Title: Enter, Pursued By The Feds

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The world belongs to Justin Lin, Vin Diesel, et. al. The words are mine.

Rating: T

Spoilers: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003); Fast and the Furious (2001)

Summary: "Barstow's a hell of a long way away," Vince said, gruffly, ignoring Pearce's outstretched hand. "What the hell's he doing here?" 5800 words.

Notes: In continued fulfillment of a meme prompt, specifically the part, "For whatever reason he still has to call in Rome and Rome and Vince DO NOT GET ALONG." Alternate canon cut scenes for 2 Fast 2 Furious.

Vince was still in the shower when his partner's cell phone rang, washing off the sweat of a Miami afternoon. His wrecked arm was still tight and sore, even after several months of healing, and he didn't quite have all his stamina back yet, but that only kept him from serious racing; he could still handle a wrench, among other things, as well as he ever could.

Good thing, too, the way Brian tended to demolish the competition. He'd grown into himself since leaving LA; without Dom to look to, he'd sort of become the Dominic Toretto of the Miami scene. Every time he raced, business picked up at affiliated garages.

And every time he raced, he went home with Vince to burn off his energy. That still boggled Vince's mind. Hitting the sheets with the buster: he could just imagine Dom's face when he found out. Or Mia's. He wasn't exactly looking forward to that conversation.

Dom wasn't there, though- and wouldn't be, for a good long while. Mia was all the way across the country. Brian was right there. And the ex-cop had turned out to be surprisingly easy company, when they weren't squabbling over everything and nothing. Vince still missed the team, but- not enough to ruin the good thing he had going.

He listened to Brian's grunt of a greeting, smirking at the anticipation in his voice as he replied to whoever was on the other end: "Yeah, you know we could use the money."

Good; spare cash had been a little scarce since challengers had started backing off the line rather than face 'Bullitt'. They weren't exactly hurting yet, but keeping the Skyline and the GT in racing shape wasn't a cheap proposition. He ducked his head under the spray, rinsing the last of the suds away, then stepped out of the shower and snagged a towel on his way out of the bathroom.

"All right, I'll be there," Brian added, then tossed the phone at the bed and stooped to snag a pair of khakis off the floor.

Vince whistled at the view, shaking his head as it disappeared under tan fabric and a hastily sniffed white tee. "Tej?" he asked, scrubbing his towel over wet hair.

"Tej," Brian nodded, blue eyes darting apologetically his way. "Sorry, man; I only got four minutes to be there."

Vince rolled his eyes, then dropped his towel over Brian's and bent to retrieve a set of clothes of his own. He knew what a picture he made, scars and all, and smirked as Brian's eyes followed the shift to take in all the damp skin on view. "Pick up a pizza and a six pack on your way back," he suggested.

Brian flashed that crazy-bright smile of his in reply, toeing on his Sketchers. "You got it," he said. "Wish me luck?"

"Like you need it," Vince scoffed. "Go on, get out of here."

Brian laughed, then darted for the door of the houseboat and went, dashing out in to the warm night. The sound of the Skyline starting up followed a moment later, then the squeal of tires as he peeled out of the lot behind Tej's to head for that night's rendezvous.

Later, Vince wished he had wished Brian luck, or at least sent him off properly. He heard several tuned engines roll up to the garage an hour or so after his partner took off- but the expected sound of footsteps never followed. He drank the last beer in the fridge waiting for Brian to walk in, then chucked the bottle in the trash and went looking for the garage's owner.

Tej took one look at him and winced, his expression saying it all.

"What the hell happened?" he snarled in reply.

"I don't know, man. Cops showed up just after he collected his winnings, and everyone scattered. Haven't seen hide nor hair of him since." Tej shrugged. "Thought he'd have called you, though, if he had to lie low. Or, you know. Regardless."

Yeah. Except Tej didn't know Brian used to be five-oh; he knew they'd lit out of L.A. ahead of a tidal wave of shit coming down on them, but they'd never told him the full extent of it. Brian wouldn't use his one call to point the cops in Vince's direction, not after all he'd done to take the team off the radar. A year ago, Vince might not've been so sure of that- but a year ago, Brian hadn't yet given his keys to Vince's best friend and scraped Vince himself off a truck and later a hospital bed ahead of an FBI manhunt.

