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TWC - The Chapel Perilous

Title: The Witch Cycle
Fandom: Merlin
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur, Gwen/Lancelot, Luned/Laudine
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or its characters in any way, shape, or form.
Warnings/spoilers: up to 3x08
A/N: This is a sequel to The Sword in the Stone and The Once and Future King, and you should definitely read those before reading this.
Summary: King Arthur and his knights have faced many challenges on the road to uniting Albion, but adventures still abound in Camelot. Magic is no longer illegal, but it still poses a threat to the unprepared. Arthurian legend is full of witches with schemes. Three such women find their way into the lives of our favorite heroes. Click Here for Masterpost.

Chapter Summary:
Lancelot is stolen away by a witch named Hellawes, leaving Luned behind to give the unfortunate news to Camelot. Merlin can use Gwen to find him and a band of knights ride out to retrieve their missing comrade. But if the witch gains power by controlling men, will Merlin be able to fight against her? And why did she let Luned go?


Banner image by De Ville Trades (devilletrades@gmail.com)
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Part I - The Chapel Perilous

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The sky was bright and clear, and despite it being the middle of summer the weather wasn't too hot. All in all, Lancelot had to say that today was a perfect day.

"I'm glad the 'bandit problem' was actually just three kids playing a prank," Luned said from the horse next to him.

Ah yes, that. Lancelot nodded. "Me as well. Though why someone would think hiding livestock and crops in the woods is funny is beyond me, if I'm honest."

Luned shrugged, a fond and nostalgic expression on his youthful face. "I imagine I caused just as many problems when I was young. Duke Landunet really had no idea how to handle me back then."

Now Lancelot laughed, the good weather and fortune on their mission making him feel light. "I should think so. A servant boy chasing his daughter around pretending to be a knight," he teased, but it made Luned look uncomfortable so he stopped and instead gave a pleasant smile. "I was just like you, though without the Lady to impress."

"But you have one now," Luned corrected with a smirk.

Before Lancelot could respond, his horse jolted to the side, unseating him. He hit the ground hard and groaned, pushing himself slowly to his feet as Luned pulled his horse around.

"Are you alright?" Luned asked. "What happened?"

"Oh gentle knight," a kind voice said, drawing their attention back the way they'd come. A woman with skin as thin as old wet lace and as white as starlight stood there, her hair dry and brittle. Her clothing barely clung to her thin frame. Only her voice was strong. "Won't you help me?"

Lancelot glanced from the woman, to Luned, to his horse, and back.

"How can we help you?" he asked kindly.

The woman frowned. "No. Only you," she insisted. "Not the false one."

Now Lancelot was thoroughly confused. What was false about Luned? He was just as much a knight as Lancelot, and he hadn't just been unseated by his horse like a beginning rider. They were both wearing armor and Camelot's colors. Maybe the woman was sick and her mind was clouded.

He took a step closer to her, hiding a wince when his shoulder gave him some pain. "Alright then, miss. How can I help you?"

The young but malnourished woman walked slowly up to Lancelot as she spoke. "My name is Hellawes. I'm hungry, and only a man can give me what I need. Only his life, full of courage and energy, can satisfy me. Can you satisfy me, sir knight?"

Before his eyes, her hair grew thick and lush. Her sallow skin filled out and became pink with a healthy flush. It was like watching a skeleton brought back to life. Her hair was like fire while her skin was the fresh wood to be burned. She was gorgeous and Lancelot could not look away.

The ring of a blade leaving its sheath tickled at Lancelot's mind and the woman's visage dimmed - not so radiant, not so unbearably lovely, but still entrancing.

"Back away from him, witch," Luned's voice called out with all the authority a knight could muster. "Or I will cut you down where you stand."

Witch?

Obviously, Lancelot realized with a jolt, taking a step back from where the witch's hands were almost touching him now. When had she gotten so close?

"Kind knight, will you come with me?" the woman, the witch, asked. Her voice was gentle like a breeze now.

Lancelot shook his head, his eyes never leaving her face. "You cannot ensnare me. I am a knight of Camelot and my will is strong." He took another step back, ignoring his shoulder's twinge, and it felt like wading through sludge.

The woman smiled like she knew a secret. "All men give in with time," she said, as if promising him something fantastic. "Your honor only gives me more strength."

It was true, he realized. Though she had stopped advancing and he had backed away, Lancelot could not tear his gaze away from hers and, even as he realized this, he felt his body stop responding to him entirely. He couldn't move anymore, couldn't step any further away. She was binding him without words.

"Lancelot," Luned's voice came from his left. "Fight her. Draw your sword!"

His mind was growing foggy. The bright day was no more than a mist to him now. The witch had him.

"Luned," he whispered, and hoped his fellow knight heard. "Tell Gwen I love her."

Luned's copper hair came into view along with his wide eyes. "What are you saying?" he asked, his sword pointed at the woman several feet away from them. "What's wrong?"

Lancelot couldn't see Luned anymore, though the other knight hadn't moved. All he could see were those eyes. All he could hear was the woman's soft humming.

He took a deep breath. "Tell the king-"

"My father thanks you for the generous birthday gift you sent."

Lady Laudine, the Countess of the Fountain of Landuc, and daughter of Duke Landunet, was truly a sight to behold. Her wavy hair glittered like spun gold and contrasted her pale skin beautifully. Arthur knew many in Camelot, both men and women, who would be saddened if the Duke ever called her home for good.

Arthur inclined his head at her as they walked toward the courtyard. "It was gladly given. He was invaluable in securing a treaty with Caerleon and he has been a good friend to Camelot ever since." He smiled at her. "Luned will be happy you've returned."

A smile blossomed on Laudine's lips as if she could not help it, the happiness radiating out from her. It was obvious she was in love. "Not as happy as I will be to see Luned," she said, then gave a teasing smile. "And I hear your Merlin has been away as well. Surely you are anticipating his return anxiously."

Arthur gave a single laugh. "Hardly. The castle is quieter without him."

There was a minor explosion from the direction of the knight's training field and a few startled shouts. No fire leapt up the castle walls and the shouting died down immediately, though, so instead of running to help, Arthur merely blushed in embarrassment at Laudine's laughing eyes.

He cleared his throat. "Well that's what you get from knights practicing magic without proper guidance, I suppose." He glanced around for something, anything, to talk about. "Merlin, yes, Merlin. He's only been gone a few days, dealing with Court Sorcerer business. He'll return shortly. I expect by tomorrow at the latest."

Just as they finished walking through the courtyard and were about to enter the hall on the other side, an entirely different kind of shout caught Arthur's attention: people shouting in alarm from the direction of town, and the sound of racing hooves. Then Luned burst into view on his horse, Lancelot's running behind his, going full speed.

Luned pulled the horses to a sliding stop and glanced around frantically. Seeing Arthur, he hurried the horses closer, even as Arthur himself descended back into the courtyard to greet him. The knight was pale and sweating, with wide eyes. Something was definitely wrong.

"Your majesty," Luned greeted, sliding from the saddle and dropping into a bow. His eyes landed on Laudine and he appeared to calm minutely, but not enough to look less harried. He dropped a kiss on Laudine's cheek before turning his attention to Arthur again. "Something's happened. I need Merlin. Is he returned yet?"

Arthur shook his head. "Not yet, no. Luned, what happened?" He glanced at Lancelot's horse. "Where is Lancelot?"

Just as Luned opened his mouth to explain, a bird let out a cry overhead and then a brown Merlin falcon dove into view. It flapped its wings, hovering momentarily in the space next to Arthur, and then it morphed into the form of Merlin – clothes and all – standing at the right hand of the king.

Merlin smiled at Arthur. "I'm home!" he sang. "The water problem turned out to be more of a damming issue than a magic one, but I managed to-"

"Merlin!" Luned shouted, grabbing the sorcerer by the sleeve of his tunic and stopping his report. "You have to hurry. A witch kidnapped Lancelot!"

Merlin's joyful smile vanished and his eyes hardened. He waved at a passing servant and, when they drew closer, motioned to the horses. She nodded and hurried away to get the stable hands without them ever speaking to each other. Merlin then put his hand on Luned's shoulder.

"Explain it as we walk. Arthur," he said, flicking his eyes to the king.

It wasn't really a question. Of course Arthur was going to follow. He bowed his goodbyes to Laudine, who seemed a bit shell shocked, and then left with Merlin and Luned as Luned recounted what happened with the witch, Hellawes.

Luned finished his tale just as they reached the tower rooms where Gaius, Luke, and Merlin lived. "And then Lancelot vanished, right before my eyes," he said. "I swear the witch never touched him. One second, he was barely a foot from me, the next, Lancelot and the witch were both gone. No trace of them. I ran back as fast as I could."

"What happened to Lancelot?"

All three men stopped and looked guiltily at where Gwen was sitting with a small boy and Gaius. Gaius was applying a cream to the boy's chest and both doctor and patient pretended they didn't exist in the same room as the others as soon as Gwen's clipped tone died in the air.

"Erm," Merlin stumbled. "He's missing, kidnapped by a witch…." Gwen's eyes went hard like Merlin's had moments ago and suddenly Merlin snapped his fingers. "Actually, Gwen, you could help me find him."

"She can?" Arthur asked curiously. "How?"

Merlin walked over to Gwen and motioned to her neck, then gave her a beseeching look. Gwen furrowed her brows before pulling on the string that hung around her neck. It was a smooth, leaf green stone with a hole through it, where the thick dark string held it up.

"Lancelot's?" Merlin asked.

Gwen nodded. "It was his mothers before him." She held it tight. "Do you need it?"

"I can use it, well, the connection it makes between you and Lancelot, to figure out where he is," Merlin explained. Gwen made to remove it and Merlin gently stopped her. "No, keep it on. It'll work better if you're wearing it."

Arthur still didn't understand how Merlin and magic worked.

All of the knights under Merlin's tutelage had to say a spell to cast one. They had to study and make hand motions and their eyes didn't flash when they did magic. Merlin sometimes needed spells and sometimes didn't. His eyes were always melted gold with power. Sometimes he made a hand motion and other times things just happened around him. And if he needed a spell that wasn't in a book, he just turned around and made one up! Arthur honestly didn't know if Merlin had known a spell to find Lancelot using that necklace or if he came up with in the moment. With Merlin and magic, anything was possible.

To find Lancelot, Merlin had placed his hands on Gwen's shoulders while she held the stone she was wearing. He never said a spell, but Arthur saw the gold of his eyes reflect in Gwen's when the magic was cast. Both of them seemed to freeze in time for several seconds and then Gwen took a deep breath, as if she'd been underwater for a long time. Merlin hugged her until she stopped shaking and apologized in her ear in quiet tones.

When he pulled away, Merlin turned and said "I can find him."

"Take some knights with you," Arthur replied. He couldn't go with them because he was waiting on time sensitive news from Mercia, as well as dealing with a visiting noble from Nemeth. Merlin knew that, but Arthur still felt a bit guilty sending him off alone.

No, not alone. He had the knights and Merlin was more than capable of solo missions. He'd just returned from one, after all. And maybe that was why Arthur hated sending him back out again so soon.

"I'm coming," Luned said definitively. "I was there when he was taken. I have to help bring him home."

Merlin nodded. "Alright, let's go. The faster we get moving, the less chance that the witch'll move him before we catch her."

Almost as soon as Merlin, Gwen, and Luned fled the room, Gaius cleared his throat. He pat the boy on the shoulder. "Rest. I'll return shortly."

The young boy nodded, looking miserable in his sickness. Then Gaius stood and motioned for Arthur to join him just outside the door. He glanced to either side before focusing on his king. The secrecy already had Arthur's interest peaked.

"I think it's time we discuss what I meant to tell you before the war with Cenred," he said.

A few minutes later, the boy inside the physician's chambers would jump at the angry shout of "WHAT?!" that came from outside, but even when Arthur's boots thudded down the stairs a minute or so after that, it was already too late to stop the rescue team from leaving.

Merlin had rounded up the first knights he could see, which happened to be Gareth and Lamorak chatting as they came into the courtyard, still in their armor from training earlier. Upon hearing what happened, the two men had been more than glad to head out to save Lancelot.

They stopped for dinner hours later, to let both the horses and the people rest. Of the lot of them, only Gwen wasn't tired. Gareth and Lamorak had been training before the trip, Luned had just returned from a mission, and Merlin had spent the better part of the day as a bird flying home.

"I think I was a bit too hasty in picking my team," Merlin sighed, plopping down on a log by the fire. "What good will we be if we're too tired to fight tomorrow?"

Gareth shrugged as he pulled his bedroll off his horse. "We can distract the witch long enough to let Lancelot escape," he teased, then let out an 'omph' as he turned and ran into Luned, causing the bedroll to punch him in the gut. "Oh, uh, sor-I mean," he blushed and backed away from the younger knight. "So sorry."

Luned raised an eyebrow at him and Gareth hurried around the fire to roll out his bed away from the others, his face bright red and a scowl on his lips. With a shake of his head, Luned walked the three extra steps to take him to his own horse and bedroll.

"That was weird," Lamorak remarked almost absently. He poked a stick at the fire. "Never seen Gareth as the skittish type."

Gwen shrugged. "Maybe he…er…likes Luned?" she said speculatively, looking cautiously between both parties involved, since they were hardly out of earshot. She'd seen Gareth acting strangely around Luned ever since they all returned from the Albion Battle. Maybe he'd fallen in love then?

She saw Gareth tense and stop messing with his bedroll, but he didn't answer.

"I thought Gareth and Kay-?" Merlin ventured, also glancing between the two men.

Luned sighed and knocked Merlin on the head as he sat down beside the wizard, to which Merlin let out a soft 'hey' of protest.

"Stop gabbing like school children," Luned admonished, causing the three sitting around the fire to flush in embarrassment. "If it means that much to you," and he made sure his soft toned voice was loud enough that Gareth was sure to hear as well, "We're both in committed relationships we aren't about to break, and besides…Gareth really isn't my type."

Surprisingly, this made Gareth un-tense, as if knowing his affections weren't returned was a good thing. Then again, Luned and Merlin both said his affections were toward Kay, so Gwen didn't know what he was tense about in the first place.

Gareth joined them around the fire a few moments later. "So how far away is Lancelot and what should we expect from the witch when we get there?"

All eyes turned to Luned now and the knight shifted into a more comfortable position, staring at the fire. "Hellawes said that…Well I think she gets her life by draining it out of courageous men. She said Lancelot's honor gave her strength, and then she vanished with him. So...Any man who nears her is in danger. I don't know how close you have to be or if she has to focus on you, but she was still at least ten feet away when Lancelot stopped responding to me and she started looking younger, so I'd say she doesn't have to be too close."

It was hard to accept that Lancelot might be losing his life right at that very moment. Unless it was in a great battle, it was almost unheard of for a Camelot knight to die. It was a difficult concept. He'd come back from the Albion Battle, injured but alive. Gwen wasn't sure how she would handle him dying like this, alone, against some unknown witch. Him dying at all would tear her heart, but at least in battle they knew the risks. This was…this was so abrupt and unbearable.

Gwen wasn't too surprised that Hellawes took Lancelot, actually. How many times had the other knights commented on his honor, his bravery, his courage? Gwen knew that Lancelot's heart was as noble as any king's, despite his low birth. If this witch got her power from the honor of men, then Lancelot was a sure bet.

However, Luned was just as brave and courageous, Gwen was sure, so why Hellawes didn't just take them both was puzzling. Maybe she could only control one man at a time, or only feed off one man at a time. It felt like Gwen was missing something, like she didn't know something about Hellawes that she needed to know.

"We'll arrive before noon," Merlin was saying when Gwen came out of her thoughts. "If we're quiet, it's possible we'll be able to get in and grab Lancelot without Hellawes knowing we've even been there."

Lamorak snorted. "What are the chances a witch doesn't know we're in her home?"

Merlin shrugged. "Not likely, but it's nice to hope."

Yes, it was always nice to hope.

It wasn't so much that Hellawes had a house as she had a chapel.

It was a simple building. From outside they could see the larger sanctuary, a bell tower with no bell, and a small storage room built into the side. It wouldn't take long to search, but there would be nowhere to hide from Hellawes if she was inside with Lancelot.

They tied their horses to nearby trees, just out of view of the chapel, and then approached silently on foot. The front door opened without a creek, to their relief, but was only large enough for one person to enter at a time. Lamorak went first, followed by Luned, then Merlin, then Gwen, with Gareth bringing up the rear.

"Well apart from being completely empty, it's rather nice," Lamorak commented, lowering his sword.

He was right. There were seven rows of pews on either side of the nave and a minimalistic chancel at the end with an altar baring only a single wooden cross. There was an inconspicuous door to the right of the lectern that likely led up to the bell tower located at the side of the chapel. There wasn't a person in sight.

"I don't understand," Merlin murmured, walking forward and casting his eyes about.

"Maybe you could try the spell again," Gwen suggested, following him.

Luned ran his gloved hand over the seat of a pew and frowned at the thick layer of dust. Gareth took a seat in a pew on the other side, heedless of the dirt, and Lamorak examined the window glass.

Merlin shook his head. "No. No this is definitely the place," Merlin said. "There's magic woven around every stone." He gripped his hair. "I don't understand," he repeated quietly, frustrated. The spell had worked. He knew it had. So why couldn't they find Lancelot?!

Luned joined them near the chancel. "Perhaps they're hiding in the bell tower, or the storage room, or maybe there's an undercroft," he said gently, placing a hand on Merlin's shoulder. "Just because they aren't hiding in the sanctuary doesn't mean they aren't here."

Instead of comforting Merlin, like he knew Luned had meant, the words only made Merlin more tense. Obviously Luned was right. The sanctuary wasn't the only room in the chapel. Why hadn't Merlin thought of that? He'd taken notice of the storage room and the bell tower himself upon seeing the chapel in the first place. He'd even considered splitting them up to search each room at the same time. Why hadn't he remembered that?

"Perhaps we should take a moment to pray," Lamorak said lightly, wandering toward them with his sword back in its sheath and smiling.

Luned frowned. "I hardly think that's necessary. We could search the whole chapel in the time it takes to say a prayer."

He was right again. The chapel was small enough that twenty steps in almost any direction would take them either outside or to another room. Still, taking the time to pray sounded like just as good a plan to Merlin as continuing the search. Merlin shook his head. He didn't follow the new religion. Why would he want to pray at an altar to it?

From the pews, Gareth let out a long sigh. "What good would we be even if we did find them?" he asked, placing his hands behind his head. "I'm still tired from training yesterday and I don't think anyone else is much better off. Let's rest a bit now that we're here, and search later."

Right. Merlin had used a lot of magic yesterday, after all. He'd helped that village repair buildings damaged by the flooding it had been experiencing, then transformed into a bird and flown for hours to get home, then did that locator spell on Gwen to find Lancelot, then rode until sunset with the knights to get most of the way to this chapel. He ought to be exhausted still and want a rest, just like Gareth said.

But ever since the phoenix brought him back, Merlin had had magic to spare. The repairs and the flying and the locator spell hadn't weakened him magically, and he was used to riding for much longer when hunting with Arthur. And Lancelot needed them, they couldn't just stop.

Gwen frowned. "The witch could arrive at any moment, or be hiding behind that door," she motioned to the tower door, "or Lancelot could already be-" She paused to take a deep breath and Luned cast her an understanding look laced with guilt. Gwen shook her head. Her voice was sharp when she spoke again "And you want to take a nap?"

Lamorak was already lying down on the front pew. "We can wait an hour or two," he said, shifting to try and fit his bulky frame on the thin seat. "Hellawes can't eat someone that fast."

Now Gwen looked murderous. "You don't know that!" she shouted, though the coating of dust and the close walls of the chapel didn't let it echo much. "I don't understand. Why are you acting this way?"

Gareth turned and flopped down onto his pew as well, letting out a content breath and shutting his eyes. Neither knight would answer her. Merlin couldn't get his mouth to work either. He had no explanation for them, nor for how he too felt no rush to search for Lancelot. His mind felt foggy, like it did when he had a fever but without the pain.

"Are you Camelot knights or aren't you?!" Gwen demanded.

A hand landed on her shoulder and Gwen looked over to see Luned casting his sharp gaze around the room. "Shhh," he said.

"But-"

"Shh," Luned repeated. His voice came out quiet and wary when he spoke. "It's the spell. The witch's spell is on this whole chapel."

Oh right, Merlin thought as he took a seat on the chancel step. Hellawes had said all men give in with time.

She really was a talented witch. Though maybe her spell on the chapel was what drained her so much and made taking the lives of men to sustain herself so necessary. Merlin would never know, he supposed. He didn't even need spells half the time, and he never worried he was using too much magic and would tire himself out.

Pain in Merlin's left cheek made him snap his eyes open, and only then did he realize he'd ever shut them. Gwen was standing over him, holding her hand and frowning with worried eyes.

"Ow," Merlin complained, rubbing his aching cheek gently. "Gwen, did you just slap me?"

The worry began to fade and she gave a small smile. "Yes. I did. You were falling asleep, just like the knights." She blinked once and amended, "Well, like Lamorak and Gareth."

Luned stood uncomfortably to Gwen's right, sword still in hand and still glancing around for possible attacks, as if he could see the spell at work and defeat it himself.

"The spell!" Merlin gasped, standing up so fast he almost made Gwen fall over trying to move out of his space. "I need to break the spell so we can find Lancelot, otherwise we'll all just keep getting sidetracked by it."

Gwen nodded. "Sounds like a plan." She motioned to the room at large.

Shaking his head and body, as if to shake off the last dredges of the spell clinging to him, Merlin took a deep breath. He held his hands out in front of him. "Áblinnan galdor," he spoke in a clear voice.

The spell actually made him shake as it shattered around him. The quaint church seemed to lose a bit of its charming appeal. Merlin became acutely aware of how dusty it was, as if no one had actually used this chapel in years. He wondered if Gwen had been able to see it this way all along.

Luned grabbed Lamorak by the shoulder and shoved him off his pew, making it shift several inches as his large mass hit the ground. Before he could even make an appropriately offended noise at having his nap interrupted, Luned was already at the back of the chapel and repeating the action with Gareth. Gareth let out an unseemly squawk as he fell. If Luned's smirk was anything to go by, he thought the treatment adequate punishment for sleeping on the job.

He waved at the young knight at his feet. "Let's go. You three got your precious rest. Now let's do what we came here to do: save Lancelot."

Face red with shame, Gareth pushed himself to his feet and moved to join the others at the chancel without meeting Luned's eyes.

"I'm actually impressed," Lamorak commented, sounding embarrassed but trying to hide it. "Luned's such a scrawny guy, but it seems his will is stronger than even Merlin's."

Luned rolled his eyes. "Oh shut up and go check the bell tower for witches." He motioned to Gwen. "And take Gwen with you in case you need a good slap."

There was no witch in the bell tower, though Lamorak and Gwen returned with news that there were skeletons dressed in knightly garb all along the stairs and lying on the floor at the top. Gareth and Luned checked the storage room outside and found herbs and strange stones, but no people. Merlin examined the sanctuary before beginning to make his way around the chapel exterior, looking for a possible undercroft door.

He'd just located the door, in peak condition compared to the rest of the chapel but hidden by the tall grass that surrounded the building, when the others appeared together to report what they'd found.

"Then I suppose Luned was right about checking the undercroft," Merlin noted.

Gwen shook her head slightly. "After seeing all those skeletons, those men she must've done this too before, I fear what we'll find down there."

Gareth placed a hand on her shoulder in comfort. "He's only been gone a day. There's still plenty of hope."

Only once Gwen had squared her shoulders and given him a nod did Merlin bend over and pull on the door hidden in the grass. It didn't budge. After watching Merlin struggle for a few moments, Luned moved to help him. Even with both of them tugging, the door would barely lift at all.

Lamorak rolled his eyes. "Out of the way, children," he ordered calmly, pushing them without malice to the sides.

The large knight grabbed hold of the metal handle and pulled. Though they could all see his muscles straining under the weight, it still looked too easy for him to lift the door out of the way so they could enter.

