Dom regarded the folder Hobbs tossed down with a blank expression but a critical eye. The emblem on the front cover of the thin blue dossier wasn’t one he expected, definitely not that of the DSS. So PPDC, huh?, then why was Hobbs talking to him about it.
Dom tapped the center of the emblem with a finger. “Last time I checked, my specialty was cars. Not giant robots and undersea monsters.”
Hobbs shrugged his big shoulders and tossed back a grin faster than a white knuckle curveball. “Then today must be your lucky day, Toretto. I’d even bet your horoscope foretold of new and exciting job opportunities when you cracked on the Leisure Section.” He said, acting like he’d just given Dom a golden ticket rather than unexpected enlistment papers. “Don’t think of it in terms of what you don’t have to offer, but what you can offer. Or I should say—” as he jutted his chin bullishly, “what you and O’Conner can offer.”
Dom’s expression locked up quicker than a gunked up piston and he observed Hobbs and tried to wager whether it was all bullshit or a real break in their truce. Either way, Dom figured Hobbs needed a refresher in just how quick leverage could be balanced and tipped to go the other way. No matter how Hobbs wanted to play this, Dom was game. And he would make it very clear—absolutely crystal—that in this game, he was the only one playing.
So Dom flicked his gaze about discretely, mulling over the quiet topography and Hobbs’s hidden angle, and asked, “What happened to the wall? Thought that was supposed to be our saving grace since the bots are being retired?”
Lompoc made him hate walls. But somehow they’d given him a shred of hope, as all the walls he’d found since had the same inherent flaw: sooner or later, they all came crashing down. Because there always existed some force—energy, people, or giant monsters—capable of ripping right through them. He considered his own boundaries and how Spilner, then O’Conner, now Brian, ripped right through them and, honestly, Dom wouldn’t have it any other way.
Hobbs stonewalled, just shut his trap and waited for him to finish.
“I don’t see how O’Conner and me can do something that all your rock star rangers can’t.”
Hobb’s answer began by opening the folder. “You’re still looking at this opportunity all wrong, so here’s some new perspective I can give you--” Then Hobbs pulled out a pair of glossy black and whites from beneath the official looking cover and waited for Dom to react, though he didn’t wait long.
“Spain’s nice, Toretto. Great beaches, food, and danger if you want to run with the bulls, but it ain’t your home. Home’s an ocean away with giant monsters knocking on the door for some destructive trick-or-treating and the big cheeses in charge think a cement fence is going to scare ‘em away and keep ‘em from shitting Kaiju Blue all over your front yard. Given what’s already happened, they’re so far up to their necks in shit that they can’t even smell it anymore.”
Dom hummed, not taking the step to agree or disagree with Hobbs’s take on things. But there might have been something there. Because eight months ago, L.A. had been hit by a massive Cat Four kaiju that rightfully earned the name “Titan” after it left the Hollywood Hills smoldering and swallowed the Capital Records Building in one bite. If Yamarashi had been the close call, then Titan had hit L.A. like a set of brass knuckles to the throat.
Three jaegers had been lost in the Battle of L.A. The world watched as the last one standing, L.A.’s own Cobalt Liberty, had given Titan L.A.’s version of a Columbian necktie. No rock was big enough to hide under from the carnage that streamed across the airwaves that day, and Dom recalled watching from south of the border, heartbreak hanging heavy over his head, again reminded that it was one more shit thing that made him long for home.
The photos were slid closer to Dom’s side of the table. “Not many people know how the war is really going. The wall’s not done and we’re almost ready to show our bellies if we could only figure out how. But I’ve never been the punk-out type and some important people are betting that you aren’t either. I told ‘em your history of tight t-shirts could make you go either way.” Hobbs said with total seriousness.
Dom snorted and rolled his eyes. Because really? That was the best he could do?
Dom raked his eyes over the pictures and waffled between low grade flashes of bitter anger and the stubborn pull of forgiveness. A cycle that he’d grown used to with all things Brian. No one else could manipulate Dom through a full cycle of emotion, only to result in him idling in neutral. Just O’Conner, always O’Conner, even when there were apparently two of him.