"Cops? Shit." He ran a hand through his hair. "Didn't you have anyone listening?"

Tej rolled his eyes. "Teach your grandma to suck eggs; of course we were monitoring the police band. Never heard a peep, though. Not even after we lifted the bridge- and I made for damn sure nothing was scheduled to go through there tonight."

Vince didn't like that. He didn't like that at all, neither the part about the bridge- what the hell?- or the suggestion that whatever had gone down had been orchestrated. He knew better than to accuse Tej of being a rat, but if there wasn't one somewhere in that night's crowd, Vince would eat that comb sticking out of Tej's 'fro. "Anyone else not make it back?"

"Not that I heard," Tej shook his head. "I better make some calls, though. Call me when Bri rolls back up, or you hear something, a'ight?"

"If he doesn't stop by the garage first," Vince snorted. Though he damn well better not, if Brian knew what was good for him.

"Same back at you, man." Tej gave him a wry, acknowledging smile, then shut the door between them.

Vince spent the rest of the night growing increasingly wound up as all his efforts to track Brian down struck out; then he went out for Coronas and cheap convenience store food, caught a few restless z's, and started the next day early when nightmares of the last truck heist woke him up. Hanging off the passenger door again, listening as the trucker reloaded his shotgun, arm a blaze of pain from the wire wrapped around it and a hole burning in his gut- but this time, no Brian there to pull him free.

He hovered in the garage the rest of that day and most of the next, waiting restlessly for news, but Brian never showed. Not even via a mention in the paper, and that was even screwier than Brian getting swept up to begin with.

The only sign of hope he had was a single cryptic message from a burner cell, sent around noon the first day: "Keep low. Back soon. Snowman."

It had to mean that whatever was up, was more than just Miami PD cracking down on the scene. And that left way too many possibilities open, most of which spelled nothing good for the future.

The second day, Tej had scheduled a jet ski race out behind the garage; with all the splash and noise going on, most of the customers that came by weren't there for the cars, and even with Brian missing that left the other mechanics with plenty of time on their hands. Vince packed it in early and went out back to change into something without his name on the pocket, planning to start trawling impound yards for the Skyline. Forget keeping low; he at least needed to know where Brian was. When he came back out, though, to the sound of raucous cheers as the crowd divvied up the winnings of one of the races, his search was short-circuited before it could even begin: a flash of blond hair and a Choppers tee shirt a dozen yards away froze his feet to the deck of the houseboat.

It was Brian, all right, talking shop with Tej and some strange guy like he had all the time in the world. Vince set his jaw, flexed his hands, and started storming through the knots of spectators toward his delinquent partner. Forget being understanding and shit; after two days of pulling his hair out for what looked like no real reason, he was going to wring the truth out of him if he had to.

Brian didn't even see him coming; wasn't even looking for him, the bastard. He was too busy asking Tej for some kind of favor; Vince could hear his voice carrying as he approached.

"Check it out. He'll be in town a while. Can he use that cot?"

"What's wrong with your place?" Tej replied with a smirk.

"I don't want to stay with him. He has bad habits," the guy drawled in response.

Whoever 'he' was, the stranger had a lean build, dark skin, plenty of tats, and a very familiar, belligerent stance; wherever he'd come from, it wasn't any kind of law enforcement. Vince recognized the type- and that just irritated him more. If Brian'd had time to collect some lowlife, how bad could it have been out there?

"Tell me about it," Vince snorted, stopping just short of the group and crossing his arms over his chest.

Brian met his gaze with a sudden, startled blink- then gave him a broad, guileless smile and reached out to touch the stranger's shoulder. "Vince! Hey, man, look here- this is Roman Pearce. I told you about him, remember? Guy I grew up with in Barstow. Rome, this is Vince."

