The sunny sign featuring the canvas colored wagon and frontier family trekking across the empty planes of the Midwest resonated within him. Somewhere around Tucson, he’d raced for slips and traded his old Mazda RX3 for something better. Any self-respecting racer would have said he got taken on the deal. Not hardly.
The Skyline was like a ghost. The Scarlet Letter to his failures and greatest mistakes and means to finally escape the wreckage of the last few years. L.A. had become a pretty hostile place to be. He was cleared, but he wasn’t walking away free and easy. The department and the feds let him know that.
Despite L.A.’s sprawl and its congestive population, he still saw familiar faces from when he was undercover. The open looks of hate, disbelief, and betrayal had a huge effect in communicating that he was dead where it counted. And the possibility that he might actually be was growing steadily, the longer he continued to hang around. Cop or not, there was no love lost when he resigned from the force and left L.A.
So, he sent Mia a letter, if she didn’t chuck it on sight, then she knew he wasn’t sorry for doing his job, just what happened as a result of being wrong, and then he spent and a stilted and strained two weeks with Rome. It would take more than two weeks to fix what happened between them, but at least his friend forgave him for 1) no longer being a cop, 2) finally giving the world some justice, and c) allowing Rome to get some licks in when they finally began their healing process.
He gave Rome the address for where he was going, but doubted Rome would be leaving his trailer and demolition derbies anytime soon. Rome and Mia knew where he’d be; just in case.
There was no point considering what the just in case could be. He pushed the engine a bit more, ever watchful of those tactical KHP officers, and allowed the spirit of Manifest Destiny to guide him closer to his destination.
“Ad Astera.” Brian said ironically as Kansas’ Carry on My Wayward Son began to pour through his speakers.
He was heading back to the place of his favorite hot summers, with his childless aunt and uncle, who spoiled him rotten until the ‘arrival’ of the closest person he had to a biological brother ironically.
Who said one couldn’t go home. As stubborn as always, Brian O’Connor decided to forgo the consequences and let his Nissan eat up the road and sing about it. He hadn’t been here for years, but he’d try his hardest to find some peace here.
He didn’t think it would be that hard.
He’d found the apartment belonging to Officer Brian O’Connor after a good old fashioned yellow pages search. The apartment had been surprisingly sparse and barely resembled the domicile of a twenty something fratboy, not a cop of an indefinite amount of years.
Posters of cars covered the walls in neat cheap plastic frames. Disassembled car parts sat on a dining room table covered with miscellaneous strewn refuse. Dom was felt like he was in a museum of Brian’s life. Unlike the Toretto household, there were no pictures of family and friends in the obvious places. It was almost by luck that Dom found a shoebox with assorted images from the scrapbook of Brian O’Connor’s childhood. He had Brian sitting in his hands through periods of missing teeth and knobby knees to the formation of long heavy sinews that came from hours of fixing cars and surfing to the stoic stern gaze in a simple Polaroid that seemed A List actor headshot worthy.
There were a couple of recurring faces in the bunch. A young black boy morphed into a chisel-jawed almond-eyed man and a family surrounded by farm scenes. On the back of the last picture with as expected clear faced Brian, the words—“You’ll always have a home here.” Aunt Martha, Uncle Jon, and Clark. Smallville, Ks. The way Aunt Martha wrote it in May 1995.
So Brian partially grew up in a place called Smallville. This surprised Dom, because he’d never imagined Brian being surrounded by fresh air and open fields. What did he really know about Brian O’Connor anyway? Most of what he knew came from sheer silent observation and the unshakeable certainty that Brian hadn’t been lying to him all the time.
Someone who jumped on a semi to save one’s friend and risked their neck without batting an eyelash wasn’t the type of person you find every day. They had a connection and he wasn’t ready to let that go in the slightest.
Dom never believed he’d ever see Kansas. The land of Dorothy had never been appealing beyond the fact that Mia had loved the movie as a kid. He’d find the quickest route to Kansas and hope that he wasn’t wrong.
He brought the Skyline to a stop before the yellow farmhouse. Still and trimmed in a crisp white, Brian expected to smell of cookies to be riding the wind the moment he opened the door. Instead, it was just air. Hot and sweet, because the corn was nearly ready for harvest, and lightly sprinkled with the all too familiar scent of cows.
The screen door opened and Brian found himself smiling at the sight of his aunt. There weren’t many people happy to see him these days. He graced her with a smile of his own.
“Brian.” Martha Kent stepped off the porch and slowly approached her nephew.
“Aunt Martha.” He threw his arms around her. Looking at her was like looking at a mirror from years past only with rippling distortions. “I know this is short notice, but I was hoping I could crash here for a while.”
She released him and gave him an appraising look. Undoubtedly, she knew something was wrong, just as she always had. Just like his mother. “Crash? You’re family. You can stay as long as you want.”
“Mom.” Jesus, he hadn’t been to the farm in five years , which was more than long enough for him to ruin his career, his favorite and only uncle to die, and his little cousin that liked to go fast to sprout up to mountain-sized proportion with Dom-sized muscles.
Martha turned back to her son. “Look who just blew into town.”
Clark stopped behind his mother and it was so strange to have to look up slightly at Clark. “Brian.”
The genuine smile he cast Brian’s way made him appear like an overgrown version of the sunny faced kid he used to ride around on the tractor. “Long time no see, kid.”
“You too. Look at you!” Clark eyes darted to the car. “And that… is the prettiest car I’ve ever seen.” Brian smiled knowing his cousin’s next question. “Does it go fast?”
“Show me a few empty roads and I’ll show you later.” Brian offered.
“You got it.”
