"I think we're all gonna stick around L.A. for a while," Tej says to her. The sun's starting to set over the sea, washing the horizon with streaks of orange and red. Mia and Letty took Jack back to the house, and Roman's gone to sleep in the sand on Tej's other side. He's snoring, since apparently he doesn't shut up even when he's asleep.
"Yeah?" Ramsey doesn't look at him.
"Yeah," Tej echoes. He's clearly trying to sound casual. "You should stay. If you want to, I mean."
Ramsey's not sure what she wants. She should go. Back to London, back to Abu Dhabi, back to Cairo—or, better yet, somewhere new, where no one will think to look for her. She should keep her head down, take a few boring jobs that won't get her on anyone's hit list, and stay the bloody fuck out of cars going at inhuman speeds whilst people are shooting at them.
Except there's something about Toretto's crew that's got under her skin. Ramsey's always worked best alone, but she can't deny that she never would have survived this on her own; and despite her best efforts, she likes them. She's not sure she's ready to start running again.
"I don't really like Los Angeles," she says.
Tej laughs, and Ramsey finally turns her head to look at him. He's grinning, white teeth flashing in the slowly darkening evening. She has a sudden, hot flash of memory of him taking out the guard in the server room in Abu Dhabi, and shivers. "Me either," he says. "Fucking hate it. I miss Miami every goddamn day. But, you know—" He glances down at Roman snoring in the sand, and then back over his shoulder towards the edge of the beach and the invisible road beyond. "Home isn't really about where you are, it's about the people you're with."
Ramsey's breath catches. She's never felt that way about anyone. She might not like people much, as a general rule, but she has had friends, lovers, colleagues; none of them have been—that. This conviction that Dom's crew all seem to share, that they're in it together forever, that they're family—Ramsey wouldn't believe it if she hadn't seen it in action. As it is, there's an ache in her chest like longing, and she can't seem to get it out. "Maybe," she starts.
"Hmm?" Tej prompts.
She takes a deep breath. "Maybe I'll stay," she says. "Just for a little while. Since I haven't got anywhere else I need to be."
Staying turns out to be a bit more fraught than Tej made it sound. Not for any of the reasons Ramsey would've expected, but because Deckard Shaw apparently blew up the Toretto family home. Ramsey supposes there was a lot going on at the time, what with rescuing her and getting God's Eye back and saving the world, but somebody might at least have mentioned the explosion. Preferably at some point before Ramsey found Mia crying in the kitchen of the beach house.
"Fuck, sorry," Mia says, wiping roughly at her eyes with a tea towel. "You shouldn't have to see this."
"It's alright," Ramsey says awkwardly, fighting her automatic impulse to run. "Sorry, I—is there anything I can do?"
"You're sweet," Mia says, and then sighs. "I just miss my house. I sound like my kid when I say it, but I want to go home. Dom and Brian have this whole rebuilding plan, which is great because it's keeping them busy, but it's going to take forever. And this place is fine, obviously, it's nice, but it's not really ours, you know? So nobody feels—we need to figure some stuff out, but nobody wants to do it here, so nobody's talking—" Her voice breaks, and she wipes her eyes again.
Ramsey is good at reading people, and better at understanding complex systems, but at the moment she's a little lost. "Um," she says. "What happened to your house?"
"Oh Jesus," Mia says, startled into a laugh. "Nobody told you? Shaw blew it up."
"Oh my God," Ramsey breathes, shocked. "That's—I'm so sorry."
Mia's mouth quirks. "Thanks," she says. "Weirdly, not very many people have actually said that. Maybe everything just happened too fast." She studies Ramsey, and under her gaze Ramsey straightens. She hadn't pegged Mia as dangerous—she'd seemed so normal, so committed to having a safe, happy, ordinary family, and Ramsey had only met her once the job was done; but looking at her now, Ramsey can see the Toretto in Mia, just as dangerous and just as magnetic as Dom. "This must all be very strange to you, huh?" Mia says, at last. "Dom has this habit of picking up strays, but he's not so good at giving them a chance to catch up. It's all very sink or swim with Dom, and then before you know it you're in too deep to get out again."
"I'm not a stray," Ramsey snaps, nettled.
"Sure," Mia says dryly. "Whatever you say."
Ramsey folds her arms and leans against the wall, deliberately slouching. She's not sure what she's hoping to prove, though, because Mia just waves a hand at the empty chair across the kitchen table. "Come and sit down," she adds, when Ramsey doesn't move. "I'll catch you up."
Cross or not, Ramsey's not nearly stupid enough to turn down an offer like that; she has too many questions, and nobody else has seemed so inclined to answer them. "How did this all happen?" She takes the offered chair. "How did the lot of you end up a team of—whatever you are?"
"Family." Mia says it exactly the same way Dom does, like it's automatic and obvious and the only possible answer, like it means everything.
"Yeah," Ramsey says. She draws her knees up and rests her chin on her hands. "That."
Mia laughs. "It's a long story."
"I've got time."
Mia looks at her again, dark eyes unreadable, and then she smiles. "I guess you do."
Mia is telling her about the heist they pulled in Rio when the back door bangs open and Letty and Brian come into the kitchen. They both look sweaty and pleased with themselves, and Letty has a smear of grease on her cheek.
"How'd it go?" Mia asks, breaking off in the middle of the story and turning in her chair. Brian crosses the room to give her a quick kiss, and then goes to the sink to wash his hands.
"Great." Letty grins. "We've got a Toyobaru and a GTI, and Arturo says he has a line on one of the new Evo FEs."
"Don't forget the Supra," Brian adds, getting a couple of beers out of the fridge. "Ramsey, you want?"
"Sure," Ramsey says, and takes the beer when Brian brings it to her, condensation already beading on the bottle. She's starting to develop an entirely involuntary taste for Corona.
"How could I possibly forget the Supra," Letty says dryly. "It brings back so many memories."
Mia and Brian both freeze, Brian with his beer halfway to his mouth. The sudden tension in the room makes Ramsey's whole body tighten, gearing up to run; this is exactly why she doesn't mess about with teams. There's too much risk, too much drama, too many complicated feelings—especially on a team with this much history.
Then Letty lets out a bark of laughter. "You guys are way too easy."
Brian blinks, and knocks back half his Corona in one long swallow. "Jeez, Letty."
"Grow a pair, O'Conner," Letty says, socking him in the arm. It looks like it hurts, but Brian doesn't protest. "You were more fun back when you brought Dom that first Supra, though I guess that was before you decided to become an international criminal."
Mia snorts. "That's definitely not what you said at the time. In fact, I think you called him a—"
Letty winces. "Yeah, yeah," she says hastily. Mia smirks, but doesn't finish the sentence. "Water under the bridge, right?" Letty glances sideways at Brian.
Ramsey watches them, trying to work out what they aren't saying. She's usually very good at reading between the lines—has to be, in her line of work—but the more time she spends with them, the less accurate her initial assessments seem to be. Or, if not precisely inaccurate, then lacking something. Nuance, maybe. Mia's stories have only increased her curiosity; whatever Mia and Dom say about family, the disparate pieces of Toretto's crew still don't make sense to her. They don't quite fit, and Ramsey has never been able to resist a puzzle. She's never been able to stop wanting to know everything, even when she knows it's going to get her into trouble.
"Yeah, of course," Brian says, just as Ramsey asks, "But what did you call him?" All three of them turn to look at her; Letty and Brian look a bit like they'd forgotten she was there, but Mia is smiling.
"Mia was telling me how you lot met," Ramsey explains, "and about Rio."
Letty looks down at her Corona. "I wasn't there in Rio." Her voice is carefully blank, but it makes Mia stop smiling and a sharp line appear between Brian's eyebrows.
"Neither was I," Ramsey says, without really thinking about it, "though it sounds like it was quite the party. I'm sorry I missed it."
Letty's head comes up, her eyes wide. Surprised, Ramsey thinks, and gives her a little shrug. There's no reason Ramsey would have been in Rio—she's not even properly on the team now—but she must have said something right, because Letty raises her beer bottle in acknowledgment, and says, "Back when Brian first turned up, he was such a little shit."
