Brian never understood the meaning of pack.
Rome and his infinite amount of brothers had tried to explain it to him once upon a time. Jesse had tried to explain pack bonds to him once too but shook his head with an amused grin and told him not to worry about it. 'When you're together it feels like you're whole, like you could take on anything 'cause your pack is there to back you up'. He could understand it to a point but he had never searched out anyone to rely on the way wolves and other pack animals did. Never sought out the knowledge that he had a place somewhere with people that cared. Maybe it was because deep down he knew that there was nowhere for him to belong or maybe it was because he was a cat. He didn't need pack bonds so he never knew what was so appealing about them. A person couldn't miss something that they never had in the first place.
He should have seen how things were going to end in LA. It had happened before so it was stupid to think that it couldn't happen again.
As a child, growing up in Barstow was less than ideal for anyone but being a fur on top of it only made things a hundred times harder. His relationship with his mother was tense but he knew deep down that she loved him because she didn't let him starve. She bought him clothes and made him a bowl of cereal in the morning before sending him off to school. Sure sometimes she would go into weird traces where she'd stare off into space for a couple of hours around the same time that all he ate was cereal cause she somehow lost the grocery money, and sure the men she brought around weren't very nice to him but at least she loved him.
Her latest boyfriend had been a real piece of work but at least he stuck around for more than a month. The only problem was that he liked to get drunk and had no problem smacking Brian around from time to time. One night Brian shifted, right there in the middle of the goddamn living room. He wasn't much to look at really. He was just a scrawny cub with raised hackles and a snarled hiss that was more of a pathetic yowl. It wasn't the way he wanted his mother to find out but he had thought at least that she would be understanding, would stop letting her boyfriends hurt her only child, and would continue to love him as she had. Instead, she had screamed at him to get the hell out while her boyfriend laughed his head off.
That was the first lesson he had ever had about being a shifter. He wasn't wanted.
He learned to stay away from the house and find good spots to curl up for the night. Word got around about the O'Conner boy and not long after everyone either kept their distance or tried to pick a fight. He had made the mistake once of letting his 'friends' convince him to change only for them to turn and leash him up like a junkyard dog with a chain-link collar that was too tight. They laughed while he struggled and made himself sick with silver poisoning before they left him there. He didn't slip the collar. Didn't break the chain and find someone to help him free himself from the collar.
He grew weak enough over the next two hours that he couldn't struggle anymore and barely twitched when three teens came stumbling through, smelling of dogs and mud and reckless joy. They were shifters to and they understood the world more than he did. It was easy for them to stand there over him and assume that he had been attacked and left to die alone and in pain. He comes to later know those three teens later as Rome, Lucus, and Rome's' older brother Andre. They accepted him even though he was a cat, let him hang around because he and Rome got along well and could generally help each other out of the mass amounts of trouble they got themselves into. Even though Rome was nearly a year older than he was.
Rome's Mama took to him too but he wasn't her's. She'd feed him and let him spend the night on the couch a couple of times a week but she had no obligations to him and had an entire pack to take care of. She stopped the other dogs from picking on him and singling him out and Andre was nice enough to stand up for him till the others left him alone but he wasn't truely a part of the pack. Just a 'stray pet that Rome had let follow him home'.
They lost Lucus three years after they saved Brian. He had been shot by a couple of local guys who claimed he had gone 'feral and attacked them'.
The Peirce pack bonded over the death, pulled tighter together in order to protect and keep an eye on each other. They included him in it all but that was more Rome's doing than anything. Rome had called them a two man pack and that was the second time Brian ever thought he could belong somewhere. Even though he was a cat and Rome knew he couldn't feel pack bonds the way he did, the older teen still wanted him around. Even though they didn't share blood or a proper pack bond Rome called him his brother.
It lasted seven years before Rome got busted for doing something Brian had told him a thousand times was a bad idea. He was seventeen when Rome turned his back on him because he was just a cat who couldn't understand what Rome was going through. He was only seventeen but he had nothing left keeping him in the ass-backwards town that was so convinced that he would go to hell. His mother was alive but she was human so she couldn't understand what he was going through. Even if she did could understand it wasn't like she cared enough to help. She wanted nothing to do with him ever since she saw him shift for the first time. The only thing she cared about was chasing down her next high.
He went fur for a few months, only changed back enough to keep up with current events till he turned eighteen, and found someone willing to take a chance on him. Nick Tanner was a good man who thought that all Brian needed was a little guidance and discipline in his life. As a cop himself, Tanner had nothing bad to say about being a cop, and from the way he spoke about it, having a 'police' family' was one of the best things anyone could have. To someone like Brian, who had spent most of his life hoping for a proper family after always being the outsider tag along, it sounded like the best deal he was ever gonna get in life. Tanner helped him work his way through the academy and then helped him get in with the LAPD, all well letting the blond sleep on his couch till he saved up enough money to afford an apartment, one that was livable by Tanner's standards.
The thing was, Tanner himself was human. He sympathized with Brian's plight but could never really understand what he was going through.
A cat shifter in a precinct prominently run by dog and wolf shifters and humans meant that Brian was once again the odd man out. Sure there was a few bird shifter here and there and a couple of other different types of shifters but there was only supposedly one other cat shifter in the LAPD who didn't even have anything to do with the department Brian worked in so he really was alone, no matter how you looked at it.
It allowed him to save up enough for a one-bedroom apartment though and it paid the bills so he could exactly just give up the job. He developed a thick skin, an icy mask that allowed him to ignore all the cat jokes and shove away the instinct to bristle and raise his hackles at anyone who bared their teeth at him. The one good thing about being a cat in a house full of dogs is that he isn't limited by the endless amounts of loyalty that the others feel when it comes to the badge. His sense of right and wrong has always been a little skewed and that made him perfect for UC work. He was one of their best when it came to low-level UC operations. It was crappy work but allowed for a few more freedoms when it came to his shifter side.
