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It was only a game, but Van winced every time it happened and he couldn't stop himself from making the comparisons between the brothers—bringing a painful reminder of his previous partner. Not only did they share the same gene pool, but also the same gracefulness. Van blinked several times, watching transfixed as Deaq's long fingers effortlessly dribbled the ball left then right. Cursing to himself, Van redoubled his efforts to focus on the game at hand.

Instinctively, his body moved and countered then fell in-sync with Deaq's movements. Van moved closer; crouched low, Deaq dribbled closer affectively avoiding Van's attempts to block and steal the ball. A quick fake to the right enabled Deaq to fully turn around on his left foot—duck and push forward into a lay-up. A jump even Jordan wouldn't frown at.

The ball bounced between the backboard and the rim before it circled the rim, then a soft swoosh of the ball pushed through the net, another two points.

"Wooooooo, capture that white boy!"

"Yea, yea." Van grimaced as he took the ball.

"No yea-yea's about it—this one's a sealed deal."

"Oh yea?" Van held the ball tight, "Care to make it interesting?"

"More interesting than beating your white ass?" Deaq inquired laughing as he turned to dance a two-step jig wiggling his ass in Van's direction more than pleased with his performance.

"Haha… " Van deadpanned. "Think a month of reports would be interesting?"

Deaq stopped and turned around. Then started laughing in earnest, clapping his hands then waving them as if dismissing the idea.

Annoyed Van stood there holding the basketball at his hip, "What, what? Think I can't beat your black ass?"

Deaq clutched his side, but simply stated, "No."

"No? HA! Make that two months… two months of writing the lead and finale report for Billie."

"You crazy? Remember you… you're the white boy that CAN'T jump."

Van stubbornly shook his head and defiantly held up two fingers silently egging Deaq on.

Finally Deaq stopped laughing long enough to realize Van was serious. "You want a piece of me, huh…two months, right?" Deaq walked over to his partner, smiling. "And it's you doing the work, no excuses, or trying to charm your way out of it…"

"Hey I'm the one who named the stakes… now you in or NOT?" Van challenged.

Deaq nodded his head, "Yea, I could use the free time. Twenty-one?"

Van nodded, pleased then dribbled the ball and passed it over to Deaq, "I'll even let you take it out." He added with a smirk.

"Woa, boys got confidence. You know with someone else that might work, but we've already played, and partner let me just say I was holding back…last chance?"

"Yea yea, consider myself warned. Let's play."

Deaq grinned and shook his head, not exactly sure what had gotten into his partner, but he wasn't about to ignore the 'get out of work' pass Van was offering. "Fine." Deaq dribbled as he trotted over to the baseline, paused and asked, "Just remember you started this."

Deaq didn't waste any time and immediately scored—it wasn't until ten points later, laughing while dancing the Hayes jig that Deaq honestly started to really notice Van's posture. For a game the boy stood ridged, intense with an underlined hostility that poured off his partner. Under normal circumstances during or right after a big case he would have understood, the need to channel festering emotions from a case into a game. A commonality they both shared and did often to let off steam and stress of the job—along with the getting to know thing, but this what Van was doing, this was different.

First, their last two cases were outrageously ridiculous since they were dealing with idiots. At the same time acquisitions for the Candy store was substantial with almost nonexistent danger compared to their usual undercover dance. Add to that no drama or emotional entanglements with the marks around Van to cloud the issue. A pattern Van seemed to have a habit of doing with the mark on most cases. Something Deaq quickly learned that Van's tendency toward 'entanglements' had preceded their partnership. Which he still had a difficult time getting a handle on, and couldn't help but wonder how Dre had handled those situations with Van.

Reacting on autopilot, Deaq shifted and moved; dribbling to the left then the right until suddenly he was thrown out of his private contemplation as Van's body deliberately slammed into him in an effort to block the shot; the ball forgotten as it was stolen out of his hands. The sound of his body falling the floor hard drowned out the sounds of the basket and Van's first points.

The word, 'Foul' was on the tip of his tongue, but a quick glance at Van changed his mind. The boy didn't smile, tease, or shimmy a dance at his win, instead his body had stayed intense and tight as it had been the entire game. Something was seriously wrong—what he didn't know, but he'd damned if he didn't find out before the game was over.

"Need a hand?" The question pulled Deaq out of his thoughts only to stare at the hand in front of him. Still pissed, Deaq wanted to ignore the gesture, but this was Van and even if they've only known each other for the last six months his initial judgment stood, 'Van was good people'. Accepting the hand, Deaq allowed Van to help him.

"Thanks." A slight nod was his only response before Van walked over to take the ball out.

Deaq bit the inside of his cheek to stop his natural inclination to get into the boys face, and find out what the hell was going on in that screwed up head of his—But what really pissed him off even more was why he didn't notice anything before now. The stakes of the game forgotten, Deaq continued to play on autopilot as he racked his brain recalling everything that had happened in the last few days that might account for Van's behavior.