He took another look at the pictures and figured Brian was really bad at the whole full disclosure thing, forgiveness or not already on the table.
“And this is where you want me and O’Conner to come in to clean it up, right? Sorry to tell you that I don’t do windows and I don’t do lawn work.” Dom already made the decision to pardon Brian’s sins of omission because this was just another piece of Brian that Dom had. One that he knew hadn’t been shared with anyone else, save Pearce perhaps, who’d gotten it by default of growing up with the literal example of double trouble.
Hobbs’s mouth cinched tightly at the corners which betrayed his blasé stoicism and showed that despite his boundless energy and focus he was human after all, and above all else at this moment, he was afraid.
”We’re in a sorry way when we have more jaegers than pilots, but it doesn’t have to be like that.” Hobbs admitted then produced another photo from the file. This one Dom instantly recognized from Brazil and the cannonball run that he and Brian had pulled through the streets of Rio. “A friend told me that a few can learn how to pilot a jaeger. But only one in a few hundred million can be drift compatible to make it live. And after Rio--”
Now Dom saw the endgame and why Hobbs wasn’t trying to wrangle him into a pair of cuffs. “You knew drift compatible when you saw it,” Dom supplied, knowing that what he and Brian had pulled off wouldn’t have worked in any other combination besides the two of them driving in tandem.
Dragging a ten ton vault around on a giant tether was one thing; fighting alien hell beasts from another dimension was something he still didn’t think they were completely qualified for.
“Bingo.” Hobbs pointed at the file. “This is your ticket home, if you’re brave enough to take it. A pardon that you don’t deserve but can earn nonetheless.”
The numbers thirteen-two-seven swanned through Dom’s head like a bittersweet love song. It was the distant point he’d dreamed about and imagined with an unquenchable thirst many a night spent prowling along dark roads and walking unfamiliar streets. But the threat of the kaiju could almost flatten the prospect of home just as surely as Titan squashed the Staples Center into indiscriminate rubble.
There was freedom on this side of the world which had almost everything they could’ve wanted, but the fact remained that this wasn’t their real home, just a place they lived in until they pulled up stakes again. They were exiled to a beautiful rest stop with home slipping away from the edge of the horizon.
Hobbs had his leverage and Dom knew there was nothing that could tip the scales away from his home and his family, because freedom was at the heart of both of these. This wasn’t a corner where Dom found himself, just an avenue of extreme practicality.
So Dom pushed the pictures back into the folder, thoughts already raring to have a serious mano-a-mano conversation with Brian and flipped the cover closed. “I’ll let you know,” he said.
“You’ve got five hours, Toretto.” Hobbs produced a white card from his camo pants that looked ridiculously small in the center of his palm and laid it atop the folder. “We don’t have time for you and O’Conner to run through a few rounds of Chicken in order to come to a decision. If O’Conner needs more incentive, just tell him Pentecost is looking forward to seeing him again.”
There were many reasons to say no. The sane answer would be to say hell no and tell Hobbs to get off his damn deck. But that raw gut instinct that told Dom when to turn up the throttle or bank hard echoed that he and Brian were not only their best option for this mystery mission but probably their only option if Hobbs had been sent to deliver the proposition.
“Like I said, I’ll let you know. Just don’t wait ‘round the phone or anything is all I’m sayin’.” Dom needled nonchalantly. “Wouldn’t want you to be heartbroken or anything.”
Hobbs cut him a snide but indulgent grin. The type of look that was rewarded to kids that ate too much glue and the antelopes trailing too far behind the herd on the savanna. “I’ll have my hanky in hand in case you don’t.” Which they both knew he was bullshit. “ But you’re not the type to disappoint, Dom, so don’t start now. And by the way, also tell O’Conner, Pentecost’s sorry about Jack.”
Then Hobbs retreated the way he came on feet too large to tread so quietly, leaving Dom with a whole new world of information and questions.
