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Posted June 4, 2011

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Fan Fiction: Running Ain't Freedom

Title: Running Ain't Freedom

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.

Rating: PG-13.

Spoilers: Fast Five (2011); Transformers (Bay-verse) fusion

Summary: It was her. She was thinner in a way that spoke of a long recovery, bones prominent in her face and at her wrists, but the woman in the black motorcycle leathers was definitely Leticia Ortiz. 9000 words.

Notes: Someone asked in a comment what Letty's status was in this alterverse. Cue fic! The character of Knockout, and the mentioned events in Rome, are from the Alan Dean Foster Transformers tie-in novel set between movies: "The Veiled Threat".

Brian had always known their time in paradise would eventually end. The lack of an extradition treaty between their new home and the US could only protect against official inquiry, and no amount of money could cover all the unofficial ways their enemies might come for them. Their best bet for staying in one piece had always been to ghost along under the radar. Being noticed could only lead to being 'assisted' into a neighboring country by a persistent DSS agent, getting picked up by NEST troops, or being shot down by men loyal to one of the three drug lords they'd defeated between them.

Elena Neves had been pretty good about passing them any news that crossed her desk, and Tej kept an electronic eye on relevant web chatter. Sooner or later, though, that wasn't going to be enough. It didn't help that none of them were made to sit still, even Mia; if it hadn't been for the babies, they'd probably have found trouble again from sheer restlessness inside of six months. But for little Jesse Vincent O'Conner's sake, and for Nico, they'd made an honest try at the retiree lifestyle. No racing, the cars always cars where anyone else might see them, and they split their hours between the beach and the rundown garage they'd purchased.

Jesse had Brian's eyes, but his hair was as dark as his mother's, and he had the Toretto skin tone and attitude. The perfect addition to their little family, as far as Brian was concerned, and a bright spot in all of their lives. He was still only a few months old, though, when the odds finally caught up with them. Brian returned from a trip to the store with Mia to discover Dom brooding over the crib.

They'd seen Bestia out front, so they'd known Dom must've closed the garage and brought Jesse home early. That was unusual, but not necessarily alarming, so Mia had offered to put the groceries away while Brian went to check up on him, expecting news of a slow day or an infant illness. Instead, he found Jesse snuffling in his sleep, calm and happy as ever-- and Dom obviously anything but, thunder building on his brow and a duffel bag packed at his feet.

Brian stood in the doorway of the nursery for a long moment, one hand resting on the knob and the other slowly making a fist at his side as he took in the scene. Dom had changed from the black muscle shirt and cargo shorts he'd worn that morning into a long-sleeved ribbed white tee over a pair of worn jeans; his silver necklace dangled from his right fist, and his leather jacket was folded over his duffel. As warm as the day was that could mean only one thing, and Brian took a deep breath to calm his nerves.

"How long do we have to pack?" he asked, quietly.

Dom flinched visibly as Brian's voice registered. He'd caught him by surprise-- something that would never normally happen, and Brian's stomach sank further at the wild, pained look in his lover's eyes.

"Dom?" he prompted the other man again, alarmed.

Dom slowly shook his head, but there was no confusion there, nothing Brian could pick at, only firm refusal. "We're not going anywhere," he said. "It ain't what you're thinking."

"But you're going? What the hell, Dom?" Brian frowned at him. He let go the knob and walked further into the room, reaching instinctively for the other man-- and froze, hands half-outstretched, when Dom took a deliberate step back out of his reach, reinforcing the nonverbal rejection.

"I'm not asking you to do this with me," Dom told him. "It's probably a trap. And even if it ain't, I'll have Hobbs on me before long. But I gotta see this through."

Brian stared at him, mind clicking through the possibilities. Dressed for a cooler climate, Dom wasn't headed for Rio-- so it couldn't be anything to do with Vince, who'd taken Rosa and Nico back for a half-month visit to her parents. It couldn't be Leon, either; last word was he'd made his way to Tej's and was crashing with him and Rome until the boys came for their next visit. If they'd been in trouble, Dom wouldn't shut him out. What other old business could Dom possibly see as personal rather than something to take care of together? Did he have family still in LA that Brian didn't know about?

"Have to see what through?" he asked, dropping his hands to his sides again. "Dom, your problems are my problems now. You know that."

Dom turned his face away, staring down into the crib at Jesse again, his expression conflicted. "It's Letty," he said, slowly.

Brian stiffened. That was one subject they hadn't really discussed since killing Fenix and putting Braga behind bars, one sore spot he'd done his best never to prod. Letty might not have been a hearts and flowers forever soul mate for Dom-- he'd left her behind often enough, and spent enough time enjoying the attentions of others even when they were together-- but he had loved her, and they'd known each other as well as they'd known their own skins. First loves, best friends; the only person he'd let under his armor after Lompoc until Brian had walked into the family store in LA. He'd grieve her loss forever, and Brian didn't blame him. He'd feel much the same if Rome had been murdered.

"I told you once, she was my friend, too," he said quietly. "I meant it, Dom. Whatever it is...."

Dom snorted at that, and a muscle jumped visibly in his jaw. "That's rich," he ground out. Then he turned back toward Brian, something dark and ugly in his expression that Brian hadn't seen there in years. He took a long step forward, and this time Brian gave way before him, deeply unsettled by the sheer furious hurt pouring off him.

"As if you don't know. Why didn't you tell me!"

