"You know, if you'd just admit you was wrong, I'd let it go," Rome was saying as he opened the door to Toretto's Coffee and Pastry shop. Because God forbid he'd ever keep an opinion to himself and God forbid he'd wait to express it until he and Brian were someplace private.
"I don't care, man, I wasn't wrong," Brian replied, and headed to the counter. This early in the morning, Mia was the one manning the register (she normally helped out at the shop before her classes started), but Brian didn't see Dom anywhere, which meant he was probably in the back, which meant –
"— Are you even listening to me, man? Yo, Brian, I'm talking to you, alright." Rome sighed and set his elbow on the counter. He leaned in and gave Mia his best long-suffering look. "You see what I got to put up with every day, right?"
"Yeah, you're a true saint among men, Officer Pearce," she replied solemnly, hoop earrings glinting in the light as she tucked a stray bit of dark hair behind her ear. Her tone was pure sympathy for Rome, but Brian caught the amused glance she threw his way.
They both clearly knew who the real saint was here.
"It's Roman, I keep telling you that, and I'm just saying that riding with him every day might actually drive me to drink on the job, and it would be all his fault."
"You know LT would have a field day if you did," Brian said, and gestured at the pastry display case. "Hey, can I get my bagel toasted this morning? And a large coffee, black?"
"You mean, the same thing you've had every morning for the past two months?" Mia teased, her smile sassy and infectious. "Officer Pearce, did you want anything?"
"Baby girl, I want a lot of things – a private jet, a private island, one of them new Maybachs so I can get my swagger on when I'm out cruising along the beaches, but since I don't think you got any of those in the back hiding among the muffins and such, I guess I'll just go with a large coffee, black and sweet, like me." Rome's grin was all pearly whites. "And it's still Roman, we're practically family as much as we see each other."
Brian didn't say anything. By now, he figured, she was well used to Rome's flirtatious ways.
Mia just smiled. "No bear claw?"
Rome patted his flat stomach. "I'm trying to restrain myself. I swear, Mia, I'ma gain me twenty pounds before my partner over here –" he cast a sharp glance in Brian's direction " – finally grabs his balls and mans up."
Brian cuffed him across the back of the head. "Jesus, Rome. First off, you're on duty, so can it with the language, and second, Mia doesn't want to hear our personal shit."
"Maybe she needs to –"
"Maybe she needs to what?"
Brian winced inwardly even as he gave Dom a small wave. Dom, who could not look less like his younger sister. Where Mia was all sunshine and long legs and a gorgeous dimpled smile that could power a small city with its brilliance, Dom was all brute strength and hard muscle, bald and hulking and almost permanently frowning. The only thing Dom and Mia had in common looks wise, other than eye color (a rich shade of almond), was that they were both drop-dead stunning. Like, stop traffic, hold the phone, forget your train of thought hot like goddamn, and Brian was a total sucker for pretty.
Which was why he always found himself at wits end whenever Dom actually spoke to him. "It's nothing. Just Rome running his mouth. Again."
Dom crossed beefy arms across an equally impressive chest. "Shouldn't you two be out on the streets stopping crime or something?"
Mia handed Brian the bag with his bagel. "Don't mind my brother. He's just grumpy this morning because something came up with Vince and he called out for his shift this afternoon."
Dom set both cups of coffee on the counter with a thud. "Now, Mia, I'm sure the nice police officers don't care about our internal staffing issues. They have plenty of other things to focus on."
"I dunno, man, I'm gonna take it as a win that I'm not seeing Vince's scowling face today –"
"What, Brian, I'm serious right now, that dude –"
"– is Dom's oldest friend and none of our business what he's like and we're leaving." He slipped a ten across the counter, and shrugged in apology. "Keep the change. And, just...ignore Rome. I promise, I'll beat some manners into him one of these days."
"I doubt it, but good luck," Mia laughed, and Dom's scowl lessened slightly. Brian took that as a victory.
