…”
“We deal with scandal and betrayal every damn day it feels like,” Joven sighed. He turned to Damien, who faced him slowly. “What else did you find?”
“Plans that never went through, and some more truths about my dad.” The room seemed to dim as all eyes trained on Damien. “It turns out, my dad didn’t tell me jack-shit about his life, including the fact that he toured twice in Iraq. The first one he wrote a lot about, but the second...nothing.” His eyes were dark. “The only thing I did learn, was that he wasn’t alone on that second tour. There were four other men on the team. Three of them died overseas, and the fourth...was Losioz. Whatever he did over there, I don’t think that it’s the kind of work you write home about.”
“Torture?” Mari’s voice was quiet.
“Yeah," Damien furrowed his eyebrows, "for information. He could get anyone to talk, kept a record in one of his journals. There was no one he didn’t break eventually.” Damien turned his head towards Mari. “How did you know?”
“Losioz had that power to. Anything out of anyone. Torture, didn’t matter what kind, psychological, physical, mental, he could use it like an extension of himself.” She shook her head. “I don’t even know how I remember that. Things are coming back, slowly, but I’m remembering.”
Joven felt something in his stomach flip as he too thought of his past. It felt like all of them were connected to Losioz somehow. His reach had been so far and so deep that it had managed to hurt all of them, and at the same time, bring them all together. Losioz had hurt him in a way Joven could never fix, but he knew that without him, none of them would’ve ever known the others even existed. The Jackrabbit — his family — would’ve never existed. Was he selfish for being okay with this outcome?
Joven cleared his throat, “there's something else too.” He nodded to Matt Raub, who stood slowly from where he leaned against the wall.
“There was a plan conceived between Lasercorn and Losioz just before they broke apart to become the Seventh Street Titans. The Kingship would only be held by the Los Bandidos and its associates, if it came into the hands of anyone else, the Titans would strike them down. It didn’t matter who they were, and it didn’t matter what they had to do to destroy the enemy,” he looked towards Mari, “even betray someone they had considered a friend.”
“Sohinki-” Mari’s voice was a whisper in her throat.
“He gave you something, didn’t he?”
“It was a...I don’t really know what it was...but I trusted him .” She rubbed her face with a hand. “I’m an idiot. He’s a snake and a drug dealer, I should’ve known not to trust him.” She turned her head, “they used me. They said that they wanted my help, they got me to trust them by...stroking my ego...am I really that shallow?” No one answered, and Mari lay her head back against her pillows. “I guess so.”
Joven raised an eyebrow, registering something Mari had said. “What do you mean by ‘they wanted your help?”
She waved her hand absentmindedly. “They wanted me on their team or something. They offered me everything, but I never gave in.”
“That’s probably why they moved forward with their plans so soon.” Boze spoke. She’d been quiet from where she’d been watching in the corner of the room. Boze was leaned against a wall, her arms crossed against her chest. “They must’ve wanted you for an asset, you’re a smart woman, and you’re perfectly capable of holding your own. When you didn’t take the bait, they probably realized that you were too loyal to Joven. So they used their last resort weapon.” The silence held for a brief second. “Your addiction. They had to have known how it hurt you last time, so they sped up the process.”
“Huh,” Joven was surprised at Mari’s reaction. He’d almost expected her to fly into a fury at the Titans, swearing like a sailor as she had to be held back, but instead she lay solemnly in bed. “I thought Sohinki...” She closed her eyes drawing in a breath. “What do we do now? The Titans know everything about us.”
“And we know just as much about them,” Matt Raub nodded. “Mr. Haas can keep combing through his information for more things we can use against them...but for now, we have to keep our guard up. The Titans fight much dirtier than anyone else you’ve faced before. There’s a reason they’re one of the only gangs still standing after the last war with the police.” Joven felt a shock go down his spine as Matt Raub kept his eye contact fiercely. “I asked you this before Mr. Ovenshire, what feels like ages ago. The Kingship is won through blood and betrayal, and you have managed to make it this far. Now, are you prepared to fight for it? Fight for all of it?”
He looked to each person in the room, his expression softly neutral as he did. Matt Raub and Sarah watched him intently, Whittle bouncing lightly on the tips of her toes. Damien blinked at him slowly, his eyebrows furrowing just slightly as his lips drew inwards. Boze drew in a breath, the corner of her mouth pulling upwards. Wes stood stoically towards the back, his eyes soft and warm as he gave Joven a nod. His gaze finally fell to Mari, who looked like she was practically drowning in blankets. She gave him a smile he felt like he hadn’t seen in years, nodding to him slowly.
He turned back to Matt Raub. “Always.”