The LA heat stuck to the back of Brian’s shirt and he breathed out, breathed in, searching for air that might be clean but it was all heavy, laden with pollution and panic and a little guilt. The impound yard was dark, dimly-lit; he didn’t have to turn to look to know the weight of Dominic beside him - familiar but in a distant way, the way of a dream, long-repeated, a lost memory.
“So,” Brian said. “You owe me a ten-second car.” The taste of explosive clung to his teeth, the leftover sensation of that explosion - white heat, panic - still coursing through his raw nerves. He was fucking shitty at losing cars, for someone who did it so often. Cars weren’t people and it wasn’t death but it was still a loss; she had still been, sort of, his friend.
The low burr of Dom’s voice made him look. “Is that right?” There was something in those dark, familiar eyes - an apology, maybe. A lifetime ago they’d looked at each other in a parking lot, soot on Brian’s hands and loss in his heart for that one sweet Eclipse. Dom had picked it up pretty fast that Brian wasn’t normal about cars, not even normal for a gearhead, not even the buster that Brian Earl Spilner had been.
“Yeah,” Brian said. He couldn’t keep the want out of his voice even though he knew Dom had come from Mexico with nothing but a Chevelle, who didn’t have shit on the last car Brian had seen Dom drive, and a frankly comic-book-level-sized desire for vengeance.
Dom didn’t blink, didn’t speak, but Brian could still read that wry set to his shoulders. It took him barely a heartbeat to size up the yard, elbow in the window of the Impreza that Brian had been eying when they walked in; she said hey like his response didn’t matter in that crowd of clamouring vehicles who all wanted his attention. Brian had always been a sucker for someone with better things to do.
Dom shook the shards of her window off his hand and reached in, unlocked her door for Brian, like that was a thing that Brian had ever needed in his life. “Now we’re even.”
Ow, the Impreza said, indignant but in a mild way, like it wasn’t worth her attention.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Brian said, even, matching her tone. Her hood was cool under his palm but he could feel that dormant spark, just waiting to ignite. “Hello, nice to meet you,” he told the car.
Who are you? she asked, and there it was: fascination, a little awe.
“I’m Brian,” he told her, even though cars didn’t really have much of a memory for names, couldn’t really parse sentences, only emotion. “Sorry about him. We’ll fix you up soon, okay? Don’t worry.”
He shot Dom a look; just because the brokenness wouldn’t last long didn’t mean it was necessary.
Dom shrugged, half a smile in the bare curve of his mouth. “Whatever, car whisperer.”
Brian flipped him off; got in the car and let her presence surround him, that easy magnetic flow spelling out you and I are gonna be just fine, even with the jagged-edged absence where her window had been. She’d be quick to get along with, he thought; cars almost always were. He could taste already how much she craved the open road under her tyres, the joy of that first spark, lighting her up.
Dom leaned in and said, “Stop being such a whiner.”
Brian didn’t shiver at the weight of his voice but he did have to bite back on a flinch when Dom pressed his palm against the edge of the window, eyes going distant, mouth curling into something very much like a smirk.
Oh, said the Impreza, glass sprouting like ivy over a trellis through the empty air where her window had been, that gap filling in barely the time it took for Brian to mouth show-off.
“Problem solved,” Dom said, pulling back his hand.
Brian took it for what it was, or what he hoped it would be: hello, and I missed you, and I forgive you.
He kept his breath steady and let his smile carry the Impreza’s faint pleasure both at the fixing and the warmth in Dom’s presence. “Don’t be fooled,” he told her, curling his hands around her wheel, letting his presence saturate her consciousness. “He’s no fun to be around.”
“You can’t act for shit, O’Conner,” Dom drawled. “The hell do they pay you for?”
“You say that like I get paid,” Brian said dryly, and reached in with his mind, and breathed out as her ignition sparked to life.
Brian had driven at least a hundred cars since the first time he met Dominic Toretto; he’d loved many of them since then, too. But there had only been one ten-second car that Brian had wanted Dom to bring him, and for all her flickering, sharp, brittle beauty, it was not this one.
The first time Brian heard a car talk, he was seven years old. His mom had let him sit in her lap when she parked in their driveway and a tired, older woman’s voice said, do you think you could leave your toys somewhere else? That soldier is digging into my upholstery.
Brian blinked, confused for a second, and then realized it was his mom’s beat up station wagon. “Mom,” he said, fingers tight around the steering wheel, “did you hear that?”
His mom’s eyes scrunched up and she breathed out like she’d just run up three flights of stairs and back down again because Brian had forgotten his lunch. “Oh, Brian,” she said. “The car?”
Brian nodded, slowly. Maybe he shouldn’t have said it.
She kissed his hair, and finished parking the car; fished the soldier out of the back seat. “If only you’d gotten something else from your father,” she said softly. “That son of a bitch.”
He was an asshole, said the station wagon, knowingly. Couldn’t parallel park to save his life.
Cars don’t lie: this is a fact about them. Their mechanics don’t extend to it; they just get confused if you try, because they read emotions and not words, and when opposites come into contact in an engine things shut down, or explode. They get kind of uneasy, too, and you don’t want to be doing a ten-second quarter mile in a piece of machinery that’s not completely happy with you, if you know what Brian’s saying.
So it’s easier, if you’re driving, if you’re trying to talk to a car, not to lie. Don’t even bother.