Brian stumbled back another step, raising his hands defensively. "Tell you what, Dom?" he asked, desperately searching his mind for anything he could possibly have known that would prompt that kind of reaction. They'd never really discussed the weeks he'd worked with Letty... but nothing had happened between the moment she'd appeared on his stoop and the last time she'd called him that could possibly have upset Dom so much.

"You know what, Brian! Or should I say-- Agent O'Conner? I had to hear it from Han! From Han!" He took another step, bringing up his hands to shove Brian back into the wall beside the doorway. "I thought you-- I thought--" Dom broke off then, pounding his fists into the wall above Brian's shoulders before pulling back and shaking his head. "I don't goddamn know what I was thinking. I trusted you, Brian."

"Dom. Dom!" Brian was past alarmed by that point; watching Dom fracture without any clue to what was causing it was crushing the air out of him. He reached to grip Dom's shoulders again, squeezing tight to get the message through when Dom didn't flinch away a second time, and shook him slightly. "Hear what? You know how far I've gone for you; how far I'm willing to go. I don't know what the fuck Han told you, but fuck him if he thinks I'd ever betray you."

Dom just glared back at him, breathing as hard as if he'd just run a race-- but Brian kept staring back, and as the moment stretched out the tense lines in Dom's face and neck started to relax one by one. "I didn't believe it at first," he finally said, lowering his voice. He sounded bewildered now, but still hurt, as though someone had knifed him unexpectedly. "I don't want to believe it. But he saw her, Brian. At a club in Berlin. So you tell me what I'm supposed to believe."

"Saw who? Letty?" Brian's jaw dropped. "But that's not possible!"

"He wasn't the only one," Dom replied, grimly. "Gisele recognized her, too."

He didn't have to say how: Gisele had probably met Letty the same way she'd met them, setting up one of the races for Braga's alter ego and supposed lieutenant, Campos. Gisele hadn't known Han at the time, or any of the rest of Dom's team. So if they were both sure of her identity....

Brian sucked in a ragged breath, feeling as gutted as Dom looked. "But it can't be. I saw a body, Dom! They showed me a body. It was burned bad, I wasn't going to let Mia see her like that, but the height was right, and the hair-- even the dog tags. I checked them to make sure. They were Letty's uncle's. I was her handler! How could they fake her death without telling me?"

"Exactly," Dom said quietly, and in that one word Brian could read everything that had been tearing him apart since the moment the phone call had come in.

Dimly, he became aware that he was shaking; fine tremors vibrated down his arms where he still gripped Dom's shoulders. In the background, fitful noises issued from the direction of Jesse's crib; their argument must have woken him, because Mia stood there now, baby clasped in her arms, shushing him urgently. Brian could spare them no attention, though; he felt as though he was standing on the edge of a cliff, the only thing between him and a long fall the fraying thread of Dom's faith in him. Somewhere under it all he was angry, too, that Dom doubted him-- but that didn't matter. The truth was more important. Letty was more important.

"I didn't know," he said, slowly letting go to brush his hands downward over the planes of Dom's chest. "I would never keep something like that a secret from you. Even then, when I had every reason to believe you still hated me for being a cop. She was the closest thing to family I'd seen in five years, and the only thing she wanted was for you to come home. I swore on her grave I'd see it through for her, and I did that, Dom. I wouldn't have cared if she was in witness protection; I'd have brought her along when I broke you off that bus, and you know it."

It was there, in the desert, that he and Dom had taken the first step past friendship. To think that all that time, Letty had been alive-- that she was still alive, and hadn't bothered to contact any of them-- he didn't know what to think.

It would hurt like hell if he lost what he had with Dom now, but as long as he was still family-- as long as he still had Mia and Jesse-- he could survive. And he wouldn't give him up without a fight.

Dom stared at him for another long moment, searching his face intently. The tension between them ratcheted up several more degrees as he stood there, not speaking... until he finally let out a long breath and bowed his head, resting it against Brian's shoulder. "I know it," he agreed, dully.

Brian slid his arms around Dom's back, resting his cheek against the side of Dom's shaved skull, and just breathed with him a moment. He was still too tense to feel relieved, but some of the dread was draining out of him at that gesture. "So, how long do I have to pack?" he murmured, again.

Dom huffed against his shoulder at that, too worn to chuckle. "Buster," he said. Then he pulled back, swiping a hand across his eyes, leaving a faint patch of dampness on Brian's shirt that neither of them deigned to address. "Plane leaves in three hours. It's a two hour drive, and there'll be room for one of the girls in cargo if she crunches up tight like a shipment of machinery."

Brian took an unsteady breath. "VelocitÓ," he decided. "She's smaller and more agile; and the others won't argue, since Bestia was there for the bus and she and Nesso both helped in Rio."

"I suppose I don't get any say in this?" a third voice broke in.

Both of them turned to face Mia simultaneously, guilty expressions on their faces at having forgotten her even temporarily. "Mia...."

"Nevermind. I understand," she said, still bouncing Jesse carefully against her shoulder. Then she stepped forward to lay a palm briefly against Dom's face, tears shining in her eyes. "Find her," she said, then switched her focus to Brian, pulling him to her until their foreheads were pressed together. "And protect each other, you hear me?" she added, fiercely. "Bring him back safe."

