Hackers with(out) Remorse - (Book 4 of the Marvelous 3 Saga)

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7 - Crazy Train

Hacker Rule #15: All data is good data. Whether it’s relevant or not.

“She’s cute.”

“Nigga, did you just say she’s cute?!”

“Shit, did you want me to say she’s ugly?”

Dante rolled his eyes as he snatched his phone out of Tyler’s hand. “I don’t need you little horny ass colonizahs creepin’ on my baby sister, aight? She’s too pure and innocent for that shit.”

Tyler scoffed. “Do I look like Jason?”

Dante chuckled. “Nah forreal. He needs to tone that shit down. I’ll be damned if he adds my sister’s name to his list.”

Tyler waved his hand dismissively as he checked the time on his phone. “Relax. Jason knows better. It’s not like he’ll ever meet her anyway.”

Dante sighed as he peeked over the roof down at their targets. “1... 2... 3... 4... 5.., 6... 7... the door rotates every 7 seconds.”

Tyler crouched down and peeked where Dante was looking through a pair of binoculars. “Alright. 7-second window. We have to be calculated about this. We screw this shit up and the cops will be on our asses. We still have the security system on the 55th floor to worry about.”

“Motherfucker...” Dante muttered.

“Relax, Dante, we got this,” Tyler said, slapping his shoulder. “This will work.”

Dante swallowed hard as he looked back down at their opening. “It better. Cause I’m running out of options, Ty... and... I’m running out of time.”

Tyler furrowed his brow in confusion. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Dante said, pulling on his mask. “Let’s do this shit.”

“There’s that tattooed-face guy,” Tiana said, snapping Tyler out of his thoughts. Tyler blinked himself back to the present. He leaned forward on the edge of the railing of the small roof they were camping on top of. He followed Tiana’s finger pointing to the group of men surrounding The Reaper and Owen. “Is he dangerous?” Tiana asked. “He looks dangerous. Is Owen in trouble? Should we go and help him?”

“Handles,” Tyler groaned. “And, no. Cyclops can handle himself.” Tyler moved to the other side of the roof and looked through his binoculars. He spotted Jason revving his engine as he drove up to the starting line with the other cars.

“What exactly does all this mean? I still don’t understand what’s going on,” she said, leaning against the railing.

“The less you know, the better,” Tyler said, looking through the binoculars. “This isn’t your world, princess. So, just stay quiet so I can think.”

Tiana’s jaw tightened as she walked over to him and shoved him hard in the chest. “What’s your fucking problem?!” she snapped at him. “You’ve been a damn asshole to me from day one!”

“It’s only day three. Give it time and I’ll show you just how much of an asshole I can really be,” he snarked. He moved past her to look through the binoculars again. She followed after him and stood on her toes, snatching the binoculars out of his hand. “What the hell are you doing?!” he snarled at her.

“You’re gonna tell me what your deal is, or I swear I will throw your stupid ass binoculars over the damn roof!” she threatened him.

“My problem is that I don’t trust you!” he snarled at her.

“Spoiler alert! You kidnapped me!” she shouted at him.

“Well, that sure as fuck wasn’t my idea! Had it been up to me, your ass wouldn’t even be here!” he snapped at her.

“I swear if you two don’t stop arguing!” Owen shouted from their earpieces.

Tyler scowled as he walked towards her and reached behind her. But she quickly stepped back. “I am not playing games with you,” he threatened her.

“You’re not getting it back until you explain to me what’s going on. That’s not that hard to do,” she said.

“Droid, just fucking do it. Goddamn,” Owen muttered through the earpiece.

Tyler’s jaw tensed as he stepped back from her and ran his fingers through his short brown hair. “Before Silos was killed... he left a number of unfinished projects involving several people with a variety of clientele backgrounds. Typically, we all take on our own side assignments if it means making a quick buck. But we have patterns. Silos deviated from his pattern significantly a few months before he was killed and not too long after we had terminated a huge operation we had been working on. We’re trying to connect the pieces, find the link between these people. What they have in common that might provide context to the cause of his death,” Tyler said.

Tiana’s shoulders fell as she pondered this information. She still couldn’t believe that someone would actually kill her brother. For what? Why? Her brother who had never harmed anyone. He had always been the good Samaritan in her life. “I’m taking notes from a bird’s eye view of each person here that I’ve seen on Silos’ data list. Cyclops is acquiring the information we need from our main target, The Reaper. And Berserker is backup if things go to shit,” Tyler said, shaking his head.