Vince's scowl deepened. Yeah, he remembered. And even if he hadn't, he could see the way they were all up in each other's personal space. It was obvious Brian knew how he was reacting to that, too; that devil may care routine of his was a surefire tell. The ability to keep his cool under any circumstances might have been Officer O'Conner's meal ticket back when he was undercover for the LAPD, but to anyone who'd seen him when the blinds were down and he had no one else to be, it was a dead giveaway that he was putting on a show.

"Barstow's a hell of a long way away," he replied, gruffly, ignoring Pearce's automatically outstretched hand. "What the hell's he doing here?"

Pearce pulled the hand back with a scowl, straightening up a little and puffing out his chest. He was a couple inches shorter than Brian, but seemed determined to make up for it in attitude. "Whatever I damn well please. What the hell business is that of yours?" he asked, cutting his gaze toward Brian.

Brian, the asshole, just chuckled at that. "Guys! Vince, Rome's here for the same reason I haven't been around the last couple of days- it's a long story, gonna have to wait for later. But, Rome- it's Vince's business because it's my business. Comprende?" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"Your business-?" Rome glanced back and forth between the pair of them for a moment, and then snorted, tipping his chin at Vince. "Oh. Your bid-ness, right. I gotcha. Me and him's gonna have to compare some notes later."

"Oh, hell no, we definitely don't have time for that," Brian scoffed, giving Rome a shove. Then he stepped around his friend, reaching out to lay a cautioning hand on Vince's chest.

"Vince- I know it's a lot to ask, but just keep it cool a little while longer, all right? There's an awful lot of eyes on me at the moment, so stay close to Tej and keep your head down 'til I say it's clear. Last thing I need to worry about is you getting dragged up in this mess, too."

"Yeah? Thought you just said your business was my business." Vince shrugged the hand off, narrowing his eyes.

Brian winced. "Not this business. Like I said, I know it's a lot to ask, but-"

"Damn straight."

"Okay, you know what, I think that's our cue to let the lovebirds argue in peace," Tej interrupted, corralling an amused, wary Pearce. "Got one more race to run; then I'll show you around, man. C'mon."

"A'ight. Catch up with you in a few, Bri."

Vince barely noticed them walk away; he was too busy staring Brian down, demanding an answer.

Brian let out a gusty sigh, then glanced around and jerked his head toward the boat. "Look, it's cop stuff," he began, in low, hurried tones as they put a door between themselves and the crowd. "Customs, this time; they've got a hard-on for some drug lord down here. But they got that Fed with them from before- Bilkins. He knew exactly who I was, even told them how to find me."

Vince scowled. "And if they didn't arrest you- what, they want you to drive for them again?"

"Or something," Brian replied, dryly. "I'm not sure they care what happens to me after. They were gonna throw me to the sharks with some pimple-faced rookie for a partner- but you know as well as I do that most cops can't race for shit. I told 'em I'd only do it if I could choose the other driver."

...And he hadn't chosen Vince? Or at least someone who hadn't turned on Brian once already? "And you picked him?" he growled, pointing vaguely in the direction of Tej and Brian's friend.

Brian rolled his eyes. "Chill, man, and think for a second. They get their hands on you, you really think they'll let you go that easy? They're still plenty hot under the collar about L.A. I did what I could before I left, but you guys left evidence all over the damn place, I couldn't wipe it all. And Bilkins warned me off that tack pretty quick: no deal for anyone from the team. They got no reason to think I'd make good bait for Dom, though. And Rome's done his time; it's no skin off their nose to wipe his record."

"You really think they don't know I'm here already?" Vince was skeptical about that.

"If they'd tracked me here, you really think they'd have risked running me down in the Skyline?" The corner of Brian's mouth curled up, half amusement and all smug confidence, as he jerked his thumb toward the garage. "Nah; Bilkins must've heard the rumors, like everyone else. Guy called 'Bullitt', gotta be a blue-eyed blond. Once he made the connection, it would've been pretty easy to track someone down and get a better description. But you've been pretty quiet in the scene since we got here, and let's face it, you were never as recognizable as Dom."