With a pant, he wiped his dry brow. "See? Easy. But let's not close it behind us, just the same."

Looking a bit baffled, Merlin said, "Hellawes must've enchanted it to be heavy enough that no one could open it. It can't possibly be that heavy normally. It's made of wood."

"Forget enchanted doors, Merlin," Gareth chastised. "Let's get down there and get out of here. I don't want a repeat of the chapel and the longer we're here the more chance of that there is."

Down the few steps into the undercroft, they found that the skeletons of the bell tower were not as populous but still existed. They paid little heed to the bones and armor, however, when they realized they could hear a quiet voice murmuring.

"You'll be so good to me," a woman was saying, her tone suggesting she was talking to her lover.

The undercroft wasn't a large space, as the chapel above it was not a large space, so it only took a minute or so to find the speaker. Dressed in white, her flame red hair barely touching her dark shoulders, Hellawes was just as beautiful as Luned had described.

They immediately spotted Lancelot with her. He was lying on a plain bed, pushed into an alcove in the undercroft, with a few precious candles giving light to the area. He was still in his armor from the day before, even his sheathed sword, but his eyes were half-lidded and unseeing.

"Hellawes," Luned said aloud. "Let him go."

The witch either did not hear them or pretended not to. Gareth, Lamorak, and Luned unsheathed their swords and advanced on her, Merlin and Gwen behind them.

"Your spell on the chapel is broken," Merlin informed her. "Release your enchantment on Lancelot and we will spare your life."

Hellawes smiled down at Lancelot and gently touched his hair. "Oh precious, do men not say the sweetest things? But words do not sate me. Only action can be trusted."

A ring of something like fire moved out from the bed. Lamorak and Gareth were flung backwards, Merlin a moment later, and landed with awful thuds on the stone ground behind them. Amazing, there was no burning, no flames. However, the spell left an ache in Merlin's bones that was proving hard to shake off and his pushed himself up from the floor to his knees. Gareth and Lamorak just groaned and didn't make to stand again.

Unimpeded by the spell, Luned rushed at the bed. His sword fell from his hand with a shout, the hilt glowing red with heat, before his blow ever got near the witch.

"Give yourself to me," Hellawes was saying to Lancelot, as if the others in the room posed no threat at all. "Let your life be mine, oh honorable knight."

Gwen moved past Luned, who was clutching his hand, and made a grab for Lancelot on the bed. Her fingers closed on his chainmail and she pulled with all her might. Like the door to the undercroft, he would not budge. Luned grabbed Lancelot's arm as well and put his weight into the effort, but they could not make the captured knight move.

Hellawes did not lift her gaze from Lancelot's. She touched him gently on the nose, then trailed her fingers down over his armor to where his heart was. "Just one kiss, my sweet. Will you give me that? That is all I require."

Lancelot began to lift himself up, as if there were no spell of weight on him. Gwen clutched more firmly to his sleeve.

"Lancelot, no!" Luned shouted.

Gwen's voice called out at the same moment. "Please, if you can hear me, stop!"

And stop he did.

His lips were a bare inch from Hellawes' but she did not close the distance herself. "My love?" she asked sweetly, pressing more firmly over his heart.

"No," Lancelot's voice was a murmur. "I do not love you."

Merlin pulled Gareth to his feet while Lamorak used the wall for support, his grip shaky on his sword. They all look over abruptly at Lancelot's voice. They couldn't see him through Luned and Gwen's bodies, but his voice gave them hope.

"Do not leave me," Hellawes said like a beg, like the weak woman who had first approached the knights on the road. "I need you."

Light edged into Lancelot's eyes once more. "I cannot stay. I have to return to the one I love." Gwen's hands jerked on his sleeve and Lancelot tore his gaze from the witch's. His eyes widened. "Gwen," he gasped, voice clear, as if waking from a dream.

Luned hurried to pull Lancelot from the bed and was grateful when his body moved, free of the spell. With Gwen and Luned pulling, and Lancelot scrambling to find his own unsteady feet, the trio was halfway across the room with Merlin and Gareth by the time Hellawes had risen from the bed herself.

"How dare you," she spit out.

Gareth joined the mix in helping Lancelot stand. "Time to go," he said as they all scrambled for the door.

"You sheep in wolf's clothing," Hellawes was saying as she followed after them. The skeletons along the floor began to jerk and twitch, getting to their feet as if they still had muscles to move them. "You who would side with men, who wears a sword and armor like it can protect you. They will eat you alive just as they have eaten me!"

A row of armored skeletons stood between them and the door to the outside world. The candles by the bed burned brighter, the flames reaching toward the ceiling.

"I will have your life for interfering," Hellawes claimed haughtily, standing only a few feet from them now. "You and the knights who stand with you. You and the lovers you claim to protect."

Luned released Lancelot and turned on Hellawes. "Oh stop talking!" he shouted. "If you want to fight me, then fight me, but stop talking about it!"

"Merlin, kill the skeletons," Lamorak said behind Luned.

Merlin blew a space in the skeleton ranks big enough for them to get through the door, but just as they reached the steps, more skeletons blocked their view of the sky.

Luned ran the few steps to Hellawes and landed a punch to her face. The witch stumbled and then looked at Luned with wide eyes, as if shocked to have been struck. Luned used the momentary distraction to dart around her and grab his sword from where he'd dropped it before, the hilt now cool in his grip.

Just as he stood upright, the bed was cleaved in two behind him. Hellawes was glaring at him, her hand outstretched from where she'd cast the spell.

The skeletons were being blown apart one after the other by Merlin, but it was like fighting a floor. For every one he destroyed, two more appeared. Gareth and Lamorak did their best against the ones in the undercroft with them, but their swords had little effect on empty bones and merely kept the skeletons at bay while Merlin tried to blast their way out and Luned kept Hellawes busy.

"You will bend to my will," Hellawes stated. "I will have you on your knees and begging before your end."

Luned stared her directly in the eyes and tightened his grip on his sword. "No you will not," he said. "As you said, all men give in eventually, but you know as well as I that I will never give in to you. I have something far more precious to return to than this dark grave."

Hellawes, if possible, glared harder. She looked like an angry lioness, her features more feral by the moment. With a shout, she began throwing magic at Luned like a tornado throws wind. Luned rolled to the side to avoid the first attacks, wincing as the whole building shook with every spell that hit the walls. Before Hellawes could calm enough to direct her attacks at Luned once more, there was a dagger in her side.

She gasped and all the spells stopped. The skeletons even stopped moving, though they did not fall. Turning around, Hellawes was met with Gwen's hard gaze.

"Sister of mine," Hellawes huffed out. "You would wound me?"

Gwen shook her head. "You're too cruel. Look at all the people you've hurt."

She motioned to the skeletons but Hellawes did not remove her gaze from Gwen's face. Hellawes lifted her hands to Gwen's cheeks with a gentle smile, then lowered them and grabbed her around the neck in one swift movement. Gwen had barely wheezed, her own hands gripping Hellawes around the wrists, when Hellawes' eyes went wide and her grip slackened.

With no final words, the witch slumped to the floor, Luned's sword pulling free from where it had been embedded in her back. The skeletons dropped as well, breaking into pieces as they hit the hard ground.

Looking away from the bloody sword in his hand, Luned met the eyes of the other knights. "Let's get out of here."

Dinner was tense that night. Gwen and Gareth prepared it while Merlin tended to Lancelot's shoulder and clearing away any magical residue from Hellawes' spell. Lamorak sat on one side of the fire, Luned on the other. No one spoke unless they needed to. There was no conversation while they ate the rabbits Lamorak had caught, nor as Gwen and Merlin cleaned the dishes and packed them away.

The fire had begun to dim when someone addressed the elephant in the room.

"So, that witch," Lamorak broke the silence. "Was she saying what I thought she was saying?"

His question was aimed at Luned across the fire, but Luned did not answer him. After a moment too long pause, Lamorak frowned. His tone was harder when he next spoke.

"A sheep in wolf's clothing," he repeated. "You who sides with men. I thought she was talking to the lady Gwen here, but then you answered her." His eyebrows drew down on his forehead. "She took Lancelot but ignored you. Her spells affected all us men but you."

Once more, Luned kept his eyes down and did not respond. His face was pale in the firelight.

Lamorak growled and punched the log he sat on so hard that it splintered, making them all jump. "Admit it! You've been lying since the day you showed up in Camelot!"

Luned lifted his green eyes and scanned the faces of all those gathered around them. No answer was still an answer. If what Hellawes had implied and what Lamorak was accusing were not true, all Luned had to do was deny it. It they weren't true, he already would've said.

Without a word, Luned reached his hands down and began to peel off his tunic and mail. Gwen covered her eyes briefly, then reconsidered and put her hands up in front of Merlin and Lancelot, the two men closest to her. It didn't do anything to block their view.

Luned's skin was tan even under the clothing. They could all see the healed burns on his right side, crawling up his curved abdomen and ribs, a reminder of the fight with Mordred's army. Then, covering Luned's chest, was the proof that he had been hiding all along.

"What is that?" Gwen asked curiously, lowering her hands.

Luned reached up and lightly touched the fabric that held tight to her chest. "It's…well I've been calling it a chest presser. Laudine had one fashioned for me years ago, when I decided I wanted to be a knight. I was never very large in the chest to begin with, but this…shirt of sorts, keeps me looking as flat as any man."

"You're a girl," Merlin gasped out suddenly, as if the truth of the situation had just hit him.

Green eyes met blue. Then Luned nodded. "I am as female as Lady Guinevere."

Lamorak scoffed, drawing the attention back to himself. "A woman among the ranks of Camelot's knights!" he said. "It's disgraceful!"

Just as Luned's face began to redden in shame, Gareth placed a hand on her shoulder. His hard gaze, when she looked at him, was on Lamorak.

"What's disgraceful about it?" he asked. "The fact that she can wield a sword better than half of us? Or has as much endurance and drive as Percival? Or can drink many of us under the table?" He tilted his head slightly. "Or perhaps what you find disgraceful is the fact that we all would have died back there had it not been for Luned, being immune to Hellawes' spells and helping Gwen do what we weak men could not."

Shocked silence met Gareth's speech. He was right, of course. Luned was just as good a knight as any in Camelot and had not shied away from any bonding event they had shared as brothers-in-arms. Luned had kept a level head throughout this mission, as the men around her and Gwen had fallen to pieces in Hellawes' spells. She had even killed the witch herself, saving Gwen's life and theirs.

"If there is any fault in her being a lady, then it is in the knights of Camelot for not accepting women into its ranks," Gareth continued. "If you can't accept her, even after she had proven herself so fully, then perhaps you are the one the knights should feel disgraced by."

Luned shook her head once, looking at Gareth with disbelief. "You're taking this rather well," she breathed out.

Gareth met her gaze. "I've known since the Albion Battle," he admitted with a slight blush. "You saved Gareth and me from that witch's spell, when we would have ended each others' lives. I apologize that I haven't known how to react around you since then. I have been no better than Lamorak, treating you differently because of something you cannot change. I swear, on my honor as a knight, that it will not happen again."

Gwen smiled at his sincere words and leaned in to Lancelot's side. He curled an arm around her waist.

"How come so many witches can control men?" Lamorak asked, sounding petulant.

Luned gave a half smile. "Because men are so easy to fool," she joked, though it was obvious she wasn't sure how well it would be taken.

Unexpectedly, a robust chuckle burst forth from Lamorak. "I suppose that is true," he admitted. He still looked uncomfortable, though his tone was obviously trying to hide it, when he said, "After all, you've managed to fool the lot of us with no magic at all."

Merlin snapped his fingers. "So the woman I saw with Laudine at the festival was you," he said. He shrugged with a smile before Luned could form a response. "I was confused at the time, since you two had seemed so close, but now it makes sense."

"It also explains why Percival didn't recognize you at Duke Landunet's party," Lancelot chipped in, shifting so that Gwen could lean more fully on him.

Luned shrugged. "Perhaps. Though I wasn't lying when I said I liked to use the time to train. I don't remember him either, so it's very possible that we really had never met." It was obvious she was loosening up as everyone failed to attack her the way she had expected.

Gareth pat her once on her bare shoulder, then paused. "Uh, perhaps you should put your clothes back on now," he suggested. "If it's all the same to you."

With a blush, Luned nodded and hurriedly pulled her tunics and mail back on. She smiled around at all of them, even as she adjusted her clothes and ran a hand through her now messy hair.

"Thank you," she said. "Truly. Being a knight has always been my dream, and though the Duke and Laudine supported me, Camelot was the first and best chance I could have at making it reality. I've been trying to find some way to tell you all the truth, but…"

Her smile faded as her gaze fell. Merlin completely understood.

"I kept a secret for a long time," Merlin began, drawing Luned's gaze. "From everyone. You're afraid of what those closest to you will think. You're worried what will change once they know. And you fall into a habit of keeping it, where every day you say nothing makes it harder to speak up." He smiled gently at her. "I understand."

"And so will the others," Lancelot added after a moment. "You're just as much a knight of Camelot as any of us. Like Gareth said, if they can't see that, then it's them who are wrong. Not you."

As the others gathered gave their agreement, a sudden thought occurred to Merlin. What would Arthur say when he found out?

With Lancelot's horse back in Camelot, he had to share a horse on the ride back home. Obviously, he rode with Gwen. All the knights agreed they were perfectly disgusting in how cute they were, whispering to each other and hugging and cuddling, all while riding a horse.

When they had all dismounted in the courtyard, they saw Arthur standing at the top of the castle stairs. His expression was stony and ended all jovial teasing in an instant. The king turned and walked into the castle without a word. The knights, plus Merlin and Gwen, glanced worriedly at each other before following.

Had something happened while they were gone?

They found Arthur, as expected, in the Round Table room. It seemed to be his favorite place to be these days whenever he needed to think.

"Arthur," Merlin said, the first from the group to speak. "What's happened?"

Arthur turned to face them, standing with his arms crossed. The sun from the high window made his hair seem almost golden but did nothing to ease the tension in his face.

"What's happened?" Arthur repeated. "As you were leaving, Gaius gave me some interesting and distressing news." His voice was as hard and angry as Merlin had ever heard it and it made everyone in the room tense. "It seems one of my knights has been lying to me. Luned," he finished, his eyes pulling from Merlin's to rest on the young knight. "Everyone else can go. I need to speak with Luned alone."

Gaius had known about Luned. He had to have. Gaius was the one to bandage the knights after battles. He must've seen something that tipped him off. And he'd told Arthur. Arthur knew Luned was a girl, and he obviously wasn't pleased about it.

When no one moved, Arthur growled, "I said, leave us."

"With all due respect, sire," Lancelot spoke up. "No."

The shock was enough to jerk the glare right off Arthur's face. He stared at Lancelot in open confusion.

"If you have something to say to our runt, then you can say it to all of us," Lamorak added, his big hand landing solidly on Luned's shoulder.

Arthur glanced at the knights, and then looked to Merlin for support. Merlin just gave a shrug, silently saying 'What do you want me to do? They're knights.'

Luned didn't remove her eyes from the king. "What appears to be the problem, my lord?"

Reminded of his intentions, Arthur shook himself. He kept his gaze on the smallest knight, as if trying to pretend the others weren't staring at him.

"Right," he said. "Luned of Landuc, you stand accused of lying to your fellows as well as to your king. Remember your honor and answer truthfully. Are you or are you not a female, previously a lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Landuc?"

Unlike around the fire, Luned did not hesitate. Knowing she had the support of a few friends gave her courage. "I admit I am female, sire," she said. Arthur jerked in surprise even though he'd already known. "I did not lie. I never said I was a boy. I simply dressed that way and everyone assumed."

Arthur shook his head. "Regardless, I must pass a judgement in this case. As a woman, you cannot continue as you have been." Already the knights' were standing as if ready for a fight. "I dismiss you from the ranks of Camelot knights."

"No!"

The chorus rang out at once from the three other knights gathered and Gwen. Gareth took a step forward, singling himself out.

"Sire, Luned is the only reason we were able to save Lancelot, and she has done more than her fair share of work as a knight. You cannot do this."

"She's as strong as Lucan and Percival, and a lot of others in our rank," Lamorak added. "She's completed every mission given her. To revoke her knighthood would be a disgrace."

Luned looked up at Lamorak in surprise. He winked down at her.

"She's earned her place, Arthur," Gwen added. "Is being female so much of a disadvantage?"

Arthur opened his mouth, then shut it, then opened it again. He looked a bit like a fish and it made Merlin grin.

"The Knight's Code-" he tried, but Lancelot, of all men, interrupted him.

"We've come far from the Knight's Code of your father's time," Lancelot said. "How many good knights would you be without if you followed its law? You made an exception for Pelleas, and for many good and honorable men since. Surely one more alteration is not uncalled for."

He said it so good-naturedly that it was hard to find fault in his logic. Arthur's unwritten Knight's Code was much different from his father's. What was one more change?

The golden king looked to Merlin once more. "Merlin?" he asked. So far the sorcerer had stayed quiet, letting the knights handle a knight's issue.

Merlin glanced around at all the faces now looking at him. They all knew his word held a lot of weight with the king. Despite their words, he could still overrule them. Looking back at the king, Merlin clasped his hands behind his back.

"I see no point in dismissing her, since she's already proven herself a worthy knight," he said, to the silent relief of the knights gathered. "Besides, if memory serves, your proclamation said anyone who could pass the knight's test could wear the red and gold of a Camelot knight."

For a long moment, Arthur just stared at Merlin. Then his eyes flicked over Lancelot, Gwen, Gareth, and Lamorak, to finally rest on Luned. He sighed and leaned back against the table.

"Fine. Fine, she's a knight," he admitted roughly.

Gwen clapped her hands while the knights cheered.

"However," Arthur continued, stopping their merriment. "There must be a punishment for lying to your king. You'll receive no payment for services for a month and spend a day and a night in the cells, starting tomorrow morning."

While not ideal, the terms weren't bad. Luned had been a lady-in-waiting for years and was used to small earnings before becoming a knight, and Laudine would hardly bat an eye at needing to pay for her love for one month. As the daughter of a Duke, she was hardly hurting for funds herself. It would be a blow to pride and honor more than purse. The same was true of the day in one of Camelot's cells.

"Also, you cannot lie to your fellow knights. How can they trust you in the field otherwise? I will not force you to tell them immediately, but I also will not be responsible for telling them. That is your job, your new mission as it were. Are we clear?"

Luned nodded, a light smile on her face. If it meant she could continue her service as a knight, she would endure whatever punishment Arthur commanded. "Yes, sire. Thank you very much."

...

...
Sir and Lady Luned, for your viewing pleasure.

...

...

Next Time: Merlin's Lady

One day, Merlin dreams that he will lose his powers and die. The next day, he meets a beautiful woman named Nyneve. Although he's certain she is the one who will kill him, Merlin can't help falling in love with her. The king is confused and reasonably upset, but what can he do?

...

...

Translations:

Áblinnan galdor = cease spell

The Witch Cycle - Masterpost

Title: The Witch Cycle
Fandom: Merlin
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur, Gwen/Lancelot, Luned/Laudine
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or its characters in any way, shape, or form.
Warnings/spoilers: up to 3x08
A/N: This is a sequel to The Sword in the Stone and The Once and Future King, and you should definitely read those before reading this.
Summary: King Arthur and his knights have faced many challenges on the road to uniting Albion, but adventures still abound in Camelot. Magic is no longer illegal, but it still poses a threat to the unprepared. Arthurian legend is full of witches with schemes. Three such women find their way into the lives of our favorite heroes.
Banner image by De Ville Trades
Chapter 1 - The Chapel Perilous
Chapter 2 - Merlin's Lady
Chapter 3 - Choice of Fate
All images by De Ville Trades

Luned, Knight form and Festival of Love form:
06 color 2.jpg

Meant to Be Heard - Merlin Fic

Meant to Be Heard

Arthur Penderson meets the eccentric Merlin Emrys when he is twenty. While getting to know him, Arthur happens to hear strange things coming out of Merlin's mouth when he isn't looking but can't figure out what they mean. Reincarnation fic.

Written for alessariel for the prompt "Things you said that I wasn't meant to hear." The request was for Merthur, Sabriel, or Destiel. I don't know nearly enough of Gabriel to attempt the Sabriel and I feel wanting in knowledge of all that has been said and unsaid between Cas and Dean, so I'll be going with Merthur this time. Hope you like!

Also, I found out it's her birthday (or was, yesterday, for her) so an extra special HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALESSARIEL!

And lastly, the events of this story are told out of order. Arthur's age in each scene is given for reference.

9 years

His name wasn't Arthur. He was sent to the Home as an infant, and they called him Ryan. He hated every mention of that name.

Ryan, did you finish your homework? Ryan, help with the dishes, please. Ryan, listen to the older kids. Ryan, stop watching so much telly. Why don't you go play with the other children, Ryan? Ryan, Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. Ryan Jones, why are you so angry?

Although, other than the awful name they gave him, the Home was alright. Arthur won every fundraiser he took part in because people always seemed to buy the most from him. Things he'd lost had a way of coming back to him. He was given special tasks and privileges because he was trustworthy and worked hard at everything he did. But Ryan didn't have any real friends at the Home. He was lonely. He didn't want to stay there until he was ten, let alone until he was eighteen.

When he was nine he was adopted, and he begged his new parents to change his name to Arthur. They were kind and wanted only the best for him, but didn't understand what was wrong with 'Ryan.' He couldn't explain it himself, could only say that he needed his name to be Arthur. And, only a month into Ryan's new life with them, they gave in to his wishes and Ryan Jones legally became Arthur Penderson.

They would later tell him of a professor his new father had in school and how it was because of him that they decided to adopt, and partly due to his spirited ideas that Arthur had received his new name.

20 years

He met Merlin when he was twenty years old. Arthur would never forget a moment of that meeting.

Several of his mates had come together to play and eat and goof off in the park. Kaden was cooking on the smallest grill Arthur had ever seen while Garey and Lanzo were throwing a football around with Arthur. Garey, always one for making trouble for a laugh, hurled the ball at Arthur so that it was just out of possible reach. It flew past him and Kaden, causing the older male to shout in alarm and drop a burger.

"And I suppose now I'm the one to go get that," Arthur said, a mixture of lazy and annoyed.

Garey gave a hapless shrug. "Well you are the closest."

With a roll of his eyes, Arthur hurried after the ball. It had bounced and rolled and slid through the grass and bushes, and Arthur found it just as another man was already bending down to pick it up. Arthur slowed to a stop only a few scant feet from the other man and when he finished standing back upright, their eyes met. Blue on richer, deeper blue. People said Arthur's eyes were open and bright like the sky. This man's eyes were as endless and old and rich as the sea.

For several long moments, Arthur entirely forgot his purpose in running over. He held out his hand and stepped the last few feet between them. "Hello. I'm Arthur," he introduced. "Arthur Penderson."

The other man's lips instantly drew up into a smile, though it was part joyous and part disappointed and Arthur didn't know how that was even possible. Still, he held the football with one hand and shook Arthur's with the other.

"Merlin," he responded. "Merlin Emrys."

He said it like the name 'Emrys' should mean something, but Arthur was more caught on his first name. Merlin was a famous fictional wizard, one Arthur had been quick to learn everything he could about. He'd always felt like Merlin could answer questions Arthur didn't even know he was asking. Like the legends and stories, the name pulled at something in Arthur now and he smiled.

"It's a pleasure," he said.

After several more long moments, Merlin tilted his head and his smile turned amused. He held up the ball. "This is yours?"

Arthur blinked at the football several times before it registered what this ball was. His cheeks flushed. "Oh. Right. Yes." He accepted the ball while he cleared his throat. Merlin's smile was wider now and Arthur didn't know if he should be pleased or peeved about it. "Do you play? You could join us," he offered, not willing to let Merlin leave just yet.

Merlin shook his head. "I'm actually on my way to meet a friend," he said with a sad expression. Arthur began to frown as well but Merlin spoke again before it could fully develop. "I could give you my number, though, and maybe I could join you next time."