This is funny, because the first time Brian talked to a car was the first time he ever regretted telling the truth.
The first time Brian boosted a car, he was twelve and mostly used to all the cars on the road tripping over themselves to say hello, how’s it going. He was walking home from school - taking the long way, because he hadn’t yet been to juvie, hadn’t yet met Rome or learned how to fight and he wanted to avoid more holes in his jeans, the kinds that would mysteriously arrive if he was dumb enough to take the short, easy way home, because Brian had always been a dumb, scrappy kid.
On the plus side, there was an impound yard on the way home. He liked it, because the cars there always had stories - even if they were cars so a little foggy on what was legal and illegal and the significance of powders that had spilled all over their insides, Brian could basically figure it out. He always slowed down, leaned against the fence, craned his neck and face to see through the chain-link to whatever new tricked-out ride had been brought in this week.
Today it was a Supra, a flashy green ‘76 with lightning bolts all along her sides. Hey, she whistled. What’s up, kid? Twin headlights flashed; a wink, a smile.
It was easy, automatic: not a conscious decision but smoother for it. A matter of moments to climb easy over the chain-link, sneakers smacking into the concrete as he let gravity take over. Boom.
Wanna go for a ride?
“Hell yeah,” he said, tried the door handle; unlocked, duh. He was a little too short for the driver’s seat but he made it work, stretched out like he was chewing gum on the bottom of a desk.
She said, hand on the clutch, hand on the wheel, foot on the gas. You know how to do this, right? She didn’t sound like she cared, either way; Brian could respect that.
“Nope,” Brian said, too psyched to be terrified, and put his foot down.
Holy shit. It was like - it took Brian approximately .5 of a second to realize that he never wanted to do anything else ever again, that he never ever wanted to get out of the car, never wanted to take his hands off the wheel. That first spark of the ignition - Jesus, he didn’t even need to breathe, not when there was gasoline in his veins like adrenaline pumping through the whole of him, through the whole of them - God, he could do this forever, would do this forever if nobody stopped him.
They lasted twenty minutes on the road, Brian’s hands white-knuckled, the Supra whooping in his ears. It was Brian’s first strike; they told him no repeats, the cop car home whispering I’m sorry about all of this. His mom cried, said something about Brian taking after his dad; he sat very still, promised it had been a stupid, stupid mistake and thought about the way the Supra had settled under his skin. The next day a Skyline murmured hello; that time, he didn’t get caught.
(”You’re always getting in trouble over females,” Rome said, sweeping one arm through the air expansively, shoving a half-eaten pot brownie into Brian’s face. “Save some for the cars, Bri.”
Brian pushed the brownie into Rome’s mouth to shut him up but it wasn’t like Rome could talk to them; Rome couldn’t really know that all cars had female voices, or that all Brian’s stories really, when it came down to it, were about engines that said his name in a low, sweet purr.)
If Brian ever compared Dominic Toretto to a Supra out loud, Dom would punch him in the face, no question, and the offense would only be half faked. Dom takes buy American seriously; Dom’s a Detroit muscle guy and it makes sense because that’s how Dom is - steady, brutal, fast with a whole lot of weight to him, not just physical but mental, emotional. Dom keeps you responsible for your shit and Brian’s never met a muscle car that’s let him get away with anything yet.
(When he was off-duty, Tanner drove a ‘74 Gran Torino - nothing like the engine Brian would have put in her, but it didn’t stop her quietly disapproving of the way Brian made her driver’s hands get sweaty and too tense on her gears.
Brian pointed out that Tanner liked him well enough and it wasn’t a lie; she flickered her taillights twice, like an annoyed horse, and had to let him sit in her passenger seat, even if she vibrated unhappiness every time Tanner bought him dinner, attempting to be the father it was too late for Brian to have.)
Muscle cars are as a rule pretty quiet; they’re intense, unrelenting. They don’t like to race unless they’re pretty fuckin’ sure they’ll win - not like imports, imports are down to get beat up, thrown around for the hell of it; imports don’t really have the attention spans for anything resembling loyalty. Muscle cars take risks, sure, but only for a good reason, only for the sake of something more important. They fucking cheat like hell though - they’ll do anything to win.
They’re stupid about control; with an import you can sit back, take charge if you need to, let her run the show for a while - if you’re driving muscle you’re not sharing, it’s either her or you and if it’s you you gotta run that show ‘cause she’s probably not letting you in if she doesn’t respect you.
Brian doesn’t think there’s a gearhead alive who could look at Dominic Toretto, look at that Charger, and be even a little surprised.
Still, Dom’s clear kinship with muscle cars aside, Brian can’t really think of him without thinking of the first time he sat in that Supra - that first time he put his foot down and the pedal touched metal as she roared to life, that first time he realized that he was alive.
The first time they raced, he and the Eclipse against Dom and that gorgeous, mean, RX-7, there had been nobody else in the world: just the two of them, Brian and his car out of control chasing that impossible, beautiful dream of leaving Dominic Toretto in their exhaust. They’d been so outmatched and they hadn’t even known it; she’d whooped after, delighted despite everything. It had been so beautiful, that chase, that speed.
Being around Dom even now, six years later, is like that. Addictive, dangerous; Dom makes Brian reckless, turns up the volume on the parts of him that don’t care about winning or losing because it’s in the attempt that the truth of things comes out and Brian, for someone who lies semi-professionally, is sort of fascinated by honest truths. Brian doesn’t need another death wish, doesn’t need to care any less about his own safety but fuck, he wants it anyway.
