As Pete made preparations for the upcoming task, there were times he actually couldn't believe that he was still here. I was supposed to leave Vice City as soon as I found out about my brothers. But I can't leave Ruth and Keith to deal with their dilemma on their own. This isn't just about me anymore.

It was a stupid idea to return to the compound. But Phil's supplies were already here, and he doubted that Tommy would think he'd come back here. He found another bulletproof vest and restocked on weapons. He had lost the tank during his attack on the Vercetti Estate. But he still had the Hunter (in reasonably good condition too). And he intended to make good use of it.

When he was sure that he just as ready as he could be, he called Keith. The latter answered on the first ring.

"Keith, it's Pete. I think we're ready—"

"Pete, thank God. Something's not right. I've called Ruth several times, but she hasn't responded."

"What?"

"I'm heading to her apartment now, can you meet me there?"

"Yeah. See you in a bit."

Quickly putting his phone back into his pocket, Pete ran outside. His Phoenix was completely trashed, but Phil's Patriot was parked and ready to go. He headed for Downtown at best speed, and got there in little more than five minutes.

Keith was waiting out front. He looked worried, and without a word, they entered the lobby. They hurried into the elevator, failing to spot the person who stood still against the wall in the darkened hallway adjacent to them, holding one hand over a woman's mouth.

When they reached Ruth's apartment, they saw that the door was slightly ajar. Drawing their guns, they walked in slowly.

"Shit," Keith whispered, looking around. The living room was a mess. There was an obvious sign of a struggle. Everything was scattered, and there were bullet holes on the walls. And there was a figure lying face down in a pool of blood.

"Oh my God." Pete ran up to the body. There was a bullet hole in the back of his head.

"It's Gus," Keith said, his fist clenching around his gun. "I told him to go with Ruth yesterday."

"He was thrown onto the floor," Pete said. "Never had a chance."

There was a roar of pain heard many floors below him. Both men straightened up.

"Let's go!" They ran down the stairs as quickly as they could, and ran out into the lobby just in time to see Pegorino forcing Ruth into the backseat of a Greenwood. Hal was in the driver's seat.

"Don't bite me, you bitch," snarled the Alderney man, shoving her into the car and slamming the door shut. Keith raised his gun and fired, missing him but hitting the car. Pegorino grabbed an AK from the front seat and returned fire. Pete and Keith ducked behind either side of the lobby wall, as the gunfire stopped and the car drove off.

"Come on," Keith said, as people ran out of the apartment to see what was going on. He and Pete ran for the Patriot, and gave chase.

The Greenwood could be easily seen moving back and forth between the cars heading down Bayshore Avenue. But the military vehicle's modified engine ensured that they would quickly catch up. Keith pulled out his Micro-SMG and leaned out the passenger window.

"Don't hit Ruth," Pete grunted as he weaved around an Infernus.

"I'll try not to." He fired at the Greenwood's tires, popping both rear wheels. Amazingly, the car continued to drive with fair precision.

The chase continued out of Downtown and into Little Haiti. They pulled onto another road and towards the docks. Out of sheer luck, the Greenwood made an unexpected spin and entered the compound yard. Pete stopped the Patriot inside the yard as well.

"I'll take Hal, you take Pegorino," he said.

"Deal." They climbed out of the hummer, guns drawn.

Norwood had a pistol with a silencer on the end (Pete was wondering why the other occupants of the apartment didn't notice the ruckus in Ruth's suite) and fired at them. But the bullets had a lot of scatter and didn't do much more good than attracting attention to himself. Pete raised his Uzi and returned fire, but had the same luck. Norwood ducked and ran for the nearest vehicle: Phil's Walton.

Pegorino was holding Ruth with one hand, and his AK with the other. Keith aimed carefully, firing a single shot from his Micro-SMG. The bullet caught the Alderney man in the gun hand, and he dropped his weapon with a yell of pain, involuntarily letting go of Ruth at the same time. She tore free from his grasp, running towards Keith. Pete aimed at Pegorino, who was close enough to be hit by the handgun's fire. He would have succeeded had Norwood not grabbed his partner and pulled him into the Walton as well.

