Brian closed his eyes and tried to keep from puking on his tiny corner of the holding cell. So. Screwed. O’Conner.
Fighting when you were drunk was kind of like fucking when you were drunk. You started out all confident, loose and easy and then quickly tumbled down a rabbit hole of embarrassing bruises and hurt feelings. Someone had clipped him on the side of his jaw and the inside of his knee and the pain was a steady, reliable companion. He couldn’t seem to keep from touching the sore spots, feeling out the slight contusion every minute to see if it had grown.
He was hungover enough to feel like someone had replaced his brain with a sponge that was soaking up all the cerveza he’d dosed himself with and maybe it was still swelling, filling up his head, his nose, his throat with squishy, aching void. But he wasn’t so out of it that he couldn’t appreciate quite how royally fucked he was and it made his stomach feel he’d just downed a vat of beer and chased it with a shot of lye.
This town must’ve been bigger than he thought or else they were plagued with a really shitty crime wave around here because there were lots of people taking up space in the jail. Brian had to sit in the corner with his legs bent up around his ears because there was just no room. Even now, some guy’s hair was tickling his ankle. He was in the quiet corner with the rest of the drunks, leaving a small arena for the pacing people still pumped up on meth, cocaine or rage.
No one knew he was a cop here, small blessings. Then he caught himself. No one knew he was a cop anywhere, because he wasn’t a cop. He wondered how long that revelation would surprise him. He wasn’t a cop and he had no call to be getting involved in anyone’s domestic abuse drama, particularly if everyone involved was drunk. Not his country, not his language, most definitely not his business.
Brian rocked his aching head against the cool wall. Someone had pissed themselves, the sharp scent cut through the more effusive reek of other body odors. He wondered what strategy would pay off or lead straight to disaster. He didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself…attention at this point could only be unilaterally bad. But then…if he kept a low profile, he was risking sharing the fate of the many, many, many people who had been lost and forgotten in a Central American prison.
He dozed off, still pondering. The small amount of daylight that filtered in was the only way of measuring time. People got herded in and picked out. Occasional platters of food touched off a frenzy that Brian didn’t feel up to navigating. Sometimes a sloshing water bottle made of thick crackling plastic got passed around and he didn’t have to move to get a few swallows. The third time he stirred from a catnap he began to wonder if the plan was to starve them into docility. There were two guys still pacing nervously around the tiny clearing mid-cell, probably jonesing. Everyone else had sunk into a deep, immovable torpor where they only moved to swipe away flies or runnels of sweat.
“You. Guero. Gringo. YOU!” The guard was snapping and pointing at him. “Si, yes, you, andale.”
Brian pushed himself up the wall and grimaced as the concrete scraped some tender spots. He picked his way over the bodies as they rolled away from his feet magically. He glanced back at the room once he’d gotten to the door and the litter of human misery had closed up over his spot next to the wall.
He trudged down the dusty yellow hallway behind the guard, almost too numb to feel apprehension. He could easily be walking into an Interpol shitstorm where some enterprising young cop had seen the wires and put two and two together. It was okay as long as Mia didn’t succumb to any sentimental temptation to try and get him out of here. He had some sozzled memory of telling her to get clear even as they’d loaded him into their battered paddywagon with the rest of the brawlers.
The guard was looking at him impatiently. Brian tried to lengthen his stride. It wasn’t like dragging his feet was going to help him face whatever lay at the end of the corridor. The guard led him into a smallish room that almost looked like a closet. There was no furniture, but a familiar pane of gray glass. He looked at his reflection, wondering who was on the other side.
Brian resisted the urge to look away from the guy who stared back at him from the dim black glass. Christ, he looked like dogshit. Hollow-eyed, unshaven, bruised, scraped. His hair was sticking up in a nest of angry little cowlicks. Brian folded his arms and reflected that he looked like exactly what he was: a boneheaded asshole.