"You have got to say something, man, we can't keep coming in here every damn day for the rest of our lives just so you can make heart eyes at the dude and not do anything about it."
"We're not, I just – you know how I get."
"Yeah, I do, and it's amazing you ever got laid. Like, a freakin' miracle."
"No, what's a miracle is that you ever got laid, what with you and your ego taking up all the space."
"It's called confidence, Brian. Ladies – and dudes – they like a man who goes after what he wants. You feeling me here?"
"I have confidence."
"Let me repeat myself for you, since you seem to be all slow today. Every damn day for two months, we been coming here, and you ain't even scored a number yet or even gotten your conversation on with the man. It's terrible. A damn travesty. I feel like I done failed you as a mentor."
"Whatever, dude. Can we please just change the subject?"
"Fine, but if I get love handles from all these damn pastries, it's on your head."
Toretto's Coffee and Pastry Shop wasn't much to look at from the outside. It pretty much resembled every other business in that stretch of East Los Angeles, nestled as it was on the corner of Bellevue and Douglas, right next to Letty's Body Shop. But Brian liked the place, and had ever since the day he'd discovered it while on patrol – and not just for the reasons Rome thought.
He liked that it was a true Mom & Pop operation, one with personality and one that reflected the neighborhood. He liked that the pastries and sandwiches were made on site, and that the coffee was always fresh and hot. He liked that it was family owned and had been a staple of Echo Park for the last fifty years – and yeah, fine, if he maybe had a small, teeny, no big deal really, crush on the owner's son-slash-current manager, well, that wasn't really anyone's business but his.
Except for Rome, of course, who'd made it his life's mission to know Brian's business. Rome, who'd known Brian since they were kids in Barstow, running around together, thick as thieves from the time they were in 4th grade. Hell, they even joined the Police Academy at the same time – Rome had claimed he'd done it to keep Brian in check, because someone had to have his back and look out for him – and they had come up through the ranks together. So Rome definitely knew what Brian was like when he met someone he really liked.
After all, Rome had been around for the Monica experiment, the Aubrey debacle, and for James...well, the less said about James and that relationship, the better.
But that was just the thing, really, because Brian wasn't in the market for a relationship. Not that he wasn't in the market, but, well, it was complicated. So, yeah, not in the market, even though Dom was every single thing he liked in a dude. (The fact that Mia was every single thing he liked in a woman was an irony not worth mentioning.) Brian was focused on the job, getting the detective shield, on moving up and maybe taking LT's place one day. He didn't have time for distractions, even if they were distractions of the bald and built variety, with a voice like rough velvet and legs like oak trees and shoulders that were probably carved out of marble.
It wasn't helping Brian's case that said distraction also didn't seem to believe in clothing that wasn't cargo shorts and tank tops. Clothing that more than showed off said impressive build.
But, honest officer (and no, the joke wasn't lost on him, contrary to whatever Rome said, Brian did have a sense of humor), he really was just looking. Window shopping, if you will. Not looking to lease or buy. Which wasn't a crime. And if he and Rome were regulars at the coffee shop and threw some business Dom and Mia's way while maybe making the neighborhood a little safer, then it was a fair trade.
Besides, no way Dom was even interested. Not when a looker like Letty Ortiz was in business next door. It had taken her awhile to warm up to Brian (she and Rome still circled around each other like wary cats, even though they'd sorta kinda called a sort of truce – Brian gave it another month, tops, before they either wound up in bed or Letty buried him in a shallow grave somewhere in the hills) and no way Brian was ruining that burgeoning friendship – not to mention the discount she gave him on parts for his Supra – by hitting on a guy she might have a thing for.
Especially when Brian had no idea if Dom was even into dudes. (Rome had offered to find out – Brian had threatened his future ability to father children if he so much as hinted at it.)
So, Brian was good. Honest. He'd let his maybe sorta kinda crush die a natural death and move on.
"Mornin' Mia. Hey, Leon, how's it going?"
