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LATE JUNE

It was after 9:30 in the evening when they arrived at the hotel. As expected, Rome exited his Firebird to follow Brian to the lobby. Weary and sticky from the long day's drive in the scorching June sunlight in Mexico, they tiredly sauntered through the glass doors. Rome's chrome spinner rim earring jingled softly in the still night air.

"Get yourself a suite if you want," Brian suggested. "Don't worry about Vince--I'll pay for his single."

"Myself?" Rome echoed dangerously. "If you want a suite, just say it. Ah cover the cost. 'Cos you stayin', right?" The last part was more of a statement than a question.

"I'm going with Mia to Dona Esperanza's. To stay with Dom."

"That so?" The exotic eyes narrowed, a dead give-away that Rome was in no mood to be messed with.

"Come on, cuz, you knew all along that's why we came."

Rome halted halfway across the lobby to the front desk. "I rather go meet chyo' boy, first." He headed back toward the doors.

As inevitable as the encounter was, it didn't have to be that night. Brian sprinted after Rome. "I don't know about you, man, but I'm done. Aren't you? I'm sure Vince is. I'm gonna get his room, so he can crash."

"Then why don't you crash here tonight? It be on me."

Words weren't really necessary, even if Brian could have found them. He looked over his friend's face.

Rome returned the gaze. "Before you go shack up wit' dis boy, I wanna meet him."

~~~

To hide the Skyline and Supra from the street, Brian and Mia drove into the backyard and parked by the garage. For Rome's short visit, Brian had instructed him via walkie-talkie to park on the street. Despite cutting the headlights, the light came on in the rear porch of Rogelio and Reyna's house. They came out to welcome Mia and Brian and meet Rome. Brian provided brief introductions, acting as interpreter.

During the introductions, he noted someone approaching off the end of the porch. In the diffuse light and shadows, he saw Dom. Arms folded over a white muscle shirt, he stood watching, waiting. His patience gave when they made eye contact and he smiled, delighted. "I see you brought the Supra."

Forsaking his next breath, Brian bounded off the porch and into that powerful, long-missed embrace. God, he wanted to ravish the yielding lips and run his mouth over every plane and curve of his man's incredible face and body. Instead, they had to disguise the hug as one of sheer friendship. In close proximity, by each other's ears, Brian murmured, "I missed you so bad."

"I felt like I was gonna die without you," Dom responded, equally hushed.

From behind them, Rome's hollow, humorless voice cut through the warm, summer air, over the buzz of nighttime insects. "I'm Roman Pearce."

Avoiding Rome's expression, Brian backed a couple of steps for more introductions. "This is my homey--the dude who's gonna be co-partnering with us. Rome, this is Dominic Toretto."

Appropriately, Dom lifted his fist for acknowledgement. Rome's lack of response forced Brian to see why; his life-long friend was way checking Dom out. Discreet enough, but Brian knew the scrutinizing squint all too well.

"Theoretically," Rome clarified. He exchanged a rather lukewarm handshake.

"So you're the guy," Dom responded, amused, exchanging a mutual survey. "It's about time we met." He scratched his jaw with the back of his thumbnail, thoughtfully.

"I'm thinkin' the same thing," Rome said, even more subtly attempting to circle Dom. "Brian never been the type to elucidate. I always wondered how he write them detailed police reports."

"That's a damn good question," Dom concurred, attempting to do the same, just as surreptitiously. "He barely told me you'd done time. It practically took the Jaws of Life to get that much out of him."

"Same he'," Rome nodded faintly.

Growing more restless by the second, Brian had to intervene. "You're probably aching to get back to the hotel and go to bed," he said to Rome. "I mean, you gotta be tired like I am."

Dom was just as ready to dismiss the visitor. "Why don't you come by tomorrow for dinner and we can talk? My aunt and cousins are planning a dinner for Mia and Brian. There'll be plenty of food and tequila."

"Why I gotta wait fo' dinner?" Rome immediately wanted to know. "I could come oveh' any time."

"Why? 'Cos that's when the food will be on. It'll give you all day to catch up on some sleep. See you tomorrow."

"We both see you tomorrow, then." Catching Brian's arm, Rome tried to steer him toward the front yard.

"I've been invited to stay," he pointed out, trying to free himself.

"But, you too polite to impose," Rome furthered.

"He wouldn't be imposing," Dom stated. "Both these houses belong to my aunt and, as a matter of fact, she insisted he stay."

Rome eyed Dom with a defiant "So?"

"I'm gonna go ahead and stay here," Brian covered quickly.

"Then I suggest you gimme the phone number," Rome demanded. "Case I have a change a plans and need to reach you. I got a pen in my car."

Taking the hint, Brian frowned, and looked to Dom. "I'll be right back." He followed Rome out to the street.

~~~

LATE MAY, FIVE WEEKS EARLIER

WEDNESDAY

Inside his apartment, music blared. He hadn't exactly expected it, but once he struggled past the deadbolt, it was a nice surprise to come home to company and the aroma of cooking food.

Shutting the door behind him, he threw his luggage on the sofa, turned down the stereo, and raced into the kitchen.

Standing at the counter grilling chicken and preparing a salad, Rome looked back. "Ho-la, chico. Que pasa?"

Excited and amused, Brian seized Rome from behind, accidentally nudging his earring in hooking an arm around his neck. "Donde sacaste el coche? Como lo consiguio?"

"Huh?" Rome blanked.

"'Huh'," Brian scoffed, shaking his friend where he was pinned to the counter. Then translated for him. "'Que. No comprende.' The car, man. How'd you get it?"

"Oh, you mean that tangerine orange scrap metal down in the garage? The one you got pinned up all over the walls instead a Hustla' centerfolds?"

"Yeah!" Brian laughed.

"You gonna have to ask yo' honey 'bout that."

"My…?" Oh, shit. Being as he had more than one honey, he had to consider who would be the most likely to have acquired the car. "You mean Kell? She…?"

"Mm-hm." Rome matter-of-factly went on slicing bell peppers. He nonchalantly helped himself to a slice. "Yesterday afternoon she came to my crib wit' a set a keys. She be he' any minute wit' dessert."

"But-but how? Where're the keys?"

"In yo' room. Wit' all yo' other keys. The ones wit' the big-ass red bow. You have to ask her the details. I don't wanna know that po-lice shit."

"Dessert? A bow? Oh, fuck." Breaking up with the girls was inevitable; he could put them off for only so long. This sudden change in the status quo raised a whole new problem; how could he break up with Kelly after she'd brought the Supra to his front door?

"I take dessert any time, but I thought same as you 'bout the rest. She got her hooks in you now, baby." Rome turned the skinless chicken breasts over on the grill.

Releasing him, Brian started for his room. "I'm gonna go take a shower before she gets here, anyways."

~~~

In clean cargo pants and shirt, he found Kelly had arrived. Her thick, wavy, shoulder-length, brunette hair was loose, instead of pinned up or braided, the way she had to wear it on the job. Usually, she wore pants off the job, as well, but not that day; she had to show up in a short, casual skirt and knit blouse with one of her uplift bras underneath. Joking and laughing with Rome, she made strawberry daiquiris and helped him with the final dinner preparations.

"Kell," Brian acknowledged.

"Hey," she looked up. "Holy shit, you look fantastic. Where'd you go? Hawaii? Shit, if I'd known you were going there, I would have busted my ass to take my vacation, too, and we could have gone together." Meeting him at the end of the bar, she slipped an arm around his waist, and yanked him close for a kiss.

The uncomfortable sensation of infidelity immediately struck him. He cut the kiss short. "The Supra. How'd you get it?"

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she kissed him again, pressing. He had to oblige her with a real kiss, taking her waist, in turn.

Thankfully, Rome intervened in his usual wryly humorous way. "If you two gonna start goin' at it right now, I just take that coconut cream pie and be outta yo' way."

Good old Rome learned a long-ass time ago about trimming food down to Brian's tastes. In fact, Rome had become nearly as discriminating, himself. Apparently, prison life had changed him and he'd gone back to eating any old thing. Since hanging out with Brian again, Rome was slowly recouping some of his refinement.

Through the sliding glass doors that led out to the balcony, late afternoon faded to dusk over dinner and daiquiris. Sunsets in Southern California, with the familiar silhouette of palm trees against the fiery blend of colors were spectacular. Feeling nostalgic, Brian watched, knowing once he made the move down to Mexico, he'd leave the LA sunsets behind.

"So how'd you get the Supra?" he asked Kelly again.

"Well," she said after a sip of her drink, "the Monday after you left, I heard a Toyota Supra was going to be auctioned off for sale from impound. I checked it out. The second I saw the photos, I recognized it. I freaked. I ran to impound and gave them six hundred to hold it and applied for a loan through our credit union. They gave me the keys."

"You applied for a loan?" He nearly fell off his chair.

"Well, yeah. It was approved. I told them the extenuating circumstances so the loan wouldn't go through in my name and they agreed to hold the car until you got back from vacation to make your decision. If you decided against it or weren't approved, the loan would go through in my name."

Stunned, he studied her. "How much was the loan?"

"Well, they said in the condition it's in now, it's worth like fourteen to fifteen thousand, excluding the expensive modifications that have been added. But, when they got it, it was considered a total loss." She gestured with her fork. "I saw the before pictures, too. What you did with that wreck totally amazes me."

In terms of dollars and cents, it had been. However, Brian had seen the car before it was scrapped and knew it was worth salvaging. Before he could remind her of the extraordinary help of the team, Rome spoke up.

"What'd it look like?"

"Oh, my god," Kelly remarked. "It had been fried. The engine compartment looked like toast, the right side was caved in, the interior was a mess…"

"Damn," Rome commented sounding suitably impressed. "Them guys what helped you put a hull like that back together must a been damn good."

"They were incredible," Brian assured his friend. "They were the best. So how much was the loan?" He looked to Kelly again.

"Twelve and a half," she replied. "You can't even buy a brand new throw-away car at that price, let alone a Toyota with all that."

For the time being, Brian couldn't tell Rome anything more about the waiting prospects in Mexico. Not in front of Kelly.

After dinner and pie, Brian and Kelly cleaned up.

"See y'all later," Rome called from the living room.

"Hey, Rome." Unwilling to be left alone with Kelly, Brian abandoned the sink, grabbing a dish towel on the way around the bar to dry his dripping hands. He found Rome had collected a couple of his CDs and was heading for the front door. "Where you going?"

"Back to my place."

So not to be overheard by Kelly, Brian followed Rome to the door and spoke quietly. "You don't gotta go already."

"You prob'ly wanna thank Kelly proper-like for that ride you been pinin' over all this time."

"No, I don't." Seeing Rome's nonplused confusion, Brian quickly amended, "I mean, not right now."

"Bruh, you been gone ten long days; you not gonna tell me you ain't achin’ pretty bad fo' her by now."

Hesitating, Brian dropped his voice to a whisper before he went on. "That's exactly what she's expecting, which is why I don't want to be left alone with her."

Within seconds, Rome's expression shifted to disapproving comprehension. "You did it again, didn't you? Got yo’sef in trouble with some other girl while you was gone."

"Look, it's a long story. If I have to explain it to anyone, I'd rather it was you than Kelly right now, okay? So stay here and help me get her to leave."

Rome's look grew more disparaging. "What make you think I wanna help? It yo' mess. Why I gotta be the one to help clean it up?"

"Don't start that shit again. You know damn well how it is."

"You a'ready know som'm bad gonna happen. Instead a bein' so friendly, you oughta learn how to do you some bitch-slappin’."

"I can't do that! And you know I'm discriminating about who I chose to get involved with."

"Yo’ not that discriminatin’. Just watch an’ see; when we get down to Mexico, soon you gonna be tryin' to get rid of the one down there."

"I meant to deal with things here, myself. It's just that I didn't expect to have to already--I'm not prepared. All you got to do is help me get out of tonight, I swear."

Dubiously, Rome rubbed his chin and mumbled, "Uh-huh."

~~~

It wasn't easy getting rid of Kelly. She lingered and sidled against or touched Brian every way she could while showing some restrained impatience about Rome's presence. He knew she thought he was being dense not to notice how much she wanted to be alone with her boy.

Being as they both had to get up early in the morning for work and Brian had to be tired from his trip, he did have inarguable excuses for her to leave early.

Kelly was really all right and probably the best kind of significant other for a cop, since they both held the same occupation. If and when they started freaking out over the stress about each other, it would be mutual. She was smart and sensible. He wasn't indiscriminate; when Brian chose a woman, she was always like that. The same couldn't be said for the ones who picked him and that was where things usually got fucked up.

Though Rome hadn't known Kelly long, apparently Brian had. He claimed he'd met her when he'd first transferred out to LA. She was working the same precinct. Despite his relocation from Miami to LA, somehow Kelly wound up at the same precinct with him again. That seemed a little too coincidental to Rome, until Brian said she'd admitted that as soon as she'd heard he was back on the force, she'd immediately put in a request to transfer to his precinct and had even moved to a closer apartment. That made sense; women did crazy things for O'Conner.

So Rome hung out in the kitchen, snacking on chips, when she finally left, at least giving her a chance to say good-night without an audience.

Hearing the front door shut, he stepped out again. "So, you gonna tell me what went down in Mexico or was you just talkin' shit so I'd help get rid of Kell?" He brushed his hands off on his pants.

Rubbing his face, Brian turned off the TV. "Of course I'm gonna tell you; when we go back, we're going as partners, cuz. You deserve to know what's going on."

For sure, he did look tired. "It don't gotta be tonight if you too tired."

Appearing grateful, Brian went to Rome. "Thanks, 'cos I'm really wiped. Oh, and thanks for dinner and the thing with Kell. It was great." He hugged Rome.

"Sho', baby." Rome patted his friend's back.

"Say," Brian backed slightly. "You driven the Supra yet?"

"Hey, that yo' baby. Tempted as I was, I wasn't gonna mess wit' her."

"Yeah, well the Skyline and Evo are my babies, too, and I let you drive 'em. C'mere." He pulled Rome into the bedroom. Going straight for the keys on the dresser, Brian picked up the be-ribboned set and handed it to Rome. "Take her out tomorrow and see what she's got."