At times they called his methods into question, called him disloyal and antisocial for not getting along well with the same assholes who'd screw with him but at the end of the day he got the job done so the brass didn't care as long as he didn't step too far out of line.
Then he met the Toretto pack and suddenly all those times that Rome tried to explain pack made more sense to him. He didn't feel pack, pack was a canine thing. He spent a few months on the fringes. They knew of him and he knew of them but they rarely interacted. He talks to Mia at the diner but never really about anything more personal than her school work and how the shop is doing. He interacts with Leon and Jesse at Harry's but they never formally exchange names or talk outside of them ordering parts and Brian confirming their order and delivering it. It isn't until he and Vince get into a spat over nothing that they truly take notice of him.
Dom tells him to stay away but in the end, does the exact opposite of his own words and pulls Brian in closer. Drags him in instead of pushing him away the way other packs have in the past. He learns about them and they learn a little about him in return, not everything because he's learned to guard himself against the eventual hurt that comes with people wanting him around, but enough that they know him. They see him in his fur more than anyone else ever had the chance to. The very thought of it would have made him bristle in the past but now he doesn't even think about it unless someone says something that directly reminds him of the fact.
Dom and Mia are timberwolves. Dom is large and muscled and Mia is just a tab bit smaller, leaner, and faster to balance out her brother's brute strength. Thanks to a life of mistreatment and malnourishment he was slightly smaller than he should have been. Adult panthers were huge, weighted more than wolves too but he found that Dom stood taller than him when shifted. Mia was naturally a bit smaller than Dom and Brian but she weighed about the same as Brian. Jesse and Leon are shifters. Leon is a coyote and Jesse is a small pup of some kind from what intel (And Brian's nose) tell him. Letty and Vince were both dogs too. Vince was a rottweiler and Letty, a Doberman. Both of their furs were fitting for their human counterparts.
They were wary of him at first but the longer he stuck around, the longer Dom keep him around, the more they loosened up. They told the occasional cat joke every once in a while but it was never intended as a jab and that made a large difference than in the past. It was acceptance from an unlikely group of people but it was everything that he had sought after as a child and from the moment he realized that he was utterly screwed. He found a best friend in Mia and saw Jesse as the little brother he never wanted to have but never wanted to get rid of it. He and Vince had only just been reaching an understanding but he and Letty and Leon could snark at each other for hours on end. He didn't know what to call him and Dom because there was something there but he didn't know what. Even then it was the best thing he ever had.
And it was the best thing he ever lost.
He felt just as good as he used to when he still ran with Rome and in a lot of ways it was better. They fixed cars together and raced and he sat with them at their dinner table and shared some of his better childhood memories. It was the sort of thing he wanted to hold onto forever, even when he knew that it would only last for as long as he continued to lie to them. Ether they would get tired of him and tell him to get lost or they would find out who he really was and chase him away with promises of being torn apart for betraying them.
In the end, Vince and Jesse ended up badly hurt. They nearly died and it would have been his fault. Thanks to their fur side it was likely that they would live but that wasn't a guarantee and even if they did they couldn't stick around long enough to go to or even get to a hospital. Mia had cared for Jesse's injuries at the house and Leon and Letty had been the ones to bust Vince out of the hospital. They were scattered in the wind and Dom's charger was wrecked and everything was a mess. He should have expected it, Dom's anger and Mia's hurt. Letty's viciousness and Jesse's lost and startled expressions as he watched his own blood stain his shirt.
He was left standing next to a wrecked charger without a pot to piss in, watching the supra drive off and with it, any hope he had started to hold on to.
He couldn't face Tanner again, not after everything he let happen here. He couldn't bear to go back to the force and pretend that everything was fine like he was okay with being on the fringes of every single group of beings he had ever met. He was a cat sure and cats were antisocial at times. They were independent creatures that didn't need to rely on anyone to survive sure, but that didn't mean they didn't form any bonds at all. He had bonded with the Toretto pack and before that with Tanner. He had bonded with Rome once upon a time. He had even shared a bond with his mother once upon a time even if he didn't mean to. It might not have been a pack bond but that didn't mean his human side didn't get attached to people.
He shifts right there next to the wrecked remains of the charger, easily wiggles out of the now slightly ruined clothing, and takes off running. He doesn't stop till a day later to drink some water from a stream before he's back at it. It's easier than he thinks it should be to stay out of sight, to stick to the out of sight spots when running. The longer he stays shifted the more he slips into a cat mindset. He crosses borders without realizing it and he must be more animal than anything now because the three CBP agents that must obviously see him don't alert anyone of his presents as he slipped through a hole in the barbed wire and chain-link fence and then keeps going. He stops in Mexicali for all of a few hours to hunt for food before he starts traveling again.
There's no point in staying human so he stays shifted when he nears another city, lives off of the field mice he catches, and the scraps thrown to him when he dares to edge close enough to residential houses. Occupationally a young child will mistake him for an overgrown house cat and try to pet him and he allows it. The first time it happens they're found with him laying on his side, head resting in the little boy's lap while he plays with Brian's ears and babbles happily in a way that only a toddler can. He doesn't know where the boy's parents are and doesn't want to leave in case the boy tries to follow him so he settles down right there in the grass and lets the boy pet and poke at him. The mother nearly has a heart attack when she first saw them but is quick to calm when she realizes that Brian is purring on each exhale and has no intention of attacking her or her child. She throws a few extra scraps his way before she and the little boy go inside, leaving him alone to his newly acquired meal.
