Actions

Work Header

Life Sentence

Work Text:

The guards put him in the hold-over after the sentencing. There was only one other guy in there, slouched on the bench with heroin tracks stuttered up and down his arms and bond suppressor mitts shackled over his hands. He was trying to get a cigarette up into his mouth. “Help me out, man, would you?” the guy said. Dom walked over and put the cig in his mouth. The guy closed his lips tight around it, puffed out his cheeks until his eyes turned red, and managed to get the end going, a little orange glow.

“That’s a nice trick,” Dom said.

“Yeah, ain’t it?” the guy said. “My better half was here, we could do you a real show.” He took a long deep drag and let the smoke out his nostrils. “They say I don’t even get to see him for the whole seven years. How long they do you for?”

“Twenty-five to life,” Dom said, sitting down.

The guy shook his head. “Shit, man.”

“Yeah,” Dom said. He stared out the bars. Still didn’t feel real, hadn’t since the judge had opened his mouth and said the words. People talking, his lawyer trying to say something, Mia crying behind him. Felt like it had all happened on another planet. Dom shut his eyes and tried not to think. He knew he was going to start feeling it pretty soon. He didn’t want to hurry it up none.

He managed to keep not thinking about it all the way to Lompoc, and then they took him off the bus, too familiar stink of the air hitting his face, and he nearly heaved inside his mouth. It hadn’t been as bad last time. He hadn’t known what it was going to be like. This time he knew. Last time he’d counted it in months, twenty-four of them each crawling by like traffic on the freeways, except they never sped up even when you passed the smoking wrecks on the shoulder. Now he’d be counting that high in years.

“Shit,” the guy shackled next to him said. “Don’t puke on me, man. What are you, carsick?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Dom said through his teeth. He’d thought he was staring at a dead end. Garage work for ten dollars an hour, never getting to hold the wheel of a real car except while he was fixing them. Mia off to a bullshit job filing papers in an office with a community college degree. Letty with that tooth in her mouth broken because a crown cost too much, Jesse going down for shoplifting parts because he couldn’t resist what he couldn’t afford, Leon and Vince going nowhere, all of them spinning their wheels for the rest of their lives. He hadn’t been able to take it. But this was the real dead end.

He went inside and lined up along with the others, heard the gate slamming behind them, and shit, he was scared, scared like he’d never been in his life, not sliding a car under a truck at eighty-five, not even watching Vince pumping out red under his hands. His eyes burned like soot had gotten into them. He leaned his head back against the wall and shut his eyes, kept his face from changing. You couldn’t even cry in Lompoc. However bad things got in here, they could always get worse.

A couple of hours dragged by. “Toretto,” the guard said, bored, and it was his turn. Three guards watched him strip, squat, and cough before they waved him on into the exam room. The doctor was an old white guy sitting on a wheeled desk chair, wearing glasses, tobacco stains in the beard around his mouth. “Step on the scale,” he said. Dom got on. The wall behind it was pitted concrete, most of the dips filled in by layers and layers of grey paint. There was a calendar taped up from August 2007 with a picture of a waterfall in some kind of park, faded out to mostly grey. Dom stared at it while the doctor wrote down numbers.

“Sit down,” the doctor said. He took blood, three vials filling up dark red. “Any medical conditions?”

“No,” Dom said, and then his mouth kept going and said, “What if I want to volunteer for bonding?”

The doctor peered at him over the glasses. “Do you want to volunteer for bonding?”

It hung in the air. Dom felt it like a noose around his throat, squeezing. Twenty-five to life. “Yeah,” he said.

“Less than one in ten guys even rates going in the database,” the doctor said. “And they don’t pull a lot of guys out of here.”

“I want to volunteer,” Dom said.

The doctor heaved a sigh like a sack getting squeezed out and scooted himself over to the cabinets without getting up off the chair. The wheels squeaked as he bent over and took out a big metal reader and a metal skullcap with a nest of wires snaking between them. He scooted the chair back with the mess sitting in his lap and clunked it down onto the table between them. It took him five minutes to get the wires mostly untangled. Dom watched him doing it, fingers itching, but he didn’t offer to help.

“All right, put it on,” the doctor said. “Don’t get your hopes up.”

Hell of a thing to hope for. Dom put the skullcap on. “You’ll feel an intrusive sensation,” the doctor said. “Push back hard as you can.” He pushed a button and went back to doing the paperwork.

Dom didn’t notice anything much to start. The machine let out a beep every ten seconds or so. After a while he started to feel it, somebody putting their thumbs on his temples and squeezing in. He hadn’t known what push back meant, but he got it then, like shoving off a headache so he could keep working. The beeps slowed down some, maybe every thirty seconds. The headache feeling got stronger. He had to buckle down to push it clear. The beeps slowed some more. The doctor finished the last form and put it into the folder. He took a look at the machine, then bent his head lower and squinted. He looked up. “Still all right?”

“Yeah,” Dom said shortly.

The doctor glanced back down at the screen frowning, then sat back and watched Dom’s face like he was the best thing on TV. It was fucking annoying. Dom looked at the calendar just to not be staring back at him. The pressure kept going. A spike broke through. His head winced to the side before he could stop himself, and the doctor reached forward and switched the box off.

“I had it,” Dom said.

“Yeah,” the doctor said. “Look, you really sure you want to do this? This is a federal prison, you know what that means?”

“What I know is I’m in here for twenty-five to life,” Dom said.

“It means the feds take first crack at volunteers,” the doctor said. “You’re not going to get picked up by the head of some task force or a state cop who’s willing to take on a felon to make detective. They’re going to give you to a federal agent, and I mean the kind who do the dirty work.”

“Five minutes ago you were telling me I was wasting my time trying.”

The doctor tapped the box. “That was before you scored in the skinny top of the 99th percentile. I put these scores in, they’ll come for you. They’ll come for you in a week. Maybe two. Still sure? Once you sign the paperwork, that’s it. They’re not going to be nice and ask if you’ve changed your mind after they go to the trouble of sending someone to get you.”

Sending someone to get him. It was like sunrise in the mountains. “Yeah,” Dom said. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

The doctor sighed. “You’re a young guy, you’ll probably be out of here before you’re forty.”

“Maybe,” Dom said. “But the guy that walks out of Lompoc isn’t going to be me.”

The doctor didn’t bother talking him out of it any further, just got the forms, four of them. He filled them out, looking at the machine for the numbers, and handed them on to Dom to sign. Dom didn’t bother reading them, just scrawled his name across, panic gone and already thinking about how to run it. He had a thousand bucks he’d been going to put in the commissary. That would get him a cellphone. Vince was still in the hospital, and Dom wasn’t going to let Mia get involved in this, that left Letty and Leon and Jesse. The feds would send one, maybe two guys to get him. If he got lucky, they’d take him to the airport in Santa Barbara, but even Lompoc airport was ten minutes of deserted road. Three cars on one: good enough, even if the feds did use a van. Run straight down to Mexico, get across the border — he’d take it. A door out of a dead end, he’d take it.

#

Penning was waiting by the desk, looking irritated, when Brian got off the elevator. “O’Conner, I realize it’s a bit much for the Bureau to expect you to spend more than fifteen minutes of any workday at your actual desk, but is there a reason you can’t at least occasionally check your voicemail?”

Brian tossed what was left of his cellphone onto the desk. A couple more bits of the screen tinkled out. “Sorry,” he said. “I fell off a roof.”

“Of course you did,” Penning said. “Dare I ask what important law enforcement objective you were pursuing at the time?” He crooked a finger and turned to head for his office.

“I was looking into that warehouse on Milton and spotted one of Volchek’s guys making a pickup from a place across the street,” Brian said, following. “Got him carrying it: a full kilo of China White, dealer package. He’s looking at twenty years. I left him with booking, but soon as I get in there with him, he’s going to roll over, I’ll — ”

“Stasiak will take it,” Penning said, opening the door to the office and gesturing him in.

“What? Stasiak’s not going to take it!” Brian said. “It’s my collar, I’ve got the—” He stopped: there was a guy standing in the back corner of the office who looked like he took up about half the room. Penning came inside behind him and shut the door. “Agent Hobbs, DSS,” he said, waving a hand at the mountain. “Hobbs, this is Agent O’Conner.”

“About time,” Hobbs said. “Sit.”

Brian sat, warily, and glanced over at Penning. “What’d I do?”

“I was just about to ask that question,” Penning said, pulling out his chair.

“Agent Penning,” Hobbs said, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to need you to step out.”

Penning paused and glared at Hobbs. “Excuse me?”

“You’re not cleared,” Hobbs said.

“If I’m not cleared — ”

“If I could requisition your agent without his consent, I wouldn’t be talking to him either,” Hobbs said. “I don’t have a lot of time to waste here. I need half an hour with O’Conner, and then I’ll be leaving. With him or without him.”

Penning didn’t like it, but after a moment’s pause, he took it. He shot Brian another irritated look on his way out, and pulled the door shut with a bang.

“So you want to requisition me?” Brian said. He stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankle and gave Hobbs a grin. “My reputation precedes me, huh?”

“It does,” Hobbs said, unsmiling. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of options.” He tossed a file on the table in front of him. Brian picked it up: Federal prisoner #32587790 Toretto, Dominic. Nine high-speed truck hijackings on the California freeways, more than $6 million in stolen goods, street racing, previous time served for assault and attempted manslaughter. “This morning, this prize specimen of a law-abiding citizen was delivered to Lompoc Penitentiary to serve a twenty-five to life sentence. He asked for the escape hatch.”

“He volunteered for bonding?” Brian said absently, looking over the stats on the cars used in the hijackings — Honda Civics, had to be some serious work under the hood —

“That’s right,” Hobbs said. “And I want you to take him.”

Brian jerked up. “I haven’t put in for a bonding!”

“If you’d previously requested a bonding, I wouldn’t be here asking,” Hobbs said. “I’d already have you in a car headed to Lompoc.”

Brian shut the folder, pushed it back across and stood up. “Forget it. I don’t need a bond to do my job.”

“Sit your ass back down unless you want to spend the rest of your career in Montana,” Hobbs said.

Brian weighed the pros and cons of telling Hobbs to go fuck himself. The arguments on the pro side were compelling, but on the con, no way had Penning folded like that for him unless Hobbs was the kind of guy who could actually get him sent to Montana for the rest of his life.

“Go fuck yourself,” Brian said and headed for the door.

“You’re right, O’Conner,” Hobbs said abruptly behind his back. Brian paused. “You don’t need a bond to do your job. You need a bond to do this one.”

Brian hesitated, but fuck it, he wanted to know. He turned around and came back for the second folder Hobbs was holding out to him, dangling bait. Hobbs didn’t let him have it right away, pulled him in close with it, flat and deadly. “There are fewer than fourteen people in this country who know the information in this file. And just so we’re clear, if you let it slip, you’re not going to Montana. You’re going into the ground. Understood?”

“Do you want me to read this or not?” Brian said. Hobbs let go. Brian opened the folder. It took less than a minute to see what had lit the fire under him. “What kind of ransom are they asking?”