He stood alone for almost half an hour before the same guard came and impatiently snapped him away, as if he’d been waiting on Brian all this time. Another corridor opened up into a tired, cramped-looking office and Brian shuffled in and stopped when the guard touched his elbow. He didn’t look up until someone nudged him sideways into a chair. Someone was smoking a cigar and Brian steeled himself to look up. He was sitting across the desk from a guy in uniform who was obviously the shot-caller and next to…
Dom was supposed to be 1000 miles away. He and Dom weren’t ever supposed to be within a 500 mile radius of each other, lest the planets somehow align and they got noticed (or worse, photographed) together. Mia was one thing, a citizen with aiding and abetting was one thing; he and Dom together were the grand prize winners: fugitive G-man and fugitive repeat offender with a dozen hijacking warrants and attempted murder already on his sheet. The kind of arrest that would make even the federales lick their lips.
But Dom was sharing a chuckle and a cigar with the fat guy wearing the cleanest uniform around. He barely glanced at Brian, seeming involved in some long anecdote in Spanish. His eyes only traced over Brian like he’d ordered ‘white guy, mid-thirties’ off the menu and just wanted to make sure he’d gotten the right dish.
The warden, or magistrate or who-the-fuck-ever was in charge looked at Brian narrowly, but not as if he was taking it personal. Somehow, Dom had turned him from a public nuisance into a party crasher and Brian sensed dully that he was on his way out. It didn’t happen quickly, but it did happen. There were a few handshakes, a little back-slapping, a few times where Dom had to lean in and exchange low-voiced promises or plans with the man. Luckily Brian didn’t have to do anything but stand up and nod in the right places. Just the standing up was almost beyond him now. He tried to focus on a fixed point a few feet in front of his face so the dizziness didn’t take over and send him reeling.
Brian was momentarily dazzled by the late afternoon sun when they finally pushed through the creaky double doors to the outside. It slanted across an unpaved lot filled with cars all glazed by the same dust. Dom stalked off down the rows and Brian stumbled in his wake.
“Didn’t know you smoked.” Brian said which was just the first clear thought to surface from the roiling murky haze of his brain.
Dom snorted and flicked the cigar butt into the gutter. “I don’t. Keep walking.”
“I’d’ve thought…” Brian started and then started again more assertively. “Did you pay my fine?”
“Fine. Yeah, sure, I paid the fine.” Dom returned contemptuously.
Brian trudged along beside him. Of course, it hadn’t been a fine, this wasn’t the world as he’d come to know it. Dom had paid the bribe.
“Yeah, I bet.” Dom didn’t sneer, just spoke mildly and that made it all so much worse. “Just so Mia didn’t have to pay.”
And even though it was hot enough to make the dogs on the street snap and snarl each other for a piece of shade, Brian still went cold. He imagined Mia trying to find some leverage to shift the somnolent warden, the intransigent guards. He could easily picture where that would have gone and his dry mouth worked to swallow.
“Was it…?” Finishing that question was almost impossible. Dom always seemed to have unexpected resources at his command, but the need to know how deep Dom had to dig to spring him was like an itch under his skin.
“It wasn’t more than you’re worth, buster.” Dom said kindly as he stopped in front of a beat up Nissan Maxima. “This is us.”
Brian blinked, but he didn’t ask any questions. This was so obviously not Dom’s car. He was coming to realize that Dom had burn cars the same way other people had burn phones. Dom had probably borrowed it from someone. Probably someone he’d known for half an hour. Someone who was now willing to kill or die for him.
“You’re in a bad way, O’Conner.” Dom was in the car now too, and his attention was suddenly kind of overwhelming. Brian prickled with sweat all over and slumped back into the seat closing his eyes, feeling his throat tighten with tears he couldn’t shed or swallow. It was hard to breathe now and his eyes stung.
“Hey, hey, hey.” Dom had leaned over him for some reason, a quick jerk and his seat reclined. “You’re okay. It’s over. S’over.”
Brian mouthed the words. “I’m sorry.”
“Shhhhh.” Dom’s voice was so low; it was less like Brian heard it and more like he felt it. “Just…breathe now. You’re okay.”
Dom repeated that mantra, like saying it would make it so. Dom’s hands were cool and dry and their pressure on Brian’s forehead made it marginally easier to breathe.