“Which they typically do,” Jason teased from the earpiece. Tyler rolled his eyes as he noted a few more potential suspects.

Tiana shook her head, feeling even more frustrated with the situation. “You guys must live a seriously fucked up life if your actions led to my brother being killed,” she said coldly.

Tyler scoffed. He shook his head in frustration as he walked up to her, towering over her. Tiana instinctively stepped back before she felt him reach behind her. “Try not to fall off your fancy high horse, princess,” he said, snatching the binoculars out of her hand. She sucked her teeth as she watched him walk to the stairs. “Let’s move,” he waved her over. Tiana rolled her eyes as she followed after him.

~

“4 on the red 2017 Camaro,” The Reaper said, tossing a few hundreds on a pile of bills. He had a scantily clad girl on each arm as he sat on the back of his Mercedes like a king.

“You’re better off waging on the 1997 McLaren.” The Reaper looked at Owen placing a few bills on the same pile as a knowing grin came to his face. The pretty boy had been chatting him up about the legendary hacker Silos since before the race started. It wasn’t often The Reaper would let his guard down, but there was something about Owen that seemed familiar.

“Aren’t you just a journalist? You got the insight on automatics too?” The Reaper quirked a brow.

“I just know a good ride when I see one,” Owen grinned suggestively.

The Reaper raised his brows in surprise before snickering. “You’re good.”

“I know,” Owen said, puffing on a joint. “So, you gonna take my advice or not?”

The Reaper smirked as he handed another 400 dollars to the girl on his left arm. “Put another 4 down for me.” The Reaper watched the girl wobble drunkenly to the pile and place the money down before wobbling back to him. He set his eyes back on the blue-eyed boy who looked a little too pretty and put together for their current grunge environment. But Owen had been coming to these races his entire life. “You know, you remind me so much of him,” The Reaper said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Silos.”

Owen quirked an intrigued brow. “Flattering, considering I’m not half the man he was-...is.”

“You should be,” The Reaper grinned. “Silos and I have been working on quite a few projects together. But we’ve kept that on the DL. Which makes me question how you know about our working relationship.”

“It’s part of my job to keep tabs on the members of RaVage,” Owen said. He leaned back against a car, nonchalantly watching the racers go by.

“And they just let you?” The Reaper asked, lighting a joint.

Owen shrugged. “We have the same vision.”

The Reaper eyed Owen curiously before a grin came to his face. “Alright. Well, I was supposed to meet with Silos about a week ago, but he never reconnected with me. I figure he’s busy. You know anything about that?”

Owen’s Adam’s apple bobbed slightly as he had to push the tinge of emotion he felt tickling his throat. The worst part of these assignments was not merely assuming the role of an unassuming spectator but having to pretend that his best friend was still alive. “Your guess is as good as mine,” Owen shrugged. “Might be caught up in other work. I’ve been trying to reach out to him through a few other channels. If I happen to get a hold of him...”

The Reaper nodded in gratitude. “I appreciate that. He’s the only guy who’s been able to follow through on my request.”

“Right, right,” Owen nodded. “Your stance on legalizing marijuana and the unjust punishment of the marginalized who use it.”

The Reaper threw his head back in laughter. “Shit, you are a fucking journalist.”

“It’s called a dictionary,” Owen grinned. “Aren’t you supposed to be a lyrical artist or some shit?”

“Alright, smartass,” The Reaper laughed. “But yea, that’s it. It’s just not right. I was starting to feel a little crazy until Silos agreed with me.”

“I mean you’re not wrong,” Owen said. “It’s a recreational drug that plenty of people use for other medical and rehabilitative reasons other than trying to get high. And even if they were just trying to get high, who the fuck cares? It’s none of their goddamn business. Cops love messin’ with some kids smokin’ a blunt when they should be worrying about the coke-heads occupying the highest places in Office.”

The Reaper looked at him impressed. “Shit, you really do remind me of Silos... Part of our work was making it more accessible in different forms, to be honest. Tired of seeing my guys get locked up for it.”

“And Silos helped with that?” Owen asked.

“He did,” The Reaper nodded.

“Was this some sort of exchange or was it more of a favor?” Owen asked.

The Reaper chuckled. “Even a lyrical artist such as I knows that shit ain’t free. Course there was an exchange.”

“Such as?”

The Reaper raised a brow. “Why so interested?”

“Maybe I want in,” Owen said.

“Pretty boy like you?” The Reaper grinned.