"I promise," Brian murmured back around the lump in his throat. Then he kissed her forehead, bent to kiss Jesse's cheek, and stroked a rough thumb over his son's tiny palm. Little fingers grasped reflexively at him, then let go as Jesse shifted sleepily. Brian smiled faintly, then broke away while he still could.

He was unsurprised to find all three NBTs-- Non-Biological Terrestrials-- in front of the house when he and Dom left fifteen minutes later. Bestia and Nesso were in their bipedal forms, flanking the low-slung blue shape of VelocitÓ; the little Porsche had resumed her original make and model for the trip.

"Y'all heard?" Dom asked, nodding to his transformed Challenger.

Bestia blinked her optics in acknowledgement. "Brian explained to Nesso and I about your former mate, after Vince mentioned her in Rio. You all thought she'd been deactivated. But the one named Han says she isn't, so you're going to see if it's true."

All three were capable of talking in any form now-- between their own understanding of their forms, Brian's gift, and some creative thinking on Dom's part, they'd finally managed to adapt Cybertronian vocalizer schematics to work with Earth-only materials-- but tended to prefer 'robot' mode when interacting with their drivers. Brian had wondered from time to time if the same held true for the original NBEs, or if his three did it because they had been 'born' among humans. Maybe someday he'd find a way to ask without having to worry about their being locked up for study.

"Will you bring her back here if you find her?" Nesso added, bending down to one knee so she could look Dom more or less in the eye. "You're not going to leave us, are you?" She turned her head toward the house, glancing toward Mia and Jesse; their sensors were powerful enough they could still pick up movement and sound through the intervening walls and plaster.

Dom met her optics with a steady gaze, taking the Skyline's concern seriously. Nesso was technically Mia's car, just as Bestia was Dom's and VelocitÓ was Brian's, but they were all three proprietary over the family in general and didn't like anything that upset its balance. They really weren't fond of Hobbs, and they treasured Jesse as if he were the Allspark. "I won't make any promises," he said, "but I don't plan on leaving, don't worry."

Brian winced at that, but didn't comment, walking closer to lean against Nesso's oversized metal knuckles where she braced herself against the cracked asphalt. The familiar connection leapt to life at the touch of fingertips against warm steel; Brian gave her just enough energy to convey his intent to bring Dom back in one piece, and his trust in her and Bestia to keep Mia and Jesse safe while they were gone. She shared back a brief burst of pride and acknowledgement, then blinked her optics and backed away to initiate her transformation. "Travel safely," she said as she collapsed back into car form.

Bestia nodded at him as well, then initiated her own shape change, twisting in a graceful whirl of folding and unfolding metal. She and the other NBTs were able to communicate over their internal radios even more efficiently as Brian could by touch, so sharing with Nesso had almost been the same as sharing with all three of them. Brian still preferred personal contact, though, and patted Bestia's hood as she rolled up to nose her bumper against Dom's legs.

Bestia wasn't paying him any further attention, though; her energy was all focused on her own driver. Dom couldn't feel it like Brian could, but he knew the value of personal connection, too; he stroked one callused palm over the black hood, nodding in the direction of the windshield. "Just make sure Mia's safe while we're gone. I called Vince and Rosa to let them know we're going, but 'til they get back here she'll be alone with Jesse. Get 'em out of here if anyone shows up who shouldn't."

"Understood," Bestia rumbled, then rolled back again to give VelocitÓ space to pop her doors open.

"So what are we waiting for?" the Porsche asked, revving her engine impatiently.

Brian exchanged a long look with Dom, then slid behind the wheel, stowing his bag behind his seat. Whatever they might find in Berlin, he'd never regretted any of the choices he'd made on Dom's behalf, and he wasn't about to start now. "Let's do this."

They didn't say much else on the long trip. Neither of them were much for talking about their feelings just for the hell of it, and there wasn't much else to do but ogle car ads in the complimentary travel magazines until they had more information. Brian kept going over the events of the last few weeks in LA again and again in his mind, trying to figure out how the hell he could have missed the signs, and he had a feeling Dom was doing the same thing. Was Letty really alive? Or was someone setting them up? And if it really was Letty, why the fuck hadn't she contacted anyone?

Dom had been handling the silver chain and cross the entire flight, passing it through his fingers like a string of rosary beads. Brian's eyes kept straying to it, drawn by year old echoes of watching Letty do the same thing. She'd hung it from the rearview of the Charger before she'd been called for the race through the desert, but before that last night he'd repeatedly seen her take it out of the pocket of her cargoes. It had been a talisman of memory for her, just like it was for Dom.

He'd never told Dom about that. It had felt like a private thing, a secret shared between them-- and now he was seeing it again, from the other side. He did hope Letty was alive; she was such a vital person, always wringing the most she could out of life. He'd come to appreciate her friendship independent of her relationship with the Torettos during those first weeks after Sector Seven, when he might as well have been on the moon for all the connection he'd felt to the world. At least, after the obligatory punch and yelling match were out of the way. But though he wasn't in any way her replacement, he had taken over a good chunk of the role that used to belong to her in Dom's life, and that fact made him feel just a little nauseous. Old abandonment issues flaring up again, he knew; but it wasn't so easy to shut them down again.

There wasn't any use in borrowing trouble before it arrived, though. Brian was glad when they finally left the airport and reclaimed their four-wheeled companion. Han and Gisele were staying at a five star hotel in the city, and Han had hinted he had more news for them in the brief phone call Dom had made when they landed. That was good; it would give them something to do, shake out the mental rust that had settled over all those hours of enforced idleness.