"Hey—" Brian protests, and then they're off, and there's nothing left for Ramsey to do but keep listening.
Things settle into something like a life, over the next few weeks. Ramsey stays at the beach house with the Torettos—Dom and Letty and Mia and Brian and Jack—and Tej and Roman are there more often than not, working on the cars in the garage or hanging out around the house, swimming and sunbathing on the private stretch of beach. Everyone seems to take it for granted that Ramsey is staying, which is strange and novel enough all on its own to keep her there, however temporary it might turn out to be. She makes a few contacts and picks up some small jobs, the kinds of things she can do anywhere, as long as she's got a computer and a secured connection.
Tej hooks her up with both. He brings her a new laptop and tablet, exactly to her specifications—he must have been paying attention in Abu Dhabi—and then he takes her down to the server room he's building in the beach house basement. "Dom says it was supposed to be a saferoom, weapons storage," he explains, "and Brian's got some shit in the gun safe, but—" He turns on the lights, and Ramsey whistles. "More use to us like this, don't you think?"
It's like the beating heart of a super-computer: an entire wall of server racks blinking with little green lights; clean, shining coils of fibre cables; a full half-circle of high-resolution monitors. Everything is more than a few miles beyond state-of-the-art, and Ramsey would bet good money that Tej called in a favor from Hobbs, not to mention his own shady contacts—probably not so different from her own, except that they clearly have better resources.
"Holy shit, Tej," she says, sitting down in the tricked out desk chair. "Fibre connection?"
Tej nods. "Illegal splice. The whole network runs through Tor, so it should be completely untraceable." He leans over her shoulder and pulls up the network, lines of code unfurling on the screen. "It's my own interface," he adds, a little proudly.
Not bad, Ramsey thinks, studying the screen. Not exactly what she would have done, but that's what makes it interesting. The code itself is gorgeous, with a signature she can recognize as Tej—clean and direct and careful, but speed-crazy at the same time. It's not quite perfect, though: there's a bug ten lines down. Tej keeps shooting her admiring glances as they work out how to fix the bug, and then as they make another three improvements while they're there. By the time they're done, Ramsey is squirming a little in the chair, too hot and a bit turned on from the humming machines, from Tej's breath on the back of her neck, from the sheer joy of working with someone who loves the things she loves, the same way she loves them.
The problem with Tej is that it would be way too easy to let herself get lost in him. Walking away is hard enough already; taking their clothes off would be incredibly fucking stupid. She shoves the chair back and gets up. Then she leans in and presses a quick kiss to his cheek before she can think better of it. His skin under her lips is rough and warm, and it takes a lot more effort than it should to turn away and head for the stairs. "Thank you," she says. "For the network, and the computer, and—everything, actually."
Tej blushes. "No problem."
So between the work, and the company, and the endlessly intriguing puzzle of the Toretto team, she keeps busy—and if she starts to get a little comfortable, a little complacent, that's nobody's business but hers.
She's working on a job one afternoon when Letty comes to drag her away from her laptop.
"I'm in the middle of something," Ramsey protests, but Letty shakes her head firmly and tugs her to her feet.
"Come out to the garage. Tej says you've been in here all day, and you definitely need a break. Plus, Dom wants to see you."
Ramsey blinks. "What for?" She's seen Dom just as much as she's seen any of the rest of them—though Dom does seem to spend most of his time in the garage, or over at the building site for the new house, and Ramsey hasn't set foot in the garage. It's not her territory; she knows there are some places she doesn't belong.
Letty shrugs. "Ask him yourself."
But as it turns out, she doesn't even get a chance to ask. As soon as Ramsey and Letty come into the garage, Dom looks up from where he and Brian seem to have an entire car disassembled on the garage floor, and says, "Ramsey, good. If you're gonna be on my crew, you gotta learn how to drive."
"Who says I'm on your crew?" Ramsey demands, automatically defensive. She backs up a step, unerringly finding the closest exit; even as she does it, though, she knows she's not going to run. There's no threat to her here, just people who have done everything in their power to keep her safe, to do right by her, to make her feel as much at home as she ever has.
Dom folds his arms and gives her an unimpressed look. "You're still here, aren't you?"
"I—" Ramsey can't actually argue with that. "Okay," she says instead, "but I know how to drive."
Dom looks surprised, and then dubious. "Really? Because it sure didn't seem like it when we rescued you in the Caucasus."
"Yes," Ramsey snaps, "because you all drive like crazy people and I thought I was going to die. You drove us off a fucking cliff, Toretto! I'll have you know that I'm a very safe driver, and I've never even got a speeding ticket."
There's a shocked silence in the garage. Ramsey can feel Letty staring at her. Brian stops humming and tinkering, and Roman—who Ramsey hadn't even known was there—slides out from under one of the other cars and stares up at them with wide eyes. Dom's face goes blank with incomprehension, and then Brian starts to laugh. "Oh my god, Dom, your face," he gasps, doubling over and bracing himself against the car with both hands.
"She's got to be fucking with us," Dom says. "You're fucking with us, right?"
Ramsey shrugs. It's not that she's never driven a getaway car, but the handful of times she's worked on teams, or paired up to do jobs with a partner, she's always been in charge of the tech. She's not a driver; when she has driven, she's stayed at the speed limit, because there's no better way to not get caught. The kind of stunts this crew pulls are nowhere near her comfort zone. "Only a little bit," she says. "Look, I'm not—I can drive, but I'm not like the rest of you."
Dom studies her for a moment, and then shakes his head. "Yeah, no," he says, utterly immovable. "Nobody's going to make you do something you don't want to do, but you are like the rest of us. If these jokers can win street races, so can you."
Oh, Ramsey thinks, suddenly a little warm. She's a loner by nature, but in that moment—when not even Roman objects to being called a joker—it is breathtakingly clear why every single one of them would follow Dom to the ends of the earth. If Ramsey could bottle and sell his sheer charisma, the way he can make her feel like she belongs when she's never belonged anywhere, she'd be richer than Croesus.
"Thought you liked a challenge," Letty adds, going over to lean on the car next to Dom. There's enough of a taunt in her voice to make Ramsey's hackles rise, but it's oddly nice at the same time, like Letty's inviting her in instead of shutting her out. "You made the world's most advanced surveillance program, and you're really gonna let a hunk of metal get the best of you?"
"Don't talk shit about our cars," Brian says to Letty, but he's grinning, laughing with her, and Ramsey feels an ache of longing so strong that she's almost bowled over. Safar was the closest thing she had to a friend like that—someone she trusted, someone who would challenge her and laugh with her—and even him she'd kept at arm's length. She doesn't want to do that now.
"Right," she says, "let's have it, then. How do you drive these things?"
Dom smiles. "I can teach you."
"Hold up," Roman says, getting to his feet. "Y'all are not teaching my girl how to drive when I am right here."
"Your girl?" Ramsey demands, rounding on him. "Excuse me?"
"Uh," Roman backpedals, holding up his hands. "I just meant, my girl in the, like, the spirit of—friendship! All that driving we did around the city when you were trying to hack your own system! We're tight now, right? We've shared experiences." He's clearly floundering by the time he gets to the end of his speech, and Ramsey is a little charmed. For such a fast-talking bullshitter, Roman seems to get strangely tongue-tied around her. It's not like she doesn't know he's interested—he's not exactly subtle—and he's hot, even if he's clearly the type to fuck and run. That's part of his appeal, though: he wouldn't tie her down.
"So you're saying you want to share some more experiences," Ramsey murmurs, and watches Roman's eyes widen. His skin's too dark to show a flush, but his expression says it for him.
"That is exactly what I'm saying, baby girl," Roman says. "I am so much better than the rest of these assholes."
Letty makes a disbelieving noise, but when Ramsey glances over at her, she's curled under Dom's arm, and neither of them look much like they want to give a driving lesson.
"Rome's a good choice for a beginner," Brian says, grinning a little wickedly. "Start her off slow, bring out the big guns once she can beat him. Shouldn't take too long."