Before Dom, Brian was never big on muscle cars; he isn’t, honestly, even now. Imports are where he excels - he never fell out of love with that first Supra and her joyous laugh, that lightning spark she’d sent along his fingers to say good job. Imports he understands - they’re chatty and flirtatious, risk-takers and sweet-talkers, down for whatever like Brian’s always been. They’re the ones that whisper to you late at night come for a ride, don’t you wanna? while the muscle cars wait, patiently, for you to tell them what you want.
Anyone he’s ever met - even Brian, because yeah - would say he doesn’t need to be any more impulsive but that’s not what Dom gives him. Sure, being around Dom makes Brian smile more, makes him freer and sharper and inevitably more dangerous, more likely to do dumb-ass shit in the knowledge that Dom will, inevitably, retrieve him by the collar - but Dom keeps him grounded, too, because he will always fix Brian, if he can, but there is a line beyond even his powers and Brian has not crossed it, never will.
Dom just - Dom brings things into focus. Dom reminds Brian that he needs to have a plan.
Once upon a time, a long time ago: Brian was Brian Earl Spilner, all disheveled California-surfer hair, still the best liar beyond the four walls of Rome’s fuckin’ prison cell; Dom had a shop and a U.S. passport and still had not been able to take his sleek, deadly, beautiful car out of that dark shed. They - just the two of them, everyone else long since gone to bed - sat in front of the TV, ignoring Denzel Washington ruining Ethan Hawke’s rookie cop life.
Dom turned his face and the low light flickered across it, coloring his eyes something dark, deep, liquid - oil, maybe, that shit explodes under pressure. “What’s it like?” he asked.
Brian took a breath and the air slammed into his lungs like that first kick of velocity when you hit the gas and watched the meter jerk up - zero to sixty, done. He had been waiting ever since the Eclipse had gone up in flames, had not expected Dom of all people to let it lie. He didn’t think Dom knew how, really; Dom was like a car that way. He didn’t lie.
Thankfully, he had better timing than any machine Brian had ever met.
Dom let it sink in, turned back to the TV. Brian let his gaze linger on the blunt lines of Dom’s profile, contemplated lying but it wouldn’t blow his cover and there was this thing about him, like Brian never wanted to lie to him, like it cost him a little more every time he did.
Brian put his hands down on his thighs, turned the palms up and traced the lines on them with his eyes so that he would not have to meet Dom’s. “It’s hard to describe. But - when you’re driving, right? It’s you, and you’re in the car, and it’s all something you’re doing, just you and this machine that’s yours, an expression of you, maybe. When I do it, it’s like - when you’re winning, there’s not - there’s one mind but it’s not just yours, you can feel the road, you can feel the gas pumping through you, there’s joy in 200 pounds of metal and steel. It’s amazing? I can’t - I don’t know. There’s nothing to compare it to, I don’t think. It’s just-”
“It’s just the best,” Brian said, like breathing out, like giving in. "There's no point ever doing anything else."
Dom looked at him, turned that big head and those clear, clear eyes upon him. "Ah," he said. "Explains how you drive."
Brian swallowed hard, did not speak, did not look away. He did not think he could if he tried: gravity, he thought, in Mia's light pragmatic voice, not even bitter anymore but just weary.
For the longest moment, he could have sworn that Dom was going to lean over. He was halfway there himself, had halfway angled his body to match the scope of Dom's - but then Letty came down the stairs and Dom blinked, shrugged, went upstairs to bed.
“You and Dom,” Gisele says, thoughtful, “at first I thought you hated each other. Even when you were working together.” Nobody’s commented on the green Tiësto t-shirt she’s wearing that is definitely too big - Rome shot Han a sly, pleased look, because he’s been rooting for that since day one - but it looks good on her, Brian thinks.
Happiness looks good on her.
It looks good on all of them; they should have picked it up a long time ago.
After Rio, they all went their own ways; it didn’t stick for long. Now they are something resembling home, which is always better when it is people rather an a place. They are all a little drunk, because there is nobody here who needs to be on guard.
Gisele shows it the least of them. (Mossad, she said once, raising an eyebrow to Dom’s wry observation. It had been kind of a stupid point to make.)
Brian looks at Dom, tilts his head to the side like a question.
Dom has his arm around Mia, her head tucked against his shoulder. He blinks, raising his one free shoulder to drop it again; fuck would I know?
Mia laughs, pressing her bottle of Corona to the side of her face. “You kidding?” she says, the kind of light she gets when she’s been drinking. “Brian’s a puppy around my brother.” There’s an edge of sadness in her voice - Dom’s eyes flicker away from Brian, to the top of his sister’s head - but there isn’t much regret there. In the scheme of things, it’s not like he strung her along; it was real, what it was, even if it was a mess, even if it had still been dragging them back under years later, even if yeah there are still some sharp edge in their everyday lives.
But it’s done now, long past, and that’s nobody’s fault, just a casualty of youth. They had all been so young.
Brian shrugs, both shoulders because Rome’s head is on his thigh, leaving both Brian’s hands free. “We built a car together,” he says, hearing his own voice from a very long way away.“I don’t know, that means something.”