It wasn't a question. Merlin wasn't unsure of his welcome. Arthur appreciated that and jumped to accept – though not literally, obviously. That would've been embarrassing.

"Hey! Stop flirting and bring back the ball!" Garey shouted from next to Lanzo and Kaden. "Perry's on his way over!" He waved wildly in the direction of a very large man walking in their direction. Garey was too far away to see his expression clearly, but Arthur knew it said 'You're gonna get whooped now.'

He shook his head and took out his mobile to take Merlin's number down. After Merlin had given it and Arthur had put his name in, Arthur quickly snapped a picture for the contact and then shot off a text so Merlin would have his number a well.

"There," Arthur said with a smile. "I'll call you soon so we can hang out."

Merlin nodded. "I look forward to it."

Arthur walked backwards for several steps, unwilling to look away from Merlin at first, before turning and hurrying back to his friends. As he got further away, he heard Merlin speak, but didn't understand what it meant and figured Merlin hadn't meant for him to hear it anyway. Perhaps he was talking on a Bluetooth or some such device.

"A much better prince at this age than you were last time."

22 years

They'd been together three months, known each other for two years, when Arthur introduced Merlin to his parents.

Well, they weren't his parents. They were his adopted parents.

And Merlin had met them before, just never as Arthur's boyfriend.

"I'll admit," Arthur's father, Alden, had said when they'd been found kissing on the front porch, "I never thought you'd be with an older man, Arthur." Which wasn't really fair, since Merlin was only twenty-six, a mere four years older than him.

The kiss had been meant to give Arthur his courage back, it having stalled out just at the door to his parents' house. It was simply their luck that the door opened right when their lips met, taking the need for words to admit their relationship from them.

"You're not surprised?" Arthur asked, bewildered.

Shaking his head, Alden ushered them inside. Shelly, Arthur's mother, met them in the living room. One particular look from her husband and a gleam came to her eyes.

"Oh! I was wondering how long it would take you boys!" she exclaimed, standing and clapping her hands.

Now Arthur was completely baffled. "You're not upset? At all?"

She gave a tsk. "Arthur, I've noticed the way Merlin looks at you from the moment I met him." Merlin's cheeks turned bright red. "It was you who held things up. Two years, Arthur, really? He's such a fine man, and very well off for someone so young."

Arthur's jaw dropped open but Merlin didn't seem to react at all. "Mother! I'm not with him because he's rich!" He frowned. "I'm with him because-because-"

There was a pause, with everyone waiting for Arthur to continue. Now, with Arthur's floundering, is when Alden began to frown at him disapprovingly.

"Speak up, Arthur. If you're making a decision, if you believe in something, then stand up for it. Don't waver."

It was something his old professor had told him before he passed away, Alden always said. It had impressed him so much that Alden then repeated it to Arthur at every opportunity growing up. An old man with a penchant for pointy hats, Alden kept reminding him with every retelling.

Arthur glanced back at Merlin, standing in the entrance to the living room. He'd never been good at discussing his feelings, and proclaiming them out loud in front of everyone whose opinion on the matter he cared about was a bit daunting. Merlin didn't nod at him or smile or make any motions. He never had to.

Like the old Merlin from Arthurian legends, whom Arthur had studied since he could first read, the young, flesh and blood Merlin standing before him could give Arthur answers before he ever asked the questions. His eyes expressed so much, seemed to murmur and scream and smile and cry by degrees, sending messages not to Arthur's head but to his heart. The one he was shown now told him Merlin was behind him 100%, that he already knew every word Arthur could possibly say, and he was proud of him.

There was a small ruckus outside, the sound of metal bins falling over, and everyone's eyes were drawn to the window for a moment. Everyone but Merlin, who could keep focus through a hurricane and who kept his eyes on Arthur.

"Don't hold your tongue on my account, my lord," Merlin murmured while there was noise to cover it up. "You won't embarrass me."

Arthur hadn't looked, but he knew Merlin had said it. It was one of a dozen random, strange things Merlin said when he thought Arthur couldn't hear him. More and more, Arthur knew he wasn't hearing things, imagining it. Merlin called him 'sire' and 'my lord,' mentioned knights and nobles like they were common place. He referenced stocks and cells, and used words that Arthur had to go look up to know they were insults that hadn't been in common use in hundreds of years. And he always did it when Arthur was almost out of earshot, when music or a movie or other sounds could cover it up, or when he thought Arthur was sleeping.

It was an ongoing mission to catch him in the act and call him on it. Despite everything, all of Merlin assurances, Arthur still couldn't ask Merlin about something like this – something he obviously wanted to be kept secret. If Arthur asked, Merlin would explain himself, but something kept Arthur's tongue still in his mouth whenever it came up.

Arthur's tongue was not still when his parents turned their attention back to him though.

"I'm with him because I care for him. Quite a lot, actually," he said, determinedly. "He is thoughtful, strong, but clumsy and forgetful, too. He makes me laugh and he cares about me in return. He could have no money, no home, nothing to offer me but that, and I wouldn't mind. So while I appreciate how well you're both taking this, I'd rather you not talk about us if you can't respect that."

For several moments, his parents were silent. Arthur did his best not to swallow too hard and give away his nerves. These may not be his birth parents, but they were the closest he had and he would love them forever for the gracious and loving home they'd given him.

Alden beamed and clapped Arthur on the shoulders. "Now that's a speech," he said cheerily before wrapping Arthur in a hug.

Shelly was across the room pulling Merlin into a hug that made his tall frame bend nearly in half to fit into the arms of her small one. It was a sight that had always amused Arthur, and it made him smile now.

"I'm sorry if I offended you," she apologized to Merlin. "I did not mean to say Arthur only cared for your money. I only meant-"

Merlin chuckled and squeezed her tight, cutting off her explanation. "I know. And believe me, I know how Arthur feels and I know my money isn't the big draw."

"I'm more fond of his ears than his bank account. They're bigger, after all," Arthur teased, pulling away from his father's bear hug to go give Merlin's right ear a light tug. It was an old game between them and he knew that Merlin knew there was no harm meant by it.

He was gratified by the bright flush that over took every inch of Merlin's visible pale skin and leaned in to plant a kiss to his cheek, which made his mother sigh in happiness.

21 years

Merlin's apartment was much bigger than Arthur's so they usually met up for nights in and group events at his place. His pantry was always well stocked, he had a much larger movie collection than anyone Arthur knew, his sofa was comfier, he had all the local delivery places on speed dial, and he had a great view of the city through any window in the apartment.

"Oh my god, you're rich," Arthur had let out in shock the first time he'd been over, about a month into their acquaintance.

Merlin's only response was a shrug as they rode the lift up to the fifth floor where his apartment was.

After almost twelve months of knowing him, eleven of visiting the apartment regularly, Arthur was used to Merlin's home. His friends still blanched whenever they came over with him, but for him it was now simply 'Merlin's apartment' and normal.

Tonight they were going to watch a movie, and it was Merlin's turn to pick. They took turns, but Arthur often got the impression that Merlin always picked movies Arthur wanted. It was impossible, but from the first movie night, Merlin had seemed to know exactly what kind of movies Arthur liked. His favorites in every genre were on Merlin's shelves among dozens he'd never heard of, and there had yet to be a night when Merlin put in an unknown movie, new or old or somewhere in between, that Arthur hadn't immediately loved.

"Pick a movie. I'll order the food," Arthur said, heading for the phone on the counter. A landline, of all things to find in a rich flat.

From behind him came a mumbled yet gracious, "As you wish, sire." But when Arthur turned around, Merlin was already at the movie shelves and scanning the titles, as if he'd never said a word. Shaking his head, Arthur started dialing for Indian food.

"You're a bit weird, Merlin," Arthur admitted when the call was done and he was falling onto the couch.

Merlin was just pushing the DVD into the player at that moment and didn't look at Arthur as he asked, "How's that?"

Arthur shrugged. "Sometimes, you say the strangest things." He waved a hand about as Merlin rejoined him. "Or I think you do. I hear it, but when I look, you aren't talking."

Now Merlin grinned. "Should we cancel the food and take you to a psychologist, Arthur?"

Pushing Merlin's face away, feeling him laugh against the skin of his hand, was obviously Arthur's only possible course of action.

"I'm not schizophrenic, you lout," he started, even while Merlin was still grinning at his own wit. "I swear you say something, but it's always so odd I feel strange asking you to repeat yourself."

Looking much more serious than a moment ago, though Arthur couldn't tell if it was real or feigned seriousness, Merlin nodded. "You can ask me anything, Arthur. No matter what it is, I'll tell you the truth. I wouldn't lie to you."

Serious or not, the sincerity of Merlin's words gave Arthur pause. Merlin truly meant it. If Arthur asked him something, right now, he would answer completely and honestly.

Turning on the couch so he was fully facing Merlin, Arthur took a deep breath, which Merlin matched. There were so many things he could ask. Merlin didn't talk about his childhood but in the vaguest ways. He mentioned past relationships when they related to something one of the guys was saying, but never names or how old he was or anything too specific. While Arthur knew a lot about Merlin, he also realized he knew nothing about Merlin either.

He liked Merlin, but he'd been afraid of taking their relationship to another level. He didn't know if Merlin liked him that way, if Merlin wanted Arthur the way Arthur wanted Merlin. He could ask about Merlin's feelings.

"Who's your favorite Bond girl?"

Without hesitation, Merlin responded, expression flat, "Q."

A laugh burst out of Arthur. "Q isn't a Bond girl! And he's so old!"

Merlin smiled. "No, but you have to admit that Ben Whishaw is cuter than many Bond girls."

Their laughter and debating about the actors in the different Bond movies removed any further tension and seriousness from the room, and the moment passed away.

20 years

Arthur had decided, after the first time, that he would never challenge Merlin to a drinking contest ever again.

Merlin could drink anyone under the table. It didn't matter if he was drinking one glass to theirs or two to theirs, he always looked perfectly sober and healthy even after his friends were lying on the floor talking in baby babble.

The first time, two weeks after they met each other, Arthur had arrived at the bar before the others and found Merlin had already claimed a booth for them. He slid into the seat next to Merlin rather than across from him.

"You order yet?" he asked.

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Yes. I thought I'd order drinks for people I've only met once. I'm sure I know what they want." He held up his hand to call a server over. "You can order for your macho friends."

Arthur laughed. "Soon they'll be your friends too," he assured Merlin. "Besides, you could've invited some of your own friends too."

A shrug. "This isn't their scene."

Garey and Perry showed up next and Perry waved at him with a, "Hey, Penn, sorry we're late. Work at the shelter ran late. Had some new arrivals needed our help."

"Always surrounded by knights, you are."

Arthur turned from where his friends were walking closer to look at Merlin. "Did you say something?"

Merlin shook his head, looking just a shade confused. "No?"

Shrugging, Arthur faced the other way just as Garey and Perry reached them. Re-introductions were made since they'd only met once before, though Garey insisted he didn't need it because he was simply that amazing, and shortly after that Lanzo, Kaden, and Eric showed up and the process was repeated again.

It was Garey who suggested the drinking contest, and only him who would continue the contest every time they went out for drinks afterward. Everyone else learned their lesson.

Arthur hated his life the next morning, couldn't remember how he got home except that Merlin had been there. He was disappointed that Merlin hadn't stayed over, even though they weren't by any means a couple, but there was water and there were pills and, five minutes after he took the medicine, there was a text from Merlin asking after his head, so he was satisfied.

22 years

In the morning, Arthur would get up and make breakfast. He'd tell Merlin over eggs and toast with jam that he wanted their 'one-time thing' to become a real thing, that he wanted to date Merlin properly. Merlin would tease him about courting someone in this day and age and Arthur would protest that it still matters, no matter what the tabloids say.

Later, Eric would commend him on finally making a move. Garey would say he's a real man now. Lanzo would offer congratulations and ask him for the full romantic story of how Arthur finally realized his feelings for Merlin.

But all of that will come after tonight. After Arthur and Merlin had left their friends at a club trying to hold on to their youth even though university is over. After they had celebrated knowing each other for two full years with alcohol and loud music and too much dancing. After Merlin deposited Arthur in his bed and Arthur begged him to stay, just this once, with a kiss and Merlin gave him everything he had ever wanted in a lover.

And Arthur would have to accept all the pride and admiration from his mates, and from Merlin, for owning up to his feelings and making this tenuous but powerful thing between him and Merlin into something solid and lasting. But the truth is that, in the dark of the night, sated and on the edge of sleep, Arthur got his courage and will to hold on to this – their relationship – from Merlin.

Merlin draped himself over Arthur, leaning down to kiss Arthur's shoulder. Arthur let out a half hum, too asleep for anything else. Curling up into Arthur's over-warm body, Merlin whispered, "I love you," into the skin at the back of Arthur's neck.

World hazy as it was, Arthur heard him, and Arthur would remember that confession, and it softened his heart enough to let him have what he'd wanted since the first time he saw Merlin in the park.

"I'll love you forever, Arthur."

24 years

It had long since passed when Merlin gave Arthur a key to his apartment. Arthur liked popping in to surprise Merlin and Merlin seemed to enjoy being surprised. Today, however, was the first time Arthur had come in to a completely dark apartment.

"Merlin?" he called out, not overly loud. "Where are you?"

Merlin didn't have work this evening, so he should've been home. Most of the time when Arthur came in, Merlin was reading some obscure book in a language Arthur couldn't understand or practicing some hobby Arthur had never considered worth learning – like crocheting or making art with plastic spoons or, one memorable time, candle making the old fashioned way, dipping wicks into pots of liquid wax dozens of times and hanging them to dry all over the apartment. Now, the apartment was dark and silent.

Arthur turned a light on and then a sound came from further into the apartment that might have been his name. Arthur stepped quickly but quietly toward it. He was worried now. Was Merlin injured? Had someone broken in? Nothing was stolen or damaged, but it was possible.

He found Merlin in the bedroom, though at first he could not see him. Merlin was curled up on the floor on the far side of the bed, head hidden by his arms, in the same jeans and button up shirt he'd worn yesterday.

"Merlin, there you are," Arthur let out in relief, but it was short lived. Merlin didn't respond to Arthur's voice. "Merlin?"

As Arthur stepped quickly across the room, Merlin began murmuring to himself. They weren't words Arthur understood, might not even be words at all, just sounds, but he kept muttering faster and faster but quieter and quieter.

Arthur knelt down in front of Merlin but hesitated to touch him. He didn't know what was wrong. He'd heard that sometimes, you shouldn't touch a person who was having an episode of….well, Arthur couldn't remember what, sleepwalking or seizures or something else, but something was definitely wrong with Merlin and touching might hurt more than help.

"Merlin?" he asked.

The muttering stopped abruptly. Arthur would have thought Merlin had a phone under his arms because he thought he saw a faint light, but his hands were in his hair so that wasn't possible.

"What's the matter? Should I do something?"

Arthur was a writer for journals and mythology books, not a doctor. He was completely out of his element.

"Arthur."

It didn't sound like he was talking to Arthur, but rather wishing Arthur were there.

"I'm here, Merlin. Merlin, it's me. Look at me, Merlin."

He'd read somewhere that saying someone's name if they were high helped ground them and remind them of who and where they were. Merlin may not be high, but Arthur desperately hoped the same was true for whatever was wrong with Merlin.

"Please remember me." It was a plea, a whine, and a sob all at the same time. He still wasn't talking to the Arthur sitting in front of him. "Arthur."

Arthur let out a breath. "Of course I remember you, Merlin," he said. Now, he reached out for his boyfriend. A hand on his shoulder, a motion to bring Merlin close to him in a hug that never followed through. As soon as he touched Merlin, something changed.

Merlin was sitting on a forest floor against a tree, brown trousers, faded and torn blue shirt, red kerchief around his neck. He was dirty, he was thin, he had been crying. Arthur was the cause. Arthur had done something, or said something, or had something done to him, and Merlin was paying the price.

He removed his hand from Merlin's shoulder. Merlin was on the floor of his bedroom in day old clothes once more, arms still covering his head and hiding his face, but everything about Arthur had changed.

He remembered dying. A stab wound with an enchanted blade, a broken shard stuck in his gut that Merlin couldn't heal. "Hold me," he'd asked, and Merlin had wept and done so, begging him to stay with everything that he was, but Arthur couldn't. Merlin looked the same age he was now, but weakened by anguish.

And now all the strange things Merlin ever said to him made sense. All the princes, kings, sires, my lords, knights, medieval references, and the old slang. Merlin had been living with the knowledge of who and what they were the whole time, waiting on Arthur to catch up.

"Merlin?" he asked, wonder at this new, old knowledge he now had seeping into his voice.

There was a subtle shift in Merlin's posture that said he'd heard Arthur this time. He lowered his arms, slowly, like waking from a sleep when you'd been in an odd position all night, and lifted too blue eyes to meet Arthur's.

"Arthur?" he asked. His eyes widened. "Did you…hear all that?"

Arthur nodded and Merlin's expression paled.

"Why didn't you tell me, Merlin?" Arthur asked. "Four years now, I've heard you muttering behind my back and yet I knew nothing."

Now Merlin's eyes were wide in a totally different way. "You know?"

"Just now, but yes. And I'm holding it against you that you never said anything to me," Arthur told him sternly.

Cautiously, a smile crept over Merlin's face. "I did say it to you. You just weren't meant to hear."

0 years

He was barely an hour old, freshly cleaned and wrapped in soft cloth. His little arms waved around as much as he could get them to, figuring out how big his bed was, trying to find where that light came from, and generally exploring as much as an infant incapable of mobility could.

He had no way of knowing that his birth had been due to the death of both of his parents, no way of knowing he had no one to claim him in the morning.

There was soft music playing somewhere, lulling all the babies to sleep. Inevitably one of them would wake from hunger, or a nurse would come and pick one up and wake them accidentally, and then there would be crying and nurses to try and calm them. For now, their tiny little eyes were drifting closed, into a dreamland only newborns know.

As he was being washed away on the waves of sleep, a shadow blocked the faint light above him. A pleased hum of noise was barely audible over the music, but his ears managed to catch it.

"It's so good to see you again," a deep but soothing voice called down to him in a whisper.

He scrunched his face up, knowing he knew that voice but at the same time not knowing it at all, and a warmth touched his wrinkling forehead. It traced around his face, soothing away any tension he held in his tiny body. When the warmth neared his hand, he used all the strength and dexterity allowed by his newborn frame and tried his best to grab hold. His efforts earned him a small, elated laugh from above that made him smile a toothless, wide smile.

"Oh, I've missed you so much," the voice murmured, happy but choked up. "I'll do everything I can for you, Arthur. I promise."

Arthur. Yes. That was his name.

fin.

I would've posted this yesterday except that all three sites I typically post this to went down at the same time. What.

...

Chapter Fourteen

Striding forward under Dom's gaze, Brian knocked on the door frame as he leaned into the office. Tanner and Bilkins turned to look at him, as did the chief of the Torettown police.

"You wanted to see me, sirs?" Brian asked, needlessly.

Tanner waved him in. "Brian, yes. You know Mr. Toretto, Chief Penning," he said with separate waves to each man as he introduced them.

Brian nodded. "Yeah." He stepped forward to shake Chief Penning's hand. "Good to meet you again, sir."

Penning didn't look overly pleased but shook his hand anyway. "Wish you had told me who you were when we met last time, son."

"Sorry," Brian apologized, eyes flicking to where Dom still sat, silent, watching him. "I couldn't."

"See that's where you're wrong," Penning said, pulling Brian's attention back. "Torettown PD was on the lookout for Campos," he cleared his throat, "excuse me, Braga, for months. He'd been slipping in and out, causing problems for the people of our city. The protection of the people in Torettown is the duty of every TPD officer. Yet the MCF did not consider working with us to be beneficial to your mission when it would've made it much easier. Shared intel. The ability to stake out a possible locale. Extra eyes on the street. Protection from any backlash of the criminal sort." He lifted an eyebrow. "I hear you nearly died twice, maybe even three times. That's a risk you didn't have to face, Officer."

No one had said anything while Penning ranted. Tanner watched them in mild interest, Dom watched Brian, and Bilkins looked out the window at the city below. Something was going on here that Brian didn't know about.

Brian narrowed his eyes at Penning. "What's the point of this? Sir," he added a beat too slow and a bit too sarcastic to be considered proper. In the corner of his eye, Brian saw Dom's lips twitch upward.

"Cesare Toretto was unhappy with how the MCF intervened in Torettown," Tanner said.

Without turning from the window, Bilkins continued, "Seems he went to the federal government, all the way up to the president herself, to orchestrate a change in policy." Now he faced the other occupants in the room, but his focus was on Brian. "She agreed that the MCF is abusing its power. If the MCF wants to do anything regarding mutants in a mutant controlled city, they now have to have a liaison in that city."

So this wouldn't only effect Torettown, but the half dozen other mutant-friendly or mutant run cities across the country. That made sense. The president wouldn't play favorites with Torettown, so Cesare would have needed to come up with a plan for all mutant cities. As a Toretto, a family dedicated to helping other mutants, it probably never crossed his mind to leave them out.

"Liaison?" Brian repeated.

"In our case, here in California, someone who facilitates the exchange of information and plans between the TPD and outside police forces like the MCF and LAPD," Tanner explained calmly. Unlike Bilkins, who was bristling like a startled cat, Tanner seemed to be taking the change in policy like a fish to water. "Someone who either lives in Torettown or spends a lot of time there, knows the people, knows their system, has contacts and connections, and can fit in among the people there."

"A mutant," Bilkins simplified with a scowl. "A mutant on our payroll that helps catch out of control mutants in areas now out of our jurisdiction."

"Torettown was always out of your jurisdiction," Dom said. It was a simple statement of fact, but there was an acidic nature to his tone that belayed his anger at how the MCF had just come on in and invaded his city.

Brian was having a little trouble concentrating. A mutant liaison between the MCF and the TPD. Someone who lived in Torettown or near it. Someone with contacts and connections, who can fit in, who knows the people. As far as Brian knew, he and Monica were the only two MCF officers to have spent any good length of time in Torettown, and of the two of them he was the only mutant.

He met Tanner's gaze while Dom and Bilkins were having a stare off. Tanner's lips were raised just the slightest bit and he lifted his eyebrows as if to say 'Yes, Brian, you've got it.'

"You want me?" Brian asked aloud, flipping his eyes from one man in the room to the next for confirmation.

"You're the best option," Penning answered. "Been living in Torettown for weeks already now, haven't you? People know you. People trust you."

Bilkins frowned at Penning but he spoke to Brian. "We had hoped to put in one of our own, but since the MCF until this point has never employed mutants, our options were limited." Now he looked at Brian. "Not only is your sneaking ass the only option we have, but you were specially requested by Cesare Toretto himself."

Yeah, Bilkins was still ticked that he'd unknowingly hired a mutant. But at least he was being mildly cordial. And wait, Cesare Toretto had asked for him? Brian turned to Dom, who shifted when he realized he had everyone's attention.

"The position would be like a lifetime undercover op," Dom said, "but without the fake background. You could join the TPD directly, or continue working at Harry's or wherever you could find work, as long as you were available to coordinate between the TPD and outside forces when necessary. You would also need to have regular contact with politicians and other city representatives, to check in or give status updates. You would get a fair salary, about the same he makes," he nodded toward Bilkins, which made Bilkins tense, "for your troubles. Think you can handle all that, O'Conner?"

Hearing his name come out of Dom's mouth did things to Brian. He absently wondered if he'd shivered as much outwardly as he did inwardly. Brian Spilner was gone now, and Timothy Rowan, and Jared Martinez, and every other false name he'd ever had. He could be Brian O'Conner again. That one name, spilling from Dom's lips so easily, felt like a liberation.

"Yeah," he agreed in a sure voice. "I'm in."

Dom and Penning stood up then, and Dom held out his hand. When Brian took it and they shook to seal the deal, Dom smirked. "You're the first liaison between mutant towns and the regular world. Don't screw it up, Buster."