VelocitÓ definitely agreed. "I didn't mind being cargo," she groused through her speakers as they rolled into the hotel's parking levels, "but all that air under us! Do you know how much force I'd hit with if I fell from that height? I don't know any shapes with wings; you'd better find me one before we go back, or I'll have to recharge the whole way to keep from fritzing my sensors again trying to find bottom and my systems always feel sluggish after that many hours in a row. Do you think we might go find a race tonight? I have a lot of energy to burn off."

Dom smiled a little at that, glancing over at Brian. "No tuning issues, huh?" he murmured. "I think her attention span has actually gotten shorter."

"I can hear you, you know," VelocitÓ replied to that, tartly.

"Yeah, he knows," Brian grinned, soothing her with a hand on the dash as she coasted into a space. "You're just eager to get moving. We all are. Don't worry, we won't leave you down here too long."

"See that you don't," she sighed as she clicked the doors open to let them out. "I'm going to call Bestia; I bet she's bouncing on her struts with impatience by now."

"Tell her no Hobbs yet; I know she worries," Dom commented, absently patting the door as he got out of the little Porsche, duffel slung over his shoulder.

"I'm going to give that Gurkha of his a talking-to if I ever get the chance!" VelocitÓ chirped back, then slammed her doors shut again and dimmed her lights, drawing all her attention inward.

Brian shook his head, following Dom to the elevator. It still amazed Brian how well Dom had taken to the existence of sentient cars; but then again, both Torettos had practically been born with oil for blood and wrenches in place of silver spoons in their mouths. Dom was fond of saying cars made more sense than people anyway, so why not literally? And truth be told, Brian had thought the same thing at times even before his encounter with the Allspark energy. As much time and care as they put into their vehicles, it was only fitting the universe return the favor and allow them to love them back.

Han had left a keycard waiting for them at the front desk; he must have asked for a courtesy call, too, because he was waiting at the door by the time they exited the elevator, ever-present bag of something crunchable clutched in one hand. "Dom. Brian," he said, waving them in. "Good to see you. Wish it was under better circumstances."

"What do you mean, better?" Dom replied, stopping several steps into the suite with a furrowed brow. "What's going on?"

Han frowned back, pausing in the kitchen area to pull a few bottles of chilled beer out of the little refrigerator. "Hard to say," he said. "Gisele's out learning more, but we're having trouble tracking her back before she came to the city."

Dom took one of the bottles, but made no move to drink; his scowl deepened as he met Han's gaze. "But you have tracked her since. Just tell me one thing-- are you sure it's her?"

Han hesitated, but finally nodded under the pressure of the impatience radiating off Dom like a heat mirage. "Pretty sure," he said.

Dom closed his eyes briefly, then nodded and tilted the bottle back.

"So what's happened since you called last night?" Brian asked for both of them.

Han gestured toward the dining area table, then slid into one of the chairs and lifted the lid on a snoozing laptop. "A warrant went out in her name today-- here." He pulled up a few scanned pages from a file that had undoubtedly already crossed a desk somewhere at the DSS.

Brian swallowed at the black and white image of Letty visible on the screen, side by side with the whorls from a fingerprint card. She really was alive, then. "What'd she do?"

"What did they do, is the question," Han corrected him, mousing up a few more pages. "There was at least one undercover heavy of some kind with her when I saw her, and three fast cars were involved in a hit on a military convoy a couple of nights ago. That's where they picked up her prints. She's working with someone... a very powerful someone, it looks like."

Brian frowned, trying to connect that up with the little they already knew. "It's got to be a government group. Can't be FBI; I don't see how they could have kept it from me, and they can't operate outside the country legally. But if another agency scooped us? And if she was injured enough she couldn't have found a phone before we went off the radar? It might even make sense for her to have stayed with them. I just can't figure why a group with that much pull would want her in the first place. Sure, she's a good driver, but Braga was right about one thing: good drivers are a dime a dozen. The suits only recruited me because of who my dad and great-granddad were. What's her angle?"

Han nodded thoughtfully. "No offense, Dom, but there's no way this is about you; you're not that important in the bigger picture. Though-- I wouldn't bet against this having nothing to do with you." He turned in his chair, aiming a speculative glance at Brian.

"What do you mean by that?" Brian frowned at him. "You don't think-- NEST? Why?"

"NEST? The robot guys?" Dom glanced between them, frown deepening. "I know they want Brian because of Mission City, but Letty was nowhere near there when it all went down."

"You sure about that? You'd already left the rest of us behind by then," Han asked.

Dom nodded firmly. "She was in LA with Mia, and Mia would have said if something happened to her."

Brian picked at the label of his beer bottle thoughtfully. "NEST. Huh. Well it should be pretty easy to tell if it is them; VelocitÓ says the NBEs have pretty distinctive electromagnetic signatures, and if there's any in the city right now she'll know."

"I think she'll find at least one," Han said, grimly. "Whatever that convoy was carrying-- it didn't go down easily. I found a shaky Youtube clip that looked a lot like what came out of Rome a few months ago, or Mission City before that. I think NEST is here-- and we don't have the time or crew for a complex plan. Even if we catch them off guard, we might not be able to stop them if they turn hostile."

Brian shrugged, all his attention on Dom, not Han, as he answered. "It's Letty," he said.