“Pretty boy like me could run circles around your zombie-looking ass,” Owen smirked.

The Reaper laughed. “I don’t swing that way, bro.”

“They always say that at first,” Owen grinned.

The Reaper nearly gawked and felt his girls shift uncomfortably next to him. “We still talking business here?”

“When did we stop?” Owen asked, feigning innocence with a confused look on his face.

“Damn...” The Reaper muttered.

“WORK YO MAGIC, BRO!” Owen could hear Jason laughing into the earpiece as he sped in his car.

Owen tried to contain his grin as he put on a more stoic face. “We good?”

“Yea...” The Reaper said, still trying to process their conversation. “Yea, we’re good... Give me a minute.”

Owen watched him jump off the trunk of his car and head to the passenger seat to sift through a bag. He could see the crowd was starting to get a bit rowdier as more people arrived. “I’m nearly done,” Owen said lowly into his mic. “Berserker, wrap it up.”

“Unless I heard incorrectly, you got that motherfucker to bet double 4 on my baby. Soooooo I’m not goin’ nowhere till I win this damn race,” Jason laughed into his mic.

“Fuck that. We got what we came for,” Owen said. “Wrap your shit up and let’s go.”

~

Tiana followed closely behind Tyler who seemed to be the eyes of this strange operation she still hadn’t fully grasped. Her eyes darted around her, memorizing details and taking in the scenery that quickly started to transition to something more violent. People lit trash cans on fire, the yelling elevated to higher levels, and fights started to break out. “This is some white people gone wild shit,” she muttered as she quickly dodged two guys wrestling on the ground next to her. She bumped into Tyler who gave her an aggravated look.

“Two left feet...” he muttered.

“Oh shut up,” she said, sucking her teeth.

“Guys, I’m getting word that the Japanese Rikyus and the Irish Shiners are on site,” Darren said into the radio. “Two opposing gangs in the same vicinity does not make for a good time. Get the hell out of there ASAP.”

“Yea, we’re seeing that now...” Tyler muttered. He saw a group of guys in green leather jackets pull out bats, crowbars, and chains and head for a crowd of people.

“What the hell is happening?” Tiana asked. She panicked when she saw a bat make contact with someone’s face.

“This race is about to turn into a fucking shit show. Cyclops, tell me you’ve got what we need in your possession so we can go,” Tyler said.

“Yea, I got it,” Owen said quickly. “But one of these sons of bitches just pulled out a gun. Get her out of here. NOW!”

Tiana’s eyes widened in fear to hear the panic in Owen’s voice. She quickly scouted the rowdy crowd for him. “We’re leaving,” Tyler said, grabbing her arm.

“Wait, Owen!” she said, ripping her arm away. “We can’t leave without him. He just said there’s someone with a gun near him!”

“There’s no time for you to fucking argue with me! Let’s go!” Tyler said, yanking her arm again. Suddenly, a round of gunshots went off in the air, sending the massive crowd into a panic full of screams. Tiana felt her heart thumping hard in her chest. She looked at Tyler who looked like he had lost a little color from his face before a stampede of people ran into them knocking them both to the ground.

Tiana rolled in the dirt, trying to dodge people who were stumbling in a panic as more shots went off. “Tiana!” She could hear her name being called as she tried to see through the bodies. She tried to crawl away when she felt someone grab her leg and drag her back.

“You with the fucking Shiners?!” a man with a bloodied face demanded, yanking her by her shirt.

“Get off of me!” she snapped, punching him in the face.

“BITCH!” he snarled as his nose trickled blood. Tiana stared wide-eyed and once again regretted her decision to tag along as the guy quickly pulled out a knife. But before he could harm her, she saw him get yanked up off of her as Tyler balled his hand into a fist and punched the guy several times in the face. She cringed at the brutality as she quickly crawled backward.

“GO!” Tyler shouted at her as he continued to punch the guy unconscious. Tiana scrambled to her feet, searching anxiously for Owen. She caught him moving in the crowd and immediately started running towards him. When she made eye contact with him, she saw him dramatically shaking his head, waving his arms at her as if to keep her away. She looked confused, not understanding what he meant until she saw guys with guns aiming in her direction to some of the men running behind her.

There was nothing for her to hide behind to shield her from what might be coming her way. Tiana sucked in her breath and dropped to the ground as a barrage of bullets flew in her direction. But all she heard was the sound of them ramming into metal. She looked up just in time to see Jason’s car swerve in front of her, shielding her. Several of the bullets went through the window. She put her hands to her mouth in horror, terrified that Jason had been hit. But he popped his head out of the shattered window and looked down at her with a wide smile.

