<< 0.1.0 >>
It wasn’t a fight. ‘Fight’ implied that you were looking for trouble, that the first savage punch thrown was somehow your fault. Josh didn’t know the right word for sudden, unprovoked violence. He didn’t know if there even was a right word.
Maybe pain was all there was; the shock of the first blow that came from nowhere, and then the slam of your body on concrete before the world condensed into fists and feet. The roar of your pulse in your ears, drowning out the receding footsteps and laughter. The quiet that descended afterwards, as you slowly uncurled from your foetal position, gasping through stinging lips as every muscle in your body screamed at you for being so damn careless.
Josh staggered, caught himself against the side of a parked car as pain shot through his knee. It was dark in the parking lot - he was on the side furthest from the street, but even in the dim light he could see blood dripping onto his shirt. It was in his mouth too. He spat, running his tongue gingerly over his teeth, checking them. His mouth was full of the taste of old pennies. It hurt to stand, but it had hurt to lie there on the ground too, and after what had felt like hours among the trash and dirt, afraid to move and with the cold seeping into his bones, he knew he couldn’t stay there any longer.
He spat again, sucked in a shaky breath, and began the agonising walk - back out onto the street, keeping his head down, hoping the few people out at this hour wouldn’t see him as an easy target and finish the job - back to the one place he knew he’d be safe.
<< 1.0.0 >>
Sitara woke to darkness and the unmistakable feeling of having been dragged from a deep sleep. Something was buzzing near her ear - her phone. She groaned and fumbled it from her bedside table, muttering a curse as it slid from her fingers and landed on the carpet. She leaned over the edge of her bed and, seeing Wrench’s name lighting up her screen, scowled and fumbled it to her ear.
"It's two AM," she said by way of greeting, rubbing her eyes irritably. “I swear to god-”
"-You need to come quick." Wrench sounded frantic. Sensing something was wrong, Sitara bolted upright, suddenly wide awake.
"It's Josh, he's been beaten up."
“What?” Sitara flung her cover aside and grabbed the closest articles of clothing she could find. “What the fuck happened? Where are you?” she demanded.
“At the hackerspace. Some assholes jumped him on his way home. He’s hurt pretty bad, but…” he trailed off, but Sitara knew she was thinking exactly the same thing. Without a CToS profile, a trip to the emergency room was unlikely to end well. If you were lucky, they’d assume you were a criminal or an illegal immigrant. If not…
“I’ll be right there,” she said. Wrench made a noise of acknowledgement and hung up.
<< 1.1.0 >>
Every minute of Sitara’s drive felt like an hour. She had always been too much of a firebrand to have a good poker face, but when she clattered down the steps of the hackerspace to find Marcus waiting anxiously at the bottom, she grit her teeth and forced down her rising panic.
“Hey,” said Marcus, his voice low, careful. He was as on edge as she was. “I came as soon as I heard.” Sitara glanced past him at the couch where Josh lay curled up with his back to her. Wrench was perched on the arm of the couch, radiating fury.
“How is he?” Sitara murmured, quiet enough that Wrench wouldn’t overhear. There was a moment’s hesitation, and she felt her mask slip. Marcus must have seen it, because he swallowed nervously.
“Not great,” he admitted.
‘Not great’ was an understatement. Josh's face was a mess of scrapes and bruises, his eye swollen shut.
"Sitara?" he rasped, the word slurred through a split lip. Sitara's breath caught in her throat.
"Oh honey," she gingerly reached out to stroke his cheek. He flinched and drew away. "It's okay, you're going to be okay."
"It hurts so bad."
"I know, but I'm going to help, okay?” Sitara wished she was as confident as she felt. “Do you remember what happened?”
“It happened so fast.” Josh swallowed, wincing as his lip stung. “I tried to take a shortcut home. They came from behind me. I never even saw them." Wrench swore and shot to his feet as if he'd been burned, kicking at the leg of a nearby desk. Josh flinched, and Sitara and Marcus exchanged a look.
"Uh, Wrench? Why don't we give Sitara and Josh some space?" Marcus ventured. As usual, Wrench's temper drained out of him as quickly as it had flared up. His shoulders slumped.
"I'll go see if I can find the first aid kit," he muttered, heading for the stairs. Marcus followed with an apologetic glance over his shoulder.
Josh’s story came out in fits and starts, with Sitara alternating between rubbing an uninjured spot between his shoulder blades and backing off to the other end of the couch when he needed some space. He’d taken his usual shortcut home - he hated taking the bus - across a secluded parking lot off Valencia Street that led through an alley to the next street over. He’d been distracted, thinking about his and Wrench’s latest build, when someone came up behind him and punched him in the side of the head.
“Jesus,” Sitara breathed as Josh lapsed into silence, trying to pull his knees up to his chest and grimacing at the pain.
“I should’ve been paying attention,” he said. He was rocking in place - one of his tells, Sitara knew, for when he was upset. He’d stopped shaking, at least, but if he worked himself into panic mode again it wasn’t going to help matters.
“Hey,” she said, leaning forward to catch his good eye. “This isn’t your fault, okay? Not one bit.” For a moment Josh looked as though he was going to argue, but Sitara gave him a look that brooked no argument. He took a few calming breaths and nodded.
“Wrench made another hole in the drywall,” he said suddenly, as if the thought had just occurred to him. “His hand’s pretty messed up.” Sitara couldn’t help it - she started to laugh.
“Let’s get you patched up first,” she said kindly, indicating Josh’s various injuries. “Then we’ll worry about Wrench.”
<< 1.1.1 >>
Gary kept a surprisingly comprehensive array of first aid supplies. Ostensibly, it was because his store was in the middle of earthquake-prone San Francisco, but Marcus had seen how violent gaming tournaments could get. Wrench pawed through the metal cabinet with purpose, muttering to himself.
