They were through. They were going to make it. Dom took one full breath of sweet release. God, he needed this. The clarity, the rush…other people had drink, drugs, sex and a thousand neuroses to push their problems away, he had this.
He glanced over at Brian over the huge wheel of the Charger. Apparently when you triumphed over death, you didn’t care who you shared the moment with. Brian was smiling; Dom could see the white of his smile and the blue of his eyes and then there was the roar of a motor, the terrified blast of a horn and Brian was gone.
Dom blinked, twisting his head to gape at the semi which just roared up out of nowhere. Brian was probably back there; the Supra’s hood crumpled into the semi’s cab, smashed like a bug. Dom stomped on the brakes making the Charger fishtail. As he slowed marginally, a shadow blocked out the sun and the true horror of the situation burst open in his throat.
If his brain could have formed words to go with his instinctual response they probably would have been something like Holy fucking shit! The reason he couldn’t see Brian was because Brian was now directly above him.
The Supra crash-landed hood first and tried to tumble sideways while momentum dragged it forward. Glass exploded from it in a shower, followed by fiberglass shrapnel from the bodywork. Numbly, Dom pulled to a stop, almost overcome by nausea. It felt almost as if he was in there with Brian, being shaken like dice in a cup.
He was already running and the Supra hadn’t even stopped its skittering crash, smash, roll across the pavement. He had personally put that car together and he knew how little separated the driver from all the hard stuff. He found himself muttering under his breath something that sounded like, c’mon bitch stay together.
Amazingly, the Supra landed upright. The back left tire exploded and the rim shot sparks for the last few yards as it dragged to a halt, crowded up against the broad curb. Brian’s shadow hung limp. Dom’s throat tightened making him gasp as he ran.
The trunk, hood and the roof were crumpled beyond all recognition and the chassis was twisted. It didn’t look like Brian’s 2JZ was going to get resurrected again. Dom hesitated for a nanosecond before reaching the side of the car. If the car looked like that…
Brian appeared to be unconscious and bleeding freely. Dom’s heart sank as he took in the blood trailing in a thin gout from Brian’s ear; surely that was not good. He wasn’t sure what to do. He’d seen enough scenes like this that his first instinct was to yank Brian out of the shell of the car, but then Dom wasn’t sure if it would be safe to move him. Christ. He looked around frantically but it was like all life had been sucked from the street. There was just him and the unforgiving sun. And a thin whine of sirens, getting stronger.
Just then Brian moaned and rolled his head back on his neck. Dom took a deep breath and the sudden jolt of oxygen surprised him. He leaned hard on the door and muttered “Brian?”
Brian rolled his head on his headrest around to face Dom. He blinked and his eyes seemed to get impossibly wide. Brian pressed his hand to his forehead and winced. “Oh, fuck.”
“Brian, are you OK?” Dom tried to sound calm, but a little shiver of something made his voice unsteady. Sirens. Sirens, Doppler effect, getting closer and closer.
“Hit my head,” Brian said thickly.
“Yeah, I can see that buddy,” Dom said. “But are you OK?”
Brian looked at him blankly for a long moment and then his eyes screwed up. He tried to shake his head and winced again. “No.”
When he leaned forward to rest his head on the steering wheel, Dom noted that Brian still had a gun tucked gangster-style into his waistband.
Just walk away. Some part of Dom grew cold and taut with anger. Anger jabbed elbows with his fear. Just walk away, these sirens meant nothing to Brian. He was a cop; they’d take care of their own. He thought about Mia down on her knees, screaming.
“I called the cops.” the voice came from behind him. Dom turned slowly.
“You fucking street racers!” The trucker was holding one hand in the other, trying to scowl while his eyes were still popping. “You’re gonna pay for what you did to my cab.” He gestured vaguely back at his semi. He watched Brian with eyes that were somehow blank and avid at the same time. “You guys ain’t walking away from this, that’s for sure.”
Without thinking, Dom reached into the Supra and extracted the gun from Brian’s waistband. He leveled it at the trucker, safety still on, but the guy didn’t look like he was in any shape to notice. The trucker got even more pop-eyed and froze, looking like a deer with a mullet.
“Got that right,” Dom growled and it barely sounded like words, just menace shaped into sound. “We’re driving away from this. You never saw us.”
“I never saw you.” The trucker repeated dully.
“Get gone.” Dom said more clearly and the trucker backed up with jerky, hesitant steps. The sirens were making it hard to think.
As soon as the trucker had made it most of the way back to his cab, Dom reached another hand inside and push-pulled the Supra’s door open with a whining groan. Brian could move his neck; he was gripping the steering wheel. He could move. He could talk.
But Brian was kind of floppy in his arms, loose and unbalanced in a scary way. It took long seconds to manhandle Brian into the Charger, long seconds in which Dom couldn’t think at all.
Then they were driving, driving away. Sirens receding. Brian was bleeding, the Charger was hitching a little as its cylinders leaked and any careful plans Dom had were spooling apart like ground gears.
“Brian?” Dom asked as a glancing thought struck him should have been me.
Brian roused himself out of the scary half-lean that he had sunk into and tilted his eyes toward Dom tentatively.
“You’re going to be okay.” Dom had found a rag in the backseat that was almost semi-clean and he had wodged it tightly into Brian’s hand. Then he had cupped Brian’s fist and guided it until Brian could press it on the deep cut over his eyebrow. The white cloth was blooming red, but it wasn’t sopping.
“My head hurts,” Brian said faintly.
Dom gripped the steering wheel tightly. Why did everyone have to be so fucking fragile?
He himself felt hard and brittle, like metal with paint flaking off. He was regretting his hasty move already, but it was pretty minor and low down on the list of things he had to regret over the last day. “I bet it does. I’ll get you some help.”
“My mom’s going to be pissed,” Brian said faintly. Dom nodded at him vaguely and then the significance of what Brian had just said started flashing like a neon sign in his brain.
“Your mom, huh?” Dom tapped the steering wheel until he noticed he was doing it then stopped. They were already crossing First Street and the buildings were starting to grow tall. “Brian, what’s your mom’s name?”
Brian opened his mouth and then blinked. He started to blink more rapidly, staring out down the long hood of the Charger. He took a deep breath, then grimaced and grabbed his chest. “Uh, lemme just...”
Dom was suddenly completely enraged by Brian’s hitching, halting frailty.
“What’s your name?” He snarled and he could hear and feel the edge of savagery in his voice, it practically cut his throat. “What’s your last name?”
“My last….” Brian’s eyes and then his entire face winced. “I don’t….man, why are you so angry at me? I’m…”
He trailed off and Dom pulled off into the parking spaces which were empty and lined with trash. Olive Street. Downtown LA on Sunday afternoon was a ghost town. Brian looked like a ghost. Very pale with his eyes blank.
“What’s your name?” Dom sucked a breath around his teeth. He was gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were starting to hurt.
Brian answered readily enough. “Brian.” He nodded a little, unconsciously.
“How do you know that?” Dom felt the urgency like acid in his throat.
The light touch of bravado seemed to slide off Brian’s face while Dom watched. Brian touched his lip with his tongue and hung his head a little.
Brian looked at Dom sidelong and Dom noticed that terror appeared to be edging up on blankness. He whispered to the dashboard. “Mostly because you keep telling me I am.”
“Who are you?” Dom muttered, feeling cruelty and fury wash through him.
It felt like he was hovering about 10 feet off the ground, looking through the windshield, watching himself have this conversation with Brian.
Brian opened his mouth and no sound came out. Jesse had once explained what was happening when a computer froze. A script command running over and over, trying to find a way out of a logical loop. Brian looked like that now: frozen in a loop. His breath was starting to come even faster and he was blinking at odd intervals.
Brian pulled the cloth away from his head, saw the blood and flinched. He pressed it back on his brow and looked over at Dom plaintively. “Don’t you know?”
And that was it right there. That question which was both easy and impossible to answer.
Dom shoved the heels of his hands deep into his eye sockets and groaned. Then he actually punched the steering wheel which squeaked in protest. “It’s complicated, all right?”
Brian had recoiled from his anger. Dom hadn’t thought he could feel guiltier or crappier at this moment; obviously he was wrong.
“Okay.” Brian’s breath was starting to sound bad now. It was too shallow and uneven. Dom clenched his jaw and twisted the key so hard that the ignition gasped and stuttered. He pulled into the deserted street without looking. Lucky that traffic was so light. He was in no shape to drive, which meant that he was really in no shape to do anything.
“Where are we going?” Brian almost whispered.
“Get you fixed up,” Dom growled and then checked himself. “You’re gonna be fine, you hear me?”
“Okay,” Brian repeated softly. Dom tried to swallow the knot in his throat.
Dr. Takai was young, maybe younger than Dom. But everyone Dom had met so far in this ultra-crappy 24 hour clinic had seemed so tired, overworked and indifferent, when the doctor had finally breezed in drinking Starbucks coffee and looking like he actually gave a shit, Dom felt a wash of relief so strong that he forgot how long they’d been waiting.
Brian had submitted mildly when the nurse cut his shirt off. The doctor was flashing a light in Brian’s eyes while simultaneously scribbling notes, and no one seemed to be noticing Dom. He could probably just duck out right about now without anyone seeing.
But he’d done this. This was his fault.
The nurse got on the phone and started conferring with someone about an X-ray.
“You had a car accident, why didn’t you just call 911?” Dr. Takai asked, looking over his glasses at Dom. Brian looked at him too and the odd impression that Brian had started to age in reverse strengthened.
Dom said gruffly, “I panicked.”
The doc raised his eyebrows but didn’t say what he was thinking. “You left most of this form blank, Mr…?”
“Could I talk to you outside for a second?” Dom tilted his head at the door and stepped through it. He was pretty confident that the doc would follow him, if only out of curiosity.
Dr. Takai shrugged off a little of his professional demeanor when he stepped into the hall. “Look, man…we see a lot of sketchy circumstances around here so don’t think…”
“Yeah,” Dom nipped the lecture in the bud. “I know this looks bad, but I really don’t have any time to explain. Look, he hit his head pretty hard.”
Dr. Takai looked up at him with an expression that clearly indicated that Dr. Takai was not rolling his eyes. “Yes, I noticed that…” Something in his tone seemed to say I may moonlight in this shitty clinic, but I am no one’s idiot, asshole.
“Listen to me,” Dom used his most authoritative voice to cover his embarrassment. “I’m no doctor, but my friend bashed his head pretty hard and I think he might have …amnesia.”
Dr. Takai blinked and frowned down at his clipboard and spoke without looking at Dom. “Look, I’m certain he’s sustained some localized memory loss, but whatever movies you might have seen lately, amnesia is actually extremely rare…”
Dom struggled with words and with a sudden instinctive impulse to throttle the nice doctor. “No, seriously…I mean, look, check his wallet. Ask him some questions. He’s 25 years old, and one of the first things he told me was that his mom was going to be mad at him for crashing his car.”
Dr. Takai sighed and looked back at the door. He obviously did not think much of Dom’s theory. Then Dom must have shifted his weight, changed his posture or somehow turned menacing because Dr. Takai glanced up at him, looking startled. He said quickly, “I’d like to get him over to Good Samaritan, get a CT scan, so I’ll talk to him while we’re waiting. You’re welcome to…” He trailed off, indicating the door.
“Nah, I…”Dom swallowed. “I think me being there would just confuse him.”
Dom used the payphone to call Leon. Mia’s phone was switched off and the house just rang and rang. Leon sounded like he was doing what Dom was doing now, pacing in a clinic’s tiny waiting room. But Letty had apparently already kneed one doctor in the balls when she hadn’t liked his style so obviously she was recovering. In Leon’s rush of fury and anguish after he heard about Jess, he never asked Dom exactly what he was doing and Dom kept the circumstances vague. They arranged a place to meet in three week’s time.
Dom looked at the closed door down the hall and thought leave now. Just then Dr. Takai practically bounced out the door. “Are you Roman Pearce?”
“Uh, no,” Dom had a quick moment to wonder if he should have agreed to be this person. “I don’t know who that is.”
“Hmmmmm.” Dr. Takai walked to him while practically twittering down at his notes. “I owe you an apology. He does seem to have sustained some severe memory loss. All the cases I’ve read about like this are at least fifty years old. It’s incredible.”
The doctor scribbled some more in his folder and continued. “It seems kind of patchy. In his head, I think he’s about seventeen. I did a paper on a similar pathology back in…”
Dr. Takai was now clearly fascinated by Brian’s peculiar condition. Dom interjected quickly, “Is he going to be all right?”
The doctor blinked up at him and some of his enthusiasm seemed to wane. “Well, it’s pretty early to say without a scan, but I would guardedly say…physically, he’s going to be fine. A couple of his ribs are fractured, but…”
Dom couldn’t hide his incredulity. “He can’t remember eight years of his life and he’s going to be fine?”
Dom sounded angrier than he meant to. Dr. Takai seemed to quail for a second, then his voice got harder. “I’m sorry. That probably came out a bit glib. I want to reassure you that your friend is going to be fine, but I know this must be as troubling for you as it is for him.”
“He’s not… What are you going to do for him?” Dom asked.
Dr. Takai tapped his lips with his pen. “I’m going to see if I can get him admitted to a neurological unit, get some scans done, make sure there’s no swelling and nothing else is endangering him.”
“What are you going to do about the memory loss?” Dom asked pointedly, afraid that the answer was going to be nothing.
“Well,” Dr. Takai started using the pen to tap his clipboard. “There are different schools of thought about reconstruction therapy. It’ll really depend on his family’s wishes.”
Dom blinked very deliberately.
Dr. Takai exhaled and sketched the hint of a shrug. “Typically retrograde amnesia only blots out the moments before and during a trauma. It’s kind of like the record skips, do you know what I mean?”
Dom revised his estimate of Dr. Takai’s age and nodded.
The doctor seemed to perk up a little, “But what’s happened to your friend here…we don’t really know much about these kinds of brain injuries…they’re very rare, like I mentioned. I have a theory that sometimes trauma victims who have their memory interrupted have moments where the brain tries to contextualize. They sort of...conflate moments of anxiety, do you know what I mean?”
“No.” Dom said shortly.
“Well, it’s like this…he’s very scared and freaked out and his mind has taken him back to another moment in time where he was very scared and freaked out. Now his memories between that time and this one are still there and they’ll probably resurface gradually. He just needs to connect to them again. That will just take time. And we won’t know what will trigger his memory of himself, so it would be best just to reintroduce him as much as possible to his normal routine. Do you know what I mean?”
Dom blinked again. Dr. Takai was looking at him expectantly as if this was something completely possible to do.
“Look, Doctor,” Dom said slowly. “I have to go take care of some things, but I would really appreciate it if my friend got as much of your attention as possible. Do you know what I mean?”
Dr. Takai looked down at the hefty fold of bills that Dom had palmed with his handshake. “I do.”
“You’re leaving.” Being bashed on the head and reverting back to high school had obviously affected Brian’s observational skills not at all.
Dom felt guilty for a second and then furious with himself for feeling guilty. He was about to lie to Brian and even if Brian had spent almost two months lying to him, it still didn’t sit well.
“Stay here. Let him take care of you. I’ll be back later.” Dom said firmly because couldn’t make his voice sound soothing. He gripped Brian’s hand for a long moment overhand, like they were about to arm wrestle. Brian’s mouth was half open; he looked like he was trying to compose the protest that would make Dom stay. The fluorescent light made him look sallow and highlighted his growing bruises.
“How much later?” Brian asked softly after subjecting Dom to a long, blue gaze. Something in Dom’s chest swelled up until it pressed into his throat.
“Soon.” Dom patted Brian’s shoulder awkwardly with his other hand. He wondered if he was going to have to pull loose from Brian’s grip, but finally Brian let go.
He strode down the dim hallway and out the door, making himself move. Pushing past the weight of guilt and confusion, gaining momentum on grief and rage.
Watching the house for half an hour before he went inside was nerve-wracking. He could see the tire marks from the rubber Brian had laid not four hours ago. The grass was still trampled and torn across the lawn. There were sets of many footprints muddling up what had been puddles of darkening blood. Yellow tape wound around the scrubby trees and their mailbox. But the street was quiet. Mia’s car was gone. Nothing else seemed out of place.
He had parked over on an alley behind Laguna Avenue, leaving the Charger crouched between two old beaters. Two of the cylinders were bent and leaking and he was going to have to use his….he brought himself up short. The Charger was the last thing that needed his help right now.
He walked up the alley until it dead-ended into Marisol Lopez’ rose garden. He vaulted her fence and edged through the chain link into their yard. The back door was unlocked. He listened for a moment and then took the steps two at a time to his room. He got a duffle bag packed with the essentials and then went down to the kitchen to wait. Robotically, he made himself too much food and chewed it mechanically. It tasted like sawdust.
An hour before sunset, he heard the clink of her keys in the lock. She was alone. Her clothes were still bloodstained. When she saw him silhouetted against the kitchen door, she dropped everything she was holding and ran to him. She was so slim in his arms. He wrapped himself around her and her hair spilled over his wrists and absorbed his tears.
“Dom.” She sobbed into his chest and he squeezed her to make her stop shaking.
“Where’d they take him?” He murmured into her hairline.
“County,” She pulled back and her lashes were spiky with tears. “For an autopsy. They’re doing a whole investigation, Dom. They were here for hours. Johnny Tran is dead.”
She gulped and continued talking into his shoulder. “I think they think you killed him.”
“Brian killed him,” His mouth was dry. “I hurt Lance Nguyen pretty bad.”
She set her jaw. “Where is Brian? Why isn’t he…Did he let you go?”
“…Yeah.” He blinked. “Something like that.”
“So he’s gone then?” Her eyes were starting to get shiny again. “What’s the deal with his big sting? Are we off the hook?”
“Jess is dead and Vince may be dying,” Dom pressed a knuckle to her cheek where the tears were starting to spill. “Plus who knows what that trucker will do? Dunno if I’d say we were off the hook.”
“You know what I mean, Dom.” She spoke through a clenched jaw. “Aren’t you going to say something about my shitty taste in men?”
“Or my shitty taste in friends?” He said softly and Mia’s face twisted. “None of this is your fault, Mia. None of it. It’s all on me.” She buried her head in his chest and he spoke into her hair. “He was always going to use whatever leverage he had. The way it went down, it was good he was there and we found out when we did.”
“Dom, you know I would never…” the rest of what she had to say was lost in a sob.
“I want you to forget him, Mia,” Dom said, holding her head framed between his palms. He had to be cruel now to keep this from hurting worse later. “He’s probably already forgotten you.”
After the sunset faded and darkness had really caught hold, Mia drove with him to the garage and followed him through the maze of alleyways that fed to the back entrance.
“This one’s clean. Tank’s full.” Dom beeped open a silver Corsica and handed her the keys. “You sure about this? It’s a long drive out to Coachella.”
“If I start feeling tired, I’ll stop.” She’d braided her hair tightly and scrubbed her face. She looked unexpectedly serene. “He’s going to need a friendly face. And I don’t think I could…” She gestured back toward the house helplessly and Dom’s stomach twisted with the knowledge that his sister didn’t feel safe sleeping in their home.
“I’ll call you the second I get a new phone,” He promised.
“Disappear, Dom,” Mia dropped her bag in the trunk and gripped his wrist. “I mean it. Forget the cops, think of the Trans. Don’t take a chance.”
He pulled her to him. “Are you sure you can handle all of this?”
“I’ve been handling it, Dom. Haven’t you noticed that?” She looked up at him clear-eyed and it cut him deeper than the harshest reproach. She seemed to sense this, because she put her hand on one cheek and kissed the other one. He gave her one last squeeze and let her go.
He stood and watched her drive off until the sound of the engine had faded into the rest of the traffic. He swore under his breath and went out to the lot where an old, half-junked Buick GNX sat moldering in a corner. He twisted the muffler loose and pulled off the false bottom and extracted the envelope full of greenbacks inside. He screwed the pieces back together.
He jerked the stepladder free of its pile of detritus and set it down carefully. He felt a pressing need for stealth, even though the street outside remained blessedly free of sirens.
He stretched up to tip a battered coffee can off the least accessible top shelf. It had a couple of driver’s licenses with his picture and someone else’s name. One of them was from Nevada. He looked down at it. That fake person with the fake address, that was him now. It might as well be him.
The RX-7’s always-negligible trunk had been sacrificed to speakers and nitrous oxide. He was tucking his duffle into its front seat when he heard cautious footsteps on the concrete stoop outside. Someone was at the door.
Dom faded back into the shadows as best he could. He listened closely. It didn’t sound like a determined cop rattling the handle. It sounded like someone who was unsure if they were at the right address.
The lock snicked and the door was open. Someone moved hesitantly into the dark garage. The streetlight outside gushed in the opening and Dom gripped a crowbar, in preparation for what he didn’t know. He was just about to crack a skull first and ask questions later, when the uninvited visitor stepped further inside and the streetlight glinted on his hair.
Brian had a bandage twisted around his head and another rolled around his forearm. He looked better than he had earlier, but still awfully skittish. He gazed around at the garage with an expression that looked like wonder and almost awe.
“Brian?” Dom had a moment to curse himself; maybe this whole amnesia thing had been some stupid ruse to catch him off guard. Brian was probably getting ready to pull out his gun and his cuffs and tell Dom to come quietly.
“Don’t be angry,” Brian said quickly and that kind of took the wind out of Dom’s theory.
“What the fuck man?” Dom noticed that he was still clutching a manila envelope full of cash and he stuffed it into the left pocket of his cargo pants. “Why aren’t you at the hospital?”
“Uh, I…uhm. I had to…” Brian was wearing a t-shirt that was easily two sizes too small for him and he was shifting nervously. “Please don’t make me go back there.”