Martha watched her son and her nephew. The sight of them together, mostly of Brian teasing Clark lightly and her son pouting, took her back to the days when the two scamps ran around the farm scaring the chickens and causing their lighthearted brand of mischief.
Gone were those two little boys, who camped out in the loft and talked about cars and the stars. They were two men, strong and handsome, with secrets. Her and nephew, though not biologically related, still possessed and carried stress the same way. She could see Brian’s just as easy in his blues as she could see in Clark’s green.
“I guess I have a reason to cook after all. Take your stuff inside and relax a while. I’m sure you have to be tired.” She talked to Brian every few months. As she could recall, he’d finally settled in L.A.
“Well Aunt Martha, I could actually use some coffee.”
Clark began to vibrate with excitement. “I know a place.”
Martha knew exactly where her son was taking his cousin. “I’ll have something on by the time you come back. If you two are lucky, there might be able to whip up a pie.” Which meant take a long drive. “And Clark, don’t go too fast.”
Her expression said it all. Enough to make Brian ask for the story later.
“I’m sure Clark can find some way to keep us occupied.” They got into the car and it purred to life like a sleepy kitten. She watched them go and felt her heart become just a little more light. Hopefully, Brian wouldn’t let Clark drive.
Most would say it was an orange car. Few people would be able to describe the exact make and model of a car that sounded like its engine was devouring the road, a mile at a time. Its journey began in L.A. and then down into Mexico. Though no one save a few would know about the origin of its journey.
Not far over the border where freedom and escaped loomed high like the sun, the driver had a change of heart. Business not yet finished. A debt still owed. The orange car swung around easy, kicking up a small spray of rock and loosened gravel.
There were a million places the car could go, but only one person the driver needed to see. It might be foolish to return to L.A., but it was the only place for him to start. The Supra crossed the border into Arizona with a distinct mission.
He kicked the car into a higher gear. Dominic Toretto lived his life one quarter mile at a time. He’d see how fast he could start the next one.
Main Street was still a two lane strip. Everything looked the same, with the exception of the absence of a few memorable places. “What happened to Nell’s and the Beanery?” Nell’s place was essentially still a flower shop, but it had someone else’s name on it. Beanery no longer offered coffee, but ice cream.
“Nell got married and moved. She sold her business to someone else and the Beanery got more than its fair share of competition when the Talon opened.” Clark supplied after pointing to a vacant spot in front of the old theater.
“So, Smallville has grown up.” In summers and breaks long past, Martha and Jonathan would take the boys to the movies. When they were old enough, Brian would take Clark. The movies were usually old, but the popcorn and candy had always been fresh.
Now, the old theater was up to date and decked out with a hideous Egyptian theme, but the couches looked comfortable and the coffee, all frou-frou and Starbucks imitation had to be pretty good to keep the place as busy as it was.
Near the counter, he recognized a familiar blonde from his latter summers with Clark. “Is that Chloe?” Brian asked.
“Yeah, that’s Chloe. She’s home for the weekend from Met U and interns over at the Planet.”
Brian scrubbed a hand through his hair. “You guys make me feel old.”
Clark rose on his toes and looked down at Brian’s hair. “Is that grey I see?” The elbow Brian threw into Clark’s side throbbed after impact.
“Bro, what are they feeding you?”
“That’s the question millions want to know.” The pair turned to face the pixie blonde with the cocky grin.
A wolf whistle fell from Brian’s lips. “Seriously, I do feel old. Look at you, Chloe.”
“Clark didn’t mention you were coming into town, Brian.” The reporter remarked, sending Clark a low grade death glare. “I guess I should really be saying look at you.”
Brian ducked his head in minor embarrassment. Even as a kid, he knew Chloe harbored a full-time crush on Clark and summertime crush on him.
“Aren’t we going to be introduced?” A leggy honey blonde asked. Brian didn’t miss the simultaneous eyes rolls cast by Clark and Chloe.
“Brian, Clark’s cousin.” She was definitely the type that had the gorgeous smile and long legs that would make him do something stupid. But Brian had a feeling he could play it cool for a while, considering he was a wanted fugitive.
“I’m Lois. Lois Lane. Chloe’s cousin.”
“Is there anyone here who isn’t someone’s cousin?” Brian looked about before turning to Clark. “Yo C, where’s Pete?”
Clark’s face seemed to shut down and he started looking down at the floor. The silence was awkward.
Lois plowed on. “Who knew those kind of looks ran in the family? Talk about wasted potential, Smallville.”
Brian smiled; Clark rolled his eyes. Feeling sorry for his cousin’s ribbing and he could tell it was a frequent occurrence, Brian threw his arm around Clark and grinned a thousand watt smile at the two young women. Coupled with Clark’s own, it was enough to make them swoon. “I think we make a handsome sight…Even if I’m cuter.”
The way the girls chuckled and agreed much to Clark’s dismay made the moment feel like old times.
There was a man in Arizona in a small town, which by L.A. standards could have been easily considered a patch of dirt. He lived in a trailer about twenty yards from a makeshift homemade derby truck. He was Brian’s physical foil, dark skinned, bald with terminal sarcasm. The man seemed to hate Brian O’Conner in such a way that Dom found sad. It was the type of passion Dom understood coming off those first few days after the botched heist.
After wrecking the Charger.
The pain that flashed in the man’s intelligent sepia eyes spoke loud and clear of a broken heart.
The Supra ate up the road. It had passed through mountainous zones covered with trees and brown dirt and areas of seeming nothingness, just tangerine orange expanses. Places that seemed timeless and out of sync with the world that Dom knew and swept up in.