Dom shook his head immediately. "No. We're not risking you. Or VelocitÓ."

Brian blew out a breath. "How about this: we wait to see what Gisele finds out first. If she doesn't have any leads for us, then we hunt down our hypothetical NEST agents."

"I don't like this idea, Brian," Dom insisted. "It sounds a lot like you falling on your sword to me. There's got to be other options."

"Says the man who told me to leave him behind on a bridge in Rio," Brian snorted. "C'mon, you know I'm right. And if it all goes wrong, at least we'll have Letty there to put in a word in my favor."

"Provided it is her. And provided she has any status with them," Han pointed out.

"I'll take that risk," Brian insisted. "It's my choice; and she's my car. I'm sure Vel will take me even if you try to talk her out of it, so you might as well give in now."

"Buster," Dom grumbled darkly.

"You know it," Brian tilted his chin up, staring him down.

"Whatever," Dom finally sighed, pulling out the chair across from Han and taking a seat. Brian sank into the chair next to him, feeling a little better now that they'd made a decision-- and even more so, when he felt Dom's hand curl apologetically over his thigh beneath the table. More than twenty-four hours had passed since their lazy wakeup the day of Han's call, and he was starting to feel a little skin-hungry.

"Good," Han said, rolling his eyes at them both. "The two of you were giving me a neckache." Then he turned the laptop around, pointing out a detail in one of the files. "Tell me what you make of this."

Gisele greeted Han at the door with a kiss that made Brian glance away, then offered he and Dom each a hug. She lingered a little longer with Dom, giving him a concerned look. "This is the woman you spoke of when you met me," she said. "The one who could see through you, who was nothing like me."

Dom nodded, though he locked eyes with Brian over her shoulder as he did so. "She ain't the only one that fits the description I gave you," he said-- about as much as he ever said about their relationship in public to someone who wasn't Mia or Vince. "But yeah. She's the reason I tracked Fenix to Braga in the first place. Not sure what it means that she's here, but if it's her, I gotta at least talk to her."

"I'm afraid I couldn't find out where she's staying; she may in fact have already left," Gisele replied sympathetically. "There was a street race four nights ago; she was seen there, with two men with the bearing of soldiers beside her. She arrived on a racing motorcycle, make and model unknown, spent some time examining the cars, then left before the first race began. No one from the club remembers seeing her again, either."

"Looking for something," Dom concluded.

"What were the guys driving?" Brian wanted to know. "Was it a GMC Topkick?"

"How did you know?" she asked, furrowing her brow. "Have you met them before?"

Brian sighed. "Yeah, lucky guess; they were the point guys for the military team in Mission City. The Topkick's an NBE, which means the bike probably is, too. I bet they're here looking for more. Only a few survived the battle in Mission City, but it's been more than a year since then and unusual meteor showers have made the news several times. There's no telling how many of them there are now-- and odds are not all of them are friendlies."

Gisele nodded. "It seems likely. We will need to find another way to track her."

Brian shared another long glance with Dom. "And it just so happens we might have that way," he said.

"Brian...." Dom began, warningly.

Brian held up a hand as he pulled his cell phone from his pocket. "Hey, App. Can you ping Vel for me?" he asked, and waited as the little touchscreen device immediately began dialing on its own.

"Nice," Han commented. "Is that like the iFriend you woke for Rome?"

Brian smirked. "A little less cuddly, a little more inclined to surf the 'net on his own time. If I still had to pay a cell phone bill, I'd be spending half my income on roaming charges and 3G service."

"Brian!" VelocitÓ's voice issued from the tiny speaker before either Han or App could reply. "Bestia says to tell you Vince and Rosa and Nico have returned; everything's fine at home."

"That's good to hear," he said. "I've got a question for you-- I wondered if you can tell if there are any others like you in the city? Homegrown or otherwise?"

"I checked that first thing," she said, brightly. "There's one active signature within fifteen miles. Don't worry, I encrypted my call to Bestia and buried it in the cell phone network; he can't have heard me."

That was one of the first things Brian had made sure of, in the early days when they'd first been discovering they did have the ability to connect with each other. Hiding in plain sight was a lot more difficult if you made a lot of 'noise'. The fact that his vehicular friends were constructed with all-Earth materials and used Earth-adaptive technologies helped them there; the extraterrestrial type was easy to pick out by contrast in close enough proximity to the source of transmission. True Cybertronian energies were just too different to fully blend in. But if there was only one, where had the other gone?

"That's not why I asked," he said. "I was wondering if you could take us to him?"

VelocitÓ was quiet for a moment; a few seconds by human time, much longer when judged by computer-based speeds. "Why?" she finally asked, puzzlement in the electronic tones of her voice, having presumably crunched through all the possibilities she could think of. "I thought you didn't want NEST to find us; and if they're not with NEST they'll probably want to kill us."

"We think Letty might be working with them," Dom spoke up. "She was seen with a big motorbike that Brian thinks is an NBE. If it's just the one, and we catch 'em by surprise, the risk should be pretty low." He was scowling at Brian as he said it, but he kept his voice calm for VelocitÓ's sake.

She thought about that a second longer, then agreed. "Okay. Bestia and Nesso will be so jealous I got to meet one. But if you want to do that, we'd better leave right away. The signal is headed out of the city; he's at sixteen miles now and counting."