Both Torettos still; Brian ducks his head because he’s never been good with dealing with that, the way they look at him and just-
Mia says, “You’ve built cars with everyone here.” And now she sounds, like - fuck, like she’s nervous, like she’d sounded before they went into that courtroom, like something horrible is coming.
“Yeah,” Rome says, because Rome has always had Brian’s back even if he’s an asshole about it sometimes, “and that’s why we’re all still here, Mia. You think we’d put up with his shit otherwise?”
Brian flips him off.
Dom laughs, low, sweet. “He’s got a point, Bri.”
There are many things Brian could say here, now; so many things he kind of wants to, now that Jesse is dead, and Letty, and things are calm enough that they can maybe begin to process all the things that they’ve successfully ignored - all that shit he successfully blew off in psych eval after psych eval that he want, now that they’re all safe, still, at rest.
He’s a good liar; can do it for days, months, years. He learned from the best after all - from Roman, before they figured out the only way they’d get him into custody was to gag him first. He’s got practice lying to these people, even if mostly these days he lies for them.
But cars don’t lie and neither does Dominic Toretto and that’s always been something that eats at the heart of Brian, slams through his heart like that first spark in the ignition and reminds it to beat.
Brian shakes his head. “Do you remember what happened to her? Probably dust in the desert by now.” There’s no meanness in it, no accusation that’s sincere, anyway. It’s been a long time and they’ve fucked each other over a lot of ways - mostly Brian doing that - picked each other back up - mostly Dom, in that department. Dom had been on the run. She’d been a distinctive car.
“Brian,” Dom says.
Rome looks at Brian through his lashes and Brian thinks, oh, because that was probably grief in his voice, because he is no longer FBI and if he needs to go undercover these days he has Roman and Gisele and Han for that.
“She was a good car.” There is something in Dom’s voice, too; exhaustion and sadness so saturated that Brian thinks if he looks up, if he meets Dom’s eyes, something bad will happen. Dom has never been a liar, not really, not like Brian. Dom has always been honest.
“They’re all good cars,” Brian says. “She was better, though. She was the best.”
Mia says, “Brian.”
Brian swallows; his mouth tastes like lime and Corona and, overwhelmingly, want.
Brian still misses that Supra. She was beautiful, a Tang-orange ‘94, whip-smart, more perceptive than any other car he’d ever met, any car he built after that.
He suspects that has something to do with Jesse: Jesse who made everything with an engine sit up and purr; Jesse, who nobody ever read as competition because he wasn’t for the road, that one time he tried forever etched on Brian’s eyelids.
Jesse was a maker; Mia and Brian used to sit side-by-side watching him and Dom rip the Supra’s frame apart to build it up again. Once Mia turned to look at Brian and there must have been something like in his face because she’d whispered, a secret for the two of them hidden in the sweep of her long hair, sometimes I call it alchemy.
One time, Brian saw Jesse with this tiny winged thing he had been building, just for kicks, just when he needed something to do with his hands. It had once been a toy car, a little remote-controlled robot that Leon - or Letty, or maybe it was Vince? - somebody, anyway brought home on a whim. By the time Jesse had had it for three weeks it didn’t look anything for the road, had been transformed by all the leftovers that Dom threw Jesse, gruff like Jesse didn’t have all of them wrapped around his pinky, into a creature of the air, all wiring and solder and fibreglass he’d found something.
Brian had been about to take a smoke, Tanner’s concern about his health aside; had ducked out into the back and had to freeze because Jesse was standing there with the little thing on his palm, and Jesse was skittish at the best of times. “Go,” Jesse had whispered, and blown on it, like a promise.
Brian could hear it, in the way he heard all things with engines; chirping, joyous and sweet as its wings caught the air, pulled it up and up into the sunshine, until it was gone.
Brian spent a lot of time thinking about it, after - why would you build something only to send it away like that? But Jesse’s smile had been so wide, so true.
(Later, Brian gave away a set of keys, and thought maybe he understood.)
Then again, Jesse built plenty of cars in Dom’s garage and none of them were the Supra. It was probably the combination that did it - Jesse and his strange mechanical genius, Dominic with that intensity he got when his hands were black with grease, twin to Mia’s when she had her palms pressed against some wound that by all rights should not be coming together, but it was.
Brian thinks it probably didn’t hurt, either, all that time he spent with his hands pressed to her wrecked chassis, reaching deep for that hidden spark of consciousness, the kind only he could find. The first time he saw her, in that scrapyard Tanner took him to, she was a mess. He had felt that weak weak light of her, buried somewhere in that beautiful engine, and God, it had taken everything in him not to wrap his arms around whatever scratched up disaster he could reach and repeat, like a litany, you’re going to be all right.
He thought it once, hard, as hard as he could.
He thinks it might have been enough.
Sometimes, not often, he dreams about her. The best dreams are the ones that last forever in that one afternoon, sitting in the sunshine at that light: Dom in the passenger seat, the wind in Brian’s hair and Dom’s laughter, tinged with pride, in his ears, his best girl talking shit about the Ferrari in the next lane over; the closest to heaven he’s ever come.
Gisele talks to guns. She and Brian don’t like, commiserate about it, but once after he totally a particularly beautiful, particularly kind Evo, she dropped into an easy seat beside him, stretched out those forever-long legs and said, “You know, the worst part of it is saying goodbye to the bullets.”
“No shit?” Brian said, half a question, mostly for the sound to get the noise the Honda had made exploding out of his head. He couldn’t get the taste of singed air out of his mouth; it always stuck too long.