“God, I’m…”Brian blinked hard and tried to stretch, to play it off. “Fucking pathetic, sorry.”
“You remember the last time you ate something?” Dom asked, arching one eyebrow inquisitively.
“F-Friday night?” Brian returned after a pause.
Dom was looking at him with that face where he wasn’t actually frowning, but his forehead was still all wrinkled up. He nodded and put the car in gear, looking around to reverse.
“What day is it?” It occurred to Brian that that was the next logical question. It had to be at least Sunday.
“It’s Tuesday.” Dom tightened his hand on the steering wheel. Brian blinked at him, feeling the first dim hints of shock. It didn’t quite penetrate the numbness, but it felt like this information was going to become important. He was looking at Dom almost like he was looking up out of the depth of a well or a hole, as if Dom was deep in a tunnel that Brian could only stare into.
“Oh shit.” Dom muttered and that was the last thing Brian heard for a while.
“Drink this.” Dom said and Brian drank obediently. It wasn’t water; it was sweet, sweet enough to make him wince. “Hey, hold on, stop.”
Brian stopped and peered at Dom reproachfully. “Which?”
Dom’s eyes were so big or rather he was so close. “Which what?”
“Drink, hold on, stop?” Brian shook his head blearily. “You’re confusing me.”
Dom paused and made a face that Brian had only seen twice before. Dom pressed his lips together very firmly and his eyes kind of squinted, like he was in pain and trying not to show it. “Drink. Slowly.”
“Is Mia okay?” Brian leaned back, making his drinking hostage to Dom’s answer.
“She’s fine.” Dom sighed and pushed the bottle forward like he would force the issue, if Brian didn’t fall in line. “Sent her ahead to Monté Alban, she’s there, everything’s cool.”
“…” Brian opened his mouth and then ended up just nodding and accepting the Gatorade knockoff or whatever it was. The rule was that they were never all together. It was too conspicuous. And Mia seemed to have slowly accepted that they would both turn into ravening lunatics if she didn’t take herself firmly out of harm’s way at every turn. Brian wondered when the day would come where she would totally give up on them. Both of them seemed to have to push the line of sanity further and further back and one day she’d probably get tired of it.
“She told me what happened.” Dom sighed. “You always gotta be a hero, don’t you?”
Brian snorted and looked down at the patterned carpet “I usually end up just making it worse.”
Dom chuckled and when Brian dared a look back up at him, he said simply, “Yeah.”
Brian squirmed uncomfortably up from his half-lean on the headboard and watched Dom poke around in some bags he had piled on the low credenza.
“Eat this.” Dom shoved a bowl of soup into his hands. The smell of it made Brian’s hands start to tremble and Dom really frowned, deep lines etched across his face as he cupped his palms lightly over Brian’s. “Breathe, okay? Just sip it, I think it’s cool enough.”
Brian nodded. It was. The salt made him salivate too much and there was one second where he was going to puke but he breathed deeply through his nose and his heart slowly stopped pounding.
Dom took it from him when he was about half-finished and didn’t object when Brian just slid sideways down onto the smooth coverlet. He’d woken up shoeless and he stretched out his toes, feeling marginally more human.
He woke up again at dawn. The room was empty and Dom’s bed looked rumpled, like he’d just rested, not slept. Dom wasn’t in the bathroom and Brian drank the last of the orange bottle of whatever and a bottle of water. It left him feeling almost high. Dom was out on the balcony, staring down at the pool.
Brian shivered involuntarily as he stepped outside. This was nicer than the places that he and Mia had been staying…keeping a low profile and making their funds last. He wanted to protest to Dom that he wasn’t fragile enough to require special treatment, but he could already hear how stupid that would sound if voiced aloud, so he let it go. The balcony was wide enough for a table and Dom had obviously laid in some supplies. Brian poured himself a bowl of cereal and after a moment, Dom joined him and they crunched away in companionable silence. After two bowls and a cup of instant coffee, the color started to soak back into Brian’s vision and his metamorphosis back into a real boy was complete.