It was unsettling to have the world that was held together by his own gravity to spin out from under him and reform into something just as ordered and right. This begged asking the question of why Dom was trying to find Brian in the first place.
There had been months where Brian had still been in L.A. and Dom had been right over the border and all had been just fine. Now, that Brian had left, given up the brotherhood that didn’t seem to quite want or trust him anymore, Dom felt drawn, anger and confusion aside; Dom needed to know that what had passed between after the accident had been more than just a moment of redefined morals.
The air conditioner blew strong and steady. Dom wore black sunglasses that hid his eyes, but gave him a clear field of the road ahead. He tongued the inside of his cheek. Still a little raw and faintly metallic. Roman Pearce might have been waiting for the shot to kick Brian’s ass for some past transgression, but he’d let Dom know with a sharp, narrowed gaze and swift and steady fist to the jaw.
Dom gave him that free shot and let him know with shifty nod of his head.
The fist to the face was Rome’s way of telling Dom that if he couldn’t kick Brian’s ass, then nobody else had the liberty to do so.
He more or less confirmed Dom was heading in the right direction. It was a magnet on the fridge, a fresh ear of corn with a smile on its cartoonish face that proclaimed the Smallville Corn Festival was the place to have a corny good time.
Roman Pearce was another puzzle piece that fit strangely into Brian’s life. Figuring he was already crazy for driving across the country as a wanted felon to talk to someone he might not have ever known didn’t seem all that sane. He didn’t know a lot of things about Brian.
But he knew he was right.
The Supra purred in agreement.
It was weird being on the farm without Uncle Jon. Any minute, Brian expected the man to call them out to the field to help them with chores. It didn’t matter that Brian was visiting, he was still expected to help out. His uncle was more a second father, especially after his up and left him and his mother. When he told Uncle Jon he wanted to be a cop, he’d said, “Son, your decisions shouldn’t be anyone else’s but yours.”
For two hours, they’d whooped and hollered as they raced along the desolate roads on the outskirts of town. Brian had always loved cars, but it had been Smallville where his lust for speed had been cultivated. Of all the things he’d come to expect in Smallville, seeing a genuine stone castle wasn’t one of them. When he asked Clark about, his cousin said, “A friend lives there.”And didn’t offer more than that, but the secretive smile on his face said otherwise.
“It’s weird.” Brian began. “I’ve seen a lot of bridges, but Loeb Bridge is the only one I’ve found beautiful.”
Clark dropped his chin to his chest. “You won’t believe it, but that bridge changed my life.”
Brian took a quick look at Clark unbeknownst to him as he passed the spot that was at the heart of Clark’s story. “My first day of high school sucked and I went to the bridge to think.”
“To brood.” Brian corrected cheekily and only smiled broader when Clark scowled.
Below the bridge, the river was a grayish green color, the color of spring and summer, clean. “Anyway,” Clark pushed with thoughts of the grey almost black water when he and Lex first met. “I was standing as this truck drove along on one side and a guy in a Porsche drove along on the other. A bail of wire fell from the truck and before I could stop him, he swerved and hit the bridge and took us both down. I rescued him and we’ve been friends ever since.”
“Pete has a Porsche now?” Brian asked, unaware of having been introduced to any other male friends in the Talon.
“’s not Pete. Lex will be by later and you can meet him.”
Something about Clark’s story resonated with Brian. The meeting was violent. Like the pictures Brian had seen of Kenny Linder’s face after his encounter with Dom’s fists or Brian’s tête-à-tête with Vince outside the store, what he and Dom shared was a violent history, but not necessarily a bad one. “I bet Uncle Jon flipped out big time.”
Clark rapped his knuckles on the side door panel and bit his lip in a way that showed ultra sharp canine teeth. “You don’t know the half of it.” He said.
They neared the farm. A look was shared as they passed the old Meteor Capital of the World sign. The sign marked the ten second point before the crater dip in the road. As kids, Uncle Jon would tell them to through up their arms and pretend they were on a roller coaster. Crater dip had been the only roller coaster Brian had ever been up until he’d moved out to L.A.
Brian started the count. “Ten.”And waited to see if Clark would catch on.
“Nine…”Clark added with an excited gleam in his eyes.
The Skyline eased up to seventy and the car seemed to fly just a little when it reached the edge of the crater. It was just then that Brian realized he’d been practicing making cars fly—literally since he was a kid. It was no surprise that he and Dom had made it across the tracks.
They hooped and yelled as the car landed, and they high fived as adrenaline coursed through their veins. “Feels good to be home.” Brian remarked, a good minute and half away from the farm. “But—“
Clark covered his face and spoke behind his hands, groaning. “If you make a Dukes of Hazzard joke, I may no longer be your cousin.” He warned teasingly.
“Why? That was our dream when we were kids. I was Bo and you were definitely Luke, the only person missing was Daisy.” Brian supposed Lana Lang could have been the substitute, because he really couldn’t see Chloe ever wearing daisy dukes.
The car was doing the speed limit then, just under thirty five. The look he tossed at Clark was cool. “I was only going to state a fact.”He paused and held Clark’s gaze, continued to drive forward without having to watch the road. “The fact that I’ll…always be Bo and you’ll be Luke and everyone knows Bo is infinitely cooler.”
They laughed all the way to the farm.
Dinner that night was Aunt Martha’s famous fried chicken, homegrown mashed potatoes, sweet carrots, all topped off with two slices of hot apple pie and vanilla ice cream. Growing up with Uncle Jon and Aunt Martha had spoiled Brian to the taste of organic vegetables. The promises of childhood usually seem stupid in the light of adulthood, but he promised him and had actually managed to follow through on always organic when he had the choice. Yeah, he was the poster boy for splurging. Car parts and organic vegetables that was the life.