Vince blew out a breath, thinking that over. He hated to admit it, but Brian might actually have a point. "Yeah, yeah, you can stop with the hard sell, McQueen. I don't gotta like it, though. How long is this job the pigs want you for gonna take?"

Brian relaxed a little at that, reaching out to Vince again, settling his hand on Vince's hips. "I don't know," he said, solemnly, shaking his head. "They need us to put the kingpin and the money together, and if the guy's hiring drivers now, he's gotta be moving it soon. But I don't have any details yet. And the less I hang around here in the meantime, the better. The cars they gave us are wired to hell and back, and if we leave 'em out front longer than it takes to poke around in the engines like any good gearhead, one side or the other's liable to get more aggressive with the surveillance."

Vince swore under his breath. "Yeah, well, you sure as hell better keep me posted. No more of this radio silent, cryptic message bullshit."

Brian rolled his eyes, leaning in for an aggressive kiss and a little cooperative groping. "I'll try- but with either the Feds or Verone always over my shoulder, it'll be a little hard to have private conversations."

"Sounds to me like what you need is a little motivation," Vince replied, shifting his grip to make his point real clear.

Brian hissed out a breath, pushing him back toward the wall...

...and it was a good ten minutes more before they finished that conversation.

"Rome's gonna kill me," Brian chuckled as they finally emerged from the boat once more, rubbing idly at the fresh stubble burn on his throat.

"He'll get over it," Vince replied smugly, his mood lightened enough to be magnanimous about it- for the moment. "Now c'mon; show me these deathtraps on wheels they set you up with."

"Says the man who was drooling over a Spyder just last week," Brian grinned sideways at him.

"No shit?" Vince said. "Damn; wonder who they busted to get their hands on one of those."

"You don't wanna know, man. You don't wanna know."

The next day or so was crazy as hell. Vince had only seen Brian that way- full on balls to the wall, nitrous for brains and no backing down- in short bursts since Los Angeles, mostly when Tej called him in to smoke the competition. Like Brian concentrate, all hard focus and no room for play. Or Dom, in the bad old days right after Lompoc. Baiting the drug lord's goons, arguing with the Feds, plotting out exit strategies in case it all went to shit in a hurry. Even Pearce seemed on edge- more than just the inevitable chest-beating, anyway.

He finally got Vince alone for a few minutes that evening, while they set up another race to snag a pair of spare cars sans GPS from another team of drivers, and glared him down, eyes glittering like a snake's.

"You that mark the Feds were talking about?" Pearce asked, sharply. "The one Brian gave up his badge for?"

Vince glared back. "No. This ain't that kind of fairy tale," he snorted, reminded of his first argument with Brian about the way Brian had watched his friend.

"You know all about it, though," Pearce guessed shrewdly, copying Vince's pose.

"Dom's been my best friend since I was a kid. Grew up together, watched over his sister while he was in Lompoc, ran on the same team. Never seen anything like the way he took to Brian, though, and I guess Brian thought he owed him more than he owed the cops." Vince crossed his arms, flexing his biceps to draw attention to the taut line of scar winding up his arm. "When it came down to the line- he gave Dom his keys, then picked me up and got the hell out of Dodge. I was a little out of it at the time, though; so if you want details, you'll have to ask him yourself. I'd have died if Brian hadn't blown his cover first, saving my life."

"That so?" Pearce asked, belligerently.

"That's so," he nodded, not budging an inch.

Pearce snorted, eyeing Vince up and down. "You know. If I've told that boy, I've told that boy it's his dick always gets him in trouble. Guess it won't be that Customs broad this time, though. 'Less you ain't the jealous type..." He smirked, waggling his eyebrows.

Vince expressed his opinion of that suggestion without saying a word. Dominance games were nothing new to him, and aside from Dom- and lately, sometimes Brian- he never bowed his neck, not to anyone. He knew damn well Pearce wasn't just talking about some curvy Customs agent, but whatever he and Brian may have been to each other before, it was in the past, and like hell Vince was going to let Pearce reclaim that territory when it was his own damn fault for letting it go.