Dom sat across from Brian in the comfort of a wicker chair, watching Brian as he followed Mia and Jack’s progress back to the house. His eyes roved over Brian’s profile, taking in the details and comparing them to the photo from years ago, one he wasn’t sure just how far back. Not much had changed. Brian was older, sure, as were they all. Brian had been blessed to carry the roll of time not on his face but in his eyes which seemed infinitely old the longer Dom knew him. His hair was now cut down to an almost brutal shear that still exposed his dark blond roots. Unlike the picture where his surfer boy curls still managed to shine through the cold prism of black and white.
There was no difference as far as he could see between them. Dom continued his scrutiny, wondering if there was some way he might’ve known; if Brian had dropped some hint along the way that he wasn’t as alone as Dom had always believed. Dom’s memory was great and as he shuffled through his thoughts, nothing minor or major snagged from all the moments he and Brian had spent in each other’s orbits.
When Brian’s eyes slide back to him, Dom figured that he couldn’t have known, just like he hadn’t been able to tell that Brian was a cop. For all that he knew Brian and Brian knew him, this was the only place where Dom lagged behind. The feeling was foreign and strange, frankly alien, as he sorted through the parts that made Brian the fixed point that Dom always came back to. Brian knew Dom like he’d gotten a Ph.D in Toretto Studies and the times when he was the one out of sync with Dom were few and far between.
So if Dom managed to smile, it didn’t last long, because, for a second, he might have wished that Brian wasn’t his nephew’s father or might have been caught wishing for impossible things. Instead, he focused his attention on something tangible and dropped the dossier on the low glass table between their feet and mentally counted the seconds as the blood drained from Brian’s face.
“Hobbs stopped by. Told me to tell you that Pentecost--” Dom enunciated each syllable bluntly and cataloged Brian’s slight flinch, “--is looking forward to hearing from you and that he’s also sorry about Jack.”
Brian didn’t flinch again; instead his temper did a sharp one-eighty as Dom flipped open the dossier to the two glossy pictures on top. “So you know.” Brian exhaled tightly and set his jaw in a stubborn lock. “Okay, add it to my tab.” Yeah, just another thing that Brian owed Dom.
“Yeah,” Dom snapped back sharply, like a rubber band across skin, “I know. You always said you were alone. Guess your definition of alone is different from the rest of the world’s.” As far as Dom knew, Brian’s family tree was limited to the dad that cut and run on him before he was born. Brian said as much.
Brian held up the top photo of him and Jack outfitted in jaegar drivesuits while standing between what appeared to be two massive steel feet. “That’s right, Dom, I am alone because I had a brother.”
“A twin. An identical goddamn twin, Brian. Two shots O’Conner walking around. That doesn’t seem like the type detail you leave out.” He frowned.
Brian dropped his gaze back to the photo which seemed to burn bright. The emotions warring in his eyes were too knotted up to be untangled, but Dom saw the bumpy transitions buffering anger from regret to the violent sting of hurt. He knew that look even though he couldn’t completely translate it. Maybe Hobbs hadn’t been taking a random shot in the dark about them. He might’ve been on to something about their drift compatibility.
Brian placed the photo back on the table with a light touch, almost reverently, and remained silent, chewing his lips until he found the right words to speak. “I haven’t…or hadn’t seen my brother in years.”
Dom hadn’t seen Mia for a few years but he’d talked to her every week while gone. Neither prison nor exile could keep them too separated. He couldn’t imagine not being close to her in some way. Not like the distance between Brian and his brother apparently.
“Life, Dom. Jack and I, well, we were never good twins. We might’ve shared a womb and a face but we didn’t have anything in common. He was by the book, the golden boy, and I was…” Brian inhaled wearily. "hmmm..."
“The damn wildcard.” Dom finished and Brian smiled, nodding.
“Yeah, exactly, I’m that. Despite the stuff I did in Miami, I was still under the Feds’ thumb and Jack managed to pull some strings. He was always the talker and managed to convince someone that we would be drift compatible.” Brian paused but for a second, then began to laugh. Like laughing so hard, he was nearly doubled over clutching his sides.
Dom cocked one dark brow and waited patiently for Brian to pull his shit together. “So I take it that things didn’t work out the way Jack said they would.”