Touched, Rome took the keys. "Hey, thanks, Bry."

~~~

Hey,

You won't believe it. Came home to find the orange rocket in my garage. Nearly had a spontaneous orgasm on the spot. Guys on the force knew I had a hard-on about her. They heard she was up for auction and got her for me. I have to pay them back, but God, I swear she's even more beautiful than I remembered.

Is that cool or what? I didn't even have to lift a finger to find her. She's missing you real bad, raring to get back to you.

Gotta square up with the guys and put in walking papers all the way around. Shouldn't take more than a week.

Soon,

Dorado.

~~~

THURSDAY

Late in the afternoon, Brian sat at his desk, immersed in writing yet another report. He was interrupted by a phone call. "Detective O'Conner," he answered absently.

"Hey, bruh," Rome said. "You didn't say wheh' the Challenger at. All you said was you left it."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you." Tucking the receiver at his ear, he ceased typing.

"You sold it, you betta' made us some money. We just spent all that on a new engine."

"I didn't. It's in safekeeping, in storage."

"You musta found some good potential for property down there."

"I wouldna left it, otherwise."

"They's some potential he', too..."

"I told you it's not a good idea around here." Brian subtly cast a glance around to ensure he wasn't being overheard.

"I ain't talkin' business. I didn't get a chance to bring it up, what with Kelly theh' an’ all…"

After rubbing his eyes, he tried to refocus on the computer screen. "Tell you what. I'll be done here in about an hour. Can it wait?"

"No problem…Jus' come by my place."

~~~

After the unrelenting heat of Mexico, the comfortable, mild weather in Los Angeles was welcome. By the time Brian left, it was just cool enough to put his sports jacket on over his pressed jeans and dress shirt. Kelly had stopped by his desk two minutes after Rome's call, on her way home. She asked Brian his plans for the evening and he told her he'd already promised to do something with Rome.

Since Miami, Rome had been living pretty large. He didn't have to work, but being no idiot, had taken a part-time job as a mechanic. That gave him lots of time to screw around.

Once again, he was kicking it, listening to music--only he was in his own apartment that time. The TV was on with the volume off.

On entering, Brian found Cici present. Great. His other girl. She was friends with Rome, too, as they all lived in the same apartment complex. She couldn't have been there long, since she got off work in the evenings, as well, and had had time to change into one of her casual, sexy outfits. They were having beers.

Like Kelly, Cici leapt on Brian when he came in. Only she was less inhibited.

"Why didn't you take me with you?" she began, after she'd demonstrated her own take on his deepened tan and sun-bleached hair. "Looks like you were at the beach. Where'd you go, after all?"

"I told you, it was part police business," he replied. "I'm not allowed to discuss it."

"Did you find a place to go into business?" she asked, trying to pull him to sit on the couch with her.

"Maybe. Hey, I'm starving to death. Have you guys eaten yet?"

Rome finally spoke, eyes on the TV. "We left yo' dinner in the oven, bruh. Cici, why 'on't you find some otha' tunes?"

In the kitchen, he cornered Brian by the oven. "Listen, bruh," Rome began quietly. "The girl been making noises 'bout tryin’ som'm different."

Confused though not particularly concerned, Brian started on his slices of de-crusted pizza. "About what?"

"Sex."

Opening the refrigerator, he found plenty of beer. "Oh, yeah? And she made them to you?" Setting the pizza back in the open box, Brian broke the seal on the bottle for a drink. "Why would she do that?"

"She been talkin' menage a trois."

Brian accidentally bit his finger with his next bite of pizza. While he waved his hand in pain, he glanced toward the living room. Actually, it was a fortuitous circumstance; he could only imagine Rome and Cici had been getting it on in the interim and he'd leapt at the suggestion of a threesome--if not made it, himself--so not to seem like he was stabbing Brian in the back when he figured it out. Furtively, he whispered, "You guys are welcome to ménage a deux all you want, but count me out."

Warily, Rome eyed Brian. "What chyou talkin'? You pick up som'm nasty on vacation? First Kelly, now Cici…Since when you stop wantin'…?" The critical suspicion on Rome's face deepened. "Jus' what the hell happened down south a the borda'?"

"You should have given me a chance to explain before you invited her over here."

"I didn't invite her. She seen you leave for work this morning so she knew you was back. You think she wouldn't bust a nut to see you tonight?"

"Tell you what. You entertain her tonight. It's cool. I'll tell her I got stuff to do and see you--"

Rome caught Brian by the arm. "You know that ain't gonna fly. She drag me over to yo’ apartment if she gotta, but she be wantin' yo' ass tonight, too. She a'eady tol' me."

Heaving, Brian leaned on the counter. "I can't."

"What chyou mean you can't?" Rome snapped.

"I mean I don't want to be with her, okay?"

In the midst of Rome's glare, Cici appeared, dancing to the music she'd set up.

"Come on, baby." She joined them in the kitchen and took Brian's free hand. "Let's dance."

Exchanging a look with Rome, Brian let her drag him out to the living room. There, he went straight to the stereo and lowered the volume.

"What're you doing?" she argued, reaching for the volume knob. "Turn it up."

"No puedo," he told her, arresting her hand. "Look. Something happened while I was gone. Things changed. Right now I'm going back to my place, alone. You can stay and hang out with Rome all you want."

"Que chulo." She grabbed Brian's jaw and fussed over him. "Escuche, mijo, I'd be a hell of a lot more surprised if nothing happened. Mi hombre es muy bonito. Yo sé, yo sé. You met another girl."

He blinked, surprised at her aplomb. "What I'm saying is, I came back to quit my job because I'm gonna go live with her."

With that, Cici ceased her gyrations and hit the "stop" button on the CD player. "Oh, yeah?" she intoned sarcastically. "Before you do something stupid, stop and think about it. You don't need to go anywhere. You got a good job and a nice place here. Plus you got me. Can this other girl do what I do?"

"I really don't want to discuss--"

"Can she?" Cici advanced with venom in her eyes.

Brian took a step back. "We're not getting into this. It's not up for debate." He headed for the door.

"Porqué? She ain't up for it? She don’t know how to make you chile rellenos? She don't got no strap-on--?"

He slammed the door shut behind himself.

~~~

FRIDAY

Leaving Brian his space, Rome went to his apartment while he was at work and returned the keys to the Supra, leaving the ribbon intact. Not to remind Brian about Kelly but so he'd see them immediately and not think Rome was taking advantage. First his girl, then his car. It didn't matter that Brian had given permission for Rome to use both.

He would have left Brian alone as long as he needed--after all, he still had to deal with the lady who'd procured the Supra. It was the kind of situation Rome preferred to have nothing to do with. Whenever Brian got that shit out of the way, if he was really serious about the garage in Mexico and not just bent on chasing more coochie, he'd tell Rome.

~~~

SATURDAY

Preparing to go in to work a few hours on Saturday, Rome was ironing with the TV on. The phone rang.

"Rome." It was Brian. "You busy today? Wanna hang out?"

"Goin' in to work today."

"Oh…" He sounded disappointed. "That sucks…I don't wanna be home today. Can I stay at your place till you get back and not answer your phone?"

Smirking, Rome released another shot of steam on his clean cotton work shirt. "Whateva', baby."

There was a pause. "Are you sure you gotta go to work today?"

Rome ceased ironing. "No. I doin' it for the time-and-a-half. He know he can fuck off if I tell him."

"Cool. I'll be over."

Twenty minutes later, Brian showed up. His hair was damp and he looked beat and in need of a shave. By then, Rome had called his employer. After noting that his friend seemed to have just come over to watch TV in silence, Rome considered phoning the garage back.

"I know you ain't gonna tell me I gave up extra money to watch TV," Rome intoned menacingly.

Remote already in hand, Brian punched off the TV. "No, man. Last night sucked. I can't go through another scene like that with Kell'."

Sympathetically, Rome leaned against the backrest. "How she take it?"

"I couldn't get rid of her. She started getting--I don't know. Too much."

"What she do? Go 'Fatal Instinct' on you?"

"No, no. I mean--I mean she started talkin' about both of us paying for the Supra and movin' in together."

Rome narrowed his eyes. "You broke up wit' her, didn' chyou?"

"I-I couldn't. Not with the way she was acting."

"Shit," he clucked, shaking his head. "I didn't raise you to be no chicken-shit boy. You ain't gonna tell me you was afraid--"

"The timing was bad," Brian quickly interrupted. "It was the first day of her period and--well, you know how sensitive women get. It was a good thing, too, or I would have had to sleep with her."

Rome relented. There were certain forces there was no fighting. He relaxed and nodded. "I get it."

"I really didn't want to be an asshole about it. I didn't mean for things to go like they did with Cici, but she forced it, man. You saw."

That was about right. The only thing Brian could have done more effectively was to throw her out. Since he wasn't at his own place, he hadn't had that option. "I saw. She wasn't much good in bed, eitha', all messed up about you."

"You've got plenty of other women."

Pretending to be patient, Rome set his feet up on the coffee table and looked to Brian. "You gonna tell me 'bout the one you met in Mexico, now?"

Leaning forward, elbows on his bony knees, Brian rubbed his face. "God, I don't know how to begin…First off, I didn't 'just meet' anybody. I already knew 'em. And second…Second, it ain't a woman."

"Then you just made up that shit what you told Cici." Newly confused, Rome squinted at his friend. "I know you ain't takin' eitha' of 'em, but what you break up with them for a'eady? You coulda been havin' it on with both all the way up to the las' minute."

"I didn't make up shit. I am going back to Mexico to live with someone. He just happens to be a guy, is all."

"Well, yeah. I figure we hang together and see how the business go. If it don't work out, leas' we don't wind up--"

Head down, Brian announced, "I'm talking about a guy I met a year ago. I'm fucking crazy about him. He's why I broke it off with the girls. I don't want them--I want him. And I miss him. I miss him so bad it hurts."

Floored, Rome studied Brian, unable to speak. What the hell was Rome supposed to say? Getting up, he began to pace, confusion, shock, and anger all colliding. "What the fuck you talkin' 'bout, Bry?" he spit. "Dis ain' you."

Still holding his head, Brian mumbled, "Don't act dumb, okay? I don't need that shit."

Pacing faster, Rome waited for more explanation. It didn't come. He halted in front of his homey, on the opposite side of the coffee table. "Well, who he be? You know him a year? You never said you was in Mexico a year ago. If I'd a known that, I wouldna--"

"I wasn't. We met here in LA."

"Oh, I get it. He a wetback and they deported him back to Mexico. That why you so hot to go there. I mad enough you mo’ concerned about chasin' snatch than business. Now I find you ain't even after snatch, you chasin' dick. Shit. I oughta kick yo' ass."

"He's no illegal, he was born and raised right here in Southern California like you and me. Fuck it. If you don't want to go into business with me, just say it. At least I'm telling you where I'm going and what I'm doing--I could have just stayed down there. I thought you were serious about the garage, but I guess I was wrong."

"Goddamn, muthafucka punk-ass…" Rome muttered, then took his seat on the sofa, again. "Who dis fool be?"

"You don't need to know."

"Yeah, I do. 'Cos I got a pair a boots can't wait to meet the inside a his ass for messin' wit' my dog."

"No, you're not." Brian looked up, sharply. "It wasn't like that. We knew each other but it wasn't like that before. We were tight, yeah, but it was just a job for me and he had his girl. Things just happened when I came across him again down in Mexico. I looked him up only 'cos he's a damn good mechanic and driver. It was in his garage that we put that Supra back together. I knew when we got the garage happenin', we could use the help of a top-notch mechanic and I figured he could use a job."

"You know how it be." Glowering past the coffee table, Rome set his jaw. "I never let no guy mess wit' chyou."

"This is different. He-he's not messing with me, all right? I want this."

Unable to face the conviction in those intense, blue eyes, Rome kept his gaze averted, and leaned into the backrest of the sofa. "After all that shit…" he muttered. "If that how it is now, you go do yo' thing." He stood up. "I goin' to work." He let himself out.

~~~

A year after they became best friends, Brian had pretty much been taken care of by Rome's mom. Even had that not happened, Rome would have taught Brian the important things in life like how to always cover one's ass, lie, steal, and fight. All the things Rome's two older brothers had taught him and he therefore passed on to his less streetwise friend. Brian wasn't entirely ignorant of those resources; his mom, pretty as a model or movie star, used drugs and drank too much, so not only had he learned about lying from her, he often had to cover for her.

Fighting was an absolute necessity for Brian, too. Having inherited his mom's pretty looks, guys tended to pick on him.

It was 12:30 pm when Rome got to the job. He stayed until after 6:00 and helped the weekend manager close up. After that, he went back to his apartment, determined to avoid Brian. There were all kinds of ways to do that in LA, once Rome scrubbed off the oil and grease.

Instead of deciding on a bar to hang out at, all he could think about was goddamn O'Conner. No shit he meant to go back to Mexico. That's why he'd left the Challenger. With his boyfriend. Since Rome had stormed off to work, O'Conner had probably been thinking he no longer had a business partner and deserved to think that. While Rome wanted not to have anything more to do with O'Conner out of spite, he also knew he could very well be blowing off the business opportunity of a lifetime.

Cleanly shaven and dressed to hit the clubs, Rome slowed at the top of the stairs to the covered garages. He paused to look back at O'Conner's apartment. Shit.

Key in hand, Rome furtively unlocked the screen and front door and looked inside. The living room stereo was tuned to an alternative rock station but no one was in sight.

Just by listening, Rome knew Brian wasn't in the kitchen. Doors locked behind him, Rome checked the bedroom.

Evidently not long out of the shower, himself, Brian was at his computer, them golden curls of his drying. His feet were bare and he wore only a pair of jeans.

He must have got done perusing the porno sites; his email page appeared on the screen, citing "Message Sent."

Silently, Rome stole up behind Brian. At the last minute, he started and cut a look back.

"Oh, shi--"

Rome placed his hands on Brian's shoulders.

"Man," Brian near swore. Promptly sweeping the mouse up, he quickly hit the home icon. "You startled the fuck--! What're you doing here, anyways? I thought you were pissed off."