"I don't even know what half this shit is," he said, tossing a packet of non-stick wound pads onto his "keep" pile. He held up a small canvas bag labelled 'sewing kit'. "What the fuck?"
"Keep it, it's got scissors." Marcus watched the bag sail through the air and land on the growing pile. "Hey," he said, "Are you okay?” Wrench still had his head stuck in the cabinet, but his shoulders stiffened.
“No, I’m not fucking okay."
"Wanna talk about it?" This would have earned anyone else a smack in the teeth, and Marcus knew it. Instead, Wrench sighed and turned around. His mask was still blank. It had been since Marcus had arrived.
“I should have walked him home. I could’ve- could’ve done something.”
“Hey come on, man. It was three against one.”
"But that's what couples do, right? Look after each other and shit. What do I do? Panic and punch a hole in the wall.” He rubbed his knuckles - they’d stopped bleeding, but he’d scraped them raw. “Some boyfriend I am." He let out a bitter laugh. "Know what he said to me when he came limping down the stairs? 'Call Sitara'."
"Wrench, he was covered in blood and in shock. Hell, if it were me, I'd probably want Sitara too. Admit it - so would you."
"But when it's time to make the bastards who did this pay, you know who I'd want to have by my side?" There was a pause, broken by Wrench’s snort.
"Dude. That's fuckin' corny."
"Ah, you love it." Marcus allowed himself a grin. "Hey," he said, turning serious again. "Try and keep it together, okay? For Josh?"
"Yeah." Wrench had started piling stuff into his arms. "Thanks, by the way. For that." Marcus' hand shot out to catch the bottle of antiseptic that toppled out of Wrench's grasp. "And that."
"Nah, dawg. I got you."
<< 1.2.0 >>
“Does it hurt to breathe?” Josh had reluctantly taken off his shirt and was tolerating Sitara’s poking and prodding with admirable patience. Marcus and Wrench were trying not to stare, but Josh could tell they were. He knew how bad he looked.
"A little." He lifted the ice pack from his swollen eyelid and ran his fingertips over it experimentally. “Talking is worse.” His lip was swollen too, but short of covering his entire face with ice packs, there wasn’t much they could do about that. The lumps covering his body had turned a hideous shade of red, standing out starkly against his skin. He flinched for the umpteenth time as Sitara dabbed antiseptic on yet another of his cuts.
“Keep still!” Sitara told him, trying not to sound exasperated and failing horribly.
“I’m trying.” Aside from his cuts and what would soon become some horrible bruises, it seemed that Josh had escaped without any broken bones. Sitara was still worried about the way he kept wincing and holding his shoulder.
“We should get that looked at properly,” she said when he did it again, but he shook his head emphatically.
“No. They’ll want to know why I have no CToS profile.” He frowned. “And then they’ll call my parents.”
“Is that why you don’t want to go? You can't hide something like this. I thought your parents were cool."
"They are. They just…" Josh let his head fall back against the arm of the couch, and put the ice pack back over his eye. "They worry about me. All the time. This would just upset them."
"Uh, news flash, everyone worries about their kids." Sitara’s eyes flicked across the room, felt rather than saw Wrench’s gaze meet hers. "Everyone worth a damn, anyway," she amended.
At some point, Josh drifted off, and Marcus found one of Horatio’s old hoodies and draped it over him. Wrench had taken up his perch on the arm of the couch again, looking like an overprotective vulture. Sitara flopped down on the floor, too exhausted even to find another seat.
"We need to keep an eye on him," she said, more out of a vague sense of worry than actual medical knowledge. "He was pretty sure they didn’t hit him in the head, but if he wakes up disoriented or throws up…"
"What does that mean?" said Wrench.
"I don't know exactly, but nothing good.”
“So that’s it then? We wait and see if he’s okay?”
“Tonight? Yeah.” Sitara let her eyes drift closed, stifled a yawn. “Tomorrow? We do what we do best. Find the fuckers and make them pay.”
<< 1.2.1 >>
Wrench couldn’t sleep.
It wasn’t unusual for him to lie awake, but usually that was because he had slept in until two in the afternoon, or had six different build projects on the go and had ingested enough caffeine to send a horse into cardiac arrest.
It was an entirely different feeling to lie awake with anxiety pooling in your stomach, and Wrench hated it. Above him on the couch, Josh slept fitfully, turning over with a faint groan every so often, trying to make his battered limbs more comfortable. He wasn’t even properly awake - Wrench learned that after the first few times, when he popped his head up to ask if he was okay and inadvertently woke him up. Now he just held his breath, listening to Josh’s breathing and waiting for it to return to its steady rhythm.
He checked his phone again, covering it with his hand so the backlight wouldn’t disturb the others. It showed 4.49. Wrench let his head fall back and watched the spots disappear from his vision as he turned his phone’s screen off once more. He was itching to do something, anything, other than uselessly staring at the ceiling for another two hours.
With a silent groan of defeat he sat up. Careful not to wake Josh or the others, he got to his feet and padded across the room in his socks, to the shared workspace where his laptop sat open as if waiting for him.
Everything DedSec did began with intel, Horatio had told him once. Even Wrench, who was more of a pantser than a planner, couldn’t argue with that. After all, you couldn’t steal a shipment of shiny new toys unless you knew at which depot said shipment would be, and when. That didn’t mean intel was Wrench’s forte, though. God, he wished Horatio was here to tell him what to do.
Wrench chewed the inside of his lip and cast his mind back to the night Horatio had disappeared. Marcus had tracked him down, but it was Josh who had picked up his trail. Wrench nodded to himself as the memory solidified.
As on the city streets above him the night eased into morning, he unlocked his laptop and got to work.