“Not. At. All. I told you we were that point oh-oh-oh-one percent of twins that were drift compatible but psychologically volatile after swimming in each other’s heads. Our drifts were always fucked up and left us snapping and snarling at each other because of all the shit we could see that we’d been hiding from each other. The neural handshake was stable and we could pilot Cobalt like she was an extension of us but afterwards my brain felt… shuffled. Like I was floating between here and some other there. And all the shit that I never wanted to be or remember was just below the surface. For a while, I literally forgot who I was.” Then he stopped.
Now Brian sank down into the dark corners and Dom saw the memory unfolding in Brian’s mind. He knew all about the punishment wrought by memories that keep spinning like a never-ending hamster wheel.
He ingested all that Brian had said and again tried to picture Brian as the reluctant hero. The hero angle he could get but the other part rubbed him wrong like the harsh echo steel locks and unbendable bars.
“So you piloted Cobalt Liberty? Why didn’t I see your face on a cereal box then?” Once the jaegers started fighting back and kicking ass, the pilots and their bots were everywhere, and L.A. loved its hometown jaeger, Cobalt Liberty. Quintessential California boys like Brian and Jack should have been plastered on every lunch box and billboard from Mexicali to NorCal.
Brian chuckled and puffed out his chest, putting his pride on display. “You can’t tell me you never ate a bowl of Liberty Blueberry Bolts, which were gross by the way, or got caught up in the craze of trying to figure out who was behind the blue and silver drift helmets?”
“Naw,” Dom half-lied, “can’t say I did.” He’d wondered of course. Figured, he like everyone else in L.A. owed the pilots of Liberty Cobalt a few rounds of beer.
They both knew he was lying.
“Well, now you know one of the Rahway Brothers. So tah-dah.” Brian snarked, twirling his heads in the worst intimation of jazz hands Dom had ever seen. “Being a ranger was Jack’s deal and since my face had been in the news for, you know,” Which was how they referred to everything that had gone down in L.A., “the higher-ups didn’t think it would look good for the program if it got out that one of their teams was comprised of a golden boy ranger and his fugitive twin.”
Dom remembered Liberty Cobalt’s beginning and how the big blue and silver wonder became known for her dirty brawling mixed with kickboxing moves. “Gotta say, I think I feel kinda honored to know this. I mean, knowing who Liberty Cobalt’s pilots were is like knowing where Area 51 is.”
Brian shook his head, no. “Dom, everyone knows where Area 51 is. Now, the identity of the Rahway Brothers, though…I can tell you that most of the people who knew are all dead, so there’s that. Congrats?” He said reluctantly.
Later, Dom would think about that and how he and Brian made a habit of sharing their secrets with each other. How everything he’d tried to bury deep always got exhumed and shared with Brian willingly, no matter how raw it left him afterwards. He would make a point of asking about the difference between the O’Conner and Rahway Brothers, too. But that was for later.
He had a more pertinent question. “Why’d you stop?”
Brian cracked grin as he looked over the second one. The picture was similar to the first save for the addition of the tall, good-looking black dude in black drivesuit.
“We did six missions: Costa Rica, Portland, Baja, L.A., Guadalajara, and Vancouver. The more we went out, the harder it was to come back from the drift. Coyote Tango had to bail us out in Portland, because we started chasing the rabbit. It felt like we were so buried inside each other…with no way out. That’s when we became a liability.”
Brian put the picture aside and looked off into the distance, watching some phantom scene replay itself while Dom watched the roll of the highs and lows ricochet across Brian’s face.
“Jack was drift compatible with Pentecost, meaning all the bullshit from before was gone. Jack gave me another out.” Dom gathered that was the other dude in the photo. “Leaving me alone which was fine, because I wasn’t meant to pilot jaegers anyway,” Brian declared, resolutely. “Too slow if you ask me.”
What Brian believed versus what the PPDC and DSS wanted were greatly at odds. “Looks like they think that you’re meant to pilot ‘em now.” Because there was essentially no one else apparently to do so.