Leon worked next door with Letty as her head mechanic, and was top notch at his job. He was also an all-around laid-back, and just cool dude. He and Brian had gotten to know each other pretty well over the past couple of months, once Brian started coming in the shop all the time to order various parts for his car, and to brainstorm ideas on how to maximize the engine's power. "Yo, Officer Brian, how's shakin'?"
He and Brian shook hands, then Leon turned to Mia. "Put whatever O'Conner's getting on my tab."
"Hey, no, c'mon, that's okay –"
"Nah, I got this, dawg. You've been sending some good business my way, least I can do is buy you a coffee, show you some love."
"What sort of business?"
Brian prided himself on the fact that he didn't jump out of his skin. For such a big guy, Dom moved like a cat, all silent and stealthy as shit. It was freakin' weird. And, if Brian was honest, kinda hot. Brian was probably – okay, definitely – biased, but seriously, everything Dom did was hot. And the fact that he always smelled like fresh baked bread was the cherry on top of the whipped cream chocolate fudge sundae of what Brian liked about him.
"Uh, a few of my racing buddies were looking for a new mechanic and I recommended Leon." Brian shrugged, accepting his coffee and bagel from Mia with a nod of thanks.
"Racing buddies?" Dom frowned. "You race?"
"Yeah, when I can, I like to hit the track."
"You should see his ride, Dom, it's top of the line, the job he's been doing on it. Thought Jesse was gonna pop a boner when he got a look at the engine."
"Yeah?" Dom grabbed a dishtowel and started cleaning the flour off his hands. He looked at Brian in interest, and, for the first time, showed genuine warmth. "What've you got?"
For a moment, Brian forgot his own damn name. Dom was laser-focused on him, those big, brown, ridiculously lashed eyes open and friendly and –
He inwardly shook himself. "I've, uh, I rescued this '94 Supra from a junkyard a couple years back, and I've been restoring it. Y'know, when I've had time and cash to spare and all."
"An import." Dom shook his head sadly, but Brian could see that he was amused. "I shoulda known a pretty boy like you would go for flash."
Pretty boy? Wait, really? Dom actually thought he was... Yeah, okay, he really needed to focus on something else.
"My brother here prefers muscle cars," Mia said, giving him a fond look. "Just like Dad. You should see 'em at car shows."
"You should come to watch Dom race sometime," Leon said. "My man's been lighting up the rally circuit lately. Takes after his old man."
Dom smiled, self-effacing and charming as hell, and Brian returned it, could feel the warmth spreading through him. He had no idea Dom even knew how to smile, let alone had been hiding one that lethal. So much for window shopping. "Yeah?"
The door jingled. "Damn, Brian, what're you doing in here, did Mia head down to Colombia to personally pick your coffee beans or – oh, hey Dom, hey Leon, how's it going?"
Leave it up to Roman to have the worst timing ever. Story of Brian's frigging life.
"I don't know why you're so pissed at me, man, you're the one that left me all alone in the squad car so you could get your flirt on –"
"I swear to God, I will kick your ass if you don't shut up."
"Yeah, whatever, you and what army? Just send me a text or wave out the window or something next time you and Tall, Dark, and Hulky are making eyes at each other. I mean, shit, a little respect for your partner, know what I'm sayin'?"
"You wouldn't know respect if it bit you on the ass, Rome."
"Damn, you are cranky. I guess you two really were hitting it off. You ask him out on a date yet?"
"No, and shut up about it."
"Oh yeah, you cranky with a capital Y. You and Dom deserve each other."
Brian loved being a cop – which still amazed him as much hell-raising as he'd gotten up to when he was in high school – but fast cars, man, that was his jam. One of the few things his dad had told him that had stuck was that a well-rounded man had to have at least two things going for him – a good career with an upward trajectory, and a passion on the side that made said career worth having. And racing cars was Brian's passion.