Without a word, Rome ran his hands over his friend's tanned shoulders to his neck. The sleek, firm muscles were knotted from tension.

"Rome…"

Ignoring him, Rome proceeded to massage, digging his fingertips into the sinewy flesh of those thin, but broad shoulders and long neck. Fuckin' pretty O'Conner. Teased all his life by guys about his looks. Half because of the competition and the other half 'cos guys hated that he looked so good they were attracted to his ass.

"Rome…" The lame protests were superseded by a few of degrees of relaxation.

"Dis how it gonna be, now?" Rome quietly inquired. "You got you a hot Latin lover?"

It took a moment, but Brian softly chuckled, absently scrolling his home page. "I guess you could call him that…"

Kneading harder, Rome dragged his fingers through the damp curls. "I ain't givin' up my home boy that easy."

~~~

The loose, heavy denim fell, exposing the naked, perfect, white boy ass. With reluctance, Brian hit the bed on his chest with a soft grunt. His breaths varied and he gasped a few times, but damn if he didn't let Rome focus his massage on that shapely little behind and between the equally shapely, long thighs.

In moments, Rome wrestled from his sleeveless shirt and unzipped his pants, to snap the narrow hips up, jerking Brian to his knees. Again he gasped, fine jewels bouncing. With Brian so well exposed, Rome made frequent passes up front to fondle, stroke, pull, and pinch in every way he knew his boy liked.

As sexy as Cici was, the real novelty in the hope of having the ménage a trois was for the make-out session with Brian. The idea of being observed or "caught" by another party made the prospect all the more exhilarating. They did like women, but a long time back…

Despite his alleged new devotion to this Latin lover, Brian got hard pretty damn quick. When Rome paused to yank the jeans the rest of the way off, Brian mustered another feeble protest. "Rome…"

After wetting his finger, Rome teased at the blond entrance. Then slid his finger in.

Brian released his breath.

"How it be, baby?" Rome patted one cheek with his free hand. "You let your Latin boy have you?"

Other than to breathe harder, Brian was silent.

Oh, wait. When Rome slipped his free hand between the thighs, he sensuously explored the tight nuts and lengthy piece of equipment. He'd already been milking juice from it; the head was wetter, still. "Mm-mm," he commented. "What chyou need wit' him, baby? I always took care a you." Removing his finger, Rome got on the bed to take over with his tongue, sensuously exploring up and down the cleft and as deep as the tight, hard entry allowed.

Brian melted; his spine dropped and he planted his knees further apart. Resistance yielding, he began to pant and vocalize more audibly.

Invoking that much pleasure in O'Conner always titillated Rome beyond self-control; he pulled on himself as he savored. Feverishly, he forced the blond cock downward, to mouth. As he shifted to, he caught a glimpse of plump, blushing nuts fit to burst and pretty white boy dick in full splendor, the slit all shiny.

Fuck.

In desperation, Rome leapt to paw through the night table drawer for supplies. "Where the grease?" Bottle of Tylenol, pens, note pad, spilled condom packets--then the pump-equipped lube dispenser. Hurriedly, he struggled out of his athletic shoes to wrestle off his pants.

"I-I don't know about this…" Brian said. He'd slid down to his belly on the bed.

Ignoring him, Rome went on undressing.

"Things are different now…why do you think I can't be with Kell' and Cici no more…?"

Like O'Conner, Rome had had gotten used to going without drawers in Miami and hadn't reverted to the old habit. In the one effort of removing his pants, he was naked, facing the bed. "Bry!"

Still flat on his belly, unmoving, Brian eyed Rome. The beautiful blue eyes momentarily fixed on Rome's throbbing hard-on. "I'm serious."

"So'm I!" Back on the bed, Rome crawled to his friend who withdrew to his side.

Drawing up his left thigh, watching Rome, Brian kept himself concealed.

On hands and knees, Rome halted. "Oh, dis how it gonna be?" He waited for Brian to relent. He didn't move.

In an act of assertion and possession, Rome pounced over Brian. Guarded, Brian dropped to his back. Aware those genitals had to be exposed, Rome glanced down to see O'Conner's arousal was fading.

"Oh, hell no. Why the fuck you come get me outta Barstow? I ain't playin' dis shit. Fuck you. You go to Mexico and be wit' chyo' bean taco boy. But when that done, don't ever come look for me again--"

The cautious frown transformed to concern. "You got it wrong, man. We're still buds." Brian caught Rome's arms. "That'll never change."

"I said fuck you, Brian." Rome grabbed the lube dispenser on the mattress to single-handedly prep his aching hard-on. "You just did. But I be damned if I ain't gonna take what mine while you here." Sinking his hips in place, he thrust to get in.

"No, wait!" Brian's hands blocked at Rome's chest, concern deepening to consternation. "You're right, man. That was fucked. I-I can't do that to you. We're cool, man." Brian's hands slid down to Rome's waist, instead.

Still wary, Rome slowed.

Expression softening, Brian relaxed and opened his knees. "I'm not leaving you, Romeo." Reaching to Rome's left ear, Brian gently toyed at the earring to make it jingle.

~~~

Once reinstated at his job, it had been relatively simple to track down whereabouts of the team. If Jesse hadn't been screwed up enough already, he was worse off, after being subjected to a couple of operations and protracted hospital time. After Dom's castigation, Brian looked Jesse up. Dom had been right and it had been worth the effort; Jesse was stoked about the visit. Living with his dad following his release from prison, they'd both taken jobs and had been managing to get by. Instead of freaking out about the spray of bullet holes in the Jetta, his dad was so relieved his kid had pulled through, the incident had kind of jolted him into straightening out. He'd stopped drinking and was making a real effort at a job he'd lucked into. He'd even talked Jesse into applying for funds for college so he wouldn't have to hold menial jobs he was far too brilliant for, the rest of his life.

Leon was serving time. Getting back in touch with him had been weird; his attitude toward Brian was surprisingly effervescent for a con toward a police officer--especially under the circumstances through which they'd become acquainted. Like everyone else so far, he'd seen and heard the news stories. Brian would have expected to be treated with disdain, but in fact, Leon regarded him as heroic for having defied the authorities and forsaken his career for the sake of the team.

Vince had been the most difficult to face. So much so, Brian put off hooking up with him for some time. He, too, had been in and out of hospitals and convalescent rehab homes for months. Consequently, that had postponed his sentencing and kept him out of prison, even until then, a whole year later.

At one of the rehab facilities, he'd developed a relationship with one of the physical therapists. When he was released, she'd invited him to stay with her, while he awaited his sentencing.

It was Vince who came to the screen door upon Brian's summon. No longer the strong, solid guy he used to be, Vince was almost unrecognizable. His hair was almost to his shoulders and he was gaunt. His beard was gone, other than for a couple of days' worth of stubble. The second he saw Brian through the dirty screen, Vince yanked the door open and pulled him in.

"Fuck!" Cigarette in hand, Vince seized Brian in an embrace and crushed him. "Jesus Christ, man! It's you!"

Despite the intensity of the contempt that had been between them, Brian couldn't help but be moved. He hugged Vince back to a lesser degree. "Hey. How is it?"

"Fuck!" Vince swept his hair back once he'd freed a hand. "Where the fuck have you been, man? You like disappeared off the planet. You and Dom. I know why he had to go, but what about you? Where you been?" Promptly, he steered Brian into the shabby living room and turned off the TV. "You want a beer or something?" Vince started for the kitchen.

"Or something," Brian called after his host. "I'm on lunch and gotta get back to work."

In seconds, Vince returned with a cola and sat on the sofa with Brian. Vince lit another cigarette from the end table. "You're back in town with a job? You got balls, man. You were all over the news and everything."

From the breast pocket inside his sports jacket, Brian drew his own pack of cigarettes out. The past three weeks back in LA had been so nerve-racking, if he hadn't gone back to smoking, he might have resorted to using unreasonable force in the line of duty on several occasions.

Vince fumbled to eagerly supply a flame for his guest.

"Got busted in Florida," Brian answered with a waft of tobacco.

"Fuck." Vince scowled. "Those goddamn pricks. You know what I thought? I was thinking maybe you and Dominic had split together. Like in one of those old Westerns, you know? You both rode off into the sunset."

That would have made a romantic picture. A little too uncomfortably romantic. Of all people, why would Vince have imagined something like that? "I thought it would be crazy to blow off my job. I had this idea I could somehow put things back together again. In less than a day, I realized I was fucked beyond redemption and the only thing I could do was split. It was a good thing I didn't go with Dom, though, or I wouldn't have been exonerated." Presenting the dilute version, Brian provided the current status of his career. "How 'bout you? How've you been doing?"

"Actually, I'm doing good, man. Shit, I nearly lost my arm." Raising one short sleeve of his t-shirt, Vince displayed his right arm. It was crisscrossed with the fading scars where the cable had bit through the skin and the muscles had atrophied noticeably. "It ain't like it used to be." He worked his grip. "But it sure beats the hell out of having no arm. And you know what they said?" he added earnestly. "They said if I hadn't got to the hospital so quick, I woulda lost it for sure. Hell, I coulda died. Man, I haven't even begun to thank you." He seized Brian in another crushing embrace. "Jesus Christ, you saved my life, man! You were like fucking amazing!"

"It's cool, man." Brian accepted the embrace, returning it lightly. "Don't worry about it."

"No, it ain't cool. It sucks." Vince backed. "As soon as I could, I tried to find you. My girlfriend tried to find you. I practically haven't been able to think of nothing else. Man, I treated you like an asshole, and what you did I'll never forget. I told Teri and she thinks I'm either way exaggerating or I had a hallucination from blood loss. She didn't believe it. I don't blame her--nobody could believe a thing like that."

Like Leon, Vince had changed--only his change was far more dramatic and pronounced. Uncomfortable, Brian gestured. "Hey, can I have the ashtray before I set the couch on fire?"

Right away, Vince set it on the coffee table in front of them. "Sorry, man."

After another hit, Brian went on. "I also came to let you know I found Dom and I'm going back to see him real soon. So if there's--"

"What? Shit! You know where Dominic is?"

"Yeah," Brian couldn't help but laugh, as both Jesse and Leon had had similar reactions to the news.

"Man, I swear to God, you're like some kind of a saint or something. How the hell did you do it?"

"It wasn't easy. A little bit of luck and a lot of hard work."

"Where is he?"

Sobering, Brian shook his head. "I can't say. It's way too risky. When I go to see him this time, I'll be leaving LA for good, myself."

"You will?" Vince suddenly looked lost. "B-but you can't. I mean-I mean, we just barely hooked up."

"I'll be back every now and then. I'll stop by and say hey."

"No, man…"

"So if there's anything you want me to tell Toretto, I can give him the message for you."

"He left the country, didn't he?"

"I can't--"

Becoming desperate, Vince looked around himself. "Take me with you, man. I don't got nothing here. You got to. You just got to."

"What about your girlfriend? You got her."

"She can't do shit to keep me from goin' inside. You’re the only one that can do that. What do you think's gonna happen when I go in? In a few months she'll get herself a new guy and forget all about me, anyway."

"Would you want to bring her, too?"

Frowning, Vince turned to the coffee table to tap off some ashes. "No, man. It's not like I'm in love with her or anything. She's cool and everything, but I'd leave in a second to hang with you and Dominic, you know?"

Deliberating, Brian rubbed his brow. "You got a car?"

"Just some crappy used Suzuki piece of shit. I'm getting like disability, but it ain't much."

"You know you're not supposed to leave the state, let alone the country," Brian allowed.

"Fuck that." Vince scowled.

"Well, I was trying to figure out how to transport my rides. I couldn't believe how expensive it is to ship a car. But anyways, I don't want any records--"

"How many you got?"

"Three. No, make that two. I thought I'd have three, but it doesn't look like it, now. So, I guess alls I need is one more driver."

Apparently, detecting Brian's disappointment, Vince ventured, "The deal didn't go through? What kinda car was it?"

It was the first normal conversation they'd ever shared; Brian kept expecting to hear backbiting sarcasm, and it was strange not to. "It was the Toyota Supra. Our Toyota Supra. The one we restored."

Since Vince hadn't contributed to the restoration, he wouldn't feel the attachment. "You sold it?"

"No," Brian admitted sadly. "I gave it to Toretto so he could jam. It was his car, anyways, remember? That was the last I saw of it until I got back into town from vacation a week ago. I found the Supra sitting in my garage, waiting. Waiting for me to take it back to him."

"So, why aren't we takin' it?"

Before going on, he took another drag. "A fellow police officer got it for me. She heard it was gonna be auctioned off and put a down payment on it to hold it for me when I got back from vacation. Only I broke up with her, so she's keeping it."

"Oh, man…That sucks. Guess you shouldna broke up with her. At least not ‘til right before you left. S-so, you never seen Mia again, huh?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I just did. When I found Toretto. She packed up and left town, too."

"I know. She'd come by and visit me when I was in the hospital. She had to close the garage a ways back. Leon stuck around and worked during his trial, you know? They floated the business a short time with him as the only mechanic, but it wasn't working out. It cost more money to keep it open than they were taking in, so she had to sell the shop. Toward the end of the summer, she told me she had to leave town 'cos she just couldn't make it on her own with the lousy pay at the jobs she got after that and she'd never be able to go back to school if she didn't do something. I asked where she was gonna go and she told me not to worry--she had plenty of relatives she could stay with. I never knew what happened to her."

"She's doing okay. She's living with Dom again and back in school."

"So, you and her…She's why you broke up with the girl who got the Supra for you." Vince took a last drag on his cigarette before crushing it out. "You-you and Mia are back together again. You must've had a great reunion after all this time…"

"Actually, we didn't and we're not. A lot of things have gone down over the past year. For our reunion, she socked me," Brian laughed, touching his healed lower lip. "We didn't get back together again, if that's what you're asking." He finished off his own cigarette and crushed it out, as well for another drink of cola.

"Socked you?" Vince was disturbed. "What kind of shit is that? After what you done--?"