Word gets around quickly that he is domesticated to some degree because kids of all ages try to pet him and even a few teenagers and adults approach him. They're never alone, always accompanied by an adult that orders them to back off a bit when he starts to get skittish but ultimately it's not the worst thing. They always feed him and the set of teenage twins that seek him out and indeed find him at least once a week always bring a little extra food with them. The promise of a steady food source is the only reason that he sticks around for so long. No one, not even the few shifters he meets, guess that he's a shifter too and it's not the worst thing in the world.
He doesn't leave until a group of adult males turns up one day with a crate large enough to contain him in it. They try to catch him, try to talk to him in calm soothing tones, and bribe him with food, none of them are armed so they weren't going to try to kill him but it still made him skittish. He manages to slip between one of his would-be captor's legs, managing to trip him up while he's at it, and uses their surprise to disappear into the brush and what lies beyond it.
He stays away from towns and cities after that.
Now he only goes close enough to hear snatches of conversations from where he can't be seen.
He ignores most of it. Because it's utterly unimportant or uninteresting and has no impact on how he now lives his life but it helps bring a little bit of the human side back to the surface. He finally proved all the people back home right and the human side would laugh if it could about how utterly screwed and pathetic his life has been. It isn't till he hears word of a dark blue supra, catches the scent of raw anger, and metal. Fear and gasoline and loss all bundled up that human reason wins out over the animal instinct. He goes bipedal for the first time in months. Steals some pants and a shirt and some shoes from a house while no one is home and heads into town. He doesn't know a lick of Spanish outside of asking about basic things like where the bathroom was and asking how someone was. He knew how to recognize insults Mia and Dom's father and mother were Spanish so they grew up speaking the language. Mia fondly called him an idiot and Letty had more than a few choice names for him when she was fed up with his and the other boy's bullshit. It wasn't much but it was enough to catch the attention of the kinds of people he needed to talk to.
He asked around but there wasn't much information to be shared, not when he was an unfamiliar white boy who didn't speak the language and couldn't even explain why he was looking for Dom and the others.
In the end, he caught the faintest whiff of Vince's scent.
Once he caught it he couldn't let it go, followed it out of town, and shifted right there on the spot, a cat's senses were diminished, and clouded when he wasn't shifted but as soon as he was on four paws he was off. He padded along at a fast trot. Following his nose down a long dirt road. It took a few days to get where he was going but he made it. It was a decent place with five bedrooms and a tricked out garage that was completely impractical but screamed Toretto when he thought about it. It made perfect sense when he remembered who exactly they were. The crew's lives revolved around cars and races and each other. On the run or not it didn't matter, they would have a place to take care of their cars.
Thanks to a panther's ability to propel themselves up to eighteen feet in the air he managed to leap onto the roof of the front porch with no problem. A bedroom window was cracked open and it was just barely big enough for him to wedge himself in enough to force it open enough for him the rest of his body through. The scents that washed over him were old but familiar. Leon and Jesse had been here, the scents were weeks old, older than Vince's scent but it made something in his chest tighten painfully anyway.
The door was cracked open and he slipped through to explore the rest of the house. Only Vince had been here recently, maybe two days ago, maybe a week or two ago, but the place still smelled familiar and comforting. Sort of like a den was supposed to smell. Despite there being plenty of rooms Jesse and Leon had shared one and so had Mia and Letty. It must have been some sort of pack thing that Brian faintly remembered Rome's Mama's pack doing when he was younger, it was comforting to canines to clump together and be close. It didn't make it any easier as he looked for any sign of recent life or any indication of where they were going next but it also settled some of the guilt he had to know that they were still together at least.
He couldn't follow them any further than this, even if he could pick up their scent he wasn't pack. He brought enough trouble to them and he wasn't stupid enough to think that they would ever want to see him again. Even if he could follow them, he wouldn't. If someone found him, realized that he went fur, and went looking for his pack then they might be following him too. He didn't want to be the one to lead more trouble Dom's way. Haunting their old hiding spot would have to be enough for him, even if it hurt and made him wish all the more that he could know at least that they were okay.
Dom's room was the worst.
He and Mia had been just friends no matter what Tanner and Bilkins and even some of the crew thought. He had never been into Mia that way and she had never been into him like that either. He and Dom had circled each other though. Had pushed and teased in a way that was a far cry different from the way he and Rome had messed with each other when they were growing up.
One night when they had been drunk off the adrenaline of a successful night of racing and Coronas, they had stayed up long after the others had gone to bed. Just him and Dom, laughing at each other's stupidity until the conversation had taken a more intense turn. The details and the conversation itself were fuzzy but Dom had bared his neck and told Brian that he trusted him. The part that stood out the most though was the fact that Brian had done the same. Bared his neck to the alpha of the pack he had become too attached to far too quickly. Brian was a panther, a solitary animal. He didn't need an Alpha and he had never wanted one before but at that moment it had felt right and he had wanted more in life than the be a part of Dom's pack. To be Dom's.
They never talked about it after it happened but they both remembered it happening. They still toed the line, knowing they needed to grow the hell up and talk about what was happening but they had never gotten the chance.
Now he was here alone.
He claimed Dom's room as his own, stole a couple of towels and a blanket from an untouched laundry basket that never got folded, and dragged it up to Dom's room. Pawed at the pillows and the blankets till he had a suitable place to lay.