He wasn't the fastest guy on the straightaways, but put him on an obstacle course or in a street race, and he was damn near unbeatable. (Which was probably a pretty good metaphor for his life.) He didn't always have the time or the money to go to the track or to trick out his car the way he wanted, but he liked tinkering with it on his off days and taking it out sometimes on the PCH or up in the Hollywood Hills, and opening the throttle and letting it fly, testing his reflexes and the car's mettle.
Maybe it was because he was a true California boy at heart, but cars had always represented the ultimate in freedom.
So, to find out that Dom was not only into cars, but had a dad that used to race, and raced himself? And, after a few carefully phrased questions to Leon and Jesse, to find out that Dom was damn good at it, and was maybe going total pro in the next year, once he had a few more races and wins under his belt?
Yeah, Brian was all kinds of fucked. Which was another apt metaphor for his life.
Mia put Brian's coffee and bag on the counter and leaned in, the faint hint of her perfume tickling his nose. "So, you doing anything on Sunday?"
"Uh." Brian froze. Yeah, he really liked Mia and she was super pretty and nice and if he wasn't harboring such a ridiculous maybe not-so-tiny-now crush on her brother, he probably would have asked her out a long time ago. But he wasn't that big of an asshole to string her along like that. And besides, anyone with eyes could see that Vince (currently glaring at both of them from his place at the espresso machine and totally proving Brian's point) was head over dick in love with her. And Brian really didn't want to get in the middle of that.
So he was as cautious as he could be with his answer. "Um. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, it's just..." Her voice lowered. "Dom'll never say it, but ever since the other day when you two were talking cars and such, he really wants to get a look under your hood."
Brian wondered if she had any idea where his mind just went, or how much he really wanted that to be a euphemism. Yeah, he needed to change gears before he started stuttering like a total idiot. "Um, okay?"
She grinned, quick and bright, like she could read his thoughts. (A scary, scary idea.) "We host a cookout every Sunday after church at our house. And, if you weren't doing anything and wanted to come by, maybe drive the Supra over so Dom could get a look at the goods..."
She was doing it on purpose with the double entendres. Had to be. "Oh, um..."
"He'd love to," Rome butted in, coming up to stand beside Brian and giving him a warning look. "Now, c'mon, get the address so we can boogie. We got a call."
Brian hadn't heard anything on his walkie-talkie. "We do?"
"Yes, we do. Now c'mon, and pay the woman – sorry, Mia, you know how he is before coffee, he'll remember his manners in a minute."
Mia scribbled the address down on a slip of paper and handed it to Brian with his change. "You're welcome to come too, Officer Pearce."
"Maybe I could swing by for dessert, now come on, Brian..."
What the hell? "Uh, yeah. Bye Mia."
"What was that all about?"
"I was trying to rescue your dumb ass before you ruined things."
"Ruined what things?"
"I swear to Christ, Brian, you are the most obtuse man I have ever met and that's saying something."
"What the hell are you talk—?"
"She was trying to set you up with her brother. For real, how stupid are you?"
"She was not – wait, she was?"
"It's a damn good thing you're pretty, because your powers of observation are, like, terrible."
"How do you know she's trying to set me up with Dom?"
"Never you mind how I know. You just wear a nice shirt on Sunday. Something blue that'll bring out your eyes."
"You're a real asshole."
"You'll thank me later."
Brian wasn't nervous. So, maybe he'd done laundry and taken the Supra for a detailed wash and maybe his palms were a little damp and maybe he'd needed a minute to gather himself before getting out of the car, but he wasn't nervous. Nervous would imply that there was something to what Rome had said, that Mia was trying to set Brian up and play matchmaker, which meant Dom might be into guys – into Brian himself, or at least wouldn't punch Brian's lights out for flirting or asking him out. Which was so out of the realm of possibility that it didn't bear thinking about, so Brian wasn't. Down that path lay madness and a serious case of blue balls.
But if he was wearing a clean pair of jeans and a clean, yes blue fuck you very much Rome, t-shirt, it was only because his mom had taught him manners.