“They’re not,” Hobbs said. “Three weeks ago, one of our drone attacks hit what some asshole in the DOD thought was a command center in a town just outside Rawah. Instead we got forty-seven civilian casualties. Killed a whole fucking village by accident.” He pointed at the folder. “Now they’re looking to hit us back. Two days ago, they got to one of our diplomatic outposts and grabbed anyone they could get their hands on — men, women, children. One week from now, they’re moving all of them to one of their major compounds near the Syrian border. And then they’re going to set up cameras and burn them all to death live on streaming video.”

“Shit,” Brian muttered.

“So what I want to know is, Agent O’Conner, are you going to help me get these civilians back or not?”

Brian stared at the photos. “How does me bonding this Toretto guy help?”

“The difference between Toretto and ninety-nine percent of the other felons who dive for the bonding foxhole is his scores are off the charts,” Hobbs said. “Whoever bonds him might as well be strapping a jet engine to their back. Only problem is, those numbers would also put him in the driver’s seat of the bonding, and then he’s over the border and gone with our agent in tow. Unless we find him a match with the same kind of numbers.”

Brian raised his eyebrows. “And I was your only choice, huh?” He didn’t bother making it anything other than smug. He’d been tested when he’d joined, but they didn’t tell you your own results — supposedly because they didn’t want supervisors hassling their high-score reports to bond, but Brian had been pretty sure it was because they didn’t want the reports knowing if they outscored their bosses.

“The database handed us seventeen guys,” Hobbs said. “Only five of you were under thirty. We could get twenty years’ field duty out of this bonding, and with these numbers on both ends, we’re gonna want them.”

“That’s still five guys,” Brian said. “Why me?”

Hobbs sighed. “Because, O’Conner, among the many shades and failings littered across your brief career to date, the only one I don’t see a goddamn squint of is fear. Healthy or otherwise. Also, we know about your little street racing habit, Bullitt.”

Brian grimaced. You couldn’t put together a decent car on a new agent’s salary, goddammit, and he’d wanted a place on the beach, too. What was the point of living in California if you weren’t on the beach?

“Fortunately for you, a dozen misdemeanors here or there don’t mean jack to me right now.” Hobbs reached over and tapped the report. “Our one chance to intercept these guys and rescue the hostages is to take them on the road. Toretto’s already got the skills we need, that might be enough, but if both partners in a bonding are aligned on something to start, you’re both sure to get a hell of a boost. Put you and Toretto on a road together and bonded, nobody on this green earth’s going to touch you.”

He sat back. “So what’s it going to be, O’Conner? You gonna hang around here shaking down drug dealers until you get fired for being a reckless asshole, or are you going to step up to the big leagues?”

#

Dom had figured on that week the doctor had told him about, so at first he didn’t get what was going on when the guard banged on the door of his cell half an hour after lights-out. He pushed up, groggy, wiping his face; he’d finally been getting some of the sleep he’d missed the last couple of weeks. “Yeah, what?” he said.

“Get up,” the guard said. There was a second guard waiting outside, and they had him in leg irons before he woke up enough to realize shit, it was happening now.

“Are you kidding me?” Dom said. “I just got here this morning.”

“Yeah, and we’re all desolate to lose the grace of your presence in our fine establishment,” the guard said, shoving him in the middle of the back down the hall.

But thank God, they didn’t frisk him; the cellphone was still tied to his thigh with the piece of sheet he’d ripped off. Letty hadn’t planned on waiting, either. “We’ll leave LA at 3, lose our tails going south and circle around back to Lompoc,” she’d said. They’d be set up at a motel by now.

The guards took him past the gates, his heart revving up on the way through each one. He could feel the open road getting closer. Finally they took him into an admin room with a young guy in a suit waiting, leaning against the wall. He looked like something out of a recruiting pamphlet: tall, blond hair, blue eyes, white shirt and navy tie. Dom raised an eyebrow. “Who the fuck are you?”

One of the guards gave him an elbow hard in the side. “Watch your mouth, punk.”

“Hey,” the kid said sharply. “I’ll handle it from here. Let’s see those keys.”

The guard snorted. “Yeah, sure you will,” he muttered, and tossed him the keys. They went out of the room.

“Dominic Toretto? I’m Agent Brian O’Conner,” the kid said.

“Yeah?” Dom said. “How long you been an agent? A week or two?”

“Longer than you’ve been heisting trucks,” O’Conner shot back. “Let’s go. You’re expected in D.C.”

“D.C., huh?” Dom said. “The big time. Do I get to take a leak or what?”

“Be my guest,” O’Conner said, waving a hand to a side door. Dom went inside. He made a point of clanking the leg irons around against the toilet while he pulled the cellphone out and texted Letty. Transferring NOW. One guy, about 12 years old.

There was barely a wait before she buzzed him back. On the move. You know I love candy from a baby.

He slid the phone back into the strip, tucked along the inner part of his left thigh facing out so he could try to text through his pants leg if he had to. He went out and muttered, “Fucking leg irons. You gonna take these off?”

O’Conner laughed. He even laughed like something out of a commercial, full of pretty white teeth. “Not a chance.” He pulled the door open. “After you.”

The car waiting outside was a ’95 Supra, painted town-car black, could’ve been a decent car with some work by somebody who knew what they were doing. O’Conner opened the passenger door for him and guided his head inside, then buckled him in and cuffed the lead and back chains to the door handle. Dom eyed the back of his head and half thought about going for it then — he could take the kid out right now, leg irons or not, get himself unlocked, get the car keys — but it wasn’t worth trying it with guards around, right by the prison door. He took a couple deep breaths while O’Conner went around to the driver’s side.

O’Conner headed straight for Rt 1: it was going to be Santa Barbara airport after all. Beautiful. Dom figured Letty would wait until they were out past the city, near the farmland. This hour, there wouldn’t even be lights on the road. He shut his eyes.

“So what made you put in for it?” O’Conner said.

“Why don’t you just drive?” Dom said.

“We’ve got a way to go,” O’Conner said. “Might as well talk.”

“Yeah? Why?” Dom said.

O’Conner shrugged. “Suit yourself. I could put on some music instead.”

“Do that,” Dom said.

O’Conner put on some damn classical music radio station playing violin, but at least he kept quiet other than that. He was sticking to the speed limit, the Supra puttering along — nothing but stock probably, a fucking waste — but Lompoc town was still dwindling around them, lights slipping away with no new ones to replace them, road going dark and empty. Dom watched the last ones wink out in the side-view, and then it was just them and the lane markers flying past. Ten minutes of silence went by, and then he heard it coming up from behind, the low throaty roar of Letty’s Nissan. He smiled with the corner of his mouth, head turned towards the window.

“You know,” O’Conner said, “this is feeling a little slow, am I right? Let me find something else.” He rummaged around in the driver’s door pocket and pulled out a CD. The cars were pulling close, growling like lions and headlights shining off the mirrors. “Here we go,” O’Conner said, sliding the disc into the slot, and he cranked the volume all the way as the music came on, bass line blasting out. Dom jerked to stare at O’Conner, who gave him that photoshoot grin, downshifted, and gunned the engine into a roar like a jet engine just as Letty made her move to pass him on the left.

She should’ve gone straight by, come around from the front. Instead the Supra accelerated to pace her, staying right in line. Letty shot a startled look over. Dom met her eyes across O’Conner’s steering wheel. “Old friend?” O’Conner shouted over the engine noise. “Sorry we can’t stop to chat!”

Leon was trying to make his move too, coming up on the right. O’Conner stayed with them both. The road was heading into the hills, and they were taking up the whole road, both lanes coming and going. They hit the first curve, and Leon slowed. O’Conner didn’t let up on the gas for a second, G-force pressing the air out of Dom’s chest, wheels drifting over the road. Letty had her teeth clenched, staying with him, and she looked over as the road straightened out. Dom gave her a sharp nod, and she jerked the wheel sideways —

O’Conner slammed the brakes, and she slid straight across the road in front of them and sailed right off the shoulder into the dirt, clods flying up so thick her headlights disappeared. Dom was thrown forward against the seatbelt, then straight back as O’Conner hit the gas and roared forward again. But Leon had pulled ahead of them, and he was filling up the road, swerving back and forth, keeping the Supra penned in. Jesse’s car was still behind them, and Letty had gotten back on the road and was catching up fast.

O’Conner wasn’t grinning anymore, his mouth tight, eyes on the road, hands steady on the wheel. Dom looked down at his leg irons. He didn’t have enough give to reach the wheel, but if he could even just get one link open —

He clamped his elbows to his sides and strained against the cuffs. “I’ve got a taser on this side, too, Toretto, so if you want to find out what that feels like, keep going,” O’Conner said, never looking away from the road.

“Good luck staying on the road while you try that,” Dom said, through his teeth, not letting up.

“I’m game if you are,” O’Conner said. Letty and Jesse were closing in. Leon was going to brake into the front of the car. Dom saw it, realized that same second that O’Conner saw it too. It was too late for him to try to do anything about it: O’Conner yanked the handbrake and wrenched the wheel over, swung her out sideways in reverse, let Leon go flying by right in front of him — Letty and Jesse braking desperately behind them, skidding off to either side to keep from getting hit — and then O’Conner shoved back into drive and clipped Leon’s rear, spinning him around a couple more times in the middle of the road, blocking them.

O’Conner threw the Supra back onto the road and started accelerating again, blowing through gears one after another. Dom twisted in his seat as much as he could, looking back over his right shoulder. Letty and the guys were regrouping, trying to come after them, but he could already tell there wasn’t a goddamn chance. They were on their way to two hundred miles an hour easy and nothing in the way. He let himself fall back into the seat. “What the hell do you have in this thing?” he shouted over the music.

“3.4 liter 2JZ,” O’Conner shouted back. “And I lifted a Precision GT42 turbo out of a drug dealer’s wreck we confiscated.” He grinned at Dom again. “It’s a crime the Bureau made me paint her black if I wanted to drive her on agency business.”

“Shit,” Dom muttered, shaking his head. It was starting to hit him that he was completely goddamn fucked.

“All the specs are in the glove compartment if you want to read them.”

Dom was still cuffed to the door, so punching O’Conner in the face wasn’t an option. He popped the glove compartment. The manuals were heaped up in there, along with a manila folder; he managed to get hold of it between his cuffed hands and pulled it out. Federal Agent #8917462 O’Conner, Brian. “What is this?”

“My file,” O’Conner said. “You can read that too, if you want to.”

Dom eyed him. “Why would I want to read your file?”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t figured it out yet.” O’Conner didn’t take his eyes off the road.

“You’re the guy,” Dom said slowly.

“I’m the guy,” O’Conner said.

Dom dug through the file. A year in the Bureau, three with the LAPD before that, college degree from night classes. A whole lot of martial arts training, a stint in juvie at 16 and a street racing alias.

Dom closed it up as they started slowing down: the traffic had picked up as they got close to Santa Barbara. The airport exits were coming up, and Dom watched them coming on grimly, wondering how the hell he was going to get out of this now. He’d quit thinking about what he was signing on for the minute he’d seen a sliver of daylight up ahead, but now it was staring him hard in the face. Forced bonding, the rest of his life like a battery pack in somebody else’s engine.

“So why did you put in for it?” he said tightly. “Figured you’d get yourself jacked up, turn into James Bond?”

“Trust me, this was not my idea,” O’Conner said.

He wasn’t changing lanes. The airport exits blew past — one, two three. Dom turned his head watching the last one disappear in the side view. “We’re going to LAX?”