He almost asked Aunt Martha why she prepared enough food for an army, but after watching Clark finish off his first plate, he understood in full. After telling a few stories about his times as a cop and listening to a few that made his cheeks and Clark’s burn in kind, the table was cleared and the dishes were to soak.
The last time, he and Clark had wash and dried; Clark had barely reached Brian’s shoulder and always asked Brian to help him with his telescope.
“Still got that telescope?” He asked.
Clark grinned and said, “Yep, you wanna see it when we’re done?”
It wasn’t like there was much else to do around the farm. It didn’t matter how many years he’d been away, Brian easily fell back into the rhythm of shoveling and tossing seed at the animals. “Cool.”
Clark was still the same in some ways, though big as a tree, he was still the kid that Brian knew who watched the stars and seemed to fit in better with outer space than the drama in the real world. His cousin was so uncomplicated. L.A. was drama. What would happen if he was to be caught would be a catastrophe.
It was time to think different thoughts. Brian wiped down the last of the plates and shoulder-checked Clark after he passed it on.”Seriously, do you have a hollow leg?” He chuckled.
“Just a growing farm boy.” Clark passed over another dish. “Now, hurry up. I promised Lex he could join us and I don’t want soap suds dripping off your hands when you meet him.”
Brian cocked his brow. He was curious to meet Lex since his cousin had mentioned him no less than three times. “I’ll try to make a good impression with your boyfriend.”
When Clark turned to him saying, “Be nice,” Brian got the impression that maybe he’d been wrong in assuming his cousin’s existence was entirely idyllic. Clark’s eyes were as green as Brian’s were blue, except he could swear by a trick of light that Clark’s reflected red shades more intensely than his own.
He held up his dishtowel in surrender. “I promise. I think we’re done here so let’s see if I’m still faster than you. Race you to the loft.”
“You got it.”
Clark allowed Brian a head start and the two of them thunder through the kitchen out the backdoor with Mar calling, “Boys,” behind them in light maternal admonishment.
Brian knew he was pretty damn fast, but Clark really surprised him by beating him up the stairs and didn’t even seem even the slightest bit winded as he stared down at Brian from the loft. “Someone must be getting old.” Clark mocked.
Brian shook his fist. “Back in my day, cuz, I chased punks like you well before breakfast. You whippersnappers know nothing about respect these days.”
Clark laughed until he clutched his sides. “I won’t keep you up too long then. Some of us need our beauty sleep more than others.”
They roughhoused like cousins did and didn’t talk about anything in particular. Clark nodded in the direction of the telescope and Brian followed him over to the open loft window. Then, they had been kids Brian had loved the loft. Uncle Jon had built a treehouse for Clark, but gave him a space that was entirely functional as he grew with age. Carves in the wood had aged just as they had. Grooved rivers that curved into ‘C’s and ‘B’s and barely recognizable outlines of cars and stars.
Wind rustled through the corn and speed to speak a language that was entirely different from that tires meeting concrete. It was different in language, but nothing was lost in its translation. He saw the house across the wide fields. “Still stalking Lana Lang?”
It was like hitting bulls eye and getting an instantaneous embarrassed reaction from Clark. Lana reminded him of Mia. She’d been a cute kid as he could recall. He could only imagine how she’d look at eighteen or nineteen. “We’re just friends,” Clark mumbled before directing Brian’s attention to some constellation that had grabbed his attention lately.
The universe was a funny place. The irony of it was that the same basic particles that made up the gaseous balls and rocks we called the heavens were the same constituents of his ten-second car. The connection he had with Dom was fundamentally constructed on those elements too. That was the nature of the universe he supposed.
Brian wasn’t too wrapped up in staring at the wonders of the universe to ignore the sound of something foreign and expensive—both of which were entirely rare in Smallville, pulling up in front of the barn.
Intrigued, he left the telescope to ask Clark about it, but Clark was gone. Vanished. It had been hell playing hide and go seek with him as a kid. Clark was amazingly stealthy.
Voices floated up from the bottom of the barn approaching the stairs. Something a kin to shock washed over Brian, making it really hard to control the urge to gape at the sight of his cousin with Lex ‘richer than God’ Luthor. No wonder he’d said Uncle Jon hadn’t liked his ‘friend’ very much.
He watched them climb the stairs. It was easy to read that they were close from the just the minimal amount of distance they kept from each other and the way turned towards each when speaking , providing the utmost attention to the other. On the landing before reaching the loft, Clark looked up and smiled at Brian, Lex stopped beside him too and drew his eyes up to see Brian standing at the top of the stairs.
It was rather obvious with the way Lex’s first widen upon seeing Brian that he’d been initially struck by Brian’s apparent prettiness. Then, Lex’s grey eyes narrowed in suspicion. Jealousy, no doubt. Why exactly, Brian wasn’t sure.
Clark stood between Lex and Brian and gestured eagerly between the two. “Lex, this is Brian, my cousin--” At the announcement, Lex seemed to deflate into ease, which interesting Brian noted.
“Brian, this is Lex, my best friend and fellow social outcast of Smallville.” Both men looked at him at that part, yet Clark only smiled innocently in return.
If Lex hadn’t met Clark first, he would have sworn that Brian was the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. Or maybe, he should say Clark and Brian were equally beautiful in different ways. Brian looked like a Nordic god and Clark’s amalgam of genes screamed exotic.