“No shit,” she said. “They’re like a part of you, for a little while, and then you send them away.”
“To kill people,” Brian observed, because sometimes Gisele could get weirdly precious about like, murder, and it was worth it to remind her. (Mostly they let Han deal with that; she liked him too much - probably - to inflict bodily harm.)
“Yes,” Gisele said, rolling her eyes. “But they’re still gone, after, even if they aren’t people.”
Brian sighed. “No,” he said, to remind himself. “They’re not.”
Not often, anyway.
The Skyline after LA was exactly what he wanted; jaded, ruthless, a sucker for NOS and the sheer pleasure that was making everyone else eat their dust. She liked him well enough - all cars liked him well enough, even the Charger by the end - but she wasn't the Supra; he had rebuilt her by himself, without that flash of whatever Jesse was, without Dom's easy care. She didn't tease him, didn't worry about his sleepless nights; she went fast, and loved him because he could get her faster than she'd ever been before.
Shit went bad, she broke down and he didn't miss her. He said his goodbyes but a car wasn't a person, he couldn't be in his line of work thinking cars were people, and he walked away.
That night he thought about that first time he'd lost a car in LA - the Eclipse, in that shower of Tran gunfire and NOS explosions. He had not been prepared even though he should have been and he'd liked her so much even though they hadn't known each other long; she'd been sweet and she'd been excited and she'd wanted to win and it had -
It had knocked him over, hearing her go up in flames, that metal scream ripping through the entirety of him, knocking him to the concrete, blowing every imitation of cool that Brian Earl Spilner had been pretending to have to tiny gasoline-soaked pieces.
"Brian," Dom said, kneeling in front of him, "Brian, the hell?"
Brian choked on smoke inhalation and heartbreak and he said, "She'd always turn the radio up when that song about the sunrise came on. She said it made her feel safe, like she was home. I don't even speak Japanese, Dom."
"You and cars," Dom said, an exhalation, an acknowledgement. "Spilner, for real?” But he didn’t sound surprised, he didn’t sound like it was a new concept.
Brian said, distant, “I wondered about Jesse.” He didn’t feel like he was in his own body; he felt like he was in the molten scrap, burning out. He didn’t reach out his mind for hers; he knew she was gone.
“Nah,” Dom said. “That’s not Jesse’s deal.” There was something else in his voice but Brian was too wrung-out to tell, to care. “You’re okay, Brian. You’re okay.”
He could feel the heat of the Eclipse’s death on the side of his face. “Yeah,” he said. Her scream was still ringing in his ears, rattling around inside his skull. He shook his head but it didn’t work: it was still stuck.
“She’s gone,” Dom said. Brian could feel his breath on his face; under any other circumstances it would have been gross but here, now, it was just intimate, like touch something that he wanted, craved. “There’s nothing left, even if we could get her. I’m sorry.”
Brian’s lips stuck to his mouth and his teeth. “I know,” he said. I’m sorry, he’d whispered, because it had been his fucked-up mod that had made her that vulnerable, and she had been such a sweetheart; she had not deserved it.
Dom sighed and got to his feet, pulling Brian with him, one arm around Brian like he weighed nothing at all. “Let’s go,” he said. “I’ll take you home.”
Brian thought, I didn’t know you were that kind of guy, but he didn’t say no. It was the first time Brian O’Conner and Brian Spilner agreed on what they wanted: this, and nothing but this. No external motives.
In Miami Brian O’Conner was no longer a cop, no longer undercover, no longer even a mechanic at Toretto’s, which had been the most important thing to him anyway, even it wasn’t him who’d been doing it. He missed Dom, missed Mia, missed Letty and Jesse and Leon, even Vince of all people; missed the garage and the chatter, even the way that Tanner had looked at him, as though Brian had something about him worth keeping.
Rome said, “You look like a sad sack of shit, Brian,” and Brian rubbed the bruises on his face, wrists, ribcage from that scuffle they had so desperately needed to reestablish their own history.
If Mia was here the bruises would be gone already, soaked up by his skin under the light clean brush of her fingers, but she wasn’t so they weren’t.
Brian probably needed them, he thought, to figure out what he wanted, who he was. “Yeah,” Brian said. “But I’m getting better.”
After the Eclipse, Dom had not kissed him. Brian had sat next to him that entire cab ride, Dom’s body warm against his to soothe that cold that always accompanied shock, half-hoping, half too caught up in everything else to care. Dom had taken him home, careful like Brian was one of his now, put him a spare room with Mia and her careful, gentle hands until everyone was assured that Brian was fine.
Mia had driven him back to his tiny back room at Harry’s; her blue Acura spent the whole ride telling him, excitedly, how much she loved Mia, how Mia could drive them circles around bigger, faster, more expensive cars. Brian had figured he might as well start recognizing that feeling, a kind of love-slash-worship that basically only stuck itself onto Torettos, because he was already starting to feel it blossom somewhere deep inside of him.
After Rio, they tried to disperse.
Han and Gisele, attached at the hip, tell Brian they went to Switzerland, Hong Kong, everywhere but Tokyo, which is funny because Han won’t shut up about wanting to go. Nobody expected them to come back in love - except maybe Rome, who won’t shut up about how he totally saw that coming. It works, though; Brian isn’t going to say shit. Dom looks like he might for half a second but Mia glares and he shuts his mouth.