Dom washed his hands over his forehead. “Brian. You’re…hurt. You need professionals to look after you.”
Brian looked miserable now; he was scuffing the concrete with his feet and cupping his bare arms against the evening chill. “I know, but…I just….”
“Wait, how’d you know to come here?” This was like a dream, it just kept getting weirder.
Brian fished in his pocket for a second and then he pulled out and brandished a battered business card which clearly stated the address of DT Motors. Dom looked at it and the fierce sense of dislocation grew. He remembered giving that to Brian but it was a million years ago and maybe on another planet.
“I work here?” Brian sounded amazed and pleased. “I work on cars?”
Dom took a deep breath. Surely any moment Brian would admit that he was kidding. He had a sudden, vivid fantasy that maybe this was all some big joke: you’re on Candid Camera!
“Yes.” Dom clamped his mouth shut to keep from equivocating.
“So you’re, uh….” Brian continued haltingly. “We work together?”
“Uhm.” Dom rubbed his temples with his thumbs. “Kinda. In a way.”
“You’re my boss.” Brian was obviously trying to sound sure of himself and not like he was hazarding a guess.
Dom rolled his eyes. “I’m not your boss.”
But that made Brian look troubled and slightly hurt.
Dom sighed and tried to placate him while still being honest. What was he supposed to say, that they were friends? “You’re too…independent for me to be your boss, Brian.”
Brian seemed to chew this over. “What do I do here then?”
“What makes you think you do anything here?” Dom folded his arms and looked stern. Obviously, this anxious, hurt kid wasn’t Officer O’Conner and time might heal all wounds, but Dom couldn’t be kind to him right now. Not yet. “And how’d you get in here anyway?”
Brian just dug his hand back into his pocket and fished around for another moment. He pulled out a key and shoved it into the lock. He flicked the deadbolt in and out and looked over at Dom triumphantly.
Dom squinted at the key which he now recognized as Jesse’s. Of course, Brian and Jess had been the last to leave for Race Wars since Jess had been waiting for delivery of his custom Scorpion downpipe until literally the last second. Dom had shared a look with Brian over Jess’ head; do not let him forget to lock up. Because Jesse would have forgotten. Jesse was bad at details like that.
That had been the day before yesterday. Millennia had passed.
It was odd. Brian looked almost…joyful. Dom blinked as the insight flashed in his head. A key fit in a lock. Another person recognized him. And this was almost all the proof Brian had that he was a real person at the moment.
“Are we partners?” Brian asked shyly and the hope and longing in his voice made Dom want to punch himself in the face.
“Nah…yeah.” He scrubbed his hand over his face again; it felt like he’d been doing that a lot. “In a way. I don’t know.”
That was obviously not a happy answer. Brian’s face fell in a way that was visible even in this faint light. Brian turned toward the door and took a deep, guarded breath, cupping his hand over what must have been fractured ribs. He squared his shoulders and asked “What’s your name?”
Dom’s breath exploded in a bark of laughter.
Brian was still standing and looking at him, long and lean and un-amused.
“I’m Dominic Toretto.” His sense of irony made him shove his hand out. “Pleased to meet you.”
But Brian had stiffened even further and Dom noticed that Brian’s too-tight shirt was damp. Really damp, almost wet, like he’d stood under a sprinkler. Brian flicked another glance around and this time he was visibly nervous. “Hey, did I interrupt you in the middle of something? Were you about to leave?”
“Why?” Dom asked suspiciously.
Brian was shifting from foot to foot now. Everything about him screamed unease. “Maybe I could buy you a…something. Like…a cup of coffee or something.”
“Whatever, just what’s…” Dom started.
“I just think we should maybe…I’m not really 100%.” For a second, Brian clutched his head in an exaggerated mime. “I think I should…go lie down someplace. If that’s good with you.”
“Brian, I get the feeling that there’s something that you’re not telling me.” Dom said in his calmest voice.
While he had been listening all evening, if not completely consciously, the sound of distant sirens took a second to penetrate. He had been so focused on Brian’s sudden reappearance, the sudden awareness that distant and yet somehow purposeful sirens were closing in was a shock.
They both jumped when the garage door started opening, the force of its motor snapping the tiny bolt at its base. Dom actually gawked for a second even though he’d used a universal remote himself a time or two.
Outside, two cars had been pulled up in a V, blocking about two thirds of the drive. Spotlights washed over the inside of the garage, blinding Dom momentarily. He felt his lips pulling back from his teeth and rage seemed to spool up inside of him like torque.
There were three of them and two of them had guns. The older man who had the point position was unarmed and looked more like a college professor than a cop. He didn’t have a bullhorn, but he cupped his hands to call to them. “Toretto, this doesn’t need to get ugly.”
Brian grabbed his arm and unlocked him. Brian didn’t say anything, just jerked open the passenger side of the RX-7 and eeled inside on top of Dom’s duffle bag.
“Good to know.” Dom called back to buy some time while he retreated to the car. Brian gestured at him frantically and Dom slid into the RX-7 and pushed the key into the ignition so hard that he nearly snapped it off.
“You can make that,” Brian assured him, nodding at the not-quite-car-sized gap that the Crown Vics had left them.
“You sure you want me to?” Dom growled, half drowned out by the rotary thrum.
Brian shot him a wide-eyed look, like that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. “Fucking punch it dude, what are you waiting for?”
The older cop was still shouting. “….talk about it. Just come out here and…”
“O’Conner, what the fuck are you doing?” One of the guys who was bracing his gun stance on the hood of his car yelled.
“What are you doing?” Dom asked quietly, waiting for Brian to falter, to drop his eyes, to doubt. Dom kept his hand on the handbrake, while his right foot stoked the revs.
But Brian’s eyes just hardened, his expression got fierce for the first time and he hammered the side of his fist into the top of Dom’s knee. “Just go! NOW!”
“OK.” Dom said. And they went.
“You’re a good driver.” Brian said, clutching the oh shit handle and fighting to stay in his seat.
“Stop talking.” Dom ordered as he took the last 90 degree turn and bumped over a low curb. They both winced to hear the undercarriage raking the asphalt. But the alley was dark and empty and they could make good time down it. It spit them out onto Western and Dom merged into traffic, driving sedately south.
It had taken almost twenty minutes to get clear of the black and whites that suddenly swarmed around Echo Park like ants pouring out of an anthill. It had required all of Dom’s intimate knowledge of his neighborhood’s alleyways, the ability to play multiple games of chicken and driving at speeds that would have made a rally driver puke.
The shriek of sirens had finally faded and Dom allowed himself to take one deep breath. Brian was looking at him, chewing on his lower lip. It was weird. Ever since the accident, Brian’s face had become exponentially more expressive. Dom could read the trepidation in Brian’s casual slouch like the emotion was a flashing red light.
“Well, that was exciting.” Dom said dryly and Brian half-smiled.
“I, uh.” Brian gestured vaguely out the window. “We should talk.”
“You think?” Dom snapped. He caught Brian’s flinch out of the corner of his eye. “Sorry…just…cup of something, right? Maybe you could eat?”
Brian touched his stomach as if the idea had never occurred to him. “Yeah, totally. I’m starving.”
Dom drove on high alert, intensely conscious that there were probably all points bulletins circulating madly around the law enforcement community. His more cautious nature was screaming at him to ditch the car at once, but some newly-awakened fatalism just kept cruising southward on surface streets. If anything happened now, it happened. He’d deal.
After twenty tense minutes, old-fashioned curlicues spelling out ‘Manny’s Diner’ beckoned Dom into a cracked asphalt lot that had seen better days. He took the RX-7 around back, past a couple of beat-up Buicks and vintage Toyotas. He looked up at the cross street sign and grimaced. This neighborhood, it was no wonder nothing was open. This wasn’t exactly Beverly Hills.
Brian was looking at the front bumper of the Mazda mournfully. The left side was crushed pretty badly and the headlight was just ragged plastic crystals. The driver’s side was scraped down to the metal. Dom looked at it numbly, wondering if he’d ever really cared about stuff like this.
When they got inside, Brian picked up the menu and started examining it as soon as they sat down at one of the wobbly steel and lino tables. Dom thought for a second that this was just a delaying tactic, but the avid and yet slightly uncomfortable expression on Brian’s face seemed to hint otherwise.
The waitress looked like she’d also stepped out of the fifties, with a blue uniform and an updo. She looked tired and drawn, but her voice was still friendly.
“What can I get you guys?” She pulled a pencil out of her hair net.
“Cup of coffee. Black.”
“You ready, sugar?” The waitress looked solicitously down at Brian’s bandaged head as if she was about to start cooing at him. Her shelf of bosom looked very inviting.
Brian looked up from the menu, all little boy lost. “What’s good here?”
The waitress shifted her weight as if that was a new one on her. “Uhm. People like burgers. Soup’s good. We got a lot of sandwiches…”
Dom was just so tired of all this bullshit. He slapped his open palm onto the table and Brian, the waitress and most of the silverware jumped. “He’ll have a tuna sandwich. On white. Cut the crusts off. That’ll be all.”
The waitress didn’t even bother writing that down, she turned on her heel and retreated at a trot. Dom lifted his hand to point at Brian. “Start talking.”
Brian squinted at him. “Are you sure you’re not my boss?”
“Is this you talking?” Dom growled.
“It’s just…you’re kinda…bossy.” Brian shrugged it off and started. “You still haven’t really told me how we know each other.”
Dom stared at him over the table.
Brian just sat forward and said earnestly, “Sorry, but I think that’s kind of important.”
“I could leave now.” Dom muttered fiercely. “I could just walk out of here.”
Brian slouched back a little. “But you won’t.”
Dom glared. Busted.
“I mean.” Brian scrutinized Dom’s face “I have a key to get in your garage and yours is one of two business cards in my wallet. But we don’t exactly work together. You seem kind of unsure.”
Brian waited for a while until it was obvious that Dom wasn’t going to say anything.
Brian leaned forward so far it looked like he was about to rest his chin on his clenched fists. “And we’re not exactly friends. But you took me to a hospital and paid the bill.”
Brian lowered his voice. “And you just faced off with what looked like every cop in this city on my say so. But you can’t say we’re friends. And…I’m just going out on a limb here…I don’t think we’re related.”
Against his will, Dom’s lips quirked.
Brian leaned back. “I am really, really confused right now. But it seems like you’re even more confused than I am. Which is so scary, I can’t even begin to tell you how much.”
Dom opened his mouth, but the arrival of Brian’s sandwich and his coffee gave him a precious few more moments to think.
“Who’s Roman Pearce?” Dom asked and that seemed to throw a switch on Brian’s train of thought.
Brian smiled unreservedly. “He’s my best friend.”
Dom stirred his coffee, just to be doing something. Why did those words and that smile kind of sting a little? Ridiculous. “You remember him?”
“Sure.” Brian said around a mouthful of tuna.
Dom spoke slowly, conscious that he was broaching a sore subject. “Earlier you, uh, couldn’t remember your mom’s name.”
Brian looked troubled while he chewed and swallowed. “Doctor said that would come back. I’m not supposed to stress out about that too much and then I’ll just…remember.”
“But you remember…” Dom started.
“Rome, yeah.” Brian grinned down at the last half of his sandwich. “He’s hard to forget.”
Dom leaned back in his chair and signaled for the check. The waitress approached them cautiously. Dom threw a twenty on their $8 tab and sweetly asked if he could borrow her pen. Brian smiled at her and she seemed kind of dazed as she handed it over.
Dom flipped the check over and thrust the pen at Brian. “Can you remember his number?”
Brian chewed and swallowed again. He took the pen and tapped the paper nervously. He looked up at Dom. “I can’t think about it too hard. If I try, it just…disappears.”
“So don’t try,” Dom said reasonably. “Just close your eyes and let the pen move.”
Brian tapped the paper some more and took another bite. He wrote a few numbers and then scribbled over them. “Can I ask you a question?”
“I guess.” Dom had just been about to ask a question of his own, but it would keep.
“That car I wrecked…did I steal it?” Brian looked up from his plate, too-casually.
Again Dom found himself almost tempted to smile. “I don’t really know, but I doubt it.”
Brian looked at him searchingly.
Dom leaned in, “Brian, I want you to tell me everything that happened since I left you at the hospital. You have to tell me everything. I won’t be mad.”
Brian took a deep breath and nodded. “OK, so like…the doctor told me they were going to move me to a bigger hospital. So he had to make all these phone calls and while he was doing that, he told me to take everything out of my wallet to see if that would…”
Brian trailed off. Dom nodded encouragingly. “Make you remember?”
“Yeah.” Brian looked like he was trying to mask his distress. “But it just gave me a headache. I dunno. It’s just weird.”
Brian frowned at the ceiling and extracted his wallet from his back pocket. He thumbed his driver’s license loose. “I mean…OK, so I’m Brian Earl Spilner and I live at 1825 North Crestview in Tucson, Arizona. And that’s my birthday. But.”
Dom kept his face neutral and folded his arms.
“I mean,” Brian rubbed his forehead, avoiding the bandage. “It just…doesn’t…seem right. Like it’s almost right, but not quite right. And look.”
Brian scrawled a signature on the back of the check. “I can’t sign my name like that. See?”
“Yeah,” Dom examined both signatures. “Kind of awkward.”
“Plus, hey…bigger questions? I figured this out myself: I’m in Los Angeles now: Where the fuck do I live? What do I do when I get up in the morning?”
Brian leaned forward and almost whispered, “Why are the cops looking for me? What have I done?”
Dom blinked and bit his lower lip. “What happened after they moved you to the new hospital?”
Brian scowled. “Yeah, well, they took me in an ambulance, they made me put on a fucking gown and then they did one of those scary scans like you see on TV.”
“An MRI?” Dom guessed.
“Yeah or something, whatever, it sucked.” Brian shrugged. “So then I get out and this guy is there. Cop dude. But I didn’t know he was a cop at the time and I was all excited because he knew me.”
Dom discovered that he was leaning forward too. Their heads were way too close together. “What did the cop say?”
“Well, first he was all like ‘Brian, are you all right?’ and then he was like ‘Where’s Toretto?’”
Dom raised his eyebrows. “So what did you say?”
“I told him I didn’t know.” Brian spread his hands, dropping the pen. “Because, I mean…I didn’t. I didn’t even know you were you, Dominic. But it’s not like I would have anyway.”
Dom had an odd urge to grab Brian’s shoulder and squeeze it. He quashed it and asked, “What happened then?”
“Well, this guy was just going on about you, where were you, was it you who hurt me, saying something about some other guy, some Asian name I forgot and then he got on his cell phone and that’s when I realized he was a cop. Fucking cops.”
Brian said this with such casual savagery that Dom was taken aback. “So then what happened?”
“The nurse came in to do some stuff, blood pressure, that eye check thing…and they made him step out into the hall. Then I said I had to go to the bathroom, so while he was busy talking to the nurse, I took off.”
Brian jerked at the collar of his too-tight shirt. “Took this from some other guy’s room and then I just followed some interns who were going off shift. I got outside and walked a few blocks up, then I hitched a ride with some dude who said he wouldn’t go into East L.A. after dark but he would go to Echo Park. So I went to DT Motors instead of the Racer’s Edge. And you know the rest.”
Dom took a deep breath. He had no doubt that Brian was telling the truth. Trying to interpret it from Brian’s altered point of view was making his own head hurt. He snorted under his breath.
“What?” Brian sounded peevish.
Dom shrugged, unable to explain. “I was just thinking that dressed like that, you’re lucky all you got was a ride in a car.”
Brian cocked his head and then turned sideways to look out the window. Dom watched Brian take in his own reflection. Brian slouched down a little further in his chair and then made a comically flirty face at Dom, all pursed lips and fluttery eyelashes.
Reluctantly, Dom chuckled and rubbed his eyes.
“So your turn, Dominic.” Brian slapped one of his own hands down on the table, more gently than Dom had done, but still loud enough to make the cook look over at them. “Why are the cops after us? Why are you so mad at me? Have I fucked something up?”
Dom stayed silent so Brian leaned forward and it seemed like he was about to speak, but then he blinked and snatched the pen off the table. Dom watched as Brian scribbled two numbers in quick succession. Brian looked at the numbers for a long moment, tracing them with the pen until they were heavy black scrawls. He seemed to waver about a couple of digits, but then he looked up at Dom and his eyes were triumphant.
Dom frowned down at the numbers; he didn’t recognize the area codes. He reached into his pocket and palmed a nest of change. He passed it over to Brian and jerked his thumb at the payphone by the toilets. “Call him. See if he can meet us someplace out of town.”
Brian made an expression which made Dom feel momentarily like a rock star. “Back in a sec.”
The waitress refilled Dom’s cup and he returned her pen. “You boys look like you’re having a rough night.”
“I’ve had better.” Dom conceded. He stared out at the flickering headlights. He wished he could slow everything down to about half-speed right now so he could have a little time to think and figure out what to do.
Abruptly, Brian was sitting in front of him again. Brian was slumped in his chair like a sack of potatoes. Brian looked older suddenly, tight and strained.
“So, anything?” Dom asked.
Brian raked a hand through his hair, which was kind of an un-Brian-like gesture. “Not exactly good news.”
“What?” Dom beckoned for more.
“Cell phone didn’t work…” Brian frowned down at the table. “And the reason the cell phone didn’t work is because he’s in prison.”
Dom sagged back into his own seat and raised his eyebrows.
“In Chino.” Brian started playing with his cutlery absently.
“You spoke with his…dad?” Dom hazarded.
“His sister.” Brian frowned harder. He looked like he was trying to mate spoon with fork.
“You didn’t get any more…details?” Dom asked. “Where they live, where your parents are?”
“She didn’t seem all that jazzed to hear from me.” Brian dropped his spoon and fork, aggravated. “When I told her who I was, she asked if I was fucking with her and hung up.”
“Shit…” Dom started and then stopped at the look on Brian’s face. “Look, it’s okay. We’ll figure something else out.”
“Oh, so we’re friends now?” Brian snarled. He checked himself and pressed a couple of fingers into his bandaged brow.
Dom counted to ten. “Look, we could both use some rest. Let’s roll; we’ve been here too long already.”
“Yeah, right.” Brian acceded and stood up.
Brian followed him, almost literally at his heels. Dom cursed himself for threatening to leave, that had been stupid and immature. Now Brian had some kind of separation anxiety on top of everything else.
Dom took a deep breath of the cool air out in the lot. Somehow, it had gotten late. He scanned the empty street and turned back toward the RX-7. He’d taken two steps when a voice came out of the shadowed side of a building fronting the alley, “Hey man, that’s a nice ride.”
Dom felt tingling prickles of adrenaline cascade from his neck down his back as he stopped walking and let his weight center. Brian had stopped too, a few feet from his left elbow.
There were six of them. The urban equivalent of the wolf-pack. Dom cursed himself for the thousandth time. He’d been so focused on the bigger, more bizarre problems that he’d forgotten his common sense. Thou shalt not visit South Central Los Angeles after dark, alone and unaffiliated. Between the gangbangers and the LAPD, no one had yet proved who was the more implacable opponent.
Dom shot a quick glance at Brian, warning him to be cool. For the third time that day he felt the vast gulf between doing something that endangered your freedom versus something that endangered your life.
“You like it?” Dom said slowly. From this angle they couldn’t see the driver’s side where Dom had gone head to head with a three thousand pound Ford.
“Very sweet,” the guy talking was big, not as tall as Dom, but just as wide. He looked even larger as his clothes were too big; the wide-legged, baggy jeans almost made him look like a kid. A very deadly, sociopathic kind of kid. The others were slimmer and Dom could only differentiate them by their headgear. One of them could have been a fashion model; he was all high cheekbones and full lips and his torso was like an anatomical drawing with every muscle clearly defined. “S’right color and everything.”
There was a threat implicit in that statement that Dom chose not to acknowledge. The gangbanger clicked his keyless entry and an Escalade was momentarily wreathed in its parking lights. “That’s my girl right there, but I’ve been thinking of getting one of those imports.”
“They’re pretty quick,” Dom acknowledged. Two of the gangsters had detached themselves from the group and were now sniffing around Brian. Brian was motionless and Dom could feel nothing from him but tense readiness.
“What y’all doing tonight?” Dom wished the leader would just cut through the cat-and-mouse bullshit and just get on with robbing or killing them or leaving them the fuck alone.
“Just out for a drive.” Dom swung his keys in an arc around his fingers and they jingled loudly. He noticed that none of the diner’s patrons seemed to think that now was a good time to leave.
“That so?” The leader stroked his cheek with one long fingernail and looked Brian up and down. “Y’all from the neighborhood? Can’t say I’ve ever seen you around.”
“Got a little lost.” Dom scratched the back of his neck and tried to look sheepish.
“S’cool.” The leader seemed to be ready to chat all night while implicit menace just swirled around them. “It just seems like I should know you and I don’t. And we…” He gestured at his crew. “…just like to know people.”
“Hey, you gonna ask him out or you just wanna dance?” Dom shot this sideways at the impossibly good-looking young thug who was crowding Brian almost chest to chest. Brian was very carefully not backing off and Dom could feel his growing desire to punch someone in the throat. Which would probably end badly.
The tension didn’t break but it changed, it deepened somehow when the leader laughed. The handsome gangbanger sneered, but backed off a couple of steps.
“Why don’t you take it for a spin?” Dom held up the keys, laced through his fingers and then tossed them at the leader who caught them gracefully and cocked his head. They all seemed puzzled by Dom’s apparent lack of concern and he took advantage of it to pull his bag free from the passenger side footwell. The young ones who’d been mobbing Brian started forward keenly.
“You guys gonna walk around a little, you might just want to leave the bag.” The leader said this in a significant voice and internally, Dom gritted his teeth. He’d conceded too soon so they were getting cocky. They didn’t, as they’d said, know him.