Brian smiled at the teasing tone to Dom's voice. "I'll do my best."

There was a lot of paperwork to fill out and handshakes from everyone present and words of advice from Tanner and Penning. Within an hour, however, Brian had gone from fearing he would be slapped in handcuffs at any moment to being given a free pass to live among mutants and use his mutation in a legal, federal position. He almost wished Dom would punch him just to prove it wasn't a dream.

Since the desk he'd been using wasn't his own, Brian just had to grab the sketches he'd made and his keys and he was ready to leave. Dom and Jesse were standing in the lobby, ignoring the unwelcoming looks Hannah kept shooting them, when Brian left the bullpen. Chief Penning was gone already.

Jesse immediately hurried over to wrap Brian in a tight but quick hug. "You're coming home, man, that's awesome!" He beamed. "The other's are gonna be so psyched."

"Really?" Brian asked, even as the three of them made their way into the elevator.

"Totally," Jesse assured him.

They were standing in the elevator, staring out at the lobby where Hannah was watching them with narrowed eyes, when suddenly Leon let himself be known and appeared right in the doors to the elevator. Hannah gasped and dropped the coffee she'd been holding. Leon slipped inside and let the doors shut while Hannah cursed at the hot temperature of her drink and how it was staining her clothes.

"She deserved it," Leon said when Dom and Brian both lifted an eyebrow at him. Jesse snickered.

Brian smiled for a moment but, as they moved slowly down the floors, it faded. "You're all really okay with this?" he asked. "With me coming back?"

"You mean because you lied?" Leon asked. "Because you're a cop working for an anti-mutant organization? Why would we be angry about that?" Leon asked sarcastically, a sharp gleam in his eyes.

Oh boy. Vince was gonna kill him, wasn't he? Brian would show up in town and suddenly a juggernaut of anger and muscle would barrel into him and he'd be gone. Short lived career.

"We're angry," Dom noted, crossing his arms and turning to face Brian in the small space of the elevator. "I thought I'd punch you when I saw you again."

His muscles flexed in his arms when he tensed them, as if holding himself back, and Brian's posture stiffened.

"I'm glad you didn't."

"Rome talked a great game in your defense," Leon told him. "His boy Tej too."

Tej? Tej hardly knew him. But, if it had won even one of the group over, then Brian was glad to have the support. It also made Brian feel better about him and Rome being together, and glad that Rome had told Tej about Brian's job.

The elevator doors opened and they all stepped out, then left the downstairs lobby for the street outside.

"Mia supported you too," Jesse said, pulling a beanie out of his pocket and slipping it over his head. "She and Vince got into it real bad. Never thought I'd see the day." He whistled as he slid his hands into his pockets. "But he's on your side now, so."

"He might still punch you," Leon warned him. "But he misses you too."

Dom placed a hand on Brian's shoulder, pulling the whole group to a stop next to a 1970 Dodge Charger. Dom's Charger. "We all miss you. The garage ain't the same without you in it."

Brian got caught staring into Dom's eyes and seeing that, though there was anxiety and hesitance, anger was not a dominant emotion looking back at him. He blinked hard and tossed his keys to Jesse.

"My car's the blue and silver Skyline right inside the parking garage over there," he pointed. "You and Leon mind taking that while I ride with Dom?"

They had things they needed to talk about and Brian wasn't ready to talk about them in front of the others yet. Jesse bounced in place and nodded. Leon shrugged.

"We were gonna start packing your place up anyhow, get you moved back to Torettown. You think we'll need a truck?"

Brian blinked at them almost uncomprehendingly. Pack up his place? "No. I don't…They put me up in a hotel. I don't actually live here."

"Right. An MCF agent. MCF has offices across the country. Where's your house, B? We'll get all your stuff sent over," Jesse assured him, his expression as serious as Brian had ever seen it. He was acting like getting Brian moved in to whatever house they'd arranged for him in Torettown was his personal mission and he refused to fail it.

Brian shook his head. "I don't have one," he repeated. "I told Mia, and you," he glanced at Dom. "I've been moving around since I was twenty-one. I haven't had a place of my own in six years. Whatever county station I was with paid for whatever housing my cover needed, but none of the stuff was actually mine."

While Jesse looked saddened by the news and Leon looked nonplussed, Dom took charge. "Then tell them the hotel and room number where you're staying, and they'll grab your stuff and meet us back home later," he said. "We've got a lot to talk about, you and me."

The Charger rolled down streets, took turns seemingly at random, and in general was just going with the flow of traffic. As far as Brian could tell, they weren't headed for Torettown just yet. Dom was quiet behind the steering wheel and Brian was quiet staring out the passenger window.

Brian could feel the heavy air from all that Dom wanted to say, to ask, to do, from himself as well. Where could he start? The team wanted him back, and that was more than he could hope for, but there were things Brian had to clear up before Torettown would really be home.

"Dom," he said, breaking the silence like a bullet through glass. He had nothing to follow it up with yet, but it felt like cutting a noose around his neck.

Luckily, it wasn't just Brian's neck the noose had been around.

"How much of it was a lie?" Dom asked without looking away from the road.

Sensible question. If Brian were in Dom's position, that would've been his first question too. Separate the truth from the lies and figure out what exactly you just signed yourself up for.

"My name is actually Brian O'Conner. I grew up in Barstow, California. I didn't lie about what it was like growing up there. Mutants were in and out of there every week, causing havoc and scaring people. I really did come into my powers when I was nine, and didn't accept it for what it was until I was twelve. Rome and I never dated, and neither did me and Monica," Brian rattled off. "I lied about my life when Rome got arrested."

He received a short glance from Dom, an instruction to explain himself. Brian was quick to comply.

"I was eighteen, and so was Rome. He was getting out of hand, using his powers to get people to give him things like expensive watches and electronics, then making other people believe they were worth way more than they were so he could make a huge profit off it. He liked taking people's cars just because he could, driving them around, hiding them for awhile, and then just dumping them on the side of a road somewhere when he got tired of them. I think he was trying to show me the benefit of having a mutation, but I was one breath from a panic attack every time I copied Brett Evensworth's knowledge of biology or Kate Rose's sports skills in order to pass a test or make a team."

"In December when we were nineteen, I'd just become a cop, and Rome got busted with ten cars in an old storehouse and then got caught bullshitting his way out of it. They had him in cuffs and shipped off to jail before the news even reached me that he was in trouble. It was a shitty Christmas. Shortly after that, I was given an undercover op. I was so good at adapting and blending in that they kept giving me more, and then I became pretty much a cop for hire at twenty-one, moving from police department to police department every few weeks or months, however long an op lasted. They needed results and I got results fast, so I was a hot commodity, until now."

For a moment there was quiet in the car, the only sound coming from the purr of the engine and the muted roll of wheels over asphalt. Dom still didn't look at him, but it seemed his grip on the steering wheel was looser.

"No other lies?" Dom asked, the words just a shade too blunt to be accusing.

Brian shook his head. "Tanner probably knew about my mutation when he hired me for the job, because my cover mutation was my own, and the backstory they gave me was bare enough that I could choose what to put in it. I just happened to put mostly my own story in the holes." He glanced out the window. Maybe, somehow, this had been Tanner's end game all along? "It's easier to keep with a story if it's based in truth. And your sister would've realized if I was lying, anyway."

A huff escaped Dom's lips. "She did notice you were lying," he said. "The problem was that she couldn't tell what about. Ninety percent of what you were saying rang true with her, but her mutation was still picking up on your bullshit." He took a deep breath. "She told me the other day that she's known your last name wasn't Spilner from the moment you introduced yourself, even though our background check on you said it was."

Brian laughed once and rubbed his hands together in his lap. "Yeah. I thought she did," he admitted.

The one time Mia really looked at him with suspicion that day had been when he said his name, and she had only seemed half truthful when repeating it to her brother.

"Why a cop?" was Dom's next question, a few blocks later. "Why'd you become a cop?"

Brian's lips quirked just a bit. "Aren't you tired of hearing me talk?" he asked in return.

Dom shook his head. "Just trying to understand you, Bri."

If Dom ever found out that his nickname would get Brian to do whatever Dom wanted, Brian would be in real trouble.

"I was watching some guys spar in the park, just before my eighteenth birthday. I thought it was cool and wished that I'd been taking classes like they had," he started. "Later on, I was putting gas in my car and I went inside to pay cash for it. There was a mutant inside. I watched him melt half the counter to scare the cashier into giving him all the money. I didn't even hesitate. I used the fighting skills I'd seen that day to take him down in three moves."

"Taking down a baddie made you put on the blues?" Dom asked.

Now Brian shook his head. "No. The Barstow Police Department had a little ceremony thanking me, the child, who saved the day. I got a ribbon and my picture taken with the police chief and the mayor. It was in the newspaper. Rome's mom was so proud she had it framed." He heaved a great sigh. "It was the first time I had willingly chosen to use my mutation for something, and it felt like something big. Every time I saw that picture or the ribbon, I remembered that I had done something really good with this power I'd been so afraid of all my life. And I thought about how Rome didn't really hurt people with his power, and how I'd been scared of hurting people with mine. That's when I realized that the mutants who passed through were just as scared as I'd been, and I joined the force to help them out. I thought…if there was someone on their side, making sure the dangerous ones got put away but the simply unlucky ones got away, then maybe things would get better. I became a cop because I finally saw in myself the ability to use mutations to help people in need, not hurt them."

It wasn't until the Charger pulled to a stop at a red light that Brian noticed they were finally heading for the city limits. This was the same route he'd driven on his first day as Brian Spilner, when he'd left LA behind and entered Torettown. That must mean Dom was about done asking him questions.

As if proving Brian right, Dom's next words were, "One last question."

"Yeah?" Brian said. He felt like he'd given an interview with Diane Sawyer already.

"Me."

Brian shut his eyes and just breathed. The Charger began to move again with the changing of the light.

"You," Brian responded.

He opened his eyes and looked to Dom to find that Dom was watching him back, not keeping his eyes on the road. Somehow, Brian wasn't worried about getting into an accident. The bright LA sunlight was lighting up Dom like it had Monica's apartment building. Even his dark eyes seemed brighter.

Only when Dom returned his troubled gaze to the road was Brian able to organize his thoughts once more. Brian wasn't sure if he was glad they couldn't have this conversation literally face to face or not.

"There was more of you in this mission than you want to admit. I believe Brian Spilner was much closer to Brian O'Conner than you think. You wouldn't be so torn if he was a lie."

That's what Monica had told him. She believed that Brian's feelings regarding everything that had happened, the people he'd met, the things he'd experienced, were his own. And by his own admission, Brian had only vaguely lied about himself the entire time he was playing as Brian Spilner.

He took another deep breath, as if bracing himself against what he was about to say. "I'm a mimic, Dom," he said. "I can't guarantee that what I feel for you isn't based on what you feel for me. But I will never regret what we did, and I won't take it back or apologize for it."

He leveled his gaze on the side of Dom's face and saw that Dom's lips were trying to curl up into a smile. His own hopes lifted and breathing was a little difficult. Was it possible that Dom had forgiven him that quickly? He would accept that Brian might only want him so bad because Dom wanted Brian just as much?

"I can I work with that," Dom said after what felt like a lifetime.

Brian swallowed. "You can?"

Dom shrugged. "I wasn't gonna apologize for it either," he said as if that were the answer to all their problems.

Maybe it sort of was. When it came to him and Dom, he had nothing to feel sorry for. He didn't feel that his relationship with Dom was wrong, and it appeared that Dom didn't either.

Brian would likely apologize a lot later, to everyone on the team, for the lies and deception. He would ask for forgiveness that he didn't really think he deserved but that he had a feeling he'd already been given. Vince might punch his lights out, so that was a comfort. Only after that was out of the way could Brian really shed Brian Spilner's shadow for good and put his own back on.

The sign marking the edge of Los Angeles was bright and told the viewer to 'Return soon!' in full technicolor glory. Brian barely gave it a moment's glance, too busy looking to the small, humped sign just beyond it.

"Now Entering Torettown" it read in welcoming font. The sign tacked on the bottom read "NO COPS" in all capital letters in red and "We Handle Our Own" in smaller black letters along the bottom. There was barely a picket fence to mark the delineation between the two cities, but upon passing that sign and entering the Torettown city limits, Brian felt overwhelmed.

Dom reached across the car and took Brian's hand in his own, giving it a firm squeeze. A small smile lifted the corners of Brian's lips as he returned the squeeze.

For the first time since he was twenty, Brian was going home. He was going home to a place where he could be 100% completely himself, mutation and all. It wouldn't be a perfect life, especially not at first, but it was looking better with every quarter mile they drove. He felt amazingly free for the first time in his life.

Till I See You Again

Trust Issues - Teen Wolf Fic

Trust Issues

Scott can't understand why Stiles doesn't trust anyone they meet, but when Stiles finally admits why, Scott finds he likes the reason less than he liked not knowing. No pairing. Takes place sometime after season 4.

The hallways of the Stilinski house were as familiar to Scott as the ones in his own home. He'd been in the Stilinski house almost as much as his own throughout his teenage years. Tonight, unlike recent times filled with a worrisome amount of chaos, was a calm night. But Scott feared it wouldn't be for long – not because of the supernatural, but because of the conversation he needed to have with his best friend.

The evening had started off well, Scott thought. They'd had an easy dinner once the Sheriff got home from work, and then they'd watched a show that the Sheriff liked but that neither of them really got. So they'd feigned being tired and escaped to Stiles' bedroom, leaving his dad to enjoy the show in peace.

"So about Harley," Scott began easily once they'd shut the door behind them. Harley was new at school, a mid-year senior transfer.

Stiles stopped mid-step and frowned. "Did he do something?"

"Well no," Scott hedged. "You've been giving him the stink eye all week and all he did was wink at me."

It wasn't odd for someone to find Scott attractive and make advances, at least, not since he became a werewolf. Especially not since he became an alpha. Scott did kind of wish guys would stop hitting on him though, because he felt bad every time he couldn't return the affection. Still, it was hardly threatening to wink at someone once.

His friend shrugged. "I don't trust him," he explained, his tone tense like he was expecting Scott to attack him. And didn't that just hurt. "Ever since we woke up the Nemeton, everyone who comes to town is a creature. And if they aren't, they soon become one."

Scott gave a deep sigh. "Not everyone is a supernatural creature, Stiles. Harley doesn't smell like anything weird. He's just a guy. A guy who happened to wink at me."

"You don't know that," Stiles upheld with a frown, listing off his fingers, "You didn't smell anything weird on Kira or Lydia, or Jackson for that matter. Not every supernatural creature smells like an animal, Scott."

For awhile now, Stiles had been mistrustful of every single person they met. Everyone new to town was a threat. A student they'd never spoken to before but that had been in town for years was no better. A police background check wasn't good enough to clear them. If the person wasn't already pack, they didn't stand a chance. For Scott, who wanted to accept everyone's good qualities and work past their bad ones, it was hard to understand the exclusive behavior.

It aggravated him sometimes, like now, to know Stiles was so bent on seeing the bad in people. "You're always so against everyone. You didn't trust Allison, or Derek, or Deaton, or anybody," he snapped.

"Okay, for the record," Stiles shot back quickly. "You started it with Derek. I had no issues with him until you told me he was an issue. I'm still not sure what Deaton's about because he's suspicious on a good day. You have to admit that. And Allison? Allison's family is made up of hunters who would've killed you as soon as look at you, so I think I was right to be nervous!"

Shaking his head, Scott took a mental step back. Obviously, this wasn't working. He had to get back on subject, not get so angry. A shouting match would get them nowhere. "That's not the point. The point is that Harley's family isn't made up of hunters. Harley isn't burying dead bodies in his back yard. He doesn't show up to places he shouldn't be. Harley's-"

"Probably hiding something," Stiles broke in, visibly irritated. "You've never been to his house, we've never seen his parents, we don't know anything about him except he's kind of cute, if you like 'em tall, dark, and lanky. And the police records on his whole family are just way too clean, if you ask me."

"He's just some guy! He's not out to kill us!" Scott protested, clenching his fists.

Stiles scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, I'm sure. His seedy little eyes and twitchy movements definitely inspire confidence, Scott."

"He's only twitchy because you keep staring at him like you're going to find him when he's alone and kill him brutally."

"Good!" Stiles said, with enough force that Scott almost took a step back. "That means I don't have to say it aloud! Because I would, Scott, if that little punk tries anything, I swear. He's not getting anything past me, he's not doing anything to this pack-"

"Why don't you trust anyone?!" Scott asked hotly, interrupting Stiles' mean spirited rant. Only two years ago, Scott would never have assumed his best friend could make threats like this.

"Because I can't!" Stiles yelled back, then lowered his voice just enough that his dad wouldn't come investigate. "Don't you get that, Scott? I can't trust anyone! No one is trustworthy!"

Scott frowned deeply. This was the kind of attitude he just didn't get. Not everyone was out to get them! "Not everyo-"

"I can't even trust myself!" Stiles half shrieked, as if he hadn't noticed Scott speaking, throwing his hands in the air. His eyes were wide and wild, like a captured animal.

That brought Scott up short. What? What did that even mean?

"Stiles?" he asked, confused.

The taller, paler male let out a heavy breath and moved to sit in his desk chair backwards, arms crossed over the back of it. He stared at the wall behind Scott for a moment or two, visibly collecting his thoughts, before he spoke again. When he did, all the crackling anger from before was gone, replaced with weary resignation.

"I can't even trust myself," he repeated, quieter. His voice sped up the longer he spoke. "I can't trust that what I'm seeing is what's actually happening, that what I'm feeling is me, that what I do is because I want to, that I won't snap one day and try to kill someone." Only then did he move his eyes to look at Scott. "Scott, if I can't trust me, how the hell am I supposed to trust anyone else?" and it was a bitter question.

Scott felt like he'd swallowed something that had spoiled and it was stuck in his throat. The Nogitsune. Stiles was talking about his time possessed by the spirit of chaos, of those weeks where reality blurred with dreams, where he couldn't tell if he was awake or asleep, when his body didn't belong to him.

Stiles had been insistent that he was okay once they'd sealed the Nogitsune away. Every attempt to check up on him was met with a stubborn "I'm fine, Scott, seriously. Do I look ill to you?" He'd repeated to everyone who asked that he was better now, he was cured, he was himself again and all that that implied. They'd taken him at his word, believed him, because it was simple to believe Stiles, because even with how often he lied to others, he didn't lie to pack. He didn't smell of pain, he wasn't calling in the middle of the night in a panic, he wasn't disappearing for days, there weren't bags under his eyes, and Kira's mom had assured them the Nogitsune was completely gone.

Obviously, believing the easy end to all their troubles had been the wrong thing to do. Stiles' body was fine, there wasn't a mark on him. All his wounds were internal, and even Scott, his best friend, had missed them.

"Stiles," he started, haltingly. How could he make this right? "If…If you can't trust yourself, trust in us. Trust that I…that your friends, that we'll protect you, help you, or stop you if we need to." He stepped closer to Stiles, held his gaze, and made his voice as determined and strong as he could. "We won't let you become like the Nogitsune ever again. Do you hear me? You are not that thing. You beat it. It's gone. It wasn't you."

"Yeah but I kind of wanted it to be."

Scott startled and Stiles saw it. The human's heart hadn't faltered, his gaze was steady, his body was tense. He meant what he said, but he didn't like that he meant it and he didn't like to admit it.

With a half shrug, Stiles continued, voice level and accepting, "I don't have any special skills. I can't wield a bow and arrow or gun like Allison could. I'm not a werewolf or a werecoyote with heightened senses and strength. I can't sense the dead like a banshee. I don't have mystic spirit aura armor and skills like a kitsune." He gave a sour laugh. "I'm not even good at lacrosse, and I guarantee that I practice and run more than ninety percent of the kids that try out."

Stiles' eyes lowered to Scott's chest, staring at the blue and green fabric rather than at his best friend. Best friend. Scott was a terrible best friend.

Voice a bit hollow, like the truth of his words had sucked all vitality from him, Stiles said, "When I was possessed by the Nogitsune…Scott, I felt powerful for the first time in my life. I could do things like you and the others could. I wasn't…I wasn't dead weight. I wasn't weak. I wasn't being left behind." Stiles lowered his forehead to rest on his arms on the back of the chair, hiding his face and the shame written in every feature for having admitted to his fears.

Scott couldn't help it. He rushed the few steps between them, dropping to his knees next to the chair. He could only see part of Stiles' face from his new angle, but it was enough.

This was so wrong. Stiles had it all wrong! They needed him, and he needed to see that.

"You don't need powers to be important, Stiles. You're smart, one of the smartest people I know," Scott began, a hint of pleading in his tone, pressing for Stiles to just see. "Without any wolf in you, you keep the pack together. People listen to you, Stiles, even wolves. You talk and they roll their eyes, but what you've said sticks with them. They remember. People do what you tell them to, even when you aren't around to tell them to do it. That's powerful."

For a few long moments, Stiles continued to simply sit there in silence, and Scott reached up to hold the arm of the chair nervously. He didn't know how his touch would be taken, and that upset him even more than he already was. How far had he let Stiles slip away that he worried about touching his best friend?

Finally, finally, Stiles body lifted with a deep breath and he said, mumbling, almost petulantly, "That doesn't help in a fight. And it doesn't change the fact that I can't trust my own senses anymore, Scott."

"There's more to our lives than fighting, Stiles," Scott reminded him. Tentatively, he reached over a bit more and placed a hand on Stiles' shoulder, causing the other male to turn his head to watch him with guarded eyes. "And like I said, we'll help you with that. If you ever doubt yourself, what you see or feel or whatever, you can ask us," he insisted. "We'll tell you if it was real or not. If there's any doubt, we'll investigate it and figure it out. You aren't alone, Stiles. You have us."

Taking a deep breath of his own, Scott let his fingers tighten on Stiles' shoulder, pulling absolutely all the attention span Stiles had onto himself.

In his most serious voice, Scott finished with, "We're a pack, and pack is family. Family looks out for each other. Like you said, you're my brother. I can't lose you. I won't. Not to anything, and definitely not to this." Not to his own insecurities, his own fears.

"Scott."

Stiles' voice came out sounding like something that had escaped through a crack in a cage, like he'd been broken open and couldn't hold it in. He turned, lifting his arms from the chair back. Scott anticipated and jumped into the hug Stiles was initiating. He wrapped Stiles up tight, tight enough that no evil could ever pull him away, tight enough to scare off both their fears.

"We trust you, Stiles," Scott whispered hoarsely into Stiles' ear. "You may not be able to trust yourself right now, but we do. It'll be alright. We believe in you, Stiles."

The arms around Scott tightened as well, until the hug was almost painful, but even that feeling was comforting. Of course one conversation wasn't going to make everything alright. It wouldn't be easy to fix what damage the Nogitsune had caused. Scott understood that now. Healing wasn't easy, and he cursed himself for ever thinking it was. But, as he felt his shirt catch Stiles' tears, smelled the extra hint of salt in the air, Scott knew he was doing the right thing to start the process.

Stiles had to know that he could trust them, at least. He had to know that he didn't need to guard himself or them from the world, because they would protect each other. He had to open up to them, let them in. Only then could he start to let in other people.

"I trust you, Stiles. If you can't trust anything else, please, trust that," Scott murmured. He didn't care that the arm of the chair was digging into his hip. That pain would go away a lot sooner than the one in his chest.

Throat clogged with tears, Stiles nodded and said, "I think I can do that."

...

...

fin

Masterpost Available Here
...
...
Chapter Thirteen

"Do me a favor," Braga said, voice calm and yet with an undercurrent of anger. Something slid into Brian's hand, his fingers automatically wrapping around the familiar weight of a loaded gun. "Take this gun and blow your brains out, you interfering piece of shit."

The weight at his neck left but the fog didn't. Brian looked down at the gun in his hands. A Glock 19. A cop's weapon, especially good for undercover or off duty officers. 9mm rounds. Easily concealed. Extremely low rate of shot failure. It'd do the job nicely.