Rome and Brian attempted to open a garage in Sao Paulo. It wasn’t a disaster like the Miami one was, but it ended in a weird fight that left Rome’s house empty for three nights until he stalked back, dropped his bag in Brian’s doorway, and started eating Brian’s dinner; business as usual, except for how they really should never be in business together; neither of them had the head for it.
Mia and Dom went to Buenos Aires. In retrospect, this was pretty obviously where everyone else was going to end up, but Brian’s still working on that thing he does where he lies to himself.
Brian lasted all of two months. He gets shit about it now, because he was the first one there - he’d beaten Rome racing down that last stretch of dirt road - but c’mon, it took another two weeks before everyone else was there, too, descending on the little coastal town whose hospital hired Mia and buying up all the real estate. Thankfully, Rome can talk his way into anything, and the rest of them are good at blending in. Their cars don’t even look that out of place, what with all the vacationers.
Dom and Mia have a beautiful house by the beach; Brian ends up there a lot, like pretty much everyone else, but they all go in on a garage in the town centre which, it turns out, works a lot better when it’s not just Brian and Rome. It wasn’t Dom’s idea and he grumbled about it at first but ended up liking it a lot; it’s not busy and they keep irregular hours because it’s not as though they need the money, but he gets stir-crazy when he doesn’t have enough to do, and it gets them into the local racing scene so they can spend their weekends embarrassing young punks; they’re taking bets on which ones Dom will adopt. (Brian has money on the skinny, twitchy boy with the smartass Acura; it’s a good car and when he gets better he’ll drive like Mia.)
For some reason, Dom won’t race Brian yet. Shit keeps coming up - freakish rainstorms, unforeseen car damage, Dom disappearing to the other end of the continent on some fool’s errand nobody really understands because Dom is a secret superhero; Brian’s starting to think they’re cursed.
(One night when Brian is lingering at the door talking to Mia’s Giuletta, he hears Dom talking to Rome inside. “It’s just not the right cars,” Dom is saying. “It just doesn’t feel right, you know?”
Brian feels his hand tighten on the doorframe.
The Giuletta says, are you angry?
“Shh,” Brian says.
Rome says, “That’s fuckin’ stupid, Dom. If you’re scared of losing, that’s real; I mean it’s punk-ass, but it’s real.”
Dom says, “This time five years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever see him again.”
The Giuletta says, Brian?
Brian swallows and walks in; he’s not lying, these days, but this isn’t a conversation he’s ready to hear.)
Mia helps out at a practice in a nearby village on weekends, because she had too much time being on-call during the week; they take turns driving supplies over, being the good guys for once. It’s Han and Brian this weekend, thanks to Tej’s cardboard wheel of why the fuck not.
Brian is driving first. He taps his fingers on the wheel, stares out at the low silhouettes of the buildings as they roll away from the town. The truck is an old thing, a little souped up Ford Dom found on some out of the way scrap heap, dragged into the garage so he and Brian and Rome could rebuild her from the inside out. She’d needed to be steady for Mia’s purposes, and she’s good, Brian likes her. Calm and sturdy, her constant patience contrasting with the speed and unpredictability that they build their ten-second cars for.
“So did you find out what happened to that car?” Han asks. “The one you and Dom built.” There is a suspicious curve to his mouth; Brian knows it well, emerging as it does any time Brian tries to cook something and feed it to the team.
Brian says, “You know something I don’t?”
Han shrugs. “Maybe,” he says, “maybe not. Orange, you said?”
Brian raises an eyebrow. “Han,” he says.
Han puts up both his hands, because he’s not driving and can do that. “I’m not getting in the middle of this one.”
“You never get in the middle of anything,” Brian sighs. It figures, he can’t even bitch to the car with Han next to him - he could try, but it’s like talking through cotton wool, or chloroform. Sometimes he worries that he can make that comparison.
Han’s thing is kind of weird, not that any of theirs aren’t. He - he makes everything quieter, muted. When he’s around Brian doesn’t hear every vehicle in a fifty-foot radius; Gisele can let her guns out of their holsters, actually put a knife down for once; Rome can say go suck a dick without worrying that someone actually will. He’s soothing to be around, too, in a way that isn’t just what he can do; he’s just calm, grounded, the centre of a storm and it’s good, because they all talk a good game, race as long as they have to but when it comes down to it they’re fucking disasters, to a man.
Han is also, with Gisele, the lamest prankster Brian has ever met - and Brian has voluntarily lived with Roman Pearce for embarrassingly long stretches of time - but it’s cool, Brian puts up with Gisele’s fucking motorcycles, which are like snotty European cars only worse, he can deal with finding honey in his shoes occasionally.
Once, early on, like before Rio was even done early on, Brian and Gisele and Mia and Rome were all drunk, sitting around a table full of blueprints and Gisele said, “He makes me feel less bloody. Like – like I’ve just had a really long, really good shower.”
“That’s fucked up,” Mia said, blinking.
“What isn’t, though?” Rome asked, his arm slung around the back of Brian’s chair. There was a little bit of a snarl in his voice - ex girlfriend and best friend, Brian figured. He and Mia had gotten their shit sorted in that garage, on their way to breaking out her brother, but he didn’t blame Rome for not trusting that. When Rome’s exes came around Brian had to get between them to make sure nobody died and just because Mia and him were good now didn’t mean she wasn’t totally capable of ending him if she felt like it. Dom would totally help.