Dom rubbed a hand over his head, then lifted an eyebrow at Han and Gisele. "Follow us, but keep back; if it all goes to hell I don't want them ID'ing you, too."

"If it all goes to hell, we'll batter the gates down after you," Han replied with a smirk.

It was closer to thirty miles from the hotel when they finally caught up to the signal.

The bike was definitely a racing model, green with a logo that Dom didn't recognize; Brian had seen it before, but he couldn't have sworn whether it was Autobot or Decepticon. He hadn't been around either faction long enough to memorize the shapes of the symbols. A better clue was the fact that the bike didn't even have a kickstand: no Terrestrial vehicle would be without one.

The rider was definitely a woman, clad all in black leathers, but the helmet she wore hid her hair and features-- and as they sped up to close with her, she sped up too, preventing easy identification.

"Well, she's seen us," Brian said as the bike began weaving aggressively through traffic in an attempt to lose them. "Any other signals yet?"

"No, just the one!" the car replied brightly. "Can I catch her? Or do I still have to practice laying low?"

Dom grinned slowly at him. "Had a talk with her, did you?"

"Well, we were trying not to draw attention," Brian rolled his eyes. "And someone had to; it's not like you were giving any of them the 'license and registration' talk." He tapped the dash. "Go ahead, Vel; I know you can do it."

"Shit," Dom gasped as she immediately juked out into oncoming traffic. "Yeah, she really is your kid, isn't she?"

"You know it," Brian chuckled.

The chase lasted for several more miles before the driver abruptly slowed and ducked for an exit off the autobahn. VelocitÓ hurried to follow, tracking the bike as it slowed toward a fairly deserted industrial type parking area. Brian hadn't seen a gunbelt or a shotgun sheath or anything of the kind on the bike, so he played it cool as they slowed down to park behind her, hoping the bike itself wasn't about to transform and take a shot at them.

Then the driver swung her leg over the bike and turned toward them, and Dom inhaled sharply beside him.

It was her. No question. Every line of her stance was familiar: the self-assurance and aggression she carried with her like a cloak. She was thinner in a way that spoke of a long recovery, bones prominent in her face and at her wrists, but the woman in black was definitely Leticia Ortiz.

Dom's hand went briefly to the pocket where he carried the silver necklace. Then he shot a brief, tense look at Brian and opened the door to step out of the car.

Brian followed suit, hanging back a little as he watched her react to Dom's presence. She stiffened as she caught sight of her ex, and a slow, appreciative smile curved her mouth as she removed her helmet-- but she didn't rush forward to greet him, choosing instead to continue her slow stalk.

"Dominic Toretto," she said warmly as he closed the distance between them. "I might have known. If anyone was going to track me down it would be you. What was it, the race a few nights ago?"

"And the club you visited. Han's in town," Dom replied, arms still down at his sides as he approached within arm's reach.

"Of course," Letty snorted, looking up at him, reaching out to lay her palms on his broad chest. "I suppose it's more of a surprise that I don't smell any skanks around," she said. Then she swallowed, her smile faltering a little, and Dom gathered her up into a crushing hug.

"Letty," was all he said; but the rough timbre of his voice more than covered everything he didn't.

"Dom," she sighed, leaning into him for a long moment.

They looked as gorgeous together as they ever had; matched in a different way than Dom and Brian were, with all the freight of long years of familiarity in their body language. But after a minute, Letty pulled back, looking up at him again-- and Brian could see the distance wrought by the years since the truck heists, more clearly than he had that second time in LA. Maybe it was that he was seeing them together now instead of separately as he had then, or maybe it was the added maturity in both of them wrought by the tragedies they'd each faced, but there was a degree of reserve there that spoke of choices made and bridges burned. He let out a quiet sigh as a few more of his worries dropped away, then stepped forward to give his own greeting.

Letty's gaze darted to him over Dom's shoulder as he moved, and she chuckled suddenly, expression wry. "Or maybe it's not such a surprise after all. You been taking good care of my man, Brian?"

"You know it," he said, smiling lopsidedly back. He wasn't surprised she'd guessed; she'd never even asked if he'd be willing to help her help Dom, just barged right in and assumed, and of course she knew Dom's cues. "I'd apologize, but...."

She hit him lightly on the chest with a gloved fist, smirking up at him. "I wouldn't believe it. When they told me the score after I woke up, I figured it was only a matter of time. He left me behind out of some macho idea of chivalry, but you he took with him. I figured it was a sign."

Dom look startled at that. "Letty, I...."

"Don't you apologize either, papa." She shook a finger at him, her tone a little heated. "It's not that I don't still love you; but love was never our problem. I don't want to be protected, I want to be an equal, and I finally realized some part of you's always going to see me as that sixteen year old in Echo Park. I thought I was going to show you different when I hunted up Brian and made the deal for Braga. Maybe if things had worked out...." She shrugged. "But they didn't, and that race is over and done."

Dom sighed, hands clenching briefly at his sides, then nodded. "I never forgot you, either."

She smirked, chin tilted up, taking that as her due. "Besides, I have a job, now; one that means more to me than robbing fuel trucks or making green. Even if I could go back, I wouldn't give it up."

Brian glanced over her shoulder at her ride at that. "Can you tell us what happened?" he asked.