Brian lifted his eyes and saw the teen was still standing there, looking at him with the same disinterested stare that Brian felt on his own face. Staring at him, but not really seeing him, Brian lifted the Glock to his head. He pulled the trigger.

A sheen of green blanketed his vision, an overly loud bang made Brian's ears ring, and sudden, stinging, burning pain made him drop the gun in the same moment it was recoiling in his grip. But he wasn't dead.

The fog left his mind and Brian's heart rate shot up. He shook his hand and looked down at it. Black marks from gunpowder marred the skin and the space between his index finger and thumb was red, but otherwise unharmed.

Did the gun backfire? No. No, there'd been green. Jesse's shields. The gun misfired because the bullet couldn't leave the barrel.

Where was Braga?

Brian flipped around to see Jesse still on the ground holding his crotch but also with his right hand up in the air. When he saw Brian look at him, he gave a pained smile and dropped his arm. Monica was pushing herself up, one hand on her head. And Braga was picking the Glock up from where it fell on the ground. He checked the clip and the barrel and seemed to deem it functional because he held it out to Brian once more.

"Again," he said. He whistled and eight more guys came into view, all holding guns of one sort or another. One of them was Fenix Calderon, the only one with clear eyes. "And if the whelp blocks it again, shoot him," Braga said to the new arrivals.

Jesse glanced between the guns now aimed at him, then at Brian. One guy with a gun could kill Jesse. Eight was overkill but Braga was clearly livid. Brian shook his head.

"No."

Braga's eyes widened and he pulled the gun closer to him. Brian reached forward and grabbed it before it could be aimed directly at him. Even so, Braga pulled the trigger. The bang from the second shot was still loud, but it didn't make Brian's ears ring as much as one fired directly next to his ear. The bullet never touched him and Brian quickly disarmed Braga.

The front door to the house flung open and the rest of the team spilled out, no doubt to investigate the gunshots. The distraction was just long enough for someone to catch Brian in the stomach and rip the gun from his hands. It was the teen from before, now backing up to join the eight others in a semi circle boxing in the Toretto house.

"Braga!" Dom shouted. "Make them drop their weapons!"

Braga barely spared time to scoff at Dom before he was looking at Brian again, confusion in his eyes. "I don't understand. How could a reg cop like you break free from my control so easily?"

Because nearly shooting himself in the head was easy.

"Because he's not a reg cop," Monica practically growled, back on her feet behind Braga and with a gun of her own pointed right at him. There was a small trail of blood on the side of her face and her pupils were dilating. "I am. Arturo Braga, you're under arrest for drug smuggling, psychogenic manipulation, kidnapping, and attempted murder of an MCF agent."

Leon cursed and Mia's eyes shot to Brian. Vince took a step forward, muscles tense and ready for a fight, but Dom threw a hand out to stop him. Tej did the same for Rome, who looked ready to move toward Brian rather than Monica or Braga. None of them had weapons beyond their mutations – healing, insight, technopath, blending, super strength, bullshitting, electricity. Only Letty had a skill that was useful at long distance, and it looked like she didn't know who to attack first, though her fingers crackled with power.

Braga gave a little grin and lifted his hands as if in surrender. Without turning around, he narrowed his eyes at Brian and said, "Kill her."

Smoker, ADHD, car parts, architecture, violent childhood, sleeps with a teddy bear, shields, SHIELDS!

Jesse and Brian raised their hands at the same time and green shields encompassed not only Monica but Dom and the others as well. Bullets rained down on them but not one got through. No one was hurt.

Over the sounds of the guns, Fenix shouted "Stop! Stop!" and abruptly the attack ended. "Wasting bullets," he sneered.

Braga turned around, dropping his arms, and frowned. "Well this is a disappointing turn of events," he grumbled.

Dom took a step away from the rest of the group, closer to the action. "Braga, you better come quietly, if you know what's good for you. TPD is already on their way." Brian wondered who called them, though it was probably Letty, since Elena's number was likely the first one in her phone and easily dialed.

The look Braga shot Dom was venomous for a moment but quickly faded to nonchalance. "If they can catch me, they can have me," he said. "But the one with the power here is me. So I will kill these two pendejos, and anyone else who gets in my way, and then be gone before they arrive."

"Like hell you will," Vince spat from behind Dom. From the look on Dom's face, he whole-heartedly agreed.

Jesse and Brian locked eyes. Brian's asked a question, Jesse's gave the answer, as did his small nod. In the next instant, Brian stopped mimicking the shields, Braga and the others took notice of the change, Jesse extended his shield to cover the area Brian's had left, and Brian tackled Braga to the grass.

Making sure to keep from touching Braga's skin, Brian grabbed his sleeved arm and twisted it up behind his back until Braga cried out in pain. Green shielding protected Brian when Fenix tried to shoot him and Brian paid it no mind. Dom looked like he wanted to attack Fenix, but he stayed behind the shielding.

"Brian," Monica said.

He heard metal clink and lifted his hand to catch the handcuffs she'd thrown him, quickly handcuffing both of Braga's hands behind his back.

"Arturo Braga, you're under arrest for drug smuggling and a bunch of other stuff," Brian said.

"You goddamn mutant traitor sonofa-"

Brian kept talking over his captive's cursing. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do, and any use of mutant powers, can and will be held against you in the court of law. You have the right-"

The shields suddenly dropped and Brian stopped talking, eyes snapping to Jesse. The younger male had stopped holding his privates but was now clutching his side, where blood was leaking from between his fingers. Brian cursed under his breath. Jesse hadn't shielded himself!

Monica turned her gun on the nine men that now had clear shots at them. Fenix got two rounds loose before Monica caught him in the head with her own. She grunted and fell back to the ground, one penetration in her shoulder, the other near her hip, and dropped her gun. He dropped like a sack of potatoes.

"Shoot them!" Braga shouted at the men under his control.

Before they could follow the order, lightning arched through the air and hit each of the eight remaining men square in the chest. They jolted and jerked for several seconds, until Letty pulled her power back in, then began falling to their knees or sides or backs on the street, sidewalk, and yard. One of them fought to get back up and Vince ran over, kicking them in the head and knocking them out. The rest of the team followed Vince out now that the weapons were gone, detaining the men so that, controlled or not, they couldn't do any more damage, even Mia.

Monica said, "Brian," in a breathy voice, and Brian snapped to. No more playing house. Goodbye Brian Spilner.

Keeping his knee in the center of Braga's back, making the older man groan in pain, and his hand bunched in the fabric of Braga's shirt to hold his head down, Brian fished his phone from his pocket. He dialed the MCF.

"Hello, Mutant Contr-"

"This is Officer Brian O'Conner, undercover MCF calling for a med evac for Officer Monica Fuentes. Multiple gunshot wounds to the torso, concussion, and going into shock," he rattled off quickly.

There was barely a moment's pause before, "Evac team is on its way. They should arrive in about four minutes."

Top of their game tonight, Brian thought. He hung up without saying goodbye and speed dialed Tanner.

Braga struggled underneath him and Brian pressed down harder with his knee, making the man yell and start cursing in Spanish. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Brian looked up at the others.

Vince had fire in his eyes as he struggled to get to Brian. Tej and Rome were holding him back, both quietly yelling at him to calm down or back off, though he wasn't listening. Letty was standing guard over the eight guys they'd thrown into a haphazard pile. Leon was with Jesse, one hand helping put pressure on the gunshot wound and the other holding a phone to his ear as he no doubt called the Torettown paramedics, or better yet Suki, to come help Jesse. Lord knew the MCF wouldn't help him.

Mia had her hands on Dom's left arm, keeping her glistening eyes firmly on her brother. And then there was Dom. It was more difficult than Brian had thought it'd be to look Dom in the eyes. The unofficial leader of Torettown looked like he'd been the one shot multiple times, and he didn't know if he should be angry about it. The prominent emotion on his face was betrayal, flickering through various degrees of it, like he couldn't believe what he was witnessing. If Mia wasn't touching him, would Dom come beat him up? Brian would let him.

Luckily, Brian didn't have time to reflect on the emotions rampaging in his own chest at the moment. The adrenaline was wearing off and the bone deep exhaustion from mimicking Jesse's shields, even for only a few moments, was creeping in.

Then the phone connected and Brian spoke before Tanner could. "Sir, I believe you ordered a plate of drug trafficking with a side of attempted murder, and it's ready for pick up." He shut his eyes, beginning to feel like he was falling asleep. "Come get us out of here."

The door in front of him was a burnt red color while the walls around it were a yellow sort of off-white. The L.A. sunshine made the walls brighter than usual, to the point they were almost painful to look at. Brian knocked on the door and then stood a step back so that anyone looking through the peephole could clearly see him.

It only took a few moments for the lock to click and the door to swing open, revealing Monica Fuentes in all her glory. Her hair was vaguely messy, since she hadn't been expecting visitors, but otherwise she looked the same as always. Well, except for the sling holding her arm still. Brian knew there were bandages under her clothes for both bullet wounds, but if he hadn't seen her in the hospital, he never would've guessed.

"Brian," Monica greeted pleasantly. She motioned him inside. "I didn't expect any house calls."

Brian shrugged. "Yeah. I figured it was only right. Besides, I thought you'd be bored by now and I brought cookies."

"Alfajores?" she asked, eyeing the bag in Brian's hands with interest.

He smirked. "Of course."

She took the bag from him and moved to sit on the couch. "You know my favorite sweet. I'm not surprised," she commented. Monica groaned when she actually had to bend and sit on the couch. "I wouldn't mind some of your friend Suki's help right now, though I wouldn't turn away your copying ability either."

Brian frowned and sat down on the opposite end of the couch from Monica. He rested his elbows on his knees and looked at where his hands touched instead of at his ex-partner.

"How did you figure it out?" he asked solemnly.

Braga had been shouting and cursing about Brian's mutant power (shielding, he thought) all over the MCF since his capture. The only reasons why Brian wasn't in questioning himself right now were because the reports said Jesse had the shields and that Braga was a mutant criminal who altered the minds of those around him, so the brass wasn't inclined to believe anything that came out of his mouth. But Monica had been there. She'd seen how he and Jesse worked together. She'd heard what Vince said. Yet she never flinched, never reacted, never said anything, so she must have already known.

"I read your file, Brian," Monica told him.

That had Brian lifting his eyes to her. She looked affronted that he would think her that dim. "What? My file?"

She nodded once. "Everyone who works undercover gets a file on those they're working with. You got mine and I got yours." True. Brian also nodded. "I read about your past cases, all the way back to when you joined the force in Barstow as a teenager. To be honest, I'm surprised no one else has put it together yet."

"It's that obvious?" Brian asked.

Monica opened the bag and pulled out a white dusted alfajor cookie. "No, I suppose not. But with Braga spouting off at the mouth, it won't be long before someone looks closer and sees what I saw."

Brian cursed under his breath and clenched his hands together. An alfajor was placed on top of his hands where his thumbs and forefingers could act as a stand, making him blink in confusion.

"I think Tanner already knew," Monica said, grabbing another cookie from the bag without commenting on the one she'd given Brian. "There's no way you would have gotten such a perfect cover story if he didn't, but I don't have any real proof."

"Do you think he'll help me?" Brian asked, shifting his hands to hold the cookie properly and shaking the powdered sugar off himself.

Monica shrugged. "As best he can. But if there's even a whisper that you're a mutant, then leaving the MCF is going to be difficult at best." She locked eyes with Brian. "I'll help too, but Brian…we both know what's likely to happen."

Brian nodded in an almost defeated way. Yeah, he knew.

It wasn't likely that the Mutant Control Force would let a mutant continue to be a police officer. In fact, they would probably arrest him for lying to federal agents or putting agents at risk or whatever bullshit they could come up with. The MCF was notoriously against mutants. If regular cops were hard on mutant suspects and criminals, then the MCF was downright violent. They would stop at nothing to get their guy, or girl, and had the power to make someone a wanted criminal throughout the Americas within days. Even if Brian ran, they'd find him.

The only safe place on the west coast was Torettown.

"They'll put me away," Brian said evenly.

"Not if you aren't here to take," Monica retorted. "That's the choice you have to make, Brian. If they believe Braga, if they realize the truth, and they decide to bring you in, you're going to have to choose. Stay and spend the rest of your life in prison or run and find someplace safe where you can live a proper life."

Again, Brian knew what she meant. Afterall, he'd done the same thing for Rome. Torettown wouldn't prosecute him. In fact, the Torettown Police Department might actually accept him as one of their own. It was the safest place for a mutant. But if the MCF really wanted him, if they thought he was worth the effort, they would fight Torettown to get him.

"None of them have tried to contact me," spilled from his lips before Brian had even realized he was thinking it. "It might be better to face abuse at the hands of strangers than old friends."

Monica smacked him on the back of the head hard enough to shock Brian into dropping his cookie.

"Don't compare prison to loneliness," she chastised him, making him feel like a kid in the face of an angry mother. "It's only been two days and they just realized you'd been lying to them. If they were ever your friends, you need to give them more credit."

Brian ran his hands through his hair and held on tight. "That's just it, Monica. I don't know if they were."

"I don't understand."

Instead of looking at Monica, Brian cast his gaze around the sparsely but tastefully decorated living room, full of light colors and furniture. His eyes came to rest on the blank TV screen across from them.

"I'm a mimic," he stated. "Everything about me is just a mix up of everyone I've been around. Things I like, things I do, things I say, it's all affected by who's around me at the time. One of the guys on my first mission, a pimp, was real big into conserving national parks, so I was too. I've picked up a smoking habit three times, and nearly became an alcoholic twice. I've been friends with my marks before. We got along great, had the same skills, enjoyed the same things. But it's always just been my power that caused that."

The memory of Dom's hands in his hair, giving a reassuring tug, gripping tight while Brian drove him to the brink, shot through him and he let his hands drop into his lap instead.

"If I go back to Torettown…If I go back as Brian O'Conner and I don't let myself mimic, what if we aren't friends?" He shook his head. "What if I can't figure out who I am without mimicking them?"

There was silence in the room for several long moments. Brian didn't remove his eyes from the TV. Dom and Brian had talked about Brian's ability once, how what he'd done in the past affected him now. Because Brian had to practice a skill to keep it, what he'd mimicked a year ago wasn't a huge factor in what he did now. But the fact of the matter was that everything Brian did, everyone he mimicked, became part of him. Little pieces of his past deeds clung on. Darkness, Mia had called it. Desperation and the dark underside of a city. Evil.

And that was just the stuff he'd done years ago. Brian had been with the Toretto group only two days ago. He could still feel Jesse's ADHD, Vince's anger and guilt, taste Mia's tuna, Dom's skin. How much of him had been what the others had felt, thought, and done?

How much of his relationship with Dom had been simply because Dom wanted it and Brian copied him? Brian didn't regret any of it, not one second, but that didn't prove that it wasn't the effect of a mimic. No matter how hard he tried, Brian couldn't stop worrying about it either.

"When I was living with my cousins, during this mission," Monica began, breaking into Brian's thoughts. "We went skating a lot with her daughter. I'm not a good skater, but I never turned down a trip because I always had fun, because my niece was having fun." She waited until Brian looked at her to continue. "When I was in high school, all the girls were into these strange keychains you made out of strips of plastic rope weaved together. I hated making things but I had twenty of those half finished in my bag at any given moment. I went horseback riding once a month with my friend Carmella, and spent Spring Break in Miami with my sorority sisters. Today, I don't like horses and I hate Spring Breakers, but back then, with my friends, I was different."

"What's your point?" Brian asked quietly.

She frowned. "My point, Brian, is that everyone acts differently based on who they're around. Gang bangers act tough around their buddies but break down in interrogation rooms. Convicts act big in jail but cry in therapy or in front of a judge. My cousin pretends she likes her mother-in-law's cooking and her father-in-law's presence because that's what she does, but she and her husband agree that his father is a terrible person and his mother is a terrible cook when they're at home. It's not only your power that makes you act differently. It's because you're human and you can adapt."

"Your gift makes it easy for you to pretend to be someone else, or to fit in with whatever group you wish. You could be a star NBA player or concert pianist, a politician or a scuba diver, but you're not. And you're not because you choose not to be. You gift is like speed learning, but what you choose to remember is what makes you you, just like what I choose to take from my past makes me me." She shook her head once. "There was more of you in this mission than you want to admit. I believe Brian Spilner was much closer to Brian O'Conner than you think."

Feeling a tiny thread of hope, though for what, Brian didn't know, he asked, "And why's that?"

Giving Brian a knowing look, Monica said, "Because you wouldn't be so torn if he was a lie." She took a bite of her cookie.

Once again, Brian was in a lull.

There was an unoccupied desk in the corner of the bullpen that he'd been assigned for the purpose of filling out the paperwork associated with the Braga case. He was meant to give a detailed account of what happened throughout the case, especially the final encounter with Braga. Brian left out his relationship with Dom and Letty's with Elena, and kept it as dry and by the book as possible. He'd weaved his words around to hide the use of his powers throughout it as well.

He'd turned that report in three days ago and was still sitting at the empty desk each morning. For something to do, Brian had tried running errands for other agents, but Braga's accusations had made their rounds before he ever entered the office.

Brian O'Conner was a mutant.

Nothing overt had happened yet since there was no proof. If an agent attacked another agent, they could be let go or, depending on the severity of the wounds, assigned jail time. No one wanted that. But Brian was a potential threat now, so no one was willing to be friendly with him either. They didn't wave hello to him or acknowledge him. Someone brought food for the office the day before and pointedly avoided giving any to him. Brian was fine with that because it meant he got to leave the office for awhile and get lunch in L.A., where no one knew who he was.

He wondered, eating a sandwich from a local café, how long until the higher ups made a decision regarding him. How long until they decided there was enough evidence to prosecute him? How long before they started asking him questions he wouldn't be able to lie his way out of?

At least Brian hadn't made any friends in the office, so it wasn't like he was getting shunned by people who he'd thought he could trust. Monica had returned to work that morning, arm still wrapped up but moving alright and looking healthy. Tanner had briefed him and taken a statement the first day but had otherwise been occupied with the multiple cases he was running at the moment and hadn't had time to visit or talk.

Brian rode the elevator back up to the MCF HQ in LA, prepared to spend the rest of the day doing what he'd been doing for the past three days: playing solitaire and drawing race cars. He'd tried drawing Dom but it seemed his skill was limited to cars, not people. None of the other agents had any real portrait artist skill for him to draw on either.

Jesse was sitting in the lobby when the elevator doors opened. His shoulders were drawn in and his hands were fiddling with anything in his reach. He kept his eyes on the tile floor. It was obvious he was uncomfortable being here. His eyes trailed over at the sound of someone's arrival and then widened.

"Brian!" Jesse gasped, standing up. His bullet wound didn't cause him any pain so Suki or someone must've healed him. The receptionist, Hannah, shot Jesse a dirty look that had his shoulders hunching again. "It's good to see you."

Frowning at Hannah, Brian stepped over to Jesse. He kept an arm's length between them in case Jesse didn't want an MCF officer near him. "Leon?" he asked, keeping his eyes on Jesse.

Peeking up, Jesse's eyes darted to the right and then back to Brian. So Leon was somewhere near the corner but no one in the office knew it. Brian hadn't imagined that Jesse would come to some place like this on his own. He thought he saw movement out of the corner of his eye but when he checked for Leon, he didn't see anyone, so he turned back to Jesse.

"Why are you here, Jess?" Brian asked. "Are you in trouble?"

Jesse shook his head. "Nah, man. Dom needed protection, and you know how I am."

Brian's heart stuttered in his chest and he turned to look at the slivers of the bullpen he could see from here. "Dom's here? Why?"

"Duh," Jesse let out, but when Brian looked at him curiously he just tapped his head. "He's mad about how things went down, so he's here to make some changes to policy."

Before Brian could respond, a man in a dark suit sauntered in, heading for Hannah. It was Paulson, with his short cropped brown hair and overly broad shoulders. The man literally screamed 'asshole.' Upon seeing Brian, he stopped.

"Oh, O'Conner. You're back," he half sneered. "Tanner and Bilkins want you up in Tanner's office pronto." His eyes slid to Jesse. "You can stay there." Brian took a step toward Paulson and Paulson quickly turned on his heel and sauntered away again.

One day. One day, someone was gonna beat the crap out of Paulson. Brian just hoped he got to see it.

Brian gave a short wave to Jesse. "See you, I guess."

Jesse's hand landed on Brian's shoulder, actually making him jump. "Good luck, bro."

The words were sincere. The touch was casual. It seemed Jesse wasn't angry at him after all. Brian supposed he should've known better. Jesse was an open sort of person and a good kid. If any of the team was going to forgive that he'd lied, it would be Jesse.

"Thanks," Brian said before heading further into the office and up the stairs to the private offices.

There weren't that many people in the halls, but those that had to pass him made sure to give him a bit of a wide berth. Brian set his jaw and did his best to ignore them. His firm resolve lasted until he was outside of Tanner's office.

The walls of the offices were made of glass so that anyone walking by could see in. It kept people honest, they said. Tanner's office was in the middle of the hall and Brian couldn't take the last few steps to get inside. The door was already open, letting a few quiet sounds of conversation slip out, but Brian couldn't understand what they were saying because he couldn't get past what he was seeing.

Dominic Toretto was sitting in Tanner's office in a suit and tie, and as Brian got closer, the bald man turned his head and looked right at him.

Preview of Chapter 14

"You're all really okay with this?" he asked.

"Torettown was always out of your jurisdiction," Dom said.

That one name, spilling from Dom's lips so easily, felt like a liberation.

"A mutant," Bilkins said with a scowl. "A mutant on our payroll."

Dom shrugged. "I wasn't gonna apologize for it either."

Brian could feel the heavy air from all that Dom wanted to say, to ask, to do, from himself as well.

Tanner's lips were raised just the slightest bit and he lifted his eyebrows as if to say 'Yes, Brian, you've got it.'

Masterpost Available Here
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Chapter Twelve

After an awkward but not hostile afternoon with Mia, Jesse came to relieve her. While Mia went to go help prepare some food for Tuesday family dinner night, Jesse followed Brian back to his apartment so he could change and get ready before they headed over to the Toretto house themselves.

"Mia seemed…tense," Jesse noted as they entered Brian's apartment. "Everything alright between you two?" His eyes were on the bruise forming on Brian's cheek. It wasn't hugely large or dark, but it was still noticeable.

Closing the door behind them, Brian said, "Yeah. Yeah it's good."

Mia had plugged him for information on his past cases and Brian had done his best to tell her what he could. She hadn't been happy when he told her he was legally not allowed to tell her this or that, but she'd accepted it. She'd also taken joy in making side comments about him and Dom, or about what happened to people who ticked Dom off. Brian was mostly sure Dom wouldn't beat him to death when he found out Brian was a cop, but the more Mia said the more he worried. It was actually a relief when Jesse showed up for his Watch Brian shift because it meant Mia stopped staring at him.

Hopefully they wouldn't get a repeat performance tonight or it'd be hard to explain what happened to cause it. Well, actually, they could say she'd found out about him and Dom and was watching him extra carefully to make sure he wasn't going to do something stupid like break her brother's heart.

Was he going to break Dom's heart?

Jesse, like Leon and Dom, plopped himself on the couch. It shouldn't be a surprise that they all did that. There wasn't exactly a lot of furniture in the studio apartment so it was the couch, the little dining table chair, or the bed. Given the choice in someone else's house, Brian would go for the couch as well.

"Sure she ain't gonna beat you up later?" Jesse asked as he lounged back. His shoes were on the cushions but Brian didn't make him move them.

"You think she's gonna fight me?" Brian asked in response. He filled a cup with water and downed it in a few big gulps, then refilled it and moved to set it on the coffee table for Jesse if he wanted it.

Jesse watched the ceiling. "Hm. I don't know. But to be honest, I kinda wanna see that fight."

Brian laughed. "Why's that?" He'd already fought Vince. Unless Mia was hiding some amazing fighting skills, Brian didn't think it was gonna be a fair match.