“Shit, beautiful. There are far better things to do on your knees, you know,” he grinned.

“BERSERKER!” Owen shouted in the earpiece. “IS SHE OKAY?”

“Oh, she is fine as hell,” Jason winked at her.

Tiana was still in a state of shock and couldn’t believe this psychopath was hitting on her in the middle of a damn shoot out. “You’re- you’re bleeding!” she blurted, finally coming to when she saw his shoulder trickling blood.

“Eh, just a scratch,” Jason said, wiping some of the blood from his wounded shoulder. “Your knight in shining armor is here,” he said, gesturing with his chin.

Tiana heard the sound of a motorcycle next to her and saw Tyler pull up on his bike. “Get on!” he demanded, handing her the helmet.

She hesitated and looked at Jason. “Why can’t I just go with you?”

“Are you serious right now?!” Tyler snapped.

Jason quirked an amused brow and grinned. “Words I never thought I’d hear. But I’ve gotta finish up this shit,” Jason said. He glanced at the armed guys chasing other people. “You’re good with the rage monster over there.”

Tiana curled her upper lip in disappointment. She grabbed the helmet from an impatient and annoyed Tyler and swung her leg over his bike. She hesitantly wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned forward. “I’m not gonna fucking bite you. Do you wanna go flying off?” Tyler warned her.

She sucked her teeth as she tightened her embrace around his torso and leaned against his back. “What about Owen?” she asked.

“I’ll be fine,” she heard Owen say into her earpiece. “Make sure she gets back safely.”

Tyler quickly took off, zipping past the mob that had turned into a full-blown riot as more gunshots filled the air. Tiana’s mind was rushing with thoughts about everything she saw and everything she heard. How she almost got stabbed and shot in less than a 20-minute time span. She was terrified for Owen’s safety. She had no clue how Dante could have possibly lived this life and stayed emotionally stable. Did she miss warning signs?

She instinctively tightened her arms around Tyler’s waist as he made a sharp turn onto the freeway. She caught herself inhaling his scent that was awfully similar to Owen’s, though the cologne they both used was clearly different. She had no idea what Tyler’s problem was. He was so tense. And the way he beat the crap out of the guy that threatened her scared her out of her mind. She couldn’t tell if he was sincerely trying to protect her or if he just had serious rage issues.

When they finally pulled up to the warehouse and parked in the garage, Tyler dismounted his bike and took off his helmet. He ruffled his hair when he noticed Tiana still sitting on his bike. Her eyes were glazed over as she seemed to stare off into space. He noticed her hands were trembling uncontrollably and figured she was still in shock from everything that took place. “Hey,” he said, snapping her out of it. He roughly grabbed her hands to stop them from shaking. “Relax...”

She looked at him and tried to lax her shoulders before she looked to see his hands on hers. Tyler immediately removed his hands and walked to a crate on the table of the garage. He dug around before he pulled out a tiny bottle of nips alcohol. “Here,” he said, handing it to her. “Helps calm the nerves.”

Tiana unscrewed the bottle and quickly downed the shot. She coughed a little in reaction to the strong liquid burning her throat. Wiping her mouth, she looked up to see Tyler watching her as if assessing her every move. “Don’t look at me like that,” she muttered.

“Like what?”

“All... judgy,” she said.

“Oh, I am judging you. Because you don’t fucking listen,” he said frustrated.

“Are you kidding me?!” she blurted. “Just because I’m concerned about the well-being of Owen-”

“I told you that Owen can handle himself! We’ve been doing this shit for a while,” he said.

“Oh, yea? Well, that just seemed like another shit show to me,” she snapped.

“God, you’re so fucking pretentious!” he said aggravated. “When we do an operation, it’s structured and planned out. We know what we’re doing, what we need to obtain from who and for what. But with Dante, it’s different. This is ad hoc. This is us trying to figure out why he fucking died in the first place. There is no damn structure here. We do this shit based on what we know. If we get what we need, hip hip fucking hurray. If not, we regroup and try that shit again. Excuse the fuck out of us if we don’t do shit to your liking with this whole thing tied up in a pretty box for the princess,” he said snidely. “But this is our goddamn reality. Get used to it.”

“Honestly, Tyler, if you hate me so much, then why the fuck did you save me,” she said annoyed.