She followed his gaze, furrowing her brow at the bike. Then she nodded. "When I was running from Fenix, I almost hit this crazy biker that came out of nowhere. He was with a covert military group, and we caught his attention, so he followed us and stuck around after I crashed and burned. I was pretty fucked up, though, even after he got me to a medic, and while I was out his boss had an argument with your boss over who'd get to protect me while I was out. They were worried at first there might be a leak, that maybe that's why Braga killed all the drivers that night; it took 'em awhile to realize it was just a regular thing. And of course by the time I came out of it, Dom was in jail."

That was obviously a cover story, though probably true as far as it went, but before Brian could ask any more questions a sudden shrill sound split the air from behind him. "Brian, incoming!" VelocitÓ said. "There's a second one, only a mile or so out! I didn't know they could hide like that!"

All of them flinched... and behind Letty the motorcycle reared up in response, transforming in a swift whirlwind of green and silver parts. "Decepticon!" the resulting robot blurted in an angry male voice, aiming a cannon toward the blue Porsche.

VelocitÓ transformed a few seconds later, her slender form taller and more armored than the other's. Without access to Cybertronium or concentrated Energon, though, her weaponry wasn't quite as deadly, and she knew it. She took two long steps forward, her legs forming an arch over Brian and Dom to give herself the option of throwing her frame bodily between them and danger, and shaped a long, electrified steel sword from one arm.

"You won't take him!" she said, narrowing green optics at the NBE.

Brian braced a hand on VelocitÓ's nearest leg, trying to project calmness to her as he looked up at the menacing figure. "Whoa, whoa!" he said. "She's not a Decepticon. She's neutral, and she's mine, so back off. We're not a threat to you."

The sound of jet engines, backed up by a set of lights starting a low approach, further complicated the situation. No wonder the first NBE signature had started to leave town, and no wonder Letty had pulled over when she did; there was an airstrip close by, and she and her friends were expecting a pick up. There was nothing for it, though, but to brazen things out and hope no one shot them.

The Autobot ignored him, warming up its cannon. "Back away from the humans, now!"

"Knockout!" Letty yelled at him, trying to catch his attention. "Stop it! These are my friends!"

"Then why are they with a Decepticon?" it asked crossly, turning its optics toward her.

"The man told you, she's not one of your Decepticons," Dom insisted, stepping closer to brace his shoulder against Brian's. "She's Earth-born. Leave her out of this! She's only here because we are."

"Earth-born?" The robot reared back a little, its cannon slowly starting to spin down. "That's not possible. The Earth-born from Mission City were all accounted for!"

"That's probably because she's not from Mission City," a sudden extra voice added from the darkness. "Is she, Agent O'Conner."

Everyone's heads turned to watch an enormous black pickup roll up, a thirty-something white military guy in the driver's seat and Rome's double riding shotgun. Brian recognized them as Captain Lennox-- or Major now, judging by the insignia-- and Sergeant Robert Epps, former Army and Air Force special ops and undoubtedly members of NEST.

"I'm not an agent anymore," Brian replied. "I'm just a guy with a kid and a couple of very special cars who came to Germany to check up on an old friend."

"Huh," Lennox grunted, stepping down from the truck cab as he tipped his chin at Dom. "And him?"

"None of your goddamn business," Dom grunted.

The Sergeant stepped down from the other side of the truck, which immediately began to clank and expand into a 'bot at least twice the size and bulk of the ones still facing off against each other. "Is that so," he said, circling the mechanical warriors. "You know, we got a file on you from the DSS last year that says it is our business."

Now that they were out of the truck/warrior, Brian could see that both men wore dark leather gloves to shield their hands, as per the Allspark radiation guidelines Tej had hunted down for Brian on the 'Net. He flexed his fingers at the sight. He was kind of glad he hadn't known about the regs the government had created until he'd already gone through the trial and error stage; without that, he'd never have learned what he could do. Bestia and Nesso and VelocitÓ wouldn't exist, never mind the various other small companions he'd created for his friends, and his life would be duller for their absence.

"Might have known Hobbs would spread the word," Dom snorted. "We're still no threat to you."

"We've been a little busy, or we'd have looked you up sooner," the Major replied, frowning as he eyed them both. "You're right about that much, you weren't exactly high on the threat list. I remember whose side you fought on, O'Conner, and it wasn't Megatron's. But I'm guessing you were probably responsible for the little spikes of Gamma we kept detecting in LA and Brazil?"

Brian's stomach sank at that. His mechanical children might be entirely home-built apart from their Sparks, but he himself wasn't fully human anymore, and he should have remembered that. If Lennox was right, he'd been exposing them to detection all along. But if NEST had 'overheard' him that early on... wait, was it just since he started working on Bestia, or had they tracked his earlier mishaps with the energy as well?

"When you say LA, do you mean--" He glanced at Letty.

"This being was the one creating the pulses I was sent to track?" Knockout demanded, inadvertently answering his question.

"He 'sounds' more like Sam than either of you, Will," the enormous former truck chimed in.

"I guess that's not a surprise," Lennox said, still frowning, "since he doesn't wear gloves, either-- though in Sam's case that's mostly because he can affect things whether he's wearing them or not. I'm sure the boss will have some questions about that, regardless."

"Some other time, maybe," Brian shrugged, casually. "We've done what we came here to do, so we'll have to take a rain check on that concrete cell. I'll be sure and tell your cousin you said hi, though, Sergeant." He tipped his chin at Epps.

Lennox blinked at that, cutting off whatever else he'd been about to say in favor of glancing at the NCO. "Cousin?" he asked incredulously.