Pete dove off to one side as the truck sped past them and into the street. Keith cut the bonds on Ruth's hands and they hurried to the Patriot.

"I'm taking Pegorino to hell," she said as he handed her a gun. "Gus died trying to protect me."

"You two chase them on the ground," Pete said, dashing for the Hunter. "Keep them busy while I use the helicopter to cut this chase short." He climbed into the pilot's seat, activating the rotors and the guns. Now that Ruth was free, he would have no problem blowing Norwood's hijacked car to bits.

The Hunter lifted off the ground with a mighty roar, and as the roads were seen below him, and he could discern the Walton speeding for the bridge. Flying over the buildings to save time, he caught up to the truck. Firing the machinegun brutally, he poured barrage after barrage of gunfire on the vehicle. Yet it remained intact. He wouldn't use the rockets unless he had to. Not with other people around.

The chase continued over the bridge and into Leaf Links golf course. Pete was forced to readjust his course as they drove under a low wooden walkway that connected one side of the island to the other. By the time he was facing east again, he saw that Norwood and Pegorino had abandoned the Walton and were running across the golf course. Pete kept the aim on them, ready to fire when they emerged from behind the hills and were caught in the open. Which would have been fine had Norwood not retrieved an RPG from the back of Phil's truck and fired it at him.

The missile hit the Hunter, damaging it but not destroying it. But as Pete fought to regain control of the helicopter, he saw that Norwood and Pegorino were running towards two Mavericks at the water's edge of the golf course.

"Come on, come on," he growled, trying to bring the weapons back online. He had a good chance of taking the helicopters out and leaving them trapped. But after a lot of fiddling, he only managed to get the machinegun partially working, and by then, both of them took off. Norwood flew south, while Pegorino flew west.

Pete knew that Phil connected radio transmitters with all his vehicles. He managed to make contact with the Patriot, and said, "Keith, this is Pete. Can you hear me?"

"Loud and clear. We're crossing the bridge right now. What's going on?"

"I need you to turn back. Pegorino's heading southwest, flying for the airport, most likely. Stay on him, I'm going to deal with Norwood."

The next voice that was heard belonged to Ruth. "Make sure you make him pay, Pete."

"I will." Without wasting another precious second, Pete cut the transmission and headed after Norwood. They were flying over Vice Point now. Activating what was left of the machinegun, he loosed everything he had on the Maverick.

The cannon was damaged, and fired in short bursts. But keeping his aim on the helicopter's rotors, he soon forced Norwood into a landing. Deciding once again to try and pick him off, Pete was about to destroy the Maverick with Hal next to it when he was hit again by an RPG.

"Fuck," he growled, slamming the Hunter onto the ground and diving out. He barely ran clear before it exploded, taking the second helicopter with it.

Norwood had commandeered a Wintergreen and was escaping through Washington Beach's alleyways. Spotting a Streetfighter placed nearby, Pete gave chase, careful not to smash into any of the buildings. Their high-speed chase was likely to be fatal if one of them was careless. But he had the faster bike, and soon managed to catch up. Grabbing his Uzi, he aimed at Hal's back and prepared to fire.

Norwood suddenly braked, jumping sideways off his bike and landing on the Streetfighter. They sped out of the alleyways and across the road as they wrestled precariously on the small vehicle. Pete took both hands off the grips but kept his foot on the acceleration as he twisted around and aimed his gun at Norwood. The latter punched him in the stomach, forcing him to double over and nearly roll off the bike.

They were now speeding back and forth across dirt, and then grass. He punched Norwood in the face, who fell off. But one of his feet hooked around Pete's, and the movement sent both of them sprawling onto the grass. The Streetfighter plummeted into the ocean.

