Chapter 2: Fall In Line

But I got a mind to show my strength

And I got a right to speak my mind

And I'm gonna pay for this

They're gonna burn me at the stake

But I got a fire in my veins

I wasn't made to fall in line

Fall in Line, Christina Aguilera

Z

Brian Jacob O'Conner.

Turns out his story did not start in the LAPD; it started in juvie. He was arrested when he was sixteen for stealing cars and reckless driving. From there he joined the LAPD directly out of high school, made a name for himself in car chases, and caught the attention of the higher-ups for his bulldog-like determination, criminal history, and driving skills.

On paper, he seemed like the perfect person to put undercover by the FBI to investigate Toretto, if you ignore the subtext of insubordination written throughout his case notes. O'Conner didn't seem like he liked being told what to do. He also seemed convinced that Dominic Toretto was not what the FBI thought he was.

In the black and white context of the files, Dominic Toretto was a thug. Countless traffic charges and street racing run-ins with the law littered his backstory, followed by five years of hard time which he did for beating a man almost to death with a wrench. He had come out of prison and was barely scraping by with the grocery run by his sister Mia and the mechanic's shop he ran with his girlfriend Letty and street racing buddies. Of course, he was the one hijacking trucks; he had to have been desperate for cash.

It was O'Conner's most famous case, mostly because he ended up going native. The other reason was who he let go after Toretto started becoming a problem down South. He had started small, but his jobs were getting bigger and the cars were getting faster. Interpol and the local cops just couldn't keep up anymore. I dug through everything I could find on Toretto, but there was nothing from O'Conner in the notes on why he handed Toretto the keys. If he hadn't there would be one less menace terrorizing organized society.

The next case was O'Conner's second most famous one: Carter Verone.

It was the deep-cover case that restored his career as a lawman. O'Conner was a bold choice for that one, especially since they were sending him in as a street racer with his best friend from juvie. The beautiful Agent Fuentes whose face was plastered all over pictures in the file was probably his motivation for keeping to the straight and narrow on that one.

The rest of his career was pretty standard. They started him out slow, with tiny cases and gradually worked him up to larger ones. His solve rate was okay, but aside from one or two bigger busts, I didn't see anything special, but then again I could clearly tell parts of his file were missing, especially some of the reports on Toretto. As angry as Stasiak was, I knew it might take him a little while, but I'd probably get filled in on the office gossip and any other O'Conner information that wasn't currently buried in the file sitting in my hands. He was just an okay mentor but he was an amazing source of information on coworkers.

With a snap, I slammed it shut. I was meeting him tomorrow and I had a disciplinary meeting, I needed to sleep.

Z

I was sweating through my shirt under my blazer as I sat on a bench outside the FBI office eating my salad. It was a scorching hot day with no shade, but I couldn't take another second in the office. It was unbearable after the news had spread about my forced day off yesterday. So many of those guys were rooting for me to fail that it made me take a second to rethink how I approached my last case and also them in general. It seemed like no one ever expected me to succeed and once I did, I ruffled the feathers of the guys that had worked the case and come up with nothing. In hindsight, I could also see how my attitude about things could come off as hard to handle.

I had also branded myself as a narcissist that wouldn't take orders when I raided the warehouse with four agents and then refused to drop the chase, which admittedly put a lot of people in danger. I think they would have been a lot warmer to me if I had botched my first case like they thought I was going to. Me being right put them into a tailspin.

I was almost done picking all of the meat out of my lunch when a man caught my attention. In the middle of the sea of black and grey suits coming in and out of the building, I caught a flash of royal blue. Without moving off of my bench to get a better vantage point, all I could see around the scraggly baby trees in the flower beds was the bright blue shirt and a head of short-cropped blonde hair. He wasn't being escorted, so he wasn't a perp, but agents didn't wear street clothes.

He turned the corner on the sidewalk, flipping through a file. I was about to be able to see his face when the phone alarm signaling the end of my lunch break went off. By the time I reached down, turned it off, and looked up, the stranger was walking straight for me.

Brian O'Conner.

The first thing I noticed about him was his blinding, baby blue eyes. The second thing I noticed was that he couldn't be bothered with wearing a suit to work. His blue shirt was clinging tight to his toned arms and chest. The fabric not stretched tight were so wrinkled it looked like he had grabbed it out of his floor. Clearly he was a bachelor because any girlfriend would tell him his shirt was too small. His baggy jeans and Converse completed his surfer guy look.

Could he even be called a surfer guy anymore? I mused to myself. He had the tan still and the casual dress from his Brian Spilner days, but his blonde mop of hair had been buzzed into a regulation cut. Overall, he looked older and a lot more serious.