“I thought you liked cars, Toretto,” O’Conner said.

“You’re planning to drive to D.C.?” Dom said.

“Fifty bucks says we make it in three days.”

“Yeah, I’m not taking that bet, not now I’ve seen how you drive when you’re not pretending to be a fucking pussy,” Dom said, weight lifting right off his chest again. He took a deep breath, blew it out. “Tell me something, why didn’t you just go two hundred right out of the gate at Lompoc? They couldn’t have caught you.”

“I was expecting a fourth car to be waiting to box me in further down the road.” O’Conner glanced over. “Why wasn’t there?”

“My sister’s not in this,” Dom said sharply. “She’s got no part of it.”

“Fair enough,” O’Conner said. “Anyway, you’ve got to admit, this was more fun.”

“ ‘More fun,’ ” Dom said. “So they’re sticking me with a lunatic, is what you’re saying.”

“Aw, you’re hurting my feelings, man.”

Dom huffed a laugh. All right, he was still fucked six ways over right now, but he wasn’t in Lompoc anymore, there was a 2JZ rumbling under the hood, and there were three days of open road ahead of them. O’Conner was going to have to sleep sometime.

#

The sun came up in Arizona, and O’Conner went through a McDonald’s drive-thru and loaded them up with egg sandwiches and hash browns and coffee, better food than anything Dom had eaten in the last four months. He felt pretty mellow after he got through with three of the sandwiches. “So how does a kid like you get a job with the FBI?” he said, watching the desert scrolling past the windows.

“My obvious intelligence and skills?” O’Conner said.

“Try again,” Dom said.

“Ouch,” O’Conner said. He didn’t answer for a while. “My dad was an agent,” he said finally. “Killed in the line of duty when I was fourteen. His boss tracked me down after I landed in juvie and told me if I stayed straight after I got out, there’d be a job waiting for me the day I got my three years and my degree.” He glanced over. “What about you? How’d you get into heisting trucks? Doesn’t seem like a great career choice.”

Dom looked out the window. “My dad died on the track. Another driver sent him into the wall.”

“The guy you assaulted,” O’Conner said.

“Yeah.” Dom shrugged. “I got banned from the track. I didn’t have a whole lot of other options open.”

They didn’t talk for a while after that. It was a weird silence, though, too easy: the kind that settled in on a long road trip with a good friend. Dom broke it after another half hour just because it was too goddamn strange. “I always wanted to do Route 66. Never seemed to find the time.”

“Yeah,” O’Conner said. After a moment he added, flatly, “I figured there might not be a lot of chances, after.” After they were bonded.

Dom couldn’t figure him out. He knew why he’d signed up for bonding: twenty-five years in Lompoc. O’Conner going for it didn’t make any fucking sense. Yeah, maybe he’d get a turbo boost, but he couldn’t be stupid enough to think Dom was going to be a pushover, sit nice and quiet in his backseat the rest of their lives. O’Conner didn’t even seem like the kind of asshole who’d want that. Besides, he had to be as young as FBI agents came, a hot shot with a shiny career ahead of him, no bonding required. He didn’t need to put a leash around his own neck for the rest of his life and hand the other end to a stranger doing hard time in federal prison.

“Do you know how they do it?” Dom said.

“Induce the bond?” O’Conner said. “They give you the drugs, they lock you in a room together, that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t take more. A guy on my team went for it a few months back.” He snorted. “Nobody would’ve bonded him without drugs involved.”

“Yeah? And he sold you on the idea?”

“He got assigned a state prisoner who’d volunteered,” O’Conner said. “I met her, nice woman. She was in for twenty years on a bunch of small-time bullshit because of three-strikes. She took bonding because she was desperate to get out to her kids. Hell, I felt sorry for her getting saddled with Stasiak. But she went through with it, and afterwards, he stopped being a dick. Complete personality transplant. It was fucking creepy, man.”

“So why are you going for it?” Dom said.

“I figured you couldn’t be that nice,” O’Conner said.

#

O’Conner went another eight hours on the road, keeping at a nice round hundred and twenty whenever the road was clear. They blew through Arizona and New Mexico, red rock mountains striped gold rising up around the road, big sky as blue as crayola. He stopped a half dozen times for gas and drive-through food and scenic rest areas with bathrooms, so Dom got a few texts off to Letty, let her know they were on the road and where they were. She wasn’t going to catch up anytime soon with O’Conner flying the whole way; she didn’t have an FBI badge to get the cops off her back if she got pulled over.

He did end up talking to O’Conner every once in a while, because what else could you do for fourteen hours. O’Conner didn’t seem to have any kind of family: his mom had taken off on him and his dad when he was four, and after his dad had bit it, he’d ended up in foster homes and juvie. Not a whole lot of friends, either, far as Dom could tell. That didn’t seem like much of a surprise. O’Conner radiated energy, too much of it with nowhere to go, even at two hundred miles an hour. Dom didn’t mind it anymore than he minded nine hundred horses under the hood, but he was pretty sure most people couldn’t handle it.

“All right, so tell me this, why did your bosses pick you?” Dom said.

“I guess they needed somebody who could outdrive you in case you ran for it,” O’Conner said.

“Yeah, that could happen once in a while in your dreams,” Dom said. He jerked his chin at the dash. “You ever race her?”

“I take her down to San Diego on the weekends,” O’Conner said. “You know that scene?”

“Around by the North County, yeah,” Dom said. “I don’t usually go that far south.”

“I wanted a little distance from my day job,” O’Conner said. “It’s not exactly the image the FBI likes its agents to project.”

“You know Eleazar Mardona down there?”

“Yeah, sure,” O’Conner said. “I used his shop when I did my fuel pumps. Friend of yours?”

“I know him,” Dom said. “Good guy.”

Turned out they had about fourteen people in common — mechanics, other racers. They talked gear and traded racing stories. It kept on being a weirdly nice drive. Dom hated being driven even when he wasn’t in leg irons on top of it, but O’Conner was a good driver. Little bit of a heavy foot but steady on the gas, and his nerve was unreal. Outside Albuquerque they hit a string of five cars dammed up behind a dump truck going forty in a one-lane patch, a steady flow of traffic running the other way, and O’Conner barely slowed down. He swung out into the other lane to pass and dipped back into their side — once, twice, skimmed past a compact coming the other way on the far shoulder, and they were clear, the truck in the rear-view and the road empty out ahead, honking horns already fading.

“Jesus, O’Conner,” Dom said grudgingly. O’Conner grinned at him, eyes bright and breathing only a little hard.

They crossed over into Texas late that afternoon, empty scrub fields and exits twenty miles apart. O’Conner got off the road at a motel and parked and leaned his head back and put his hands over his face and rubbed it, yawning noisily. “Okay,” he said, popping Dom’s seatbelt. “Time to crash.”

The clerk had wide eyes for Dom’s prison orange and leg irons, but O’Conner’s badge got them a corner room at half-price. “Should’ve gotten a bigger discount,” Dom said, surveying the room: two saggy double beds, peeling paint, and a TV from 1978.

“We’re not staying long,” O’Conner said. “You want a shower?”

Dom held up his cuffed wrists. “You offering to wash my back?”

“Go stand by the bathroom door,” O’Conner said. He put the armchair in the far corner, sat down and tossed Dom the keys. “Leave the door open. You’ve got fifteen minutes, then I come in and give you the full sensory experience,” he said, waggling the taser back and forth. “I’m pretty sure it sucks worse if you’re wet.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Dom said dryly, but it felt good to get the leg irons off anyway. He went inside, gave Letty a fast text, and made sure to tuck the cellphone behind the toilet before he got in the shower, in case O’Conner got any bright ideas. The shower was fantastic, and when he was done, O’Conner had even left him a pack of Hanes briefs and undershirts, so he didn’t have to put the prison underwear back on.

He came back out. O’Conner was slouched in the chair, a little heavy-eyed. He’d taken off his jacket and his tie and his shoes, unbuttoned a couple buttons, but the taser stayed steady until Dom had put himself back in the leg irons. “All right,” O’Conner said. “Sorry, man, but I’m going to chain you to the bed, too.” He had a couple of extra chains, wrapped in canvas, and padlocks.

“Just tell me this isn’t a turn-on for you,” Dom said, lying on his back, keeping an eye on where the chains were going.

“Nah, I like long walks on the beach, holding hands,” O’Conner said. “Move a little to this side. That okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Dom said.

O’Conner tossed his shirt and pants over the back of the chair, stripped down. He looked more dangerous out of the suit: there was a lot of lean muscle packed away under there. He took the taser, the gun, and all the keys into the bathroom with him and locked the door.

The second Dom heard the shower going he was squirming, shoving the mattress off the bed out from under him with his feet an inch at a time until it was off on the floor. He wasn’t breaking the chains anytime soon, but the bedframe, that was another story. He twisted himself around sideways, got his shoulders on one end of the bed and his feet on the other and pushed. The frame whined and groaned and finally snapped, springs dangling. He looped the chains off over the broken ends and was loose.

He hesitated outside the bathroom door. He couldn’t help knowing the smart move was kicking it in and going for it. The second O’Conner came out of the shower, every police officer in the state would be looking for him. Martial arts or not, he had a good fifty pounds on the guy, and the chains would help him as much as they’d get in the way. But what the fuck was he gonna do, beat the guy’s face in for doing his job? Or what if it turned into a scramble for the gun, what then — shoot him? He’d never killed anybody, now he was going to start with O’Conner? Never mind how fucked he’d be if he killed a fed.

He took the head start instead. The leg irons and the chains were still dangling off him, but there wasn’t anybody outside in the parking lot to notice. There also weren’t a lot of choices in the parking lot, since he didn’t have the time to find the tracker that was definitely somewhere in O’Conner’s car, but there was a silver-grey ’98 Honda Civic hatchback that was at least anonymous and had a three-quarter-full tank of gas. The ignition rolled over for him first try.

He got her on the road, heading south-east and taking random turns, and called Letty for the best back-road route to Mexico. They set up a meeting two hundred miles away at an abandoned truck stop the internet gave her, sitting on a side road in nowhere country. He had enough gas to get there, and she had bolt cutters in her trunk. “It’ll take me maybe six hours to reach you,” Letty said. “We’ll still have to get across the border after that.”

“I’ll handle it from there,” he said. “You go back to LA. I’m not taking you down with me if I go, Letty.”

“Shut up, Toretto,” she said. “You’re not going to find a decent car to boost anywhere in the back ass of Texas, we’re sticking together. See ya.”

She hung up on him before he could argue. “Fuck,” Dom muttered, but there wasn’t anything else he could do about it for now.

It was getting dark outside. He opened the windows and put on the radio, kept to the speed limit. He’d ripped the jumpsuit sleeves open and shoved it down to his waist, so he was just wearing the white undershirt far as anyone taking a quick glance would see, and he kept his hands at the bottom of the steering wheel. He was on county roads, full of stop signs and traffic lights, but he resisted the highways. O’Conner would have that APB out on him by now.

He passed an exit from route 60 and pulled up to a traffic light. Headlights came on behind him suddenly, and Dom recognized the throaty rumble of the engine even before the Supra pulled up next to him. “How the fuck,” Dom said.