He juggled his keys and the 12-pack of Corona in one hand (because his mom had also taught him never to show up at another person's house empty-handed) and the bouquet of flowers for Mia (a small gift for the invite) in the other, and headed up the driveway towards the sounds of laughter and music, and the smell of barbeque sauce.
The Torettos had a nice house – one of those Victorian style two-story places that had been popular back in the '30s and '40s – but it was clear the place had been lovingly maintained. It looked homey, lived-in, with riotous flowers growing just off the front porch and a cheerful paint job, and Brian could easily picture Dom and Mia growing up here. He'd be willing to bet that the Torettos were the most popular family on the block, too.
When he walked around to the back patio area, Dom was there, manning the grill, wearing his usual shorts and tank. And sitting around the large picnic table were Letty, Leon, Vince and Jesse. Mia was nowhere in sight, but Brian figured she was inside somewhere.
When Dom spotted him, his eyes lit up in welcome. (Brian tried really hard not to read anything into it.) "Officer O'Conner," he drawled, then gestured at the 12-pack. "I see you're a man after my own heart."
Blushing was not an option. It wasn't. "I, uh, what?"
"Dom loves anyone who brings over Corona," Letty explained, with a smile that made her look like a mischievous kid (if said kid had a va-va-voom body and the attitude to match), and belatedly, Brian tore his gaze away from Dom, and waved hello to everyone else.
"Oh, uh, right. I just grabbed it because it was on sale."
"You can just set it on the table," Leon said, and got up to give Brian a bro-hug. "Good to see you, dawg."
"Did you bring the Supra?" Jesse asked, looking up from peeling the label off his bottle of Bud Light. His nails were painted black today, matched the beanie on his head. Kid always looked like a total tweaker, but he was one of the nicest guys Brian had ever met. And was a genius gear head on top of it.
"Yeah, it's out front."
Dom clapped Brian on the back, and maybe Brian was imaging things, but it felt like the touch lingered a moment too long. "Good man."
Jesse hopped up, rocked on his heels. "Well, c'mon, let's have a look."
"Oh, uh, okay." He took a step, then stopped, and held up the bouquet. "Wait, I should give these to Mia first."
Vince frowned. "Why're you bringing her flowers?"
"Because I don't know what kind of wine she likes?"
Vince's frown started fast approaching scowl territory. Then Letty rolled her eyes. "Ignore him," she said, swiping her foot Vince's way. "He gets real jealous whenever anyone else acts nice around Mia."
"Oh, but I'm not. I mean, of course I'm nice around her, she's a nice girl, I mean, she's gorgeous, but I'm not –" Helplessly, he looked at Dom. Who had the most unexpectedly gentle smile on his face.
"It's alright, Bri. We get it."
"I'll give them to her," Letty said, motioning for them. "She went across the street to give Mrs. Alonzo her mail."
Brian handed her the flowers and set the beer on the table, snagging one for himself. He definitely needed a drink. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
Dom turned to Leon and Jesse. "You guys go on ahead and start the inspection. Come with me, Brian, I wanna show you something."
Brian tossed his keys to Leon and, curious, followed Dom into the garage at the other end of the driveway. As soon as he stepped inside, it was clear that this was the true heart of the house, with car posters on the walls and racing trophies lined along the shelves, and racks of tools of every conceivable type tucked into every nook and cranny. But most of Brian's attention was focused on the hulking black muscle car sitting in a place of honor in the center of the room.
"Holy shit, '70 Charger, right?" he asked, circling it. His hands itched with the need to pop the hood and get a good look. "380?"
"400," Dom corrected, with another one of those heart-stopping wide grins. "It's my dad's – well, he says she's mine now, but she's still really his. He used to race this bad girl back in the day – won a lot of trophies off her, too. I've been working on restoring her to her former glory whenever I get a free minute or two."