After a long moment, Pearce finally backed his mood down a fraction, chuckling ruefully. "Yeah, I thought so. A'ight. Don't break him, and I won't break your neck, you feel me?"

It didn't completely clear the air- neither one of them liked sharing Brian's attention with someone they couldn't help but think of as competition- but enough that Vince didn't feel the need to punch Pearce every time he saw his face, at least. They shared a couple stories that night after the race, and found they actually had a lot more in common than they'd expected; as it happened, Brian and Roman's childhood hadn't been much different from Dom and Vince's. If anything, Dom's had been the most privileged out of the four of them... and Brian had actually spent more time in juvie than Vince.

It was the kind of shit Brian never talked about, preferring to keep his focus on the present, but it explained a lot about him that Vince had wondered about before. He was no longer surprised at his lover's adaptability; the strangest part was that he'd gone for a cop at all, not that he fit in their world like he belonged to it.

Turned out, he did. And until Vince felt that fact settle in his bones, he'd had no idea how much that question had been bothering him: the worry that one day, surfer boy was sure to wake up, realize he was slumming it, and decide to pick up his old life where he'd left off.

He'd had no idea how much he wanted Brian to stick around indefinitely, either. He'd never held onto a woman as long as he'd held onto the buster... and he was starting to think that that should have been a sign. Maybe he couldn't have admitted it back in LA, not as tense as things had been with the team after the 'jackings started, but now? Nothing would ever be the same even if they could put it back together; this one more thing wouldn't upset the balance any more than it had been already.

It was stupid, the kind of shit that could fuck people up about each other. Vince liked to think he learned from his mistakes, but- he was still the same guy who'd wanted to kill Brian for eyeing Dom while dating Mia, and Brian was still the same guy who'd dumped them all in the shit by trying to have his cake and eat it, too. He was just as glad that this time, someone else had cleared the air for them.

But if they could just get Brian through this latest shitstorm... it might be time for them to clear some other conversations, too.

Unfortunately, the forecast for success had started out poor, and only got worse over the next couple of days.

Strike one, Brian and Pearce's meeting with Verone and the Customs agent, Fuentes, went over like a brick; Vince could see the ice building up behind blue eyes from a mile away when they returned from the Pearl and interrupted Vince's poker game with Jimmy, Tej, and Suki. Strike two, Vince woke the next morning to the crawling of eyes up his spine; he swept the gun out from under his pillow just in time to intercept a stricken look on the face of a very pretty Latina who could only be Fuentes herself.

She wasn't dressed to the nines, though, the way Brian had described her before; she'd come with her hair down, her makeup off, a pair of flat sandals on her feet and a very short tee shirt tied off under her breasts, trading sophistication for girl next door appeal. Three guesses what that effect was aimed at, and the first two didn't count. It looked like Pearce had been right about her interest in Brian after all.

"The hell are you doing here?" he growled, lowering the muzzle of the gun as he tried to figure some way out of the clusterfuck implied by her presence.

"Me?" she hissed in reply, clearly thrown, as Brian stirred on the other side of him. "You- you're one of Toretto's crew, aren't you? What the hell are you doing here?"

So much for hiding his presence from the Feds. "What do you think I'm doing here, sister?" he leered, deciding to brazen it out. Fuentes was having her own trouble with the undercover life, according to Brian; maybe they could at least persuade her not to mention him to her bosses.

"But..." she began again, staring between them, then swallowed back the rest of that sentence, glancing away. "Shit."

"Ugh. 'S'at... Monica?" Brian cracked an eye open finally, lifting his head to peer over Vince's bare chest.

Vince suppressed a chuckle that that had been the word that woke him, but didn't bother hiding the smirk at having been the cause of Brian's lethargy. "Yeah. Think she's come to tell you something."

"...oh shit. Monica! What's going on?" Whatever relay switched Brian over from domesticated feline mode into calculating cop finally clicked over in his mind. He practically fell off the other side of the bed as he scrambled to his feet, snagging the edge of the sheet as a modesty shield while he snagged his jeans up off the floor, glancing worriedly between them.