Now Jesse was focused on him. "Cause I wanna know who Dom'll side with," he said like it was obvious. Brian's good humor evaporated. "He's always on Mia's side usually, but, eh, I don't know, man. You're different." He gave the best shrug he could while lying down. "Dom's different with you."

Brian didn't have an answer for that. Though, if the fight happened because Mia was angry he was a cop and she told everyone that was why, then Dom would probably side with his sister. It wasn't that Brian was a cop, really. It was that Brian was currently working for the Mutant Control Force. That's what had Mia so upset, what would have them all upset soon.

Shaking his head, Brian headed for his dresser. Brian almost began peeling his shirt off, but remembered his badge peeking out of his back pocket just in time. Instead, he collected new clothing to wear – pants, underwear, shirt – and headed for the bathroom.

"Right. I'm gonna jump in the shower real quick," Brian said.

Jesse waved him away. "Just don't make your shower angry, bro."

Just about half an hour later, they were pulling up to the Toretto house. Jesse was already out of the car before Brian pulled the keys from the ignition. The youngest of the Toretto team and he was always on the move. They'd barely reached the Toretto front door when another car pulled up on the lawn. It wasn't Letty, Vince, Leon, Dom, or Mia, because their cars were already here.

It had to be Rome and Brian's theory was proven true a moment later. Rome stepped out of the driver's seat, followed shortly by Tej from the passenger's seat and, to Brian's shock, Monica from the back.

"Monica," Brian let out as they joined him and Jesse on the front steps. "What are you-"

"Well if my boyfriend is going to this dinner, then so am I," she said sweetly. She wasn't pleased with the cover story either, that's what her tone said to Brian, but she would use whatever it took to be closer to the investigation. "We've been too far apart for too long, Brian." And that was about her and him, not Rome.

Brian shut his eyes briefly. What was it with people today and making him feel guilty?

"Party's gettin' crowded," Jesse half sang, then whistled in appreciation and entered the house, leading the rest of them in. "We got company!"

From the kitchen came the sounds of plates and silverware being moved around, and Dom's voice talking to someone, tone easy and light. Letty and Vince were sitting in the living room watching TV, so it had to be either Mia or Leon – probably Mia, and Leon was hiding somewhere waiting to appear when it would make the most people jump.

"Since when are you all family?"

Tej, Rome, and Monica visibly jumped and flipped around to see Leon against the wall by the door. Brian smirked.

"Since apparently I became a mother duck," he joked with a wave at his entourage.

Leon shook his head but it was Vince who answered. "They're in trouble then. You couldn't take care of a car by yourself, let alone ducks."

Brian flicked him off with a saccharine smile and Vince repeated it back to him. It was probably the closest to friendship they'd ever get.

"I can tell tomorrow's gonna be fun," Letty quipped, pushing herself off the couch. "You and Vince alone for five hours?" She shook her head. "I should bring popcorn."

"Some help carrying plates would also be nice," Mia quipped as she carried cups from the kitchen.

Tej nodded and headed over, followed shortly by Rome and Letty.

Mia passed Brian on the way to the table and gave him a significant look, then moved her eyes to the kitchen. Tej and Rome were already in there grabbing plates and silverware, but Dom was also in there cooking. Brian's badge was still in his back pocket.

"What happened to your face?" Monica asked, drawing Brian from his thoughts.

Brian lightly touched his cheek. The bruise didn't hurt, which was lucky he supposed. "A minor disagreement between me and my ideals," he answered.

Mia laughed once, softly, as she finished putting a cup at each seat at the table. There wasn't enough room for ten people, so she went back into the kitchen to get more cups and place them around the coffee table as well. Her satisfied smile stayed with her as she went and it made Brian's lips lift as well.

Monica was still staring at him, not backing down. Brian sighed. "I'm fine. I promise. It's just a bruise."

"Could always heal it."

Both cops looked to Vince still on the couch. He looked angry, confused, and sad at the same time. When he saw they were looking, he continued.

"I know it makes you tired or whatever, but dammit, I messed you up," Vince cursed, hands clenching into fists. "You could've matched my strength so I never touched you, or Jesse's shields even. And with Dom's power you never would've had a mark." He narrowed his eyes but it wasn't in anger. "Why did you let me do it? I could've killed you."

At least he hadn't mentioned Brian healing himself from bullet wounds. Monica was glancing between them, interested.

Brian let out a quiet breath as he lowered his hand from his cheek. "You wouldn't have killed me, Vince."

"But I could've!" Vince retorted, standing from the couch, obviously aggravated. His hands were still clenched, his brow was low on his forehead, his posture was tense. In another situation, Brian might've thought they were about to fight.

"But you didn't," Brian replied easily. "A few bruises don't require instant healing." Even though bending at all had hurt like a motherfucker for the first several days.

"Brian."

Mia set the last of the cups on the coffee table between Brian and Vince, effectively stopping their conversation. She pat her hands together once when she was done and then put her hands on her hips.

"Dom could use some help in the kitchen," she said. It wasn't blindly obvious she was trying to make him go talk to Dom about being a cop, but the insinuation was there.

Nodding, Brian said, "Right. I'll be right there." And maybe he could sneak in one last kiss before he signed the death warrant for Brian Spilner.

He slipped into the kitchen as Tej slipped out. Dom was just pulling a glass baking pan out of the oven. In the pan was a loaf of meat covered in breadcrumbs and sitting in a red sauce. Dom put the pan down and reached over to turn off the oven.

Taking advantage of the otherwise empty kitchen, Brian wrapped his arms around Dom's waist and kissed his neck. Dom didn't even flinch. In fact, he turned his head so they could kiss properly for a few moments. Both men were smiling when they pulled back.

"Smells fantastic," Brian complimented. "What is it?"

"Polpettone," Dom said, which really meant nothing to Brian but he didn't care. Noticing Brian's lack of understanding, Dom continued, "Italian meatloaf."

Brian grimaced. "Mmm, lovely."

Dom playfully hit him in the face, not hard enough to do more than make Brian blink. "You just said it smelled good, so stop frowning. Judge it after you've ate it, Bri."

The nickname reminded Brian of why he was really in the kitchen. His frown didn't deepen so much as turn sad. "Listen, Dom. I need to tell you something."

Letty walked in just then and gave them an unimpressed stare. "Enough play, boys. We need more beer," she said, effectively breaking whatever mood had fallen around them and stopping Brian's confession. She motioned to the other room. "There ain't enough Corona in this house for us all. And Elena might drop by later, too. Go on a drink run instead."

"But-," Brian tried.

"Beer run. Now," Letty interrupted easily. "The faster you get back, the faster we eat, and I'm starving, so get moving."

Brian frowned. So much for coming clean with Dom right now.

"Take Jesse with you," Dom spoke up. "It's still his turn to watch your back."

Resting his forehead against Dom's shoulder briefly, Brian said, "Okay, mother," into Dom's skin, and then pulled away entirely. Dom graced him with an almost smug grin. Giving a squeeze to Dom's shoulder, Brian turned and headed for the door.

Brian resisted the urge to sigh. It felt like his badge was burning a hole in his pocket. Dom was so close, but the opportunity to reveal himself just slipped away. He'd had plenty of opportunities to tell Dom since last night but he'd held off each time. If he wasn't careful, Brian wouldn't get a chance to tell Dom. Dom would find out from someone else or when they caught Braga, and that would be so much worse than telling the truth now.

He just couldn't get his mouth to open whenever he tried.

In the living room, Brian pat Jesse on the shoulder to grab his attention. "Come on. With so many unexpected guests, Letty says there's not enough beer, so we gotta go grab some more."

"Alright," Jesse agreed, immediately dropping everything in his hands and heading for the door.

"I'll go with you," Monica offered suddenly. "Since I'm one of the unexpected guests."

Knowing there was no way to persuade her to stay, Brian let her follow them out to the car.

Jesse whistled the whole way to the store, sounding uncomfortable being in the car with Brian and Monica even though Monica was in the back seat and Brian was driving.

"Jesse," Monica said just before they arrived at the store. The whistling ended abruptly as he turned in his seat to face her. "Can you not whistle anymore? Please?"

"Oh. Sorry, dude. I mean, ma'am. I mean, er-," he stuttered.

Monica placed a hand on his arm that made him stop babbling. "Monica is fine," she told him.

Jesse slid out of the car as soon as Brian had it in park. "This is weird though," Jesse said. "Being that you two know each other and I don't know you, and I don't know what kind of history there is between you, like if you dated or had a one-night stand or got drunk or overdosed or-"

"Wow, I wonder what that feels like," Brian interrupted smoothly as they entered the store. "One new guy joining up with a group of old friends. Must be tough."

That earned him a grin from Monica and a sheepish look from Jesse.

"Sorry, bro," Jesse said with a tap on Brian's shoulder. "I'm nervous."

Brian rolled his shoulders. "S'okay. Now, where is the beer?" he asked no one in particular, already heading to where he knew the beer was stocked from previous grocery trips he'd made.

Of course, Jesse didn't let the conversation drop. It only took until they reached the beer aisle for him to keep talking.

"I feel like I stepped into some sort of TV drama, is all," he noted. "I can't imagine what you in the middle of all our business all of a sudden was like." He shuddered. "Crazy."

They grabbed several cases of Coronas and headed for the check out.

With a shrug and a smile, Brian said, "It was actually pretty nice. You're like a family, without the blood relations."

"There's all kinds of family, Brian," Monica commented easily. "You had Roman when you were little, I had my mother and father and siblings and cousins. They had each other," she said with a nod toward Jesse walking just a step ahead of them. "It's easy to feel comfortable with family. To forget what worries you, what frightens you, even your responsibilities." She locked eyes with Brian as they reached a self checkout line and Jesse began ringing them up. "It's when you have no family that you remember, and that can be scary, but you keep moving."

She was once again warning him against playing house, it seemed. Brian understood her concerns, he really and honestly did, but he'd made a choice. He wasn't forgetting the mission. He wasn't going to give up on Braga. He wasn't going to quit being a cop.

At the same time, Brian wasn't going to give up a moment with the people of Torettown. He'd play in charity games and make deliveries and cook for the neighborhood and fix broken cars and, now, find ample time to put his hands and mouth on every inch of Dom's taught muscles and smooth skin.

Brian had gone all in on missions before and no one much cared. The more he embraced his role, the better the operation went. It was only when he found a role he wanted to keep that the people around him started to nag, and it was by far the least illegal role he'd ever played.

"Moni', my cherri," Jesse said in appreciation, cash in hand but not feeding it to the machine. "That was deep."

Monica smiled at him. "Thank you, Jesse."

As they were getting back in the car, Brian was hit with a sudden realization. Monica and Jesse were now talking freely with each other and so didn't notice Brian's lapse in attention.

Monica was right. Rome had been his family growing up. Even eight years later, without any contact, they were still close. When this job ended, Brian would not only lose Dom, he'd lose Rome too. Outside of Torettown, Rome was still a criminal, a mutant who stole cars when he was young and stupid. And even if he could leave, Brian would be undercover again within two weeks in god knew what county or state and with what identity. He couldn't take anything from Torettown with him, not even Rome.

Shit.

Brian was honestly surprised that no one came rushing out to greet them when they got back. Dinner was most definitely done by now and they probably wanted to get started as soon as possible. They had likely started some movie to pass the time and didn't hear the car pull up.

"Alright. Food food food food food," Jesse chanted quietly, a spring in his step, as they stepped quickly up the walk toward the door.

Monica gave a slight giggle and looked at Brian out of the side of her eye. "I see why you like them." Brian smiled at her.

Suddenly Monica gasped and fell backward, almost as if someone had shoved her but with no one there. Her head smacked into the concrete with a muted thud. Jesse stopped chanting at the same time Brian stopped walking. Even as Brian was still turning to look at her, Jesse was already moving behind him to get to where she was groaning on the walkway. As if moved on invisible strings, Jesse flipped around, away from Monica. He yelped and dropped his case of beer to grab his junk and fell to the ground at Brian's feet.

"What?" Brian looked around but didn't see an attacker, even though someone had to have just taken them out.

A dark skinned teen with disinterested eyes materialized to the right of the house, almost in the driveway, and Brian glared.

"Hey," he called. "Who are you?"

Brian had only taken two steps away from Monica and Jesse, toward the new arrival, when something wrapped around his neck from behind and the world went fuzzy at the edges. He barely heard the case of beer hit the grass.

"Hello, Officer," a Spanish accented voice whispered in his ear.

Braga. Shit. Brian struggled to move his arms or feet or say something, but his body wouldn't respond. In fact, as the seconds ticked by, he even stopped wanting to fight the hold Braga had on him.

"Do me a favor," Braga continued, voice calm and yet with an undercurrent of anger. Something slid into Brian's hand, his fingers automatically wrapping around the familiar weight of a loaded gun. "Take this gun and blow your brains out, you interfering piece of shit."

Preview of Chapter 13

Monica said, "Brian," in a breathy voice. No more playing house. Goodbye Brian Spilner.

"They'll put me away," Brian said evenly.

"Not if you aren't here to take," Monica retorted.

The fact of the matter was that everything Brian did, everyone he mimicked, became part of him. Little pieces of his past deeds clung on. Darkness, Mia had called it. Desperation and the dark underside of a city. Evil.

Brian O'Conner was a mutant.

He pulled the trigger.

Mia had her hands on Dom's left arm, keeping her glistening eyes firmly on her brother. The unofficial leader of Torettown looked like he'd been the one shot multiple times.

The look Braga shot Dom was venomous for a moment but quickly faded to nonchalance. "If they can catch me, they can have me," he said. "But I will kill anyone else who gets in my way, and then be gone before they arrive."

"I believe Brian Spilner was much closer to Brian O'Conner than you think."

Chapter Eleven

The crowd at the race that night was just as big as the last one and Brian saw a lot of familiar faces. Hector and Suki were there, but also a lot of the people Vince once asked him to mimic, like Jesus and Keith, Heather, Dejoun, Sarah, and Gisele. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people who bought parts from Harry were also in attendance, whether to show off their cars or drive them.

The rest of the team weren't there yet when Brian and Dom arrived, but Rome was and he approached Brian almost immediately while the first race got underway. Following Rome over was a man with buzz cut black hair and a hint of both a mustache and a beard. His skin was lighter than Rome's and he was also several inches shorter, but he carried himself with enough confidence and surety to match Brian's old friend.

"Hey, B," Rome greeted, clasping hands with Brian and giving him a quick slap on the back hug. "This here's Tej Parker. He's the guy I told you 'bout. Tej, this is my boy, Brian."

Tej had a strong grip when they shook hand and held Brian's gaze. Brian liked him more already. "Nice to meetcha."

Brian blinked. He knew that voice. "Wait, did you host a race a few weeks back?" Tej sounded like the guy who ran the race the night Brian mimicked Dom.

"One? Man, I host 'em all!" Tej laughed. "It's a lucrative business."

Brian nodded. "And you give cars to all your friends?" he asked, glancing between Tej and Rome.

Tej gave a half shrug. "Only the ones I can see being partners with," he said with a grin that seemed to hide a secret joke only Tej understood.

"Tej also hooked me up with a place to stay," Rome added, bright white teeth showing. "We got to talkin' 'bout the fact that racing wasn't illegal here. That's how we came to our agreement."

"Agreement?" Brian asked sharply.

"I provide the means, he earns the money," Tej explained. "My car and my garage. His driving skill and speed. It's a perfect combination, baby."

He and Rome bumped fists and Brian felt himself relaxing. Tej really did seem like an upfront and above-the-table guy, with his most illegal act being running the races – which wasn't illegal in Torettown. Brian would keep an eye on him anyway, just to be sure, and maybe have Monica run a profile on him so he knew what to look out for.

Tej lightly hit him in the shoulder, making him shift his shoulder back slightly but not upsetting his balance any. With another of those secret joke grins, he said, "Calm down, bro. I feel like I'm about to get arrested with that sour look on your face."

Brian's entire body went stiff and his eyes shot to Rome, who looked extremely guilty. "Can I talk to Rome for a minute?" he asked Tej in a quiet, almost dangerous tone of voice, without tearing his eyes from Rome.

"Of course, man. Of course," Tej agreed, looking like the cat that got the canary. "I'll see you both later when you're racing. Later, man," he said with a brief touch to Rome's shoulder before disappearing into the crowd to go host the races.

"Bri-"

"I can't believe you!" Brian hissed out, getting up in Rome's personal space. "You were told so that you wouldn't blow my cover and then you turn around and tell some random guy? What, just cause he's renting you a room and lending you a car? Goddamit, Rome!"

Rome frowned. "Hey, it ain't like that," he said. "We can trust this guy, B. I know we can."

Brian ran his hands through his hair roughly so he wouldn't punch Rome in the face. "I've got enough problems right now. I don't need to be worrying that my secret's gonna be all over the streets."

"Brian," Rome stated so forcefully that it made Brian's spiraling thoughts halt. His gaze was just as fierce. "Your secret is safe with Tej."

"How do you know?" Brian asked seriously.

Expression not changing, Rome answered, "Because I trust him."

A lot must have changed in the last eight years, because the Rome that Brian grew up with did not trust so easily. He would've thought that doing time in mutant prison would've hardened Rome against strangers, but with Tej he was all open arms, spilling secrets and becoming partners-

Partners.

Tej's secret joke smile.

Brian grimaced. "Ahh, Rome, really?" he asked, taking a half step out of Rome's personal space so he could wave his arms in front of himself without hitting Rome. "I didn't need that mental picture, bro."

Rome gave a toothy grin. "You the one that thought it. I didn't say nothing." He heaved a large but light sigh. "It's the start of a beautiful new life, B."

"Stop, stop!" Brian interrupted. "I don't want to know what you get up to. Personal time, Rome, remember?"

When Rome just continued to give him a shit eating grin, Brian just had to punch him to make it go away. Rome stumbled back a step and put a hand over his chest where he'd been struck, but he was laughing so Brian knew it hadn't actually hurt him.

Reminder: have Monica keep an extra close watch on Tej Parker.

There was heat behind him and Brian's serious thoughts evaporated for the moment as a content feeling overwhelmed him.

"Hey, Dom," he greeted before turning around. Rome stopped chortling and stood up straighter in Dom's presence.

"Hey yourself," Dom responded. "You wandered off. Need I remind you that the last time you were in a crowd, you nearly died?"

Once again, the feeling of losing his legs made his lower body tingle and his back ache. Brian shook his head and shifted his stance to keep himself out of those thoughts and memories. He was racing tonight. The adrenaline would help, as would the feel of a car humming under his body and the movements of his feet needed to move the car the way he wanted to.

"Yeah, but this time I've got you and Rome around," Brian said, a wavering tease in his voice. And somewhere in the crowd was Monica as well in case Braga himself made an appearance.

Dom touched Brian's lower back and the tingles in his legs vanished. He could feel Dom's fingers spread out over his shirt and it was the last reminder his brain needed that he still had his legs, that his spine was fine. It also made Brian remember earlier that evening, before they got ready for the races: shirts and sheets, light shining on sweat, wide hands in his hair, down his chest, trailing his back, heat everywhere.

"Augh, Brian!" Rome gagged. "Did we not just talk about personal time? I didn't need that image either!" He even covered his face with his hands like the two were doing something inappropriate at that exact moment.

Not taking his eyes off Dom, Brian grinned and said, "You thought it. I didn't say nothing." Dom smiled back.

After the races were done, Dom stayed the night. It was the best sleep Brian could remember having in the past eight years.

In the morning, while Dom made use of the shower, Brian slid his badge into his back pocket. He had to tell them. He couldn't keep hiding.

"You gotta learn to hold off on the NOS. And you switched gears like a novice."

Rome gaped at Tej for a moment, bits of pulled pork and bread visible in his mouth from the large bite he'd just taken of his sandwich. Brian kicked him under the diner table. "Manners, Rome."

Swallowing, Rome pouted. "I raced fine last night."

Tej lifted an eyebrow. "Tell that to my Spyder GTS. She was weeping after that race. Took me an hour to make her feel better."

"Hey, I won, didn't I?"

"True," Dom broke in from his seat to Brian's right, empty plate in front of him, "but I think even our Buster could beat you."

Now Rome looked insulted. He dropped his sandwich back to his plate. "What? What? That ain't right, man. I taught him to race, alright? I taught him everything he knows about cars."

Brian chuckled and shook his head as he popped a fry into his mouth. "Maybe when we were sixteen, Rome, but I've changed a lot since then."

Rome flicked condensation from his glass at Brian, which just made him giggle again, joined by Tej and earning a smile from Dom.

"Ain't changed that much," Rome muttered petulantly. "Better driver than me. Now that's some bullshit."

Tej poked him in the side of the head, just above his ear. "Don't whine. It's not attractive."

"Oh I'll show you attractive," Rome replied as if gearing up for a fight, turning in his seat to face the shorter man while Tej just smirked at him.

"Fun as that would be, we're in public."

Everyone at the diner table turned to see the new arrival. Mia Toretto stood with her hands on her hips, staring down at them.

"Hey, Mia. Time to switch already?" Brian asked. It felt like the morning had flown by.

She nodded. "Yeah. Dom," she looked to her brother. "Thank you so much for the call saying you weren't coming home last night," she said sarcastically. "Also, Cesare wanted to talk to you when you got a chance. He said he'd be at the office until three."

Cesare Toretto. Mayor of Torettown and cousin to Mia and Dominic. He was a slight man with a strong voice and amazing charisma, or so Brian had read. He'd never met the man before but Dom had gone to see him a few times in the past several weeks. Cesare deferred to Dom on a lot of issues when running the city, so everyone tended to respect and obey Dom more than his cousin. Surprisingly, Cesare, at least publicly, seemed to prefer things that way.

"What's he want?" Dom asked.

Mia shrugged. "The usual. Policy. Procedure. Precedence," she said flippantly. "He seemed anxious though."

"He's always anxious." Dom sighed and tapped on Brian's side lightly but repeatedly until Brian slid out of the booth to let him out. He looked down at his sister with a withering look. "Sure know how to make a great day average, huh?"

She smiled up at him sweetly. "You know I strive for excellence. Now go."

Dom looked down at Brian, looking up at him with a content half-smile on his face. He let out a small huff of breath through his nose, muscles in his arms tensing briefly, before turning and leaving the diner. Brian watched him until he was out of the door before moving his attention to Mia.

"You're paying his bill, you know," he quipped.

She crossed her arms. "You were the big winner last night, Buster, why don't you pay for it? After winning three races, you definitely have the cash to spare."

"And I'm out," Tej said, throwing a few bills on the table to cover his meal. He pushed on Rome's arm to make him move out of the way.

"I'm with ya," Rome agreed, also throwing down money before standing and moving around Mia for the door. "Later, B," he called back to Brian as he and Tej disappeared outside.

Mia slid into the booth across from Brian and began picking at the food the boys had left behind – which mainly included their sides.

Brian watched her for a few moments before placing his arms on the table. "You seem agitated."

"Do I?" Mia asked. "My brother took Letty's turn at watching you last night and then didn't take part in the races and didn't come home and didn't call. I had no idea where he was. He didn't answer his phone when I called and no one knew where either of you were so I had to wait until it was my turn to watch you to find out if you were both dead in a ditch somewhere."

With a wince, Brian said, "Sorry."

Mia watched him for a few moments, chewing a fry slowly. Brian got the impression he was being scanned by a computer deciding if he was a safe program or a virus in need of deletion.

"I was wondering when Dom would make a move," she said at last. "But I guess you both sort of moved at the same time."

Brian felt his face heat up but he didn't do her the disservice of lying. It would be obvious to someone without her gifts, so there really was no point. Instead, he nodded silently.

She ate another fry and then drank from Brian's soda without asking. "You both seem really happy," she said with a vague smile before her expression fell flat. "But you're anxious. You're worried about something. Something that you know might make Dom hate you."

Damn. She was really reading him now, wasn't she? He refused to shift in his seat. He'd been in the mob, for goodness sake. He could handle this.