“It’s not a problem.” He growled in a tone that most people wouldn’t misinterpret.
“I think it is.” The leader scratched his chest and delicately pulled up one side of his baggy t-shirt so Dom could see the shadow of his gun’s grip. So they’d reached the point of no return in less than five minutes. Fucking typical.
There was nothing in the bag worth dying for, but the principle of the thing kind of ate at Dom. This was all the life he was taking from Echo Park.
“Yeah?” Dom breathed deeply through his nose and pulled Brian’s gun out of his waistband. He held it down, but it was still out and heavy at his side. Brian’s gun was some kind of semi-automatic, nine-millimeter something; it had many more rounds in the magazine than the leader’s cheap Saturday Night Special. All of the gangbangers seemed to ripple, like some vital setting had changed.
“S’cool.” The leader said after a long, pregnant pause. “Y’all enjoy your evening.”
Dom showed all his teeth for a second and then the leader tossed the keys at the handsome kid and waved the others back into the Escalade. But Dom didn’t take a deep breath until they’d all ripped out of the parking lot leaving a miasma of tension and the smell of smoking rubber.
Dom turned on his heel, feeling a moment of mean satisfaction. It was an even bet if those thugs could get the car to a chop shop before the wrath of the LAPD deluged them. He found himself hoping for the latter. He started walking north rapidly, feeling Brian fall in step with him.
“You have a gun,” Brian’s eyes had widened and he looked very young again. “You have a gun,” he repeated quickly, his voice half an octave higher. Like Dom had forgotten somehow.
“Shhhhh!” Dom glared at him. “It’s your gun.”
Brian stopped moving. “Mine? I have a gun? Why do I have a gun?”
“Because!” Dom bit down on all the angry things he wanted to say. “Lower your voice.” Jeez, this was impossible. If he explained it to himself, he would never believe it.
“Fucking A, this is impossible.” Dom muttered and then realized he’d given voice to his thoughts. He nudged Brian to get him to start walking again. “Look, we need to get the hell out of here, so let’s do that and I’ll explain later.”
“Explain now!” Brian had stopped mulishly in the middle of the empty sidewalk.
Dom grabbed Brian’s upper arm and kind of jerked him forward. “You wanna die? Look, Brian, I’ve got a car about eight miles north of here and that might as well be the moon. To get there we need either a working pay phone or a taxi which in South Central is like saying you need a Bengal tiger. If we get out of here in one piece, it’ll be a goddamned miracle, got me?” He shook Brian a little, not to hurt him but just to release the pressure.
Brian looked down at Dom’s hand and then into his eyes and said, “You have four bucks? I only have twenties.”
“What?” Dom snapped, but Brian had already twisted away from him and was standing half in the street, waving at someone. Dom blinked. A Metrobus was making its ponderous way toward them, driving almost in the middle of the wide avenue.
“Brian, it’s never gonna stop. They don’t stop down…” Dom started, when the bus pulled to a whistling, creaking halt next to Brian. Brian took two steps up into the belly of the bus and then turned back to call, “you coming?” at Dom. The bright fluorescent light streaming around him momentarily gave him a halo.
Dom shut his mouth and followed Brian. The driver nearly shut the door on his heels and kept on his rumbling route while Dom fished out the cash for the fares. Dom followed Brian back to a seat at the rear and slumped down beside him. Apart from a few exhausted-looking Latino women, they had the bus to themselves.
“You said we were partners,” Brian said softly. “I’m beginning to think we’re partners in crime.”
Dom buried his face in his hands.
“I like this car.” Brian tapped the hood of the Charger lightly. “Suits you better.”
“Glad you approve.” Dom returned sarcastically. He wondered how safe this course of action was. The Charger wasn’t registered and not many people knew about it. Brian had watched him switch out the back plate dispassionately, just holding out his hand for the front plate. Dom got up from his crouch and watched Brian tighten the screws, kneeling in front of the Charger like it was an altar. He tried to look at them both through a cop’s eyes. With this car, they were way too memorable.
“Here.” Dom reached into his bag and pulled out a baseball cap. “Wear this.”
Brian winced as he stood up and then centered the cap carefully on his head. The brim covered his bandage almost completely.
“What now?” Brian leaned on the side of the car, looking expectant.
Dom stalked around to the driver’s side thinking, wish I knew. Brian slid onto the bench seat beside him. He twisted the key feeling the Charger snort and shimmy to life. They rumbled off down Laguna and Dom paused at the edge of the park, watching the lake water sparkle in the streetlights.
“Dominic?” Brian asked softly and Dom grunted and turned onto the 101. The Hollywood freeway wouldn’t take them anywhere they wanted to go, but it was a start.
“You still haven’t told me shit.” It sounded like Brian was trying to keep his voice neutral, but he wasn’t doing that great a job. He sounded kind of petulant. Dom grimaced. Like a teenager.
“What do you want to know?” Dom scowled at the dashboard. Fuck, they needed gas.
Brian fidgeted and he sounded irritated. “Pretty much anything would be a start.”
“Your name is Brian.” Dom started, ignoring Brian’s eye-roll. “You haven’t been in L.A. that long to my knowledge. We met at a street race.”
Wait, that was wrong. Dom bit his lip. His own memory was getting selective. They’d met first at the diner, he’d been walking in, Brian had been walking out. They’d just exchanged nods and he hadn’t realized then that Brian was going to become a feature at Mia’s counter.
“Did I race?” Brian was all over that idea. “What was I running? Did I win?”
“Hell no.” Dom growled. “You were running a Mitsubishi Eclipse and you put up your slips. You owe me a car.”
Brian was mercifully silent while Dom navigated another interchange. He’d swung south at the 405 and then back east on the 10, motoring a circle around Los Angeles like he was trying to build up momentum. He could stay on Interstate 10 for the next two thousand miles. He suspected he’d chosen wisely.
“What happened to the Eclipse then?” Brian asked finally, which Dom thought was a pretty cool response.
“It got fucked up.” Dom said shortly. That definitely wasn’t a topic for a fragile mind.
Another bout of silence from Brian, who then said very quietly. “Well, did I at least get close?”
Dom snorted instead of laughing. At base, it was reassuring. Brian was still Brian down at the core. “Yeah, man. It was touch and go for a second. You almost had me.”
In a million years, he’d never have said that to the original Brian O’Conner. But it was worth it just to see this incarnation grin and nod to himself.
“Is that why you’re mad at me?” Brian surmised, watching Dom closely. “I fucked up that Supra good and proper, huh? And it was yours.”
That was new. That was good probably, Brian remembered the body type. But that left the whole other issue that Brian’s thoughts and memories might be a little scrambled, but his gut feelings were spot-on.
Dom sighed. “I’m not…actually…mad at you.” Which was true, in a way. He couldn’t think of any other reason why he’d been so gentle with this fucking cop. “I’m just mad. Some bad shit has happened and you and I have had some…philosophical differences.”
Brian fidgeted again and was silent. Brian watched the road carefully as they drove through Azusa. He didn’t turn to look at Dom as he said, “I’m sorry, Dominic. Whatever it is, I’m really sorry.”
Dom felt his teeth grind together as his eyes tightened. Amazing how those soft words could hurt so badly.
He took the next exit and pulled up under the wide expanse of truck-stop light. He noticed that Brian hesitated a second before heaving himself out of the car. He jerked his chin and Brian nodded. Dom heard the screech of the gas cap as he went in to pay.
He gave a fifty to the attendant and then walked aimlessly around the aisles of junk food, maps and trucker porn until he found what he needed. Another twenty and he’d filled a bag with enough snacks and such to get them at least to Vegas. If that was where they were headed.
When both of the Charger’s doors had thunked shut again, Dom hitched himself up to lean on the steering wheel for a moment. Where were they going? He was starting to blink a lot and he had a headache that was crawling down his neck. There was no working clock in the Charger and he’d ditched his cell phone with the Supra, so he pulled out his receipt and checked the time stamp.
It was almost two in the morning. Dom sighed. Whatever they were doing, they weren’t doing it tonight.
“What’s the matter?” Brian asked.
“I’d like to stop somewhere, but I don’t know…” Dom gripped the steering wheel and stared down at the freeway.
Brian squinted out at the signs. He looked over at Dom shyly. “Can we go toward Tucson?”
Dom took a deep breath and nodded. Brian had been fiddling with the radio and as Dom turned and accelerated back onto the freeway, he kept fiddling.
“What’re you doing?” Dom snapped finally, annoyed.
Brian leaned back, looking disconsolate. “I just….I don’t know any of this music.”
Dom closed his mouth, unsure of what he could say to that. He reached out and twisted the dial to a classic rock station and Brian relaxed back into the seat. Dom kept his eyes on the road, but occasionally he noticed Brian’s eyes on him. He wasn’t fast enough to catch Brian at it, wasn’t sure if he wanted to.
After about half an hour, they came to a Motel Six where, unsurprisingly, the lights were still on. Brian trudged behind Dom to a generous-sized room at the end of the lot. Dom slung his bag onto a chair and watched Brian take in every detail of the room, the bathroom, the closet. Brian was like a dog checking out new territory.
He reached into the bag and fished out a bottle of pills. He threw it to Brian who caught it and winced.
“What’s this for?” Brian sounded startled.
“They probably gave you painkillers at the hospital. They’re probably wearing off about now.” Dom snatched the bottle out of Brian’s hands when Brian seemed inclined to do nothing but look at it. Dom twisted it open and tapped out a handful. The plastic glasses in the bathroom were wrapped in a clingy film which he tore open with his teeth. Brian looked down at the pills and the glass of water and then up at Dom.
“How’d you know?” Brian was looking at him with a very strange expression. It made Dom itch all over. Brian broke his gaze to take the pills.
“I know pain.” Dom growled, trying to ignore the sticky grime that clung to him like a second skin. “You can have the first shower.”
Brian nodded and turned slightly sideways in the shadow next to the bathroom. When he tried to pull his shirt off, he bit down on a yelp.
“Whoa, hold up.” Dom held out a restraining hand. In the mirror’s reflection, Brian was breathing hard and his forehead glittered with sweat.
“Hurts.” Brian gasped at Dom, still trying to pull up the hem of his shirt.
“Well stop doing it, don’t be a dumbass.” Dom got close and gently curled his fingers under Brian’s hem, jerking his chin. “Raise your arms, but stop if it hurts.”
The shirt was so tight that he had essentially to peel it off Brian and by the time he’d delicately pulled it over Brian’s head and elbows Dom was grimacing.
“Bad, huh?” Brian was still breathing harder than he should’ve been and one of his eyes was screwed tight with pain. Someone had taped his ribs, but bruises bloomed across his shoulders where the harness had cut into him.
“Doesn’t look like it feels good.” Dom examined Brian’s back, pushing him lightly to and fro with two fingers. Apart from the harness bruises, Brian’s elbows and forearms were raw and abraded. Dom didn’t know if that was from the crash or his acrobatics with the semi. “Go on…shower’ll make a new man out of you.”
Brian swallowed and tried to smile. Dom settled on the edge of the outside bed and turned on the television. Luckily it was too late for a news report.
Brian was pink and glowing after his shower, which highlighted the purple crisscrossing his torso. Dom shifted uncomfortably, switched off the TV and stood up to switch places with him. “That better?”
“Much.” Brian looked down at the inside bed, bemused. “These are yours.”
“No shit.” Dom frowned. “We’ll go shopping tomorrow.”
He looked away as Brian began trading the towel for his oversized clothes. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as he expected. His pants were loose on Brian, but they’d stay on even without a belt. Brian started trying to re-wrap the bandages around his chest until Dom rolled his eyes and stepped in to help.
“Do you know where I live?” Brian asked, looking to catch Dom’s eyes.
Dom kept his head down. “No.” The fact that Brian had been spending three nights out of five on a couch at the Toretto’s was neither here nor there. Dom thought fleetingly of something Mia had said about a back room at Harry’s, but he kept mum. Brian still huffed whenever he had to raise his arms so Dom helped Brian thread his arms through one of Dom’s oldest, softest t-shirts.
“Thanks.” Brian sat down on the bed and slid back gingerly. Dom took fresh clothes and boxers with him into the bathroom. When he came out in a cloud of steam, Brian was asleep. Dom gently angled the remote out of Brian’s slack fingers, channel-surfed mindlessly for a bit and then turned the TV off. He thought about Jesse and squeezed his eyes shut.
Vengeance had come too quickly. He couldn’t wrap his head around it.
He looked over at Brian. If he could, would he have switched places? The slate wiped clean? No memory of all the blood and torment?
But one of the reasons this Brian had seemed so unfamiliar to him was that this Brian had spent the day looking pretty freaked out. However good no memory might sound on paper, it didn’t look comforting at all.
When Dom woke up, he had one blissful moment where he thought he was lying in his own bed, burrowed into his own pillow. When he turned onto his back, the bitter truth swallowed up the sweet lie. Brian had pulled a chair over to the window and was looking out at the cars coming and going in the lot.
Dom sat up slowly thinking that he’d probably been supposed to do something…wake Brian up at intervals or something. There was something you were supposed to do with people who had head injuries, not let them fall too deeply asleep or something. Oh well. Brian continued to look okay, if maybe too young, too open and too scared.
Dom yawned as Brian asked, “You sleep okay?”
Dom grunted. He’d expected nightmares and gotten blackness. Small miracles.
“How about you?” Dom wiped the sleep out of his eyes and squinted at Brian.
Brian looked back out the window. Dom stood up to pull on his pants, grimacing. In Dom’s clothes, Brian looked even younger than usual. Which was unnerving.
“Janine,” Brian said clearly, still not looking at Dom.
“What?” Dom rubbed his face.
“My mom’s name.” Brian continued slowly. “Is Janine.”
Dom nodded tentatively. “That’s good. You remember.”
“Yeah.” Brian said in half a voice and when Dom looked up tears were rolling down Brian’s face. The tracks of them glittered in the slant of early morning sun.
Dom blinked, horrified. Brian wasn’t sobbing; it was just like his face was leaking, overflowing from his eyes.
Dom looked away quickly, and felt like a dick. He hated the part of himself that was tempted to cough suggestively and vanish into the bathroom until Brian had a hold of himself again. Brian hadn’t turned completely away from him and another part of Dom wondered if Brian realized what he was doing. Tears were starting to stain his shirt in a dark fringe around his collar.
“Hey,” Dom said unwillingly. He slid to the foot of the bed and put his hand on Brian’s shoulder. “It’s okay.”
Brian turned to look at him with a puzzled look on his face. Then he swallowed and suddenly seemed to become conscious of the fact that he was weeping like a child. Brian swiped at his face clumsily with both hands and curled up on himself. Dom tightened his grip and somehow he had both arms around Brian as Brian soaked his shoulder and gulped deep breaths against Dom’s bicep. He could tell by the shudders as Brian’s breath hitched just how hard Brian was fighting for control.
Dom took a deep, uneasy breath and patted Brian’s back awkwardly. Brian had fisted both hands in Dom’s t-shirt at the shoulders and it was almost at the line of being painfully embarrassing.
“God, I’m sorry.” Brian jerked back, blowing his breath out and scraping at his face with his still-clenched fists. “Really sorry. Kinda lost it there.”
He didn’t look at Dom. Dom dropped his suddenly-useless hands and cleared his throat. “It’s cool, man. You’re allowed.”
“This is heavy shit.” Brian said under his breath. Dom watched Brian’s jaw working under his skin. Brian needed to shave, but Dom wasn’t going to suggest it. Anything that made Brian look his age could only be a good thing.
“You gonna be okay?” Dom asked cautiously.
When Brian stayed silent, Dom continued. “I feel bad, man. You probably have a concussion. I haven’t been looking out for you like I should.”
“It’s all right.” The shadow of a smile flicked over Brian’s face. “I mean, nothing hurts except my….bones.”
Dom picked up the tone. “And organs?”
“Just the major ones.” Brian shrugged and made a face to prove his point. He pressed his fingers into his jaw as if trying to measure the hurt.
Dom picked the bottle of pills up from the credenza and brandished it. Brian frowned, but took it from him. Out of the direct sunlight from the window, he could see where a bruise crept out of Brian’s hairline.
“Hungry?” Dom stepped into the bathroom and turned on the taps, cupping his hand to splash water on his face. “How long have you been up?”
“I could eat.” When Brian reached up to rub the back of his head, his t-shirt rode up. He didn’t answer the second part of the question.
Dom took a couple of gulps of water and stood up. He examined his hollow-eyed, unshaven self. Took a deep breath. He could still see Brian, two mirrors’ reflection away. Brian was absently rubbing his forehead again, scratching around the bandage.
For some reason, looking at Brian had stopped reminding him of his failure and grief. He’d even stopped thinking about Brian’s betrayal. This Brian was like a blank space on a map. Brian’s predicament was so huge and fucked up; it almost eclipsed all the other hugely fucked-up things that had happened.
“Where are we?” Brian squinted out the window again.
“Dunno exactly.” Dom scrubbed his face with a towel. His shirt was still wet with tears. “Banning. Indio, maybe.”
Taking a closer look at Brian’s face, Dom said more quietly, “About 400 miles from Tucson. We can make it by this afternoon, easy.”
Brian tapped his fingers in a rapid rhythm on the window. He turned to look at Dom for the first time since he’d broken down completely. “Can I drive?”
Dom was going to say no just on general principles. In living memory no one but Torettos ever drove the Charger. But something made him check himself even in the moment he was opening his mouth to refuse. The keys jangled as he pulled them out of his pocket and flung them at Brian underhand.
Brian caught them easily.
“So what do I do?” Brian kept his eyes forward. “You haven’t explained that bit. Seems like that’d be easy. I work with you.”
Dom kept himself from sighing by a very thin margin. “You know that other business card you have? The Racer’s Edge?”
“Sounds like a parts supplier.” Brian rejoined and glanced at Dom for confirmation.
“Yeah. You make deliveries for them.”
Brian made a face and Dom said, “What? It’s an honest job.” He put a little emphasis on the word ‘honest’.
“Nah, I’m sure it’s a great job.” Brian looked over at him skeptically. “For an eighteen year old, it’d be kick ass.”
“So what’s your problem?” Dom leaned into the door, so he could watch Brian’s face.
“My license says I’m twenty-five.” Brian said. “Just…I’d have thought…I’d have come further by now.”
“Oh you’ve come further all right.” Dom said under his breath.
Brian said. “What?” He pitched his voice to carry over the engine.
“Nothing.” Dom found himself wondering if Brian had kept anything incriminating back at Harry’s. He wondered idly what they had on Harry.
“So what do I do for you?” Brian sounded like he was asking this casually, but Dom saw how his hands tightened on the steering wheel.
“The Racer’s Edge is business, what you do for me is…” Dom trailed off, realizing he’d been about to say ‘pleasure’ which wouldn’t have sounded right at all. “You race for me. You help out around my place.” You date my sister. We are friends.
“Thought I lost my race with you.” Brian squinted at a road sign. “Thought maybe I kind of sucked.”
For the first time that day, Dom grinned. It kind of hurt his face. “You’ve got potential. And I don’t say that about everyone.”
“I’ve got potential, huh?” Brian still looked dubious.
The grin fell off Dom’s face when he realized he should have said you had potential.
“I like racing with you.” Dom said dully. “You don’t have much polish, but you’re…fearless. You really…commit.”
Brian bobbed his head but it didn’t look like he believed Dom. The silence stretched out in the empty miles.
“So, you really can’t tell me anything more about…me?” Brian wrapped up the sentence sheepishly. He made a pained expression at the horizon which was already hazing with desert dust.
Dom sighed and scratched his eyebrow. “We’ve only known each other a little while and you don’t talk much about yourself.”
Dom felt a hot splash of anger fountain up inside when he said that. They were approaching Coachella. Highway 86 was just a few exits up the road. He gripped the seat back hard with his left hand, just to have something to be doing with it that wasn’t punching Brian O’Conner. The anger felt weird though. Twisted up, backwards, turned around.
There was an outlet mall blooming out of nothing. Another strip mall curled off of it, almost receding into the haze.
“Turn off here.” Dom growled, cutting off whatever Brian was going to say. “I need to buy a cell phone.”
“He’s okay.” She said without preamble. Dom shut his eyes and rubbed his forehead. She was so clever; he couldn’t ever decide if it was a blessing or a shame.
“Ol’ coyote’s hard to kill.” Dom muttered. “How about you, you all right?”
“I’m all right. Can’t talk long.” She sighed into the phone. “You okay?”
Dom made a non-committal noise.
Her voice got slightly muffled and pitched lower. “Apparently, Brian’s gone AWOL.”
Dom took a deep breath. He looked through the windshield at Brian who was slumped back, basking in what was turning into punishing sunlight. “Are they hassling you?”
“They’ve got some odd theories.”
Dom waited for Mia to elaborate. When she didn’t, he shifted his weight foot to foot and wondered how to end the call.
“Remember what I said.” She said abruptly and then the silence was loud in his ear.
Brian sat up and stretched when Dom slung himself back into the Charger. It seemed like he was moving with a little more ease.
“So,” Brian started brightly. “Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
Dom shook his head. “No.”
“No?” Brian looked incredulous. “Really? No?”
“Shut up and drive.” Dom growled and for a moment that was that.
“Are you, like, a serial killer?” Brian cut his eyes sideways at Dom. “Is that why the cops are after us?”
“That were so, I wouldn’t let you drive the car.” Dom snorted. “Maybe you’re the serial killer, have you thought of that?”
To his mingled horror and amusement, Brian actually seemed to be considering the idea.
“I do have a serial-killer name.” Brian mused, looking over slyly to check Dom’s reaction. Dom snorted again and then paused.