Norwood snatched the assault rifle off his pursuer's vest, and Pete tackled him onto the ground as three rounds discharged into his chest. He felt the kevlar take the blows, but it constricted his breathing slightly. Not a good thing if you were asthmatic. He grabbed the gun and tried to slip the magazine out of the chamber. Hal's hand squeezed the trigger, firing the rounds into the air. As pedestrians screamed and ran, Pete smashed the gun out of his hand.

Norwood rammed him with his shoulder, sending him sprawling. Pete stumbled, letting go of the weapon and falling backwards into the water. He instantly felt the weight of the vest and all the guns on it weigh him down. He unzipped it, grabbing two objects before letting it sink into the ocean. As he swam for shore, Hal, who had found the assault rifle again, fired at him.

Two bullets penetrated his back, and one in his side, and Pete bit his lip to stop himself from crying out with pain. Raising one of the weapons he held, a pistol, he returned fire. The rounds narrowly missed Norwood's head, but he ran nonetheless. Pete pulled himself out of the water, and trailing blood as he ran, he saw Hal enter the lighthouse. Dropping the empty pistol, he followed, wincing with every step.

As soon as Pete entered the lighthouse, he had to duck as another spray of bullets were fired at him. Taking deep breaths to calm himself, he looked at the other object held in his hand. It was a knife. No good for firefights. So he had to get close. Nothing for it, then. He counted to three, and began running up the spiral staircase as fast as he could, trying to avoid the bullets that flew around him. Before long, his asthma began to take a toll on his movements, but he didn't stop. If he did, then he would die. There was no cover on the staircase.

Pete's vision swam as he fought to catch his breath. He flinched as a bullet pierced his leg, and a second grazed his cheek. He still dragged himself up the stairs, holding onto the railing with one hand. A third bullet entered his stomach, and white-hot pain engulfed him. He let go of the railing, and slumped onto the ground, gasping out his breaths and waiting for the rest of the bullets to finish him off.

They never came. As the ringing in his ears stopped, he could hear a clicking sound, and Norwood swearing quietly. He must have run out of ammo. Gritting his teeth, Pete pulled himself to his feet, put his knife up his sleeve, and dragged himself up the stairs. Hal had nowhere to go, and could only wait for him to reach the top. But the stairs were so long, and the top was so high up...

Norwood wasn't at the top of the staircase. Knowing that he was lurking on the lookout tower, Pete knew that he had one guess as to which side of the exit he was on. Taking a silent breath, he ran onto the circular platform and turned sharply right. A blunt pain on the back of his shoulder blade told him that he was out of luck. He fell as the pain extended to the two bullets in his back. Rolling over, he saw Hal standing over him, holding the empty rifle and preparing to hit him with it again.

"The Haitians were going to make me a rich man," he shouted, rage burning in his eyes. "Then you came along and ruined everything. I guess I'll have to kill you myself."

"You sold your own brother out, jackass." Pulling the knife out of his sleeve, Pete stabbed it deep into Norwood's side.

He screamed and fell back, letting go of the gun. It flew over the edge of the railing and fell into the water with a splash. He tackled Hal, grabbing the blade's handle and driving it deeper. His opponent roared with agony, and reflexively knocked him back onto the ground. Pete's vision blurred again, but he fought the exertion and stood back up, grabbing Norwood by the shoulders and slamming him into the wall several times. He turned him around and prepared to use the lighthouse's unyielding solidity to drive the knife straight into his middle, when Hal's head snapped back, catching Pete in the face. They continued to wrestle, each trying to kill the other with their own hands.

The sound of people running up the staircase was heard echoing through the lighthouse. A minute later, Ruth and Keith reached the lookout tower, guns drawn.

He spun himself around, so that Norwood's back was facing them. "Shoot him," he growled. Ruth and Keith shot Hal several times in the back, choosing not to aim for the head in case they hit Pete. The latter could feel his opponent's grip weakening, but still he fought.

"That's all we have," Ruth shouted. "We used the rest while we were going after Pegorino."