Tyler chuckled ironically as he shook his head in blatant frustration. “I swore to your brother that I would protect you. We all did,” he said, walking up to her. “I don’t hate you. I just don’t trust you. You’re a distraction. And I think involving you was a big fucking mistake. But my responsibility is to keep your ass alive. That’s it. I don’t care if you don’t like me.”

“Well, that’s a fucking understatement,” she chided. “Cause you, sir, can choke on a whole ass dick.”

Tyler glared at her before he cracked a grin. “You’re definitely his sister,” he smirked as he walked away.

~*~

Tiana sat on her brother’s bed, leafing through one of his notebooks. It was filled with writings that weren’t cohesive and made no sense. Ranging from random numbers to jumbled words, she was starting to wonder if maybe Dante had been losing his mind.

“T?” Tiana looked up to see Owen standing at the door with his hands in his pockets. His light blue eyes shimmered as he cracked a small smile of relief.

“OWEN!” she said, rushing off the bed and flying into his arms. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and grasped the hair at the back of his head. “Shit, Owen, I was so worried!” she said into his shoulder.

Owen tightened his arms around her waist and held her soft body against his, setting his own desire aflame. He hated these feelings that constantly manifested whenever he held or touched the woman he was supposed to be protecting, not wanting. I don’t want her, he told himself as he finally pulled back from her. “You good?” he asked, looking her over. “You didn’t get hurt did you?”

“Nah, I’m fine,” she said, waving him off. “But seriously, Owen. This is... this is fucking ridiculous. This is seriously how you guys live?”

Owen shrugged. “It’s not like it’s our day job, T. But I mean, yea, it’s a big part of our lives.”

Tiana shook her head. “It’s too dangerous, Owen. I don’t like this. I don’t like knowing that you could be killed on any of these little suicide missions. You guys really outchea thinkin’ you the damn terminator. Like what the fuck?”

Owen chuckled as he grabbed her hand. “Tiana, we’ve been doing this for years. It’s just our lifestyle. You get used to it.”

“Don’t you guys have family to consider?” she asked.

Owen let go of her hand and leaned back slightly. “We are our family.” Tiana noticed a strange shift in Owen’s demeanor as he averted his eyes from her gaze.

“Did you at least get what you needed?” she asked, trying to navigate the awkward silence.

“Yea,” he said, twirling the USB drive between his fingers. He looked at her before a smile crossed his face. “You wanna take a crack at it?”

She tried not to cheese too hard as she snatched the drive out of his hand. “Obviously!” she blurted.

Owen chuckled. “Just remember you’re looking for links, patterns. Analyze what Dante was doing. Try to find causation.”

“I got it,” she said. She walked to Dante’s desk and pulled out his laptop.

Owen looked at her startled to see how quickly she got into Dante’s user profile. “How the hell?!” Owen said shocked. “When did you get into his user profile? Darren’s been trying to figure that out for weeks.”

Tiana looked at him strangely. “Really? It was just my dad’s date of birth.”

“Damn...” Owen muttered. “We never even thought about your father.”

Tiana shrugged with a smirk. “I’m sure you guys did your best.”

~*~

“Pass me that power tool,” Tyler said from underneath his bike, motioning with his hand. Owen hopped out of the car blasting AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and handed Tyler the drill.

“You’re missing like 5 deadbolts,” Owen said, eyeing Tyler drilling into the underbelly.

“I only need 3,” Tyler said.

“On your sports bike, maybe, but not the cruiser,” Owen said.

“Owen, are you really trying to tell me how to fix my own damn bike?” Tyler said annoyed.

“I’m sorry, motherfucker, do you not like living?” Owen scoffed. “You can’t have Tiana riding around on that scrap metal.”

“Holy shit, Owen. She was fine. Don’t be such a fucking pussy. Damn,” Tyler muttered.

“Owen’s just looking out for his girl, Ty,” Jason said, working a wrench into the hood of his car. “He’s not being a pussy, he’s trying to get that puss-OW!” Jason rubbed his head as a nut bolt landed at his feet.

“Don’t be talking about my girl like that,” Owen snapped.

Your girl?” Jason smirked.

“Yes, my girl... friend, my friend,” Owen said quickly. Jason’s grin only widened. “Shut the fuck up, Jason,” Owen said, flipping him off.

Tyler shook his head as he glanced at Owen from underneath the bike. “Help me lift this piece off.” Owen got down on one knee and writhed a piece of metal from underneath Tyler’s bike. “That girl has got you seriously fucked up,” Tyler said.