"She was pissed 'cos I didn't go back to her after Dom left, I think. She never made it clear. I don't know what she was thinking. She knew I had to jam or get busted, too."

"Maybe she was hoping you'd go get her, and the both of you would go after Dominic."

"I wouldna done that. That would make her an access…" At that moment, Brian suddenly fully understood Mia's angst. And it had taken Vince of all people to figure it out.

"I bet you've seen the others," Vince advanced, picking up his drink. "You'd have to, as a guardian angel."

Unable to argue, Brian had to bite back another protest about the label for the time being, unnerving as it was. When Toretto had asked if Brian had checked on the team, things had been different. Not any more. "Look, Vince…" Brian sighed. "Yeah, I've seen them. Everyone but Letty."

"No? To be honest, she don't really deserve a guardian angel. She was always kind of a bitch. How was everybody else? How's Jesse? I know he was hit by Tran and in the hospital, when I was. He almost died."

"I thought he hadn't made it. I was so relieved to hear he'd pulled through. He's messed up some--he said he had to have his spleen taken out--but he's getting by. He had twelve hours of surgery or something."

Displaying a fragment of his old self, Vince scowled again and slammed his right fist into his left hand. "That's fucked up, man. Those fucking assholes. Ever since Mia told me, I've been wanting to go take out the whole clan. I heard Lance is the man now, after you and Dom took out John."

Mildly surprised, Brian drew another cigarette from the pack. His partner tended to complain about exposure to second-hand tobacco. "How do you know about that?"

"Mia told me. She said you guys went after him after what he done to Jesse and his Jetta."

If Vince made the trip down to Mexico, he'd eventually learn that Dominic hadn't been the one to avenge the attack on Jesse. At the moment, Brian had no desire to further canonize himself in Vince's eyes. "You know, Jesse's got a job. He got on medication for his ADD when he was in the hospital and he's applied for student loans to go to school. I was really glad to hear that. He's a fucking genius and he was letting it go to waste."

"Yeah, man. He's smart. Leon, I seen. I hate goin' to the prison now to see him, knowin' it'll be me, soon. When did you last see him?"

"Coupla days ago."

"How was he?"

"Surprisingly, he was happy to see me. You all have been cool. I really thought you'd never want to see me again. That's why I'm visiting you only now. It was Dom who talked me into it. He told me none of you had hard feelings towards me."

"Oh, fuck, no. How could we? You're the man."

Brian checked his watch; his partner would be waiting for him. Impatiently.

"Look," Vince went on, noting the gesture. "I'll gladly dump that hunk of crap I'm driving and drive your other car for you. I wouldn't blame you if you don't trust me--I deserve that. But, I swear to God, all that's changed. I owe you my life, man. What I owe you, I can't begin to repay. I'd do anything for you. Anything at all, you name it. If you don't want me to go near Mia when we see her again, I won't. I'll keep as far away as you--"

Picking up his Coke, Brian stood. "No, it's cool. You can hang with Mia all you want. Like I said, things are different."

Vince got up, too.

On the way to the door, they exchanged phone numbers, then he hugged Brian tightly again. That time, as if Vince couldn't bring himself to let go in fear for his life. "Call me, man," he said. When they parted, his eyes were wet.

~~~

With departure imminent, Rome's motivation to work slacked off with each passing day. He spent Saturday morning at Brian's apartment, instead, where he heard that Kelly and Cici had finally met, the evening before.

"Damn, Bry!" Rome effused from the sofa. "Whyn't you call me on over? That musta been one hot-ass catfight. Shit."

"I tried to talk Kelly out of busting Cici, but I couldn’t do it. Cici must’ve spent the night in lock-up and I didn’t go bail her out, which I’m sure only pissed her off worse.” Seated on one of the stools at the bar, Brian rubbed his curls in consternation. “Booking Cici for assaulting her was the only thing that kept Kell’ from driving off with the Supra last night.”

“This the kind a shit I meant when I said you always gettin’ in trouble over fe-males.”

“But, I never do anything!” Brian’s suddenly dilated pupils made his wide eyes turn pale blue. “It’s them. It’s always them. I can’t help what they do.”

"I swea’ you make women act crazy.” Rome couldn’t deny that his homey had never had to lift a finger to stir up trouble. “And tha’s why you need ta stay away from 'em.”

"Look, this sucks, man. I'm losing the Supra. I already told Dom I had it and everything. How'm I gonna explain why I don't?"

"That yo’ frijole boy?" Rome pretended to be casual, snacking on Oreos from the kitchen. "What his whole name?"

"We're gonna be living in Mexico; can't you at least make an effort at proper pronunciation as you learn the language?"

"They gonna know I ain't no homey, bruh. What difference it make about my pronunciation? They ain't gonna espec' me--"

"It's about attitude. It sounds disrespectful. 'E' is pronounced like the 'e' in 'egg'. It's frijo-leh, not free-holy."

"A'ight. I get it. Now, what the dude's name?"

"Toretto. Dominic Toretto."

"Mm." Rome stopped chewing. "That I-talian. What he doin' in Mexico?"

"I told you, man. He's no wetback. His family are Hispanic-Italian. Him and his sister were born and raised in Echo Park."

"That right? How you meet him?"

It was a moment before Brian responded. "Shit, I meet so many people on the job…Does it matter?"

In mild disbelief, Rome looked to his cop friend. "What the fuck you think? Just 'cos I done time don't mean I wanna do business with somebody who may be a backstabbin', hard-ass con. I know what I done. I don't know shit about yo' boy."

"Who says he did anything? For all you know, he might have been a witness I interviewed. How do you know he wasn't the victim of a crime? Why do you automatically assume he was a perp? What kind of shit is that?"

"That easy." Rome took another Oreo from the package. "I know you, baby, and you always get mixed up with bad-ass girls. Stand to reason you gonna get mixed up with bad-ass boys."

"I don't go out of my way to get mixed up with them!" Brian snapped. "Goddamn it, Rome, you know that!"

"Damn, boy, you need to chill." Rome wiped his hand on his pants and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "Now tell me about him."

Again, Brian hesitated. He fumbled at the counter, searching until he found an open pack of cigarettes under the newspaper. Then he made a second, more involved exploration. "Is there a lighter over there?"

As always, Brian always kept his place neat. Rome espied a couple of Bic lighters on the coffee table with a quick glance around. He brought one to the bar. Passing it to his host, Rome perched on the neighboring stool. On learning his friend had successfully quit smoking, Rome had voiced approval. However, in light of the stress Brian had been dealing with since his return from Mexico, it was no wonder he'd picked the habit up again. "So how it be?"

A waft of tobacco smoke lingering in the air, he finally answered. "You know the bust I was on when I lost my job? He's the guy."

The picture the feds had laid out suddenly became clear. Brian had flipped because he'd fallen for the mark. Whereas he'd suggested it had something to do with his inability to spare Rome from serving time. "I get it." Rome figured he'd better get the important details out of the way before he lost his cool. "You never told me what he done."

"Car-jacking. Or rather, truck-jacking and grand theft. He had a team of drivers. They'd hijack trucks loaded with electronic merchandise off the highway. Then sell the stuff on the street to finance their car racing. They were damn good at all of it, too."

"Uh-huh." Rome cut Brian a dangerous look. "You want me to go in business with a thief, just like I said."

"You-you don't know Toretto. With him, it was all about racing. That's where his mind is at, and that makes him an excellent candidate for a partner. We all have the same goal. He's cool, I swear. Once he establishes loyalties, there's no question they're a hundred percent. He'd never steal from us."

Turning his back to the bar, Rome stretched his legs out on the carpet in front of him and folded his arms. "I don' know, Bry. Yo' dick get in the way of yo' judgment before..."

"Don't start that, man. It wasn't like that with us when I gave him the keys to that Supra and let him go. It hadn't even occurred to me to think about him that way. I did for him because of his integrity. I was friends with the whole team, except a couple of them. They were cool. They taught me about racing. They were damn good at it and they believed in what they did and they should have. They deserved every dime they stole. My supervisors got on my case, positive I'd fallen in love with Dom's sister, Mia, and that was screwing with my head. That wasn't it--I'd fallen in love with racing."

"That and Toretto."

"I told you, man!" That time Brian flashed Rome a sharp look.

"Well, you is now. You said so, straight up."

Brian turned his profile to Rome, frowning and took a long hit, then exhaled. "Now. But, I trusted Dominic before that. That counts for something, doesn't it?" He tapped some ashes into the ashtray on the bar.

The thought of giving Brian away to another man--even if temporarily, until that ended--didn't fly well with Rome. "I don' know. You espec' I gonna be anxious to sink all dis money into a project wit' a thief?"

"Don't try and pull no holier-than-thou bullshit. You did time for grand theft, yourself."

Unable to counter, Rome backed down. "We get down theh' and you make like you don' know me, I pack up and be gone."

"Come on, I already told you. Nothing's gonna change between us."

"That right?" Rome intoned archly. "It did before when you thought you was 'in love'. I know how you ah'. Why dis any diff'rent?"

"It will be…" Following one last drag, Brian snuffed out his cigarette. "'Cos this time I'm giving you my word."

"That just to start." Rome glanced to his boy. "You wanna give me some real proof, you get them clothes off…"

Leaning, Brian toyed with the shoulder of Rome's sleeveless shirt. "What about the Supra? What am I gonna do about that?"

"Only one thing to do," Rome scoffed. For a college boy, O'Conner sure could be dumb in the head sometimes.

"What's that?"

"Give Kelly what she want. Don't make up wit' her, just fuck her. But, just once mo’, or I get mad.”

~~~

Hey,

Bad news. This is really fucked. Another delay plus I may have lost the Supra. I told you coworkers put money down to hold her. Got into it with the one whose name is on the loan. She's decided she wants to keep it. Told you it was fucked. There's nothing I can do--I got no legal recourse.

Keep you updated,

Dorado

~~~

Dorado,

I thought they were holding it, not buying it. What that means is this chick is hot for you. Only you got it wrong--she took out the loan to buy you, not the wheels. I don't like this shit. Cut your losses and get your ass over here. No more excuses.

Yo tengo de menos,

T

~~~

Me, too.

Dorado

~~~

Hey,

Everything's copasetic with the Supra. Everything but a way to transport her. Or one of the cars. No paper trail is an absolute; that leaves out renting a transport or shipping. With Vee, we got a third driver. We need a fourth. I really wish you could do it. Think your sister would?

Dorado

~~~

TO JUNE--3rd WEEK

Tuesday, Rome met Toretto's homey--some messed up white boy named Vince Yager. He looked like a pissed-off, strung-out junkie. He was skinny, his hair looked like it hadn't been cut in months, and there were ugly-ass scars all over his left arm. Only they weren't needle track scars, and what had caused them, he explained to Rome, was why he appeared the way he did. Once that was out of the way, even though he was still kinda weird and intense, he turned out not to be quite as whack as he'd seemed on sight.

He wasn't no brain surgeon, but he knew his way around electronic fuel injector systems and overhead cams and was eager to work for their garage for nothing, ‘til they got it off the ground. Just so long as he had a roof over his head and something to eat every now and then. While Rome and Brian both knew things should never get so desperate any of them would have to starve, they didn't tell Yager that and it was best not to tell him, yet, either.

As one of the members of the crime ring, Yager was also up for grand theft, carjacking, assault with a deadly weapon, and all kinds of other shit. Probably only because he was Toretto's homey was why Brian was offering the dude refuge by getting him out of the country. Otherwise, he wasn't the type O'Conner usually hung with.

By the second week of June, Brian owned the Supra outright. The papers would be forwarded to Rome's mom, back in Barstow and he'd go pick them up, later. Of course Brian trusted her more than he did his own mom.

Securing the car hadn't been easy for him. Kelly wasn't as feisty as Cici, but she didn't have to be; she was a street-wise cop.

For more than a week-and-a-half, that Supra took up residence at her apartment building while they fought over it. Somehow, he appeased her. She relinquished the keys and the car was resold to him. Whatever all he'd done was enough to make her forego the money she'd already put into it. That was because she didn't know he was planning to split. Soon as she found out, the day before they left, she went off. There wasn't any avoiding that. Ever conscientious, Brian mailed her a check the next day to cover her costs.

With the charges dropped, Cici had targeted Rome, hanging with him as much as she could, thinking that would make Brian jealous. If anything, he was glad to have her preoccupied. She looked good and Rome knew she could be great in bed. He indulged her only a couple more times; he had O'Conner.

They had four cars and three drivers, so it was just as well Brian had left the Challenger down south. The cars impressed Yager; he was ready to drive all four, if he could. It wasn't for jonesing, but for Brian. And that was the other weird thing about Yager and it was really weird.

The dude had it on over O'Conner. Whatever the fuck was up with him, it was really getting to Rome. He knew his homey was cool and loaded with charisma and all, but Vince was like in reverence. He told Rome what O'Conner had done. It was just like sweet, modest Brian not to have mentioned shit about it. So he'd saved the dude's life. Gratitude was realistic--not reverence. He was always up all over Brian trying to do for him. Brian would play it down, change the subject--anything. Nothing worked. Somebody would have to bitch-slap Yager back to reality and if he didn't lay off, Rome would.

They tried figuring the trip to Mexico a thousand different ways. Welding brackets to any of the cars to tow or to be towed wasn't an option. It was gonna be one long-ass haul. They needed another driver. Brian knew somebody. Somebody who could be trusted as a driver, and not to reveal anything about the trip. Someone who would gain from the haul, yet wasn't gonna ask for an extra fee to keep his mouth shut. Someone O'Conner knew who was willing to do it au gratis.

He said the driver was Toretto's sister. It was the last day either of them had to work, but Brian asked Rome to pick her up from the airport. Since Brian had to spend the evening breaking up with Kelly, it was probably best that Toretto's sister, Mia, stay at Rome's apartment for as long as it took.

Quitting work early raised no argument from Rome. He made the drive to LAX in his custom-painted, silver-flecked, purple Firebird. The flight was only a half hour late which was cool because traffic forced an extra seventeen minutes into his timing.