She glanced back, briefly meeting Vince's gaze before focusing on Brian, a pained expression crossing her face. "They're planning to kill you. After the run- I heard him telling Roberto and Enrique. I thought you should know."

And there it was: strike three. Vince had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Like that's a surprise," he snorted.

"You sure you heard him right?" Brian asked urgently, scooping up Vince's shorts and throwing them in his direction.

She nodded soberly. "Yeah. I'm sure."

A fourth party joined the conversation then, making their little morning farce complete: yet another person Vince could do without seeing in his bedroom, ever again.

"Verone's boys is outside," Pearce announced without preamble, blinking as he belatedly clocked Fuentes' presence in the room. "Oh, I see what they're looking for; y'all got his little girlfriend in here. Thought you didn't like sharing, homie."

Fuentes swallowed, alarmed. "But- they can't know I'm here. I snuck out!"

Vince whipped the shorts Brian had passed him under the sheet and wriggled into them quickly, keeping the gun ready to hand as he did so. "Shut it, Pearce. And what the hell are they here for, then?"

"I don't know- maybe they're guessing?" Panic was creeping into Fuentes' expression, much less attractive on her than the earlier jealousy, and Vince sighed. So much for trying to make a deal. They'd just have to trust in her gratitude for saving her ass- if they could even manage to swing that.

"Go stall them for like, two minutes," Brian told Pearce, then moved to guide her over to the bathroom, the only real hiding place in the boat, murmuring to her as they walked. Vince turned away, scanning the floor for a shirt to cover up with, then sniffed himself and realized it was pointless; there was no covering up what they'd been up to short of a shower. Come to think of it, though, that might even be better...

"No, leave your shirt off too," he told Brian as the other man stalked back to his side, jerking his head toward the door. "Those assholes out there know you swing for dick?"

Brian looked startled- then contemplative, then full on smug as he caught on. He half-draped himself over Vince as they headed for the door, all warm skin and sticky sweat against Vince's back and side; Vince didn't even have to fake the shit-eating grin splitting his face.

Brian chuckled to himself as they stumbled through the door, interrupting Pearce's half-assed attempt at taunting Verone's guys. The pair looked like typical drug lord muscle, well-armed, dressed Miami chic in silk shirts with ostentatious gold jewelry; they turned as one to the door when Vince and Brian came out, and adopted the most interesting expressions at the sight they made.

The confrontation defused pretty quickly after that, much as Vince had expected, even after Verone himself put in an appearance. Vince could have lived without showing up on the guy's radar- or the Spanish slurs the gunmen spat under their breaths- but the scene was worth it for the release of tension in Brian's shoulders when all three of the bastards seemed to instantly forget about searching the boat in favor of delivering some last-minute instructions.

"Just one more day of this shit," Vince swore after they left, leaning back against Brian in relief.

"If Juliet don't tell on y'all," Pearce commented. "And Verone don't sweep us under the rug with the rest of the dirt. I don't like the way this smells, bruh."

"Yeah. But what else are we gonna do, at this point?" Brian sighed. "C'mon. We'd better go report in."

Vince might have picked up a lot of new tricks since meeting Brian, but patience had never been one of them. The next twenty-four hours seemed to crawl like molasses, especially after Brian came back from the meet with Bilkins and the Customs guys even grimmer than before. At least, after the incident on the boat that morning, Brian had no good excuse to keep him penned up. Either the Feds knew Vince was there, or they didn't, but running around helping Tej set up a pig trap wasn't going to make him any more visible than he was already.

From there, it was easy to get in on the actual distraction the next morning, waiting in the massive garage complex with the rest of the local race crews, playing a part in the scramble when all hell finally broke loose. He peeled out in his metallic blue GT, following the flow... and snuck on out to the point with Jimmy, waiting for Brian and Pearce to pull up with the money in their trunks.

Only one of them made it, though: Pearce, looking as frustrated as Vince felt.

"What the hell?" he growled in disbelief, balling his hands into fists. "Where is he?"