Lex extended a hand. Very formal. The man was pale and bald, though Brian had no qualms with the last feature, and wore clothes that might have been more expensive than the bucket seats in the Supra. Clark called them best friends, which seemed even stranger. Billionaire multi-national corporation owner and the son of organic farmers. Didn’t really sound like a match made in heaven. Neither did the con and the cop, he supposed.
The long duster Lex wore slipped back as Lex slid his hand into his pockets. “I didn’t know you had any other family outside of Smallville.” It wasn’t actually a question and had a slightly incredulous ring to its tone.
Clark draped an arm over his cousin’s shoulder. “Brian’s the only family we have left.” Neither of them considered their grandfather family anymore.
“I spent every summer here when I was a kid.” Brian told him. So Lex wasn’t completely aware of the huge William Clark debacle that led to his mother and Aunt Martha severing ties with his grandfather.
The way Lex’s eyes slid over him made it seem like he was very much so under the microscope. Lex’s gaze was magnetic, it pulled you in with or without your consent, and weathered away secrets. Brian instinctually felt himself getting his back up, jaw clenched, and eyes staring back defiantly. He watched Lex tilt his head as if he’d come to some major conclusion, though Lex’s mouth remained fixed in an inscrutable smirk. “I’m assuming that’s your rice rocket. Did you build it from scratch?”
“Yes, I did it with a friend back in L.A.”
“Are you a racer by profession?”
“No, he’s a cop,” Clark added. “I haven’t seen him in years.”
“Yeah, last time I saw Clark, I could call him Clarkie-beara without worrying for my safety.”
Clark scowled, while Lex chuckled beneath his breath. “You promised me.” He complained, while it automatically made him pout.
Brian made a placating gesture. “Okay, I did.” He regarded Lex again. “Clark told me how you met and I gotta say that’s a bit insane, but I see how that could forge a friendship.” Even if Clark was somewhere around fifteen at the time while Lex was at least twenty.
“I consider myself lucky for having met Clark. I know he didn’t tell you that he’s saved my life quite a several times already. Candidly, Clark’s rescued me enough to warrant him getting his own position on my security team.”
“I always knew you were a boy scout. But saved you from what?”
Lex and Clark shared a loaded look. “Smallville.” Lex said as if it was the most obvious answer. Brian absorbed the answer, but still had no clue as to what it actually meant. “So, how do manage being a cop and a racer?”
Not very well, Brian thought. “It’s difficult.”
“Let me tell you, Lex,” Clark began excitedly. “He took me out in the Skyline –didn’t let me drive though,” to which Brian and Lex shared a mutually understanding look, “and we flew over the crater dip. It was amazing.”
“You flew? I always thought you were afraid of heights?” Lex teased.
Clark paled. “It wasn’t that high.” He muttered.
Lex patted Clark’s shoulder and turned his attention back on Brian. “How does it feel to be back home?”
“Feels good, Lex. Feels real good.” Brian said with a smile that was tight around the edges.
It was a bit silly to think he and Lex were posturing, when he greater things to be worried about, like the fact that he was wanted and on the run for one point. It was instinctual to be protective of Clark. He always had been when they were kids. Brian figured that was the reason he and Jesse had become to close so fast; the guy had reminded him of Clark with all his energy and eagerness that hid vulnerability, and Brian knew instinctually he had to protect it.
Lex was different he could tell. Whereas Brian was naturally cool, Lex seemed to have the demeanor down to an art. It was rare that he couldn’t read someone and that was obviously Lex’s intention with everyone saved Clark, who was shooting Lex obvious looks that said be nice.
Lex eventually asked Brian if he could come by the next day with one of his cars and have Brian check it out. Brian agreed, deciding then to make his exit for the evening. As he climbed down the stairs, Brian felt the heat from Lex’s gaze on his back, only when it disappeared did he turn around.
It was one thing to say he knew just exactly how Lex was staring at Clark. The startling thing, if anything, was how Clark accepted that and returned in spades. Clark was a good looking boy—man and could make Brian feel silly for having the same silly thoughts most people had about him. Clark could be a model. There was understanding in how worried Uncle Jon must have been. Locked into fierce gravity, those two were. The kind that was unshakeable and held every mystery to the universe.
He’d kid himself by saying that the feeling, sharp and visceral, low in his gut, was just indigestion.
Doing farm work was like doing everything else Brian had ever done. Like filing a report or asking the right question at a scene, it was about simple mechanics, cause and effect really; working in the sun was a basic science of movement and strength. It came with the extra benefit of space, which was a blessing when one’s thoughts seemed to be on their own expedition for completing Manifest Destiny by stretching from coast to coast.
In the years he’d been away from the farm, Brian hadn’t forgotten how to evade a pecking hen or how to muck out a stall. It didn’t carry the same rush as doing a quarter mile or surfing by any means, but it brought a sense of freedom.
Aunt Martha had cooked such a large breakfast that morning that he felt obligated to work extra hard to keep extra pounds at bay. How Clark remained slim and toned when he ate as much as all of the Oakland Raiders combined was an absolute mystery. Almost as strange as the idea of Lex and Clark, and there was a Lex and Clark, because Brian wasn’t blind.
What gave Brian the impression that there was more was Clark’s insistence to offer an explanation for his friendship with Lex. Clark and Lex, upon first appearances, seemed like night and day, much like him and Rome. Thing about him and Rome was they never needed to explain their friendship; it just was. Him and Dom though—just the idea made Brian sigh as he shifted his grip on the pitchfork he was using to shovel hay. Their association—relationship, if he got bold, was defined by contrasts: cop and mark, fire and ice, gravity and chaos, and varying degrees of right and wrong.
Bottom line, everything was gray.