Aside from her ethnicity, according to Brian, Mia Toretto was in her mid-twenties with long hair, and would be traveling alone. Ethnicity wasn't much of a clue--the flight had come from Mexico. Once all passengers who fit the basic description thinned out, Rome noted that the damn prettiest one was left looking anxiously past the gate, toward the main terminal.

Getting up, Rome sauntered to her. Fine as she was, her brother had to be damn good-looking. "You Mia Toretto?" he asked, leaving some space between them.

Her beautiful, brown eyes focused on Rome. "I-I'm looking for Brian O'Conner," she said.

"Mm-hm," Rome replied with caution. "He told me come pick you up. He all busy wit' his job, even though it his last day."

"Oh. He didn't leave word he couldn't make it to the airport." She swept a lock of shiny, loose hair back and readjusted her shoulder bag. "Are you a police officer, too?"

"I ain't that crazy," he replied. "Pearce. Roman Pearce."

She shook his hand. "I thought I'd been ditched. Which would have really sucked, being as my ticket was only one-way. I was about to go find the public phones to try and arrange a way back home. Of course, I would have liked the chance to tell Brian off before I left, but I didn't expect to get the pleasure. I'm glad I won't have to do any of that. You must be the other business partner."

Could it be that Brian had lied? Was the dude just a cover story to avoid disapproval over yet another women he was so "sure" he was in love with? She was the type of woman he always went for--dark and beautiful.

Rome stroked his chin. "Guess I must." As they left the gate, he ventured, "How well you know Bry?"

"I take it he didn't say much about me. We dated."

So not to hurt her feelings, Rome allowed, "He didn't get a chance to say much. Havin' you come drive was a last minute thing."

Her conversation hesitated. “…Are you guys 'friends' friends or just business partners?"

"We homeys."

Sounding miffed, she remarked, "So, I’ll bet he was busy talking all about Dom."

There was a brother, after all. "Uh, yeah, he mentioned a Dominic Toretto…But,” Rome ventured, still unwilling to hurt the lady, “if you know anything about O'Conna’, you know he don’t talk much about anything or anybody."

"Well, what little did he say other than my brother’s name?"

"Well, he said…" he began, then changed his mind. "‘Dated’ past tense like it over or past tense from when he come back here?"

"Past tense as in only once and that was more than a year ago."

Shit. That meant the stuff about the brother had to be true. "He said…he said he have a thing on wit' Toretto. That right?"

She nodded faintly. "You must be pretty tight with Brian if he told you that."

"Grew up together. Been homeys since we little kids."

"Really? Then you must really know him. Now I…I don't quite get him…"

"Shit…you ain't the only one…"

"That's a cool earring you're wearing," she suddenly interjected. "I think Brian would look great if he got an ear pierced. Any ideas on how I might suggest it to him?"

Recalling the incident, Rome scoffed lightly. "I already did. He wouldn't do it."

"Everyone has this preconception it's gonna hurt like hell. That is so stupid. I had mine done when I was a baby. My whole family says I hardly cried for a second. And you know how whiny kids are."

"He ain't afraid of it hurtin'; he think it turn him into a girl or som'm."

It was Mia's turn to scoff. "What? He can see you didn't turn into a girl. And countless other macho guys out there with pierced ears. Fuck, if you ask me and most women, we feel it shows a guy's more macho by getting his ear pierced rather than not. It looks like he's afraid it's gonna hurt or something."

"I ain't defendin' his stupidity, but he been gettin' the shit all his life about his pretty-boy looks; can't say I blame him for being wary."

Somehow, she had only one piece of luggage to pick up at the baggage claim. He'd traveled with women before and for a weekend trip, they could take four suitcases plus an overnight. It was heavy enough, though. Rome carried it for her.

Out of the terminal, on the walk into the parking structure, Mia continued her questioning. "Obviously, you know Brian really well. The thing with my brother--" she cleared her throat "--are you talking about the gay thing?"

"Yeah. That what I mean. Only I know he ain't. He like women. And, damn do they like him. Too much, so to get his ass in trouble all the time. I give him shit about it, but it a lot more them than him." She'd turn around and jump on the very next plane back to Mexico if she knew the latest fiasco Brian was supposed to end that very day.

Her tone took on an offended edge. "What’re you saying? Like how?"

Exhaling, flashes of some of the worst incidents they'd suffered by women flooded his memory. "They get jealous. They get crazy. They make all kinds a trouble for him."

"Oh…" Calming, she fell quiet a few steps. "Did he say…? Did he say I was causing him trouble?"

If only Brian had, that would at least have been normal. "He too busy goin' on 'bout chyo' bro," Rome muttered.

She sounded resigned. "So then…what happened between him and Dominic? Believe me, my brother's not gay, either. I had the impression Brian was completely straight--then this happens. So then I thought maybe I was wrong and he's bi. But, even so, I can't imagine how he convinced my brother to change. Just because women can see Brian is drop-dead gorgeous, that doesn't mean a thing to guys. Not in an attractive way, anyway."

Rome hadn't understood that about himself for a long time. Not knowing Dominic Toretto, Rome wasn't about to profess to tell her shit about her own brother. When serving time inside, however, Rome learned things about himself he hadn't realized before. Even though he appeased his own satisfaction, he started having dreams. Near wet dreams. They should have been about his best girlfriends or some fine-looking celebrity. They weren't. The dreams were about his pretty home boy. That only compounded his frustration, as pissed off Rome was at O'Conner for having done nothing to acquit or at least lighten the sentence. Because Rome was surrounded only by men, he should be all the more desperate for a woman. So why the fuck was he dreaming about goddamn O'Conner? It was enough to make Rome take notice of some of his blond inmates with good ass.

"I don't know yo' bruh, but Bry don't go around hittin' up dudes, if that what you think. This thing wit' chyo bruh ain't on. You wrong 'bout how attractive he be to some men--I seen him turn down plenny a guys."

She halted. With a nervous laugh, she recovered before catching up again. "That's funny. I-I never thought about that. What-what exactly did he say about my brother?"

"Not much. I first learned a him from the feds. Brian supposed to bring him down, but instead, he flip and make hisself one of America's Most Wanted. He told me what chyo' bruh' did. The theft and truck-jacking an' all that. He also said he so crazy 'bout the dude, he wanna go live wit' him."

"Oh…" she trailed. "He said that?"

"He had to. He insist on draggin' me to Mexico, I better damn well know why. I coulda told him go fuck off and shack up long as he want--just leave me outta it."

"Like I said, my brother's not gay," she insisted.

"Well, neither O'Conna’."

"Look, I'm sorry--I didn't mean to imply he was. If anything, I'm relieved to hear he's not even bi. I just want to understand what's going on with them."

He knew what that meant. Much as he liked to ride Brian, he did have a lot more sense than to go around falling in love with all the women who fell in love with him. Still, Rome was offended by her remark against bisexuals and considered telling her to take that next flight back to Mexico, after all. "Maybe you shoulda aksed yo' bruh before you spent the money to fly out here."

"I did." She sighed. "We went over and over it until he got pissed off. He wasn't very forthcoming. Neither was Brian when I asked him. I take it he was equally as unforthcoming with you."

"He don't gotta say. We tight enough where I don't gotta aks." That was bullshit. His motivation had become like hers--he wanted to know what was going on. If he didn't like it, he'd forego the business and be gone. As long as he was down in Mexico, he could treat himself to a nice vacation in Acapulco or Yucatan before returning to California.

"Then you're okay with it?"

"I don't know. I see when I get there."

"Even though you know my brother's history? You'll still hire him?"

He considered his answer and how much to admit. "I ain't azackly got a clean background, neither. I done time for boosting cars. I know my boy; when Brian think straight, he be on. It sound like he come to trust yo' bruh before all this gay stuff happen."

"We'd all come to trust each other before then. And that doesn't come easy with Dominic. As a police officer, it couldn't have come easy for Brian, either. When we learned he'd been lying to us all along, it was a hell of a shock. The weirdest thing was that what he did after that made us wind up trusting him even more implicitly than ever before."

On reaching the Firebird, her eyes widened, impressed. "Wow. This is beautiful. V8 with Ram Air. Ultraviolet on silver metal flake."

"Then you do know cars," he assessed.

"It runs in our blood."

Buckling into the passenger seat, she asked, "What time does Brian get home from work?"

"Aroun' 5:00, when he on time. But, today his colleagues takin' him out to dinner, you know. He couldn't say no, it bein' his last day and all."

~~~

The after dinner breakup had gone like crap. The cussing and cursing Brian could take--it was when Kelly started to cry that the real danger threatened. Thankfully, she was the kind of girl who disdained showing weakness or accepting pity. She sped off in her Altima, leaving Brian to find another way home.

At around a quarter to eight, Brian returned to the apartment complex, weary. Though he knew he'd have to face Mia, at least he'd be doing it in Rome's company.

Much as he longed for a relaxing, hot shower before he faced her, he decided to go straight to Rome's apartment.

On letting himself in, Brian froze when he found the living room dark except for the range top light in the kitchen. If Rome had moved in on Mia…

The bedroom door was wide open, TV on. Rome was kicking back on the rented bed, watching the equally rented TV and very much alone. Though he was dressed, his shirt was open.

"Where's Mia?" Brian immediately asked, punching off the TV.

"Hey, I watchin' that," Rome protested.

"Didn't she show up?"

"Yeah," he replied. "I left her at yo' place."

"I told you to bring her over here. What if I'd had to take Kelly there?"

"Then Kelly catch on a lot quicker. Anyway, I thought Miss Toretto may be a little uncomf'table, spending the whole afternoon and evenin’ wit' a stranger. I got her dinner, but I didn't impose. How it go with Kell’?"

Brian relaxed. Rome had Brian's back, as always. Going to the bed, he collapsed on it beside his friend. "It sucked, but it's done. What'd Mia say?"

The exotic slanted eyes cut at Brian. "'Bout yo' love affair with her bruh?"

"No, about me and her. Did she tell you we went out? Once?"

"She did." Rome sat up straighter against the headboard.

"That was it. Just once. Things are different between us now. Did she tell you that?"

"Already knew dat." He picked up the car magazine on the bed to absently peruse. "'Cos now you fuckin' her bruh. She ain't done wit' chyou, though, baby. She didn't say it, but I know she still want you. She got the idea she do you this favah’ you forget all about him and go back to her."

Brian released his breath. "Yeah, I know. That's 'cos a the way Dom set things up. I haven't decided what to do about that. She's really cool, once you get to know her--"

"Set up? Like instead a payin' cash to do the haul, you keep her satisfied--"

Offended, he sat up against the headboard, too. "Hell no. He wouldn't sell his sister out like that. He knows she still likes me, so he's leaving things open between me and her."

"Mn." Rome commented, disapprovingly. He shook his head. "Sound like typical O'Conna’ trouble to me."

"Look, if it was up to me, I'd leave her out of it. And there's nothing typical about an arrangement like that."

"That so?" He continued leafing through the glossy pages, feigning absorption. "Purdy girl like that? She prime O'Conna’ material."

"Would you quit saying that shit?"

"I don't like dis shit. 'Tween the two of them, you gonna have yo' hands full. I ain't gonna sit back and keep my mouth shut while you get it on wit' her and especially some dude. I rather stay outta all that. I sure I find some other profitable investment to make wit' my money--one I don't gotta worry end in disaster for sho’."

Hurt by Rome's deteriorating faith, Brian frowned. "You were willing to come before you learned about Mia."

"That before I knew 'bout this arrangement you got wit' chyo' boyfriend. That girl espec' you gonna sleep wit' her from now ‘til we get down there. She already told me she eager to help get the garage goin' on. How she got experience co-managing a business and she ready to work for free ‘til we turn a profit. Only now I know what she mean by 'free'."

Evidently, Dom and Mia had discussed it and hadn't told Brian. Probably because it was a given. Of course, she'd help out and do it for free. "This is the first I've heard of it."

"Even so. You still knew what she espec' to do the haul."

In fact, he'd tried not to think about that in having Dom send her up north to do the drive. Now that Rome brought it up, it would seem incredibly stupid on Brian's part if he confessed he'd deliberately avoided considering the consequences. "Forget about it, cuz. It's not gonna happen with her."

Seemingly unconvinced, Rome cut another look at Brian then dropped the magazine and made a lunge for the TV remote control. They struggled over it, Brian holding on for the tease and the contact, not the device.

"Stop messin' wit' me, Brian," Rome spit. "The day come you jus' want me aroun' to use me, I won't be there."

"That day will never come, so don't even worry about it." Locking his leg over Rome, Brian trapped him. "Lemme just go say 'hey' to Mia, then I'll spend the night here."

Resistance waning, Rome studied Brian. "You go say 'hey' and I don't see you the rest a the night, you two just go onto Mexico tomorrow wit'out me."

~~~

When Brian let himself into his apartment, he found the TV and a couple of lamps on in the living room which had been restored back to a showroom state except for his packed belongings awaiting transfer to the cars in the morning. Mia was nowhere in sight.

"Mia?" he called.

No answer.

On entering the bedroom, he saw an unfamiliar overnight case open on the bed. The bathroom door was ajar by an inch, the light on inside, and he could hear the shower running.

Going to the door, he called after her, not looking. "Mia? Mia, I'm back. I'll be in--"

"Brian?" she replied anxiously. "Is that--?"

"Yeah. I'm in the living room."

"You can come in."

Pretending not to have heard her, Brian withdrew to wait, watching TV.

In minutes, she appeared. Her wet hair had been trimmed off to a mere two to three inches past her shoulders. The scent that wafted in with her and the nightgown she wore, however, made him quickly forget her missing length of hair.

In slippers, she padded around the sofa to join him, brushing out her wet tresses that dripped down her nearly bare, brown shoulders. The thin, clingy, tricot knit gown she wore was scarcely held up by thin spaghetti straps.

Taking a seat, she pressed to him and looked over his face earnestly. "I missed you so much," she murmured. Without missing a beat, she moved in for a kiss.

At a loss to do anything else, he could only kiss her in response and try not to seem awkward. That was a mistake; she deepened the kiss with mounting passion.

Gently, he had to take her shoulders and ease her back enough to break the kiss. "Listen. I'm gonna go take a shower, then I'm going to Rome's apartment to go over a few more things before the trip tomorrow."