He stayed there for months. Let the human recede again till he was once again all animal. He got in and out through the window and lived off of animals like deer, bighorn sheep, and even the occasional antelope that he could find in the territory he now considered his. He lived off of much smaller animals too, like foxes, rabbits, squirrels, and field mice. Occasionally he would run into a bobcat or a mountain lion or two that dared to cross into his territory. He chased one away with no problem but the second one was more aggressive, it wasn't a shifter like he was, had the advantage of relying fully on its animal instinct without any human hesitations but Brian had never backed down from a challenge, human or otherwise and in the state he was in it was just another petty challenge.
Somedays the human side would rise to the surface enough for him to take in his surroundings and see just how pathetic he had become but he had no reason to shed his fur so he never bothered.
Some days he couldn't bring himself to leave the comfort of the den that no longer smelled like Dom, he lost weight too due to the fact that he was still human and needed more than raw meat to really survive. Ultimately, he did well for himself, kept himself fed and watered enough to do it again the next day. Eventually, he would learn how to pick himself back up and continue to live his life as he had in the past but for now, he would mourn the lost chances that he should have taken and made the most out of before he managed to screw it all up.
It was almost a full two and a half years before he properly interacted with anyone that wasn't shifted or an actual animal. He had gone human a couple of times but never for very long. His record so far was half a week.
It's early in the morning when he hears the telltale sounds of a high-powered, well cared for precision engine rumbling down the dirt road that leads to the house. It's a single car but he can faintly hear two different voices when the engine cuts off. He slinks out onto the hot roof of the porch, crouching just near enough to the edge that he can watch them without being seen. They don't come inside right away, one of them smells faintly like a shifter but not strong enough to be a shifter himself. The young shifter, a cat of some kind circles the house twice before they both enter the house through the front door using a key.
He used it as an opportunity to slink back inside and hop on top of Dom's empty dresser. It was tall but not tall enough to give him the kind of high he would have liked to have in an ambush. It was better than nothing though and he would use it as an advantage. The human stayed downstairs while the shifter ascended the steps. He could hear the human shifting about upstairs but didn't pay him much attention while he waited for the other shifter to enter. If he was hostile then Brian would have the upper hand but if it turned out to just be nothing then he would be out of the way. There was no way the other shifter didn't know that Brian was there so he was either trying to sneak up on Brian or he was underestimating him. Neither fact settled well in Brian's mindset.
The door creaked open and Brian had a perfect view of the intruding cat as he caught sight of Brian and observed the den Brian had made for himself. He had cleaned it the last time he had gone human but that was months ago. The room stunk of Jaguar and the sheets and towels and lose articles of clothing he had used to make his nest were torn and shredded and covered in fur.
The shifter was a tall Asian male that reeked of a cat but not the familiar smells that clung to large big cats and small cats respectively. He was some sort of cat in between, a type of cat that Brian had never really interacted with before. He wasn't a house cat but he wasn't a tiger or lion, or jaguar, or anything else like that.
He raised his hands in the air as he turned so that he was fulling facing Brian. It exposed his belly and his throat which was a rather stupid thing to do but it had the desired effect, he loosened his poster a bit so that he was no longer in a pouncing position. He wasn't stupid enough to lower his guard completely but there was no need for useless posturing if the guy didn't actually pose a threat.
"I'm just here to get something the owner left behind"
That settled him a little more but not enough to urge him to get off the dresser and onto something more comfortable. Having an unfamiliar cat in his den made his hackles raise and that wouldn't change just cause the guy knew Dom. His eyes tracked the man while he moved over to the closet and used a code to open the medium-sized safe that was semi-hidden in the back of it behind a few dozen articles of unhung clothing. When he got what he needed he closed the safe back up and turned back to Brian, a little more relaxed than he had been before. Probably encouraged by the fact that Brian hadn't attacked him yet.
"You been here long?"
It was a stupid question, anyone with a decent sense of smell could tell that he had been hanging around the abandoned house for a couple of months. He just stared at the man, waiting for him to leave so that Brian could go about his day. He wouldn't do much more than he already did, things were simple when he went full fur. Sleep for about ten hours a day, hunt for a couple of hours, and spend the rest surveying his territory. His tail swung over the edge of the dresser, hitting the wall with a quiet thunk on each pass as he stared the human down
"I'm the mouse here I can tell" The feline sighed and mumbled "Dom isn't gonna like this"
Instinctually he crouched again but it wasn't in a predatory way this time around, his stomach was low, pressed against the top of the dresser and his head was ducked as a distressed meow left his throat. It was canine behavior, behavior he learned by spending enough time around a pack. The stranger seemed to recognize the behavior instantly but he didn't comment on it. Just watched Brian with a critical eye before turning away to acknowledge the sound coming from downstairs.
The human distracts them for a moment calling something obnoxious up the stairs from where he waits at the bottom and its enough to get the man moving as he skirts around the room the same way he had when he first walked in, giving Brian enough room to not feel trapped.
The two strangers left the house quickly after that, locking the door again after them, and Brian slipped out the window again to watch the car disappear down the dirt road.
He doesn't expect anything to come of the interaction but it still took him a couple of hours to relax as he padded around the house, rubbing against the furniture to cover up the unfamiliar smell of the strangers with his own. They stopped in, got what they needed, and were on their way within less than half an hour and nothing about their interaction gave the impression that they would seek out the desolate house again. Dom had been mentioned sure, but Dom wouldn't be stupid enough to seek Brian out and risk his safety and the teams just to kick Brian's ass.
He should have known better than to assume that things would be that simple. When was anything in his life that simple or easy?
They stayed away for a month before they showed up again. This time with a couple of duffel bags and matching grins as they let themselves into the house. The shifter was quick to point out their presents so this time around he didn't bother to try hiding the fact that he was once again crouched on the roof as he waited for something to happen. Some sort of sign as to why they were back, maybe he should run and hope that they didn't realize he wasn't coming back, maybe they'd wait a couple of hours, by then he could be far enough away for them to lose his trail.