Brian pulled away from his ghostly scene to level his eyes on Dom. This was one of those moments when they knew each other so well, when words weren’t needed to understand each other. Brian knew all of Dom’s worst fears and Dom, in turn, knew Brian’s. Before, Brian might've not been ready to pilot a jaeger again but he could. The two of them knew that if the PPDC was willing to take a risk on them then the decision wasn’t a gamble but a calculated maneuver to retrieve a valuable asset that was in high demand and in short supply. Who would have guessed that they would be factors in the kaiju war?
The house loomed behind them, a reminder of the greater stakes. “Maybe, we probably are drift compatible, definitely more than Jack and me...But they don’t tell you about how the drift messes with your head. Makes you wonder if you’re going crazy. Don’t tell you that you can ghost drift, even hear your partner’s thoughts. You will hear stuff in my head, especially when you don’t want to. Hell, we’ll probably share some dreams.”
Share dreams? Dom treaded carefully with his thoughts already. If Brian was right about the drift, then there was no hiding, not from the past or things that could’ve been—real or imagined—and part of him was willing to take the risk because he’d never liked running from anything. If Brian was the point he kept running back to, then he’d make sure that he’d do his part to keep Brian from getting swept away in the drift, be the anchor that he needed.
Time to scale back the tension, so he said breezily, “I’m an open book, O’Conner.”
“A real Choose Your Own Adventure book, that is.”
Then they laughed until the sound petered out into comfortable silence.
Dom had more pieces to work with in constructing his Brian O'Conner puzzle.
He made a vague gesture at the file. “This have anything to do with why you took off that one time.” Now knowing what he did about the drift and Brian’s insistence on saying that he had a brother, he began to formulate a reason for why Brian had hightailed it out of the house eight months ago without a word to Mia, leaving her to frantically call Dom, so that he could hunt Brian down and find out if Brian had either lost his mind or was willing to lose his balls for trying to cut and run on Mia.
It was the only time Dom could recall seeing Brian self-destruct, just sink into the depths of being extremely fucked up. He’d remembered how they had sat in silence until Brian reined in what had been bothering him—now Dom knew what had gotten to him—and then they’d gone back to the house where Brian apologized profusely and promised that he’d never leave Mia again. He’d made that promise to Dom too as he’d held Mia close and Dom hadn’t doubted his promise.
They’d heard about the Battle of L.A. later that night and Brian hadn’t said another word except “Goodnight” and had gone to bed.
The way Brian shut down made sense now. Their family was well versed in the experience of death and the heartache of loss. Feeling death verus seeing it were two vastly different things.
Brian’s blues took on a far off look, so distant that Dom wondered if Brian was being swept up in the tides of the drift again. He almost looked too far away to be reached.
“—Told you we were never good twins. Not ‘til that day. I hadn’t felt the drift for years outside of some shared dreams every blue moon or whenever. Then, it felt like electricity in my veins, y’know? Just there. Then boom!” Said Brian, mimicking an explosion with his hands. “Dom, it felt like waves. Jack—Jack was so excited, man, I think I got high off his good vibes.”
Dom cut Brian loop-sided grin. “They say the all-natural stuff is always best.”
“Yeah, it is,” Brian said, huskily. “Then the excitement was gone and it was all fear, no filler, and it was like drowning.” Brian had tried to teach Dom to surf once or twice and had told him about almost drowning when he first learned. That alone had snuffed out Dom’s slight desire to catch waves.
“When Titan took out Valkyrie Pride and Madruga Malinche, I had to get out. Couldn’t breathe anymore. And all I could hear was Jack’s oh shit, oh shit, oh shit drumming through my head and just knew… He knew there was no coming back from that.” Brian stopped and resignation rolled across his face, his eyes looking infinitely older. “Can you believe the bastard apologized? To me, Dom? I could hear his thoughts, him thinking that maybe if he tried harder we could’ve been closer, that he was sorry that I left, him getting pissed at himself for not coming to see me while I saw still in L.A…I told him it was okay, but…”
“Did he hear you?”