"Fuck you, O'Conner," Roman snaps. "I can still kick your skinny white ass."
Brian, Dom, and Letty all burst into laughter, which makes Roman scowl and turn to Ramsey. "Let's get out of here," he says, and then pauses. "If you want?"
"Sure." She gives him her best smile. "Teach me how to break the speed limit."
Roman directs her up into the hills, talking the whole time about the mods they've made on the car. She's spent more than enough time around techies—herself included—to understand the pride and excitement in his voice, even if the specifics are unfamiliar. Roman talks her through the mechanisms of the Toyobaru she's driving, and then, once they're up in the hills, he turns her loose on the open road. It's not hard to make the car go fast—from what Roman's said, it's built to do exactly that—but she takes it slow at first, only speeding up once she gets a feel for the thing, once it becomes impossible to do anything else. When she clears 100, Roman whoops and puts his hand on her thigh, and that just makes her take the car up another notch, speeding faster and faster.
With the engine purring under her and the wide stretch of open road ahead of them, with Roman's hand on her thigh and his breath in her ear—she can see why people talk about driving like it's sex. It's not hard to see the appeal, either, to feel the rush of power and freedom.
"That's it," Roman says, squeezing her leg. "Now see if you can stop."
Slowing down so fast is jarring at best, and she's still breathing hard when she pulls the car to a stop on the hard shoulder, but she doesn't drive them off a cliff, which is more than she can say for Dominic Toretto.
"How'd that feel?" Roman asks, turning in the passenger seat to face her.
"Good," Ramsey says, surprised to mean it so much. "I like it better when I'm not getting shot at at the same time, but—" She shrugs one shoulder, smiling at Roman. He smiles back, a new, soft smile, and yeah, he's a real charmer under all that bluster. "I get it, I think," she continues. "It's a bit like—freedom, yeah?"
Roman nods. "When me and Brian were kids, cars were like—they were the way out of all the shit we were in. Cars and cash, but mostly cars. You got a car you could trust, put work into, love, and it could take you anywhere. All you had to do was get in the car and drive." He shakes his head a little, seeming to catch himself on his own seriousness, and winks at her. "And the ladies love a hot car, if you know what I mean."
Ramsey raises her eyebrows. She knows exactly what he means, and the way his hand is inching up her thigh is also a fairly broad hint. "Cars mean you can do anything?"
"Baby," Roman says, low and heated, and leans over the gearshift, "I can show you all kinds of things to do with this car." Ramsey lets him get close, feels the warmth of his skin, his solid body, the way he makes her breath hitch and catch, before she stops him with a firm hand on his chest.
On the one hand, fucking Roman in the back seat of this very fast car seems like a brilliant plan; her body certainly thinks it's the best idea she's had in a while. On the other hand, she hasn't quite made up her mind if it's what she wants to do, and there's no way she's letting him—or anyone—win her over before she sorts out exactly what she wants. "I think we'd better stop the lessons there," she says, and Roman sighs and backs off, sinking back into the passenger seat with surprising grace. "At least for now."
Roman smiles a little ruefully. "You're a tough nut to crack, baby girl," he says, but it sounds like a compliment.
Ramsey looks down at the steering wheel. "Maybe," she says, "I don't usually give people much of a chance to try."
Roman doesn't say anything for a moment, and when Ramsey glances over at him, he's got an odd look on his face, sort of—fond. "Thanks, then," he says at last, gentle, and earnest, and soft, and Ramsey has to look away quickly before she does anything she might regret. The whole point of Roman is that he's not Tej. He's not supposed to be serious, and if she decides to fuck him, they should both be able to walk away after. Except now she's not so sure that's true.
She changes the subject as gracefully as she can. "So is that all there is to this, then? Why is Dom always talking about ten-second cars?"
Roman laughs, sounding surprised. "Because he's a crazy motherfucker, that's why. But alright, let's see what we can do. Put her in first."
Her, Ramsey thinks derisively, rolling her eyes; but she hits the accelerator. After a moment, Roman puts his hand back on her leg and squeezes her knee. She puts her hand over his and squeezes back, their hands only separating when she needs to shift gears. Roman shouts directions for the rest of the drive home, and the wind twists her curls into tangles, and they both keep laughing at nothing.
Tej is in the garage when they pull in, poking at a hunk of metal with one hand and his tablet with the other. He glances up when Ramsey and Roman tumble out of the car, his eyes widening. Ramsey can see him swallow convulsively as he sets his tablet down and meets Roman in one of their handshakes.
"Tej, my man," Roman says, grinning as he slaps Tej on the back. "You should see this girl behind a wheel."
"Yeah?" Tej's voice sounds strangled; there's something off about his face, too, and Ramsey puts her hand self-consciously to her hair. It's a mess, and her cheeks still feel flushed from the drive. Roman—never mind the fact that she turned him down—is lit up like a bonfire. The way Tej is looking between them, his mouth tight and his eyes a little hurt, isn't hard to read at all. "Sounds like a good time."
"Sure was," Roman says smugly, and slings an arm around Ramsey's shoulders. Ramsey steps out of reach, and for a second Roman looks caught out. Then he squares his shoulders and adds, voice full of unmistakable innuendo, "We had all kinds of fun."
Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you? Ramsey thinks, but before she can say anything, Tej scoops up his tablet and says, "Right, well, I have to—go," and practically runs out of the garage.
"Roman," Ramsey says delicately, "what the hell?"
Roman shrugs. He's doing a fairly good job of feigning indifference, but there's a furrow between his eyebrows as he looks after Tej. "Geeks get weird." He glances at Ramsey. "No offense."
Ramsey folds her arms and levels him with a look. "Sure. But why exactly did you let him think we fucked in the car?"
"We—" Roman starts to protest, but he stops when she raises her eyebrows again. We almost did, she thinks, finishing the thought for him; but that's not the point, and Roman is looking shifty, avoiding her eyes.
"Roman," she repeats.
"Look." Roman sounds angry for the first time. "It's every man for himself, alright? Tej can just—that's the deal."
Ramsey stares at him incredulously and then throws up her hands. "Oh for fuck's sake," she says, because honestly, men. "I am not a prize to be fucking won."
"I didn't mean—" Roman objects, even though he obviously did.
Ramsey has abruptly had enough. "You and Tej had better sort yourselves out," she says sharply, and turns on her heel to go out of the garage.
"Sorry," Roman calls after her, sounding almost contrite. She raises a hand in acknowledgment, but doesn't look back.
Tej disappears for a few days after that, which seems to hit Roman hard. He's irritable and difficult, picks fights with Dom and Brian, and runs hot and cold with Ramsey, flirting outrageously half the time and ignoring her the rest; she's still cross with him—and a bit with Tej, too—but she's also worried in a way that feels strange and new and really bloody uncomfortable. When she asks Roman what's wrong he looks guilty, and then mulish, and then stomps off back to the garage. Ramsey has Letty give her the rest of her driving lessons, and works, and tries to ignore the cold pit of unease in her stomach. I can leave any time I want, she reminds herself, and contacts an associate in Jakarta, because it's always good to have an exit strategy.
So it's a surprise when Tej sits down on the edge of her beach chair and says, "I've been thinking."
Ramsey opens her eyes, startled. She'd been nearly asleep. "Where the hell have you been?"
Tej shrugs. He's wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt, open over his bare chest, and a pair of swim trunks. Ramsey's eyes catch on his shoulders, his pecs, his round brown nipples, and she swallows hard. "Needed some space," he says. "Time to think about some things. You know?"
Ramsey does know—she knows exactly, in fact, because she and Tej share a need to puzzle out problems on their own, to find a quiet space to think. Machines are easier than people, most of the time, and people can be awfully distracting. "Yeah," she murmurs, and blames the fact that she's still half-asleep for the way she reaches out and strokes her hand down the open front of his shirt, fingertips brushing his skin. She can feel his sharp intake of breath when she touches him. "What have you been thinking about?"