He thrust Hal at the railing, pushing with all his might. But Norwood's grip tightened at the last second, pulling both of them over. Pete grabbed onto the bars, feeling all his injuries straining and threatening to loosen his hold. Norwood grabbed onto his ankles and wouldn't let go. Ruth and Keith ran over to see them dangling precariously over the lookout tower. The former extended her hand. "Pete, come on!"

Pete shook his head. If he let go, then his opponent would drag them both down. He swayed back and forth, trying to get Hal to let go. He swung towards the side of the lighthouse, and put his weight into it. Norwood smashed hard into the stone, and the knife in his side was driven in half an inch deeper. He flinched, and in that instant, he let go, screaming all the way down.

Ruth didn't watch him fall. She grabbed Pete's bloodied wrists, and pulled him as high as she could. But she couldn't get him over the railing without letting go. Keith took him under the arms and hauled him onto the relative safety of the lookout tower.

Pete spat blood onto the floor, and slumped onto the hard stone. He could feel himself beginning to lose consciousness.

"He's very badly hurt," he heard Ruth saying from the other end of a tunnel. "We have to get him out of here."

"I know somewhere we can take him..." Keith replied, and his words echoed around Pete's mind as he passed out.

···

Pete didn't know how long he lay there. But he didn't want to get up. He didn't even want to open his eyes.

He was lying on a bed. Not very soft, but right now he was beyond caring. He could be lying on the lookout tower, or in the Viceport docks, looking into Vic's empty eyes...

Pete jerked and sat up. The movement immediately caused the side of his body to flare up in agony.

"Pete!" Ruth was sitting in the room, and she ran to the bedside. Afraid to move too quickly, he slowly leaned back. It still hurt.

"Keith said it was going to be a while before you woke up," she said.

"How long have I been out?" he asked softly.

"The whole day. You should avoid moving. Hal shot you up pretty bad."

"Where am I?" Even the right side of his face hurt where a bullet grazed him.

"The safehouse in Viceport. Keith used it before, when Gus..." She trailed off.

Pete just remembered that Gus was dead. He was surprised that it affected him so much. He had simply turned away as the Cubans rolled Lance's body into the ocean, but Gus had been loyal and brave until the end. "Hal?"

"Fell off the lookout tower. Landed on some rocks." There was no change in Ruth's expression or voice. Especially no satisfaction. And what she said next made it obvious why.

"I was so afraid," she said, sounding just like she did back in her apartment. "Afraid I was going to lose you."

Pete turned his head to look in her eyes, and what he saw there made him forget his pain, and all his feelings of loss. He knew, right there, that she did feel what he did.

Ruth bent down, her hair sweeping over his face. Their lips met. When she finally leaned back, he felt stunned. Then she smiled, the first genuine smile that was completely joyful free of worries since he met her. He returned the smile.

Keith came into the room. "Good, you're awake, Pete," he said.

Pete found that his happiness was becoming euphoria. And it had nothing to do with Hal's death, although Keith didn't know it. Still smiling, he said, "We did it."

"That we did. We're home free at last. I don't think Pegorino's going to be calling hits on us anytime soon."

"Did you take him out?"

Keith shook his head. "No. He had his guys stationed at the entrances as we reached Escobar. He took off on his plane. He's probably back at Alderney by now."

"Ah well. What's done is done. But there's something else you should know, Keith," Pete's smile faded now. "While we were making our plans to deal with Norwood and Pegorino, I may have, erm...pissed off the most powerful crime lord in Vice City."

"Tommy Vercetti?"

"Yeah. I'll bet he's still looking for me. So the sooner I leave, the better."

"You're leaving?"

"Yes. I have to."

"Well, if you must," Keith said soberly. "But you have to recover first. You're not going anywhere until you can walk on your own."

"He won't be on his own," Ruth said. She put her hand in Pete's. "I'm going with him."

"You are?" The latter looked surprised.

"Yes," she said, grinning. "Someone needs to keep an eye on you, make sure you don't do anything stupid."