O’Conner rolled down the passenger window and leaned over. “I’ve been waiting for you for half an hour,” he called. “The kindergarten teacher wants her car back, by the way.”

Dom gave him the finger without even turning his head. The road on the other side of the red light was wide open, nice and smooth as you could ask for, and the pedestrian signal the other way was flashing, getting ready to change. O’Conner gunned his engine a couple of times, that beautiful ferocious roar. Dom looked down at the dash of his car. He experimentally revved the engine. It made a shrill whining grumble like a dying animal. Dom winced and couldn’t help looking over at O’Conner, who had a pained eyebrow raised.

“Too fucking pitiful,” Dom muttered, and killed the engine. He got out and climbed into the Supra. “Don’t even say a word,” he said flatly, reaching over with both hands to pull the door shut.

“Words seem pretty unnecessary,” O’Conner said cheerfully, and did a tight U-turn back towards the highway.

#

Dom woke up, groggy, when O’Conner unlocked one of his wrists — chains wrapped around the solid oak posts of the new bed this time — and dropped the keys to the other one on his chest. It was still dark outside, three am on the clock, so they’d only gotten five hours’ sleep. Letty and Leon wouldn’t have caught up, not yet. Tonight would be the last chance. Dom got himself upright and unlocked the other wrist.

He let himself sleep in the car. Better to get the rest now, let O’Conner wear himself out. He woke up to egg and bacon muffins and hash browns landing in his lap, and the sun shining, three hours later. “Where are we?” he asked, squinting at the signs.

“An hour past Oklahoma City,” O’Conner said, so he was making great time. Shit.

Dom got lucky, though, for some values of luck: there was roadwork the whole way from Memphis to Nashville, traffic crawling half of every hour they were on the road. He knew it was good news for him, but he still sighed right along with O’Conner as they hit the fifth slow patch. “All right,” O’Conner said. “First kiss, go.”

Dom laughed out loud. “Sixteen years old, with Carmelina,” he said, smiling to himself. “In a little corner under the stands, at the track. Her dad was another racer. Nearly beat the crap out of me the next weekend when he caught us heading for second base. What about you?”

“Fifteen,” O’Conner said. “Sister Evangeline, after school.”

“Bullshit,” Dom said.

O’Conner laughed. “I swear I’m not kidding. She was twenty-three, she’d just joined the convent. Every guy in school was hot for her.”

“You’re a goddamn liar,” Dom said. “You did not make it with a nun.”

“I was an orphan, all alone in the world,” O’Conner said, giving him a soulful big-eyed look that probably had worked on a poor innocent nun. “I needed a lot of private tutoring.”

“Yeah, you and your blue eyes,” Dom said, shaking his head.

“Aw, you noticed,” O’Conner said.

They crawled along another quarter of a mile.

“So it doesn’t make a difference,” Dom said.

“What?” O’Conner said.

“All the ones I ever heard of that are two guys, they’re, you know. Together.”

O’Conner looked over at him. “They’re supposed to give you full disclosure when you signed up, man. Did you even read the forms, or were you that sure you were going to bust out?”

“I was that sure I wasn’t staying in Lompoc,” Dom said.

“Yeah, all right,” O’Conner said. “Look, it doesn’t matter what you want beforehand. You bond, that trumps all the rest of it. You still want what you want, you can still go for it on the side, but—” He shrugged.

Dom eyed him. “O’Conner, you think you’re putting your dick in me, I’m going to have news for you.”

O’Conner snorted a laugh. “Yeah, well, you don’t need to worry about that part, Toretto. Forced bonding, we don’t get to decide how it goes. You’re the one they give the drugs. I’m the one that gets to take it.”

What the fuck. “That something you’re into?” Dom said. O’Conner rolled his eyes and flipped him off. “Goddammit, O’Conner, what the hell are you even doing this for?”

O’Conner didn’t answer right away. Finally he reached an arm into the back, rummaged around in his bag and brought out another manila folder and dumped it in Dom’s lap. “I’m doing it for that,” he said shortly.

Dom knew cold and clear that he didn’t want to open the folder, he didn’t want to see one goddamn page of whatever was in there. O’Conner wasn’t any kind of a saint, and he wasn’t some play-by-the-rules asshole who’d nod his head and do what he was told, not even to make good. No way had any boss in an office signed off on him driving Dom cross-country solo; you’d only do something that stupid if you were up against a cold hard wall and wanted to buy yourself some time. Get to know the person you were about to chain yourself up to for the rest of your life, even though it was the last thing you wanted.

Dom opened the cover. The file was a mess, pages shuffled around, like O’Conner had gone through it a whole bunch of times trying to find a way out. A lump of photographs sat on the bottom of the file, buried under everything else. Dom pulled them out and his jaw locked tight just from the first one: a girl in braces maybe ten years old, carrying a three year old kid, and their dad with a baby behind her, his hand tight on the girl’s shoulder. His face was blank, a familiar kind of blank. Dom had seen it in the mirror the day he’d buried his dad. The way you looked when the worst thing in the world had happened and you couldn’t understand why the world hadn’t noticed, why everything just kept going on around you.

There were a lot of photos. “They’ve got twenty-eight prisoners,” O’Conner said. He was staring straight ahead, even though the license plate in front of them hadn’t moved more than ten inches at a time for the last half-hour. “Four days from now, they’re going to burn them all alive.”

The rest of the file was a game plan so stupid it belonged in an action movie. When they’d first started, Leon and Vince had thought he was out of his mind to try and heist a truck on the road. This operation made that look like a Sunday drive along the coast with the top down. The biggest opening on the road between anti-aircraft outposts was ten minutes. Starting from the minute the convoy entered that ground, you’d have to airdrop the assault vehicles behind them, take out the whole convoy, commandeer the truck loaded with armed soldiers, and get the prisoners to the airlift, all before that ten-minute slot ran out.

“They think this is going to work?” Dom said.

“Not unless the odds are rigged like hell,” O’Conner said, and yeah there was the wall, right at his back.

Dom did know one bonded pair on the circuit, a couple of girls. Nobody raced them if they knew better; mostly they got paid by promoters to show up and show off, or open up street room for other racers. Lights switched for them, holes opened up in traffic, they got a little extra juice from their engines right when they needed it. Letty’d told him she’d seen one of them flip her car once, a whole three hundred sixty in the air, and it’d come down on all four wheels without losing so much as a tire rim. That was what this mission needed: two drivers with the whole goddamn universe on their side.

Dom shut the folder and shoved it into the glove compartment. O’Conner had found an opening in the traffic and there was a shoulder on the other side of the roadwork; he gunned the Supra for it and they were moving again. They didn’t talk.

#

It would’ve been so much easier if Toretto had been an asshole. Brian had planned on it. Three solid days in a car with a guy, you were practically guaranteed to get out ready to kill either him or yourself. It was the closest thing to bonding he’d been able to think of. He’d promised Hobbs three days and a delivery, nothing more: he’d figured on driving into DC, handing Toretto off to the DSS, and telling Hobbs he couldn’t do it. He’d planned on that being the truth, that he’d put a bullet in his own head before he’d walk into a room with the guy and never come out alone again.

Instead Brian had to admit it — he liked the guy. Last night at that motel, he’d come out of the bathroom ready to fall over and sleep for a week, so tired his eyes were closing under the spray, and when he’d seen the wrecked bed and Toretto gone, he hadn’t even been pissed off, he’d just laughed out loud, because of course Toretto hadn’t let something like a couple titanium-reinforced chains stop him. He’d called Hobbs’ people to get satellite tracking on the Honda missing from the parking lot and went to pick him up, still grinning, and he hadn’t even stopped to think until after Toretto was back in his car that if he’d just let him get a little further away, he might’ve made it across the border and solved Brian’s problem for him.

And Toretto didn’t seem to even get the really fucked-up part. Brian didn’t love the idea of getting fucked, but guys did it for fun, so how bad could it be? That was the least of it next to having someone under your skin, part of you, the whole rest of your life. People talked a good game about forever. Nobody really meant it. Forever only lasted as long as either one of you wanted it to, that was just reality. People weren't built for permanent. Except if you poured a foot of concrete around your ankles to keep you from going anywhere, even after you wanted to, just so you could drive yourself out of your fucking mind.

Saying no should've been easy. Hobbs had four other guys to go to, and by now he had all of them waiting in D.C.. At least one of them was going to be a guy like Stasiak, who would've eaten his own liver just to make director. Brian had been telling himself that the whole way to Lompoc, as a comfort, and now thinking about it pissed him off: fuck the idea of handing Toretto to an asshole like that. Brian ran a hand over his face. Shit, he was just tired or something. Toretto was a Grade-A felon. He'd earned every minute of his twenty-five years with his crazy-ass crime spree.

Yeah, fuck, his brain wasn't swallowing that either. In Toretto's shoes, nothing but a dead-end life ahead of him, Brian knew he'd've done something at least twice as stupid. Hell, he was doing something twice as stupid right now.

The circles inside his head and the stop-and-go traffic outside left him with gritty eyes and a headache. He pulled off for coffee outside Nashville around five and said, “Fuck it,” and pulled into the lot of the Holiday Inn next to the truck stop instead. Not more than seven hundred miles left; they’d make it tomorrow. Toretto didn’t say anything, just got out of the car silently when Brian opened the door, followed him into the room. Brian let him out of the leg irons again, and after Toretto disappeared into the bathroom and the shower started running, Brian covered his face with his hands and leaned back against the wall, trying not to think. That worked great. He stripped and started trading off sets of pushups and crunches, as fast as he could manage them, and he was out of breath and sweating and mindless by the time Toretto got back out.

But the shower washed off the sweat and cleared his head, and Brian shut his eyes and leaned his head against the tile wall. One more day. One more day, and Hobbs would look him in the eye and ask him if he could do it. And he had a bad fucking feeling he was going to have to say yes.

He half wanted Toretto to be gone again when he came back out, a second chance to let him run, like poking at a wobbly tooth. But Toretto was still there — already asleep, not even a sign he’d tried to get loose. Brian went out of the room and paced the hallway outside barefoot, hands laced behind his neck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He turned and punched the wall, hard enough to make his hand blaze with pain, and then he went back inside and shut off the last light and threw himself into bed.

He woke up too slow and started sitting up, only to feel the cold metal double-barrel of a shotgun against his forehead. “Move and I’ll blow your fucking head off,” a woman said, anonymous in the pitch dark, only a single thin line of light from under the door. “Where are the keys?”

“Letty,” Toretto said.

“I got ’em,” another guy said out of the dark, jingling, and Brian held still, hearing the chains come loose, the leg irons after them. His heart was pounding. There were three of them. He didn’t have to do anything; he couldn’t do anything. In five minutes, Toretto would be on the road, disappearing. In five days, everyone in the folder would be dead.

Fuck,” Brian said under his breath, and moved. He had the pillowcase gripped in his hand, and he twisted in and away from the gun, swinging it out at the same time. It hit her in the face. He let go of the pillow as she automatically reached to push it away, and he got the barrel of the shotgun in his hand and used his momentum to yank her forward right along with it, into his shoulder.