"Right now I have honestly no idea," Tej breathes, looking down at her. His eyes are hot, and he rests his hand lightly, deliberately, on her waist. She's only wearing her bikini, and it would take about two moves to get her out of it; it would only take one move to pull him down on top of her.
She sits up abruptly, nearly knocking their foreheads together. "Careful," Tej says, laughing a little. He backs up on the chair to put more space between them, even more graceful about it than Roman was in the car.
"Nothing happened with me and Roman," she blurts, and then considers rolling right off the beach chair and burying her head in the sand.
Tej makes a face, looking pleased and awkward at the same time. "I know. Roman actually apologized, which was fucking weird. I've know the guy ten years, right, and I can count the number of times he's apologized to me on one hand."
"Oh." Ramsey draws her knees up, folding her arms on top of them and resting her chin on her hands. Tej watches her with obvious appreciation, but he doesn't make a move. "Good. I shouted at him, and the same goes for you, by the way. Whatever idiotic agreement you two had, it's done—you don't get to win me in some asinine contest, or whatever it was you thought you were doing. I'm not a bloody car."
"Don't talk shit about the cars," Tej says mildly, and Ramsey kicks him. "Ow," he grumbles, but he holds up his hands in capitulation. "I know, I know, I'm sorry." He looks down, and she watches the flutter of his eyelashes. "It's like, me and Rome are always fighting over something, right? But we didn't really know you, before. Now we do, and—" He glances up and meets her eyes. "I really like you. Rome really likes you. So we're gonna try to be, like—okay with it, whatever you decide to do."
"Right." Good enough, she thinks. "Give me some time. I'm just starting to get used to this thing where I trust people at all."
Tej gives her a soft smile. "I'm glad you decided to stay."
"Me too," Ramsey says honestly.
They look at each other without saying anything, and then Ramsey moves her eyes past him to stare out at the sea; the tide's coming in, waves crashing on the sand. "So what I was thinking," Tej says, after a minute, "is that Roman and Letty were teaching you to drive, right, but has anybody got you into an engine yet? Because that's where the real fun's at. It's hardware, you'll love it."
"Yeah." When she looks back at him, Tej is grinning. "You know that speed drive you sent your friend? Well, I got something faster, and I want to see if we can override the rev limiter on the new Evo. You in?"
Ramsey grins back, and lets him pull her to her feet. "Show me."
"So," Letty says, leaning against the kitchen counter next to the sink. It's Ramsey's turn to do the washing up and Mia is helping her, drying dishes and putting them away. Brian's gone to put Jack to bed, and Dom is at the table with Roman and Tej, arguing about something—someone said something heated about a Dodge Charger, but Ramsey lost the thread of it after that. The mood Roman's been in all week has dissipated, since Tej came back, and the three of them are quarreling the way they normally do, without the unpleasant edge that was there before.
"So?" Ramsey prompts, when Letty doesn't say anything else.
"So," Letty repeats, drawing out the vowel, "are you ever going to put those boys out of their misery?"
The dish she's holding slides out of Ramsey's hands and crashes into the sink. "What?"
"Letty," Mia says sharply, putting down a stack of plates with more force than seems quite necessary.
Letty looks unrepentant. "I'm just saying, it might be easier on all three of you if you made up your mind."
"I—" Ramsey starts, and then closes her mouth and concentrates on giving the baking dish in the sink a thorough scrub. The lasagne Dom made for Sunday dinner is firmly stuck to the edges of the dish.
"We're not exactly in a position to judge," Mia says to Letty, over Ramsey's silent objection. "Even if it was our business, which it's not."
Letty gives a little snort of laughter. "Yeah, well, maybe I just want to fix someone else's love life while my own is a mess, hmm?"
Ramsey looks up at that, because it seems—odd. One more piece of the strange Toretto puzzle, maybe, except that it doesn't square with anything else she's seen of Letty and Dom. Letty and Dom seem unassailable, death and amnesia and secret marriage all clearly demonstrating that the two of them are as steady as a rock.
"It's not a mess," Mia says, and Letty's face softens. She catches Mia's hand and presses a kiss to her knuckles. Mia looks pleased, her eyes bright as she looks at Letty, and Ramsey glances back and forth between them, considering.
"Sorry, I know." Letty releases Mia's hand. "It's just complicated. I wish—"
Mia makes a face. "Obviously. But look, Letty, that's what I was going to say. Whatever's going on with Ramsey and Tej and Rome, it might not be that easy." She fixes Ramsey with her dark eyes. "Not that making up your mind is a bad thing, Ramsey."
"I don't—" Ramsey starts again, but it's no use. They've backed her into a corner; the thing is, she's almost glad to be there. Maybe she can talk to Letty and Mia. Maybe she doesn't have to do everything alone. She dries her hands on a tea towel and turns around, leaning back against the sink. At the table, Roman and Tej seem to be staging some sort of war with empty bottles and salt and pepper shakers. "I don't know how to choose."
No matter how hard she tries, Ramsey can't make herself choose between Roman and Tej; they're too different, and she likes them both too much. It seems safer not to make a choice at all, better to keep going as she has been—or to finally make up her mind to run, and put all this behind her before it gets too complicated to escape.
"So don't choose," Letty says.
"You just said—"
Letty shakes her head. "I said—and Mia said—that you should make up your mind about what you want. That might not be the same thing."
Ramsey considers that, and complicated, and the way Letty and Mia seem so in sync that they can finish one another's sentences. "So what's the alternative?"
Mia and Letty both laugh. "Who knows," Mia says, putting one arm around Ramsey's shoulders in a sideways hug. "Everybody's different. Just because something's supposed to work one way doesn't mean it will, so try something else. There's no one way to be happy—or to be a family, for that matter."
"Boys are idiots, though," Letty puts in, a little wryly. "You'll probably have to do all the heavy lifting yourself."
"Sometimes it pays off," Mia murmurs, almost under her breath, and Letty laughs again.
"Well, we'll see," she says, and she and Mia exchange what can only be described as a conspiratorial glance. Ramsey's still not sure she understands what's going on, or what to do with their advice; at the same time, though, something is starting to come together in her head in the same fragmented, brilliant, terrifying way God's Eye did: one impossible problem after another resolving into clear lines of code.
"Thanks," Ramsey says slowly, watching Tej and Roman do battle over a salt shaker. "I'll keep that in mind."
"You do that," Letty says.
Several more things suddenly make sense when Ramsey walks in on Dom and Brian kissing in the garage. Dom's got Brian bent over the hood of the Toyota Supra they were working on, one of Brian's long legs hooked up around his waist. Both of Brian's hands are on Dom's back, tugging his top up and leaving smears of grease on his skin. Jesus, Ramsey thinks, and backs out before either of them notice she's there.
She finds Tej and Roman playing Grand Theft Auto in the living room, and sinks down on the sofa between them. Tej gives her a concerned look, and she takes his Corona out of his hand and knocks it back.
"What's with you?" Roman asks, not looking away from the game.
"Is everybody in this crew sleeping with Dom?" Ramsey demands.
On the screen, Roman's car veers off the side of the road and explodes in a shower of sparks.
"I'm not," Tej says. "Jesus, Ramsey."
"Me either," Roman rasps. He pauses the game and turns to stare at her, looking horrified. "Are you?"
Ramsey shudders. "Fuck no," she says. "I don't fuck around with alphas."
Tej blinks, and then gives her a thoughtful look. "What, ah—what do you fuck around with?"
"Not alphas," Ramsey says, with a shrug. "Or Mrs. Alphas." Roman makes a choking sound. "Or whatever Brian is, I suppose."
"Oh." Tej sounds enlightened. "Were he and Dom—"
"All over the Supra," Ramsey confirms, and grabs another beer off the coffee table.
Roman groans. "Not again."
"Hey," Tej says, leaning across Ramsey to punch Roman in the arm. "Come on, Rome, it's gotta be better if they're at it again, right? Things have been crazy weird around here."
"Ugh." Roman looks mildly nauseated. "Fine. I just don't want to see that shit again, because I still have scars from London. Scars, bro. I am too damn pretty for scars."