"Go over them in the morning," she breathed. Moving in again, she slipped a hand to the back of his neck to hold him in place for another kiss. That time she prompted his mouth open with her tongue.

When she started unbuttoning his shirt, he had to pull away. "I really need to go take a shower. And go over these last plans. They're important." He got up to prevent another kiss. "It'll probably take a while, so why don't just crash out on the bed? I'll sleep out here on the sofa."

"Sofa?" The adoring, sultry look on her face swiftly hardened to icy austerity. "You don't intend to share the bed with me? You asshole! Why the fuck did I offer to help you? It's just like I said before: You don't give a shit about me! It’s all about stupid Dom." Scrambling off the sofa, she fled to the bedroom and slammed the door shut.

With a sigh, he went to the door and leaned on it. "What do you want me to do? Cheat on your brother? Would you have wanted Letty to?"

"It wouldn't be cheating and you know it, you piece of shit! I can't believe you asked me up here for nothing! You know how goddamn expensive the plane ticket was? And that was just one-way! We weren't expecting I was going to have to fly--"

"You don't have to fly back. You'll have free transportation, meals, lodging--everything. I told Dominic I'm paying for all your expenses for the trip down. He wouldn't let me cover your plane ticket."

"That's 'cos he's got scruples and a conscience--unlike you."

"Mia…" he near moaned. "Come on. This isn't fair. What do you think is stopping me?" He winced at the dishonesty he was about to present. "If I had no conscience, I wouldn't be standing out here on the other side of this door. With the way you look and everything…"

Though she didn't answer, he could hear activity beyond the door.

"Mia. I swear to god, it's not like I don't care about you." Again, her verbal silence forced him to try the door. It was unlocked. Slowly, he opened it and took the couple of steps to look in.

Standing beside the bed, she'd laid out some clean clothes from a suitcase. Except for a pair of brief panties and trouser socks, she was naked.

Fuck.

With the abbreviated length of her hair, her jutting little breasts were in full display. Nor did she make any effort to cover up, when she saw him. "Don't let me stop you from showering or planning your trip," she spit. "Go right ahead. Pretend I'm not even here. Don't worry--when you come out, I won't be."

Though his loyalties lay elsewhere, he couldn't help what stirred his libido. The sweet curves of her nearly nude body sent a warm throb to his cock that filled him out. As modest and naïve about sex as she was, she wouldn't think to notice the erection she gave him, which was just as well; with his shirt loosely tucked in, there was no hiding his crotch.

"Are you saying you offered to do the drive purely for sex? It had nothing to do with friendship? That's not how I consider you."

"Yeah, I know how you consider me--not at all. You just happened to remember I existed because you needed a driver who wouldn't tell anyone where you were going in case the U.S. authorities started snooping around." She picked up the blouse.

Going to her, he took one of her arms, arresting her. "Ah-ah. You got it wrong. I look at you as a beautiful lady--one I deeply respect and care about. One I can't help but find attractive, despite the circumstances. If you really don't want to do the job, I'll understand. Just make it for some other reason--not sex."

Flustered, she worked her mouth. "I-it's not about sex, it's--it's--" Abruptly, she turned away, snatching her blouse to cover her chest. "Just get out and let me get dressed. Go do whatever you need to."

He paused. "Are you sure?"

"Why the hell would I want you to stay? You've made it clear enough what you want."

Restlessly, he briefly scratched his eyebrow with his thumbnail. "Are you going back to the airport soon as you get dressed?"

She hastened on the blouse, pulled out her hair, then stepped to the bed to grab her pants, back still to him. "First-first I gotta make some phone calls to pool together enough money for another one-way ticket back--"

The edge in her voice told him she trying not to cry. The sniff at that point suggested she wasn't succeeding. It had disturbed him that Kelly had started to cry but with Mia, it was far worse. "Wait. You don't gotta get any money or go to the airport." Embracing her from behind, he pressed his cheek against her damp, fragrant hair. "I didn't mean to make you cry."

Breaking down, she shrugged him off and sat down by her suitcase, covering her face. "Just leave me alone so I can get dressed and go. Please."

"I can't do that. You're Dom's sister. You mean that much to me. I can't hurt his familia any more than I could him."

Quieting, she kept a hand over her nose and mouth, hiding behind her veil of hair.

In a sincere effort to help in some way, Brian started for the box of facial tissues; however, the empty bedside table reminded him he had none in anticipation of the move.

"That's--?" Sniffing again, she dug through her overnight. "That's how strongly you feel about him?"

"Well…Yeah."

It wasn't until she found her own tissues and had wiped her face and eyes that she spoke again. "So to you, I'm like a sister-in-law…and that's it."

Considering what they'd been through, he had to admit, "Maybe a little more than that."

"You're going to make Dom incredibly happy," she remarked bravely. "I-I've never seen him act the way he's been acting over you."

~~~

In the morning, after Brian spent the night where he was supposed to, they finished high-lighting the maps for Yager and Toretto's sister. A phone call last night confirmed he was packed and ready to step out the door as soon as one of them drove by to pick him up.

In case Mia came to Rome's apartment before they were ready, the curtains stayed shut. There was no guessing how things would go in Mexico, so Rome took advantage of the hours he had left before having to deal with that shit. He wouldn't let Brian get dressed. It was times like that when Rome was reminded how damn fine his homey was. There was no faulting Toretto for appreciating O'Conner, but that was all Rome would concede.

So it was after 1:00 in the afternoon when Brian returned with Yager to finish all the last minute details for the trip. Brian had taken the Evo to fetch Yager, then gave him the keys. Toretto's sister got the keys to the Supra. That was when Rome learned that all the shit and expense Brian had gone through to get legal ownership of the car had been about Toretto. Evidently, the car was ultimately going to go to him.

Up until that day, Rome only had Yager's version of what had gone down on the "Team's" last attempt at truck-jacking that had gone so bad. The way he'd described it was so different, it made Brian's sad-ass account of the same story come off like describing the Grand Canyon as a gopher hole. As weird as Yager was, though, Rome had the impression the dude had probably hallucinated most of that shit on all the pain medication he'd been given in the hospital. Then again, Rome knew how Brian always tended to understate things. Particularly wherever he was involved.

It took Mia to verify which story was closer to the truth, but Rome didn't learn that until they all stopped in Mexico for dinner.

The strong loyalty Yager had toward the Torettos had pissed Rome off real quick. Worse than that, the cracker had that whack thing going on over Brian. Sure, O'Conner had a lot of great things going for him--particularly a beauty and charisma he knew nothing about--which made him all the more irresistibly charming. Only Yager was beyond that. It was like he was ready to wait on Brian like a goddamn servant. Take out his trash, light his cigarette, fetch him stuff like a dog…Then when Yager was reunited with Mia, after a warm, brotherly hug, he proceeded to treat her like he was dumbstruck about her, and she and Brian together like they were the goddamn royal couple. Evidently, the dude didn't know shit about his home boy, Toretto, having the thing on for O'Conner or that Brian had dumped the sister. It was a damn good thing they were making the trip in separate cars or Rome would have knocked the dude through the windshield and set him straight.

~~~

Ever since Brian had appeared at the apartment that day, Vince couldn't think of anything else. The whole time he was in the hospital right after that last job they'd tried without Jessie, Vince had nightmares. Nightmares about walking along a road out in the middle of nowhere. Then a truck would come along and the driver would try to run him over. He couldn't get away. If he ran off the side of the road, it would turn into another, and the truck kept bearing down. Then it would catch up and knock him down, then he'd be dragged over the road, desperately struggling not to be crushed by the tires. The truck would pick up speed, driving faster and faster until the asphalt or dirt would melt into a horrible blur of terror and pain. The driver would slam on the brakes and with a sickening skid and shriek of its eighteen wheels, it would come to a dead stop. The dust would settle and Vince would see Brian standing on the road in the headlights. The truck wouldn’t move once Brian was there. Brian would help Vince out from under the massive, hot, oil-smelling vehicle, all the while telling him, "Just hold on, Vince. Hold on. I won't let you die." Even when Vince woke bathed in pain and a cold sweat, he'd know he was going to be okay and the terror would ebb away.

Mia's visits to the hospital were a godsend. She was caring and sweet. That she didn't come with Spilner proved that all along her heart really belonged to Vince. Until he found out what happened to Spilner. Though Vince had been amnesic for the incident at first, in time he remembered. He remembered Brian holding him tight and telling him, "Put your arms around me." Mia filled in the important gaps that he couldn't know.

While Vince should have been furious to learn Spilner--or rather O'Conner--was really a cop, he couldn't be. Not with everything Vince learned. Aside from having saved his life, he found out O'Conner hadn't turned any of them in and had deliberately let Dominic escape. All at the cost of his own career.

For a short time, Vince battled with his feelings about O'Conner. A very short time. As bizarre as the whole event had been, it took a strange and surreal intervention to make sense of it; O'Conner had to be a real-life guardian angel. Of course he was a cop. Nurses, paramedics, firefighters, certain cops, doctors, and good teachers--they were probably all guardian angels. They were the only ones who would care enough to take jobs like that. The team's guardian angel had saved Vince's life, Dom from going back to prison, and avenged Jesse's shooting. Probably even spared Jesse's life by blessing him. It explained the way Brian looked. A real angel would have a beauty that was both male and female. There could be no doubt Brian O'Conner was the genuine thing.

It haunted Vince that he'd treated Brian like shit. He should have done the same, in turn, but he never did. He'd only fought out of self-defense. Everyone knew the love and concern of a guardian angel was purely unconditional and always forgiving. If only Vince could have known what Brian really was. Before it was too late.

So when he showed up at Vince's apartment, it was like a wish come true. It gave Vince the chance to make amends for what he'd done and try and show his gratitude. No, he could never pay O'Conner back, but he deserved all the repayment Vince could give.

At first, Teri had been excited to learn that the cop who'd saved Vince's life had come to see him. She'd been anxious to meet him. Soon after that, she began to complain about Vince being "hung-up" over O'Conner. That was jealousy. Where was her guardian angel? Or, as a physical therapist, why didn't that anoint her into sainthood? ‘Cos it sure didn’t. Vince couldn't tell her she had a long ways to go to earn that honor.

O'Conner's business partner, Pearce, didn't make any sense. Vince first met the guy a little over a couple of weeks before they were to make the trip to go hook up with Dominic. They got together at Brian's apartment for a few drinks and talked. It turned out he and Pearce had become friends when they were kids; like Vince and Dom, they'd grown up together. Which meant there was no way in hell Pearce couldn't know his friend was a guardian angel. He'd have to be either really dumb or so convinced they didn't exist he couldn't see when he was standing right beside one. Since he seemed smart enough, it had to be the latter. He treated O'Conner just like any ordinary person and showed no particular respect toward him.

Hooking up with Mia again was great. Even though O'Conner had stolen her heart, they deserved each other. After all, she was studying to become a doctor, so it all made sense.

While packing the cars to leave, Vince expected to see them interact together. It wouldn't be easy, but he meant to let them know he was cool with it, now that he understood things different. Only they didn't act anything like he expected. They didn't touch, share quiet words, and they never kissed that he ever saw, even when parting company for the drive in two separate cars. They were probably trying to spare Vince's feelings. That was exactly what a guardian angel would do.

~~~

Outside of Long Beach, the highway opened up to play at pushing engines that were made for speed. Despite the summer sun outside, it was cool within the sleek confines of the Firebird. Rome cranked his tunes loud as he wanted and played tag with the silver Skyline. Behind them, the Supra and Evo were never out of view for long, proving the other drivers knew how to handle the wheels they'd been issued. No wonder O'Conner had opted to bring them. As Rome had observed, Brian was almost always on when it came to figuring people out. So long as his dick didn't have a stake in it. He must have come to know Toretto’s sister before he took to lusting after her.

They all crossed the border without delay. After that, they could quit pussying around with their cars and let fly. It was well known the traffic laws in Mexico were lax compared to the States. Only because they'd all agreed to stick together, they made sure not to entirely lose each other. After all, Rome didn't know where the hell he was going, despite the map, and neither did Yager. If they got lost, their only recourse would be to go back home. It wasn't like they could even speak the language to get directions.

~~~

They'd also agreed to follow Mia's lead for a place to stop for dinner. She knew a hell of a lot more about the country and the route than any of them.

She took them to a diner. On stepping out of the cars, they found the air was all different. It was kinda like Barstow--like stepping into a hot oven. Only it didn’t smell right. Barstow just smelled dusty--this was something else. Soon as they got into the café, they all broke for the restrooms. Warily, Rome kept up his guard to ensure Yager didn't offer to hold Brian's dick for him at the urinals.

Over dinner was when Yager's hallucination versus reality were laid on the line by Mia. She wasn't exactly impartial, though, having a hard-on for O'Conner. However, from what Rome had been able to tell about her so far, she seemed to pretty level-headed, otherwise. Probably one of the most level-headed ladies he’d ever gone out with.

After hearing Rome’s scoffing, brief reiteration of the incident, she patiently glanced to Brian. "What did you say happened?"

He shrugged. "The truth, man. I helped him off the truck and called nine-one-one."

"This was a truck,” she pointed out, “going seventy miles an hour. Did you explain how you got him off that truck?"

"That wasn't important. We got him off, he made it. That's what's important."

"We?" she countered. "Hey, all I did was drive the Supra. Which I had to take over the wheel of on the middle of the freeway at seventy miles per hour, too, mind you. That was hard enough. But, that was all I did. You’re the one who got him off that truck."

If the whole incident had really taken place at seventy miles per hour, that part definitely warranted telling. Pearce narrowed his eyes at Brian. "How the hell did you get him off that truck, then? For real?"

Separating his food, he gestured, barely glancing up, "I don't think Vince wants to talk about this, you know?"

Yager had already made it clear to Rome he was cool with it. "No, no," Vince said. "I want him to know about it. You tell Pearce, Mia. Tell him how Brian jumped from the Supra onto the truck. He got me loose and somehow--somehow--"

Brian interrupted. "It's okay. You don't gotta relive it."