They set up shop in the kitchen. Left their bags by the front door and took up two of the kitchen chairs, talking about this and that while they waited for him to approach them. They didn't utter a word about Dom or the rest of the pack, talked about their cars, and just random shit. Brian had seen them when they first got in, the human, a young brown-haired kid named Sean drove a sweet little 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback, black with white racing stripes on the hood. The shifter drove an orange and black Mazda RX-7. They were both nice cars but Brain didn't allow himself to linger as he crept out of his claimed room and through the rest of the den.
They brought food with them in the form of a pack of steaks sitting on a plate near the door. Neither man made any moves when they noticed him creeping into the doorway. The shifter smiles, just a quirk of his lips that keeps his teeth hidden. He doesn't touch the food, just stares the two of them down, tail swishing back and forth across the floor. His unwillingness to change into his skin makes the human uncomfortable if the way his gaze shifts between Brain and his friend is anything to go by. Even though he's nervous he doesn't speak up, leaves it to his friend to make the first step.
"I asked Dom about any cats he might know, he didn't give me an answer though" Han started "I went to Jesse, figured he'd be more open, you wanna know what I found out?"
It's a rhetorical question, it has to be because Brain can't respond in words and the only other person in the room is leaving it up to his friend to handle the situation.
"He went on and on about this tall blond with unusually blue eyes who became pack without really even seeming to know it. Told me how that cat saved his life and kept them all out of jail, Dom, in particular, they haven't seen him since, and according to Jesse, he disappeared the same day things went to shit. They pronounced him dead a while ago"
All information given was stuff he knew up until the last part. The more morbid, human side wondered what the team thought of his supposed death. Wondered what Tanner thought, maybe the man had gone back to Barstow. Maybe he was the one to tell Rome's Mama what happened to him since everyone knew his own mom wasn't alive. She wouldn't have cared one way or another, even if she was alive to mourn the death of her only child. She wouldn't have. He doesn't give any indication that he even understands what they're saying. If they wanted him to be an active participant in the conversation they would have said so.
They sat in silence for a few minutes before the human rolls his eyes and crosses his arms over his chest as he addresses Brian in mild annoyance, no longer waiting for his friend take the lead "Are you gonna eat that before it spoils or what"
He can't help but blink at him for a moment in surprise because that was not what he was expecting him to say. The younger male has a southern accent, but not the kind that Brian was used to hearing, It wasn't the kind that he heard from the people who would come from Nevada and Texas and Arizona. It was more like the accents you'd hear if you went to South Carolina, Georgia, Louisianan, and Alabama.
He reminded him of a less gruff, less hostile version of Vince really. He'd be able to more or less tell if the meat was tampered with thanks to his cat's highly developed senses and he couldn't smell anything wrong with the meat as he crept close enough to give it a sniff before he figures why not. It doesn't taste like there's anything wrong with it so he eats all of it before slinking back up to his claimed room.
They move around the house trying to disturb him as little as possible. Han insists on cleaning out his den and doesn't back down no matter how many times Brian hisses and snarls at him. Instead of finding somewhere else in the house to go, he settles himself on the roof of the porch, far out of reach but close enough to watch Han's every move. He watches as the male disposes of all the old and torn up bedding and clothing and replaces all of it with a clean, untorn set, and then doesn't set foot in his space again.
The most unnerving part about the whole thing, though, is that they stay.
Sean and Han stay. They stay in the bedroom that none of the crew had used when they were here. They keep the house stocked with food and keep Brian from starving himself as he sort of had been. They set food out and Sean glares and bitches at him about wasting food until he gives in and eats it. At first, he tries to avoid it but then Sean started yelling his message over and over. It didn't matter if Brian went out for a couple of hours either. When he comes back, Sean was always ready to complain at him. Eventually, Brian just goes with it. Growing up how he was raised it never took much convincing to get him to help himself to some free food but the thing that gets him is that Sean tries so hard to get him to do it. The kid goes out of his way to put the food wherever Brian is and stays around till he's sure that Brian at least starts to eat. It's weird.
Han goes about things a little differently, he talks non stop about little things like the weather and the local news and about his time in different countries. He talks about his and Sean's time together, by themselves, with Dom and the team. Talks about how they hit it off well but overall Dom and Letty were too intense for Sean and Han hadn't yet mastered the art of staying in one place with so many people that cared for him.
The thing that stands out the most is that Han never once went fur and Sean never smiled with teeth. It was a subtle but glaringly obvious gesture that said that Brian was calling the shots. Han wasn't trying to challenge him in any way and Sean was doing the same, going so far as to not even bare his teeth at Brian in what was a friendly gesture to a human but a challenging one to a cat.
More often than not they spend their time in the garage. Sean's good with a wrench when it comes to old muscle cars but he isn't very knowledgeable when it comes to working around the tech under the hood of Han's car. Han likes to drive the cars, working under the hood just wasn't his thing even if he knows more or less what he's doing. He can take direction well enough but Sean wasn't dumb enough to leave him to his own devices under the hood or do anything too complicated without watching him rather closely.
It's more tolerable than he thinks it should be, to stop hunting and let himself rely on them for food and company. He watched them from one of the high shelving units of the garage as they work on cars during the day. Sean goes out of his way to feed him more than necessary and at night they leave the door to their shared room cracked open, an unspoken invitation that Brian wasn't stupid enough to let himself believe in, no matter how much he wanted to.