“Don’t start with me, Ty,” Owen said, pulling off the metal cover. “We still don’t really know what we’re dealing with. We need to be careful.”

“She’s safer at home,” Tyler said, screwing in a nail.

“She is home,” Owen said. “She’s right where she needs to be. Taking over what Dante created.”

“News flash, little brother. Her ass doesn’t wanna be here,” Tyler muttered.

“Maybe if your moody bitch ass wasn’t coming at her all the damn time,” Owen said, hitting him in the leg.

“Man, come off it,” Tyler sucked his teeth.

“You’re the only one giving her a hard time,” Owen said.

“I don’t trust her,” Tyler said.

“Give her a chance,” Owen insisted.

“Last time we gave an outsider a chance he fucked us over, BADLY,” Tyler said, moving out from under his bike.

“Ty,” Owen said, grabbing his shoulder. “That’s not the same thing. This is Dante’s sister. We need her just as much as she needs us. He wouldn’t want you acting like this.”

“I’m sure he didn’t want to fucking die either,” Tyler said, slapping his hand off. “I’m not getting attached to another damn Morris. That’s how I fucked up the last time.”

Owen’s jaw tensed as his blue eyes shifted. He had hoped that he was the only one who blamed himself for Dante’s death. It ate away at him. What he could have done better... differently, to save his friend’s life. A part of him knew that Tyler also blamed himself and didn’t want to talk about it for fear of what it may bring up. “Ty, it wasn’t your faul-” Owen started.

“Don’t give me that shit,” Tyler snapped. “I fucked up. I should have been there and I wasn’t. I trusted his judgment too much. Trusted in the decisions he was making, and it only led to his death. Fuck that shit. I’m not making the same mistake again. You care about her, I get it. I’m only here to keep her safe until we figure this shit out. I don’t need to like her to do it.” Tyler and Owen stared at each other, assessing each other’s emotions.

“Well, this shit just got heavy. Time to lighten the mood,” Jason said, turning up the music on the radio. He started playing air guitar and singing to AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’. Tyler shook his head as Owen laughed, watching Jason slide on the floor on his knees.

“WOAH!” Tiana shouted. She walked into the garage just as Jason collided into her, knocking her to the ground. Jason tried to stop himself as he fell on top of her. “Shit,” she groaned. She put her hands to his chest and her eyes popped open when she realized she was touching his bare skin. A shirtless Jason looked down at her grinning as she became completely flustered.

“You know this is the second time you’ve ended up underneath me,” Jason teased. “Third time’s the charm, yea babe?”

“Boy! Get off me!” she said, pushing him off as he laughed.

“What’s up, T? You okay?” Owen asked, walking up to her.

“I wanted to talk to you about a couple of things I found on Dante’s drive that links up with the information The Reaper gave you,” she said. Owen smirked and gave Tyler a knowing look. Tyler rolled his eyes and turned back to his bike. “What are you guys doing?” she asked, glancing around at all the power tools.

“Maintenance,” Owen said, looking at their vehicles. “We took a bit of damage leaving that race. Especially Jason’s car.”

“23 bullets,” Jason said as he sat on the trunk of his car. “My baby needs some TLC.”

“Thanks for saving me back there,” Tiana said quickly. “I feel bad that you got hurt.”

Jason shrugged. “The bullet only grazed me,” he said, rubbing his finger against the band-aid on his shoulder. “All part of the job. Though... if you still feel really bad, I can think of a way for you to make it up to me,” he winked.

Tiana rolled her eyes as Tyler threw a plastic bottle at Jason’s head. “Stop being nasty, ya little freak,” Owen said, nudging Tiana to the door.

~*~

Owen sat next to Tiana on Dante’s bed, watching her type away before she turned the laptop around to face him. “He’s got hundreds of files on his desktop. But I was able to distinguish one with data that linked up to the files The Reaper gave you,” she said. “They did a lot of work on recreational drug accessibility. But it seems like Dante was a bit more focused on who was creating and providing these drugs to the public rather than how.”

“Did he find an answer?” Owen asked.

Tiana sighed. “It’s hard to say... It just leads to another file of several more suspects. Dante clearly was a data hoarder. Sifting through this shit is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

“Well, I don’t want you to stress out over it,” Owen said. “The fact that you’ve already made one connection is more progress than we’ve had without you.”

Tiana smiled at him. “Thanks, O.”

“Listen,” Owen said. “I have to run out... to take care of some things...”

Tiana frowned. “There was a time you could say that and I wouldn’t have to worry about you coming back hurt.”