“I said that to you once. You remember?” Dom asked sharply.
Brian looked blank for a second and then frowned deeply as if he were searching for something that stayed persistently lost. “Maybe. Like…vaguely.”
“That’s good.” Dom said, not meaning it.
Despite the potential for trouble inherent in the Charger, Brian kept it pegged at the limit for over two hours. By which time they needed gas again. The Charger drank gas like a frat boy at a kegger. They switched off and Dom drove just as sedately. They pulled through Phoenix during its hellish rush hour and they got to Tucson at dusk.
“Does any of this look familiar?” Dom had pulled into another random gas station. He and Brian looked out at the cookie cutter suburban landscape while the gas pumped. Brian frowned, shook his head and then trudged into the station. He came out unfolding a map like a flag.
Dom paid. When he returned, Brian was leaned over the trunk, tracing his fingers over the spread-out map and chewing on his lower lip. It made Dom vaguely uncomfortable. He figured it was because Brian was still wearing his clothes. Brian was so intent; he didn’t seem to notice Dom until Dom was at his elbow.
“It’s a couple of exits up.” Brian re-folded the map, leaving the relevant sections up front. He didn’t look at Dom, almost like he was afraid of looking at him. Like Dom was going to suddenly decide he wasn’t worth the hassle and leave him on the side of the road.
“Just tell me where to go.” Dom slung himself back into the Charger, hating the dust, hating the uncertainty, hating himself.
“Turn right here.” Brian pointed at the stop sign just ahead. The light was really starting to fade; the mountains on the horizon were turning a deep purple. Brian was tracking their progress on the map carefully for which Dom was grateful. They’d entered the maze-like subdivision ten minutes ago and Dom was convinced these houses hadn’t actually been built, but cloned. They were all post-war white clapboard, one-story homes with attached garages and the only thing that distinguished them was their mailboxes.
“Should be up here on the left.” Brian was starting to fidget. Dom slowed down so Brian could check the street numbers.
“Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.” Brian chanted suddenly. Dom flinched as Brian slid down into the footwell as smoothly as a rope uncoiling. “Don’t stop. Don’t even pause.”
Dom did as he was told, trying his best not to juice the gas at all. They were almost at the end of the block and he had to turn left or right. Adrenaline made his jaw tingle. He chose left and was relieved to see the flashing white and red lights of traffic on a larger road.
“What’s the story?” He mumbled at the top of Brian’s head. Brian’s cheek was almost pressed into Dom’s knee.
Brian’s eyes flashed in the faint light. “Anyone following you?”
Dom flicked a glance at every mirror. “Nothing. All clear.”
Brian blew out his breath and scrambled back up to sit properly. “Cops back there.”
Dom swallowed. “I didn’t see them.”
“They were in the cross street. Angled view on the house.” Brian started to chew on his thumbnail.
“You sure it was cops?” Dom asked trying to take a deep breath of the suddenly tense air.
“Pretty fucking sure.” Brian had half turned around to look at the street behind them. “Don’t quite know why two dudes would be just sitting in a Buick in a neighborhood like this otherwise.”
“How’d you know they were there?” Dom found he couldn’t shake his sudden jitters.
“Just…had a feeling.” Brian turned back around and reached out the window to adjust the side mirror.
“Shit.” Dom said sincerely. Brian thumped his fist on the dashboard in agreement.
“What. The. Fuck.” Brian said almost to himself. He closed his eyes and frowned like he was saying a difficult prayer.
“What do you want to do?” They were at one of the neighborhood’s outlets, facing north. Dom looked out into traffic, on red alert for sirens.
Brian slumped back into the seat and looked over. “Tell me the options.”
Dom tapped on the steering wheel with both thumbs. “We could park it. Come up to the place from the back.”
“Oh yeah.” Brian rubbed his eyes. “That’s not in any way suspicious or likely to get us arrested.”
“Work with me here.” Dom tamped down his temper.
Brian turned to look back at the neighborhood. “Let’s ditch this for now. If my family is there, they’ll be there tomorrow.”
“So what’s the play?” Dom turned into traffic.
“Buy you dinner?” Brian’s eyes turned silver in the lights on the strip. “We need to talk.”
They got a booth at a TGI Friday’s which was noisy enough that they could speak without using low, urgent tones. Brian flipped through the menu without enthusiasm. Dom didn’t even bother.
When the server came, Brian waited until Dom had ordered a burger, and then gave him a significant look. “No suggestions?”
Dom scowled at him and then smiled tightly at their waitress. “He’ll have the same.”
She took their menus with a flourish and Dom sat back. “So I’m guessing that nothing seems familiar.”
Brian leaned his forearms across the table very deliberately. “Well, one thing seems familiar. Actually, two things.”
“What’s that?” Dom leaned further back into the booth, bracing himself.
“One: there seem to be a lot of cops wherever we decide to go.” Brian said flatly. “Two: you’re still a jerk.”
Dom kept his lip from twitching by raising one eyebrow. It was kind of fascinating just to watch the gears in Brian’s head turn.
“Look.” Brian spread his hands. “They’re waiting here. That means someone back in LA had enough pull to call someone here and get them to stake that place out. Which means…”
Brian trailed off and swallowed. Dom cast his eyes down at the drinks that had just arrived.
“Which means I haven’t just been boosting a few cars.” Brian said quietly. “Dominic…have we hurt anyone?”
Dom took a deep breath through his nose and attempted to take a sip of beer.
Brian continued, even more quietly. “Have I hurt anyone?”
After a moment, Brian leaned back and folded his arms. “Silence is not really what I want from you right now.”
“What do you want me to say?” Dom flared. “People have been hurt. You’re hurt. I’m hu…” He cut himself off abruptly.
Brian leaned forward again and he wouldn’t let Dom drop his eyes. “You know, that’s the most honest thing you’ve said to me since I’ve known you. I just don’t get why it has to be like pulling teeth.”
“I…if I told you everything.” Dom said carefully. “I don’t think you would believe me.”
“Try it sometime!” Brian’s lips tightened and his eyes got fierce. “Put yourself in my shoes for a second! Cops…fucking…everywhere and I don’t have a clue what I’ve done. And you…I get the feeling if I wasn’t so jacked up, you’d be pounding on me like a goddamned piñata. You say you’re not angry, but....”
Dom had been leaning forward to give a heated retort, but that put him back for a second.
Brian took an angry sip of his drink and watched Dom through narrowed eyes. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. You know how it feels when the only person who knows you seems to kind of hate you?”
“I don’t hate you.” Dom said automatically. Just then their food arrived and the waitress chirped at them as they stared at each other. Dom flicked a quick glance around, but no one seemed to be paying them any undue attention.
After the waitress left, Dom growled, “Everything I’ve told you has been the truth.”
“I know.” Brian said flatly. “There’s just not enough of it.”
“Deal.” Dom rumbled. “I’m helping you out, aren’t I?”
Brian shook his head and shrugged unwillingly. “Yeah, thanks for…whatever. I mean, the way things have been going, the people in that house aren’t going to know me anyway. Sidling up to their back door doesn’t have much appeal.”
Dom took another sip of his drink. “Maybe they’ve moved. Maybe you didn’t live here that long. And that’s why things seem…unfamiliar.”
“Maybe.” Brian returned dejectedly. He stretched back into the bench, accidentally brushing Dom’s foot with his own.
Brian blew his breath out impatiently. “I guess I could go to the courthouse, check the records archive, see whose name is on the deed for that property.”
Brian rubbed the back of his head and continued under his breath. “That seems…” He looked up at Dom. “How do I know…why would I know how to do that?”
Dom took a bite of his burger. “It’ll probably come back to you.”
His head hurt….no it was more like his jaw hurt. Like someone had punched him. Or he’d been keeping his teeth tightly clenched for too long. The pain was radiating out to his shoulders. Dread was creeping up on him, paralyzing him. He could feel something bad in the acid saliva that he couldn’t swallow. Something very wrong.
The Charger backfired, shuddering. No…it wasn’t a backfire. It was gunfire. The windshield shattered. Mia’s screaming became a high, machine-made shriek…
“Hey.” A voice came from far away. “Hey, Dominic.”
Dom shivered out of Brian’s hand on his shoulder and almost rolled onto the floor. He was breathing hard and he tried to clamp his mouth shut to hide it. The dread was still trying to choke him.
Brian’s hair stuck up every which way and he was shirtless, the bright white of his bandages contrasting with the darker bruises. Dom blinked at him stupidly.
“You were…” Brian turned his hand back and forth and obviously couldn’t find the words. He squinted at Dom and then slouched back into his rumpled bed on the other side of the room.
Dom regrouped a moment and nodded, wiping the sleep out of his eyes. The faint light gave everything an eerie, bluish glow. He blinked at the red numbers on the TV. It was four AM.
“Sorry.” He still felt ready to jump out of his skin, but he tried to play it off for Brian’s sake. “If I woke you.”
“No worries.” Brian said around a yawn. Brian scratched hard under the bandage around his chest as he lay down again. “Y’okay now?”
Dom waited until Brian’s eyes were half open, he watched Brian’s hand twitch with a pre-sleep muscle twinge. He whispered, “More or less.”
Dom supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised, but shopping with Brian seemed to take hours.
When they’d made their bleary way out to the car, both of them looking like the victims of insomnia, he’d noticed that Brian was still wearing his clothes and it gave him an odd, painful, half-shamed pang. Wordlessly, they’d gone and eaten breakfast at some IHOP. Brian’s dull examination of the menu made Dom’s throat tighten, his colorless voice saying ‘I’ll have the same’ to the waiter made Dom’s fists involuntarily clench.
“There’s a Target over there.” Dom pointed at the strip mall behind them (Tucson had no shortage of strip malls) with his chin. “And I think an Old Navy.”
Brian chewed his sausage slowly. “And your point is?”
“Clothes.” Dom grunted. “Don’t wanna go see your family looking all ragged-ass.”
Brian tilted his head. “These are your clothes, buddy.”
Dom shrugged. “Not the most ringing endorsement.”
Brian raised his eyebrows and almost smiled. Dom felt a little more hopeful. It lasted until they got into the Target and Brian stared around the men’s section with a complete lack of comprehension. Dom had expected him to gravitate toward the neatly-stacked shelves of jeans and colorful racks of t-shirts, but Brian roamed around twitching at the shorts and polo shirts uncertainly. Dom let him range free for twenty minutes before completely losing his patience.
“What’s the hold up?” Dom asked calmly.
Brian made a helpless gesture. “This is gonna sound gay.”
“Spit it out.” Dom sighed. He could see where this was going from a mile away.
“What…d’you think.” Brian was now mumbling into his collarbone. “Would…I mean…”
“What would look good on you?” Dom muttered in a monotone.
Brian relaxed marginally. “Yeah.”
Dom rubbed his face. “You are going to owe me big time.” He started jerking clothes off the racks and Brian’s sheepish grin made him itch.
“Let’s roll.” Brian jerked open the car door with a screech. “That was a bust.”
“Shit.” Dom twisted the ignition to life. “What’s the story?”
“They’re really nice people, particularly considering how I just showed up in their backyard like a raccoon.” Brian slouched back into the Charger, looking more petulant and teenage than ever. His new clothes still smelled vaguely of plastic.
“But not your family.” Dom said heavily, wondering when they were going to catch a break.
“I look Latino to you?” Brian asked deadpan. “They say they’ve lived there for fifteen years. I think they thought I was mentally disabled.”
“Ah well.” Dom turned toward the center of town reluctantly. “Good thing that they were strangers then.”
Brian didn’t chuckle, just leaned on his hand looking out of the window. Dom realized that he was scanning for something even vaguely familiar.
When they got to the courthouse, Brian squared his shoulders and centered the baseball cap more firmly on his head. “I’m going to try to be out of there as fast as I can. Just in case. Where should we meet?”
Dom scanned the elegant grid-like blocks of this part of town. All the municipal buildings seemed to be clustered around this square. The library had the biggest parking lot, shielded from the courthouse by trees. “Over there.”
Brian looked and nodded.
Dom stepped into the library purposefully, trying to hide his self-consciousness. It was built over two levels and seemed pleasantly cool, quiet and empty in contrast to the streets outside. There was a bank of computers across from the reference desk. He sat and idly tweaked the keys until the screen came alive. He opened the browser, found Jesse’s favorite search engine and pecked out the words ‘head injury’.
He frowned at the number of sites that came up. That was a big number. He started clicking around from ‘confusion’ and ‘nausea’ to ‘paralysis’ ‘stroke’ and ‘death’. ‘Amnesia’ gave him another two million sites. He clicked aimlessly until interesting sentences leaped out at him. “Personality changes, memory and judgment deficits, lack of impulse control, relaxed inhibitions and poor concentration are all common. Emotional lability may manifest itself by sudden outbursts of anger, tears…”
He flinched when Brian nudged his shoulder. He stood up quickly, almost knocking the chair over.
“Nothing.” Brian said listlessly, looking blank and barely there.
Dom pressed his lips together and nodded.
“Let’s get out of here.” Brian turned to go, jostling Dom’s shoulder.
“Where?” Dom asked curtly.
“I dunno.” All Brian’s strength and snap had vanished.
Dom drove around the quiet streets aimlessly for a while until somehow they ended up back at the motel.
He should’ve kept driving. They should’ve driven up to Vegas, to the Grand Canyon, kept moving like sharks. Brian had turned sullen and silent. In the time it took for Dom to take a superfluous shower, Brian’s brood quickly morphed into a rage.
Brian stared at the license in his hand and then flung it with a flick of his wrist into the wastebasket.
“Why is this all wrong? Why is this all such bullshit?” Brian looked like he was one step away from trashing their motel room.
“Maybe it’s fake.” Dom said quietly. He pulled his own wallet out and silently handed Brian the Nevada license that had his photo, his description and no other piece of accurate information at all.
“Fucking A.” Brian’s eyes widened until it looked painful. “You have got to be shitting me. We drove five hundred miles and this might be fake? Why…what? Why?” Brian was actually stuttering with outrage. He was gripping Dom’s license so hard, Dom thought he might rip it. Brian fished his license out of the trash and held it up next to Dom’s, examining them both feverishly.
Dom leaned on the credenza next to the television. His heart felt like it was beating sideways for some reason. Brian was now clutching his head between the palms of his hands looking so sick and scared it made Dom feel nauseated.
“Look.” Brian looked up at the sound of his voice. “Sit down.”
Brian sat obediently.
Dom continued slowly. “You’re not going to believe me. But if you shut up and breathe for a while, I’ll tell you everything I know.”
Dom wanted to make Brian sit down again instead of this constant pacing around the room like a restless animal. But he couldn’t think of the words to make Brian be still without turning it into a showdown.
“So wait a second. Wait. Please, just wait….you’re telling me that I’m a cop and you are some guy…some criminal mastermind or something and I’ve been after you to arrest you?”
“More or less.” Dom shrugged.
“But you’re like…taking care of me now?”
Dom opened his mouth to protest and then mumbled. “I guess so.”
“That doesn’t seem strange to you?” Brian looked at him piercingly.
“Yeah,” Dom looked away. “I guess it does.”
“In fact…” Brian continued, sarcastically. “It sounds fucking loco. Completely nuts.”
Looking at Brian’s flushed, angry face, Dom found that a more plausible explanation completely failed to materialize. He felt around for his own anger but it was oddly unreachable.
Brian was starting to seethe. “I really don’t appreciate you fucking with me like this. That’s like…some B-movie plot. I can’t believe that in two days that’s the best you could come up with. Unfuckingbelievable.”
Brian glared at him disgustedly and then yanked open the door.
“Hey!” Dom wasn’t fast enough to pull him back. Brian was already in the parking lot. “Where are you going?”
Brian turned around out of his angry stride and held up his wallet. “Says I’m twenty-five years old here.”
Brian raised his voice as he turned to stalk away into the growing dark. “I’m gonna go get drunk!”
He didn’t have to do anything. He could just wait here. He could just leave. Brian would be fine. Perhaps better off without him.
“Fuck.” Dom found himself saying over and over. He’d waited too long to follow Brian. Now he was standing on the corner of 4th Avenue and Speedway, faced with a six lane road peppered with bars and restaurants. College students in cars cruised by looking for parking.
He could leave.
He wondered what Brian in his most suggestible state would choose for a watering hole.
He ducked briefly into a well-lit place that turned out to be a jazzed-up coffee shop. He turned on his heel before the barista could catch his eye.
He walked another block cursing to himself. It was ridiculous, he might as well get himself something to eat, go back to the motel, start thinking about how and where to fix the Charger. How best to get to the rendezvous with Leon and Letty.
He was shifting his weight with indecision when he first noticed the sign across the street. Unthinkingly, he stepped off the curb to a chorus of honks and yells. Dom ignored them and made a beeline for the faux-Irish pub.
There was no line at this place, no cover, no barriers to entry; it looked like a solid, uncomplicated bar. On the inside it was the kind of self-conscious place that was more hipster than blue-collar, the kind of place he’d normally avoid. He didn’t spot Brian right at once which surprised him. It was still early by Los Angeles standards but this place was already dark and smoky. Arizona hadn’t turned their smokers into criminals quite yet.
“Can I get you something, sweetie?” The bartender was wearing a slinky, midriff-baring halter over her low-rise jeans. A tattoo snaked around her waist alluringly.
“Just a Corona,” Dom gave her a tentative smile and a ten dollar bill. She took both with a saucy grin and a toss of her long black hair. He leaned back on his elbow, looking before he leapt.
He was debating about how much time to invest before moving on, when he caught sight of Brian who was on the edge of a corner booth, back where the music was starting to get painfully loud. The crowd was thicker back there; lots of young lovelies looking for trouble.
Dom watched as a young woman in a miniskirt offered Brian a cigarette. Brian took it and held it awkwardly, like he was unsure of its purpose. He took a tentative drag after she lit it for him. The mini-skirted one asked him a question that he answered with a lazy grin that made her lean into his arm in a way that wasn’t exactly subtle. A guy leaned in to Brian’s other side and said something in his ear, and Brian skipped from a grin to a laugh.
Dom grimaced. Seriously, he shouldn’t be here. He didn’t know what he was trying to prove.
“You ready for another?” The words came from over his shoulder.
He jerked his head back around to grin at the bartender. “Thanks.” He wasn’t quite sure when he’d sucked down that beer, but it had gone down easy and very quick.
I am watching out. Dom thought. Not just watching.
But Brian seemed to be in his element or at least playing that way. Dom smirked to himself, imagining the pretty girl lowering her eyelashes, tracing a finger along Brian’s forearm and cooing ‘so…tell me about yourself’.
The place was filling up. Dom wondered vaguely what day it was and didn’t hear the bartender offering him another drink. He caught the tail end of her interrogative and turned, forgetting not to scowl.
“Whoa.” The bartender spread both hands and raised her eyebrows. “Just wanted to know if you wanted another. Don’t take it personal.”
“Sorry.” He tried for an appropriate expression while she set another bottle on the bar and pierced it with a slice of lime. “I was a million miles away.”
The bartender smiled not just a professional smile, but with genuine warmth. “Yeah, I could tell.” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Check it. I’ve been keeping those chicas.” She tilted her head to the side and Dom flicked his eyes down the bar. “From getting all up in your business, but one more dirty Martini and it’s going to be open season, you got me?”
“Thanks.” Dom combined a grin and a grimace. The two women down the bar looked like they would’ve been his usual kind of distraction until Letty came and knocked them off their Miu Miu heels. He cast a quick glance back to where Brian was still holding court…except. Brian had vanished.
Dom felt a sudden quick rush of blood and heat to his head that had nothing to do with alcohol. “Hey, is there…?”
The bartender was now trying to pour two beers and mix up a gin and tonic all at one time, but she divined Dom’s question with another quick smile and hair toss. “Club’s open tonight…just head back through there.” She indicated some double doors in the shadow of a black light.
Dom nodded at her gratefully and tucked a twenty under a coaster. He edged toward the doors armed only with his Corona. He was jostled and nudged by at least four sets of taut flanks as he made his way toward the back. Body temperature was making the heat swell. He could feel sweat dampening the line of his spine and the top of his cheekbones. This place was hot in all senses of the word.
He sighed in relief as he caught sight of Brian’s back and hair through the crowd. No one had worked their way up to dancing yet, but Brian was standing with a group of what looked like club regulars and they appeared to be sizing up the DJ. There was another bar back here, smaller and more mobbed with college kids. Dom looked around for a place to be inconspicuous.
All the girls squealed when the bass beat shifted into what must’ve been the big dance tune that week. Luckily, Brian didn’t let his mini-skirted friend pull him onto the dance floor. He was rocking slightly on his feet, a beer dangling loosely from his fingers. One of the guys in the group must’ve said something funny because they all laughed and Brian leaned in to whisper in the guy’s ear.
Dom took a long pull at his beer and let the tang of the lager sting his throat. Brian wasn’t whispering; you had to shout to be heard in here.
The weird, almost seasick feeling of being on the fringe here, watching, started to make Dom angry. He clung to the thin tendril of anger, because it was the only thing that felt …safe. This whole thing felt dangerous but he couldn’t put his finger on quite why.
He was almost done with his beer. A woman brushed him in a very purposeful way. He shifted uneasily, leaning back against the wall.
“Hey, you just like to watch or what?” The woman who’d brushed him was in his space. Her teeth gleamed with the strobes of light. She was stunning, he realized, leaning back on her high heels with a sexy smile. Automatically, he tilted his chin down and to the side which he knew made him look shy. Which was the wrong play, if he wanted to mute her interest.
“You don’t dance, I’m guessing.” The woman leaned in on one hand, crowding him with her confidence and scent. Man, this place took no prisoners. Brian had vanished again. Dom caught a flash of him disappearing into another hallway.