They try very hard not to talk around him like he isn't there but they aren't naive enough to think that they'll get an answer to their questions if they indeed voiced them directly. Sean pokes a little too determinedly at the subject as to why he hasn't shed his fur for a little bit and stretched on two human legs. He disappears for two days, as a result, slips under the brush at the back of the house, and roams his territory for a few days before he goes back to the house, tail between his legs and shame curdling in his stomach. They don't say anything, they give him his space for a couple of hours before calling to let him know that there was food in the kitchen and he better not let it spoil like the last time he had been too skittish and wary to go to any of what had become the 'communal areas'.
In the end, he shifts again when Han and Sean are screwing around with a car in the garage because what else would he shift for? The rafters are exposed in the garage. It was a pain to get up there and even more of a pain to find a comfortable way to lay across the slim beams but he had perfected the movement long ago. He also perfected leaping to the floor at a moment's notice.
He lands slightly off balance but on two feet and is moving before he can second guess what he's doing. He's naked but neither Han nor Sean commented on this as he ushers them both out of his way, grumbling about incompetence. Neither of them were experts when it came to the finer odds and ends of the Nos systems and Brian had spent plenty of time fiddling around with them to know that the two would have blown themselves up for sure if they left the car like it was. He tells them as much. His voice is raw and rough from disuse but the fact doesn't seem to dampen Han or Sean's mood at all.
The comment makes Sean start laughing a sound that's a mix between happy and surprised as he watches what Brian does closely, trying to figure out what he was doing wrong. Han doesn't pay any attention to what Brian is doing under the hood, instead, his gaze is drawn to Brian's blond hair and blue eyes one eye-brow raised in surprise.
A person's human features usually affect their appearance when they're shifted. Dark hair usually equally dark fur and vice versa with light-colored hair. Light-colored eyes were rare in shifters, usually giving way to yellows and silvers and browns. Blue eyes in shifters weren't rare or impossible but it was in shifters with dark pelts. Black jaguars, with their dark fur, usually had golden or red-tinted eyes. Jaguar cubs, like humans, have blue eyes at first but the color changes with age. Brian was one of the few that never lost his blue eyes and that crossed over to his shifted form. Han and Sean had never seen Brian outside of his fur before. It had been a shock to the crew when they saw his shifted form for the first time too. Even if the human side had a certain trait, it didn't mean that the same trait was carried into the shift.
That first time Leon whistled lowly and Mia and Jesse had fawned over him while he batted them away with his paws until he slunk away to hid behind Dom who never commented on the anomaly. Just raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest at Jesse when the younger male tried to duck around him to get another look at Brian.
Han doesn't comment at the end of his observations, he just settles for leaning against the side of the car and starts fussing with a bag of chips.
Getting used to wearing clothes again is weird and he can't go more than a few days before his skin starts to itch like a too-tight sweater. Han never lets him be shifted for longer than a week, by then he demands Brian join the bipedal world and helps him do something or another. Sean isn't much help when this happens just shrugs and snarks something sarcastic about needing to eat food that isn't raw enough to still be alive. He gets more used to acting like a domesticated human as time goes on until he's spending more time as a human than a cat. He still sleeps shifted, too wary and paranoid not to, but at least Han doesn't push him on that front.
The routine they settle into is unfamiliar but not unsettling and it keeps them going for quite a while. Two of them go into town while the third stay at the safe house and does the chores. The locals come to recognize Brian's human skin and only a few shifters warily slink around him, remembering their run-ins with his less than friendly other-half. They take turns with the chores and each of them is responsible for making one meal a day. Between the three of them they only really know how to make boxed mac and cheese and a few other types of noodles, microwavable foods like pizza bagels, sandwiches, and the most basic of breakfast foods. Anytime they try anything more complicated than that the kitchen either turns into a war zone or something ends up terribly burned.
By all rights, it shouldn't work as well as it does but it does and that should be more disconcerting than it surely is but this time, there's no cops, no case that needs to be solved and no role for Brian to play. It works cause he isn't trying so hard to keep parts of himself hidden away in fear of getting caught and he's not trying to make himself if into a mold that he would never be able to fill. Han and Sean already know about all the shit he had gotten himself into and they stuck around anyway.
It was good. It wasn't like having a pack or anything, he was a cat and cats don't feel pack but slowly he could come to see them as friends at least. Han understood this cause he was a cat too. He knew what it was like to be in a pack but not feel what the others felt. They understood him more than anyone else in his life had ever been able to.
In all honestly, he should have seen the phone call coming.
Sean and Han were friends with Dom which means automatically increases the chances that they were involved in less than legal activities. They're in the middle of watching a B-rated action movie that they don't really understand because half of it is in Spanish. Sean and Brian are shoving at each other jokingly as they snark at each other. They spend more time making fun of the crappy effects and the way one of the actors slicks his hair back like an extra from Grease than actually watching the movie.
The screen of Han's phone lights up from where it's laying across the table and Sean is quick to pause the movie because their phones rarely ever ring and it's even rarer for it to be anything other than their ghosts calling to haunt them. The last phone call that any of them had was for Sean. His mother called to see how he was doing and it quickly turned into an argument when she found out he was driving again and not anywhere near Tokyo like she thought he was. Apparently, she never found out that Sean had moved in with Han, only to leave the country with him later on. There was a whole story there, one that he only knew pieces of but even then, he knew enough.
It was Dom, he needed a team and, Vince, Leon, Jesse, and Mia wouldn't be enough this time. Han had explained at one point that Letty and Dom had an argument and she had decided to move on. It had caused guilt to flare in his gut but he didn't think it had been that bad. Dom and Letty had had an on again off again thing going for years. . The fact that she wasn't mentioned at all during the phone call only made that reality sting all the more because Letty had never left and stayed gone before. So Dom needs Sean and Han, needs Han's skill and insight when it comes to shady deals. He needs Sean too, needs an inconspicuous 'college teen' to do some snooping during 'spring break'. Han and Sean agree but only after Han says that they're bringing a third with them. Dom agrees and Han hangs up before Brian can unfreeze and protest his involvement in the whole ordeal because Han couldn't possibly be talking about anyone else. Not enough time has passed for his betrayal of the team to lose its sting. He wasn't ready to face his past yet...maybe he would never be ready too.