Mia looked at Brian; Brian shrugged, didn’t want to get into it. He didn’t really know either of them, not well, not yet and it wasn’t his place; he didn’t think it was hers either, really, but a long time ago she had been his calm in a hurricane, so.
She had always been better at emotion management than any of the rest of them. Probably because of Dom. “Yeah,” she said, voice mild, steady. “You have a point.”
Rome does this thing. He’s good with people, like, overwhelmingly good. He just - he talks a lot, but it’s impossible, straight-up, for you not to believe him. Not if he wants you to.
It’s kind of freaky but Brian’s used to it, by now, and he’s pretty sure Rome doesn’t do it unless he absolutely has to. It’d be too weird otherwise.
When they were in juvie, Brian got in a fight because the crew that ran the place had Rome on his knees with a cloth in his mouth; the aftermath still gives him nightmares, but you don’t make friends because you aren’t scared of them.
At least Brian doesn’t. He’s always liked living on the edge.
The first time Brian and Rome boosted a car it was a Skyline. Brian whistled and its doors unlocked; Rome’s eyes went wide and Brian said, “Now you know how I feel when you walk us backstage for Destiny’s Child.”
Rome said, “Am I gonna regret getting in this car with you?”
Brian grinned and the Skyline said, can we, can we?
Three minutes onto the road, Rome made them pull over so he could throw up.
It was fucking awesome.
Afterwards, Rome said, “You’re fucking crazy, O’Conner,” and his smile was the size of Brian’s, and Brian figured, this is how you make a friend.
(The Skyline was confused, obviously, because that’s not a thing cars do.
She put up with it though; cars did that for him.)
“You and Toretto,” Rome says. “You sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Mia and me are done,” Brian says. “You know that.”
Rome rolls his eyes. “Don’t play stupid with me, Bri, you know you ain’t smart enough to carry it.”
Brian shrugs. “It’s not a big deal.”
Rome says, “Not a big deal my ass.”
Dom and Rome - Brian always thought they’d get along and they do, but Rome makes Dom twitchy, because of what he can do. Dom and being out of control, that shit’s not - copacetic, you know? But it’s not a thing Rome does, not unless he has to. It makes him uncomfortable, Dom being uncomfortable but that’s not new shit, not worth anyone getting involved; they’re at a good place, all of them.
Except lately, because lately Brian’s been dreaming about a car Rome never met, and Dom’s in the country barely if ever and honestly, Brian can’t even blame Rome for the way he looks at both of them, like he just wants to get in his jet and not be around.
Rome’s always had very little patience for Brian’s shit, but, you know, that’s a thing Brian likes about him.
“You’re heading for a crash,” Rome says. They’re in a club in Miami, for some reason risking the wrath of local law enforcement; Han sitting on the outside of the booth, Gisele at the bar conning some guy in a suit out of the details on his human trafficking ring so that Dom can drive a large car into it, later.
“That’s the plan,” Brian says. They might be dabbling in some superhero behaviour lately but that doesn’t make them subtle.
Han is eating wasabi peas. He chews, swallows, eyes them both like there’s gonna be a brawl, but they’re a little old for that, these days.
Rome says, “You have nothing even close to a plan, Bri.”
Brian says, “Isn’t that when I’m at my best?” But okay, here’s the deal: Brian kind of – Brian knows what he wants, and that’s almost better than a plan.
They slept together once, Brian and Dom. They don’t talk about it because it was - it was before Braga, and it wasn’t really about them, it was about Letty, it was about how Brian had fucked up but so had Dom and they had missed each other anyway.
Slept is the wrong word. They fucked, quick and quiet and sad, and then it was over.
Dom had been out of ten-second cars, but he could find another one if he had to. He wouldn’t, though.
He was in the garage, had popped the hood. Brian watched for a little, talked him through the work he and Letty had done.
“Buster became a gearhead,” Dom said, and that was pride seeping through, pride that rocked Brian to the heart of him.
“Had to learn to explain to them,” Brian said, ducking his head. “They panic, you know? Especially this one. When Letty was fixing her I had to go to step-by-step with what she was doing, why.”
“High maintenance,” Dom said, sounding kind of fond but also, heartbroken. “This fucking car.”
“You know I’m sorry,” Brian said, quiet. The Charger hummed, too sluggish to be fully aware. “You know - you know she is, too.”
Dom shook his head. “It’s not on you,” he said, and then he sighed. “Either of you.”
Brian swallowed, and then he reached across Dom to close the hood, lean against the passenger door. “C’mere,” he said.
Dom said, “Brian?” It meant, now?
Brian said, “Dom.”
The old Dom would never have let him get away with that shit; this year’s model almost didn’t, but they were all sad, too slow, too damaged to move at max capacity. “Yeah,” Dom said, leaning in, his hands huge and hot on Brian’s sides, “yeah, okay.”
Afterwards, Mia levelled Brian the longest look of his life.“C’mere,” she said, pressing her thumb to the inside of Brian’s wrist. “You look bad in bruises,” she murmured, as Brian’s skin fixed itself, as the soreness eased from the fingermarks on his thighs, the bitemarks on his throat. “Keep that in mind.”
“Thanks,” Brian muttered.
“Yeah,” she said, smoothing his hair out of his eyes with the ball of her thumb. “Be careful, Brian.”