Dom smiled sideways at the lovely lady. “Could you excuse me for a minute?”
She cocked her eyebrows; it looked like she was losing interest. He was already too much of an effort. “Sure.”
She raised her voice at his back. “Take care of yourself.”
Dom angled himself around the corner where two women were making out with such ferocity their hair was getting tangled together. Dom relaxed a little bit. Toilets back here. Brian just needed to hit the head, nothing worth getting panties in a bunch about.
He drained the dregs of his beer and looked around for somewhere to put it. It was so dark back here that he had to squint just to see the outline of the doors. The only lights came intermittently from the club at his back and the red glow of the EXIT sign at the end of the hall. The door to the women’s toilet swung open, disgorging a giggling trio who ogled him blatantly before evaporating back into the club.
Dom ground his teeth around an unhappy growl. He didn’t want to be here. He squared his shoulders. He focused on the exit, maybe it was time to go.
But he did need to take a leak. And throw this bottle away.
Shaking his head at himself, he jerked open the door to the men’s toilet which was predictably dim, damp and covered in graffiti. Dom didn’t need to glance at the two guys at the urinals to note that neither of them were Brian. He relaxed a little. Maybe Brian had left; maybe he was out in the parking lot enjoying a cigarette with one of his many new friends.
The music was muffled back here; the only thing that penetrated two layers of concrete wall was the pounding bass beat. Dom focused on what he was doing until a whisper tickled along the edge of his hearing, the quick slash of sound that came when someone ripped a mouth off skin.
The other two guys didn’t appear to notice. They started talking in the over-loud tones of the intoxicated as they zipped up and left.
Dom took a deep breath as he zipped himself up and squeezed his eyes closed. Leave. Right. Now. But it was like magnetic attraction, he felt himself actually pulled further into the dank box of concrete. He focused on the far wall. Some asshole had etched a screed to a woman called Tanya’s more fetching habits and some other asshole had provided a diagram.
They were in the last stall, not making a huge secret out of what they were doing. The lanky guy who’d been fingering his beer next to Brian not ten minutes ago was now wrapped around him like a boa constrictor looking for the best place to bite. He had one hand cupping Brian’s jaw and another where Dom couldn’t see it. And Brian was nudging the guy’s thumb with his tongue where it dug in the corner of his mouth, licking it deliberately. Brian’s throat was long and pale and the anonymous dude obviously found it delicious.
Dom narrowed his eyes and took one long step forward. He could feel every ounce of his weight shift onto the balls of his feet. Just then Brian opened his eyes fully and unforgivably, he grinned at Dom before he nipped the guy’s thumb hard enough to make him stop suckling on the space under Brian’s ear.
“I think you should leave.” Dom decided to keep it as simple as possible. The guy looked up from Brian’s neck and his eyes were dark and drunk with whatever Brian tasted like but when he got a load of Dom’s face, Dom could practically see his pupils contract. He extricated himself from Brian so fast it almost left a vapor trail.
“I…” the guy started, tripping over his feet. Dom caught the stall door when the guy bounced out, skinning his lips back from his teeth and the guy skittered out the door without completing his thought.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Dom growled, realizing too late that he’d put way too much emphasis on the word ‘fuck’.
Brian almost broke the tension by snorting with laughter. He surged up off the metal slab of the stall. Dom felt momentarily grateful for the door in between them. “The fuck does it look like?” That emphasis was intentional.
“You don’t…” Dom pursed his lips and bit out. “You’re…you’re not like this.”
“Says you.” Brian slammed through the door and way up into Dom’s personal space. “And I think we’ve already established that you’re very confused.”
Dom had the feeling that he’d made a very serious miscalculation in just who had been taking advantage of whom here. Brian’s eyes were very shiny in the dim light and his teeth gleamed. Something in his face made Dom back up half a step.
“No, I’m not.” Dom’s voice came out choked because he was breathing hard for some reason. His hands were tingling. Something was cold on his back. Brian quirked his eyebrow and tilted his head sideways, looking slightly down at Dom. Dom blinked. He had no memory of Brian being so tall.
Of course, he had no memory of Brian being so aggressive either. Brian was breathing air that should have been Dom’s.
“Back off.” Dom growled, trying to make it stern enough so he didn’t have to use his fists.
“Make me.” Brian breathed and leaned forward another inch.
He felt Brian’s hair brush his eyebrow in the millisecond before Brian’s mouth was brushing his. Involuntarily his lips tightened and Brian’s mouth hardened on his and Dom wanted to shove, to push, to bellow with rage, but he couldn’t because it felt like Brian had reached into Dom’s belly, spread his fingers wide and twisted them. It felt like Brian was carding Dom’s guts through his fingers.
Dom had put up his own hands and his fingers had tensed reflexively. Trying to block Brian, but he could feel Brian’s taut heat through Brian’s thin t-shirt; the thick bandage was a coarse layer underneath the cotton. Brian was pushing Dom’s rigid hands apart, pushing harder, closer in. The pressure on his ribs didn’t seem to be bothering him.
Dom realized that he’d closed his eyes, not in passion but denial. Pain was radiating out from the base of his skull where it was pressed into the cinderblock, trying to escape from Brian’s mystifying assault. He opened his eyes. He focused suddenly on the delicate little bruise creeping out from Brian’s hairline. In here, in the dark, it was nothing but a patch of deeper shadow.
Dom wasn’t sure how his chest could be heaving like this, how he could be panting like he’d just benched 250 when he wasn’t really doing anything. Holding himself still felt like momentous effort right now. Brian’s hair brushed Dom’s face again and the fiery, tickling itch woke him up.
“You are…” Dom cupped his hands under Brian’s elbows and managed to lift and set him a few inches back. Dom gasped into the space he had gained. “…this isn’t…good.”
Brian blinked exaggeratedly and snorted softly with laughter. “Oh, yeah. Like everything has been fucking aces ‘til now.”
And he pushed back inside Dom’s unyielding forearms and Dom managed to pull away for ten long seconds until Brian bit his neck hard enough to make his left side go limp. For a second, there was numbness and then heat rushed down inside like wildfire. Then suddenly he was clutching Brian’s shoulder blades, mouthing his jaw. Brian was still laughing gently until Dom got Brian’s lower lip between his teeth.
Brian smelled like sweat and smoke and beer. He tasted of salt and lime but it surged into Dom’s bloodstream like five shots of tequila. He snarled into Brian’s face and Brian slammed into him bodily, if anything harder than before.
Brian didn’t seem content with just Dom’s mouth, he wanted to kiss Dom’s cheekbone, the hollow of Dom’s eye socket, his jaw, his ear. Where Brian kissed, Dom bit gently, trying to communicate wordlessly that this was dangerous. A dangerous course of action. It just made Brian try to climb up his body like he was a goddamned tree.
The feel of Brian’s stubbled jaw under his tongue was so strange that after licking and tasting him, Dom got a little carried away and bit down hard. Brian’s surprised yelp brought him momentarily back from the edge.
“Sorry.” Was what he wanted to say, but Brian’s tongue was in the way and he lost his train of thought.
A couple of frat boys in identical baseball caps and sweatshirts burst in laughing uproariously. Dom could hear them hooting faintly and then realized that it was somehow directed at him, at them.
Brian had jerked away and Dom’s skin burned, like he’d been clutching a furnace. He blinked into the sound of Brian’s even voice raised. Brian was gesturing widely, creating flickering shadows against the fluorescent bars.
“…you got something you wanna say?” Brian was almost-but-not-quite shouting. “You got a fucking problem?”
Dom pushed himself off the wall and surged up behind Brian. The frat boys went from smirking swagger to sudden uncertainty. One of them muttered, ‘fags’ under his breath and before Dom could really see what happened, Brian had swept that guy’s feet out from under him and punched the hapless dude twice, fist crunching into the jaw and cheekbone.
“Holy shit!” The second guy wasn’t quite ready to jump into a melee for his friend, but he gave Dom a shocked look that made Dom wrap his arm around Brian’s waist when it seemed like Brian would continue hammering the flattened frat boy. “Dude, what the fuck?”
Dom managed to get Brian fully upright and halfway to the door as the last guy standing spread his hands in the universal gesture for ‘no trouble’. Dom caught a glimpse of himself and Brian in the mirror as they passed. Brian was grinning like a madman with eyes of blue fire and Dom’s face had hardened into his usual scowl. The guy backed up into the wall, almost falling into the urinal.
“Help your friend.” Dom grunted. The guy nodded wide-eyed and they were in the hot, smoky corridor with the music pounding around them. It was like being inside a beating heart.
Brian was still twisting and pulling under the span of his arm. Brian turned suddenly and cupped Dom’s neck, kissing him with unexpected gentleness and then Brian pulled free and shoved at the panic bar under the pulsing red EXIT sign. Dom felt the cool breeze from the parking lot sweep over his hot face.
“C’mon, man.” Brian looked over his shoulder, grinning at Dom like everything hadn’t just gotten completely fucked. “Let’s get out of here.”
“I think this is a bad idea.” Dom wasn’t sure that Brian had heard him so he repeated himself, projecting a little louder at Brian’s back. He’d followed Brian out of the parking lot and down the street mechanically, because he sincerely couldn’t think of what else to do. It was like Brian had stuck his tongue in Dom’s mouth and destroyed some important part of him, the part that could say no.
Brian didn’t give any indication that he’d heard Dom. He just started walking faster. In response, Dom started walking slower. They were almost at the motel’s parking lot. Brian turned around and started walking backwards and Dom blinked and suddenly they were at the door to their room.
Dom felt his entire body stiffen.
Brian had slid an unhurried hand over the small of his back and actually palmed his ass. While Dom was trying to wrap his head around that in a way that didn’t end with Brian in traction, he realized that Brian had extracted the room key from his back pocket and snicked it into the lock. Brian shoved the door open with one long arm and jerked his head, giving Dom a little elbow-shove to get him moving.
Dom raked one hand over the doorframe and held tight. He centered his weight again, making himself a physical barrier. But Brian didn’t slow down.
Shit, he had weight, but Brian had momentum. Brian just ducked under his arm and barreled through the door, catching Dom’s wrist on the way inside, pulling him into an awkward, underhand twist. Dom tried to draw his arm back, feeling the burn because it wasn’t easy. Brian started a tug-of-war, then gave up as soon as Dom started to pull in earnest. Dom found himself with an armful of Brian before he could react. Brian already had one shoe off and he was lopsided as he looped a hand under Dom’s armpit and over his shoulder. Dom found himself being kissed again as Brian shoved the door shut.
“No, seriously.” Dom let himself be pushed back onto the credenza. It was good to have something to lean against; his knees were kind of unsteady. “I mean it.”
Brian nodded at him gravely while he jerked his new shirt over his head. “Yeah, I can see that.”
Dom made a grab for Brian’s wrists as Brian stroked his face. He managed to catch both wrists but then forgot what he’d wanted to do as Brian sucked on his tongue. Brian’s mouth was really wide and wet and he really pushed. Brian stroked Dom’s jaw with both hands and it made it very hard to think.
“Uhmmm, I mean….you hit your head!” Dom pulled back and snapped furiously. “You have poor impulse control!”
Brian straightened a little and frowned. His lower lip was very red now. “So what?”
Dom ran through his memory of the website he’d read earlier: memory and judgment deficits, check. Lack of impulse control, check. Relaxed inhibitions, big ol’ check. Personality changes, check! Poor concentration, not so much. Not considering how well Brian was managing to concentrate on his fly.
“Hey, whoa.” He cupped his hand over where Brian had him half undone. “You can’t do this.”
Brian nodded at him seriously. Dom found himself nodding back until he felt a sudden chill and realized that Brian had accordion-bunched Dom’s t-shirt in both hands until it was the work of a second to pull it over Dom’s head with a quick jerk and twist.
“You’re not very convincing.” Brian muttered, stroking one firm hand down from the hollow of Dom’s sternum into more delicate territory. Dom wrenched himself upright, but Brian kept hold of his waistband and didn’t lose his balance. Dom felt his heart beating in the backs of his knees, behind his eyes, in his nipples and cock. Brian traced one finger from his collarbone to his navel and Dom’s muscles rippled painfully in response.
Dom pulled back, snapping his head into a quick shake. He curled his lip in a sneer and snarled at Brian. “You don’t want this.”
“I do.” Brian grinned at him and touched his tongue to the place on his lip that Dom had bitten.
“No, you don’t.” Dom insisted doggedly.
“Bullshit.” Brian opened his mouth in a silent laugh and then leaned into Dom’s space until all Dom could see were his eyes. “I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember.”
“I’m really not into this.” Dom mumbled into Brian’s neck. “I have a girlfriend.”
“I’d love to meet her.” It felt like Brian was delicately catching his teeth on the edges of Dom’s ear.
“You…oh jeez.” Dom flinched when Brian tugged at his nipple. “You date my sister.”
“Yeah, you said.” Brian tilted his head back and looked thoughtful. “Funny how I haven’t met her either.”
Dom ground his teeth to keep from groaning aloud. Brian had two fingers hooked in the elastic of his boxers now. Things were getting desperate. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Why?” A slow smile spread across Brian’s face. Dom leaned back into the long fingers which were cradling his head, stroking the back of his neck. “I’m not planning to operate heavy machinery or anything.”
Brian gave him a little nudge and Dom was back in a half-lean on the credenza again, shirtless and half-unbuttoned with his nipples constricting even though it was kind of warm and stuffy in here. The wall was cool at his back; surely it was just that contrast between warm and cool that was making him roll his shoulders tight to keep from shivering. Brian had one knee tucked beside Dom’s hip, one leg straight and hard between Dom’s thighs. Brian was all hard planes and angles except for the lower curve of his lip which was just the right amount of soft, of wet, of hot…
Dom managed to tighten one hand which had somehow twined deep into the hair above Brian’s neck so he could hold Brian unmoving for a second. Dom jerked his own head to the side and miraculously muttered without stuttering. “You’re making me uncomfortable.”
Brian pulled back and widened both his eyes until he looked like a parody of clueless innocence. Then Brian did what Dom had been dreading since the door had swung shut. Dom shuddered when Brian spread the hollow of his palm over Dom’s half-erect cock. Which was quickly his fully-erect cock after Brian ducked quickly, nipping at Dom’s nipple and making a chain of tantalizing bites all the way up to Dom’s chin. They were eye to eye for a long second.
“Man, you keep talking Dominic…” Brian looked out at him from under the dark gold line of his eyebrows. “But I never hear the word ‘stop’.”
I’m not up to this. Dom lay on his back and blinked at the ceiling. He tried to keep from dipping his eyes to look at Brian’s curly mop of hair which by some trick of perspective now looked like it was growing out of Dom’s armpit.
Not like it made any difference. His nose was filled with Brian’s scent, his mouth was full of Brian’s taste and his mind didn’t have room for anything but the shocking and terrifying things he’d just done with someone whose informed consent was arguably negligible.
Shit, now he was thinking like a cop.
Dom chewed on his lower lip which felt swollen and achy already. The extra layer of hurt kept the guilt manageable. Brian’s carelessly-sprawled elbow was also digging into his abdomen in a painful way. He kind of wanted pain right now to counterbalance the lethargy and satiation of coming three times in about two hours.
Brian moaned and mumbled in his sleep then smacked his lips. He rolled inward and made himself a little more comfortable with Dom’s bicep instead of a pillow. If Dom tilted his head and slanted his eyes he could see Brian’s smooth face, gone serene in sleep. The sensation that he’d stolen Brian’s putative virginity rose up in his throat like bile.
Because even if Brian was the pushiest, grabbiest, horniest motherfucker in this hemisphere, Dom was still older, stronger, and way more in touch with reality. There was no way he was not responsible for this…this thing which was not technically illegal. It was, however, totally immoral and he was going to burn in hell probably sooner than later.
But it had been just impossible, wrapped in those long arms, pressed against the rangy, searing length of Brian and drowning in his mouth…it was impossible to say no. For some reason, words like please keep your clothes on and no, I don’t want to put my hand there got harder and harder to articulate. Or act upon. Or do anything except clutch and gasp and mouth Brian’s jawline.
So now he was naked except for a thin sheen of sweat and a bed sheet. Brian didn’t even have a bed sheet. And he’d put his hand there. Shit, he’d even put his mouth there. That had been the third time.
Dom screwed his eyes shut and thought about the first time. His dick gave a half-hearted little jerk against the bunched sheet. It ached a little too. Brian’s mouth was a deep, hot well and his lips were gentle but he wasn’t so much talented at cocksucking as he was…enthusiastic. He’d jerked back when Dom had come in his mouth.
Just the sight of Brian, half-sprawled on the floor with his jeans undone and the V of his fly highlighting his white boxers and the dark red of his straining cock…Dom watched, gasping, as Brian stroked two fingers down the edge of his lower lip. Brian had gazed in wonderment at the pearls of come welling up over his lips onto his fingers. He’d stuck his fingers back into his mouth and only then looked back up at Dom with his eyes gone wily and greedy.
It hurt to come and stay hard. It made him too sensitive. But not too sensitive to keep from grinding into Brian’s thigh after Brian had shed his jeans and coaxed Dom onto the bed. There was just so much of Brian: long limbs, golden skin speckled with glittering hair, ridges and ripples of muscle. Brian gasped ‘yeah’ when Dom bit him and kept biting until he got to Brian’s face. He gripped Dom’s biceps so hard that the hurt actually penetrated Dom’s consciousness. Dom became suddenly self-conscious of his weight crushing Brian but when he tried to pull away, Brian tightened his grip and wrapped his legs around Dom’s thighs and suddenly Dom’s stomach and chest were slick and cool and sticky…and yeah, that was number two.
Dr. Takai’s words floated through Dom’s head as he panted into Brian’s hairline. In his head…he’s about seventeen. Brian was already nibbling on Dom’s pectoral muscle, stroking his hand up the back of Dom’s thigh.
Dom remembered seventeen. If he’d had a willing partner then, he could’ve probably come on the hour, maybe the half-hour. Instead of relaxing, Brian had gone kind of fierce and feral after he came. He’d attacked Dom like he’d been starving for a week and Dom’s body was an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Which was not fair. Dom winced a little, glancing at the sleepy, innocent face lolling on his shoulder. After being mauled for twenty minutes, Dom felt compelled to apply the principle that the best defense is a good offense. But the first time he’d ever stuck another man’s cock in his mouth, he wouldn’t have expected that he’d have to spend a serious amount of time and exertion just holding his partner down to finish the job. Brian had actually come on Dom’s collarbone when he’d realized what Dom intended to do, but he’d stayed hard, thrusting helplessly and gasping in what sounded like agony. Against the odds, Dom had found himself stiffening while he steeled his hands into claws to hold Brian still enough to pull Brian into his mouth.
It was hard to give head to someone who was so wild with arousal that they couldn’t hold themselves still. Hard, but also hot. Dom had slid off the bed just to gain some purchase and he found himself thrusting against the box springs for a little friction while a stream of obscene observations poured out of Brian’s mouth. That had been the third time and eventually Brian had succumbed to exhaustion.
Just thinking about it now, his nipples were tightening. He felt his face get hot and irrationally wanted to roll over and bury his face in a pile of pillows. But that might wake Brian and apparently Brian was now some kind of sex monster.
It was kind of nice just to lie here. Adrift here in the sea, so far away from any troubling identity. Anonymous.
Brian stirred and snuffled into Dom’s shoulder. He groaned and started to clear his throat. Dom glanced at the curtains and noticed that the dark had turned gray.
When he looked back, Brian was smiling at him fuzzily. Brian blinked sleepy eyes and pressed a slack-mouthed kiss on Dom’s shoulder.
Dom took a deep breath. It felt as if things like that would continue to happen with some regularity so he tried to accept the kiss in the casual spirit in which it was given.
“You awake?” He rumbled into Brian’s hair. It tickled when Brian shook his head. Dom frowned and tried to remember if he’d slept at all. He figured he must have. He’d been exhausted and now he was…surprisingly, he felt okay.
That was the moment when Brian’s left hand drifted drowsily down Dom’s stomach to grip his…
“Hey, could you…” Dom delicately grabbed Brian’s wrist. He escorted Brian’s hand back up his body and gave Brian’s knuckles a quick peck. “I’m good. I just need…”
Brian licked Dom’s neck. “My mouth?”
“Some time.” Dom said firmly. He patted Brian’s hand back into place on his chest and tightened his grip around Brian’s shoulders. Brian sighed gustily but then seemed to fall back asleep.
Dom closed his eyes for just a moment and then found himself blinking rapidly into sunshine. The gray light from the window had turned yellow gold. Brian was still snoring softly into Dom’s armpit, but he snorted awake when Dom’s arm jerked involuntarily.
Brian blinked again heavy-lidded and patted Dom’s chest reassuringly. He looked up at Dom and then threw his head back on the pillow and touched his tongue to his upper lip. Then Brian rolled over and rested his chin on his folded arms and looked at Dom appraisingly for what felt like a long time.
“Man, you’re hot.” Brian said without preamble.
Dom pursed his lips to keep from laughing. He nodded slowly. “And good morning to you.”
“It will be.” Brian murmured and moved in for the kill.
It took a while, but Dom finally managed to grab Brian’s wrists and wrestle him still.
“Look, I appreciate…your appreciation, I do.” Dom firmed his grip on the hand that was even now caressing his hip bone. “But I really need to eat something. And definitely drink something.”
Brian grinned and tweaked Dom’s belly button with the tips of his fingers. “Low on fluids, huh?”
Dom didn’t dignify that with a response. “Aren’t you hungry?” As far as he could recall, no one had had dinner.
Brian licked his lips. “Very hungry.”