In the end, they refuse to leave without him and Han somehow knows exactly what to say to get him to pack a duffle bag with the sparse clothes the two of them had bought for him when they finally convinced him that he was ready to be a fully functioning human again.
He spends most of the trip in the driver's seat while Han and Sean play musical chairs between the back seats and the passenger seat. Driving comes easy to him as if he had never stopped for nearly three and a half years.
They leave Sean's car in the garage at the house and drive up to Mexicalli in Han's car. He has no problem leaving the Mazda in a 'friend's' garage and ushering Brian and Sean through the airport they would be flying with. Said friend somehow managed to get Brian a fake passport to go along with a fake ID and anything other prominent and important papers that Han could come up with. The airport was pretty crowded and it sends Brian's skin crawling. They force him into the middle seat on the plane and took turns trying to keep his mind off the fact that they were thousands of feet in the air and would continue to be for eighteen hours. If he isn't thinking about the fact that he would rather be in a car than its about the fact that he's going to be seeing Dom and the crew again.
It worked for the most part but by the end of it, he felt like he was ready to claw out of his skin on top of the grimy feel of being in a public place for hours on end. They spend the afternoon figuring out where they need to go. They spend the next couple hours with all different types of shifters nipping at their heels, trying to size up the strange new shifters in their territory. A few times this happened quite literally as two jackals nip at the back of Brian and Han's legs until Brian turns on them with a half-feral snarl. It's a sound that very few shifters manage to make in human form. It causes the two jackals to stop short and they stop following the three men and settle for watching them continue on their way with a strange, unpleased look as they realize that Brian is a bigger cat than they originally thought.
They make it farther into the favelas this time. Han swears up and down that the alley he wants them to go through will lead exactly to where they need to be and they spend a whole ten minutes arguing about it before Han wins out and started to lead them up the stairs that make up the alleyway when Brian grips hold of Sean's wrist causing all three of them to stop. Jaguars are ambush predators so he knows what an ambush feels like when he sees one. Han is only just turning to address him when people start to fill the alleyway.
The situation goes pear-shaped rather quickly when the two jackal shifters show up again, this time with seven more of their friends. Altogether only four are them are shifters but all seven of the newcomers are armed and they are seriously outnumbered. Sean isn't a shifter and he isn't armed, Han and Brian can't hold off four shifters alone if it meant leaving Sean unguarded, much less the fact that one of them was likely to get shot if the situation dissolved anymore. Sean stands between the two of them, cursing up a storm while Han projects the unflappable calm Brian once himself had had. Brian just focuses on breathing while he tries not to bare his teeth in a pissed off snarl. He grows tenser as he meets the eyes of one of the aforementioned jackals. The shifter seems to have no problem staring Brian dead on and snarling at him in an obvious challenge. The two of them are moments away from lunging at each other when a familiar voice calls out in Spanish.
Leon comes stumbling up the alleyway holding several plastic bags in one hand and a case of beer in the other. His eyes don't linger as he speaks in rapid-fire Spanish to the guy standing in front of Han. He slips past Brian, simultaneously handing off the case of beer to Sean as he stops beside Han and uses his free hand to gesture to the three of them. The two go back and forth for a moment before the guy says something to his guys and they all slowly slink back off into the shadows they had appeared from. One of the shifters snaps his jaws a little to close to Brian which gets another animalistic snarl from Brain.
Nothing happens this time though. No one from the group challenges him and even the jackal backs off. They all disappear as Leon turns to them with a grin as he greets Sean and Han with his same old goofy grin and a handshake. The smile he gives Brian is much smaller but no less enthusiastic.
"Brian man where the hell've you been dawg" His slow drawl is the same as Brian remembered it to be.
He shrugged as he ran a hand through his hair. His hair had grown unruly but Sean had convinced him to let the other male cut his hair down a little bit. He had cut it down pretty short but that was a while ago and he's almost completely back to the beach boy surfer curls he had when they had met. Leon just shakes his head as he nods his head over his shoulder and leads them further up the alley steps. It leads to a half warehouse-like room that's set up sorta like a penthouse. It's full of life and there's a car smack dab in the middle halfway through the process of either being put together or taken apart. The room was teeming with life.
Vince and Jesse were surrounding the car, working on something with Mia only a few steps away talking with another female with darkish brown hair. The space is a little cramped, not large enough to have so many different activities going on but with how everyone moved around the room it worked oddly well.
"Yo look what the cat dragged in" Leon yelled with a shit-eating grin causing everyone in the room to look up expectantly.
"Quien es el gringo" Someone Brian didn't know asked.
"God Damn" Vince's expression was something caught between amused and pissed.
"Brian" Jesse came barreling at him before anyone could stop him.
Jesse was pulling him into a tight hug before he could even process what was happening but after a slow minute the familiar scent of cigarettes and weed and gummy worms reach his nose and he's returning the embrace just as tightly. In the back of his mind, after the shooting, he knew Jesse had been up and standing, bleeding but also alive. The bullets had only grazed his arm and side, deep enough to cover him in blood but not enough to kill him. They were fatal wounds to a human but due to a shifter's superior healing, it was likely that Jesse would be okay. Brian never got to stick around long enough to find out if that fact was true though.
Jesse smelled familiar and if he was shifted his other half would probably purr in delight.