Pete closed his eyes, feeling more happy than he had his entire life.

"Thanks. I appreciate it."


EPILOGUE

Pete zipped up the luggage bag. "I think that's it."

"Are you sure?" Keith asked. "Nothing else you want to take?"

He laughed. "Quite a bit, actually. But most of it is illegal."

"Of course."

Pete and Ruth made their goodbyes inside the safehouse, deciding not to hang around outside too long.

"I'm glad I bumped into you, Keith," Pete said. "If I hadn't, I probably wouldn't be standing here right now."

"I agree. You probably wouldn't be."

Ruth embraced Keith tightly. "I'll miss you," she said.

"Me too. Make sure you look after him. He needs it." Over her shoulder, he winked at Pete.

Ruth and Pete put their belongings in her Deluxo, and she drove them away from Viceport. It was a short trip to the airport, but once or twice Pete could have sworn that there were Sentinels with tinted windows following them. He didn't mention this to Ruth, and decided also not to question her decision to make a few detours. The Sentinels didn't appear after that.

Ruth locked the car and tossed the key onto the seat. "If anyone wants it, they can break into it." Before long, they were standing in line, waiting to board the plane.

Pete, who was thinking something over the entire morning, made his decision at last. Taking his phone out of his pocket, he said, "I need to make one last call."

She was puzzled. "To who?"

"An old friend," he said with a bittersweet smile.

Someone picked up on the second ring. "Who is this?"

"Tommy, it's me. Pete."

"Yeah? What the hell do you want?" The crime lord's voice was less than welcoming.

"To tell you that I'm sorry about everything. I didn't know."

"It's a little too late for that. Half my estate is destroyed, I've lost at least thirty members of my gang, and I can still feel that bullet you put into my kidney."

"Believe me, Tommy. If I could go back in time and undo it, I would. But it wasn't until after that I found out the whole story."

"So why the call?"

"To tell you that I'm leaving Vice City, and never coming back."

"Good. Because if you did come back, I'd have to kill you."

Pete had to laugh at that. "I'll bet. Look, I grew up with Lance, and I knew he could be a bit stupid about things. And if you told me the truth, I would have known right then and there that it wasn't your fault. If that was me having to deal with his betrayal, I would have killed him too, even if he was my brother."

There was a very long silence. But Pete didn't break it, and let Tommy decide on what he wanted to say. And he was not disappointed. When the latter spoke again, his voice lost some of its hardness.

"Things have been interesting since you came into town, Pete. You've done a lot for us. And you're a tough son of a bitch."

"Thanks, Tommy," he said, as they were admitted through the doors leading onto the plane. "That means a lot to me."

"Look after yourself," Tommy said half-grudgingly. "I know that's what you're good at."

"You too." They hung up, and Pete felt that although the crime lord hadn't completely forgiven him, he had done his best to make amends. It was as good as he could have hoped for.

"So who was your 'old friend'?" Ruth asked dryly as they found their seats and put their luggage on the rack above.

He rolled his eyes. "Take a wild guess."

As they sat down and simply enjoyed each others' company, she asked, "So where are we going? Liberty City? San Andreas? Somewhere else really crazy?"

Pete shook his head. "Oh, no. I'm done with this. My brothers never got to live the quiet life before they ended up dead in Vice City. I have no intention of following them."

"I don't know," Ruth said wistfully. "It does seem hard to leave this all behind."

"We'll get used to it. If we got into this whole mess, then we can get out. Hold onto our sanity while we have it."

"Maybe. But don't avoid the question. Where exactly are we going?"

"Back to my hometown, that's the only place I've got family now. But it's nowhere as crazy as Vice City. You're going to love my Aunt Enid." He smiled, looking out the window as the plane took off. Vice City was already far below them. He hoped he would never see it again.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are now departing Vice City. Please keep your seat belts fastened until we are at sufficient altitude. We will be arriving at Orlando in ninety minutes. Thank you for choosing Plummet Airlines."