"I don't know," Ramsey says, deliberately slowly, "it was kind of hot."
Roman stares at her. "Oh no, woman, you did not just say that." Ramsey smiles. It was hot, and she's not sorry. Roman drops his face into his hands and slumps sideways on the sofa until his head is in Ramsey's lap; it's a pretty impressive manoeuvre, and she looks down at him, amused, as he turns his face into her thigh. She's wearing jeans, but she can still feel his mouth, and it sends a hot shiver up her spine. "I don't want to be thinking about this," Roman moans. "It's so much man, all that—man-ness."
"Man-ness," Tej echoes incredulously. "Are you for real?"
"Give me a break," Roman whines. "Ugh, my eyes."
Ramsey looks at Tej, who rolls his eyes and reaches around her to pat Roman exaggeratedly on the back. "You didn't see them," he points out, "shouldn't you be worried about Ramsey's eyes?"
"Ramsey thinks it's hot." Roman makes a tragic noise into the fabric of Ramsey's jeans. "I can't go on."
Tej starts to laugh, and that's when Mia comes into the room. She stops abruptly, eyebrows rising as she takes in the three of them on the sofa, Roman sprawled across Ramsey's lap and Tej wrapped around her, one hand on Roman's back and his other hand—how had it even got there?—on her knee. She can feel herself start to flush, even though they're not doing anything especially incriminating.
"Don't let me interrupt." Mia sounds amused.
Tej waves a hand in demurral. "Ramsey just came to tell us that Dom and Brian are screwing in the garage. You know how Rome gets about shit like that."
"Oh thank God," Mia says, and sits down hard on the edge of the armchair. "Finally."
Ramsey stares at her. She had almost been there, from the moment she walked into the garage—all of the puzzle pieces shifting into clarity, into a complete picture—but Mia's obvious joy and relief are still a bit of a shock. Most women, Ramsey thinks, would probably not react quite so well to the news that their husband and brother are fucking in the garage. But Mia isn't most women. None of the people on this crew are most people, and the way they do things—it might be strange, unexpected, apparently insane, at least when it comes to some of the driving, but it's their way, and it speaks to Ramsey on some bone-deep level that she can't quantify, but can't ignore.
"See?" Tej says to Roman, cuffing his head. "It's a good thing, man."
"Ugh," Roman says again, but he sits up, leaning heavily on Ramsey's shoulder. Ramsey puts her arm around him. "Okay, fine." He glares at Mia. "But tell Brian that if he tries to give me any fucking details this time, I will kick his ass all the way back to Barstow."
Mia laughs. "Will do. I have to go find Letty." She bounces up from the chair and out of the room, and a minute later they can hear her calling up the stairs.
"So," Ramsey says, after a moment. "They're all—" She's not sure how to finish the sentence.
Tej is still so close that she can feel him shrug. "I try not to ask too many questions," he says. "But yeah, I think. Brian and Dom, anyway. And Mia and Letty, at least since Letty got her memories back."
Roman makes a low whimpering noise and turns his face into Ramsey's neck. "That is just too damn hot."
Ramsey smacks him on the back of the head. "So it's fine for you to think that Mia and Letty are hot, but not for me to think that Dom and Brian are? Maybe you should think about the double standard in that."
Roman lifts his head, eyes a little wide. "I—oh."
"Yeah," Ramsey says pointedly, and rolls her eyes. Men.
Upstairs, there's a loud crash followed by a peel of laughter. Tej glances up at the ceiling, and then at Ramsey. "Maybe we should clear out for a while," he suggests. "Let them all do—whatever."
Ramsey honestly kind of wants to stick around and see what happens next, but he does have a point. She stands up, dislodging both Roman and Tej, and stretches. When she looks back at them, they're both staring. She puts her hands on her hips, showing off a little, and watches Roman bite his lip and Tej's eyes darken. "Sure, let's. What did you have in mind?"
Tej looks blank for a second, and then he blinks and rallies. "We could go to that club you like, Rome—the one that's down the street from my place?"
Roman nods. "Yeah, alright." He glances at Ramsey, and then back at Tej. "I can park at your place, and I really need a goddamn drink."
"Perfect," Ramsey says, and grins. "Let's go."
Ramsey waits until they're all a couple of drinks in before she brings it up again. They're crammed together at a tiny table, but even so she has to shout to be heard over the music. "So if neither of you are sleeping with Dom, who are you sleeping with?"
Roman and Tej stare at her. "What?" Tej asks faintly.
"I'm going to guess," she says, propping her elbows on the table and narrowing her eyes at Roman. "Brian?"
"Uh," Roman says, looking blindsided. "No."
Tej makes a face like sucking on a lemon. "Oh please. You're a fucking liar, Rome, I was there in Miami. Or did you forget?"
"I could never forget an asshole like you, Tej," Roman says, and then winces when Tej raises his eyebrows. "Okay, fine, Brian and me might've fooled around some when we were kids, and maybe there was a little—you know—" He makes a hand gesture that is impossible to mistake for anything else, and Ramsey puts a hand over her mouth, smothering her laughter. "In Miami. But that was years ago. You shoulda seen Tej's hair, Ramsey, it was all 1975 up in there."
"My hair was a fucking work of art," Tej snaps. Roman leans into him, grinning, and rubs his hand over Tej's shaved head. Tej scowls and shoves him away, and Roman teeters precariously on his stool, catching himself on the edge of the table.
In for a penny, Ramsey thinks, and says, "So are you fucking each other, then?"
Roman's stool falls over, landing him unceremoniously on his arse on the club floor. Tej stares down at him. "Well," he says slowly. "Not right now."
"Oh fuck you," Roman splutters, dragging himself to his feet.
"Not right now," Tej repeats, smirking, and the glimmer in his eyes makes Ramsey's knees go weak; she's glad she's sitting down.
Roman rights the stool and sits down again, glaring furiously at Tej. He looks a little flustered, too, though, his fingers tapping a nervous rhythm on his thigh. Ramsey lets out a breath, relieved. She hadn't been sure—she'd wondered, and guessed, and hoped, but she hadn't known for certain. "So why aren't you fucking now?"
Roman gives her an incredulous look, and waves his hand up and down, encompassing her body. "Why do you think?"
Tej makes an awkward face, avoiding her eyes. "Sometimes, when neither of has a girl, we—"
"Fuck," Ramsey supplies.
"Right," Tej continues, sounding painfully embarrassed, "but there's you, and we're both interested, so—"
"What my friend here is trying to say," Roman cuts in, "is that we both want to do you, so we're not doing each other. That's how the game works, baby girl. Right, Tej?"
"Yeah," Tej agrees, and looks down at his drink.
Ramsey studies them—Tej still looking awkward, embarrassed and a little flushed, and Roman with his blustery mask failing to hide the panic in his eyes—and then knocks back the rest of her drink. "I don't think much of your game," she says, slamming her glass down on the table. "Have you ever fucked the same woman?" Roman opens his mouth, and she clarifies, "At the same time," and he shuts it again.
"No," Tej says quietly.
"Do you want to?"
Roman licks his lips. "What are you saying?"
"I don't want to choose between you." Ramsey leans forward. "I like you both, and I don't want you to mess up your friendship over me, even if I could choose." She takes a deep breath, and thinks about what Mia said. There's no one way to be happy. "But if you're willing to try it all together, the three of us, then—that's what I want."
Tej looks up, finally abandoning his intense study of his drink. The glimmering look is back. "Are you just saying this because of the Toretto quadrangle?"
Ramsey laughs, surprised. "Well, it helped a bit—seeing that there's not only one way to do things. They're not a bad example, are they?"
"No." Tej smiles, slow and predatory. "But I think we can do better."
Ramsey goes warm all the way down to her toes.
"Oh hell yes," Roman says, pumping a fist in the air, and then they're all laughing, bright with relief.
Roman kisses her as soon as they're through the door of Tej's flat, pressing her up against the wall. His mouth is hot, eager, and he goes right for it; she meets him, rising up on her toes and kissing him back as hard as she can.
Behind Roman, Tej clears his throat. "I think we're supposed to take turns."