By now they had been joined by a couple of others. They pull apart and before Jesse can start in on one of his excited, long-winded, and mostly one-sided conversations their attention is drawn to one of the doorways leading to another room and Brian stops short. Breathe a little too hard to come by as his eyes trace over dark skin and dark brown eyes.
He never thought he'd see Roman Pierce again.
Rome's walking toward him slowly a dangerous stride Brian had witnessed him do plenty of times when the other male was gearing up for a fight. The only difference was Rome was a shit fighter. If he really wanted to hurt someone he'd do it in his other skin, use claws and teeth to get the message across.
"Rome..." He could only hope his voice didn't sound as week as it did in his own ears.
"Only my homeboys call me Rome, pig"
"I ain't a cop no more"
He lets the first hit land but is quick to duck under the second fist that comes flying his way 'here we go' someone off to his left grumbles but it's nothing more than background noise as Brian brings them both to the floor and they grapple for a bit. Rome gets in one more hit before Brian wraps his legs around his waist and suddenly they aren't really fighting. It turns into the type of fumbling that they used to engage in all the time as teens when they had legs too long for their bodies and a knack for trouble. Pups with paws too big for their bodies
"You still fight like shit"
"Told you to stay away I spent three years in a cage Brian" Rome grunted out as he struggled to get out of Brian's hold "You should have told me"
"I told you it wasn't my fault"
The others must understand how important this is. See that this conversation is a long time coming because they don't try to break it up. They give the two of them plenty of space to figure their shit out while trying to get each other to submit...to admit to the faults that lead them to where they were now.
They break apart after a few more moments of grappling, sitting on the floor and panting as they stared each other down. Before they can actually talk through a deep familiar voice is drawing Brian's attention away to the other person who had been standing in the doorway.
"Are you two down now or do you need to take this shit outside"
Dom is standing there, looking completely unbothered as he stares Brian down. He doesn't look any different than he did when Brian last saw him in LA. He wore a sleeveless black shirt and a pair of ratty, grease-covered jeans. He was leaving against the doorframe with arms crossed over his chest. The look he gives Brian is assessing. It was the same look he had given Brian when he and Vince had found him snooping around Hector's garage and later when he had asked Dom about where he was getting all his funds while they were eating at that shrimp shack near the beach.
Rome is the first to make it to his feet and he's quick to pull Brian up with him before all physical contact between them ceases and Rome backs away. Brian steps back to rejoining Sean on Han's other side. Jesse is obviously an ally but he would never ask him to choose between Brian and his pack. Han and Sean are the two that are the most likely to stand up for him and intervene if he and Dom come to blows.
"Whatcha doing here O'Conner" The question has a dangerous edge to it. The type of edge that used to have his hackles raised when they first met. towards the end it was the type of edge that Brian would easily back off at or jokingly brush off, it was something he had gotten used to during that year that he had been with them. It didn't mean that Dom was about to tear into someone as it did with the gangs that Brian had infiltrated during undercover operations. It was more of a 'you're getting on my last nerve, knock it off' kind of tone.
He'd spent a bit of time feral though, spent far too long seeing things through his other side's eyes. The guy he was now wasn't the same guy they had left behind in LA. He didn't try to fit in anymore and he accepted that he loved people who fit in places where he would never belong. He learned how to accept the stinging bite of those harsh facts and tuck them inside himself and move on. Instead of making himself more pliable, easier to be bent and reshaped he grew more stubborn. He didn't back down or averting his gaze, instead, he met Dom's gaze head-on and they stared at each other challengingly.
"He's with us Dom, he's good and from what I've heard, we'll need his skills"
Dom doesn't say anything, just looks Brian over one more time with a look that Brian can't quite name before disappearing back through the doorway without another word. It wasn't approval but it also wasn't rejection which was just as good as approval when it came to Dom. The others slowly go back to what they were doing except for Mia who eagerly comes and gives Han and Sean a hug. She doesn't move to hug Brian and that's just fine because neither of them can quite look each other in the eye anyway. She's the one who shows them where they'll be sleeping. It's an old warehouse office turned bedroom with three cots pushed against the walls and a small table that looks like it only has three good legs. They're all quick to drop the single bag they're each holding on one of the cots they claimed. Han and Sean are quick to push to of the cots together while Brian survey's the room, looking for easy escape routes for when he wants to a) sneak out to get some air, b) hide from his problems, or c) both.
They aren't doing any planning tonight and Brian's happy about that because after the flight and wandering around Rio for the last couple of hours he's eager to shed his skin and find somewhere high to get his baring. Han and Sean seem content to let him have his space so theirs no reason why he shouldn't be able to curl under his cot and enjoy a few hours of solitude. Jesse doesn't let him through. He comes barreling into the room with a grin, like a puppy that's ready to show off their new toy.
"Yo Brian come on, I wanna show you this car"
He didn't get to properly respond Jesse was grabbing his wrist and pulling him along in a way that was easily reminiscent to how a puppy would pull on a person's pant leg to get their attention. Brian didn't even have enough time to object before they were back in the main room.
No one commented when Jesse returned to the room, tugging Brian along with him. Jesse was instantly going on about what he envisioned for the car, what they did to it, what they plan to do, all of it. He didn't explain where they got the car or why they had it in the first place but Brian didn't really need to know the specifics Once again Brian was amazed by how smart Jesse was as he tried to envision exactly what Jesse had in mind. He had been able to understand the eccentric young adult with no problem at one point in time but three years of distance made him a little rusty. Jesse didn't push him when he said no to working on the engine with him. He was content to do the work alone and talk Brian's ear off while the blond watched him with sharp, focused eyes.
The whole night felt oddly like coming home.