Mia sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose for a moment. "Listen, Brian. I know you care about my brother, okay? He cares about you too. But I've told you before that secrets don't stay secret in this family for long. So whatever it is you're hiding from him, from us, you need to come clean about it." She gave him an encouraging smile. "I can tell it's eating at you. It's been eating at you since that first family dinner, and it's only getting worse. So…tell me. Let me help you out."

The MCF badge was digging into him in his back pocket. It, combined with Mia's open expression and words, had Brian sighing and clasping his fingers together on the table. He shut his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath to settle himself. He'd decided he was going to blow his cover. He'd decided. It was for the best.

"I'm a cop."

When he opened his eyes, he saw that Mia's open expression had turned to one of confusion. "What? I don't-"

"I became a cop when I was nineteen, right out of high school, back in my hometown of Barstow. I was a street cop for two years before the higher ups pulled me for undercover ops because my mutation made it easy for me to blend in with any crowd. Not that they knew it was a mutation's fault. I've been rented out to every department and county that needed an in through California, Arizona, and Nevada for the last five and half years, never staying in one place for more than a few months."

He kept his eyes on Mia's the entire time he spoke, his voice even and straightforward. Her eyebrows came together and her lips pulled down and it was obvious that she was trying to find a hint he was lying. She was straining to hear something or see something or sense something that would explain why he was saying these things other than it being the truth.

Reaching into his back pocket, Brian pulled out his badge and set it calmly on the table. "Braga keeps trying to kill me because right now, my mission is to capture him, and one of the other agents blew my cover with him."

Mia shook her head back and forth slowly, her eyes locked on the badge. Mutant Control Force. The government agency Torettown was founded to protect mutants against.

She stood up abruptly and headed for the door. Brian threw a wad of cash, probably way too much but he didn't care, on the table, grabbed his badge, and hurried after her. She had already turned down the side of the diner, away from the front doors.

"Mia."

"Go away."

"Mia," he tried again, just as they reached the front of her car.

Mia flipped around and slapped him, hard, across the face. It was enough to make him stumble to the side and hold his face. There were tears in her eyes and Brian felt his heart drop to his stomach.

"You bastard," she said lowly, obviously trying not to make too big a scene. Luckily there were no witnesses to them at the moment and no windows into the diner from here. "You know what they do to mutants outside of Torettown? Do you know what happens to mutants in prisons?"

"Yeah," Brian said. "Yeah I do."

She shook her head. "Then why? Why would you work for them? Why would you do that?" It was obvious she wanted to yell, to shout and rail at him, to hurt him, but she held back.

Brian frowned. "I'm using my power to help people. Joining the police was my way of helping mutants, not hurting them," he told her. "Most of the guys I catch are regs. And the mutants? They're hardened criminals, Mia. They've done awful things. I would never send someone to prison unless it was for the same reasons Dom would."

Mia raised her hand again but stopped before slapping him, for which he was grateful. His chin ached. He'd probably bruise.

"You've been lying to us, this whole time," she said as she lowered her hand. "Did you know that cop who tried to shoot Dom?"

Brian gaped at her. "What? Mia, no!" He took her by the shoulders and it was obvious that she was fighting not to throw him off. "Mia. Mia, I would never do that. I swear. I would never do anything that could harm any one of you. Not even Vince," he tried for levity but it fell flat. "Use your power on me, Mia. Read me. Tell me if I'm lying, even a little bit. I'm on your side. You can trust me, Mia."

Her eyes searched his and a single tear fell from each eye, but no more. She nodded. "I know," she admitted in a near whisper. "You've got a clean heart, and you really care about my brother. If I couldn't trust anything else, I'd still trust that."

Releasing Mia, Brian let out a rush of breath. "I'm still not sure about that 'clean heart' thing, but thank you. Really. Cop or not, Mia, I'm still the same guy."

She let out a weak laugh. "You're a terrible liar," she said. "A cover story wouldn't have gotten past me."

He nodded. "Lie aside, I need you to do me a favor, Mia." He swallowed. "I need you to not tell Dom. Don't tell anyone, but especially not Dom."

Mia sighed. "You want to tell him yourself," she noted like he was being difficult but she understood. "Fine. I don't want to be there when the shit hits the fan anyway."

Brian grimaced. "You think it'll be that bad?" he asked, running a hand through his hair.

The younger Toretto smirked. "He's gonna go ballistic. But you might live."

Leaning against Mia's car, Brian covered his face with his hands briefly. "So I should enjoy whatever it is we have while I can, huh?"

He'd made that decision last night as well. Brian would take what he could with Dom, covet it, horde it, because he knew this was all coming to an end and soon. Still, hearing it from Mia made it all the more real. Made it feel that much more evanescent and desperate and stupid.

Mia lifted an eyebrow at him. "You run with the MCF, Brian. You've had to do that since the beginning."

Preview for Chapter 12

Rome stepped out of the driver's seat, followed shortly by Tej from the passenger's seat and Monica from the back.

"Apparently I became a mother duck," Brian joked with a wave at his entourage.

"There's all kinds of family, Brian," Monica commented easily.

His eyes were on the bruise forming on Brian's cheek. It wasn't hugely large or dark, but it was still noticeable.

Brian lightly touched his cheek. "A minor disagreement between me and my ideals," he answered.

Was he going to break Dom's heart?

His frown didn't deepen so much as turn sad. "Listen, Dom. I need to tell you something."

"Hello, Officer," a Spanish accented voice whispered.

Brian had only taken two steps when something wrapped around his neck from behind and the world went fuzzy at the edges.

Masterpost Available Here
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Chapter Ten

"Why're you going after Braga, Brian?"

Brian blinked. "We talked about it together, Dom," he said, trying to come off as clueless as possible. "I said I would help you get him."

Dom frowned. "Exactly. Together. So why are you doing it alone?"

Brian couldn't look away from Dom. Mia had called her brother gravity, and Brian certainly felt like he was being sucked into those eyes. If he didn't do something soon, Brian would never be able to pull himself out again.

He also couldn't lie with Mia in the room, and she could probably tell he was hiding something anyway. He'd have to hope his words were truthful enough that she'd overlook it.

"I haven't been going after Braga alone," he said, voice strong and true.

He hadn't been after Braga on his own since that night at the warehouse. Right now he was just waiting around for Braga to come to him.

When the room remained quiet and it was obvious that one simple statement wasn't going to cut it, Brain added, "You can ask Harry. I go to work or I'm with you."

"And did Harry know you'd gone out that time you first mimicked someone?" Dom asked.

Well, Brian didn't have a good answer for that. Harry hadn't known. He likely assumed that if Brian wasn't at the shop that he was doing something for his case, but he hadn't known that Brian had spotted his guy or that he was out tracing said guy. And even if he had, Harry wasn't the best liar. Brian didn't actually want the gang to go question him if it could be helped.

Steeling himself, Brain gripped Dom's hand the way Dom had gripped his. "I swear to you, Dom. I swear, I haven't been chasing Braga around without telling you."

Dom stared at him, brown eyes into blue, for several long moments. He already looked like he'd accepted Brian's answer when he turned to his sister for confirmation. Mia gave a half shrug before nodding, letting Dom know Brian was telling the truth.

"So then why is it he keeps sending people to kill you?" Mia asked, crossing her arms.

Brian looked at where Dom's slightly tanner fingers were holding his own. "When I showed up to work exhausted…I'd been after Braga the night before. He must've found out I was snooping."

"Braga's the one you saw buying parts and acting suspicious?" Dom asked. Brian nodded without looking at him.

"I didn't know you guys knew him at the time," he said. "I really was checking him out because I was worried what he was up to."

"And you're close with Torettown's main man, Dom," Jesse added, looking a bit impressed actually.

Leon crossed his arms. "Setting an example," he said. "Even if you're friends with the mayor's family, you can't mess with him. Braga's getting ballsy."

"We should tell Elena," Mia said, already moving to grab the phone. "The TPD can double the watch for him. If he's getting this confident, he'll get sloppy."

With a nod, Dom finally released Brian's hand and stood up. Brian's hand felt frozen cold in the mild air that replaced Dom's fingers.

"We also keep a watch on Brian," Dom said. It was a tone that broached no arguments.

Brian argued anyway. "What? No, Dom, don't-" How was he supposed to meet with Monica or call Tanner if someone was always with him?

"I agree," Rome broke in, crossing his arms over his chest. Brian glared at him. Rome was supposed to help with his case, not get in the way of it. "Havin' an escort when you ain't at your place is safest, B," he said in response.

When he wasn't at the apartment.

Brian nodded before someone could refute the statement. "Fine, fine." He sighed. "You guys can baby me if you want to. Pick me up for work in the morning, follow me on my deliveries, whatever. But not in my apartment, alright? You drop me off in the afternoon and back off."

The others in the room looked ready to protest, but Rome stepped in again.

"I can't imagine none o' you would be too pleased if someone followed you into your own homes, now would you? That loss of privacy? That loss of me time, you-know-what-I-mean time. And this ain't Psycho with a killer and a knife coming through the shower curtain or nothing. Brian can handle himself for a few hours a night while we all recharge our batteries for the next day."

Sometimes, Brian loved Rome and his mouth.

That's how Brian earned himself a buddy system that lasted from 8 AM until 10 PM, except for bathroom breaks. Leon was taking first shift in the morning, with Jesse taking over at lunch and Letty finishing the day off. They'd switch out who was with him between the six of them from day to day.

Brian wondered how long until he wanted to kill either them or himself.

"Let me see."

Brian took a step back from Monica when her hands reached for his shirt. Her expression turned to stone.

"Do not test me, O'Conner. Let me see."

She could probably take him down in a fight, if Brian hadn't mimicked so many fighting styles that regs were boring to him now. He sighed and let her get in his personal space. Monica grabbed his shirt and pulled it up to bunch under his armpits. Her fingers never touched him, but her eyes were like an x-ray in their intensity. After a minute, she shifted to check his back with the same careful attention to detail.

"Not a mark on your perfect surfer boy skin," she commented as she let his shirt drop back down.

Brian adjusted it and turned to face her. "I told you, I'm fine. Suki was at the BBQ and she healed me."

Monica's eyes held a fire. "Don't patronize me. This is three times now on this mission that you've been injured and I've only known about it after the fact. I know I'm supposed to wait for your call but obviously your past ops have taught you to work alone and I will never get that call. From now on, I'm going to be near enough to help if trouble starts."

Oh god. Brian resisted the urge to grimace. "Monica-"

Her index finger stopped just in front of his eyes. "No. You don't get a say in this anymore. They severed your spine, O'Conner. They punctured a lung."

Brian's legs tingled so bad he had to go sit on the bed or risk falling down. He'd only lost his legs for a few minutes, but the mere memory of earlier that afternoon made him feel like he was losing them all over again. Hopefully a good night's rest would clear his head.

Or a good race. There was a race tomorrow night. Rome was gonna be in it. Leon and Vince too. Brian would have to jump in at some point. The controlled adrenaline would do him good.

Monica knelt in front of him and caught his eyes. "See? You see this? You can't do this alone, Brian."

She reached up and touched his face gently. It made Brian remember a large hand on his neck, thick fingers in his hair.

"This operation is hurting you, and I'm supposed to help keep you safe. Let me do my job." Monica's words were as gentle as she ever sounded, that edge of toughness lingering around the edges but still comforting. "Don't let me find you unconscious in the dirt or full of bullet holes. Neither me nor my job would survive it."

Brian reached up and pulled her hand from his cheek. He shifted his feet slightly further apart just to prove he could. The realization that he was mentally checking himself made him realize she was right. He was floundering and needed help from someone who knew everything.

"Fine," he agreed, letting her hand drop. "But try to keep out of sight."

He stood up, patting his legs to rid them of the last of the tingling sensation, and then led the way to the door. Starting tomorrow, his life was going to be very difficult. Dom and the crew watching him all the time and Monica hovering about. It hadn't started yet but Brian already felt suffocated. For the first time, he wanted this operation to be over with already.

Opening the door revealed Vince and Dom, Vince's hand raised to knock on the door. The street light outside shone off Dom's bald head but otherwise the world beyond the door was rather dark. The more muscular men shifted from surprise at the door opening to deep rooted frowns at the sight of Monica, and Brian had to rethink his previous thought.

Forget the mission, he wished he'd died that afternoon so he wouldn't have to deal with this.

"Hey," he said after a long silence had passed. "Dom, Vince….This is Monica. She's a friend of mine. Monica, these are my other friends, Dominic and Vince," he introduced, mind working frantically to come up with a good reason why she was in his apartment.

Other than saying he was sleeping with her.

Monica held out her hand and shook both of theirs, then stood tall once more. "It's nice to meet you," she said.

"How do you know the Buster?" Vince asked, that same suspicious tone in his voice that he had used for Brian and Rome. Brian was starting to realize that Vince was suspicious of everyone when they first met.

"Monica!"

All four people gathered at Brian's door jumped at Rome's loud shout of joy. The dark skinned man shouldered his way past Dom and Vince as if they didn't exist and threw his arms around Monica. He held on tight like she was all that mattered and winked at Brian over her shoulder.

What bullshit was he about to pull?

"I've missed you, baby!" Rome cheered as he pulled back. Before she could answer, Rome leaned in and kissed each of her cheeks and then gave her a peck on the lips. "How's my hunny been in my long absence?"

It had barely clicked for Brian that Rome was claiming Monica was his girlfriend when she responded with a return peck.

"Barely surviving," she said like every moment had been a chore. "I swear if you get busted again, I'll get arrested too just so I can get in and kill you myself."

Rome laughed but it sounded worried, which made the corners of Dom's lips lift even though it was obvious he was still not fully buying what they were selling.

Wrapping his arm around Monica's shoulders, Rome assured her, "I swear. No more prison for me. And B," he turned to pull Brian up under his other arm. "Thanks for keeping my girl in the loop and all for me. I really appreciate it, bro."

"We both do," Monica said. "For all he talks, Roman is awful at keeping in touch through the written word," she told Dom and Vince.

Brian did his best to shrug while being held under Rome's arm. "No problem. Your address wasn't the one that kept changing, so it wasn't hard."

Vince crossed his arms. "So your buddy's girlfriend just happens to be in your apartment, alone with you?"

Rome leveled an unimpressed, daring look at Vince. "You sayin' my Monica ain't bein' true? Or that my homeboy, B, is goin' behind my back? Eh, Vince? Brian strike you as that kind of guy?"

Monica lightly slapped Rome's cheek. "If anything, I'm worried about you not being true."

Rome looked affronted but when he opened his mouth, Brian cut in.

"How about you two talk inside for a bit?" he suggested, pushing them inside and shutting the door. He let out a heavy breath at the wood but resisted the urge to thump his head against it.

"They seem like a handful," Dom noted. Brian couldn't tell if he was amused or simply stating fact.

Brian nodded. "Yeah. Always have been." He turned to face them. "So, what did you need at nine at night? I thought babysitting duty started in the morning."

Vince scowled. "Braga was spotted in the area so we thought we'd pop by and check on you." He narrowed his eyes at the door. "Didn't expect to find a woman with you."

"Also wanted to know if you'd be in the race tomorrow night," Dom contributed, his eyes dancing in a way that challenged Brian, called him out. Are you chicken, Brian? Can't win without mimicking me I bet.

Brian felt himself bristle at the silent insinuations. "I'll be there," he accepted.

Dom grinned. It was only when Dom leaned back that Brian realized they'd been standing so close. "I look forward to it." He clapped a hand on Brian's shoulder. "I'll see you tomorrow, Bri."

Somehow, that seemed to promise more than a race. Brian didn't know what else, but it was something warmer, more…domestic. And he wanted it. After all this chaos, Brian wanted Dom's warmth and domesticity badly.

While Dom walked back to Vince's Nissan, Vince explained that they were going to hang around for awhile just in case Braga decided to be stupid. Then he gave a wave, which Brian returned, and went to join Dom in the car on surveillance.

When the apartment door shut behind him once more, Brian found himself face to face with two expectant looks.

"Braga was seen nearby so they're here to watch my back," Brian explained.

Monica frowned and Rome cursed aloud.

"The plan is working then," Monica noted. "Now we just have to hope your friends the Torettos don't scare him off."

Rome frowned. "What plan?"

"The plan to make Braga come kill me himself."

"Wait, you mean to tell me this whole stabbing business was part of the plan?" Rome growled. "I thought you were gonna die, B!"

Brian grabbed Rome by the shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes. "Dying isn't part of the plan, Rome. It's the exact opposite of the plan. What happened today? It was more than we expected."

"Braga controls peoples' minds and makes them come take a shot at Brian. Each time they fail, Braga gets more upset that the cop after him is still alive. So eventually, soon, he'll try to take Brian out himself," Monica explained. "When he reveals himself, Brian and I will arrest him."

"And what if he touches you, hm?" Rome countered. "What if you take him down and he makes contact and suddenly you find yourself pulling the trigger on Brian instead of Braga?"

Brian released Rome and it was enough to draw attention. "Monica is good at her job, Rome. She won't let me down."

Rome didn't look convinced, but Monica seemed pleased with his faith in her.

"The pretty ones always get you in trouble, B. Just remember that," Rome warned, but wouldn't continue the conversation from there and it dropped.

Shaking his head, Brian changed topics. "So about the race tomorrow," he said.

Rome snapped his fingers. "Right. I was coming to tell ya. I don' need to borrow your car tomorrow afterall," he said with a glint in his eye. "I gotta guy who hooked me up with this sweet ride. We're gonna make some minor adjustments to it tomorrow and enter it in the race that night."

"You sure you can trust this guy? It's always the cars that get you in trouble, Rome," he paralleled Rome's earlier statement.

"Don't worry, I got this," Rome assured him with a dismissive wave of his hand. "This guy? Technopath. Totally cool. Not all above board, but as legal as a guy can be when toeing the line, ya feel?"

Monica rolled her eyes. "You leave prison to hang out with law breakers?" she asked. "How is that any way to repay what Brian did for you?"

Rome frowned at her. "I ain't going back to prison. And trust me, this guy ain't like that. I know prison bitches when I see 'em and him? Nah. Too slick for that. Too good at the system. Too good for prison bars, girl. Worst he's earned is an overnighter in holding, I guarantee."

Brian decided not to push it. It was Rome's decision and nothing he said would change the older man's mind.

They decided to end on that lighter topic and promised to see each other tomorrow night. Then Monica pulled Rome's arm over her shoulders and cuddled into him before they left, looking every bit like the couple they claimed to be.

Alone, Brian collapsed on his bed face first.

He couldn't keep this up. Sure, his cover wasn't broken, but Rome wasn't the best liar. If it weren't for his mutation, his lies would be obvious more than seventy-five percent of the time. And Mia was never going to buy it, not with her ability to see the truth of people, their hearts and intentions.

He had to head this off before it crashed and burned in front of his eyes. Brian was going to have to tell them the truth. He'd have to tell them he was a cop.

Dom would understand, right? Or, he wouldn't be too upset, right? They were both after Braga. Brian had only lied about small, present things, not about who he was, what he liked, what he'd done. They could work together to bring Braga to justice. Dom would understand why he'd lied. Wouldn't he?

What would Brian do if he didn't? If he threw Brian out, or attacked him, or never spoke to him again, what would Brian do? He'd known he would lose this pseudo-family when this job was over, because that was the nature of the job. To lose them before it was over because they hated him?

Brian groaned and covered his head with his pillow, wondering if he could smother himself before morning, and if that would help solve any of his problems.

Leon knocked on the door at 7:59 AM, just as Brian was stepping out of the shower. Brian opened the door with no more than a towel wrapped around his waist, but Leon barely glanced at him before throwing himself down on the couch and propping his feet on the coffee table.

"You've gotta be at work in fifteen, right?" Leon asked.

Brian nodded. "Yeah."

"They won't even know I'm there," Leon assured him, leaning back into a completely relaxed position and seeming to sleep while Brian finished getting ready for work.

Well, Leon hadn't lied. Even Brian forgot he had a tail for ninety percent of the morning. Every once in awhile he'd catch sight of Leon talking to someone, but mostly Leon used his ability to remain practically invisible to the customers at The Racer's Edge.

The most exciting thing to happen that morning was a guy who looked about nineteen knocking over a display of spinner wheels near the bathroom.

At 12:12, Jesse slipped through the doors to The Racer's Edge, apologies for being late already spilling from his lips. Leon slipped his hands into the pockets of Jesse's vest, and then his pants, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

"No smoking on the job," he said, stuffing them in his own pockets before heading out the door, watcher duty officially over.

Jesse watched him go with a frown on his face that would've made puppies jealous. "Shit."

Brian took his lunch and they went to the McDonald's around the corner. While Jesse was inhaling his second large fry, Brian started feeling twitchy and angry. He cast his attention around the lobby and focused on a woman sitting alone by the window. Mother to three, receptionist, oil paint on her clothes and charcoal under her fingernails, four hours sleep on average, nicotine addiction.

He didn't say anything to Jesse when he left and Jesse barely noticed he was gone.

When he sat back down and slid the cigarettes into Jesse's open vest pocket, the younger male stopped fidgeting and looked at him with wide eyes.

"Going into withdrawal is shit on my concentration, dude," Brian said nonchalantly before gathering his trash up and throwing it away. "Just don't smoke in the store."

He wished he could help Jesse quit smoking altogether, but he didn't have the time at the moment, and neither of them could afford the stress and withdrawal symptoms of going cold turkey right now.

Harry actually liked having Jesse in the store that day because Jesse knew cars and Jesse talked four separate people into buying high end parts for their cars that they hadn't intended to buy when they entered the store.

"If you didn't already work for Toretto and the city, I'd hire you in a heartbeat, son," Harry told him, slapping him on the back.

The laugh Jesse gave was almost nervous. "Right." He looked over at Brian. "I'ma be outside if you need me." He pulled a cigarette out so that there was no doubt as to what he'd be doing outside, then nodded and headed for the door.

"He's jumpy," Brian said in explanation when Harry's attention turned to him in Jesse's absence.

Harry shook his head. "I've known him far longer than you, Brian. Don't think I don't know that already. He's also brilliant. Jesse designed this building for me when he was seventeen."

Brian was no architecture enthusiast, but he suddenly had a lot more respect for the layout of The Racer's Edge than before, and for the twenty-three year old who designed it.

Brian expected Letty to show up for her shift of Brian Watch at about 5:30, and The Racer's Edge closed at 5:00, so Brian would have time to go home and get ready for the races tonight before she arrived. However, he returned from a delivery at 4:58, Jesse fiddling with the truck radio in the passenger seat, and found Dom waiting in the parking lot instead of a short but formidable Puerto Rican woman.

"Hey, Dom!" Jesse greeted enthusiastically, giving him a brief one-armed hug. "Where's Letty?"

Dom smiled at Jesse before his eyes rested on Brian. "I switched with her," he said. "Figured I'd be going to the races anyhow, so she can enjoy some time with Elena and I'll take Bri to the race tonight after my shift."

Jesse nodded. "That makes sense. So are you here to cut me early?" he asked, checking his watch and reading just after five p.m.

"Yeah. I'll see you tonight."

"See ya, Jess," Brian threw in. Jesse waved at him with his own goodbye before heading for his car to get ready for his own racing tonight.

After checking out with Harry, Brian led the way back to his studio apartment behind the shop. Dom repeated what Leon did that morning and took a seat on the couch, though he didn't put his feet on the table. Brian moved to the dresser to change out of his work uniform.

He pulled his black shirt off and threw it in the hamper next to the dresser, then opened the drawer to grab a new one. He shifted a few of the shirts around, debating between two shirts of different shades of blue, and a faint shine caught his attention. There, hidden underneath his shirts but peeking out, was his MCF badge.

If Brian had a home he returned to after each mission, he would probably have a collection of badges, one from every department he'd been part of. It would be a nice little collection ranging up and down California, into Arizona and Nevada, in county, state, and national organizations. As it was, he simply returned each badge when he left that department's employment and did his best to forget them.