Dom attempted to sit up. “Good, let’s go get something.”
Unfortunately while trying to get vertical, he lost his grip on Brian’s wrists. Brian wrapped his arms around Dom’s waist and whined like a toddler. “No, don’t wanna.”
Something about it was so ridiculously adorable, that Dom’s resistance kind of snapped again. Dom suddenly found himself curled over Brian, stroking his jaw while Brian hummed happily into Dom’s mouth while he sucked on Dom’s lower lip.
Within seconds it seemed like they were sweaty and breathless and sticky again.
“I need a shower.” Dom gasped an hour later.
“That is an awesome idea.” Brian agreed.
Dom glared at him. “I need a shower alone.”
Brian rolled his eyes and jerked at the sheet. “Whatevs, I’m going back to sleep.”
Dom glanced at the clock. “It’s almost 10:30.”
“Yeah, and?” Brian made a pillow out of his bent elbow. “Where have I got to go this morning?”
Dom sat up and frowned down at his crumpled clothing. Fuck. He’d almost forgotten that Brian wasn’t exactly who he was supposed to be. Which was intensely disturbing if he thought about it too hard.
Brian was examining the dingy little rope bracelet around his wrist with scientific intensity. “Did you give me this?”
“No.” Dom growled. “I don’t give meaningless gifts.”
“Hmmmmm.” Brian grinned up at the ceiling. “I bet that’s true.”
Dom just watched as Brian’s long fingers tapped a staccato rhythm on his chest. Brian was suddenly deep in thought so Dom could watch him without reprisal.
Brian frowned inwardly and said to the air. “We should probably get out. Keep moving… before the local cops mobilize better.”
“You are a cop.” Dom said softly.
Brian chuckled up at the ceiling and slanted a glance at Dom. “I love how committed you are to this role-play thing. It’s scorching hot.”
“We’re not…” Dom trailed off. There was just no way to finish the sentence.
“…partners?” Brian flashed him another lightning grin. “Sure, Dominic. If you say so.”
“We aren’t.” Dom insisted.
Brian tilted his head down so he could look up from under his eyelashes. “You want to fight about it? Come over here.”
Dom didn’t want to fight, but he went over there anyway. If he had no credibility, he could at least have an orgasm.
By noon, Dom’s stomach was rumbling but he didn’t want to move. Brian stirred against him restlessly. Dom asked, wincing at how loud his voice sounded in the quiet, “Where do you want to go?”
“Dunno. Somewhere. I just wish something would look familiar.” Brian wriggled until he was comfortable, lying half on Dom’s chest.
“Maybe you’re from further north.” Dom muttered. Brian’s hair was tickling him, so he pushed it away. Brian rocked his head into Dom’s hand and without having to think about it, he was stroking Brian’s hair. “You told me once that the first time you drove you had an accident on Interstate 40. If it was the first time you drove, that must’ve been close to home. You all right?”
Brian had rolled flat on his back and pressed his fingers hard over his eyelids. He was shivering a little. Dom leaned on his side, and spread a protective arm over Brian. He tilted his head down until his lips brushed the tips of Brian’s fingers. “Can you remember?”
When Brian opened his eyes and looked up at him, Dom almost recoiled. Brian’s eyes were brighter than halogen beams.
“Interstate 40.” Brian said, sounding kind of dazed. “Interstate 15.”
Dom wrinkled his brow. “But the 15 doesn’t come into Arizona.”
Brian was blinking quickly and each time his eyes opened they looked a little more electric.
“Because I’m not from Arizona.” Brian pushed up on his elbows, pushed Dom flat on the bed and spread his hand on Dom’s chest. Just before Brian leaned down for another kiss, he said, “I’m from Barstow.”
The engine of the Charger was loud. Since it had been stripped down to race twelve years ago, it had virtually no soundproofing to keep the hum of the churning cylinders at bay. At highway speeds it began to sound like a constantly muttering voice. All afternoon it had rebuked Dom with the phrase ‘sick and twisted’ over and over again.
The full import of the disembodied message made his lip curl. It was like he had never really understood it until now. Sick, yeah, that was easy. But he had never known that reality could actually twist until the world had bent, shifted, wrenched a quarter turn off-kilter, so that he could be riding around like this with a wild-eyed, lust-crazed white boy and it would all somehow seem normal.
He braced his elbow harder against the door and wished that he could roll the window down. It might blot out the relentless whisper. Sickandtwistedsickandtwistedsick andtwisted.
He read every single billboard that they passed. He slanted his eyes at the gas gauge and constructed little equations to figure the mileage. He kept his eyes peeled for five-oh. He concentrated on every limp spool of rubber lining the roads, all the relics of the previous blowouts.
He did not look at Brian.
The engine cut down a note abruptly; they’d left the Interstate, heading north. Dom blinked and shifted but then Brian pulled them back up to speed and he settled into his half of the seat again. They’d been on the road for hours and Dom’s racing mind had transformed it into a minor eternity.
“You hungry?” Brian murmured. Dom shrugged and nodded. Jerked his chin at the sign for a Carl’s Jr.
Leave it to Brian to make amnesia a communicable disease. Dom silently cursed this person that he’d become, the person who sat in the passenger’s seat, the person who kept his opinions to himself, the person who…
He’d almost swallowed all of his buzzing nerves along with his burger when Brian turned off the highway again. Dom kept his posture lax but his toes curled down tight inside his boots as Brian turned into the underpass and let the Charger rumble to a stop.
Under the third exit underpass of highway 177, the antique road which lined the eastern edge of Joshua Tree. Traffic rumbled and churned overhead but this was a road to nowhere. Desert fanned out on either side.
Dom pursed his lips, determined not to say anything. He’d given Brian the keys on the off chance it would make him concentrate. And Brian was concentrating…just not on the road.
Brian sprawled across the driver’s seat licking the salt off his upper lip after he’d wolfed down a sheaf of French fries. He was now also stroking light fingers along the underside of Dom’s pectoral muscle.
“We should keep moving.” Dom shifted uncomfortably and tried to be gentle with Brian’s wrist. Three days ago that wrist had nearly been broken. He should make an effort to be gentle. “We don’t have time for this.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think I can stop.” Brian had one eye squinted closed and had sunk all his upper teeth into his lower lip. From one angle, he looked like a safecracker trying to make the tumblers fall. From another angle, he looked like a kid trying to extract cookies from a cookie jar.
Dom figured if he grabbed Brian by the hair and slammed his head into the dashboard a couple of times, Brian would find it relatively easy to stop. But he couldn’t even make himself jerk Brian’s hand away. He couldn’t even seem to manage to turn a scant inch away from the maddening touch. He couldn’t remember anyone ever touching him so purposefully just there under that high, hard curve.
“C’mon, just a little…” Brian was twitching at the cotton of Dom’s t-shirt, teasing it up an inch or two. Dom blocked Brian’s fingers with the side of his hand, but then he had the other hand creeping over his neck in a manner that made it impossible to twist away. When Brian couldn’t get to Dom’s mouth, he contented himself with Dom’s earlobe.
“Why so shy? You weren’t…before.” Brian whispered, taunting him gently. Brian’s touch got lighter and Dom gritted his teeth to keep from shivering. He did not mention the obvious fact that before they’d been far away from the prying eyes of the public. Before he’d been slightly drunk and obviously crazy.
“I’m not in the mood.” Dom’s face heated with the sudden realization that he was the cock-teasing girlfriend in this scenario.
Brian touched his tongue to the corner of his mouth and raised his eyebrows. “Are you sure?”
“You’re an asshole.” Even as he said it, he was leaning in, allowing himself to be kissed yet again. Breathing the scent of Brian’s hair was like going on a bender, the same kind of warm, guilty haze. Brian was kissing him hard now and he’d left off trying to get into Dom’s pants in favor of just humping his thigh.
When he found himself placing short, angry kisses on Brian’s jaw, Dom realized that cooler heads were not going to prevail. He shoved Brian hard back into his side of the car. Dom slid over the bench seat, spreading his hands over Brian’s thighs to lean over him menacingly. Brian didn’t protest.
It felt like punishment. He almost felt like he was being deliberately hurtful, pushing with all his weight, snagging his fingernails into flesh, squeezing too hard. But Brian just gasped into Dom’s neck and twisted his hips so he could half peel out of the jeans Dom had bought him.
Brian made this too easy, Dom thought wildly. His left hand entwined in Brian’s hair, his right palm spread flat over Brian’s cock and Brian’s eyes were already rolling back in his head; his breath was already loud and uneven. Brian inserted all these little words in his struggle for breath, words like ‘please’ and ‘you’ and ‘fuck’ and ‘God’ and ‘oh’. It tore at Dom, stinging and burning like napalm.
He gripped Brian’s cock brutally and twisted Brian’s head so he could bite Brian’s tender spots and that was all it took to make Brian convulse and come. Dom pulled back a little uncertainly and almost wiped his hand on his own pants.
“Shit.” Dom took a deep breath and swiped up the Carl’s Jr. napkins, dabbing at his hand and shirt ineffectively. The smell of spunk and diesel exhaust made him dizzy. Brian blinked his eyes open, grinned and sat up laboriously.
“Knew you’d cave.” Brian wheezed.
“I only did that so we could go.” Dom snapped and reached for the door handle. “Move over. I’m driving.”
But Brian just grinned infuriatingly as he twisted the key, caressing the clutch into gear. “I win.”
“You don’t win.” Dom jerked at his seatbelt harness grouchily, squashing his erection with the side of his hand. “You cheat.”
“You think it matters how you get what you want?” Brian crowed. “It only matters that you get what you want.”
Dom took a deep breath of the dusty air thinking that that line of reasoning seemed…familiar.
After they roared back up onto the highway, the Charger started in again, chanting softly overyourheadoveryourhead. Dom grimaced.
“Anything?” Dom tried to quash the impatience in his voice. He ducked his head to wipe sweat on his sleeve. The day’s heat was lifting but not fast enough.
“Whatever you people from L.A. think, there are, like over 20,000 people here.” Brian mused. “It’s not like I can just ask some random person if they know me.”
Dom sighed and did not give in to the temptation to rest his head on the steering wheel. This was far worse than fucking Tucson, Arizona where they’d had a street address printed out in black and white on a document with Brian’s picture on it. Now all they had was Brian’s growing conviction that he had lived in Barstow, which spread out like an open sore on the desert, all tract homes, rail lines, Pizza Huts and car lots. Their big plan seemed to be Dom driving slowly in concentric circles through each new, featureless neighborhood while Brian stared out the window.
Dom watched an older woman walking her Shih-tzu slightly faster than they were driving. They had just passed yet another tired-looking strip mall. His stomach rumbled. He was very tempted to go the ask-random-person route.
“Whoa.” Brian put a restraining hand on Dom’s arm and then didn’t say anything for five exasperating seconds. “Turn right here.”
Dom grunted and turned. They coasted down the length of the block until the street ended and Brian pointed him to go right again. The road opened out a little and Brian tensed, his eyes flickering every which way. He waved Dom to a stop in front of a blocky, Art Deco building.
“Barstow High School?” Dom read off the sign.
“Go Aztecs.” Brian said absently and pushed the Charger’s heavy door open.
“Aztecs?” Dom mumbled, bemused.
Brian stood and looked at the entrance so long and searchingly that Dom started to get nervous. It was too late for a rush of students but Dom still felt achingly conspicuous. “Hey, let’s roll.”
Brian glanced back at him and shook his head. “I’ve almost got it, but I gotta…y’know…sense memory…” Brian trailed off and then pushed up off the side of the Charger and started walking north.
Dom gave in and rested his head on the steering wheel, muttering a Hail Mary. Unwillingly, he gunned the engine, trailing along after Brian who was walking swiftly through the acres of suburbia. Brian paused at the first corner and Dom pulled up beside him.
“Almost there?” Dom wasn’t sure if his voice carried over the engine’s rumble.
Brian looked down at him and asked seriously, “Is this the part where you offer me candy?”
Dom blinked and narrowed his eyes. He lapped his hands over the wheel.
“They warned me about guys like you.” Brian wagged a finger in admonishment and widened his eyes.
“All I have to do.” Dom stated very deliberately. “Is lower my right foot one inch and I am so gone.”
Brian grinned devilishly as if he could hear the emptiness in the threat. He made an expansive gesture. “Let’s go find my mom.”
Dom took a deep breath, pulled to the curb and yanked the gear up so that the Charger stalled with a jerk. Yeah, I’d love to meet your mom with your come drying on my shirt. That doesn’t sound awkward at all.
Brian stared at a cluster of three ranch houses like he was at an art museum and they were blue period Picassos. Dom kept expecting a door to open and some woman to call out a tentative, ‘Brian?’ but long minutes passed and no one came.
Dom leaned on the car and wondered how he would fare if their situations were reversed. He imagined himself walking up and down Kensington scrutinizing every door, every face for some familiar sign. He shrugged unconsciously. If he walked around his neighborhood, there would be a couple of dozen people volunteering to tell him his name.
Brian’s neighborhood seemed very subdued by comparison, everyone shut up inside with the TVs flickering. A couple of kids shouted to each other as they grabbed their skateboards and vanished into the maze of houses. But these last three houses seemed oddly vacant. Lights on, but no one home. Now that the sun was setting, the temperature was dropping rapidly.
Dom cleared his throat of dust, barely keeping a creeping unease at bay. He snorted to himself as he realized that the weirdest element here was that there weren’t any cops lying in wait. He rubbed his jaw and watched Brian. For Brian’s sake, he hoped this wasn’t another dead end.
“That one.” Brian said, jerking his chin at the house on the far right. He started up the driveway at a lope. Dom glanced around for a second, hoping Neighborhood Watch was taking a pee break and followed, trying to look like he belonged here.
He found Brian in the back yard, hefting one corner of a broken brick, eyeing a back window with intent.
“Are you about to break into your mother’s house?” Dom tried not to sound as shocked as he felt.
Brian’s shadow seemed to slump a little. “Door’s locked.”
“Well think a second.” Dom said gently. “Lots of people leave a key around.”
Brian’s shadow perked up and he started wreaking havoc on some flower pots. Then he stood up straight so fast that Dom found himself jerking back.
“Man with a plan, man with a plan.” Brian chanted to himself vaguely. He started down the side of the house, stroking light fingertips over the siding. A ragged bird-of-paradise bush protected them from the direct view of the kitchen window next door. Dom kept his back to Brian, glancing back and forth.
After assuring himself that for the moment no one was looking, Dom turned around when Brian murmured, “I need a hand here.”
Brian had loosened a basement window. Its top half gaped open at an angle, giving about a foot and a half of clearance. Dom bent down and squinted into the perfect, pitch-black darkness below. Brian was already grabbing at Dom’s shoulder and levering himself up, delicately toeing the edge of the windowpane. Any second now that glass would shatter.
“Wait.” Dom grabbed Brian’s elbow before Brian slid away from him like a letter through a mail chute. “You gonna just leap without looking like this?”
Brian grinned. Dom could barely see the gleam of white in the ambient light and Dom could almost feel the bluff and gamble in the tight grip on his shoulder.
“I thought you knew me.” Brian whispered, let go and was gone.
Dom’s heart was pounding when a light outlined a back door so deep in shadow that he hadn’t noticed it before. The door opened and Brian stuck his head around the side, still grinning triumphantly.
This was either so weird it was normal or so normal it was weird. The fact that he was standing in what obviously was Brian O’Conner’s high-school bedroom made his stomach tighten and his skin tingle like he was about to race or fight. Dom swallowed firmly, fighting the vague need to throw up.
It was even weirder because Brian was obviously having a blast in this musty, dusty basement room. He looked happier than he had for days. He kept picking up random items off bookshelves and laughing to himself. He slapped his hands on the posters on the wall. He finally threw himself on a wide bed that sloshed back and forth with him obligingly.
Dom had involuntarily backed up a couple of steps.
“Waterbed.” Brian was still chortling to himself as he looked up at the ceiling and then at Dom. His skin looked very pale against the navy blue comforter.
“Uh, yeah, I got that.” Dom was distracted by the bookcase, old textbooks, a soccer ball, a cheap photo frame with an obviously middle-school Brian and a good-looking black kid. The cascading evidence that Brian was a real person with a real life was strangely unsettling. More unsettling. Somehow.
Brian was nudging an accordion-door closet with the toe of his shoe. Dom opened another door tentatively. A tiny bathroom that still had a slight hint of bleach over an older scent of mold. Nothing in the cabinets except a dried-out tube of toothpaste and a dusty green bottle of Polo. Catching sight of his own reflection was not reassuring.
When Dom emerged, Brian was vanishing up the stairs. Dom followed with the half-formed thought that this was a much more modest upbringing than he’d ever have imagined for Brian.
The impression strengthened on the main floor. This house was tiny. He and Brian thumping around inside, almost bouncing off the pasteboard walls made it seem even smaller and shabbier. It was clean and furnished in cool shades of blue and white, but it still felt cramped and chilly. Not very home-like.
Brian evaporated down a hallway that obviously had bedrooms, so Dom turned the other way. The refrigerator’s low hum led him to the kitchen. There was an untouched litterbox next to the door to the carport. The door itself was blocked by a haphazard stack of junk mail. Circulars and solicitations had slid into a jumbled teepee.
Dom opened the ‘fridge confirming what he suspected. It was empty, except for some pickles and packets of fast-food condiments. Some unidentifiable frozen shit in the freezer. He took a deep breath and headed back toward the tiny hallway where Brian was outlined in the wan fluorescent light.
Dom paused. For a second, Brian looked like a toy in a white box. The ceiling was only a few inches above Brian’s head and the walls were empty. The sharp curve of the hall gave the illusion of walls hemming him in on all sides. Now, against the stark whiteness of the wall, Brian looked ruddy and tanned. But Brian had a curious blank look as he ran his hand over the smooth surface. As he got closer, Dom could see the subtly paler spots and tiny holes where photo frames had hung.
There were only two rooms, divided by a bathroom at the end of the tiny hallway. One bedroom, one study. Neither were exactly bursting with personality. It was like looking at an exhibit: Barstow, single mother, no extended family, one cut above the poverty line. Dom looked at his reflection in the darkened window and could practically feel the days melting into one another.
He turned around and glared at the back of Brian’s head.
Brian had ducked down to examine something on the front wall. He pushed an end table slightly to the side and Dom could see for himself that the light plugged into one of those little timer things. Dom frowned. No cat, no food, no mail, lights on a timer…
“Guess she’s not here right now.” And Brian only sounded a little hesitant. Not really freaked out at all.
It made Dom angry for some reason.
“How can you be such a fucking ghost?”
Brian blanched and recoiled for a second and then the flush ran up his face like wildfire and he was pushing off the floor and up into Dom’s face again. “Why the hell is this my fault?”
“It’s just….” Dom gestured futilely at the empty house. “This is it? She bails, you’re okay with it? I mean, how can you have no one?”
“I’ve got you.” Brian said flatly. He sounded much more grown-up suddenly and Dom looked at him closely. It wasn’t right. This wacked-out house shouldn’t be enough to make Brian happy, to reassure him.
“You don’t have me.” Dom started, trying to sound surer than he felt. “We are completely…”
“Will you stop trying to sell me that story?” Brian rocked his head back and looked bored.
“It’s the truth.” Dom snapped.
“It’s ludicrous.” Brian returned.
“Why would I lie to you at this moment?” Dom spread his hands. “What does it get me?”
Brian looked uncertain for a second, but then he shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe this is some kind of weird therapy and you’re trying to shock me into remembering our life together.”
“Oh yeah.” Dom nodded in disbelief. “That’s not ludicrous at all.”
“You keep talking, Dominic.” Brian wiggled his fingers in the air like a stage magician. “Talking is not your medium.”
Dom narrowed his eyes and snorted. “You got that right.”
There was no way to get good purchase on a waterbed. It was frustrating as fuck, but maybe that was the point. The strange way it bobbed and rolled under them, pressing random flesh together; it was almost like having a third person in bed.
Brian seemed to have gotten the knack; he was almost perfectly balanced with one foot hooked on the edge of the bed. His hands were anchoring Dom’s hips and he was using the weight of the water to do his dirty work. Nudging rhythmically with one knee between Dom’s thighs, letting the water bob Dom’s cock into his mouth.
Brian was still doing this like he was learning, but he was learning quickly.
Dom tried to catch his gasping breath before it became the only thing he could hear. He tugged gently on Brian’s hair and thought: Did you fuck my sister like this? With this unwavering, selfish concentration?
Brian was concentrating but he wasn’t very…goal-oriented. Dom was burning with itchy blood, aching with the need to thrust, to come. But Brian kept getting maddeningly close, then backing off. Dom was just about to give in and grab his hair when Brian pulled back and slid sinuously up the bed. Dom felt his fingernails bite into his palm, oh god, he was going to kill Br…
“I want you to do something for me.” Brian stroked Dom’s stomach unself-consciously. Dom tried to unsquint his eyes. Brian looked almost liquid, flopped on the bed, but his eyes were very serious. “I mean, with me.”
Dom was just about to ask what, when his mind circled swiftly around and he was halfway off the bed, already shaking his head. Of course, the fucking bed did not cooperate; he was a complete idiot to let Brian talk him into to coming down here. Getting naked, getting horizontal, it was no wonder that Brian was getting crazy ideas.
“Whoa, c’mon.” Brian had somehow gotten his knee between Dom’s crosswise and now Dom couldn’t slide away. “What’s the problem?”
“What’s the…? Are you serious?” Dom fought to get one foot on the floor, but Brian was now lying mostly on his back and Brian was fucking heavy.
“Serious as a heart attack.” And Brian uncurled his fist over Dom’s sternum so Dom had to fight his way around to give Brian a careful shove. Dom was still diamond hard for some reason.