"Brian took Vince in his arms," Mia supplied, "and put him in the Supra. That's exactly what happened. You don't believe it?" She studied Rome.

Dubious, Rome glanced between all of them. "That for real?"

"I was right there," she stated without flinching, "trying desperately to keep up with the truck and keep as close as I could to those huge tires, scared out of my mind. Then the truck driver had a shotgun and kept shooting at us the whole time. With one slip, Brian and Vee would have been history. Or all of us, if the truck driver so much as tapped the Supra, like Dom and Leon told me happened to Letty's Honda."

"Who dat?" Rome asked.

"Dom's girl," Mia automatically supplied. Then quickly glanced apologetically to Brian.

He just sniffed, not looking up.

"Wait." Rome said. "He got a girl? I didn't know nothin' 'bout no girl." That could change things.

Though Brian and Mia fell silent, Yager was just as ready to field the question. "She ain't his girl no more. Ain't that right Mia? And anyway, she's doin’ time."

"No," Mia confirmed. "They haven't communicated since."

"Dom's better off, too," Yager added. "Truth always was, Letty wasn't exactly the kind of girl you'd wish on anybody. I never did know what he saw in her."

Mia cleared her throat while Rome shifted his gaze from her to Brian, waiting for one of them to clue Yager in.

"Maybe you think I shouldn't talk about her that way," Yager defended his words, "but, it's true and you know it, Mia. You know how she was."

"I'm not denying it," she responded. "I know Dom could do a lot better."

Seeing as Yager was going to have to learn about the gay thing between his two idols some other way, Rome left the subject alone for the time being. "Then that true about how you got Vince off that truck?"

At last, Brian spoke again. "I guess. I mean, I put him in the Supra. Mia had to keep the car close and steady, which couldn’t have been easy. Once he was safe, I jumped back on it, myself--just in time, 'cos the next thing I knew, I saw through the window the trucker was aiming the shotgun straight at me again."

Before putting in about another several hours' driving time, they consulted their maps to coordinate the best place to stop for the night. Which Brian wasn't very anxious to do. Seemed he was in a damn hurry to get to his boy.

Fortunately, common sense and safety prevailed. In the furnace-like heat that still lingered after 7:30 in the evening, on the walk to the cars, Rome nudged Brian aside for a private word. In the Skyline.

"How we gonna do this?" Rome asked, sliding down into the passenger seat, checking the side mirror, anticipating the others would probably come around to investigate the cause for the delay if it lasted more than a few moments.

"Do what?" Brian questioned, cranking the engine for the air conditioner.

"From the way it look, Yager 'spec you gonna be sleeping wit' Toretto's sister."

"He's just gonna have to learn different." He searched the tuner at a low volume.

"An' who gonna sneak in who's room when we get to the motel? You know I ain't sleepin' alone."

"Oh, you ain't?" Brian laughed.

"Hell, no. I know you and yo' boy gonna do a lot a catchin' up soon as we get to his place. Which I don’ like. I’ll be damned if you gonna shut me out already."

He laughed harder. "You know it'll be a waste of money if we get two rooms."

"I thought a that. But, how it gonna look to them if we share a room?"

"Well, since I was gonna pay for Vince's and Mia's room, it'll make sense that I'd want to conserve some cost somewhere."

"Why you gotta pay her room?" Rome was immediately suspicious. "I know the cracker boy don't got no money."

"'Cos this is my thing. She don't got much, either. She's a student, I told you. I needed a driver. It's only right this should be on my dime. So Dom paid for her plane ticket and gave her a few hundred to pay for her food and any other supplies she may need. He only gave her enough to pay for half the accommodations, apparently also thinking she and I would share motel rooms."

"He want yo' ass down here that bad he give you to his sister," Rome remarked.

"I already explained that, cuz."

"A'ight. We argue where they can see, how that don't make me responsible to pay for yo' ass, then we agree to split fifty-fifty."

"Cool." They touched knuckles.

~~~

At the café, Vince had been surprised when Brian's communication with the waitress showed that he not only understood but spoke seemingly fluent Spanish. Then realized, that would have to come natural to Guardian Angels. They'd have to be able to speak any language they had to.

It was 12:36 am when they arrived at a motel. The highways down in Mexico weren't lit and still had old fashioned markers that weren't much for keeping a driver awake. Vince was thankful they'd finally found a place to spend the night. He couldn't wait to get a room.

Uncertain, he got out of the small Evo to offer to pay his room. O'Conner and Pearce had gotten out of their rides and were arguing about that very thing instead of heading into the office to secure any rooms.

O'Conner was stating since he'd be paying for Vince and Mia, he wanted to know if he could crash with Pearce to cut some of the expense. After all, Pearce was gonna be paying for a room, anyway. Pearce apparently didn't care to share his room and apparently didn't like the connotations of doing it with a guy. That seemed a little overly homophobic, but some guys were just like that.

"Hey," Vince intervened. "I don't get it. Aren't you staying with Mia?" he asked Brian.

They both fell silent. Then Brian shook his head and rubbed his jaw down to his throat. "It wouldn't be right, bro'."

Frowning in confusion, Vince looked to Mia. Seated in the Supra, patiently waiting, the windows open to let in the still night air which had finally cooled, she dipped her head.

"What do you mean?" Vince furthered his questioning. "She's your girl."

"Not…" Brian said, faltering, "not exactly…"

"What do you mean? You guys went out and everything. I thought you guys were together. You didn't say nothing."

From the driver's seat of the Supra, Mia's voice was strained. "Leave it alone, Vee."

Again, Vince looked to her. Her head remained down so he couldn't see her expression. She didn't seem very happy, but he'd find out more later. "Then I'll give you some money for your room," he went on to Brian, "and stay with you. That way you'll only have to put down for one and-and-a-half rooms. I'll sleep on the floor or whatever. I don't care."

"No, man," he replied. "You don't got no money. Keep what you have in case you really need it."

"I really need a place to stay the night," Vince said. "You wouldn't let me buy my own dinner--"

"I told you, man. This trip down here is my thing. I appreciate you coming down and driving the Evo for me, man, really. It's a job and you ought a be paid. Knowing you won't take money, I'm covering your food and lodgings--"

"Man, you don't owe me nothing," Vince quickly rectified. "I'm the one who owes you--"

Pearce interrupted. "Don't start that shit up again. A'ight, dog," he said to O'Conner. "You may as well stay wit' me since I gonna spend the money, anyway."

Having seen evidence of Pearce's disregard for Brian, Vince objected. "It'll all come out the same, so I'll stay with him. At least I'll make sure he's comfortable and gets anything he needs."

Sarcastically, Pearce scoffed. "He a grown boy; he need anything, he get it hisself."

"That's what I'm talking about," Vince growled. "You got no respect, man. Come on, Brian. Let's go take care of the rooms."

Pushing away from the Firebird, Pearce took a step threateningly toward Vince. "Listen, bruh'. Anytime you put up the money for the rooms, you can coordinate sleeping arrangements. We the ones wit' the green, so who sleep where between me and O'Conna’."

~~~

With the cars parked outside the rooms, Brian helped Mia with her luggage while carrying on a minor struggle with Vince to turn down his offer to share the second room. The last thing Brian wanted was a personal valet. Hopefully, Yager would get over his disproportionate veneration soon enough or dealing with him on a daily basis was going to suck. Already, Brian was wondering how Dom would react to it.

Evidently, Rome had already found his room by the time Brian stepped out of Mia's, Vince tagging after.

"Tell you what, I'll get coffee in the morning for you," Vince continued. "I know Pearce won't do nothing like that."

Trying to avoid him, Brian headed for the room with two doubles Rome had requested. "I really don't need you to get me coffee or anything," Brian dismissed. "It's nice of you to offer and everything, but like Pearce said, if I want or need anything I know how to get it myself, okay?"

"Well, yeah I know, but you shouldn't have to," Vince defended.

"I want to," Brian insisted, desperate to shake Vince. "Anyways, I'm real tired right now and I gotta piss like a bitch. Go get some sleep, man. See you in the morning."

~~~

Knowing he wouldn't be able to relax without more answers, Vince decided he'd have to question Mia. After a shower, he phoned her room. If he knocked on her door, he expected Brian would probably come out and interfere.

"Yes?" She sounded tired but quietly anxious.

"Mia. I don't mean to keep you up and everything, but . . . what happened between you and Brian?"

There was a moment of silence. Before he had to prompt her, she spoke, her voice no less tight. "Don't worry about it."

"I am worried. I know he didn't hurt you--or mean to. He'd never do that. It's just that I thought you really liked him."

"I-I did…I still do. Too much…Look, can we just go to sleep right now? I'm really tired."

"I know. I am, too. I just want to understand…You know how I feel about you …"

Again, she was silent.

"He broke up with you, didn't he? Don't be hurt. Angels probably can't be with no one like that."

It sounded as though she had to work at steadying her voice. "Is that what you've convinced yourself to believe?"

"I didn't have to be convinced. All I had to do is look. That's all you gotta do, too, and you'll see. That's why you got so hung up on him. You couldn't help it."

"No, I did it because I'm an idiot."

"You're not and you know it. You're going to med school, and everything. You always got good grades…It's nobody's fault it can't be like that with him. I've been thinking about it. After you graduate and become a doctor, you guys will make a perfect couple. I'm not mad about it no more. Things will change."

"Obviously, he doesn't think so."

"That's not it. He can't help that, either. It ain't personal. I'm sure he wishes he could sleep with you."

"You-you think we haven't slept together?"

Confusing, he changed the receiver to his other ear and glanced at the door. "You have?"

"I'd rather not talk about this. I don't want to be reminded. Let's just go to sleep--"

"Did you?"

"You don't want discuss this, either."

"But…I do…Who wouldn't want to know what's it like to sleep with a real angel?"

She laughed softly. "I'll tell you what. If you're still sure you want to know, the day I ever do, I'll tell you all about it."

~~~

By American standards, the room wasn't much. At least it was one of the better ones in the vicinity. Better than the one Brian had stayed in his first night in Mexico. On entering, he heard the shower running which explained why Rome was nowhere in sight. Tossing his bag on the other bed, Brian rushed the bathroom for relief.

When they were growing up, Brian had spent many nights at Rome's house. He and Rome often showered and bathed together. Rome's mom saw it as practical means of saving utilities and time, since she worked and had her kids to support, keep in line, and manage her hours around.

"Let me get my stuff off," he told Rome. "I'll be right in."

"What you waitin' fo’, Brian?" Rome snapped. "Get on it, a’ready. Oh, and this soap ain't fo’ shit. You got anything better? Bring som'm for yo' hair, too, goldilocks. Shampoo probably same kind a shit."

Having been in Mexico once, already, Brian had come prepared. He couldn't help but think of the times he and Rome used to bathe together and mess around in bed, when his mom and brothers thought they were just innocently roughhousing. It was Rome who had started it, introducing Brian to a whole new form of play.

Out of the cooling water and rinsed of soap, he pressed Rome back on the bed. By then, those exotic eyes had attained their most profound slant from arousal. The thick, powerful, penis stood up in desire. His smooth, muscled chest heaved.

Like Rome had observed, when Brian fell for somebody, it was total and complete. He couldn't imagine being with anyone else. Right then, though, he couldn't imagine how he'd thought he could've lived without Romeo.

~~~

In the morning, Vince accompanied Mia to pick up breakfast. While they waited in the café for the order, she reflected on the words he'd said on the drive they took in the Evo. His total and complete belief that Brian's true background was beyond mere mortality was strange. So unlike the Vince Yager she'd grown up with. However, she'd heard about people suffering near-death experiences getting religion or going through other transformations. And Vince was the type who'd never been hard to outwit.

It didn't take long for her to figure out that he wasn't going to change his mind. She just couldn't wait to see what Dom would think about it. Or find out how long he'd put up with it. Okay, she'd let Vince have his little fantasy. It was probably a matter of psychological survival for him, to help him deal with the ordeal he'd been through.

Sitting at the table, she reflected on the one night she'd spent with Brian. Whenever she thought of it, it always struck her like a dream. Something that perhaps had never even happened. Something she’d wanted so much, she’d just imagined it. At first she’d been certain that it had happened, but as time went on and it became more and more distant and the memory faded, she began to doubt herself. Because it seemed impossible to have been real--

She stopped herself. Admittedly, her experience with men was very, very limited, so she had little frame of reference to draw from, but god it had never been like that with anyone else. Dom was so ready to kill every guy she went out with. Calming, she reminded herself that she'd never had sex with a guy that outrageously good-looking before, never one that considerate, caring, or sensitive before, never one she'd been that crazy about before, never one who had aroused and impressed her like that before. God, she’d been so excited, he'd nearly brought her to orgasm, until she became desperate to feel him inside her. And that had hurt. Hurt more than any guy had hurt her before, but that was because it turned out he was better endowed than she’d realized.

Maybe…maybe there was something in what Vee said. . . No, that was insane. No, misguided. Brian no doubt had a lot more experience than she. Of course, he would impress her. That hardly explained everything about Brian, though…

"His friend, Pearce, though," Vince was saying, "I don't know about him. This is a guy who grew up with him and everything so he's got to know. But, he don't got no respect."

Blinking, she forced herself from her erotic reverie. "What do you mean? He seems all right--"

"I mean he got no respect for O'Conner. Treats him like he's just any old guy on the street, you know. The only thing I can think of is that Brian insists his homey treats him like anybody else. So no one would suspect. 'Cos there's no way Pearce couldn't know. They grew up together like me and Dominic and you. So Brian must have insisted. It pretty much seems like Pearce just don't know how lucky he is."

Seeing a case for argument, Mia cleared her throat as she toyed with the paper napkin at her setting. "He doesn't sound that lucky to me. He told me he was arrested and did time. If anything, I thought that explained his attitude."

"Yeah, I know. They told me about that. O'Conner said he was just a rookie cop when that happened and there was nothing he could do."

She looked to Vince. "Doesn't that tell you something? If Brian was what you say, it wouldn't have mattered that he was a rookie. He still could have intervened."

"Not if Pearce was meant to learn a lesson. And it sounds like he needed it and more. I sure ain't saying I'm any better. I got lots of my own to learn. I'm just not gonna be as dense as Pearce about it, though. Not if I can help it."

Of all people, how could Vee's logic suddenly make so much sense? No. It was a delusion. Still, it was good advice. "I think we'd all be better off that way," she allowed.