"Hey." He greeted with a soft, white smile as he got closer to me. It didn't reach his eyes. "Are you Anna?"

He went straight to first names, which was interesting. I'd been called Beck so much that I didn't respond to Anna anymore.

"Yes, I am." I gave him a tight-lipped smile as I glanced at the file in his hand.

Of course, he knew it was me; it was all written in the pages Penning had handed him when he told him about the whole field training situation we'd been put in.

There was a quick beat before he answered, and I knew he was sizing me up. We were quite the contrast today; I was hoping to give myself a confidence boost coming back in to work by wearing my best pencil skirt suit and nicest heels. I twisted my caramel brown hair into a braided bun and made sure my makeup was light but precise. He looked like he had just woken up and strolled in.

"I'm Brian. I'm your field training officer." He offered his hand and I shook it.

"Anna Beck. Nice to meet you," I answered with forced politeness. I saw Meyer and Finley crane their necks to see what was happening over Brian's right shoulder. I shifted as I felt a wave of shame.

Brian seemed to sense it, and he glanced over at the two men, who quickly went back to their own conversation. Brian turned back with an awkward shrug.

"Yeah, you'll get used to it. They've moved your review up. They're expecting us now."

"Now?" I dropped the fake smile as I threw my salad container at the trash can and started frantically buttoning my blazer.

I was supposed to have two hours before I went in. I was going to take that time to freshen up and go over my responses, come up with a game plan. That was all shot to hell. O'Conner motioned for me to follow as he started to walk.

"Hey, it's better to get it over with. Just take a deep breath; every agent does something in their career that gets them called in. They wouldn't have called me in if they were firing you." O'Conner was trying to be soothing, but it wasn't helping. Clearly, I knew I wasn't being fired, but they were about to rip everything about me to shreds in front of my face and I wasn't ready to hear it. Stasiak was still mad at me for ignoring everything he'd ever taught me, but he was at least nice enough to warn me about it. He had told me it was going to be bad and I was going to walk away unhappy.

"I'm certainly not that kind of agent, O'Conner." He frowned at my words and even in my panic I felt a little bit of shame. "Sorry. You're trying to help."

He didn't say anything as he led the way to Penning's office through the bland tile lobby. The air conditioning hit me like a bucket of ice water and I felt the goosebumps pop up on my arms after sweating in the heat. I was straight up panicking.

Next thing I knew, O'Conner was opening the door to the office and motioning for me to go in before him.

Being inside and seeing the three men waiting for me actually made me calm down. I still felt like I was balancing on the edge of a knife, but I was getting to the point where I could think.

You make your choice and you stick with it. I had two main ways to play this: contrition or confident defense of my actions. Contrition was the best answer, keep my head down and let this blow over.

Penning motioned for me to sit on the couch in the back of his office. The two chairs that were normally facing his desk had been turned around to face the couch and were filled with Stasiak and Finley, the drug task force agent. From what I'd heard, he had made a lot of headway in his cartel case after my bust because my three guys were singing like canaries.

"Agent Beck." Penning started the meeting.

They picked apart every piece of the bust, rolling back surveillance camera footage. I was not technically in command of the three men with me breaking into the warehouse; that was technically Finley's man, Agent Holcomb. He was a massively tall beast of a man that had looked down his nose at me from the beginning. He hadn't taken the raid seriously and sent me with an aging agent that was getting a little wide around the middle from his time spent with his feet propped up on his desk.

We found an open door on the side and ducked in while Holcomb and his partner went around through another door. When we signaled that there were actually men in the warehouse, everyone was suddenly taking things very seriously. The first two guys were grabbed quickly, while I went after the third who was by far the smallest. His gun was sitting on the table, and not on his person when I went running for him with my gun drawn.

I was clearly expecting a fight, and him turning on his heel and fleeing towards the open door caught me off guard for a beat, but then I sprinted after him. Holcomb clearly yelled something to me on the tape, but I hadn't heard him in real life. I distinctly remember calling out the chase into my radio, and apparently it was at about the same time.

The tape was paused as the three men started picking apart everything that could have been done better, especially not respecting that order.

I nodded meekly and explained that I did not hear the order at the time. Finley scoffed and restarted the tape. No one else reacted to my statement. I risked a glance at O'Conner when the tape got to me pushing the backup LAPD officer out of the way and taking his Charger before I started the car chase. A smile pulled at his lips.

"I'm guessing you can see why I think she might benefit from you training her? I'm pretty sure you've pulled this same stunt." Penning asked him when he saw the same face.

"Yeah, I think I can work with this." His smile got bigger and Stasiak snorted.

"Even you call out your location and don't put dozens of other agents in danger."