Brian nodded again. “How do you think Liberty Cobalt got the idea for the Columbian necktie? I remembered us watching Scarface one too many times as kids. Then, bam, Liberty Cobalt had her last move…”
Brian didn’t finish the story; he didn’t have to. Everyone knew how Liberty Cobalt’s run ended. Titan wouldn’t give up without a fight and with one last desperate move reached up and gouged off half of Liberty’s face, leaving only one pilot to see through the mission. After Titan’s head was lopped off by a few tons of suspension cables, Liberty keeled over, the residual charge from her whips sparking a giant fire that consumed six blocks of downtown L.A. and made a funeral pyre for the jaeger that give it her all to save the West Coast.
Brian had all but been there and now he was being asked to do it again which left Dom torn. Dom would always protect his family and Brian was family always and forever, so whatever Brian decided Dom would back.
“I told Hobbs not to wait by the phone.”
“Call him, Dom.” There was no hesitation on Brian’s end. That reluctance and regret got stored, bottled up to be used as fuel to get them through.
“You sure? We’ve got a lot to lose if this doesn’t work out. Mia and Jack--”
“We’ll lose even more if we don’t. Plus, I’ve got a score to settle.”
“If we make it out of this, we could go home.”
“Yeah, home being a place where we’re not being hunted by anyone or anything.”
“Where there’s creaky steps, a sturdy grill, and cold beer…I think I could get behind this idea. Plus, I’m curious to see how well a jaeger handles.”
Brian let out a bark of laughter. “There’s nothing like it. Steers rough but her purr will make you fall in love. I guarantee she’ll make the Charger look like a Radioflyer wagon.”
“Blasphemy, Bri, not a good look.”
“True,” Brian beamed, “but one more thing: get your thoughts in order man because once we’re in the drift there’s no hiding.”
Dom stretched his arms expansively. “Me? Hide? Nope, I’ve got nothing in there that’s too shocking or that you don’t already know, Mr. I’ve-got-a-secret-twin. Told you I was an open book.” The stuff in his head was already known to Brian and kept them revolving aroung each other until one of them finally gave them a new alignment. Until then, he'd just have his thoughts ro fill in the gaps.
Now that the decision was made, they began to tread on lighter ground. “So, now I know that Jack has a namesake,” Dom said. Brian had been tight-lipped about why the baby had to be named Jack and now Dom realized it was the perfect tribute.
“Yeah, I took one look at him and thought he looked exactly like Jack.” Brian said.
Dom gave him a shifty look. “You’re twins, O’Conner. Identical twins.” Jack had Mia’s dark hair but he had Brian’s everything else.
“Exactly and Jack looked more like Jack.” This was Brian being Brian and doing his best to be a pain in the ass. “Trust me, I would know.”
“Whatever you say, Bri. Got any idea of what they’re going to throw at us after I make the call?”
Brian’s grin spread broadly. “I’m hoping a little something they’d been working on before I left is still around. Let me just say if the Skyline and the Charger had a nuclear powered superbaby, it would’ve been Babylon Athena.”
“Deets, Bri, or it’s all bullshit.”
“Two hundred and seventy feet high, six hundred engines per muscle, flexible joints, laser canons, rotating chest blades, and a flame thrower. She was supposed be the fastest jaeger committed to design.”
Brian’s got a sparkling glint in his too blue eyes. “Very,” which he dropped like a bomb and sat back to watch the fall out settle over Dom’s face.
They shared another look. One that spoke of them both being sold on taking up the PPDC on its deal. Brian’s reasons for going back were now Dom’s reasons because they were family and family always took care of home first.
“I’m game. At least, this time you don’t have to worry about keeping up.”
“Now that’s the whole point, Dom. In the drift, there’s no winner or loser, just us together.”
Despite the hundreds of thousands of miles they’d traveled, it was only now that they saw just how small the world was. Small or not, it was their world, their home, and if they were the best drivers for the job, then they’d do what they did best—drive fast as hell and take out everything in their path.
“Babylon Athena,” Dom rolled the name over his tongue. “I think I could like it.”
“I know we will.”