He wrenched the gun away and clocked her solidly in the gut with his elbow. She gave a choked gasp, breath knocking out of her. “Letty!” Toretto yelled, and he came over the bed, sheer solid mass of him like getting hit by a truck. Brian didn’t try to hang onto the shotgun; he let it drop and kicked it hard, hoping it wound up somewhere under the bed. Toretto slugged him, but Brian managed to fade with it and came back to take a fast jab at Toretto’s throat. Toretto jerked away just in time, but he opened up enough room that Brian managed to roll them over, and then he kept rolling and up to his knees by the armchair, reaching for —

The lights came on, making him wince, and the other guy — Leon, one of the other suspects out of Toretto’s file — was standing by the light switch with Brian’s taser in his hand. Brian had one second to think oh shit before the charge hit and dropped him like an anvil going three stories straight down. He couldn’t talk, couldn’t move. The shock of it kept going and going, until it stopped abruptly and Brian clenched his teeth around the noises that wanted to come out of him. Toretto was standing by Leon, he’d yanked the taser out of his hand. Brian couldn’t get up. His whole body still felt heavy as lead. There were hands working on his wrists. Letty. She was — she was putting the leg irons on him. Brian tried to get his arms working.

“Letty,” Toretto said.

“I’ll gag him, we’ll be across the border before anyone finds him,” she said.

Letty,” Toretto said, and she stopped. “You need to get out of here.”

“What?” She stood up. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means I can’t go,” he said.

“Are you kidding me?” she said. “Dom, you don’t get out of here now, that’s it. Tomorrow they are going to bond you to this cop, and that’s it for the rest of your goddamn life.”

He didn’t say anything. “Yeah,” he said, low, softly.

She was staring at him like he’d grown a second head. “What the fuck did he do to you?”

“Nothing he’s not doing to himself,” Toretto said. “Letty, cara—”

“No! Shut the fuck up!” she said. She was breathing hard. “Fuck you, Toretto. You’re going to walk away from us, from your family, to ride along with this asshole?” There was a jingle, a thud: she’d thrown the keys at his chest. “Come or stay, do whatever the fuck you want.”

The door opened and shut behind them. Brian shut his eyes and concentrated on breathing. After a moment, Toretto’s hands were on him, getting the cuffs open and levering him up. Brian hung onto his shoulder, his legs wobbly as milk, and fell back on the bed gasping when Toretto let him down.

Toretto sat heavily on the bed, next to his legs. Brian let his hands down from pressing against his eyelids. Toretto was staring at the closed door. Brian stared at the ceiling. “Well, we’re fucked,” he said.

“Looks like it,” Toretto said.

After a minute, he got up and locked the door and turned the lights back out. Brian heard him get back into bed in the dark. The worst of the pain was fading. He rolled onto his side and shut his eyes and went back to sleep.

#

Brian went out the next morning and got Toretto some clothes from the Wal-Mart down the road. They put the leg-irons in the trunk and Brian tossed him the keys and got in the passenger seat. “Take I-40 to I-81,” he said, and reclined the seat back and shut his eyes.

He slept until Toretto pulled over at a Cracker Barrel in Virginia. The worst of the headache and the soreness was gone. Brian levered himself out of the car and walked a few circles around to loosen up his legs. They got a table and ate together, talking about easy things: the cars in the parking lot, the mods you’d need to drift in the Supra, the new tires Brian had been thinking about. The food and coffee helped, and Brian felt like he was back in his own head by the end, but that was a hell of a place to be.

“It’s another three hours to Arlington,” he said abruptly, after he’d scrawled his name over the check.

“Yeah,” Toretto said. He folded his hands on the table, stared down at them. “I can’t walk away from my family,” he said softly. “But I can’t walk away from this, either.” He was silent. “I need you to promise me something, O’Conner. If we don’t make it back, I need my family to be okay. I need them to let Vince off the hook, get off Letty and Leon’s tail, all of that.”

“I’ll talk to Hobbs,” Brian said. “He’s the guy running the show. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.” He paused. “Your sister’s name is Mia?”

“Yeah,” Toretto said warily.

Brian pulled out his phone and dug up the number for the HR department out of his email. “Hey, Andrea,” he said. “What do I do if I want to change the beneficiary on my life insurance?” He gave her the name and address, Toretto’s eyes on him, and hung up.

“You didn’t need to do that,” Toretto said, low.

Brian shrugged. “Might as well go to someone.”

He took the wheel again for the last stretch. They didn’t talk much on the road, but the miles slid by anyway, running fast. It barely felt like any time had gone by before he was pulling up to the DSS headquarters, cold steel and glass. There was a running tide of office workers headed home coming out the doors, splitting in two streams to go wide around the rock that was Hobbs, who was waiting for them right outside the front door.

“About damn time,” he said as soon as they climbed out. He looked Toretto up and down. “You want to tell me what happened to the prisoner’s restraints, O’Conner?”

“The prisoner got tired of wearing them,” Toretto said. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

Hobbs’ eyes narrowed, but he didn’t push it. “All right. We’ve got four days left to prep this mission. Let’s get this bonding done.” He turned to march them inside.

Toretto said, “What if we don’t.”

Hobbs paused and turned back around. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” Toretto said. He jerked a thumb at Brian. “Your agent doesn’t want the bonding. This is a hell of a thing to shove down a guy’s throat. You really feel good about doing that to one of your own?”

Hobbs stalked right up to Toretto and loomed over him. “What I’m going to feel good about,” he said, menacing, “is rescuing twenty-eight hostages before they get fried extra-crispy.”

Toretto didn’t so much as bat an eye. “So let’s do that. Without the bonding.”

Brian stared at him, wondering what the hell Toretto was talking about. Hobbs paused, too, drawing back a little. “You need two drivers who are good, smart, and lucky as hell,” Toretto said. “You’ve got them. You need two drivers willing to risk everything to get those people out of there. You’ve got that, too. So put us in there and let us do the job.”

“If I wanted to run a suicide mission, I could’ve done it without either of you, Toretto,” Hobbs said.

“This ain’t a suicide mission,” Toretto said. “I’ve seen how O’Conner drives, and I know what I can do. We’ve got a real chance to get this done. I’m not saying it’s a guarantee, but it’s not a guarantee even if we are bonded. Hell, after a bonding you’re supposed to sit around for a month getting used to each other before you even try to do anything, from what I’ve heard.” Hobbs’ eyes narrowed, but he didn’t say anything. “But that’s not the point. You’ve got a right to ask a man to put his life on the line for this. To go out there and do his best to get those people out, live or die, take his chances. But that’s not what you’re doing. You’re asking us to give up all our chances, either way, just to get you odds you like better. It’s not right. Nobody deserves to be forced into this, not if they don’t want to.”

“You signed papers agreeing otherwise, Toretto,” Hobbs said.

“Yeah,” Toretto said. “I was staring twenty-five years of prison in the face. But as of four o’clock this morning I was a free man, and I’m still here instead of halfway to Mexico. Now, you can get a few guys to hold me down and put pills down my throat and make me do something I don’t want, to a guy who doesn’t want it either, and then expect us to follow your orders after. Or you can let us do our best.”

Hobbs looked hard at Brian, but Brian didn’t have shit for him. He was still staring at Toretto, who’d turned to face him. “Well, O’Conner?” Dom said. “Are you in for this? No bonding, no special edge. Just the two of us and the road.”

It was like firing off a pair of nitrous thrusters in the last three seconds of a race. “Yeah,” Brian said, a knot in his belly untying. “Hell, yeah.” He looked at Hobbs. “Hobbs, we’ll get it done.”

Hobbs folded his massive arms across his chest and scowled at them both. “The last thing I need on this mission is a pair of loose cannons flying around.”

“Yeah, well, you picked us both out,” Brian shot back. “What if that gets a boost from a bonding, too?”

“God help us all,” Hobbs said. He heaved a breath. “I hope like hell I’m not going to regret this.” He looked at them both hard. “Don’t make me regret this.”

“You won’t,” Toretto said.

Hobbs shook his head. “All right. Let’s get going.”

“Wait,” Brian said.

“My patience is running very thin, O’Conner,” Hobbs said.

“One more thing,” Brian said. “We do make it back from this, Toretto’s in the clear. Full pardon.”

Hobbs raised an eyebrow. “You think one mission wipes out twenty-five years’ jail time?”

“This one? Yeah,” Brian said. “I think this clears it to spare. Twenty-eight hostages, more than a life a year. Sounds fair to me.”

“And you’re just chock-full of good judgement,” Hobbs said. He eyed Toretto again and sighed. “Fine. Hell, I’d just as soon you have more of an incentive to get back. With those hostages. And now, we’re done. Get your asses in here and get to work.”

He stalked back inside the building. Brian fell in line with Dom as they followed Hobbs in. “I can’t believe you just busted out with that, man,” he said.

Dom shrugged a little. “Seemed right to me.”

“You know this is a really stupid idea,” Brian said. “We’re probably going to get pancaked right out of the plane.”

“Nah,” Dom said, smiling a little. “It’s going to work out fine.” He looked at Brian. “Thanks for talking him into the pardon.”

“Seemed right to me,” Brian tossed back, grinning helplessly. Hobbs was pushing open a pair of big double doors into a cavernous hangar room, a pair of cars being swarmed by mechanics, and they followed him inside, together.

Hobbs led them up to the cars. “You’ve got two days to figure out how to get these vehicles where they need to be and keep them on the road until they get there. Get to work.”

“All right,” Dom said. “You got any Corona around here?”

#

“Dom, what is going on,” Mia said, worry in her voice sharp and clear, even from across the country. “Letty said you wouldn’t leave with her, now you’re telling me not to worry if I don’t hear from you for three days — what about four days, do I get to worry then?”

“Mia, honey,” Dom said.

“Don’t even start that! Look, tell me, are you bonded or not?”

“I’m not,” he said. “Not going to be, either. There’s just this one thing I have to do for these guys, and then I get to come home, all right? I get to come home.”

“What the hell are you doing for them that’s worth a full pardon?”

“I can’t tell you about it,” he said. She huffed out a scornful noise. “I’m serious, all right? But it’s not bullshit.”

“And you actually trust them to follow through?” she said.

Dom watched Brian, changing on the other side of the room, his back turned to give Dom something like privacy. “Yeah,” he said. “After this, I’m done. We’re all done — we’re clear.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Until the next thing.”

She hung up about as happy as she’d been any other time the last couple of years, listening to him promise the jobs were going to work out, listening to him swear he was almost done, listening to him get sent down to Lompoc for the rest of his life. Dom blew out a breath and tossed the phone onto his cot. It wasn’t worth trying Letty one last time. She hadn’t picked up the last five tries, even after he’d left the voicemail telling her it might be the last chance.

“You okay?” Brian said, glancing back. He hadn’t made any phone calls himself.

“I’ll be okay when I’m back in LA,” Dom said. They went out together. The DSS had bunked them right off the workshop, in a room a step up from a closet, but it had suited Dom fine. They’d pretty much lived in the cars the last forty-eight hours anyway. He would’ve taken two weeks of practice on the damn things, not two days: big as SUVs, with so much reinforcement on the chassis they handled like tanks.

It was a little surreal to take them to the airport, everyday traffic crammed up on the right and six guys silent in the back, packed together like sardines in all their gear. Hobbs was sitting up front next to him, in case maybe Dom was going to take off for the hills or something. Brian in the car up ahead pointed a hand out his window west, over the concrete barriers and across seven lanes of traffic, like a message: hell, the cars could do it. Dom grinned.