“It’s just work,” he assured her. “Journalism shit. You know how that goes.”

“No, Owen, I don’t,” she said sadly. “I’m starting to realize I don’t really know shit about you...”

Owen swallowed hard. “...T-”

“It’s fine,” she said, cutting him off and looking at her laptop. “I’m just annoyed, that’s all. Go. I’ll talk to you later.” She felt his eyes on her and looked up to meet his gaze.

“You still love me, right?” he said with a grin.

Tiana rolled her eyes. “Getcho white ass out my room.”

~*~

Tiana had spent the majority of her night tossing and turning in bed. She had found it increasingly difficult to sleep ever since her brother died. The pillow she slept on smelled so much like him and it only made her want to cry. She missed him so much. She got up from bed and headed outside of the room, hoping that maybe a late-night snack would help her relax.

She fumbled around the main floor a bit, trying to figure out where their kitchen was. She started wondering if they even had one when she heard a deep voice drifting in the air. She followed the voice until she arrived at a dimly-lit kitchen area with a bar setup and rugged wooden floors. She glanced towards the fridge to see Jason talking on his cellphone as he grabbed a carton of milk.

“You got the money I sent you though, right?” Jason said into his phone. “...Relax, Pops. Stop worrying about how I got it. Your doctor told me you’ve improved. I’m proud of you.”

Jason looked up when he heard a chair move to see Tiana staring at him. “Sorry,” she said, quickly averting her eyes.

“You get some rest, alright?” Jason said into his phone. “I’ll check up on you later. Love you.” He hung up and stuffed his phone into his sweats before looking at her. “Did I wake you?” he asked.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve just been having a hard time sleeping.” Jason smirked and went to say something when she cut him off. “And I don’t need you to help me sleep,” she said quickly.

Jason threw his head back laughing. “Damn. Already got me figured out, huh, beautiful,” he snickered.

“Wasn’t that hard, Jason. You’re not very subtle,” she smirked.

“I wasn’t trying to be, babe,” he said, walking up to her.

She looked at him for a second before she walked towards a cabinet. “I was thinking a bowl of cereal or something might help me get back to sleep.” She stood on her toes, trying to reach before she felt Jason move behind her and easily grab the box. He set it on the counter in front of her. “Thanks,” she said, grabbing it. She turned around to meet his tattooed bare chest. “Is there a reason why you never have a shirt on?” she scoffed.

Jason smirked. “The better question is why don’t you ever have your shirt off?” Tiana rolled her eyes as she pushed him away and walked towards the table. She sat down and poured her cereal before grabbing the milk. “That’s Anna’s bougie nasty shitty Almond milk,” Jason said, grabbing it. He handed her his own carton of milk. “The real stuff.”

Tiana smirked as she poured the milk in the bowl. “You guys are such a weird, crazy bunch.”

Jason smiled as he leaned back against the fridge with his arms folded across his chest. “Yeah well, your brother is the one who brought this weird, crazy bunch together. He was a goddamn genius, the things he would come up with. We troll quite a bit when we’re not making a quick buck, but ultimately, we’re trying to do some meaningful shit.”

Tiana swirled her spoon in her cereal. “I just wish I knew about this part of his life... I don’t know why he felt the need to keep it from me.”

“It was to protect you,” Jason said. “Anytime Dante talked about you, he spoke like you were the future. Someone who could really make an impact on this world. He made it seem like... you were the key to some unknown problem we never knew about.”

Tiana looked at Jason with furrowed brows. “Unknown problem... I just have to figure that part out... God, why the hell did he have to be so fucking cryptic about shit.”

“That’s Dante for ya,” Jason smirked. “He didn’t tell me how hot you were either. That would have been useful.”

“Seriously, Jason,” she said, shaking her head.

“Tell me why you have such a hard time taking a compliment,” Jason said, leaning on the table next to her. “Does it really bother you when I say you’re hot? You can’t handle the truth?”

Tiana shook her head with a chuckle. “Only because I know it’s just your way of trying to fuck me.”

“Is that so wrong?”

“You barely know me.”

“Shit, I’m trying to,” he grinned, moving closer.

Tiana put her hand up before he could get closer and pushed him back. She looked into his bright blue eyes that seemed to be challenging her. “You’re a fuck boy, Jason.”

“Ouch!” he laughed.

“Am I wrong?” she asked, quirking a brow. Jason smirked as he stepped back. “That grin on your face tells me all I need to know,” she said, turning back to her cereal.