"Headed for Tarpon Point," Pearce shook his head. "The feds are in the wrong place. Fuentes is on her own with Verone."

Vince felt sick. He knew what that meant; he'd been witness first-hand to Brian's suicidally heroic tendencies. He might have left the badge behind, but that hadn't changed the type of guy he was.

"So Brian's not coming," he swore. Then he turned and slid back behind the wheel. "C'mon, then. Let's go."

"You crazy, man? Verone ain't expecting you."

"He ain't expecting to let you live, either," Vince snorted. "I'll hang back and play back up. Just get your ass in gear!"

The next half an hour or so was the kind of crazy he'd gladly never live through again. Brian escaped getting shot by a hair's breadth and the skillful driving of Roman Pearce, then leaped into the passenger side of Vince's car- and barely escaped getting shot again after Vince drove the GT onto Verone's boat. Luckily, Vince survived the crash in good enough shape to scoop up Brian's handgun and plug the drug lord through the throat- though he certainly didn't feel like it when he had to dive over the side into the water to escape questioning. Thank God Fuentes seemed willing to play along after all.

It was a much bedraggled crew that reassembled on the houseboat hours later: Brian in a sling, Vince bruised and bedraggled, and Pearce bitching about the Feds repossessing the Spyder. But they'd won. And from the looks of the pile of bills on the kitchen counter- flush enough to replace the Skyline and then some. Flush enough to feed themselves for a good long while, even if Brian backed off of racing to keep his record clear.

"So how you feelin' about Miami now, cuz?" Brian asked Pearce, giving him a cock-eyed grin.

"Think I'd better stick around to keep your ass out of trouble, is what I think," Pearce replied. "'Cause clearly, your homeboy ain't doin' enough," he added, arching his eyebrows at Vince.

Vince snorted. "More like I'll be riding herd on both you assholes."

"Aww, it's like he knows us," Brian chuckled, fluttering his eyelashes. Then he sobered a little, glancing between them both. "I don't know, though. Vince- I think Bilkins figured out you were there. Or at least that someone was, since neither me nor Monica had gunshot residue on our hands. Before he let us go, he as good as said he'd sponsor me if I wanted to join up and set up a deal from inside."

Vince's jaw dropped. "Join the FBI?" he barked.

"Oh, hell no," Pearce added his two cents. "It was bad enough when you turned po-po, what the hell you going to do in a suit? More undercover shit? They going to run you into the ground, Bri, and if you're lucky, when the statute of limitations is almost up, dangle you a line to try and draw your man back in. Don't you dare play into their game."

Brian swallowed, but didn't reply, staring at Vince as if waiting for his verdict.

"What he said," Vince said, gruffly. "It's what, six years in California for most felonies that don't warrant life without parole? Better believe I asked Mia to look that shit up. We can wait that long to put the family back together. Don't sell yourself to Bilkins on my account. Dom wouldn't ask you too, neither."

Brian slumped into a chair, looking considerably relieved. "Yeah. You know, though, if you weren't here... if I hadn't stopped to get you on my way out of L.A..."

"Yeah, well that ain't what happened," Vince said. Then he jerked his chin at Pearce. "Hey. Mind if we catch up with you later? I got a few things to say to the buster in private."

"Shit, you in for it now, bruh," Pearce chuckled. But he got up without argument, nodding to Vince as he headed for the door.

"So," Brian said as it swung shut behind his friend.

"So," Vince said, reaching out to finger the strap of the sling cutting across Brian's chest.

Brian snorted, a challenging spark flashing back into his eyes. "Stop looking at me like that. I'm not breakable, you know."

"Nope. Just everything I never should've wanted," Vince admitted, roughly.

Brian took a sharp breath, then grinned, suddenly more luminous than Vince had ever seen him. "You're telling me, man. You're telling me."

All's well that ends well, Vince decided, then fisted his hand in Brian's collar, dragging their mouths together to celebrate properly.

...Or at least, comes to a satisfactory middle. After a beginning like this, who knew where the rest of their lives would lead?

One thing Vince could say for sure: he was definitely looking forward to the rest of the ride.