Roman laughs into her mouth and kisses her again, deep and dirty, and then backs off when Tej slaps him pointedly on the arse. "Yeah, alright," he says, one hand still on Ramsey's waist. "Fuck, this is weird."
Ramsey leans back against the wall. Tej's flat is airy and open, big windows and high ceilings, the kitchen and living area all one room—a converted loft, probably, though there are doors that must lead to the bedroom and bathroom, and what she would bet is a whole room of computers and spare parts. "You've shared things before," Ramsey says. Even here, there's evidence of Roman's presence—a set of chrome rims leaning against one wall, a stack of trashy magazines on the coffee table. "Share me."
She holds out a hand to Tej, and he takes a deep breath and steps in close; Roman shifts like he's going to move away, and she puts her other hand over his on her waist, keeping him there. "You're not a thing, though," Tej says, his eyes fixed on her mouth.
"No," she agrees, "but I want this," and then she kisses him. Tej is more tentative than Roman, ghosting soft, sweet, careful kisses across her mouth until she's shivering and hungry and starting to get desperate. She clutches Roman's hand on her waist and chases Tej's mouth until he takes her face in one hand and finally kisses her properly.
"You're such a fucking tease, Tej," Roman says, his voice a little rough.
Tej is smirking when he pulls away from Ramsey's mouth. "Gotta rev the engine, bro."
"I am not a fucking car," Ramsey snaps, but she sounds a little breathless to her own ears. Given the way these guys treat their cars, she might not even mind.
Roman laughs, and Ramsey narrows her eyes at the two of them. "Now you."
"Oh—" Roman starts, eyes widening, but Tej just sighs and reaches for him, dragging him in by the front of his t-shirt and planting a hard kiss on his mouth. Roman struggles against him for a second before he relaxes into it, but then he's all the way in, kissing Tej back with just as much intensity and letting go of Ramsey so he can grab Tej's arse. They kiss like they fight: hot and furious and entirely focused on one another. Ramsey watches them, turned on and a little smug. Called that one, she thinks, and takes advantage of their distraction to step around them and shimmy out of her jeans. She takes her top off, too, and steps out of her sandals, and is contemplating her underwear when Tej and Roman finally break apart.
She puts her hands on her hips and smiles at them. "Where's the bedroom?"
"First door on the right," Tej says, a little choked. His eyes are locked on her breasts in her black lace bra.
"Cool." Ramsey turns around, heading for the bedroom. "Hurry up," she calls over her shoulder, "you're both overdressed."
Tej's bedroom is darker than the rest of the flat, curtains drawn over the wide windows, but the track lighting gives the room a warm glow, and the bed is enormous. Ramsey sits on the edge of the bed as Tej and Roman tumble in after her. "Well?" she says, looking them both up and down, "Get 'em out, boys."
Roman and Tej exchange a look, and then Tej grins wickedly and starts stripping off his clothes. Roman's not far behind, and it doesn't take long before they're naked, stood in front of her with their dicks out. They're both most of the way hard, and Tej is definitely bigger than Roman; Roman's harder, though, already wet and flushed at the head. She stares at them, trying to work out where to start; she's so turned on that her nipples are pressing painfully against the fabric of her bra. They're both gorgeous, brown skin and defined muscles, dark hair curling around the bases of their cocks. Roman definitely waxes, and she wants to lick her way up his smooth chest. Tej is skinnier, but out of his camouflaging clothing his arms and shoulders are a work of art.
Tej meets her gaze and bites his lip, and then wraps his fist around his cock. Roman glances sideways at Tej and makes a face. "Goddamnit," he mutters. Tej looks over at him, eyebrows raised, and then gives a snort of laughter.
"Yeah, man," he says. "It's not gonna get any smaller just 'cause you wish it would."
"It's not fucking fair," Roman whines. "You're all skinny and shit. I should have the bigger dick!"
Ramsey swallows her laughter, but she can't help grinning. "He's not that skinny, Rome. Look at his arms."
"Don't talk about me like I'm not here," Tej complains, but Roman has turned to look at him, giving Tej the same sort of hot-eyed once over he usually gives Ramsey. His eyes catch a little on Tej's biceps and pecs, and then on the sharp curve of his abs and his dick, big and hard in his hand.
"Yeah okay," Roman admits, low and a little stifled. "I guess he's not so bad."
"That might be the nicest thing you've ever said about me, man," Tej says, and pulls Roman in for another kiss.
Ramsey watches them kiss for a long time—it really is hot, hotter than porn, hotter than the few seconds she saw of Dom and Brian in the garage. It's hotter because it's hers, her boys licking into each other's mouths, pressed so close that there's barely any space between them. She unhooks her bra and drops it on the floor, and then slides up on the bed to lean back against the pillows. "So," she says conversationally, "which one of you boys is going to eat me out?"
They separate with flattering speed. "Oh shit," Tej whistles, and Roman puts his hand up. "Me," he says, "I am calling dibs. So many dibs. Shit, girl."
"Race you for it," Tej offers, and Roman lunges, scrambling up over the foot of the bed and landing hard between Ramsey's spread knees. Tej is laughing as he follows Roman, swinging himself up onto the bed beside Ramsey and leaning in to kiss her.
"Hi," Roman says breathlessly, pressing a kiss to Ramsey's stomach, and then her hipbone, and then mouthing down over the thin fabric of her knickers. "Can I get these off?"
Ramsey is busy kissing Tej, so she lifts her hips in agreement. She can feel the curve of Roman's smile against her skin as he pulls her underwear off, and then she's completely naked on the bed between her two naked boys. Tej moves so that she can lean back against his chest and lifts his hands to her breasts, trailing kisses down her neck as he thumbs her nipples. Roman hooks one of her legs over his shoulder and bends his head.
"Oh fuck," Ramsey gasps when Roman licks into her. He's as quick and direct about it as he was when he kissed her, but he's not remotely perfunctory; instead, he traces his tongue around her clit over and over again until he figures out how to drive her completely crazy. "Fuck, Rome," Ramsey says, and grips the back of his neck with one hand, holding him there. Roman hums against her and says, "That's right, baby. You're amazing like this, come on." He keeps talking, his murmurs getting dirtier and dirtier in between kisses and licks.
"Does he ever shut up?" Ramsey asks Tej, moaning when Roman bites the soft skin of her inner thigh. "Jesus. He's still talking."
Tej gives a low chuckle. "He's a little better with a cock in his mouth, but not much." He twists her nipples, cupping her breasts with both hands. "You've got amazing tits, you know that?"
"Yeah." Ramsey laughs, leaning her chin up to brush a kiss over his mouth. "I've noticed you staring at them."
"Well, who wouldn't?" Tej agrees, and squeezes a little harder, just as Roman slides his tongue into her. She groans, head falling back against Tej's shoulder.
"Hey," Tej murmurs in her ear. "How are you doing? Because if you sat on Rome's face, I could suck him off at the same time."
Ramsey shudders all over. "Fuck." Down between her thighs, Roman makes a desperate noise and takes his mouth off of her, getting up on his knees. His mouth and chin are wet, and his lips are parted as he looks at Ramsey and Tej. "Okay," Ramsey breathes, "but I want to watch."
Roman grins, and flings himself sideways on the bed, stretching out on the pillows with his hands behind his head. He licks his lips. "Come up here, then."
Between the three of them, they get her into position: straddling Roman's face with her arse in the air and looking down his body to where his cock is hard against his stomach. She feels awkward for about a second, but then Roman hooks his hands under her arse and pushes his tongue back into her, and—shit. She can do whatever she wants to him like this, riding his mouth.
She watches as Tej moves down the bed, spreading Roman's legs and lying down between them. He gives Roman's dick a firm, familiar stroke, and under her, Roman moans. She grinds down a little, feeling his tongue twist and thrust, and Tej gives her a filthy grin and lowers his mouth to Roman's cock.