~~~

A knock on the door jerked both of them awake. What seemed like only a few minutes after a rude phone call, which Brian had taken, thus leaving Rome to go back to sleep. Rome tried the same tactic; it might work again.

That only resulted in another louder knock. Turning onto his belly, Rome tucked the pillow under his head, briefly slitting his eyes at Brian, beside him. "Who the fuck that be?"

"I don't know, man," Brian mumbled, eyes still shut. "Oh, fuck…That's probably Vince with breakfast."

"Shit…What the fuck that boy doin' up already?"

"He called a little while ago about bringing breakfast. I fell asleep again and forgot."

Feeling the mattress shift, Rome opened an eye to see Brian had got up revealing his cute, naked ass. Rubbing his face, he blankly scanned the room for his clothes.

"Brian," Yager called through the door. "Pearce. I brought coffee and breakfast."

"I'm coming," Brian responded. Forsaking his clothes, he headed for the door.

Hell, no. Instead, Rome scrambled up. "I get it," he growled, annoyed at being dragged out of bed. "Don't you open that door buck naked; he worship you too much already."

"Huh?" While Brian puzzled sleepily over the comment, Rome found his jeans on one of the chairs on his way to the door.

"Go take a piss while I get the door." Rome gestured after him. Holding the pants in front of him, he drew open the door a few inches. Squinting out into the blinding sunlight, he found Yager and Mia waiting. They had a rumpled paper bag and a cardboard carton holding two take-out cups of coffee. "Oh, shit," Noticing Mia quickly look away, Rome shut the door down again. Leaning against the wall, he hastened into the pants.

Fortunately, Brian had taken Rome's advice and was nowhere in sight. His own quick survey of the room, however, showed one bed still made up and the other with the cover and top sheet a telltale mess, a pump dispenser of lube on the nightstand and a towel on the floor, divulging the rest. "Hode on," he stalled. Pouncing on the made bed, he ripped it apart and threw the pillows askew. Then tossed the lube in the top drawer of the nightstand, making a mental note not to forget it, and the towel under the bed. The room was set.

At last he opened the door again and pretended to be barely waking up, rather than in the state of panic he'd just momentarily experienced. "What wrong wit' chyou, two? Don't come bang on a person's door at the ass-crack a dawn."

Mia checked her watch. "Actually, it's a quarter to ten. And I thought we meant to get an early start."

When Yager moved to enter, Rome stood back and let him. Mia automatically followed. That seemed a little forward of her, but then she was probably hoping to catch a glimpse of O'Conner skin.

While Yager put the food on the table, Mia glanced around the vacant room. They heard the shower go on. "At least Brian's up."

“Lemme go take a piss.” Rome fled to the unlocked door and quickly let himself in, shutting the door right behind him.

Brian was adjusting the water temperature and looked back.

“I’ll fix yo’ coffee for you,” Rome assured him. “Go’wan an’ shower.”

Waiting until Brian was safely in the shower, blocked from view, Rome returned to the bedroom. There, he pillaged the offerings, persuaded by the delicious aroma and starvation from expended energy the night before. The coffee looked like mud. Wrapped in corn tortillas, he found egg and something. "Y'all had some a dis?" He looked up at both of them.

"Yeah," Vince replied. "Mia recommended it. It's good."

Rome tested a bite. It was pretty good. "Thanks." He sat down at the table to fix both his and Brian’s cups of coffee, well aware of how his boy took it. In the bag, Rome also found salsa and yellow chilies.

Restless, Yager was eyeing the bathroom door. "Think O'Conner needs anything? I could take him his overnight--"

In fact he'd need more than a towel if their company stuck around too long. "Y'all wanna help out, go gas up the cars. That way, soon as--"

"We already did," Yager interrupted.

"Then find som'm else to do." Putting his food down, Rome got up to chase them out. "Let us eat and get ready, bruh."

Having a lot more sense than Yager, Mia cleared her throat and headed for the door. "Seeing as there's no reason for us to wait, maybe Vee and I should go ahead and get started. O'Conner knows the way so you guys can team together. I'd just like to run the plan by him before we go."

Raising an eyebrow, Rome paused. She was hurting. Considering Brian, it was no wonder. It would probably be the last time she'd ever get to see his ass. Rome gestured at her to go ahead into the bathroom.

~~~

Holding her breath, heart accelerating, Mia quietly entered the bathroom and shut the door behind her. Through the same heavy, opaque curtain that hung in most motels of that budget range, she couldn't see anything. She'd thank Pearce in her prayers for giving her this singular opportunity to finally see Brian shower at least once before she died.

On the few steps to the shower, the warmth throb started between her legs. Intending to make the surprise as minimal as possible, she slowly nudged the curtain aside with the back of her hand.

No shit he was beautiful. No wonder she'd been dying to see him this way. His back to her, she witnessed incredible, hard, lean muscles through his tanned shoulders and back, a superb little ass more sweet than memory could hope to preserve through such a brief opportunity, and long, beautiful, slender, model's legs.

He started to very casually glance back over one strong shoulder. "They gone--?" then on sight of her, his pupils dilated very evidently against the crystal blue pallor of his eyes, and he quickly turned away again. "Mia!"

Temper flaring, she held her ground. "No, they're not gone!" she intoned acerbically. "Don't worry--one of them will be soon. After you shower for her. Then she'll drive home, leave the Supra, and--"

"Come on, Mia, I didn't mean--"

"Spare the excuses. You've made it clear enough. Just pretend I'm not here and finish showering. It's all I'll ever ask from you, as long as I live, I swear."

His shoulders sagged, indicating he knew he'd been beaten. "C'mere." He reached a soapy hand back for her.

Straightening, she blinked. "Come where?"

"Where do you think?"

To hell with her clothes. Hastily kicking off her athletic shoes, Mia joined Brian partly under the spray. When he gently steered her to the wall, she couldn't help but anxiously look down him under much better lighting than that in the backroom of the auto parts shop. His hard pecs and flat, lean six-pack abdominal muscles were as deliriously impressive as the view from the rear.

Soap lather gliding over his tanned skin, he drew close and kissed her mouth. She kissed back, hungry and passionate. Their tongues met then he withdrew from the kiss, though his body still pressed against hers. "I'd better hurry up and not use all the hot water so Pearce can shower. Then we can all get going."

~~~

On exiting the bathroom after a shower, Rome was relieved to find the only one present was Brian. He was partly dressed and repacking. Except for their coffee cups on the table, breakfast had been cleaned up.

"You makin' trouble for yo'self again, bruh?" Rome growled.

"No, man," Brian laughed.

"I tol' her she could go in and talk to you, not climb in the shower wit' chyou. Here, she come out all soakin' wet, blouse all stuck down, showin' her titties stickin' out an inch."

"She looked good, didn't she?" he teased.

"To me, yeah, not you. You supposed to be all into it wit' her brother."

"That don't make me blind to a good-looking woman."

Agitated all over again, Rome returned to the bathroom with his overnight case to shave his face that time, and repack his things from the room. Muttering, he lathered up with his shaving cream. "Say, when you gonna tell me what that boy look like?"

"Huh?" Brian said absently from the other room.

"I said," Rome reiterated louder, "What chyo' boy look like? He look like the sister, don't he?"

It took Brian so long to respond, Rome turned to go see if his friend had left the room or was deliberately ignoring the question. In which case Rome would seize that long, slender neck and--

Brian came to the open door, looking amused. "No, he don't. They don't look much alike at all other than for the same hair and skin color."

"I espected that much," Rome snapped. "Then what do he look like?"

"Good. He looks damn good." Brian held out a photo for Rome to see, shying when he reached for it with a handful of shaving cream. "Don't fuck it up."

The snapshot was of the Supra, but posed around it was Brian and four strangers. One was a rough, scabby-ass Mexican girl with a sneer, a couple of white punks--one skinny and kinda sickly and the other more street-tough, with a beard--and one hard-ass, muscle-bound, fucking good-looking Latino dude with a shaved head.

Everything that went through Rome's mind left him dumbstruck. He couldn't scoff like he'd meant to, having expected the dude to look kinda like Mia. And while the stiffer competition than imagined made him bristle, he couldn't help being flattered by the general similarities to himself. He also wondered how a guy who looked like that felt about putting up with O'Conner’s hefty set of tools.

~~~

They'd all been equipped with walkie-talkies only to be used in the case of dire emergencies. Like breakdowns, flat tires, illness, or something else along those lines. No names were to be used over the system, in the event that they'd somehow been followed.

The stretch after a late lunch was a long one; out of necessity, the gasoline stops had to be arranged to accommodate the Firebird, the vehicle with the worst gas mileage of the fleet, but no place to eat, at Mia's recommendation.

While the cars were being refueled at the next stop, they descended on the banos in back to relieve themselves. On opening the door, the smell alone made them back out. Mia did likewise at ladies' room.

On the far side of the shack from the station, it was easy enough for the guys to relieve themselves, but Brian felt bad about leaving Mia to suffer ‘til she spotted some brush out on the highway again that might be sufficient cover. He went with her to find a place close by the station where she couldn't be witnessed by anyone else.

"This isn't exactly what I had in mind," she remarked, "the next time one or the other of us would be getting undressed in the other's company."

"Don't worry about it," Brian reassured her. "This is Mexico."

Behind the hulls of a rusted-out '56 Plymouth and a '59 Ford wagon in back, Mia stopped to lower the dry chino shorts she'd changed into after the shower. So not to check out her naked ass, Brian turned to the side to keep surveillance on the guys who worked the station, as they'd been blatantly eyeing her, in case they snuck out to cop a look, and to lower his zipper.

"If I promise not to make you do anything you don't want to," she ventured, "can we share a room tonight?"

Brian started. "I-I don't know. See, Pearce is kinda watching me. He knows about me and Dom. He wouldn't understand if you and I roomed together."

"But-but, you know it's cool with Dom. Why didn't you tell Pearce that?"

Nervously, Brian glanced toward the station. "It's a weird situation. I didn't know how."

"Then I'll tell him."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"It's not like he has a lot of say in what goes down between you, me, and my brother."

"Yeah, but…" Brian fumbled, struggling for an excuse. "I don't want him to back out of the deal 'cos he thinks we're weird or something."

She laughed. "I got the impression he wasn't too accepting of the fact that you and my brother are having an affair. If anything, I think it would come as some relief to him to know you've not turned completely gay."

~~~

The motel they stayed in that night was only slightly ritzier than the last in that it had a second level. As Americanos--two of whom who spoke and understood fluent Spanish and paid cash--they were probably granted the best accommodations in both of the motels they'd stayed in.

As far as Pearce understood, there was no way in hell that was ever going to happen. Muttering, he passed Brian that patent Pearce glare that warned of some serious hell to come. Nor did Brian get a chance to explain that the sleeping arrangements were strictly Mia's idea.

Of course, Pearce had worn him out the night before. That and the drive. So bad Brian had nearly fallen asleep behind the wheel a couple of times in the afternoon and even more in the evening. To the point that he checked in with the others via the walkie-talkies to find out if they were doing okay. The only one who seemed equally tired was Rome. Which made perfect sense. The only thing Brian wanted to do that night was bed-up with Rome and sleep against him with mutual understanding all the way around. They might both get off in a tired, lazy way once but leave it alone after that and sleep straight through the night in their exhaustion.

Mia didn't make things so easy, though. She was hell bent on showering with Brian. Through it, she wouldn't keep her hands off him. Afterwards, she lingered in the shower, rinsing the conditioner out of her hair while he slipped out to the bedroom to watch TV and take advantage of the wall air conditioner while he dried off. Realizing he had a few moments of solitude, he grabbed the phone and dialed Pearce's room to make sure he was awake.

"Yeah," Rome grumbled after only one ring.

"You up? I'll be right there."

"Mm. I up now."

On his way to the door, Brian struggled into his jeans and unlaced his Converse's. He zipped up on his way to Rome's room, nearly tripping on the shoelaces.

Rome responded to the knock momentarily, wearing only a damp towel. "Thought you sleepin' wit' chyo' little girlfriend-on-the-side," he growled, shutting and locking the door behind Brian.

"It was all her idea, not mine, believe me." The TV was on. Brian went straight to the unmade bed, stepping out of his sneakers.

"That so?" Rome came to the bedside, as well. "Then what you tell her?"

"Nothing. She was in the shower. I took off."

"Shit. You know she gonna come aksin'. You answer the door."

"Fine. I'll answer." Brian kicked back on the sheets in his jeans. "You gonna get in bed or what?"

In anticipation of Mia's impending arrival, he kept the jeans on, while he and Rome half tussled, half made-out on the bed. Instead, the phone rang. Sobering, Rome handed the receiver immediately over to Brian.

Passing Rome a look, Brian responded, "Hel-lo."

"B-Brian?" Mia queried. "What's going on?"

"Um, nothing." Brian thought fast. "Rome said his walkie-talkie was fucking up, so I came over to check it out."

"Did you fix it?"

"Not yet."

"It probably just needs a new battery. We'll get one on the way out in the morning. Come back to the room now."

"You know, I think I'll just crash here."

"Bri-an," she implored. "Please?"

"I'm really dead."

"That's okay. Just crash here with me. Please?"

Covering the mouthpiece, Brian looked to Rome. "She's begging me to go back to the other room. Just to sleep."

"Like hell." Rome's slanted eyes flashed. "Bitch don't know who she messin' wit'." He snatched the phone away. "Listen, girl, time you back off. It enough yo' bruh' got his hooks in my boy, but O'Conna’ mine way before yo' sorry ass eva’ showed up." Leaning on top of Brian, Rome slammed the phone down.

Alarmed, Brian's eyes widened. "Do you realize what the fuck she's gonna think? She's gonna think we're gay or something."

"She already know you is, and if it make her back the fuck offa you, I don't give a damn she think that about me."

--End--