“Did I say…thanks?” Brian hunched over in his chair, leaning hard on the table. He had fought and won his usual morning jones for a cigarette; it had been years but apparently the only thing that would mute the desire was starving in a Mexican holding cell for three or four days. “Thanks for saving my dick.”
Dom took a sip of his tiny cup of Nescafe and one corner of his lip pulled up. “Sure. Anytime.”
“I never meant…”Brian trailed off and shook his head. Dom was probably the last person in the world who required an explanation for shit just going sideways at an unexpected velocity.
Dom leaned forward and let his hands dangle between his knees, mirroring Brian’s posture. “Dude just wanted enough cash to keep all his kids in school, nothing outrageous. It wasn’t like I had to crash a maximum security prisoner transport, right?”
Brian arched one eyebrow. “You saying we’re even?”
“Nah.” Dom leaned back in his chair, his eyes going suddenly hooded. “That ain’t what I’m saying.”
Brian didn’t drop his eyes. He really wished that he could read Dom’s mind during exchanges like this which seemed to happen with ever more frequency. But their…thing only worked because they didn’t ask each other too many questions.
“You really want to thank me?” Dom jerked his chin to the room. “Go take a shower.”
He had to look at his reflection again and it wasn’t much improved. In the fluorescent light, he looked almost corpse-like with blue shadows under his skin. One of his eyes had been blackened. There was a livid, purple-blue stripe under his right eye, like he’d been daubed with war paint. He scowled at himself, turned the shower on, pissed and tried to pull his t-shirt off.
His back lit up like a Christmas tree and he caught his breath between his teeth. “Fuck!”
He breathed out through his nose and tried it again. He got it halfway off…just enough to get a good look at the motley array of bruises up and down his ribs.
“Ah, jeez.” Dom was in the mirror now. Leaning into the doorframe, wincing at Brian’s back. “How many guys did it take to do that?”
“Dunno.” Brian bent over and started to ruck the fabric up with the tips of his fingers. “Wanna say more than six, but I may have been seeing double right about then.”
Dom bobbed his head assessingly. “So more than three.”
Dom’s hand was on his back now, skimming him. Brian kept low and let Dom peel the cotton over his bent elbows and pull it gently over his head.
“Maybe try not to drink so much.” Dom seemed to be making a sympathetic face at him but in the mirror it looked more wry. “Seems to get your Irish up.”
“Yeah, that’s sound advice.” Brian bobbed his own head, mock-seriously. “Particularly coming from such a paragon of anger management as yourself.”
Dom tilted his head back and grinned his wide, goofy grin. “Gotta say, sometimes I miss that mouth of yours.”
“Yeah?” Brian felt like his voice might’ve cracked a little. Because Dom had just swiped light fingers along his swollen jaw, prodding gently at the hurt like Brian had been doing for the last four days. Dom slid his hand down until he was cupping Brian’s neck, his palm warm against the side of Brian’s throat. Brian felt the pressure of Dom’s thumb against his chin as he swallowed.
They stared at each other for a long moment. Dom’s lips still quirked up, like it was just a joke. But he didn’t drop his hand and Brian had to stand motionless waiting for Dom to release him, let him crawl into the shower and lick his wounds in peace.
Dom had so much…self. So much identity, so much Dom-ness. He was going to be himself no matter what. Brian knew he looked sulky, knew he had to look bitter and confused. He felt far too fragile at this moment for anything but the gentlest treatment and the steadiest hands.
“Yeah.” Dom murmured, very close to his mouth.
Brian didn’t brave the balcony again until it was almost dusk. He was clean now, rested. His skin felt sleek and tingled as if he could actually feel himself healing.
The pool was deserted except for one grandmotherly type, who picked her way around the shallow end seeming loathe to get her hair wet. After a moment, Dom joined him and they watched the sky and listened to the distant highway.
It suddenly occurred to Brian that they were on the second floor.
“You carried me up here, didn’t you?” Brian accused, outraged.
Dom chuckled and shrugged, not very apologetically. “I sure did, princess.”