"It looks to me like if you had more officers for backup then this never would have happened. That one guy LAPD sent to be on standby and you sitting in a van listening in was not enough."

"No one actually expected her intel to pan out. She was moved into being an agent way too early and that's why we're having to have this meeting. It's a miracle she didn't get herself killed or lead our guys directly into an ambush, especially since this cartel is famous for taking out cops." Finley finished as he paused the tape and waved my resume around. "I mean, If you hadn't been the director's little darling in Portland you never would have been promoted. If it weren't for him, your resume would be in the shredder somewhere."

My eyebrows shot up to my hairline as my spine went ramrod straight. The anger was rising so fast in my chest I felt tears prick at my eyes before I push them down.

"Excuse me?" I snapped.

"Hey man, she's clearly proved that she can research and build a case. Her instincts were dead on in everything." O'Conner jumped to my defense from the couch next to me.

"Like your's with Toretto, O'Conner?" Finley prodded.

"I don't give a damn about the Toretto case at the moment, Finley. We're looking at the Surenos drug bust, which I will remind you, I made. Penning, you know you gave it to me because no one else would touch it."

Penning's eyebrows shot up. Stasiak attempted to cut in, but I raised my voice to drown him out.

"I made mistakes, but I made the best of limited resources and I brought down three midlevel drug mules that are flipping on their bosses. If you want to punish me for that, do it, I was wrong to not call the chase off when my backup was that for behind me, but I won't let you say that I got here because I called in favors. I'm smart and resourceful and I'm a quick learner who will make sure this never happens again, and if you didn't think that, you would have fired me that night."

"You're not the one that called in favors," Finley stated in such a matter of fact tone that I felt a wave of nausea rise in my throat as I realized what he was trying to say.

"You can also add insubordinate to your list of qualities." Penning snapped.

I knew I should have kept my mouth shut. I thought bitterly. Rule number one: stick to your guns. My guns, in this case, should have been groveling.

"Whether you like it or not, it wasn't your merit that got you here, it was a phone call between the LA director and your Portland police chief who apparently go way back." Finley pointed out,

I hadn't known that. The knife twisted in my gut and I felt a tear slip. I felt like everything had been sucked away from me.

"Yeah, well maybe he saw something you don't." Brian cut in.

"What, tits?" Finley huffed.

"Dismissed." Penning waved his hand. "Thank you for coming in on your day off, O'Conner."

Z

Brian kept his weight on his toes. He looked like he could bolt at any second. He never seemed to be still, always picking at his sleeve, rubbing his arms, touching on his drink in him. He reminded me of a hyper child trying to be good, always restless, always ready to move. If someone threw a ball for him, I was betting he would take off after it.

Maybe that made him more golden retriever than small child. It would be fitting with the blonde hair and the good-natured vibe he was throwing off.

It was driving me crazy. Analyzing him was the only distraction I had from that gut-punch of a revelation and I couldn't stop picturing him as an actual golden retriever.

He had whisked me out of the office and dragged me to a greasy, off the beaten path burger place. I'd cried for at least the first half of the car ride before I could get myself under control. He'd handed me a Wendy's napkin out of his glove box and offered a few comforting words that I had ignored. I'm pretty sure the only comment I had made was on his love of fast food.

"You thought things were going to be different?" He asked as he wadded up his empty burger wrapper and set it on the table.

"Yeah. I didn't know I was a pity hire; I thought I had made it to the big times." I answered bitterly as I sipped my Coke. Brian shrugged as he ate a few french fries.

"You're young to be where you are, but your solve rates are from Portland are amazing. You were a good detective."

"All I wanted was to be FBI. Like that's always been the only goal. The chief and I talked about it a lot, and I asked for recommendation letters, but I never thought he would twist arms like this."

O'Conner mulled it over as he rolled the fry in his hand. He finally fixed me with those baby blues and I felt like he was staring straight into my soul.

"How am I ever going to get out from under that phone call?" I pressed.

Part of me wanted him to open up about his past experiences with bad cases. He looked like he had a thousand ghosts running through his mind as he fixed me in that stare. When he looked down and sighed, I just knew he was about to tell me what happened with Toretto.

Instead, he told me about how catty the guys at the office could be. I tried to keep the disappointment off my face as he told me about other agents' mistakes and how they were treated. The whole department sounded like a toxic bloodbath and I found myself regretting moving away from Portland.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you want respect, you have to earn it." He finished without revealing a single personal thing about himself.

"How?" I snapped, kind of annoyed that I didn't learn anything new about Toretto or O'Conner himself. He shrugged.

"We close the next case." He shoved a thin file that he had tossed to the side the second we sat down across the table to me.

With renewed determination, I flipped it open.