The MCF badge was similar to any other badge – shiny chrome with the words Mutant Control Force written around a faux gold cameo of an eagle with wide spread wings. The corner of the badge taunted Brian where it stuck out from under one of his t-shirts. It would be easy to pick it up, right now, and tell Dom who and what he really was.

"I've seen that woman before."

Brian was amazed that he didn't jump at the sound of Dom's voice.

"Monica?" he asked, deciding on the darker blue shirt and dropping the lighter one back in the drawer, fully covering the badge.

Dom stood from the couch as he nodded. "She's been to see you before. Always in the evening after you get hurt."

Brian turned to look at Dom, his heart rate picking up. "Have you been watching me?"

He got a shrug in response. Then Dom began walking over to him. "I had Mia look into her, found out she was a reg, in town visiting relatives. I wondered how you met, how often, if she knew you'd been hurt."

Dom was now close enough to touch. His bulkier frame blocked some of the light, casting a shadow on Brian and giving himself a vague silhouette. Brian swallowed, suddenly very aware that he was still not wearing a shirt but not moving to pull one on.

"I thought you were sleeping with her," Dom admitted, his voice dipped low.

A slight lean forward and they'd be touching now. Brian could feel the heat coming off Dom's skin and clothes. This close, he could tell that he was the taller of the two of them. This close, Brian could read the anxiety in Dom's brown eyes like words in a large print book.

Brian's lips quirked up at the edges. "Monica and I have never even held hands," he assured Dom. "We're not even proper friends. I haven't slept with her."

"That's good," Dom murmured.

Brian's breath stuttered when Dom reached a hand up to cup his neck, just like he had in the truck but somehow more intimate. His fingers tangled in the hairs at the base of Brian's skull and Brian tingled with anticipation.

He shouldn't do this. Dom was part of a mission. Dom didn't know he was a cop. But Dom knew what Brian had done in service to the police and didn't judge him for it. Dom treated him like family even though they'd only known each other a few weeks. Dom encouraged his mimicking, and cared for him when he was hurt. Dom was also everything Brian wanted, from his firm muscles and vaguely tanned skin to his family values and dedication to protecting others. When this operation was over, Brian was going to lose all of this. Hell, Brian might lose it all before catching Braga, when he told them he was a cop. If Dom was going to be furious at him and cast him aside anyway, couldn't Brian allow himself a moment of happiness first?

Without giving himself time to talk sense to himself, Brian dropped his shirt and grabbed Dom's face gently but strongly in both hands before he leaned forward to press his lips to Dom's in a rough kiss. In response, Dom pushed Brian back with just enough force to knock the dresser drawer closed, locking away Brian's secrets for one more night.

...

Preview of Chapter 11

Mia flipped around and slapped him, hard, across the face. There were tears in her eyes and Brian felt his heart drop to his stomach. He had to tell them. He couldn't keep hiding.

"You know what they do to mutants outside of Torettown? Do you know what happens to mutants in prisons?"

Rome gagged. "Did we not just talk about personal time?"

Following Rome over was a man with buzz cut black hair and a hint of both a mustache and a beard. "This here's Tej Parker."

Brian interrupted. "I don't want to know what you get up to. Personal time, Rome, remember?"

Tej poked him in the side of the head, just above his ear. "Don't whine. It's not attractive."

Brian would take what he could with Dom, covet it, horde it, because he knew this was all coming to an end and soon.

Masterpost Available Here
...
...
Chapter Nine

Brian's first choice for food was DT's Diner and Garage, even if the food wasn't spectacular, but he took Rome to a place called Mom's Best BBQ. He'd never been to it himself, but had overheard Mia and Letty comparing the chicken and burgers there to Dom's last Sunday at the BBQ and how good it was, so he figured it was a safe bet.

Judging by the pleased sound Roman let out after his first bite, Brian hit the jackpot.

"So you got me out," Rome said around a mouthful of food.

A shrug. "I called in a favor." When Rome kept looking at him, Brian let out a short breath. "One of their guys nearly got me killed, would've if I were reg, so I asked for your life in return."

He was surprised to see Rome out and about, though. Brian had thought Rome would simply be moved to the Torettown jail to be treated more fairly as he burned through a diminished sentence, not free on the streets. Then again, Rome had been arrested for grand theft auto via mutation eight years ago, so the Torettown system probably ruled he'd served his sentence and was free and clear. If not, Elena or Lisa and Melinda would have him back in cuffs within the week.

Rome gave a long suffering sigh and set his burger down. "Now see, I can't stay angry at you when you do stuff like that."

He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, watching Brian eat his own burger for a moment. The silence wasn't as comfortable as the ones from when they were kids, but it didn't feel strained either. Rome was assessing him, trying to decide how much of his old friend was there and how much of him was still a cop. Brian was still a cop, but even he didn't know how much of him was still there from before he first went undercover. Hell, since his powers developed.

"They told me 'bout this latest job you doin'," Rome revealed, making Brian choke on his Coke. "Didn't want me rushin' in and blowing your cover, I guess. I see you're still letting everyone think you're a reg."

The tone was disapproving and Brian frowned right along with him.

"It was safer that way and you know it," Brian reminded him. "I couldn't bullshit my way out of it if someone caught on, Rome."

"That's the real bullshit, right there," Rome countered. "You've been bullshitting your whole life, man." He leaned forward again so he could use his hand to make wild gestures. "Anyone ever caught you copying their ability to do math on a test? How fast they can read? How well they can fight? Play basketball? Huh, B?"

Those were all things Brian had done in school and Brian hated that Rome was using those against him.

He glared at his old friend. "I was scared," he said. "You know better than anyone how scared I was."

Rome smacked the table with his hand, calling the attention of the closest other patrons to them. He shot them a charming smile until they looked away and then faced Brian again with a frown.

"You're still scared, Brian," he hissed. "None o' your reg cop buddies know a damn thing about you. You're still hiding."

He was accusing Brian of protecting himself and that pissed Brian off. Growing up, he'd had goddamn panic attacks about being a mutant. Barstow was not the place to be a mutant. He'd gotten so used to hiding it that doing so became the norm. And then he was passed around from station to station and there was no way he could get close enough to anyone to trust them with the secret, so why the hell would he? He wasn't going to tell Joe Schmoe about his powers and hope he didn't spill to his superiors!

Just as he opened his mouth to spit some of that out at Rome, Rome's glare fell away and he smirked instead, halting the words in Brian's throat.

"But not here," Rome said. "That was a fine game you played, Brian. Very fine."

Brian was still frowning. "You don't know if they knew whether I'd played before."

Rome snorted. "I heard you tell that Letty chick on my way in. Besides, some people in the stands recognize you from your work at that auto shop or whatever, or from hanging with Mr. Not-Mayor. Apparently Domination Tor-et-oh don't hang with regs, no matter who they are."

"That's not his name."

"Oh I know that. I ain't stupid," Rome said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Point is, B, that I may not be fine with you still working with the blues, but I'm glad they gave you this job."

Brian rolled his eyes. "Because it got you out of prison?"

Rome frowned. "Because I haven't seen you look this happy since before I lifted that first car." He shrugged his shoulders and picked his burger up again. "So, whatever you've got going here? It's good, and I ain't gonna mess it up for you. I got your back, B."

He held up his fist and Brian was quick to bump it with his own, a smile crawling over his lips. "Thanks, Rome. I appreciate it."

Rome met Brian at his studio apartment the next morning and Brian drove them in his Eclipse over to Dom's house for the BBQ. The place wasn't packed when they arrived, but Rome had arrived late so they were also later than Brian usually was. Instead of helping to cook, they arrived just as the neighborhood was showing up and beginning to eat. Brian had to park two cars down the street from the actual driveway.

Weird.

In the crowd, Brian could see Letty and Vince. Leon was, predictably, nowhere to be seen. He caught a glimpse of Jesse entering the house through the back door and assumed Mia must be in there as well. Dom was working the grill with Hector.

Dom was wearing a white tank top, as usual, the muscles in his arms and back out on show for anyone to enjoy. They shifted as he flipped the meat on the grill or took a plate from Hector or turned to call to someone across the yard. On one of those turns, he caught sight of Brian. A brief smile, one Brian imagined was full of relief, appeared on Dom's face. He inclined his chin in a greeting and Brian waved in return, also smiling, as he hoped Dom hadn't noticed his staring.

A cold beer touched Brian's bare arm, just below the sleeve of his t-shirt, and he jumped. Rome chuckled while handing Brian the beer properly. When Brian looked back at Dom, the smile had been replaced with a deep frown. They barely met eyes before Dom turned back to his job.

Wait. What?

"Dom doesn't like you," Brian said to Rome, surprise coloring his voice.

Rome chuckled and took a swig of his own beer. "Not surprised. I'm moving in on a bro's territory." He clapped a hand on Brian's shoulder briefly. "What'd you do to win him?"

Brian shrugged, tearing his eyes from the taut line of Dom's back while he cooked to look at Rome. "I don't know," he admitted. "I told him I was looking for a place of my own." He thought back to their first meeting. "I nearly got into it with Vince, and Mia said I was like a cat, and…A few days later I was invited to the races."

The look on Rome's face was flat. "Tell me that's a euphemism."

A startled bark of laughter jumped from Brian's chest. "No, I mean literal racing. Street racing." He lifted an eyebrow at Rome. "It's not illegal here."

Rome smacked him. "Shut up. Shut up! That's wrong. Don't do that." Brian just kept grinning at him. "You better not be lying to me, B. Don't you do it. It's wrong to mess with a man's feeling like this."

"I'm not lying," Brian promised, crossing his heart.

Rome did his best to smack his hands together without destroying his beer, a fiery glint in his eyes. "Shit. I know where I'ma be at night then. When's the next race?"

Brian shrugged. "Jesse'd probably know," he said. Jesse had given his opinion on Brian entering the race and knew cars like the back of his hand and had been the first to approach Brian at the race itself. He'd tell Rome if he thought the overconfident man could hack it in Torettown street races. Brian motioned to the house. "I saw him go inside a few minutes ago."

Nodding, Rome motioned to Brian with his beer. "I'll catch you in a bit."

He disappeared up the back steps and Brian shook his head. Rome hadn't changed much since they were teens.

Brian's eyes roamed the semi-crowded backyard and found themselves drawn back to the grill. Letty was now standing by Dom instead of Hector, who was bringing a plate piled high with chicken wings to one of the tables set up for food. Hector overbalanced and all of the chicken wings would've ended up on the grass except that a young woman threw her hands up and they were suspended in midair. Brian didn't watch what happened next.

The conversation at the grill seemed tense. Brian could only see Letty's face, since she was turned sideways and Dom's back was to him, but her eyebrows were drawn low over her eyes and her lips were down. Dom motioned to nothing with a pair of tongs and Letty's frown deepened.

She said something to Dom but Brian's rusty lip reading skills only let him catch the words "stupid Dom." Dom turned his head enough to scowl at her and she rolled her eyes, hard. Again, Brian caught only the words "Fine, I" and "about it." Then Letty gave a sharp grin. "Chicken," Brian saw her say.

Something told him she wasn't talking about the food.

Letty's eyes turned and caught his. Brian looked away at where Hector was now chatting up the girl who had helped him, in an effort to seem like his eyes had merely been drifting over them instead of him watching them, but he felt it was too jumpy and quick to be believable even as he did it.

He finished off his beer and moved to the side of the house where all the trashcans were set up to throw the bottle away. The bottle was barely in the bag before another was being held out for him. Turning, Brian came face to face with Letty.

Taking the offered bottle, Brian said, "Looks like I'll never have to get my own beer. People keep bringing them to me."

The look on Letty's face became predatory and Brian did his best not to react, taking a swig from his beer to hide his nervousness. "Yeah, your boyfriend probably keeps you in stock, huh?"

Brian spit out the beer. "What?" he sputtered, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Rome's not my boyfriend."

"No? You two seem really close for two guys who haven't seen each other in eight years," Letty countered. "And that bullshit he said yesterday-"

"No," Brian said with a shake of his head. "We grew up together and were best friends. That bullshit from yesterday was just that, bullshit. I told you, that's his power. He can make you believe things that aren't true." Brian ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "We're just friends."

For a few moments, Letty simply observed him. She took a drink of her own beer before nodding. "Alright, Buster, I believe you."

Good, Brian thought, and then wondered why he was so relieved that she believed him.

What would it matter if they thought he and Rome were dating? Brian's cover had no significant other or set orientation. Sure, Brian had pretty much been spouting off truths about himself left and right because his cover was vague enough for it, but Brian had faked more than a relationship for a job before. Hell, he'd faked ethnicity before. If he could get Rome to go for it, making a relationship between them seem real would be no problem.

But Brian didn't want to lie about that.

He was Brian Spilner from Arizona. He'd been wandering the country, no home, no loyalties, since he was nineteen. It was left open to Brian what to fill those years with so that he could fake whatever he needed to in order to get close to the Torettown inhabitants. Brian had just conveniently filled them with shit he'd actually done, only leaving out the bit about it all being in service to the cops. They say the best lies are veiled truths, and the less Brian lied, the less likely he was to get caught in his own web.

Brian shook his head. That wasn't why he was glad to not lie about himself here and he knew it. Given a slightly different childhood, Brian could have lived here, could've known these people as Brian O'Conner.

Monica was right. Brian was playing house, and he'd keep playing for as long as he could.

"So what happened?" Letty asked, bringing Brian out of his thoughts. "Between you and motor mouth?"

They moved away from the trashcans when a group of people came over to throw things away. The BBQ was in full swing now and Brian knew he needed to grab some food before it was all gone. It could wait a few minutes though.

"We grew up together," he repeated. Letty lifted an eyebrow and Brian resisted the urge to sigh again. "Rome and I met when we were literally in diapers together. We actually lived pretty much on opposite sides of town, but we were part of the same daycare group. I developed powers first, then him. When my mom died, his parents took me in." And now to add a little lie. "He got arrested when we were nineteen for using his powers to steal cars and I ditched town, never looking back. I didn't know he was free and in town until yesterday."

His answer seemed to appease her a little. "No romance, then?"

Brian led her toward the food, where Dom was now the one placing a plate of hotdogs on the table.

"No. No romance," he told her. "We never had sex or kissed or even lied about it for kicks in school." As they came up next to Dom, he raised both eyebrows at the short woman. "Now, are we done or would you like me to pry into you and Elena next?"

Letty smirked but it was playful rather than predatory this time. "Trust me, you would regret prying," she promised him before reaching around him for a hotdog.

She gave Dom a meaningful look before she pulled back that Brian didn't understand. If he had more time with them, he might start to understand their silent communication, but he didn't.

A fight broke out on the other side of the yard, obvious from the thunder clap and the acid spit just before the fists started flying. Letty looked at Dom and said, "Dom," like an order.

Dom rolled his eyes. "Right." With one glance at Brian, like he was checking the blonde was still there and was pleased that he was, Dom turned and hurried across the yard to where Vince and what appeared to be an off duty cop were already working to break it up.

Brian moved to help as well, but Letty grabbed him by the arm to keep him by the food table.

"They can handle it," Letty told him. "We were talking."

A boom of noise sent Vince, and a few other guests, sprawling to the ground and Brian winced. People started to move away from the fight, creating a sort of wall between Brian and the action, further keeping him at the table with Letty.

"So, what are you looking for, Spilner?"

Not looking away from the fight, even though he couldn't actually see it, Brian asked, "What?"

Letty hit him lightly on the arm to pull his attention back to her. "In a relationship, dumbnut," she clarified when his eyes were on her. "I used to think I'd be with Dom. We even gave it a shot for a bit, but it didn't last. Then I met Elena. Elena and I are pretty steady and very active, but that's not for everyone. So what are you looking for?"

Brian immediately moved to watch the fight again but stopped himself halfway through the motion, forcing himself to keep looking at Letty. A slight upward tick of her lips said she'd caught the action and found it funny.

"Nothing," Brian insisted. "I can't-" He took a deep breath. "Right now, I'm not looking for anything."

Letty shook her head. "Sometimes you ain't gotta be looking for it to find you," she told him. Nudging his arm with the bottom of her cold beer bottle, she asked, "What would turn your head?"

Brian rolled his eyes and started watching the crowd. The fight was mostly over it seemed. Through the dissipating mass of people, Brian caught sight of Vince and Dom manhandling the two fighters while the off duty cop led the way, on the phone with what was likely the police station. The two younger mutants were still trying to fight as they were hauled off and most of the BBQ crowd was following the action closely even as it moved out of the backyard.

"Someone slim and skinny?" Letty asked, offhand. Brian vaguely shook his head once, still watching where Dom was vanishing around the side of the house. "Or maybe someone with a bit more muscle like Dom," she said lowly right in his ear.

Brian clapped a hand over his ear and rubbed it to get rid of the feeling of her hot breath over his skin. He shot Letty a scandalized look and stepped back from her so she wasn't practically draping herself against his side.

"Letty," he started.

It felt like Brian backed up into a hot poker and he felt the blood drain from his face before he realized what had happened.

"A gift from Señor Braga," a completely different voice murmured in his ear. Then he felt something like a blade tear free from his back and his knees locked up as the pain laced through him.

"Le-" he got out before he wobbled where he stood. Brian reached over to steady himself on the table but the motion pulled on the stab wound in his back and he hissed, dropping to his knees.

"Leon!" Letty called, not quite a shout, and then there was a zap of electricity thrumming past Brian's head and a thump behind him as a body hit the ground.

Hands grabbed Brian around the shoulders and lifted him up to his feet, and then started leading him to the house. The pain in his back was intensifying with every second and it was all Brian could focus on. Throb. Throb. Throb. He could feel the blood matting yet another shirt to his skin, pouring down his back and ruining his pants as well. It amazed him that he could walk. Every step felt like it was making something grate in his back near his spine.

The back door was open. They were on the steps. He could see into the house, where Rome and Jesse were standing by the stairs to the second floor and talking. There were people in the backyard but Brian couldn't tell if they were paying attention to him or the fight that had happened or anything else.

He couldn't move his legs.

"Just a bit further," he heard Leon say, but it was like listening to a TV on low from the next room.

"I can't-" Brian choked out. "I can't feel my legs."

His arms strained when his legs actually gave out, falling loose beneath him. Only Leon's arms around him kept him from hitting the floor. Panic began to set in and Brian's breathing quickened into desperate panting.

"I can't feel my legs."

More arms grabbed him and he was hefted into the house, the smack of the back door closing jarring to Brian's already aching head. His back was on fire now, but his whole body felt numb. Something was very very wrong.

He must have blacked out or gone into shock or something because the next thing he was aware of, Brian was lying on the couch on his stomach. There was something pressing heavily on his back where the blade, or whatever it was, had stabbed into him. A moment of clear thought on the edge of consciousness told Brian that his spine was injured, explaining why he couldn't move his legs.

He wasn't panting anymore, but every breath felt like a chore. It took a moment for him to recognize that Rome was the one next to him pressing something into his back, Leon was gone, and that Jesse, Mia, and Dom were there too.

Brian wasn't aware he'd reached out until both of Dom's hands encompassed his own.

"Brian," Dom said, his voice helping to clear Brian's head. Rome was cursing and babbling under his breath but Brian couldn't understand him. "Concentrate. Mimic me."

"What the hell good would that do?!" Rome spat out. "B's been stabbed and you want him to start cooking steaks or something? Shit!"

Brian huffed a laugh and felt more than spit come out of his mouth. Damn, his lung too? What had that guy not hit? Though that explained why breathing felt like a damaged air dancer at a car dealership…that was also on fire. Brian clenched his eyes shut on a groan.

Gosh he hated being on fire. This totally sucked. Someone get the fire extinguisher.

Rome wasn't yelling anymore, and Dom must've let go because Brian couldn't feel his hand anymore. All he could feel was the pain, even if the wheeze of his lungs and the throb of his back were gone. Brian was floating in a sea of fire and there was nothing tethering him to shore. Wasn't he meant to be doing something?

Dom's grip was still tight on his hand, tight enough to cut off circulation. That was the first thing Brian's brain realized when the pain began to ebb. He hadn't let go. Next, he became aware of something that felt like cool water running through his veins instead of blood that was putting out the fire. Then it retreated and Brian shivered, his fingers gripping Dom's almost unintentionally.

"Brian," Dom said, relief heavy in his voice.

Opening his eyes was easy, and the pain was gone from his body. Brian frowned. He hadn't mimicked Dom, had he? Sure, he'd felt the cool healing effect, but not the total immersion he'd basked in when he mimicked Dom. How was he okay?

A tanned Asian-American woman with dark blonde hair stepped back and into view, her hands losing a glow as she went.

"Thanks, Suki," Leon said from where he was standing near the kitchen doorway.

She nodded. "How are you feeling?" she asked Brian.

Brian nodded as he sat up, but Dom didn't release his hand. "You heal people?" He rolled his shoulders as best he could without pulling his hand free. There wasn't even a slight ache, and breathing was easy. He could still feel the blood wet stick on his clothes though. And he could feel his legs, which was something he would be forever grateful for.

"Yes," Suki said. "I worried you were too far gone, though." Dom's grip on his hand tightened but when Brian glanced at him, his expression hadn't changed. "I'm glad you weren't."

"Thank you," Brian said with a nod of his head.

She smiled. "You're welcome."

Suki received hugs from Leon, Jesse, and Mia on her way out, and then they were alone again.

"Not sure how to feel about you almost dying all the time," Jesse murmured. "It's hell on my nerves, bro."

Brian gave a reassuring smile to the younger man. "Sorry. I promise I'm not doing it on purpose." He gave Dom a guilty look. "I couldn't mimic fast enough."

"Speaking of!" Rome said loudly, drawing attention to himself as he came from behind the couch. There was a bloody towel in his hands that he threw to the side without looking where it landed. "Since when can you mimic powers?"

The looks Brian received from Toretto and the gang were equal parts pointed and confused. Brian must've been out longer than he thought if they'd had time to tell Rome about his secondary mimic ability. He gave a nervous shrug.

"Since…Ms. Hensly thought Brenda had a cousin when we were sixteen," he admitted.

Rome blinked twice before recognition flared in his eyes. "Mariselle?" he said. "That was because of you?" he asked accusatorily. Brian nodded guiltily. "Brenda had to tell her eight times she had no cousin Mariselle and still we all thought Hensly was batty for the rest of school. How'd you do it?"

Brian gave Rome a look he hoped conveyed how stupid he thought the older man was being.

"Oh. Oh, me? You copied me?" Rome asked. When Brian just kept staring at him, Rome stepped forward and smacked Brian on the arm hard enough to make him flinch. "You son of a bitch, I can't believe you never told me!"

"I think we've got more important things to worry about," Mia spoke up, breaking the moment between the two friends.

Dom was still holding his hand. Brian shot a quick glance at their hands before focusing on Mia, but gave no other indicator that he knew Dom still held on so that Dom wouldn't let go.

"Letty told Dom what that guy said," Mia said.

"A gift from Señor Braga."

Dom gripped his hand again, this time to pull Brian's focus. When their eyes locked, Dom looked angry and disappointed at the same time. "Why're you going after Braga, Brian?"

Preview of Chapter 10

Opening the door revealed Vince and Dom. The more muscular men shifted from surprise at the door opening to deep rooted frowns at the sight of Monica, and Brian had to rethink his previous thought.

Brian turned to look at Dom, his heart rate picking up. "Have you been watching me?"

Monica caught his eyes. "You can't do this alone, Brian. I'm supposed to help keep you safe. Let me do my job."

He shifted a few of the shirts around and a faint shine caught his attention. There, hidden underneath his shirts but peeking out, was his MCF badge.

Rome leveled an unimpressed, daring look at Vince. "You sayin' my homeboy, B, is goin' behind my back?"

"The plan is working then," Monica noted.

Rome frowned. "What plan?"

Brian was going to have to tell them the truth. He'd have to tell them he was a cop.

Brian's breath stuttered when Dom reached a hand up to cup his neck. His fingers tangled in the hairs at the base of Brian's skull and Brian tingled with anticipation.

"The plan to make Braga come kill me himself."

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