“So I like sex. Sue me. That’s why I’m the most light-hearted person here,” he said, walking around the table. “You know what cures a pissed off attitude? Sex. Been trying to get Tyler laid since forever now, but I swear it only pisses him off even more.”

Tiana burst out laughing so hard she had to cover her mouth. “You know what gets rid of hunger?” Jason continued with a smirk. “Sex. You know what cures a bad cold? Sex. You know what helps you sleep better?”

“Okay, okay, you’ve made your point,” she said, laughing out loud. “God, you’re such a man-whore.”

“The sexual revolution in 1969 was one of the greatest moments in American history, babe,” Jason smirked. “The badass resistance challenged the status quo so that fine ass women like yourself and people like my boy Owen could fuck who you want... how you want to.”

Tiana looked at him stunned. “You... are such an enigma, you know that?”

Jason threw his head back laughing. “I’m not just a pretty face,” he teased. “You call me a man-whore. I’m just trying to help you... express your rights.”

“Oh, is that what you’re trying to do?” she smirked.

“I’m trying to do you,” he said quickly.

“I walked into that one,” she said as he laughed. She put her dishes in the sink and turned to face him. “Thanks for the midnight chat, you... historical educational sex deviant?” she said confused. “I’m just gonna go back to bed.” Jason went to speak. “Alone,” she said before he could say anything.

Jason laughed. “I was just going to say goodnight.”

She rolled her eyes with a grin. “Goodnight, Jason...”

~*~

“GIRL! WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?!”

“I’m sorry!” Tiana said into her phone, hopping into the school elevator. “I’ve been so busy, Shae.”

“I thought you died or some shit,” Shae said.

“Bitch, I almost did...” Tiana muttered.

“WHAT?!” Shae shouted over the phone.

“I’m kidding! I mean like... I almost died from all the work I had. Like, bruh, can I live? Can I breathe? Damn!” Tiana chuckled nervously.

“When are you coming back home? Some pasty ass white dude keeps stopping me on campus looking for your black ass. Said y’all had a project to work on together?” Shae said.

“Oh shit, David,” Tiana groaned. “We’re supposed to be working on the preliminary assignment of a tech project together.”

“When is it due?”

“...yesterday...”

“BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITCH! You finna fail.”

“Shit shit shit. I’ll call you back later,” Tiana said, hanging up. The door to the elevator opened and Tiana rushed outside and into the classroom that had already begun. She saw David sitting towards the back writing in a notebook as the professor was passing around papers. “I’m so, so, so, so, so, sorry!” Tiana said, rushing next to him.

“It’s cool,” he said, not looking at her. “I’m kinda used to being stood up.”

Tiana went to apologize again when the professor put down a paper in front of them with their names on it and an A. “Good job on the preliminary assignment, guys!” the professor said. “Can’t wait to see the final outcome.”

Tiana swallowed the lump in her throat as the professor walked away. “David... I am so, so, sorry,” she said, covering her face.

“You ignored all my calls and texts.”

“It wasn’t on purpose, I swear,” she said quickly. “I just... I had some things to take care of.”

David looked at her and sighed as he pushed over his notebook. “We have the rest of the semester for the final project,” he said. “If you’re not going to commit, please just tell me now. I really can’t afford a hit to my grades. I have a lot riding on how well I do this semester.”

“I promise it won’t happen again,” she said. “Though... if you want to find a new partner, I totally understand...” she said, biting her lip in embarrassment.

David eyed her for just a moment before giving a soft smile. “I created a timeline for each phase of the project. If we stick to these deadlines, we’ll have enough time for research and hopefully an A on the final deliverable.”

“Shit, you’re good,” she said, looking over the paper.

“I told you, I have a lot riding on this...” he sighed. He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. Tiana felt awful. She knew what it was like to be stuck on a team project with people who wouldn’t pull their own weight. She refused to be that girl now.

“Let’s meet up at Starbucks after class,” she said to him. “We can talk out the logistics.”

“You really don’t have to do that,” he said. He adjusted his glasses on his face and looked at the board. “I’m fine with just texting.”

“David,” she said, grabbing his hand. “Please? At least let me make this up to you.”

David looked her over, feeling conflicted. He was heavily attracted to this girl and thought their partnership would be promising. Until she stood him up. He wanted to completely dismiss her for ignoring him and leaving him to do the assignment alone. But the remorseful look in her big brown eyes and her soft touch did something to him that made it hard for him to say no. “...Alright...”

~*~

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