Brian’s head jerked at the sound of crunched gravel. His eyes widened at the sight coming towards him. The car or as Brian felt what was more aptly described as the machine—a work of art was in the driveway. He pulled off his gloves, stuffed them into his back pocket, and steadily admired the car, which was obviously Italian with more syllables in its name than anything in the Standard English language would allow.
Lex looked as cool as ever with his black shades and crisp black suit that Brian knew didn’t have a label and probably created by someone with another Italian suffix. The wolf whistle enthusiastically left his lips.
“You know, I really wanna say nice ride.” Brian looked the car over judiciously, appraising it for its beauty and speed. If it had been a woman, the car would have obviously been a supermodel. A perfect blend of Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, and Giselle Bunchen with an English accent.
Lex reclined against the car, hip against the side fender with folded arms over his chest and wore a sphinx-like grin, Lex looked like the poster boy of Rich Guys ‘R’ Us. “Then why don’t you?”
“Nice ride.” Brian replied, almost coyly.
“Thanks.” Lex’s hand stroked the waxed finish almost obscenely. Like in the heat of passion when a man slid his hand up his date’s thigh with the sure meaning that the end of the night would leave them both sweating and sated. “How about a peek? I swear she’s not shy.”
Raising the hood was like going behind the curtain. You were never supposed to ask a lady her age, but Brian had to wonder when this goddess rolled off the assembly line.
Upon further inspection, he should have known it wasn’t Italian.”A Lotus.”
Lex’s mouth widened in an impressed smile. “Very good.”
Brian instinctually slid over as Lex leaned under the hood. “If you wanted to know,” Lex was looking down at the engine and his voice was like a purr. “Her walking shoes don’t even have a scuff on them.”
With that, Brian would guess that less than five miles were on the odometer. From what he could see, he asked, “V6?”
“Correct again.” Pointing a pale lean finger over the setup, Lex listed off a litany of features. “Mid engine 2+2,transverse mounted 3.5 Liter V6 with 276 HP at 6,400 rpm. Lightweight aluminum chassis and 18” front and 19” back alloys on the wheels.”
“You’re seriously talking dirty to me.”Brian stared harder at the car, knowing that those specs, as supremely impressive as they were, weren’t all that foreign to him. Something scratched at a memory, maybe him and Jess—with Dom hovering somewhere in the background at the house, the annual sports car showcase edition between them and the awe filled smiles spread across their faces like teenage boys with their first girlie magazine. “No way.” He said with stuttered breath. “This isn’t…”
“The Lotus Evora.” Lex supplied.
“This isn’t supposed to be available until 2010!” Everyone was waiting for this car. Jesse had salivated over the prototype. He whistled again as understanding dawned on him. “You’re Lex Luthor. 2010 doesn’t mean the same for you as everyone else, of course. This baby has more than a clean bill of health.”
Lex closed the hood eventually and didn’t retake up his position leaning on the car. A pose that Brian now thought in retrospect was stupid. “I figured the car would be a great conversation piece.” Brian was currently thinking that Lex was bit of an asshole and again wondered how his cousin would be friends with this guy.
Brian had always been a good at making his exterior remain cool; instead sometimes that could be misinterpreted as being passive-aggressive, because anger flowed through his veins like glacier fragments that would match the aqua hue of his eyes. “What exactly are we supposed to be discussing?”
“I’m pretty much an open book. Clark or any newspaper could provide all that you wanted to know about me. I’d like to get to know you. You’re Clark’s favorite cousin and the closest thing he has to a brother."
“Yeah, I am.” Brian sized him up again and waited for an answer. Lex ineffectually shrugged, then took a few steps toward the rails outlining the cow pasture. His leather shoes looked oddly at home pressed against the first step.
“I’m a little overprotective. Clark is one of the only true friends I have.”
“Really.” Lex turned away from the rail, putting back against the fence and studied Brian with raised eyebrows that clearly would have made business rivals uneasy; Brian primarily wanted to call bullshit. Lex wouldn’t intimidate him for coming home.
“That’s surprising considering you’ve had several people looking for you as of late in L.A. I have to say, you don’t really strike me as the police officer type.” Brian cocked his brow in silent reply.
L.A. The Case. Dom. Brian wandered how much Lex really knew about the case, if he’d actually read the files or had simply gleaned information about it from the Times. Brian’s poker face was on a master level, could literally imbue his features with the subtleties and physical nuances that would have made him a naturally good actor. Yet, looking at Luthor, his face clear and lacking even the faintest trace of a smirk, it was clear that Lex, international mogul and concurrent Smallville resident, could BS with the best of them.
Brian’s jaw flared as his teeth clenched. “It’s nothing to worry about.”
“Well, thinking you’ve gone rogue or compromised your mission, going native as they say is a big deal.” Lex was done testing the waters in this conversation. Now, he was more picking at the wound than merely examining it. “I’m sure things aren’t at all like the movies from what I’ve observed during my times in L.A. I doubt you were supposed to infiltrate an international modeling ring.” This was obviously Lex’s way of calling Brian a pretty boy. It wasn’t like he’d heard it a million times before; now, though it stoked his ire.
“Again, you’re right. My question--” Brian declared with emphasis, “—is why are you taking it upon yourself to play twenty questions with me?”
“That’s easy to answer: I want to make sure Martha and Clark will be fine. I can’t allow for anything else.”
Control freaks always annoyed Brian. Granted his personal style and attitude towards life wasn’t quite c’est la vie but he wasn’t one for plans and rigid structure, case in point jumping onto a moving semi with a shotgun-wielding driver.