"This is really amazing." Brian gave in to temptation, ran his hand along the outer panel. He could practically feel the unleashed power radiating from the car. "Thank you for showing me."
Between one breath and the next, it seemed like Dom had gotten a lot closer – so close that Brian could see the flecks of gold and green in his eyes. "I wanted to apologize for my sister."
Brian's throat went dry. He took a quick sip of his Corona and fought the urge to fidget. "Uh..." He flicked his tongue over his bottom lip, and watched, helplessly enthralled, as Dom's eyes tracked the movement. "Why, uh, are you apologizing?"
"I love her and all and she means well, but sometimes, she gets these crazy ideas in her head, and I can't talk her out of them."
Brian couldn't catch his breath. He rubbed his palms across his jeans, hoped Dom couldn't see how much they were sweating. "I-ideas?"
"Yeah." Dom's voice dropped to an intimate low. "She's got this wild notion that you might..."
Brian waited a beat, then took a breath, swallowing the lump that had formed. "I might...?"
Dom's hand lifted, then dropped. "That you might be interested...in, uh...me."
Oh. Oh Jesus, this was really… Dom was really... "I am," Brian quickly said, before he lost his nerve. And, hoping he wasn't getting ready to make a giant mistake, stepped forward and wrapped his free hand around the back of Dom's neck. Finally felt silky smooth skin under his touch. "I really am."
Dom's eyes lit up like Christmas had come early. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Brian affirmed, and, because fuck Rome, he could totally take a hint and the initiative sometimes, closed the final minute distance between them.
The first kiss was barely more than a brush of Brian's lips against Dom's, both of them gauging interest and intent. But the second kiss? If Brian was a poet or the poetic type, he'd have written odes to how fantastic it was. Dom's lips were surprisingly soft, conformed to his perfectly, and he tasted faintly of Corona and something slightly darker, exotic, and just as intoxicating as the beer. And his scent – baked bread and coffee and spice – damn, y'know? Brian just wanted to roll around in it.
Dom's eyes were closed, but he was smiling when they parted. "Been thinking about doing that for weeks."
Brian let out a relieved chuckle. This was really happening. Holy. Shit. "I've been thinking about doing that since the first moment I laid eyes on you."
"Yeah?" Dom gave him a half-lidded look that scrambled what was left of his brains. Although he did have the presence of mind to give an enthusiastic nod.
"I think I'm gonna owe your sister a lot more than just flowers now."
Dom dropped his hands to Brian's hips, the touch warm and welcome, and pulled him even closer. "Let's not give her any ammunition just yet."
"Yeah, alright." Brian's face was hurting, he was smiling so big, but he didn't care. "Are you free tomorrow night?"
Dom nuzzled at Brian's neck, his breath tickling sensitive skin, his lips laying waste to every thought. "Why, you asking me out?"
"Um...yeah." Brian gasped, low and needy, even to his own ears. "Yeah, I am."
"In that case, yes," Dom replied, and there was nothing tentative or slow about the next kiss. It was pure raw power and aggression, both of them staking a claim on the other. Fuck window shopping, fuck leasing. Brian was outright buying and setting up shop for the next year or decade or whatever.
By the time they made it out of the garage, both of them disheveled and loose-limbed, Mia had gotten back and Vince had taken over grilling duties. No one even batted an eyelash at Dom and Brian's joined hands (although Brian caught Letty giving him a thumbs up, which, he didn't mind admitting, was a relief), and when Dom pulled Brian down to sit beside him at the head of the table, it felt like they'd been doing this all their lives.
"See, now, I hate to take all the credit –"
"So don't –"
"But I told you he was interested. Didn't I tell you?"
"Yeah, you're a real clairvoyant, Rome."
"I'm just saying I expect to be best man at the wedding or commitment ceremony or whatever it is you two lovebirds wind up having."
"How about I just return the favor and set you up with Letty? I think that's thanks enough."
"Wait...for real? Yo, that's not funny, Brian. That's...Brian? Yo, man, I'm talking to you..."