Roman goes wild with Tej's mouth on him. She can feel every groan and gasp for breath, and they make her wild, too; Roman holds her tight whilst she practically fucks herself on his tongue. She tries to keep her eyes open, tries to watch as Tej sucks Roman off, but it's hard not to get lost in sensation. The sounds are almost enough: the slick slide of skin on skin, Roman's utter inability to stay quiet, her own harsh breathing. She's coming almost before she realizes it, orgasm crashing over her and leaving her shuddering and breathless.
When she can move again, she slides shakily off Roman and collapses onto the bed beside him. He's got one hand clenched in the sheets and the other curved around the back of Tej's head. His eyes are closed, his head tipped back as he babbles out praise for Tej's mouth, Tej's hands, Ramsey. Ramsey leans in and presses a kiss to his shoulder, runs her hands up and down his chest, teases his nipples. She can feel it when he comes, hard and loud and shivering with aftershocks.
Tej sucks him through it and then sits back on his heels. He makes a face, running his tongue over his teeth. "Haven't done that in a while," he says hoarsely. "Damn, Rome."
Roman makes an unintelligible noise, one arm flung over his eyes; he finally seems to have run out of words.
"C'mere," Ramsey says to Tej, and Tej moves up the bed into her arms. She kisses him, chasing the taste of Roman in his mouth, musk and salt and sex. Tej's dick is hard against her thigh, and she spreads her legs, falls back against the pillows and pulls him down on top of her, like she's wanted to do almost since she met him.
"Jesus, Ramsey," Tej murmurs, kissing her neck and her collarbone and the curve of her breast. "Can I?"
"What the fuck are you waiting for?" Ramsey demands.
Tej grins, bright and gorgeous, and slides three fingers into her, rummaging in the bedside table with his other hand. "Rome really got you going," he says, sounding a little admiring. He rubs his thumb over her clit and rolls the condom on one-handed. Beside them, Roman mumbles, "fuck yeah I did," and lazily raises his fist in the air. Tej gives him a sideways glance, and then pulls his fingers out of Ramsey to give Roman's fist a gentle bump with his own.
"Tej," Ramsey says. "Fuck me."
Tej's grin gets impossibly wider. "Yes ma'am," he says, and pushes in. She's wet, and more than ready, but it's still been a while, and Tej feels ridiculously huge as he slides inside her. He takes it slow, though, careful and cautious until she loses patience and wraps her legs around his waist. He puts a hand under her knee almost automatically, but doesn't move until she kicks a heel against his arse and gasps, "Come on," all breathless challenge. Then he leans down to land a hard, biting kiss on her mouth and finally starts fucking her properly.
It's a race to the finish line, after that: Tej fucks her hard, and fast, and deep, and Ramsey keeps her legs tight around his waist and meets him thrust for thrust. She comes first, clenching hard around him, and she's just barely starting to come down from the stratosphere when he comes too, burying his face in her shoulder as he shakes through it. It takes a long time for their breathing to level out, but eventually Tej makes a low groaning noise and pulls out of her, going to get rid of the condom, and Ramsey opens her eyes. Roman is still stretched out on the bed next to her, but he's propped up on one elbow, his other hand on his half-hard dick. He looks smug and satisfied, and his eyes are smiling.
"Hey," Ramsey murmurs, and leans in to kiss him.
"Hey," Roman echoes, and then looks over her shoulder. "Hey Tej, nice work."
"Thanks, man," Tej says. He lies down behind Ramsey and puts his arm around her waist. "You too."
"It was really hot," Roman says, almost shyly. "Watching you fuck my girl, I mean."
Tej laughs softly. "Our girl." He reaches over Ramsey to pull Roman in for a kiss. "Right?"
Roman moves closer, until both of them are wrapped around her, naked and sweaty and sated—even Roman's half-hard dick seems happy to stay that way. Our girl, Ramsey thinks; the scariest part is how much she likes the sound of it. "Yeah," she says, and holds on to them both.
She wakes up in the darkness of Tej's bedroom and can't breathe. Roman is snoring softly, and Tej's breath is steady and even, but with both of them wrapped around her, it still takes a while to extract herself without waking them. It's easier once she's out of the bed, standing on her own two feet and only shaking a little with panic. As she watches, Roman rolls into the space she left behind, curling into Tej's side. Okay, she thinks, and starts looking around for her clothes.
She steals Roman's car, but instead of taking it to the airport—instead of actually, properly, finally running—she drives back to the beach house. The sun is just starting to come up when she pulls into the driveway, but it still takes her a minute to recognize the form sitting on the back steps as Dom. In a concession to the hour, he's drinking a cup of coffee instead of a Corona.
"How was your night?" he asks as she comes up to him.
"You're not my dad," Ramsey snaps.
Dom looks blank for a moment, and then snorts. "No shit," he says dryly. "I wasn't waiting up for you, either. I just came out here to drink this coffee and watch the sunrise."
Ramsey deflates. "Right. Sorry, I—it was a long night."
Dom raises his eyebrows, and then pats the step beside him. "Come sit down."
Ramsey thinks about saying no, but it seems pointless; she came back here, and at some point she's going to have to start listening to her own instincts. She sits down on the step next to Dom, and blinks, startled, when he pulls her into a hug. "You alright?" he asks, letting her go.
"I don't know," Ramsey says honestly; lying to Dom seems just as pointless as running. "How do you do this?"
"Be a—family, I guess. How do you believe in your family so hard that you make it real? How do you know?" Her eyes are wet, and she dashes a hand under them.
"Oh, Ramsey," Dom says, and it's a bit of a shock that his voice is so gentle. "I don't know. Brian thinks I have some kind of crazy instinct for people, and maybe I do. Maybe I'm just that fucking great at putting together a team, but I've never thought about it like that." He shakes his head. "The people who are family, my family, they're the ones who stay, the ones who come when you need them, the ones who come back. They're the ones you build something with. Maybe you go through hell on the way to wherever you're going—God knows we have—but it's not just what you go through, it's what's you do. It's not instinct, it's work."
Ramsey stares down at her knees, thinking that over. "But you, all of you, you just—let me stay. You barely know me."
Dom shrugs. "We know enough. I said it already: you're still here. Tell me you're not trying to build something that matters."
"Oh." She thought she was building something that mattered with God's Eye, thought that if she could do the impossible it would be enough, and for a while it was—until it almost got her killed. And ever since she met Dom and Brian and Letty, Roman and Tej, it's like she's been laying the groundwork for a system she couldn't even see. Something that matters. "Maybe I am."
"Mmm-hmm," Dom says expressively, and sips his coffee.
The back door bangs open, and Brian's voice says, "Dom?"
"Yeah, Brian." Dom tilts his head back to look up at Brian, looming over them at the top of the stairs. Brian comes down the steps and leans over to press a quick kiss to Dom's mouth. It's soft and sweet, a good morning kiss, and Ramsey wants that certainty, that comfort, with a desperation she's never felt or understood before. She thinks about Roman and Tej, curled together in Tej's big bed, and aches to be back there.
She starts to get up, but Dom pushes her gently back down. "Stay and talk to Brian for a minute," he says, and gets up. Brian gives him a quizzical look, but takes his place next to Ramsey on the steps. Dom brushes his hand over Brian's head, and then over Ramsey's, on his way back inside.
"What's up?" Brian asks, when Dom's gone. "You okay?"
"Dom asked me the same thing," Ramsey grumbles, but then relents. "No, I—I think I'm fine. I freaked out a bit. I suppose I just realized I really want to stay."
Brian laughs. "Torettos'll do you like that."
"Not just them." Ramsey looks up into his bright blue eyes. "Roman and Tej."
"Ah." Brian's eyes are warm. "We were wondering if that would work out." He gives her a little sideways grin. "Though I should say, those two assholes are some of my best friends in the world, so treat 'em right, yeah?"
Ramsey stares at him. "Are you honestly giving me an intentions speech?"
Brian looks blank, and then snorts. "I guess I am, shit. Sorry, you're all adults, it's none of my business. But nobody's ever really stuck around for either of them, and I hope you will."
"Thanks," Ramsey says, touched. "But—I don't really know what I'm doing." She takes a deep breath, and then says it, "I've never had a family before, not like this."
