Mari hated cleaning the blood out of her clothes. It coated her hands and arms, sticky and deep in patches of muted color against her skin. She rubbed her nose with the back of her arm, plunging her once pristine shirt into a bucket of clean water before scrubbing away at it with a brush.
She was alone in the basement of the place she'd been squatting in for the past two months, her only light source a fading light bulb that pulsed in tune with the generator behind her. It was dark and dingy down in the bowels of building, the temperature always perfectly stable from where the basement had been built into the house, plunging itself into the ground like a rotting, concrete fist.
The whole building was like that, empty and filled with dust, grime, and blood, blackened and flaking like paint, spilled long before when the West End of the city was still inhabited by the common person, and not heroin addicts and squatters that had made do with the rows and rows of abandoned houses.
Joven would be here soon to help her with the body. Even after she'd betrayed him he'd still answered her call. Even after the long pause on the phone, her breathing ragged against the phone's receiver, that empty echoing silence, he still calmly asked what she needed. Joven had always been good to her. She was his mercenary, the woman he'd helped shape from a scared little girl, angry at the world, that had held a dull pocket knife to his stomach, into a weapon with capabilities that even he couldn't understand.
Mari was strong. She'd always been strong, even when those men had made her feel weak. Even when she'd been thrown out onto the street by those who said they'd love her forever. Mari had been strong when she stole a pocket knife from an unfriendly stranger and had used it to make him feel as weak as she had. She hadn't meant to hurt him, she swears.
Joven had understood her. He was young too. He understood that the world was dangerous, and that in order to win, he had to guarantee that he'd be more dangerous than anyone else. Joven taught himself how to fight, and fight he did. There were no good men where Joven came from, and he wasn't keen on being the first.
There was no honest work in Los Santos, and every dollar you made came from using your body or selling something that was just illegal enough to feed yourself. Joven was smart. Smarter than those who had laughed at him fail again and agin. He knew who was rich and who was poor. He knew whose money funded which politicians. He knew that you couldn't get shit done in this city unless you had the cash.
Mari had been a commodity at first. She'd been a lucky pick from the barrel, the perfect piece of earth that he could mold into a masterpiece. Mari had gotten in on the ground floor, back when Joven's name was worth shit. They'd built the bones of an empire together, and Mari had the gall to go an knock it down. It had been perfect, everything ran as smoothly as an underground ring could, but Mari had some shit to face, and that had included some unfortunate deaths. Some deaths that even Joven couldn't excuse.
So Mari had left, ended up in some crack den with a needle in her arm, blood on her clothes and her head spinning.
That had been two months ago.
She'd been laying low here, wasting her days away in the dirty corner of the room. She swore that she wasn't an addict, but the empty bottles and pile of needles said different.
There was a sound from upstairs. Steady footsteps tread their way across the barren floor and down the stairs. Mari didn't look in his direction, but she could feel Joven's eyes burning into the back of her neck.
"You look like shit Takahashi."
"I'd say the same to you." She looked up and over at him. He stood in the middle of the doorway, his jaw set firmly, his eyes unreadable behind his glasses. Joven wore a suit, much too nice for disposing a body. His hands were in his pockets, and he didn't make much motion to move. "What the hell're'ye waiting for dumbass, I didn't ask you here to gawk."
"No." Joven took a step forward. "There's someone coming to deal with that. I'm not here to help you with the body Takahashi, I'm here to take you home."
"Well then you turn your pompous ass around-" Mari wrung her shirt out- "I don't want to join the team of any idiot would want someone like me in their ranks."
"You're right." Joven’s voice was smooth, all business. Mari stifled a laugh.
"Wow Jovert, really laying it on thick." She let out a raspy laugh that ended with a coughing fit.
"I know why you killed him." Mari went quiet as Joven crossed the room to her. "I know why you killed all of them." There was the pause again. That terrible silence that Mari couldn't help but hold her breath through. The amount of times that silence had woken her up in the middle of the night, it hands wrapped around her throat as she begged for air, her body riddled with pain as she folded into herself, trying more than anything to disappear to somewhere the silence couldn't find her. "You're family Mari. Come home to the Jackrabbit."
"You really think I want to help run your janky-ass strip club?"
"No. I want you to help me run the city." Joven's eyes were familiar, the guards had begun to fall. "The King is dead, and anyone who's anyone is grappling for control in the ensuing power vacuum. I want his position more than anyone. You and I both know that" Joven's eyes flicked to the black bag that lay on the floor behind Mari. "I know you want back in."
"Joven what if it happens again?" Mari hated the fear in her voice. "What if I go crazy again and-"
"That won't happen. I promise" Joven reached out, his hand tentatively touched Mari's shoulder. She expected to shrug it off, but instead, should found herself hugging him, her face, slick with tears, buried in his shirt. He smelled like the club; acrid dollar bills and sweat.
Mari realized that Joven was the only one who'd seen her cry since that night when she was a kid. Joven was family. The Jackrabbit was family. And, god, she missed having a family. The only comfort she'd known was the sting of the needle in her arm. Mari covered the marks on her arms as she pulled away from Joven, grabbing her shirt from where it hung on the sink. The basement was quiet as Mari let tears run down her cheeks, trails of water cutting their way through the dirt on her face.
"Let's get you home."
"But the body."
"Someone's coming to get it. Someone I trust." Joven turned away from Mari, starting towards the stairs. "We should go. We've got plans to make."