“Please.” Oh, fuck, the ‘please’ was going to kill him. “You know you want to do this.”
“Why do you…?” Dom snarled until he couldn’t find breath. “Why. Would. You. Think. That?”
Brian made an elaborate ‘duh’ face. Dom winced to himself. A hasty, inexpert blowjob and two (or maybe four) handjobs shouldn’t necessarily indicate future…Dom abandoned that line of argument before he even opened his mouth.
“Why do you…?” Dom started again lamely and Brian knuckle-punched him on the shoulder.
“Dude, look at me. Turn and look.” Brian was still wearing a serious face. “You know what I like to eat. You know what size clothes I wear. You paid for the hospital, for every meal and hotel room and gas to drive me all over creation. You keep saying I’m trouble, you keep threatening to leave, but you stay.”
“Yeah, but…” Dom tried to sit up with Brian still on top of him. Brian was essentially in his lap. And he was still…Dom swallowed and tried to breathe through his nose. Brian’s weight on top of him made Dom feel like he was chewing on tinfoil while his guts boiled and bubbled like lava.
“C’mon, I just…I uh.” Brian relaxed the muscles in his leg and tilted his hips up. “I just want you to fuck me. I’m not asking you to, like…kill anyone.”
Dom squeezed his eyes shut very tightly and covered his face with his hands. But Brian tugged at his wrists and when he opened his eyes, Brian was still there.
Noise, Dom thought vaguely. Noise.
Because…apparently this blue-eyed look-alike liked to make noise. Twice, Dom had reached out to clamp a hand over Brian’s mouth and twice he’d coaxed himself out of the impulse. No one could hear them.
The way Brian’s hole just ate up his finger was shocking and hot and beautiful, but also unnerving as hell. He found himself blinking a lot and trying to brush the little beads of sweat off his forehead with the back of his other hand. He was covered in oil, hot and aching. His eyes felt like he’d been awake for a week.
Brian kept arching his back and twisting his hips a little and Dom was quite sure that Brian was not going to be into this, given a moment or two. But Brian just sighed deeply when Dom pulled back, settled his knees a little more firmly. Dom thought grimly that it would serve Brian right if the bed broke.
Brian shivered at the touch of Dom’s thumbs and suddenly he couldn’t seem to keep his ass still. Dom tried to keep his grip firm and measured as he lined himself up and drew gently on Brian’s hips.
“Higher.” Brian muttered and his hands scritched over the mattress cover.
Dom grunted and repositioned himself and holy shit. Brian groaned and hissed a little and Christ, this was working. “Hurts?” Dom gasped and Brian shook his head. Dom could only thrust the tiniest bit, so he stroked Brian’s legs apart and just pushed them both down into the gurgling mattress.
Dom kept one hand on Brian’s shoulder and tried to worm his other hand down where it could do some good. Brian came back to life, tightening up, pushing up on his palms and knees and Dom clutched at Brian’s cock and something was sparking white in Dom’s eyes, blinding him, Brian’s voice in his head, a ragged chant of please, please, please.
When he started awake, Brian’s head was wedged into his armpit. Brian smacked his lips and tried to resettle himself. Brian’s hair tickled Dom until he shivered so Brian stirred unconsciously and elbowed him so deeply in the ribs that Dom almost couldn’t suppress a yelp. Brian looked up, tousled, bleary and resentful. “You okay?”
“…” Dom nodded. Brian gazed at him a moment longer then half-smiled and settled back down. But they were both awake now and their little cocoon of warmth was broken.
“What are you thinking about?” Brian asked.
“No cops here, did you notice that?” Dom choked out finally. “Somehow I think if we’re waiting for her, we’d wait a long time.”
Brian chuckled into Dom’s shoulder and then rolled onto his back. “We don’t need to wait. I got what I needed here. It’s all….” Brian stretched and the bed rippled. “Coming back.”
Brian’s breath steamed over his nipple and Dom tightened his arm involuntarily. Brian murmured, “I just needed to know that it was all…real.”
Dom shuddered with sudden chill. He jerked another blanket out from under them and pulled it up to his shoulders. “You want to keep moving?”
“Well, you know me…” Brian murmured with no apparent sense of irony.
“No, I don’t.” Dom said for what felt like the thousandth time. “You don’t even know you. You are a complete stranger to me. And I don’t see how today is any different from yesterday. ” But that was a huge lie; he wanted to take it back the moment he’d said it.
“You’re right.” But Brian didn’t seem to mind. Brian smiled a wide, slow smile at the ceiling. “I just decided to stop freaking out about it.”
Dom snorted to himself and then realized that at some previous point he’d obviously decided to stop freaking out too. He thought for long moments while Brian drifted next to him. He’d accepted so many impossible things in the past few days. If Brian wasn’t scared by his brave new world, Dom was damned if he would be. It was time to stop accepting and reacting. Start conforming to the new reality. Start taking and acting.
“So.” Dom surprised himself with how loud his voice sounded. This was such a silent place with only the occasional ripple from the waterbed. “I want you to do something for me. I mean, with me.”
Brian didn’t open his eyes but he spread his palm’s broad warmth over Dom’s hip. Dom could feel Brian’s smile with his eyes closed. “I get the feeling that this ‘something’ isn’t quite legal.”
Dom shook him not-very-gently. “And dangerous. Maybe kinda stupid.”
“Awesome.” Brian’s breath over his collarbone made Dom shiver. “Thought you’d never ask.”
“Where’s my clipboard?” Brian leaned back into the car, still barefoot with his shirt unbuttoned.
“Uh.” Dom cast his eyes around. “Uhm. Is it important?”
“Gotta have a clipboard.” Brian jerked his shirttail and straightened his collar. Dom noticed that Brian had cut himself shaving and it made him nervous.
“You’re nervous.” Brian squinted at Dom and grinned. “You need to work on that.”
“I’m not nervous.” Dom laced his boots up angrily.
“Yeah, okay.” Brian grinned conspiratorially and Dom suppressed the urge to hit him. “You can be nervous, just as long as you don’t look nervous.”
“Do you suddenly not habla ingles? Remember what I said: we screw this up, we go down f-o-r-e-v-e-r.” Dom buttoned his own shirt and attempted to pull it straight over his shoulders. His uniform didn’t fit nearly as well as Brian’s fit him.
“You just need to look bored and kind of dumb.” Brian checked himself in the sideview mirror and pulled his cap straight on his head. “Try it.”
Dom blinked and pulled his own cap on.
“Yeah, kinda like that.” Brian reached out and poked Dom in the chin. “Relax your mouth.”
“OK, angry-face you, people are going to remember, so not so much with that look. Bored. Stupid with boredom.” Brian stomped one foot and then the other into his boots.
“I don’t think these uniforms are right.” Dom jerked anxiously at his sleeve.
Brian sighed and almost flounced. “For the millionth time, it doesn’t matter. Believe me, people just notice that it’s a uniform, they barely look at the details.”
“If you’re wrong, we are well fucked.” Dom poked at his embroidered nametag peevishly. “This is so fly-by-night, it’ll never work.”
“It’ll work because they won’t expect something so fly-by-night.” Brian picked up his stiff poly/cotton, navy blue jacket off the back seat. “Hospitals aren’t made to hold people. If we get stuck, we’ll improvise.”
Brian picked up his newly-uncovered clipboard and brandished it, grinning. “Let’s roll.”
The hospital’s garage was cavernous. Dom took a deep breath of the cooler air gratefully. A long, barely air-conditioned bus ride and a hot walk across the block had given him the start of a headache and fettered adrenaline was nauseating him. He tucked his sunglasses into his jacket pocket while Brian lit up a cigarette. They paused at the employees’ only entrance, loitering while taking note of all the security cameras.
Brian slumped on the wall taking long drags of smoke, managing to look both bored and dumb. Dom found that he was shaking his head in disbelief. Brian blinked and rubbed his eyes and it looked like what it most definitely wasn’t: just a couple of guys, bored and hungover, EMT and paramedic having a smoke break before the shift change.
“It’s like what you were doing before…what you said.” Brian muttered apropos of nothing.
“What?” Dom scraped the sweat off his forehead and settled his cap more firmly. He had two props, a clipboard and a lunch bag and it was hard to juggle them both.
“Hijacking.” Brian flicked his ash. “Stealing things in the most obvious way possible. No stealth. We’re not stealing him. We’re taking him.”
“Gimme one of those.” Dom jerked his chin at Brian’s packet of cigarettes but Brian just winked at him.
“Call your woman.” Brian nodded at the pocket where Dom had stuffed his cell phone.
“My sister.” Dom returned, aggravated. Brian made a ‘whatever’ gesture and leaned back on the wall, grinning at a passing nurse.
Once inside the hospital, Dom trailed in Brian’s wake. The hospital smell almost made his gorge rise, the disinfectant, recycled air and hopelessness. He watched Brian’s back as Brian loped along, whistling tunelessly. Brian snaffled a gurney without breaking stride and Dom clutched the back rail, grateful to have something to lean on.
The reception was almost crowded. Like Brian had anticipated, all the eyes just washed over them, taking in only blue polyester, gurney, clipboard. They angled through the lobby without looking up and backed into the elevator, clustering into one side next to the gurney.
“Keep your head down.” Brian demonstrated the good angle. The lift dinged for their floor. “That’s your cue.” Brian grinned at him reassuringly as he punched the button to take him back down to the basement and employee parking. “See you soon.”
Dom tried to nod back at him, but the doors were already clacking shut. Dom slowly pushed the gurney down the wide hallway. He could feel the blood pounding in his head. Walking in this shitty uniform, he felt clumsy and curtailed. He said a short and heartfelt prayer that he and Brian would not have to flee anywhere on foot.
As he moved along the corridor, he pushed himself into a rhythm. Coordinating the gurney into a smooth glide like he knew right where he was going. He went over Mia’s detailed directions as he passed every milestone she had mentioned. He could see the prize now, the door at the end of the hallway with a young man, dressed in Riverside county’s olive and khaki, lounging up against the wall. The cop glanced directly toward him and Dom found himself backing into the first door he passed, dragging his gurney in after him.
It was a double room with two very old ladies, one sleeping and the other watching television with her wrinkled face screwed up in a frown. She brightened when she saw Dom. “My land, you’re early! I’m not supposed to go for my scan until four!” She sat up and started to shove her tiny feet into slippers.
“No, ma’am, I think I might have…” Dom grabbed his clipboard and glanced at the wall. “I’m not sure this is the right...room.”
She might have been nearly ninety, but her brown eyes gleamed with interest and not a little appreciation as she cocked her head to look at him. “Well, you double check, young fellow…I’m not in a hurry. I know you’re not here for Doris.” She sighed at her sleeping roommate who did look like she’d been asleep for months, if not years.
Dom hesitated, frowning down at his blank clipboard.
“I know it’s kind of dim in here.” The old lady said apologetically. “But you shouldn’t squint like that, sweetheart. Here.”
She proffered him some glasses with dark, functional frames. He took them awkwardly.
“Doris’ son left them here.” She nodded at the sleeping octogenarian who was breathing in a steady, labored way that seemed to indicate that it was something of an effort. “He’s not going to be needing them anytime soon. Only comes once a week.”
“Uh…thanks.” Dom set the glasses on his face carefully and made a show of examining the clipboard. He glanced awry at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and barely recognized the guy in the uniform, blue cap and nerdy specs. All of a sudden, he really looked the part.
“Is that better?” She looked up at him and it seemed to take her a long time to draw her eyes to his face. Dom felt the urge to zip up his jacket suddenly. The old lady was definitely checking him out. “Wouldn’t want you to strain those pretty peepers.”
Dom suddenly felt like his head was practically vibrating with ideas. “Who’s your doctor, Miss…?”
She tilted her head down and simpered at the ‘Miss’. “I’m Irene. Jackson. Most folks call me Reenie.”
“Reenie, I think I’ve made a mistake. I’m new here.” Dom pushed the gurney to rest right outside the door. “Which is the button to call the nurse?”
She pointed to it and he leaned over her head to jab it quickly. He grinned down at her, his most shy and devastating grin. “I’m just gonna duck out and make a quick call. If the nurse gets here before I get back, get them to double and then triple check that your scan is at four, okay?”
“All righty.” Reenie seemed excited to have a purpose. She jabbed the button again.
“We’ll get to the bottom of this.” He patted her shoulder, gave her a little ‘thumbs up’ and then left. He crossed the hall diagonally and found another room where both occupants were sleeping. Three PM wasn’t just the shift changeover for the nurses, it seemed to be deep into ‘afternoon nap’ territory.
He pressed the nurse call button and then surreptitiously exited. He found two more rooms with at least one sleeping occupant and managed to thoroughly confuse a man with a herniated disc and a woman having a hip replacement. By the time he reached the end of the hall, the nurses’ station was down to one harried-looking woman in purple scrubs.
In the meantime, Mia had worked her magic and there was no one at the door when he got to Vince’s room. Vince was also asleep; he looked sallow against the white sheets and his lips were chapped. Dom figured that Mia could probably turn a young cop’s head for easily five minutes, but he’d probably be lucky to have three. Dom clenched his fists around the handles of the gurney and then noticed that Vince was strapped and cuffed to the bed.
The bed had wheels. Dom blinked and stirred back into action. All he had to do was unhook Vince from the IV and all the other tubes that seemed to snake out of his arms. Vince gasped awake when Dom ripped the Velcro straps and shut off the first monitor.
“Hey.” Dom nodded and instantly glared over the top of his new glasses as Vince’s blue eyes widened. Vince’s mouth fell open and then he mouthed ‘oh God’ and huffed out a breath. He nodded at Dom slowly, as Dom delicately pulled the tape off and slid the IV needle out with a wince.
“Hold tight.” Dom reached down to recline the bed all the way and started jerking at the sheet. Vince got the picture with astonishing speed and tried to help Dom even as his injuries made him clumsy and sluggish. He was wrapped in a thick pad from his nipple to his hip and he wasn’t able to bend much. Dom had worked one sheet almost free when there was a quick burst of radio static at the door.
The cop at the door was still wearing his jacket and he already held his radio at his mouth with the button mashed down. He was looking at Dom with his mouth open, probably trying to remember cop jargon for ‘extremely brazen kidnapping in progress’. He was holding a coffee cup. For what seemed like a very long second, he locked eyes with Dom. And then things started happening very fast.
The cop’s eyes flew open even wider and he dropped his cup of coffee which landed with an unhappy glup on the tile. He twisted on his heel and backed into the room. Dom caught a glimpse of Brian over the cop’s shoulder. He had the faint thought that the blue uniform really made Brian’s eyes blaze.
“Drop it on the bed.” Brian said calmly and Dom forgot to breathe as he saw what Brian was holding. The gun looked very black against the white walls and floor. He wondered for a second why the cop wasn’t going for his own gun and then he realized that Brian had simply come up behind the cop in his moment of confusion at the door, unsnapped the holster and lifted it off him.
You just got fucked by your caffeine jones. Dom thought semi-hysterically. As an afterthought, he took a deep breath.
The cop’s mouth was working but he held up his hands in a conciliatory way. Brian gestured with the gun and the cop quickly dropped his handheld radio on the bed.
“Put your hands on your head and take three short steps backward.” Brian said this in a neutral tone, for all the world like he was the cop…Dom huffed one disbelieving breath out and Brian cut his eyes over to him. Brian jerked his chin over to the cop and Dom quickly straightened and stepped away from Vince’s bed.
“Buddy, you don’t wanna…” The cop started and Brian’s eyes went hard.
“Don’t move.” Brian thumbed the safety off. “This might be embarrassing; don’t let it be fatal, okay? Just stay still.”
Dom moved as fast as he could, snagging the ring of keys off the little carabineer clip at the cop’s waist. Handcuff keys were tiny, it was easy to pick them out and unlatch Vince. It was a surreal thrill to cuff one of the cop’s wrists and draw them down behind his back. The cop thought for one second that he was really going to resist, but Dom tightened his grip and the cop quickly abandoned the impulse.
“Sorry about this.” He found himself muttering. He ran his hands down from the guy’s knees, checking for a backup piece. As an afterthought, he grabbed the cell phone bulging out of the cop’s pocket.
Vince was halfway to levering himself onto the gurney but his white face had turned almost gray and Brian was grimacing at him while he kept the gun trained on the cop. Dom laced his arm under Vince’s shoulders and shoved him gently into position. He snapped the sheet over Vince’s face and tucked it in with rapid little jabs.
“Why are you doing this, O’Conner?” The cop was trying to be cool but his shoulders still tightened when Brian raised the gun an inch.
“Make it easy, okay?” Brian pulled a paper clip out of his pocket and brandished it. “If I were you, I’d get those off and then go back and get another cup of coffee. Shift hasn’t started yet. Sure you lost your piece and your radio, but at least it’s not the suspect, right? You’re not that asshole. Not yet.”
The cop was shaking his head involuntarily, looking kind of green. Dom’s cell buzzed with a text message. Mia’s 3 minute warning.
“I’m sure you’ll think of something.” Brian grinned wryly, turned and flicked the paper clip through the open door to the toilet.
Dom checked the hall and backed out, pulling the gurney. He kept his head tilted down, feeling Brian shut the door delicately but firmly behind him. The nurse’s station now hosted a cluster of three stern women having an argument. Dom backed through a set of double doors, noticing how the first people who passed them kept their eyes studiously averted. Guys in uniform pushing a corpse around didn’t make anyone seem to want to look twice.
Brian was walking behind him, cradling his clipboard and by extension, his stolen gun. Brian nudged him right to the service elevator and Dom leaned hard on the gurney and let his knees shake. He clutched Vince’s wrist through the sheet and Vince rucked the fabric up to clutch him back.
Brian tapped the button for the basement and smirked at Dom’s glasses. “I like that look. Very Clark Kent.”
Vince let go of Dom’s wrist to drag the sheet off his face. He pathetically tried to scowl at Brian. “Who the fuck are you, buster?”
Brian tilted his chin down and his face set. Dom opened his mouth, but Vince continued. “Most sub-zero motherfucker I’ve ever met in my life.” Vince blew out a breath and winced. “Thanks for saving my dick, Brian. Again.”
Brian perked up a little and looked like he might start asking questions, but the doors opened. Dom backed out slowly. He kept expecting a horde of security guards to pop out from around a corner, but there was just a janitor who politely stood aside to let them through.
“How much time do you think?” Dom felt like he was actually having to coordinate his heartbeat with his breathing now. It was as if he couldn’t do both at once.
Brian shrugged again. “Probably about 90 more seconds. Three minutes, if we’re lucky.”
Dom reached into his ‘lunch bag’ and pulled out a t-shirt, sweatpants and flip-flops for Vince. Vince’s sigh of relief made the gurney vibrate. There was an alcove with a vending machine. It took long seconds of struggle to get Vince out of his gown and into real clothes and he nearly passed out twice. By the time it was over, Dom was soaking with sweat and one of Vince’s pristine white bandages was starting to seep red. Dom left the cop’s cell phone in the tray of the vending machine. Brian had clipped the radio to his own collar and shoved the gun in his waistband under his jacket.
“What did you get?” Dom rasped. Brian had been tasked with selecting a car to steal.
Brian waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “You’ll see.”
“No fucking way.” Dom grunted when Brian pulled around.
Brian opened the window and cocked his head. “Yeah, I’d feel bad and everything, but you hear that?”
Dom swore under his breath as Vince started to wobble under his bracing arm. He couldn’t help feeling like the afternoon sun was a spotlight painting a target on his back. Brian was right, the faint scream of sirens was starting cut through the hot, bright haze. So he bit his lip and got into the BMW.
“I thought we talked about this.” Dom glanced back to check on Vince who was breathing in short, tight breaths but still conscious.
Brian shrugged. “I know, but…I mean, some poor nurse working a twelve hour shift doesn’t need to come out and find her Accord missing, man. This guy’s got a parking place with his name on it, I’m sure he’s…well-insured.”
“Kind of conspicuous.” Dom lined up the rest of his objections. He didn’t really know why. They’d already put eighty miles on the odometer, they were pretty committed now.
“We just need a couple of hours, right?” Brian shrugged again. “Not like it’s a fire-engine red RX7 or an electric-apricot Supra, right? Looks like a citizen’s car.”
Dom sighed gustily. The BMW was a very respectable navy blue and there were surely enough cruising around Riverside County right now to keep it from being supremely eye-catching. Brian could easily be some spoiled college kid borrowing his dad’s car.
Brian grinned at him. “But that’s not why I stole it.”
“Then why?” Dom reclined the seat as far as he could.
“Because of this.” Brian shifted down a gear, moved to the far left lane and pressed a button labeled ‘Launch control’. The tach flipped up to redline, Brian jammed it into fifth and the Bavarian beast zoomed forward like they were on the final leg of the Nurburgring. Dom pressed his hands to his forehead and grimly said nothing as Brian weaved in and out of the first flush of rush hour. They were headed against the traffic, back into the bleeding arteries of Los Angeles. Just another set of freaks in the freak kingdom. Dom took a deep breath and let his shoulders relax.
But Brian’s shoulders were starting to hunch up and he was starting to dart tiny glances in the rearview. Dom froze. He knew that look. Intimately. He glanced down at the side mirror just in time to see a highway patrol car change lanes. No siren, but they had the lights flashing and the waves of cars behind them were starting to part like the Red Sea.
“You think they want us?” Brian asked, not sounding very hopeful.
“I think we should probably assume they do.” Dom said dryly.
Vince tried to lift himself up to look out the back window, groaned and clutched his midsection with his un-injured arm. The red patch had started to dot through his t-shirt.
“What do you want me to do?” Brian was obviously making an effort to relax, but he darted a look sideways at Dom that was only a thin veneer of cool layered over panic.