Deaq immediately dismissed anything older than last week. One thing he was fairly certain about was that Van wasn't one to successfully hide his emotions for any given length of time. Instead he wore them like a badge, and in their line of work, it was either a curse or a gift. For Van it was a gift. Van's ability to convincingly lie and intertwine blend his own emotional truths with his undercover persona was almost artistic. It was one of the reasons Deaq believed Van was so successful in the job. Also probably why he always ended up falling for a mark, or the mark falling for him. Van didn't just role-play the part of a thug, like him did, Van's prior experience of criminal life wasn't just a modeled formula to use to put the bad guys behind bars, but a real extension of his life.

Deaq admitted Van's experience and knowledge ran deeper than his ever did. His own, criminal past was nothing more than rebellion; a teenager who rebelled against his family. It just happened that his family was the cops. Though by that time Pop had retired, and Dre a rookie with the LAPD, marked Dre as the fourth generation in the Hayes family to continue the tradition. Their family conflict exploded when Dre busted Deaq five months before his eighteenth birthday, and spent those months in juvie hall. At the time he was an angry wanta be thug, anything be different from Pop and Dre. Once he was released, Deaq ran off to New York, and in time did everything he fought against by joining the NYPD. Eight and half years, and nine Christmas' later, Deaq had still refused to swallow his hurt and anger toward Dre until it was too late.

Van's upbringing was almost the polar opposite. Where Deaq's middle class family was all about law enforcement, Van's -from the wrong side of the tracks- family walked on the other side of the law.

With another shove Deaq tried to concentrate; with each point Van became more violent, bodily shoving Deaq in order to steal the ball. What should have been a friendly game between partners suddenly became a battlefield. The score stood Deaq, sixteen, Van, ten and he was no closer to figuring out what was wrong. Any small talk he initiated was met with grunts, and 'shut and play' platitudes.

The longer and fiercer the game got, the more Deaq started to unintentionally and intentionally push back; his own anger being fueled with each added bruise he acquired from Van's body slams or pointy elbows.

So far Deaq's tactics were getting him nowhere. Changing strategies, Deaq decided to physically wear Van out.

The tension increased, sweat glistened and poured off their bodies as the continued to battle for the ball. Van had the ball with Deaq blocking his shot. With each move, Van tried to make, pivoting around to find an opening—Deaq defensively used his height to effortlessly block. Frustrated, Van moved back dribbling trying to reset up a shot, but Deaq was there for each maneuver forcing Van even further back.

Angry, Van retreated and tried again and again; his footwork quick flawless just not faster or effective against Deaq. Van's hair was soaked, sweat dripped into his eyes burning still he pushed on elbowing pushing his way toward the basket. Without thinking he dribbled to the left then the right just as he had seen Deaq do a dozen times. Only when Deaq easily followed, Van arched his elbow up to connect with Deaq's face then ducked turned and moved into a layout just making the basket.

"Van!" Billie shouted. Taken aback by what she just saw, "Someone want to explain what the hell is going on here?"

The room was suddenly silent, only their heavy breathing and the hollow dribble of the ball as it rolled until it finally came to a stop.

Van hunched over trying to gather his breath. Unfettered anger coursed through his body, a slight tilt of his head he saw Deaq still sitting on the floor, blood dripping from the cut near his eye—where Van's elbow connected.

Closing his eyes, Van knew he had to get out of there… and quickly before the dam he had carefully constructed burst.

Deaq just sat there staring at his partner like he had gone crazy because from Deaq's position he had.

Van straightened, his voice husky barely audible with an emotion Deaq couldn't name. "You win…I forfeit."

Abruptly Van moved quickly to leave not stopping as Billie called out after him.

Deaq sat stunned, and started to wonder if Van was schizophrenic because for the life of him he couldn't figure out what the hell had just happened or why.

Deaq didn't know how long he sat there, but was suddenly brought back to reality as Billie silently started to clean his cut. It took him a moment to realize she wasn't yelling or hounding him about what happened; she already knew.

"Ok you want to share and explain to me what the hell that was about cause I gotta tell ya I'm starting to think he's gone around the bend."

Billie paused, opened then closed her eyes before she reopened them to stare steadily at Deaq. "I just noticed… it's February 9th, when they hooked up."

At Deaq's puzzled look, Billie continued, "When they started working together…"

Billie didn't say it, Deaq knew and his heart ached as he thought of Dre, and he flashed back to those first few days when he met Van. His instincts about Van were right on the money then as they were now and his own words replayed in his head, 'I don't like you, but you're good people and you Love my brother…'

And it was truth then and now; they, Van and Dre were close, family. Closer than he had ever been with Dre for the last eight years. If he, his parents, or the rest of his family, weren't over Dre's death why would he ever expect Van who Deaq knew still partly blamed himself for Dre's death— and Deaq had said/done nothing over the last six months to rectify Van's guilt. "Fuck!" Deaq whispered.

Deaq slowly moved to stand. Hesitantly Billie stopped him and sternly asked, "Am I going to have to recruit or transfer anyone?"

Startled Deaq firmly answered, "NO!" then paused and lowered his voice before heading for the door. "We're good—partners… just gonna have to remind him of that."

Smiling Billie nodded pleased as she watched Deaq take after Van and muttered to herself. "Yea, you do that."

FiN