The plane was noisy as fuck, stripped down to not a lot more than bare metal skin. It didn’t keep them from catching up on the sleep they’d skipped the last two days; they only woke long enough to eat, stretch a little, crash again. Fourteen hours later they were at a military airport somewhere in the middle of a desert, driving the cars into the bomber and heading right back into the air, running so low to the ground Dom could see mountains outlined against the stars on their level. Brian was looking out the window with him, and Hobbs came up behind them. “Last chance,” he said.

Dom turned. “To back out? Now?”

“Hell, no,” Hobbs said. “At this point, I’d throw you out of the plane if I had to.” He held up a pill bottle, a little one, two horse-size pills inside the orange plastic. “This is the good stuff. Only takes five minutes for these to kick in. You sure you don’t want that edge?”

Dom looked at Brian. Maybe the picture looked different to him now, about to get dropped into the craziest mission of his life. Brian didn’t have twenty-five years of freedom to earn back, being here. Hell, he could’ve handed the whole mess off to another guy.

Brian looked him straight on. “No,” he said. “We’re good.”

“Yeah,” Dom said.

Hobbs nodded and pocketed the pill bottle. “Then go suit up.”

Brian went through a warmup routine that looked pretty fucking impressive and topped it off with three different guns and two knives shoved into holsters and pockets all over. “You sure you don’t want to squeeze in a couple more of those? I think you missed a spot,” Dom said.

“No such thing as too much firepower or horsepower,” Brian shot back.

They’d picked up a lieutenant named Rourke at the airfield, a guy with a clipboard and an anxious expression, and he was yelling at them over the noise of the engines as they headed to the back of the plane. “Remember we have to stay in a three-mile radius from the drop point, and we can only give you half an hour after we drop you. There’s a guy with a rocket launcher behind every other hill out here. One shot is all it takes to bring us down — ”

Dom snorted as he climbed into the car and yanked the harness on. “Just listen to yourself.” Rourke stopped, open-mouthed. “We have what, a couple billion dollars of military equipment up here, and you’re talking like you’re outnumbered.” Brian was smirking in the other car as he strapped himself in; yeah, he got it. “Just save it. Nobody who got on the track worrying about whether he was going to die ever won a race.”

It shut Rourke up at least. Hobbs and his men were in the cars, all of them strapped into harness. The bay door was opening up in the rear view mirror, nothing but pitch black straight down. Dom looked over at Brian, who grinned at him. “Last one to the ground buys the beer!” he yelled, and Dom snorted and shoved into reverse.

They went out the hatch backwards and were flying, holy fucking shit. The whole car was shaking around him, rattling, looking for road and not finding it anywhere. He took his hand off the wheel for half a second to yank the harness just that little bit tighter. He practically heard Brian making some bullshit comment at him — that lunatic was probably having the fucking time of his life, free-falling in a goddamn tank.

The chute fired automatically with a jerk, the front wheels swinging up in a sharp arc as the car leveled out. “Shit,” one of the guys in the back hissed, just loud enough to hear. Still no lights, no idea how fast the ground was coming underneath him; time didn’t seem to be running on its regular schedule. But he could see a few pinpricks of light not too far off in the distance, red taillights, moving fast. “You see ’em?” Brian’s voice crackled in over the headset.

“Yeah, I see them,” Dom said, and his underlighting came on, five hundred feet off the ground. He punched the release for the chute and revved the engine at the same time, braced hard — impact, hard enough to knock all his teeth together like a full table shooting craps, and the wheels were skidding over dirt and rock and scrub, all the steering trying to go out from under him in every direction. “Fucking bronco,” he muttered under his breath, wrestling the car back under control.

“Aww, she being mean to you, Toretto?” Brian said, sounding gleeful as he cut ahead and shot after the taillights — yeah, he was having a great time, the little bastard. Dom got the car back in line and gunned after him.

They killed their own lights and stayed off the road, pulling up parallel to the convoy. Dom took a few quick looks, made out five cars in the line by their headlights — some kind of big and bulky vehicle out front of the truck, nothing he recognized, probably an armored car. A couple of early 2000 Jeep Wranglers with shadows of guys hanging out of them holding machine guns, another couple of mismatched SUVs thrown in at the end, a Tahoe and an Explorer. Nothing with enough power to outrun them. “All right, I’m going for it,” Brian said, and he was angling across the open ground, picking up speed, and then he spun the car a hundred-eighty and slammed rear-first into the front corner of the first Jeep.

The Jeep flipped up, dumping soldiers off on all sides, and Brian was roaring away as the second Jeep right behind crashed into the tumble. The two SUVs swerved around and came after him, just as the rear of Brian’s car opened up and the soldiers inside let loose in their faces. Dom was already accelerating, getting set for his own turn: time to hit the leader. The armored car had slowed down already, noticing the mess in their rear. Dom saw the driver glancing at his rear view, forgetting to look out the side, and he floored the gas and body-checked them hard right in the blind spot. The armored car went skidding off the road in a cloud of dirt, and Dom took its spot on the road and braked hard right up to the truck. “Go!” he shouted.

Hobbs kicked open the rear, and he and his team jumped for the front of the truck. The truck driver was braking hard trying to keep away, but Dom held position, sticking with him. The armored car was heading back for him, but the squad weren’t all out yet. He was counting seconds watching the car coming at his tail, and then the last two guys were out and he just managed to twist the wheel to give the car his rear bumper and accelerate away.

The armored car still gave him a solid jolt that snapped him hard against the harness, but he’d cut the worst of it, and they weren’t coming after him for another. Of course, that was because they were turning to go for the truck instead. Hobbs and his guys had shot the guys in the cab already and had left two men at the wheel, but Hobbs was leading the others along the sides of the truck, heading towards the back, and they were spread out over the trailer like targets in a shooting gallery.

Dom circled around and hit the armored car’s side dead-on just as the guys inside opened fire, rocking both cars on their wheels. Most of the shots went wild, but the guy right behind Hobbs fell off the truck, disappearing beneath the wheels and gone. The clock on Dom’s dashboard was running down, four minutes left, and shit, that was a chaingun right in front of his windshield — Dom punched the harness loose and flattened himself down behind the dash just as the rounds pounded through the window, shattering the bulletproof glass like it was made of plastic.

There was a grenade rolling loose on the floor of the car. He caught it and yanked the pull tab and lobbed it overhand, grabbing the stick in his fist and shifting into reverse and kneeing the gas as soon as he’d let it fly. The explosion still sent flames in over the hood, heat licking at the back of his neck for a moment. But when he risked a glance up over the dash, the armored car was burning like a bonfire, on its side, and the truck was barreling past them both.

Brian was right on its tail. His back door had been ripped off and he was alone in the car: the two SUVs were in the distance, swarming with his squad, but they were way behind. Dom hauled himself back into the driver’s seat and headed after him. Hobbs and his guys were still going hand-over-hand along the sides of the truck. The guys in there had to have heard some of the noise going, even though the drivers hadn’t pulled off the road yet. They could still turn the whole mission sideways if they just shot the prisoners in the truck, and Dom’s stomach sank as the back door of the truck bay jiggled and started to move.

Brian saw it too. He spun his car around and beckoned Dom on, frantically. Dom accelerated up to his front bumper and started pushing. Brian put his car in neutral, threw Dom one last look and left the wheel, diving for the back. The truck bay door was rolling up. Brian started shooting the second he saw their chests, dropping four guys, and then he jumped for the rear just as they all went around a curve and his car slid off the road.

Dom pulled back to let it go and then floored the gas, getting right up on the back of the truck. He flipped on his lights: there were another three guys in there, and the terrified prisoners huddled back against the sides. Brian had tangled up close with a couple of the guys, keeping them from using their machine guns on him. “Brian!” Dom shouted as the third one raised a gun at the back of his head, and switched on his high beams.

Brian dived down, flipping one of the guys he was tangled up with over his head. The bullet hit him instead. Brian kicked his dead weight off into the third guy’s legs, grabbed the other one’s ankles and yanked him down. Then he had his two other guns out and was shooting them at the same time, opposite directions. Hobbs swung over into the back of the truck, his men rolling in after him, but it was done: the place was cleared. “Hostages secured. Head for the pickup,” Hobbs said over the radio, and the truck pulled off the road, the last SUV with the rest of the squad in it catching up behind them.

Dom swerved around into the lead and drove flat-out the last two minutes, braking to a halt when the GPS flashed at him and throwing flares down in a circle even before the truck reached him, hearing the two choppers coming out of the dark.

They herded all the prisoners aboard the first, and Hobbs sent one of his guys to toss a couple of grenades into the cars before they all squeezed aboard the second one. Brian was wedged up against Dom’s side, still vibrating practically in time with the engines. Dom put a hand on his shoulder just to keep him steady, felt the pulse jumping in Brian’s throat under his thumb, or maybe it was his own pulse racing away.

It took an hour to reach the base, not even close enough to finish coming down. “Go get some sleep,” Hobbs said, as they piled off. “Pickup’s at 1100.” The squad scattered, and Dom steered Brian into a half-empty storage room down at the end of the hall, stacks of folded tarps good enough to sleep on and one screen high up on the wall letting in a trickle of night air into the solid heat built up over the day.

Dom pulled the chain on the one bare bulb, set it swinging. Brian was bruising up already, a handful of scratches and one long scrape along his side in the yellow light. “Shit,” he hissed, trying to get his bloody shirt over his head.

“Here,” Dom said, and reached for the bottom of the shirt, pulled it up and got it off him. Brian tugged himself out of the top, came out face to face with him, still breathing hard, shadows traveling back and forth across his face with the swinging light. Then Dom had his hands on Brian’s hips, steering him in, not even thinking about it, and Brian’s mouth was on him, hot, desperate, his hands gripping Dom’s head and holding him for it.

Dom pulled away, got his own shirt off fast and went back at him. They were kissing, stripping the rest of the way, belts going, pants open, and then they were on the hot plastic tarps straining against each other. Dom got his hand on Brian’s dick, sweet slide under his hand, Brian’s motor shifting straight into overdrive for him. “Yeah,” Dom murmured, “yeah, O’Conner, just like that.”

“Oh, fuck, Dom,” Brian gasped under him, and laughed all of a sudden. He bucked into Dom’s hand, sliding through. He was sprawled over the tarps, head dropped back and coating of smudged dirt all over his skin starting to run with sweat, still so fucking pretty, and Dom grabbed Brian’s boots with his free hand and hauled them off one after another, shoved his pants all the way off. “You think so, huh?” Brian said.

“Yeah, I do,” Dom said, climbing on him, still jerking him, and Brian groaned and slung his arm around Dom’s neck, kissing him, and oh yeah, he was going to give it up. “Come on, O’Conner, let’s have it.”

Brian moaned and pushed his hips up into Dom’s grip hard and came, slick all over Dom’s hand, and fuck, it only made Dom run hotter for him. He pushed two wet fingers inside him, and Brian whined a little in his throat, eyes half-closed. “That’s right,” Dom said. “That’s right,” and he was on him, pushing in, working at it.