Brian stepped into Lex’s space. He recalled Rome’s hot temper and Dom’s sporadic volcanic fury. He was cool. Like ice. “I get it. I really do, but Clark is the last person who has to worry about my past.”
Ambient sounds—the cows ambling over the grass, the wind rustling the chimes on the front porch, the whine of aging wood spoke while they remained silent, locked in a cold stare.
“Fair enough, let me impart a last bit of advice: don’t be so sure all that you left behind in L.A. won’t follow you. Smallville has a way of giving all ghosts their walking legs.”
“I’m free, Lex, simple as that. I could be Old MacDonald at this point, if I so chose to be.”
“Or America’s Next Top Male Model.” Lex interjected. “It’s Clark’s favorite show…” Lex trailed off with a long-suffering sigh.
Clark had always been an eclectic kid. Brian had never seen the show, so he couldn’t fault Clark for his tastes. “Everything will be fine.”
“I hope you’re right.” Lex said at last.
This conversation was over.
Aunt Martha cooked another dinner big enough to feed an army. By the time they finished washing the dishes, Aunt Martha had finished loading the car with all the baked goods she made every few days for the Talon. Chloe Sullivan stopped by, just to see how they were doing. Chloe and her cousin seemed too fast for Smallville. When Brian asked if Smallville was always this sleepy, the look that passed between Clark and Chloe was duly noted. She left soon after, saying she had an early meeting at the Planet.
Brian took another survey at all of Clark’s knick knacks lining the wall. There were the usual star maps and space craft diagrams. Pictures were tacked up here and there; they made him stop. Clark, Aunt Martha, and Uncle Jon. Uncle Jon and Clark on graduation day. Clark and Pete. Clark, Chloe, and Pete. Clark and Lex. Finally, Clark and him. A time when Clark was missing his teeth and there was a foot height difference.
“So did you and Lana ever…” Brian trailed off.
Upon hearing her name, Clark had a semi-grim look, but rather nonplussed about the question. “Yeah, um, it didn’t work out…a couple of times.”
“What about Chloe?” When Brian first met Chloe, she was a bright eyed with a wicked sense of humor for a twelve year old pixie. She seemed a little out of sorts living in the sticks.
Clark gave him an incredulous look. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know?” His cousin had no idea what Brian was talking about. “That was seriously the worst kept secret ever, Clarkie-beara.” The old nickname that grated Clark enough to make him blush.
Clark actually seemed contrite. Chloe was the type of girl that could have packs of men chasing after her for intelligence, humor, and sharp beauty. “I found out freshman year that she had feelings for me…But I only saw her as a friend. Every now and then, things get can be awkward.”
Brian patted his cousin’s shoulder that felt rock hard beneath his hand. This was more evidence that his cousin was special. Reading his body language in the moment definitely confirmed it. He was the only person Brian knew who honestly felt guilty for not being able to return someone’s feelings.
“So who else?” Brian asked, figuring dating shouldn’t have been hard for Clark. His cousin was a good kid. Smart. Good looking. Genuinely nice. The supply of guys like Clark in Smallville was definitely low.
Clark cocked his head to the side, eyeing Brian a bit warily, making Brian almost regret asking. “Why the questions?” The glint in Clark’s eyes looked more like suspicion and that stung.
Brian held up a placating gesture. “I’m just asking. These are the types of things you ask when you’re shooting the shit.”
Again, Clark blushed and backed down and walked over to the open window. “Sorry. “ He said. “It’s just that my date life, like everything else, is complicated.”
“You don’t look like your life should be War and Peace.”
Tension rode the air, then like a lit firecracker dropped in water, it diffused. The rolling sound of their mutual laughter filled the loft. Brian hunched over on the couch, leaning on his thighs, while Clark clutched his gut.
“Let’s just say the stats for my love life look more like a rap sheet.” Ouch. Smallville girls sounded rough. “I found someone though. Bottom line, I’m happy. It seemed like for a while, that would never happen again.”
Brian knew losing Uncle Jon hurt worse than his losing his own. “Good.”
“What about you? Even with the t-shirts and baggy jeans, I’d still think you’d be mistaken for a movie star in disguise. Aren’t models throwing themselves at you left and right?” Right, Clark loved America’s Next Top Model, so models were right up his alley.
Not a bad idea to have, the type that would make his head swell. Dreams at seventeen were different at twenty-seven. He’d dreamed like any other guy of cars, lights, and the ubiquitous sexiness that came with fame or money. Becoming a cop had squashed
those hopes, given him the sense of stability that only came when he’d come out to Kansas.
“I work a lot, either regular shifts or undercover. Then there was studying for my detective exam and working on my car.” When he said it aloud, the summary of what his life had been for years, it sounded sad even to himself. He didn’t fault Clark for trying to hide that he thought the same.
“You have time now.”
“That I do.” Brian’s smile was beatific. He was free and no one was looking for him.
The morning rush gradually transitioned into early afternoon lull. Lois was working the counter as usual, while Chloe kept her company at the counter. She was dolled up in a smart daytime blazer and khaki slacks, fresh off her meeting in Metropolis.
Lois scrubbed the countertop, her eyes darting up to the door every now and then tracking the flow of traffic in and out of the shop.
The bell above the door jingled as it opened. Lois’ eyes flicked to the door, then back to the countertop. Her mind assessed the sight and she stared back up at the stranger coming through the door.
The man that walked through the Talon’s doors looked like a human mountain. “Does he have enough muscles?” Lois said unabashedly.
Chloe continued to stare unabashedly at the stranger. “I thought muscles were your thing?”
“Well, um, there’s a limit though before they become a little scary. The guy could be a double for the hulk.”