Dom pushed the seat back up and grabbed the oh shit handle. “Smoke ‘em.”
“Why are we….why are we slowing down?” Vince didn’t seem to notice or care that his voice had gone higher with strain.
Brian clicked his teeth together and Dom cut his fingers over his throat impatiently. “Los Angeles. Five o’clock. Friday night.”
Vince blinked rapidly and shut the hell up. Brian was weaving in and out fast enough to leave a chorus of half-hearted honks in their wake, but he was not going at such an obnoxious speed that the patrolman behind them would find it necessary to call in a helicopter. But traffic was getting thicker. It was just a matter of time.
They were almost at the 710 Freeway, the lanes were starting to get narrow. This section of the interstate was ridged and pocked from the millions of cars that funneled into Los Angeles every day.
“Stay in this lane, but I want you to take the 101.” Dom said, as calmly as he could.
“You’re thinking if we get off the highway, he loses jurisdiction? That leaves us at the mercy of the LAPD, man, that’ll be worse.” Brian said quickly. “They’ll take it personal.”
Dom gritted his teeth and did not reiterate that the LAPD was well justified in taking it personal in the case of one Brian O’Conner. “Just trust me.”
He opened up his burn phone and spent a moment recalling the number. He made it a point to memorize a few people’s digits by heart, just for cases like this. After a few long rings, the line connected with a hesitant ‘Hello?’
“Han?” Dom closed his eyes for one moment, said a tiny prayer of thanks. “You still renting that garage down on Essex? You anywhere near there?”
“Yeah, Dom.” Han didn’t sound at all surprised. “Just about to head down there now. You need something special?”
“Just a place to crash.” Dom chewed his lip and hoped his words weren’t going to be a prediction. “And we’re coming in kind of hot.”
“I’m hearing the sirens.” Han said dryly. Dom twisted around to look. The CHP was showing its full plumage and sounding its mating call now, but Brian was managing to keep them about 10 car lengths back. “Sounds red-hot.”
“I’ll call someone else.” Dom started to click the phone off, but Han scoffed. “No worries, man. I’ll leave the door open and be ready to shut it quick.”
“Thanks, Han.” Dom sighed. “I’ll definitely owe you one.”
“One of many.” Han said mildly and the phone went dead.
“There are two of them now.” Vince announced from the back. Dom swung around to look just as Brian straightened to take a hard look at the rear view. He could smell Brian underneath the plasticy scent of polyester and it made him want to grind his teeth.
CHP had peeled off and they were now being tailed by two black and whites. It was getting dark and the taillights ahead of them were a constant ruby stream.
“OK, you’re going to take this exit here.” Dom said, giving his seatbelt a surreptitious tug. “The ramp is too short and there’s a hard left at the end. I want you to juice it up as hard as you can and take it on two wheels if you have to.”
“Dominic. I may be…a little confused.” Brian’s forehead had squinched up in a frown. “But isn’t that kind of…exactly the opposite of the way we want to go?”
Dom breathed out slowly. “I thought you were trusting me?”
Brian opened his mouth, closed it and just nodded.
“So take this exit.” Dom murmured and with a quick downshift Brian did.
“I’m gonna puke.” Vince announced and promptly put his plan in action.
“Sorry, man.” Brian was leaning hard to the left, as if he could keep the wheels on the ground by his own weight alone.
“Hard right now.” Dom said firmly and Brian, bless him, didn’t hesitate for a second.
Dom tried to be cool about it but he couldn’t help bracing himself just a bit when Brian cut off the corner and swung wide around a Volkswagen Jetta.
“Take the tunnel.” Dom pointed and Brian, clever clever, turned his lights off as he zoomed under the train station.
“Three more streets.” Dom tried to remember to keep breathing as Brian tore into the wrong lane to pass a Toyota Celica, a Buick Regal and a Ford F150. “Hard right here.”
“It’s a….” But Brian didn’t finish his protest, just pulled into the vacant lot.
“See the gate at the end?” Dom pointed. “Blast through there.”
Brian raised his eyebrows and gave an abbreviated shrug and chain link gate burst open with a loud snap, clatter and scree as it clawed the bumper of the BMW.
“You can slow down now.” Dom exhaled over the lump in his throat.
“Is this the…” Brian went quiet and downshifted. The Los Angeles River was only sporadically lit by the streetlights of the roads that abutted it. It was fully dark now. Brian held the wheel steady as they coasted over the paved bank.
“Did we lose ‘em?” Brian leaned forward to cradle the wheel as his eyes darted around.
“Five minutes ago.” Vince volunteered in a hoarse grunt.
Brian snorted a quick disbelieving laugh. The city lights got stronger and he turned the BMW’s lights off again and they drove slowly next to the dark, gleaming coil of the shallow river. It was eerily peaceful, this abandoned rivulet that carved the city in two.
After four miles southbound, they crossed under the 7th Street bridge and Dom directed Brian up the Mission Street exit into the rabbit warren of downtown LA. They took 7th Street to South Central Avenue and hooked back up onto Essex Street. Han’s garage was a big black cavern in a street equally divided between warehouses and flophouses.
There was a moment of total darkness as the garage door came down and before Han turned the lights up. Dom watched Brian take a deep breath and then slowly peel his hands off the wheel. Brian shuddered, his whole body racked with a spasm and Dom felt a cascade of sympathetic twitches all over his body.
“Close one.” Dom muttered. Brian just shook his head slowly and Dom could see his jaw working under his skin.
“Hey Vince.” Han was leaning in the window, grinning. “Did you puke in this nice ride?”
The grin fell off Han’s face as he got a closer look at Vince’s bandaged arm and blood-dotted t-shirt. “Whoa, what happened? Who’s this?”
Brian opened the door and stood up, wincing. Dom wiped away some of his cold sweat and grimaced. “It’s a long story.”
Four hours later, he found Brian out on the quiet street, bouncing on the trash-strewn curb in the shadow at the edge of the piss-yellow spill of streetlight. Brian was staring at his Converse sneakers speculatively. He looked up when Dom shut the door gently.
“Is he gonna be okay?” Brian asked around a drag on a cigarette. Dom frowned and squashed the urge to snatch it away from him. He’d seen Brian’s fingernails; they might have exchanged some words about it sometime in the past. For all he knew, Brian O’Conner smoked like a chimney.
Dom shrugged. “Yeah. Give it a while.” The shoulder placket of his shirt was still soaked with Vince’s tears. Vince seemed so raw right now, painfully vulnerable. Dom hadn’t wanted to tell him about Jesse, but it wasn’t like there was a choice. “He’s sleeping now.”
“That’s probably best.” Brian looked uptown at the crown of light on the Library Tower. “How’s your woman?”
“My sister.” Dom growled. “And she’s okay. They know it was us, obviously, but the cops are too busy pointing fingers at each other right now to take her in as a material witness or something.”
“Hmmmmm.” Brian bounced again on the edge of the curb. “You know I think I’m going crazy.”
Dom wanted to say something sarcastic about it being a foregone conclusion but Brian said it without a hint of his usual breezy cool. Dom’s throat went dry and he had a sudden urge to wrap his arm around Brian’s shoulder, but he wasn’t sure where that would lead.
“Do tell.” Dom slumped against the wall of the garage, pressing his hot skin against the cool metal siding.
“The last thing I remember…the clearest thing.” Brian looked down at the toes of his sneakers again. “My buddy Rome and me….we stole a car to come into town to go to some concert. We were seventeen…luckily. Sneaked in under the wire, didn’t get charged as adults. After they chased us down.”
Dom nodded and waited for the rest of the story.
“So that…” Brian gestured back east. “Shit, déjà vu all over again, right? But…it was weird. The whole time we were….it was like my vision had doubled or something. I kept getting these weird flashes like…codes and things.”
“Codes?” Dom asked, baffled.
Brian sighed gustily. “Like a list in my head. Numbers. 503. 505A. Code 207.”
Brian continued as if the words were being dragged out of him. “And that means grand theft auto, reckless driving, kidnapping in progress.”
Dom blinked very slowly. “Yeah. Okay.”
“And that came to me, like crystal clear. I kept thinking of all the things those cops would do, would think. And this. This feels familiar.” Brian looked down at his nondescript blue uniform and touched the radio clipped to his collar. “Because I’m a cop. I think.”
Dom washed a hand over his face. It was ridiculous; his eyes should not be stinging.
“I don’t…” Brian shivered again, a subtle ripple through his shoulders. “Please don’t leave me, Dominic. I’m scared.”
“Fuck.” Dom pushed himself off the wall. And he had his arms around Brian’s shoulders, cupping the back of his neck before he even realized what he was doing. Brian clutched him, pressed his forehead hard against Dom’s cheek, but he didn’t cry. They just breathed each other’s air for long minutes.
“This is my fault.” Dom breathed. “It was me wanting to race, there at the end.”
Brian was shaking his head. “Takes two to race. Don’t be stupid.”
Dom dug his fingers into the tangle of Brian’s curls. “I’ve got an idea.”
Brian pulled back, just enough to look into Dom’s eyes, and echoed. “Do tell.”
Dom chuckled and jerked his chin at the garage. “We got a hot car. Might as well use it.”
The least inconspicuous car Han had at his disposal was a Mitsubishi 3000GT. Which was red. But it was VR-4 with clean Arizona plates, so Dom couldn’t really complain. Plus it was easy to keep an eye on Brian as he trailed a discreet number of car lengths behind the BMW.
Dom pulled into the fire zone of a tragically hip restaurant in Highland Park, left the keys on the dashboard and quickly slid into the backseat. It only took a few tugs to pull the seat back free and then he could curl up into a semi-crouch in the trunk. This was kind of humiliating, but if it paid off it might be worth it.
As anticipated, it only took about half an hour before the restaurant management became concerned about a fire zone violation. Forty-five minutes was barely enough time to really work up a proper brood. The tow-truck operator looked heavy-eyed and overworked and he didn’t even glance in the backseat of the Beamer before hauling it off.
Dom gave it about fifteen minutes after being dropped off into the impound lot before he eeled out of the trunk and strode over to the management office, jerking the creases out of his wrinkled uniform. He ditched the cap, relying on the glasses and clipboard to make him appear enough of an officious prick. It didn’t even take much browbeating before the tired night shift gave him the keys he needed.
Brian was waiting at the side gate, turning his head at just the right angle to block the cameras. Dom beckoned him in quickly and pulled the gate closed. Brian’s sneakers and Dom’s rubber-soled boots were silent on the concrete, with only the occasional crunch of safety glass.
“You know, we rebuilt this car together.” Dom said softly.
Brian cut a quick look over at him.
“You brought me this piece of busted-up shit.” Dom hitched a chuckle. “But it was good inside. Sweet engine.”
Brian stayed silent, looking more troubled than the story warranted. Dom continued after a moment. “So we worked on it, like…non-stop. I let a lot of other shit slide.”
“Why?” Brian muttered low.
“I dunno.” Dom said shortly. He shrugged, feeling unaccountably angry. “It looked good when we finished. Could’ve…”
He trailed off and started walking faster. Brian sped up to keep at his shoulder. “There it is.”
The Supra sat by itself on the corner of a row. It still glowed a cheerful candy-orange even while the hood was crumpled, the chassis bent practically convex and the tires ripped to shit. The spoiler had snapped off completely and the struts gleamed in the wan light. Dom glanced at Brian and noticed how blank Brian’s eyes had gone. It didn’t look like the kind of wreck you’d walk away from.
“Why are we here again?” Brian breathed.
“You know, I did all the things that you were looking to nail me for.” Dom muttered. When Brian shook his head, Dom continued. “I mean, I think like a criminal. Because I am.”
Dom reached in through the shattered window and pressed the button to open the back hatch. “But we built this together. I guess I put a secret compartment in here because I kinda hoped you’d put your secrets in it. Guess we’ll see.”
He ran his fingers over the tiny join on the side of the miniscule trunk. He pressed the edge and it popped up. Dom looked up at Brian and stepped back. After a long moment, Brian reached down and teased the little compartment open and pulled out a manila envelope that had been folded in half. He tipped it out onto the grille over the speakers that filled the rest of the trunk. A wad of cash in c-notes and twenties. A key ring with three keys. A badge. A building pass for Parker Center. And a driver’s license.
Brian’s face stayed still, but his hand trembled a little when he picked up the license to squint at it. Dom hadn’t expected being vindicated to feel good, but he was surprised that it actually felt bad; his mouth went all sour and metallic like he’d licked a battery.
Brian didn’t notice his grimace. Brian said slowly. “West Adams.”
“What?” Dom growled.
“Juliet Street.” Brian’s eyes looked very pale in the reflected light. “That’s in West Adams, right? Below the 10?”
Dom sighed. “I’ll drive.”
They sat in the car in the alley behind the little nest of bungalows for over ten minutes.
“Does this feel legit?” Dom asked low, feeling kind of nauseated.
Brian jiggled his head. “Yeah. Sorta. I guess.”
“You wanna check it out?” Dom tried to sound as neutral as he could. Brian was still for a moment then he nodded quickly and jerkily pushed up and out of the car. He strode unerringly toward the back door of one of the little houses.
He had the key in the lock before Dom caught up to him. Muscle memory. This had to be the place.
It was tiny on the inside. Post-war pasteboard with an avocado-green refrigerator. One bedroom right off the living room, closet-like bathroom and a tiny porch. A cramped ‘dining area’ made the last corner of the rectangle. It had a TV set, a battered couch which was still strewn with old issues of Road & Track and Car Craft. Unconsciously, he reached for the light switch.
“No. No lights. ” Brian grabbed his wrist, lightning-quick. “They’ve probably got eyes on this place.”
Dom nodded after a second, glancing toward the front window. The lights from the street were enough after they gave their eyes time to adjust. Brian paced around restlessly.
“What time is it?” Brian looked at the little flashing display of zeros on the dilapidated microwave.
“Late.” Dom said shortly, folding his arms.
Brian stood straight and tall and still in the middle of the room for a moment. He muttered something under his breath.
“What?” Dom leaned on the partition, feeling it give slightly under his weight.
“What is this? This is my life? What am I doing?” Brian shook his head in disbelief.
Dom opened his mouth and his breath caught. It was like Brian had taken the words out of his own head, stolen them out of Dom’s mouth.
“I don’t know.” Dom choked finally. “I wish I did.”
Brian stared at him for a long moment. Dom felt like he was breathing something other than oxygen, his lungs kept working but the air was no good.
“Sorry.” Brian was fidgeting with his collar and finally jerked it so hard that the button snapped off. “This is choking me.”
Dom blinked, took two steps and yanked on both edges of Brian’s uniform shirt hard enough to send the buttons in a clacking cascade on the floor. Brian huffed one disbelieving breath and twisted, yanking the remains of the shirt over his head, scraping it off his arms. He jerked Dom’s shirt out of his waistband, grabbed the shirttails and ripped it up the back to the collar.
Dom bit him since he didn’t have his hands free. He found himself wanting to punish, to leave Brian bruised and sore. Brian seemed to have a matching impulse; he was squeezing Dom’s neck achingly hard while Dom fought to peel the remains of his shirt off. He pulled Brian’s head back with a fistful of his hair and Brian snarled as Dom gnawed on his neck and he clawed his hands into the hollow of Dom’s back, at the base of his spine.
Dom was bulling forward while Brian nipped his ear, through the door, onto the bed. Brian was twisting furiously underneath him, fighting free of his shoes, his pants while tearing Dom’s clothes ragged too.
Dom shoved Brian’s knees apart and bit his ribs under his nipples hard enough to make Brian hiss. Brian wrapped his legs around Dom’s back like it was an aggressive wrestling hold. Then he arched his back and Dom moaned like it hurt, it was agonizing, all that hot flesh and he only had one mouth, two hands.
Brian stuck two fingers in Dom’s mouth and then twisted again, fumbled with the flimsy nightstand, clumsily raked out a bottle of lotion. It got on everything, little cold dollops that warmed almost at once.
Brian gripped his cock while Dom was trying to finger his asshole, he held Dom still, with his fingers dripping lotion while he rocked and churned his hips and Dom had to squint his eyes shut as Brian’s body opened. Dom spread his thighs and fought the impulse to thrust and jab at Brian until he yelped and recoiled. Dom was panting so loud, the walls felt like they were vibrating.
Brian hooked one leg over Dom’s shoulder and cupped his thigh and his neck. Dom leaned forward and licked the salt off the top of Brian’s cheekbone and rocked his hips gently. Brian was so hard, coiled around him. Kissing him with hard lips.
Dom feathered a hand over Brian’s abdomen, tracing the base of his cock. He tightened his grip in Brian’s hair, pulled until Brian had to look up at him with those wide blue eyes and he sucked on Brian’s lower lip until eventually, Brian softened.
Dom woke up to a wash of sunlight turning the white sheets gold. A knobby knee was wedged under his inner thigh, making him itch with a slight tickle of hair. He sighed and skimmed his hand over Brian’s flat stomach and dozed off for another few minutes.
When he woke up again, Brian was awake. Brian was staring at the ceiling with an odd stillness in his face that made him look the opposite of relaxed. Dom blinked and raised his head. “Hey.” He tightened his hand on Brian’s ribs.
“Dom,” Brian said quietly.
Dom felt all his blood rush to his head. His body seemed to realize something was off before his mind caught up. Dom. Not Dominic.
He was stiffening beside Brian; they were both getting rigid and angular. Because Brian was looking at him and there was a terrible knowledge in Brian’s eyes, like he could see clearly now and he knew everything.
“You remember.” Dom managed to roll to his feet without tripping. He nearly stumbled with the headrush. Brian jumped up in tandem which made them both way too undressed in this tiny room separated by nothing but a rumpled bed. Dom snatched at the sheet and Brian fumbled with his pants, jerking them on like they were armor.
Dom stared at Brian. Brian’s jaw was set, his eyes were blazing, but it looked like a thin façade. Dom felt his face hardening to keep from creasing with pain, shame and remorse. He put up his hand and he wasn’t sure if it was to threaten Brian or just to ward off his gaze. Brian just watched him. Dom reached over and jerked Brian’s gun free of his bag, handing it over grip first.
“So.” He grunted at Brian and folded his arms. “Arrest me.”
Brian looked nothing so much as exasperated. He snatched the gun and tucked it absently in his waistband “Fuck right off. You know I’m not going to arrest you.”
“How would I know this?” Dom barely inflected it as a question.
Brian flushed and turned to look at the bed which lay between them looking as disheveled as the victim of a sex crime. Dom felt a sudden well of saliva in his mouth.
“You…” Brian was taking slow, deep breaths like he was carefully rationing them out. “We did this. We…” He swallowed.
“Wasn’t my idea.” Dom said, knowing it was cruel, but not able to stop himself.
Brian just snorted, immune to his bullshit. Dom watched from across the room as Brian’s fingers spidered up his chest until Brian pressed two fingers into the bite mark on his collarbone. Just from one quick glance, he could tell which of Brian’s bruises were accident-related and which were love bites. Dom turned away quickly and skinned his undershirt over his head.
“Why? You let me…you were…” Brian shrugged his shoulders straight and he looked like crystal: clear and perfect and ready to shatter. “Tell me why. You owe me that much.”
“I don’t owe you anything, O’Conner,” Dom made his voice as firm and implacable as he could to hide the fact that on the inside, he was springing all kinds of leaks. He shoved feet into his boots, his wrecked clothes into the bag at his feet.
God, as often as it happened, he’d never get used to pain like this. It felt like something was being ripped out of him. If Brian would just stop looking at him…if Brian would just say something, Dom had no idea what. He stared at Brian, hardening his gaze as best he could.
For a second it seemed to work. Brian blinked and looked away for an instant, but then looked back at Dom, unrelenting. O’Conner was back all right. Like he’d never been gone. “Are we even…”
“No.” Dom clenched his fists and tried to keep from wincing. It felt like Brian’s gaze was actually burning him, etching hot across his skin like a laser. “No, we’re not.”
Brian’s eyes brought reality crashing in like a freight train. Dom realized at that very moment, that either Brian could be himself, or Dom could. They couldn’t both be themselves and be together, one or the other would have to sacrifice, give up everything. And Dom had fought too hard for the things he had to give them up and he was far too proud to ask the same of someone else.
Brian’s mouth was half open, it seemed like he might speak. He cupped his hand over his ribs. “Dom…”
“Han’s Mitsubishi.” Dom interrupted, pointing out the window to the back alley.
Brian cast a puzzled glance out at the red car and nodded.
Dom continued in a growl. “It’s yours now. It’s clean. Arizona plates. And that’s all I can do. I’m gonna head south and I want you very, very far away. Maybe put an ocean between us.”
He stopped talking because Brian’s lower lip had twitched. Trembled. Maybe he’d imagined it. Dom started again, more gruff than gentle. “It’s not safe otherwise.”
Brian had rolled his shoulders back and stiffened up, looking down at Dom from over his cheekbones. Now he looked icy and remote, but something in his eyes was still dark, yearning and covetous. Dom looked away because he wanted either never to see that look again or he wanted to see it every day.
He was going to have to do this quickly, otherwise he was going to leap headlong into this crazy…whatever this was…sink into it and never truly know himself again. Dom turned to the back door, but taking the final step through felt like pushing through a wall. Dom gripped the doorframe to keep from turning around and just snatching what he wanted.
He was still Dominic Toretto and the world didn’t owe him a goddamned thing.
“Whatever happens from here on out. Whether we see each other again.” Dom’s voice was starting to feel torn from him. He hitched a little on the final words and continued slowly, “You still owe me a ten second car. Remember that.”
The door screeched as he opened it and Brian’s voice slid over his shoulder.
“I will, Dom.” Brian said. “I will remember.”