“Oh,” Brian said, straining back against him. “Oh, fuck, oh. Jesus, Dom, yes,” and they were flying down that last quarter-mile, Brian’s mouth sweet as candy for him, and Dom blew past the finish line going fast enough to leave the earth.

Side by side panting after, Brian’s thigh and arm pressed up against him, Dom slung an arm over his eyes. “Fuck, O’Conner, what does it even take to scare you.”

Brian cracked up a little, sounding high. “More than your dick, Toretto.”

Dom shoved him. Brian rolled over and sprawled over him in some kind of revenge, sticky-hot and heavy as a rock, and pillowed his head on Dom’s shoulder. “You’re not sleeping on me,” Dom told him, except that turned out to be a lie, because Brian was already gone, and what the fuck was Dom going to do with him anyway, toss him onto the floor?

He woke up with sunlight hitting his face through the lattice of the vent and Brian still sacked out on him, and had a minute of wondering what the hell he was doing and also whether Brian would let him fuck him again before the pickup, all at the same time. They both stank worse than exhaust, and he’d left grade-school handprints in grime all over Brian’s ass and thighs, Dominic Toretto Was Here. “Fuck, I need a shower,” Brian said muffled against his skin.

“You need three,” Dom said. And he still wanted to fuck him again.

A bang-bang-banging shook the door, and they both jerked half up. “Twenty minute warning,” somebody yelled outside. Brian groaned and rolled off him the rest of the way.

They pulled on their dirty fatigues and went outside to take a leak at the latrine trench. “How’s that ride handle?” one of the guys said to him under his breath, smirk in his voice: he was looking over at the handprint on Brian’s ass.

“Watch your fucking mouth,” Dom said, and shoved himself back in his pants and walked away before he fed the guy his fist, pissed off at himself for being pissed off.

“What’s with you?” Brian said, yawning as he slung himself next to Dom on the plane, tossing an MRE into his lap and ripping open his own.

“Nothing,” Dom said shortly, and wolfed down the food, some kind of mess pretending to be chili with mushed up pieces of macaroni in it. Brian was eating his like he’d been starved for a week. They were pressed up shoulder to hip, and it felt good to have him there. Better than good, felt right. Dom crumpled up the wrapping and chucked it, stretched out to sleep some more. Fuck it. Ten thousand miles to home, his gut was good enough to go on.

Part II

Dom was shoving his handful of clothes into a bag when Hobbs knocked on the door of the glorified closet. He looked up. “That for me?”

“Yeah,” Hobbs said, and gave him the thick white envelope. Dom opened it up and took out an Executive Grant of Clemency with a big gold foil seal and a signature in blue ink. Even the paper felt heavy, crisp around all the edges. “And Toretto?” Dom looked up, and Hobbs pointed at the pardon. “You land your ass back in jail after I had to do three solid inches of paperwork for that, and Lompoc is going to be the least of your worries. You got that?”

“If I tell you I’ll stick to the speed limit from now on, you going to believe me?” Dom said.

“Not if you swore it on a stack of Bibles,” Hobbs said. He held out a hand, and Dom shook it. “Your plane ticket’s in there, too. You’ve got a few hours to make it to the airport.”

“Yeah,” Dom said. “Thanks.”

He sat down on the cot after Hobbs took off and looked at the pardon some more. He texted Mia a picture, because that made it real. She texted back instantly: When are you coming home? He ran his hand over his face and put the phone on his cot unanswered.

Brian came in, back from the DSS locker room, drying his hair off, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. It looked better on him than the G-man look. He had another envelope tucked under one arm. “You got one too, huh?” He came around and looked at Dom’s pardon. “Pretty fancy.”

“Yeah,” Dom said. “What’s in yours?”

Brian went to his own cot, tossed down the towel and picked up his own bag, shoved in his toothbrush and his comb and zipped it up. “Job offer, Hobbs said.”

“You gonna take it?” Dom said.

“I don’t know,” Brian said, over his shoulder. “Haven’t read it yet. Hobbs told me to save it for a while, open it at the right time.” He shrugged a little. “I guess he figures I’ll get bored back at the Bureau.”

Dom figured Hobbs was spot-on about that. Hell of a come-down, going back to the ground floor after getting to be a goddamn hero. He folded the pardon up slowly, put it back in the envelope and put it into the bag with the rest of his things. He stood up.

Brian slung his bag over his shoulder and turned around. “They get you a plane ticket?”

“Yeah,” Dom said.

Brian nodded. They stood there a minute, silent. “You want a ride to the airport?” he said abruptly.

“Sure,” Dom said. He didn’t, but he didn’t know what the fuck he did want. He had a goddamn foil-stamped pardon, a ticket home, his whole life handed back and his family waiting for him. What the fuck else was there to want?

“You want a ride back to L.A.?” Brian said.

“Yeah,” Dom said. “Yeah, I do.”

#

The long-haul flight to Washington hadn’t been enough to settle the jitters. Back in the DSS locker room, Brian had spent half an hour in the shower with his face turned up into the spray, and he’d gotten clean, but he hadn’t unwound any. But he felt a hundred times better the second he was back in the car and on the road again, Dom sitting next to him. They rolled down the windows and Brian took it at a nice easy ninety-five, the Supra purring underneath his hands, and he threw his head back and whooped just for the hell of it.

“You really are a lunatic,” Dom said, putting out a hand to cup his cheek, gave him a shake. His thumb slid over Brian’s lip a little and then it came back, turned into a stroke, and Brian opened his mouth and licked it, sucked on it hard when Dom pushed it in a little.

“Fuck,” Dom said, that low growl of his like a Detroit engine, and he dropped his hand away. Brian was breathing hard and fast, and his dick was full and heavy against his thigh.

They didn’t make it past noon. Brian pulled off for lunch, and they ended up in a motel room instead. “We’ll drive at night, skip the traffic,” Dom muttered against his skin, moving piston-steady in him, both of them up on their knees on the bed, braced against the wall.

“Yes,” Brian said. “Yeah,” to all of it, to everything, fuck, and Dom’s hand working him hard and fast. He was high and crystal-clear at the same time, going two hundred miles an hour on a mountain road with acceleration turning into a physical object and Dom pressed up all around him like the immovable frame.

He wanted it, every last thrust, but he felt it all over getting back in the car after dark that night. “Shit, man,” he said, trying to find a way to sit that didn’t suck. “Your turn next time.”

Dom didn’t say anything for a moment, staring out the window at the streetlights with his hands on the wheel. “Yeah,” he said finally, loose-gravel low, “Yeah,” and when they stopped again near morning somewhere between Ohio and Missouri, he lay down on his stomach and gripped the headboard and took it panting, his whole body rocking, the beautiful machine of him shaking under Brian’s hands.

“Fuck,” he said after, lying on his back with his eyes closed. “Brian, what the fuck are we even doing?”

“I have no idea,” Brian said. There was a ceiling fan turning slow stale circles overhead, doing nothing for the heat sweltering off his body. He could still taste Dom’s skin in his mouth, the fresh sweat salt from where he’d sucked on his neck.

“I’d’ve killed any guy who tried to do that to me,” Dom said, raw and almost helpless, and then he rolled over and pulled Brian into his arms and kissed him, hands sliding up in his hair to take hold of him, and panic started beating in Brian’s chest, but he kissed Dom back anyway, because he couldn’t even think about doing anything else.

#

The goddamn Supra kept eating up the miles, fifty or sixty at a gulp not even trying. They’d taken I-70 without talking about it, the long way home, but that wasn’t going to buy them more than half a day, and Dom couldn’t slow down on purpose without opening a box full of questions he didn’t have answers for, like what he was afraid of finding at the end of the road.

Brian had quit talking after the last stop, slouched in the passenger side staring out the window at big box stores and cornfields under the setting sun. He didn’t need to talk, and Dom didn’t need to look at him. His whole body knew Brian was there, knew him, down to the curl of hair at the back of his neck and the strength of his hands. He’d never actually imagined a guy on him before. He’d said fuck no on reflex, because it was something that got done to you, not something you wanted. You didn’t thirst for it like the taste of that first cold beer after four hours under the car on a hot day. You didn’t watch the road rolling away thinking about how long until you could pull over and get it again.

The first sign saying Los Angeles flashed by in the dark hours before morning, only 417 miles still to go. Brian was driving, headlights going the other way spilling over his face in waves. A few miles further down the road, he said abruptly, “What day is it?”

“No fucking idea,” Dom said, the whole week jumbled around in his head. “It’s about to be Thursday, I guess.”

“Nobody’s going to miss me at work until Monday,” Brian said. “You want to stop in Vegas?”

“Yeah, all right,” Dom said. Not a whole lot of reprieve, but better than nothing.

O’Conner went past the cheap motels and headed straight for the heart of the strip. He handed the Bellagio a credit card Dom was willing to bet was flirting with the limit to begin with, considering how much cops got paid and how much money was under the hood of his car. It was worth every last dime of interest for the king-size and the room service. They threw on the do not disturb sign and didn’t leave the hotel room for two days straight, fucked each other blind and stupid and ate like kings, and then Saturday afternoon the hotel called apologetically to say Brian’s card had made dying noises, and hinted that maybe they wanted to swap in another or hit the road.

“We’ll take care of the bill in cash tonight, how’s that,” Dom said, and hung up. He smacked Brian’s bare ass. “All right, O’Conner, come on. Let’s go make some money.”

“Yeah?” Brian said, rolling over the wrecked sheets and yawning. “You know the scene around here?”

“I know a few guys,” Dom said.

#

“Hey, man, heard you went down for hard time,” Giorgio said, slapping his hand. “How’d you get loose?”

“Long story,” Dom said. He jerked his head at Brian. “O’Conner here’s looking for a race. You got anything?”

“Yeah, I need a fourth in the third race,” Giorgio said. “Three thousand ante, ten thousand pot. You in?”

“No cash,” Dom said. “It’ll have to be a pink slip.” Giorgio raised an eyebrow, but Dom nodded to the Supra. “Take a look.”

“Pink slip?” Brian hissed at him, as Giorgio made noises under the hood like he was having a really good time.

“What’s the problem, O’Conner, you planning to lose?” Dom said. Brian flipped him off and went around and got his title out of the glovebox. The crowd was starting to build, get excited. The first couple races were warmups like always, got everybody cheering and yelling, and made sure the cops weren’t about to crash the party. Third race was going to be the real thing.

Dom eyed the cars bellying up to the line. They all sounded good, looked good. Giorgio hadn’t made any beef about taking the pink slip for the ante: that meant he expected O’Conner to lose. “That Nissan,” he murmured to Brian over his Corona.

“Yeah, I see it,” Brian said. “You can rig that model with three full canisters of nitrous.”

“If you’re a dick,” Dom said. Brian grinned at him, and Dom almost pulled him in for a good luck kiss before he remembered where they were, and then he reached out and pulled him in anyway, because fuck it, he wanted to, and if anyone wanted to fuck with him over it, they could take their best shot.

“Hey, Toretto, you trying to distract me?” Brian murmured against his mouth.

Dom shoved him at the cars. “Go get paid, O’Conner. You bring it home, and I’ll blow you in the car on the way back to the hotel.”