The Sergeant narrowed his eyes at Brian, affronted-- then suddenly widened them. "Fuck, you're that Brian? No wonder Rome was so damn cagey last time I talked to him. He knows about this, don't he?" He snorted and turned to his superior. "You remember my evil twin of a cousin, right? This is that crazy white kid he met in juvie and boosted cars with for years before he left to try on the cop side of things. Damn, if I'd known that I'd have ripped a strip off you in Mission City, brah; I'd just heard all about that adventure you dragged him into in Miami."

"Cop to Sector Seven to fugitive?" Lennox shook his head disapprovingly. "Not a very encouraging record. Why should we let you go, O'Conner? All the other NBTs we've run into have been hostile as fuck, and we can't trust you to respect US or Autobot interests."

"You can trust me to respect my interests, and the interests of my friends," Brian frowned back. VelocitÓ was still on full alert, and Dom was a mass of tension beside him, but he thought he was starting to see a way clear. These were basically reasonable people; and he'd done this kind of negotiation before.

"Don't just take Rome's word for it, either; ask Letty," he continued, nodding at her. "I'll agree to a meeting a month from now in a non-extradition location, with the understanding that there'll be papers on the table to clear our records. I won't consent to anything that endangers my friends or family, including the four-wheeled kind, but I'm sure we can come to some kind of arrangement. I hear Diego Garcia's got some nice beaches."

"Brian," Dom objected, warningly.

Brian turned to him and shook his head. "You keep saying we're going to end up in a ditch or behind bars someday. If I can find a third option...."

"It ain't so different from ride or die, Dom," Letty chipped in. "They haven't fucked me over yet, and a quarter mile would be fucking boring after some of the things I've seen with Knockout."

The gigantic black warrior hummed. "Optimus says he'll agree to that if you do, Will. If he can help Sam or be useful against the Decepticons, General Morshower will clear it." Then he lowered a cannon, spinning it up in Brian's direction. "But if he does not appear...."

"If we don't show up, you'll hunt us down, we get the picture," Dom grumbled, then nudged VelocitÓ's leg. "Shoot us, or agree, but whichever, we're getting the fuck out of here before the rest of your guys arrive. We're not going with you today."

Major Lennox narrowed his eyes, exchanged a long nonverbal conversation with Sergeant Epps, and finally nodded. "Say we do this. How do we get in contact?"

Brian fished App out of a pocket. Maybe Lennox would see it as offering a hostage for good behavior; but maybe he'd actually talk to App, and half Brian's next argument would already be won for him. Smart phones made surprisingly good negotiators.

He admonished the little device to behave, then tossed him over. "App knows how to reach us. I'll expect to see him in one piece at that meeting, though."

Lennox's eyebrows rose as he carefully handled the phone, then slipped it into a vest pocket as gingerly as if it were a live grenade. "Got it." He cocked an eyebrow at Letty. "Ortiz?"

"Yeah, yeah," she said. "Don't get your panties in a wad." Then she banged on Knockout's knee to get him to back off, and came over to give Dom and Brian a joint hug. "You decide to run, I've got your back," she whispered, "but I hope you don't. These guys can be sticks in the mud sometimes, but they're good people."

"They better have your back," was all Dom said; then he pulled back and pressed a last kiss to her forehead. "I've missed you, girl."

"Call Mia," was all Brian had to add. "She misses you, too. And-- shit, this isn't the time, but get her to tell you about the other new additions to the family, all right?"

"Been up to a lot in the last year, huh?" she said.

"You have no idea," Dom snorted. "Don't be a stranger." Then he pulled something from his pocket, pressing it into her hand. "You gave this to me twice. But it belongs to you, not me. Make sure the next person you give it to deserves it."

She opened her hand, a bittersweet smile curving her mouth. Then she reached up and fastened the cross around her own neck. "Go on, get out of here. I'll be fine."

VelocitÓ collapsed back into car shape behind them, and somewhere off in the direction the plane had landed a truck horn sounded. "Three more of them coming, Brian," she announced.

"Time to go," he said, slipping back behind the wheel. "Dom?"

Dom nodded to Letty one more time. "Be seeing you," he said. Then he stepped into the passenger side, closing the door as VelocitÓ spun her tires, reversing direction to speed away. He watched out the rear window for a moment as the NEST team receded in the distance, then took a deep breath and turned forward again, letting it out slowly.

"Had to make a call, huh?" he said after a moment, raising an eyebrow at Brian. "You've been making a habit of some pretty questionable decisions, lately."

"What, you're not pleased with the way they've turned out?" Brian said, and grinned at the nonplused look on Dom's face. "Think of it this way. If we play our cards right, the whole family might end up back together, free and clear. A long, strange road to get back to where we started, but...." He shrugged.

Dom snorted, tipping his chin up. Then he glanced at the wheel, turning on its own as VelocitÓ unexpectedly avoided the next entrance to the autobahn, taking a more meandering road. "Well. Not quite where we started."

"No," Brian said, smiling slowly. "We're in a car that can drive itself... and how far back did Han say they'd wait?"

"Far enough," Dom said, dark eyes glinting as he met Brian's gaze. "It's a long flight home."

It wasn't perfect.

Nor was the arrangement they eventually reached with NEST. Or their next confrontation with Hobbs.

But a little reality was never too much to pay for getting to have your cake and eat it, too.


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