"Neither did I," Brian says.
"But you're—" Ramsey glances over her shoulder, up at the house.
Brian follows her look, and shakes his head. "Yeah, now. But you heard Letty and Mia. When I first met them, I had nobody. Rome and I go way back, but he was locked up, and he wouldn't talk to me anyway. I was on my own, never thought I'd have anybody, never thought I'd want to have anybody. And then I was an undercover cop trying to take down the only real family I'd ever known. I fucked it up twelve ways to Sunday, so you're already doing better than me."
"It scares me," Ramsey admits. "I woke up this morning, and I just panicked. I'm not the kind of person who panics, Brian. At least—I never have been before, except when I was actually about to die."
"It's fucking terrifying," Brian agrees. "Nothing's ever scared me as much as when Mia told me she was pregnant. Even though I'd already given up everything for her and Dom, that was when I really knew I was cooked. There wasn't any option on running, after that. It was easy to give up everything before, because nothing really mattered. But nothing in the world is as scary as having something to lose."
"How do you stop being scared?"
Brian smiles and opens his hands. "Oh, you don't," he says. "You never stop being scared. But the thing is? It's worth it. It's worth everything." He's quiet for a moment, like he's letting that sink in, and then he adds, "You'll probably never stop fucking up, or making the wrong decision because you're scared, or because you're stupid. I do it all the time. This shit with me and Dom has been a mess, recently. But it's still worth it, and when you're with the right people—" He smiles again, as bright as the sun. "Anything can happen. Cars can fly."
"I thought that was pigs," Ramsey says blankly, and Brian bursts out laughing.
"Not in this family." He's grinning as he gets up. "You want a cup of coffee before you head out?"
Ramsey shakes her head. "No. Thanks, but—no. I should get back."
"Alright," Brian says easily, and claps her warmly on the shoulder before he clatters back up the stairs. "See you later."
Ramsey sits on the steps for a while after he's gone, listening to the waves crash on the beach, the soft murmur of voices through the open windows of the house; someone's put on a radio somewhere, and she can smell salt and diesel and coffee and sand. Already, these things feel as familiar as her own skin. Nothing about this is what she expected, or what she thought she knew, but even so, she feels like she belongs. It's worth being scared; it's too brilliant to give up.
Tej is standing at the kitchen counter when Ramsey gets back, staring morosely into a coffee cup. He looks up sharply when Ramsey comes in, and his eyes widen in surprise and cautious delight. "You came back."
Ramsey puts her hands in her pockets, feeling a little awkward. "Yeah," she says. "I panicked. I'm sorry."
Tej shakes his head. "It's alright. We've all got stuff. But, um. Are you staying?" His voice is tentative, and it pulls her further into the flat, three steps closer to him.
"I'm staying," she says, and takes a deep breath. "For as long as you'll have me."
Tej's whole face lights up, and she stumbles the rest of the way into his arms. He hugs her tightly, pressing his face into her hair, and she clings to him, feeling him warm and solid against her, like a safe harbour, like a home. She's never understood what people meant about that, before.
"Thank God," Tej says into her hair; she can feel him smiling. "I think Rome's crying in the shower. You stole his car."
Ramsey gives a watery chuckle. "Is that what he was upset about?"
"Mmm," Tej says. "Well, that, and you leaving. We were both sure you were gonna run, and we didn't know what to do."
"I thought about it," Ramsey says honestly. "But—I couldn't. I didn't want to."
Tej tightens his arms around her. "Good."
There's the sound of a door opening, and then Roman's footsteps crossing the room from the bathroom. "Oh thank fuck, you're back," Roman says, "I thought Tej was going to lose his shit." Ramsey lifts her head from Tej's shoulder. Roman's stood just out of reach, a towel wrapped around his waist, and his eyes are a little red.
"Back to stay," she says, and holds out her hands. Roman smiles, relief and happiness so obvious on his face that she has to swallow hard and bury her face in Tej's shoulder again; and then Roman's there, wrapping his arms around both of them, all of them hugging and laughing and crying in the middle of the kitchen. They stay like that for a long time, until Ramsey notices that Roman is shivering a little in his towel, and Tej seems like he might fall over without the two of them to hold him up, and she disentangles herself just enough to take Roman by one hand and Tej by the other. "Let's go back to bed," she says, and pulls them after her into the bedroom.
The new house is finished three weeks before Mia's due date, which, Roman says to Ramsey, seems like they're cutting it a little close. Ramsey is just glad that they managed to finish the house before the baby was born—for Mia's sake, but also for her own. They're family—and Ramsey is, increasingly, comfortable saying so—but as Tej pointed out, you don't always have to live with your family. Ramsey is looking forward to having the beach house to herself now that the rest of them are moving home; or at least, to herself and Roman and Tej, who never quite seem to leave. Not that she minds terribly much, now that they've moved Tej's big bed into the master bedroom.
Ramsey and Roman and Tej go over to the house the day after the Torettos move back in, bearing a few crates of Corona and a large bowl of something that Roman insists is his Grandma's Famous Jello Salad. "Do I even want to know what that is?" Ramsey asks Tej in an undertone, and Tej shakes his head emphatically.
Brian comes down the driveway to meet them, holding Jack on one hip; they're both covered in barbecue sauce. "Come distract Dom. He keeps trying to teach Jack to barbecue, and it can only end in tears." He notices the bowl Roman's holding and winces. "You brought the salad, didn't you? Luckily I think we have more than enough food."
"Fuck all y'all," Roman says, and stomps off up the driveway.
The three of them exchange a look, and then start to laugh. "It really is that terrible," Brian protests, still laughing, and leads them up the driveway into the back garden.
Mia and Letty are sitting at a long table set up on the patio, and Dom is holding court over a grill whilst Roman looks on; Dom and Roman are arguing cheerfully about something, and for once it doesn't seem to be about cars. "Come sit with us," Mia calls to Ramsey. She's wearing a yellow sundress, and looks about ready to pop. "The boys are doing the cooking today."
Ramsey brushes a quick kiss over Tej's mouth before going over to join them. "This is quite the spread," she observes, sitting down across from Mia and Letty and looking up and down the table, which is already covered with food.
"First meal back at home," Mia says. She's glowing a bit with happiness. "It's been a while since we've had everyone here, and there's a lot to celebrate."
"I suppose there is," Ramsey agrees. It's a little strange, still, to celebrate these things: a family, a home, winning her very first race at Race Wars the week before. It's strange to have things to celebrate at all, never mind things that come accompanied by other people when she's spent so long alone; it's strange, and still scary, but more wonderful than she could have imagined.
Roman comes over and wraps his arms around her, bending down to kiss her ear. "I'm hungry," he whines, and Letty and Mia laugh.
Ramsey picks up a roll and breaks it half, handing half to Roman and taking a bite of the other half; it's good, still warm and home-baked. "Thanks," Roman says, and kisses her, "but now you have to say grace."
"It's true," Tej says, putting a heaping plate of ribs down on the table and taking the seat next to Ramsey's. "House rule, first one to reach for the food says grace." Roman untangles himself and sits down on her other side, and then Brian and Dom and Jack are all there, too, the whole family sitting down together.
"Oh, alright," Ramsey says, and takes Tej's hand and Roman's as they hold them out to her. Around the table, everyone else is taking hands and bending their heads. Ramsey does not much believe in God, generally speaking, but she has an idea of how this is supposed to go; more to the point, she is unbelievably grateful for her own luck. "Thank you, Lord," she says, "for this food, and this family." Roman squeezes her hand, and out of the corner of her eye she can see the curve of Tej's smile. "For fibre cables, and speed drives, and the engine of the Evo FE." She pauses, and then smiles. "And most of all, thank you for that time I was kidnapped by terrorists, because otherwise I would never have wound up here."
"Amen," Roman and Tej say together, loud and heartfelt, and there's a round of warm laughter as everyone echoes them. Ramsey grins and leans into Roman's side, still holding on to Tej's hand.
"La famiglia," Dom says, raising his Corona in a toast, "let's eat."