Jesus, Dom!” Brian said, almost a squeal, and whirled for the car looking like Dom had just double-turbocharged his engine. Dom grinned and tipped his beer back. The Nissan’s driver had been looking over watching them with narrowed eyes. Dom saw him make some kind of comment to Brian, but Brian just threw his head back and laughed and fired something back as he climbed into the Supra. Everyone was screaming, too loud to overhear, but Dom caught Brian’s eye: run that asshole into the ground, and Brian gave him a smirk and flicked a salute as he kicked off a burnout.

They all roared fast out of the gate, skirmishing for position, and disappeared around the first turn, engine roars drifting back on the air. “So,” Giorgio said, trying to act casual as he edged up to the bar where Dom was sitting. “This new — friend of yours.”

Dom took another pull. “Yeah,” he said, smiling at Giorgio blandly with teeth behind it, giving him fair warning.

Giorgio took it and swerved fast. “He drives in L.A., huh?”

“Down in San Diego,” Dom said.

“Oh, hey, wait, that’s Bullitt,” one of the other guys at the bar said. “Right? He drives a Supra.”

“Yeah, some people call him that,” Dom said.

“Didn’t know he was a faggot,” the guy on his other side said. “Didn’t know you were, either,” so Dom kept busy the rest of the five minutes introducing the asshole to the concept of manners, and by the time he’d cleaned his hands off and gotten back on his barstool, the cars were streaming around the final turn. The Supra was just off the leader, a sleek Honda, but the Nissan was right on Brian’s tail, trying to find a way to move up. The crowd surged towards the finish line and gathered on both sides, screaming and cheering.

Dom watched them coming. The Supra abruptly swung out, like Brian was about to make his move to pass the Honda, and gave the Nissan a clear lane. Dom saw the driver move, and nitrous flared up bright blue just as Brian swung the Supra right back, settled her directly against the Nissan’s front bumper, and let him blast them both forward straight towards the finish line, blowing past the Honda. The nitrous burned out but the Supra’s engine kept on going, opening it up, and Brian was three hundred yards in the lead when he roared over the finish line and skidded to a halt right at the foot of Dom’s stool.

Brian grinned at him out of the window. “You had better not have been kidding.”

Dom grinned down at him. “Hell, no,” he said.

#

“Oh, God,” Brian said, sounding almost like he was in pain. “Oh, Jesus, Dom,” and fuck, it was incredible, the car roaring around them and Brian’s cock in his mouth, thick and hot and solid. Dom slid off him to take a break for air and wiped his wet mouth. “Christ, I could do this all the way to California,” he said, panting.

“I could do this the rest of my life,” Brian said. His eyes were heavy-lidded and he was half-smiling, doped out of his mind. “Fuck, Dom, you have no idea.”

“Oh, I’ll be getting the idea,” Dom said, squeezing Brian’s thigh. “Don’t you worry.”

They pulled in to the Bellagio: it wasn’t even midnight yet, and the casino floor was buzzing with slots and shouting, people placing bets, the dealers calling the shots. They were walking through on their way to the front desk, and then Brian stopped at a roulette wheel. “We’ve got six grand to spare.”

“You’re crazy, O’Conner. Why not,” Dom said. “Put it on 13 and 27.”

Everyone cheered when they put down the big chips, and there were suddenly people all around them, offering them drinks, girls crowding in. Dom kept his hand on Brian’s waist, and the dealer was spinning the wheel. Dom wasn’t even surprised when the ball dropped right into 13: it just felt like something that was supposed to happen. Brian turned to him, hands full of chips. “What do you say? Let it ride?”

Dom laughed. “Why the hell not,” and the ball rattled around and around, wobbled right on the edge from 26, and then it fell over into 27 and everyone was screaming all around them, and Brian was laughing and pounding his shoulder.

One of the other guests nudged him as Brian tossed the dealer a five-grand chip and gave the waitress another to bring drinks for everyone at the table. “Don’t worry, I won’t rat you out,” the guy said quietly. “You two are bonded, right? Luck like that — ”

Dom stopped smiling, saw Brian’s face go blank in front of him. “No,” he said, flatly. “No, we’re not.”

The guy raised his hands. “Hey, that’s cool, you don’t want to tell me — ”

“Shut the fuck up,” Dom said, and turned away to grab one of the drinks off the tray and slug it back, because they weren’t bonded, and the luck was about to run out.

#

They packed up and headed out the next morning, $1.8 million in hundred dollar bills stuffed into their bags and bulging like they’d knocked over a bank or something. Enough to do everything Dom had ever wanted money to do: send Mia to college, set up Jesse in a real garage, sponsor Letty and Leon and Vince up to the real races. He hadn’t wanted to take it. “It’s your money,” he’d said, when Brian had left half of it on the bed for him to pack.

“It’s not enough to buy a Veyron anyway,” Brian had muttered, not looking up from his bag.

They didn’t talk a lot on the last stretch. The Supra’s speedometer crept down little by little as the signs for L.A. started coming faster and faster, breaking up into neighborhoods: Glendora, Pasadena, Monterey Park. Dom was pretty much going the speed limit by the time he took the exit, and he lifted his foot off the gas and let the Supra roll up to the curb in front of the house and stop on her own. He put her in park.

They didn’t get out right away. There was smoke coming over the fence from the backyard: barbecue going, Mia and all of them expecting him. Dom said abruptly, “Come on in and meet my family.”

They went down the driveway to the yard, and there was a whole lot of noise for a while and hugging; even Letty put her arms around him, though she scowled at him after and said, “You’re still an idiot, Toretto,” flatly. Then she looked past him and stiffened, and everyone went quiet when they saw Brian standing at the gate, awkward with his hands shoved in his pockets.

“Everybody,” Dom said, “this is Brian. Play nice.”

Jesse went for it first, mostly because he had a million questions about what was in the Supra, and Brian took him out front to show him around. “You brought the fed?” Vince said, the second they weren’t all the way out of earshot.

“The fed,” Dom said, “got me back here. The fed is why you’re out here getting barbecue and not lying on your ass in a prison hospital. The fed is why we don’t ever have to look over our shoulders for the cops again.” He dumped his bag on the table and let them look inside for themselves while he went to go get a beer.

Mia came after him while Leon and Vince and Letty made holy shit and where the fuck did it come from noises over the cash. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

“Dom — ” She hesitated. “Dom,” she said quietly, “why aren’t you bonded? Why did they let you go?”

Dom stared through the smoke at the back wall of the fence, hearing the Supra’s engine rev out front. “He didn’t want it.” He took a gulp of the beer, sour on his tongue. “He’s a good guy.”

Mia kept looking at him worried and puzzled all at once, like she saw something she didn’t understand, but she took it; when Brian came back in, she went and fixed him up with a plate of barbecue and a beer. They all sat down together and Mia said grace, thanked God for food and family and bringing her brother back. They were mostly quiet while they ate, letting Jesse carry all ten sides of the conversation on his own talking about the Supra’s mods like he’d seen the holy grail. Home was in every bite, and all around the table: his family, and Brian sitting on his left like he belonged, like he wasn’t going anywhere.

After dinner was over the table looked a little like the line down the middle of a battlefield, sides drawing up. Letty and Leon were perched on the far side still eyeing Brian warily, Brian hanging out on the other, talking to Mia about her college plans, even the who-knows-maybe of med school she didn’t usually talk about. Vince was definitely in the enemy camp: he kept scowling harder and harder, like Brian was pissing him off just standing across the yard. “Hey,” Dom said sharply.

“So what, that’s okay with you, too?” Vince demanded. Dom looked over and then glared the holy hell out of Brian, who was goddamn flirting with his sister. Brian glanced up and had the grace to look guilty.

Dom put down his beer and went to tow him away. “Are you kidding me?” he demanded.

“Look, man, I’m sorry!” Brian yelped. “Your sister’s hot!”

“Keep talking, O’Conner,” Dom said. “See how long it takes you to get your ass kicked.”

And then they stopped, because they’d hit the front porch. The sun was going down, throwing shadows up the sidewalks, and the Supra was at the bottom of the stairs waiting like a coach getting ready for midnight or something. They sat down on the steps together, narrow enough they were pressed up against each other. It was a nice night, people out for walks, taking out their dogs. Dom nodded to most of them, knew their faces if not their names. Mrs. Roehler’s big golden retriever got himself up the stairs on his creaky hips just to try and slobber all over them: Dom had given him too many treats when he’d been a kid.

“Hello, Dominic,” she called from the bottom of the steps.

“Hey, Mrs. Roehler,” he said, practically time-traveling back to third grade as he spoke, and then he had to go down and say hello, and introduce Brian.

She walked on, and they were at the goddamn door of the car, no excuse to go back up. It was just buying minutes now, anyway. Dom folded his arms over his chest, tried not to think about what he was saying. “So you’re back to work tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Brian said. “Unless I take Hobbs’ offer, I guess.” He took the fat envelope out of his jacket pocket, turned it over in his hands. “You going to be at the races next weekend?” he asked, staring down at it.

And fuck, that made it worse, made it real. No excuse to see him, not until next weekend, in a crowd of five thousand people. Another week after that if Brian even kept coming to the races he wasn’t supposed to be hanging out at. Months, if he took the job and Hobbs sent him somewhere on the other side of the world to do crazy shit all on his own, nobody watching his back. Something sliding through Dom’s fingers he couldn’t stand to let go, and Brian still staring down at the envelope, swallowing hard, like this was what it took to scare him.

“Fuck this,” Dom said harshly. Brian’s head came up, and Dom reached out and reeled him in, kissed him hard and fast. Then he had Brian by the hand and was hauling him back up the stairs and around the side of the house. Brian stayed with him, both of them taking the steps two at a time, and they went into the garage with the Charger sleeping under its tarp.

Dom jerked the tarp away and yanked the driver’s side door open. Brian was already pulling his shirt off. They half fell in across the long front seat, air stale and the leather hot on their bare skin. “Fuck you, O’Conner, you’re not going,” Dom said, hands tight on Brian’s thighs while he kissed him, holding on like he was steering his way out of a skid with a cliff straight ahead. “I don’t care how this works, you’re not going. Not now, not ever. You got that?”

“Yeah,” Brian said, his voice cracking with relief. “Yeah, I got that.” He slung his arm around Dom’s neck and pulled him in tight, kissed him again and again. They weren’t even fucking, just moving together, rhythm working, and even that was as good as anything got. Dom huffed a laugh at himself even as he hitched them in closer. He was going to let O’Conner drive away? Around the block, maybe.

“So how does this work?” Brian said, panting underneath him, twisting to rub against him, half laughing. “Fuck, Dom, what am I going to do? Move in with you? Come home from my FBI job at night — hi, honey, what’s for dinner — break any federal laws today? How about state?”

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Dom said. “Fuck it, a man’s got to keep busy. Tell Hobbs he can have his package deal after all.”

“You think he’s going to go for that?” Brian said.

“Hell yeah, he’s going to go for that,” Dom said. “He saw us out there, O’Conner.” He snorted. “He probably included me in your damn job offer.”

Brian laughed out loud, breaking into a gasp as Dom slid deliberately against him. He groped on the floor after the envelope he’d dropped, ripped it open between them. A baggie fell out on his chest, the two pills inside with a post-it note tacked on, handwritten in black sharpie: In case you change your minds about the extra horsepower. Call me when you’re ready to get back to work. — Hobbs

“Oh, that asshole,” Brian said.

# End