Chloe rolled her eyes at her cousin. “Be nice. And remember the customer is always right.” She trailed off before plastering on a sunny smile. “Welcome to the Talon. How may I help you today?”
The man looked between her and Chloe like he wasn’t sure if he should be prepared for a fight or not. He then plastered on his most winning smile and replied in a rough timbre, “Coffee for one thing. Another, I’m looking for a friend. He might have passed through here.”
Not being able to turn down a mystery, Chloe stepped in. “We’ll try our best. What’s his name?”
The guy’s smile grew even wider. “Thing is I’m not sure if he’s still going by the same name.” Behind the guy’s back, Lois mouthed, “Bounty Hunter.” Chloe barely reacted to Lois’ assumption.
“Well, you never know until you try.” Chloe prodded lightly.
The man bobbed his head in agreement. “His name’s Brian. That doesn’t say much. You’d probably remember him, because he’s tall, lanky—looks like a surfer slash could-possibly-be-a-movie-star. Plus, he has a fast car of the homemade variety.”
The women shared a look, knowing exactly who the guy was looking for and entirely unsure if their assistance would still be available to the guy. Smallville was home to its own unique blend of trouble, the guy at the counter looked like he invited the word and spelled it always with a capital ‘T’.
“Is he in trouble?” Lois asked with plenty of attitude heaped into the gesture of a cocked eyebrow.
The man shook his head. “Naw, he’s not in any trouble. He left town without saying goodbye and--” The man paused, had a pensive look on his face before he came to some decision. “We left a lot unsaid to each other. His best friend told me this was where he might be.”
Chloe considered his words as Lois rang him up for his coffee. “I know where he is.” She said.
The coffee slid across the counter, but Lois held on to the cup for fully passing it over. “She meant to add that just because you look like you can punch a mountain and make it weep, doesn’t mean you can come and cause trouble.”
The man stared at Lois in mild amusement. “She always this frank?” He asked Chloe.
He chuckled to himself. “Reminds me of my sister.” He turned to leave, but spot a few feet away. “If you see him before I do: tell him Dom’s stopped by.”
Another joined their party, obvious by the toothy grin that spread across Chloe’s face. The man turned to face the newcomer, mouth twitching in a half hearted smile. The man was bald like Dom, yet pale where Dom was tanned dark.
Chloe turned towards the man. The man was a friend, even if the woman behind the counter regarded him with mild contempt. “Lex, you want your usual?” Lois asked with minimal derision.
Lex, an unusual name that Dom could remember, said, “Yes.”
Lois’ gaze grew more flat since Lex took her up on the offer. Lex looked between Chloe and Dom. “New face. Seems like the Talon could double as the official Smallville Welcome Center.”
Chloe nodded. “True. Dom--” She looked to Dom for affirmation that she’d gotten his name correct. “—Is looking for someone. Brian, Clark’s cousin actually.”
Lex wore a mysterious smirk. “I was planning to go over to the farm. I could make the trip, if you don’t want to?” He turned to Dom. “Is this urgent business?”
Dom’s gaze bore into Lex. “Yeah, it is.”
A conversation passed between them silently. Chloe watched the pair, registering that they might not have been strangers to each other. “Sure, Lex.” She rejoined. “That would be great.”
Minutes each with coffee in hand, Dom and Lex stepped out onto the sidewalk. They sized each other up, the alpha dogs naturally did.
Lex took a sip of his coffee as they walked into the parking lot. “Are you cop also?”
Dom shook his head. “No, a mechanic.”
Lex had his door halfway open, stopping to eye Dom in half amusement. Of course, Dom didn’t know that Lex had run through a similar conversation with Brian days before on the farm. Dom, upon first inspection, was obviously intimidating with layers of sculpted muscle and stoic expression on his indecipherable ethnic face. He was handsome like Lex in an unconventional way. “I doubt even a mechanic would drive half way across the country to catch up.”
“What I plan to do is none of your business.” Dom’s voice rumbled with a knife-sharp edge.
“Now, if he’s here, which I do believe, since those two girls looked a little star struck when I mentioned his name, then I’d like to know where.”
One concrete wall meeting another. “Forgive me if I don’t share anything with you until I know what exactly you want with him.”
“We’re going to talk.” Lex waited for Dom to elaborate further. “Just talk.”
“You’ve come a long way for conversation.”
“Some conversations are worth it.”
Lex stood toe to toe with Dom, showing him that he was a man who didn’t like evasions or intrusions. “Mr. Toretto.” Mocha dark eyes widened in shock. Lex knowing who he was made him feel extremely unsettled. “If anything beyond talking transpires between you and Brian then you won’t need to worry about the feds finding you. I’ll have you hog-tied and trussed up like a turkey on their doorstop.”
Dom cocked a brow. “I doubt it will come to that. Now my question to you is why this is of concern to you.”
“Let’s say Brian is very close to someone I care about, meaning I’ll go out of my way to make sure they’re safe.”
There were rapid fire shots in his mind. Flickering images of his life thus far. His mother. His father’s burning car. Mia. Jesse laid out on the lawn with smoking bleeding holes in his chest. The impact of the semi against the Charger. Brian’s gaze as he dropped the keys. Starry skies over Mexico in a barren, quiet place.
Lex was a protector like him. The title became something more than a badge of honor when there were faces and true consequences to the action.
“Understandable.” He finally agreed. Tension seeped out of his shoulders making him appear less combative.
“You can follow me.”
Dom walked over to the Supra, which stood out even against the sex on wheels that Lex was driving. Lex seemed to mull over the car, self-satisfied expression on his face. “Nice ride.”
He closed his door before Dom could say thanks.