“Shouldn’t you be saying that about me?” Brian asked, under no illusions as to her primary allegiance.
She shook her head, bangs falling into her face. “Both of you,” she said. “Both of you should be worried about it.”
Brian shrugged it off; he’d had bigger things to worry about, things that meant more.
“Torettos fix things,” Mia told him. Her voice was a little bit rough with sleep, with sex.
It was early-along in whatever it was they were doing - not the first night, but the second or the third, maybe. It got pretty complicated at the end - messy, ugly, full of the kind of shit they’d both dredged up late at night to curse about - but Brian will remember this always as being in love.
She was wearing his shirt. Obviously, it looked better on her than it ever had on him. Her hair was loose and tangled from his fingers in it. He kept having to remember to breathe.
“Explains the zoo you’re keeping,” he said, wry. “What’s Vince, a three-legged dog?”
She laughed but shook her head. “Our dad,” she said, “he was, you know. He could fix cars? Not what Jesse does, not new things, but he could look at a car and he’d tell you in two seconds what was wrong with it, how to fix it. Mostly he didn’t even need equipment; he could just put his hands in there and, you know, bam. It’s like that for me, but -”
“I do it with people,” she said, shrugging. “Cuts, bruises, internal injuries. A bullet wound once.”
“Med school,” Brian said, thinking out loud. “Makes sense. What about me?”
Mia’s eyes were dark, like her brother’s; they had a lot of the same weight. “I don’t know,” she said. “Do you need to be fixed?”
Brian blinked. “Do you think I do?”
“Everyone does,” she observed. “But I don’t know, you seem like you need it less? Like you could use being here, being with us, but you’d be okay if you weren’t. We’re not great at talking, as a family, in case you haven’t noticed, but - there’s something about you.”
(Rome taught Brian well; he’s a fucking great liar.)
“Oh shit,” Brian said, let the smile curve across his face, leaned in and tucked his hand around the curve of her cheek, pausing with his lips just over hers. “Told you liked me.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Mia said, but the moment didn’t snap; she tapped his nose with the tip of her index finger and he felt the bite mark on his throat subside a little.
“Handy,” he said.
“Always,” she grinned, and kissed him.
She wouldn’t have trusted him like that if he had been telling the truth. She wouldn’t have said it about Brian O’Conner.
Maybe now, she might.
At first, the Charger didn’t talk. (She wasn’t Dom’s Charger then.)
Brian felt her through the walls, from all that way away in the house surrounded by the chattering ten-second cars that made up Dom’s family, even as distracted as he was by the loss of the Eclipse. Even silent, even in that shed, he could feel her, feel the force of her - deep, like a thunderstorm. She felt elemental, almost, though he hadn’t walked out to find her, trusted that in time his cover would carry him through to this, too.
Tanner asked what Brian thought of Dominic Toretto and Brian had to bite back on, he has a quiet car, because Tanner couldn’t, wouldn’t understand that Brian had never in his life met a car that didn’t want to talk, least of all a car that could do a ten-second quarter mile – they were always chatty, brilliant, tripping over themselves to show off, to tell you what they could do.
He met her, finally; gorgeous even in the dust-filled light beams that spilled across everything in Dom’s shed, terrifying a little, with the breadth of her.
Dom looked at her with this edge of fear that Brian had never seen before, and he thought maybe he understood. The Charger, Dom called her; not mine.
That was funny because Dom was the first to lay claim to anything, to everything he thought was worth it.
She was so beautiful, Brian thought, staring at her. He could feel the speed of her come off, like a cloud of electricity surrounding her; Dom was gravity, Mia had said. It made sense that this car would be, too; that they would act on each other in this strange push-pull of elemental forces, that it would be a battle even if they couldn’t communicate enough to set terms.
“She was the first one I ever fixed,” Dom said, quiet. “I didn’t think I had it, I thought it was just gonna be Mia and the old man. And then she wrecked, and he was gone, and I - I just put my hands on her and I knew what to do.”
Brian let his fingertips splay across the side of the passenger door. A spark shivered through him - suspicion, not hello, never hello.
“She scares the shit out of me,” Dom confessed. “Does she- does she say anything about me?”
Brian said, “She doesn’t talk, Dom. I’ve never met a car that didn’t before.”
Dom sighed, looked away. “Shitty timing,” he said.
Oh, Brian realized. Oh, she’s your father’s.
She was silent, still, but for a moment he shuddered with that first impact, with the smell of gasoline all around him; jerked his hand back, away, and breathed in.
Dom said, “Brian?”
Brian shook his head. “Yeah,” he said. “Shitty timing.”
If he wasn’t ready, she wouldn’t be.
He’d never met a car like this before, but Roman Pierce was the best liar Brian had ever met, had taught Brian everything he knew and Rome could make you do what he wanted without even bothering to lie; could just look at you and you would do it. Only twice in the entirety of their friendship had Brian seen him use that voice; both times it had been so ugly he’d wanted to hide but he hadn’t, because it was Rome and Brian owed him better than that.
The point was, Brian knew about being scared of what you had done, about what you could do. If Dom had that fear of Kenny Linder, Brian figured the Charger’s fear of her first driver- that might be something that would stick just as deep.
Dom hasn’t been home in a while. It’s not unusual; he could be racing, could be on some temporary clean up the neighbourhood crusade; the options are endless.
Mia’s got a stethoscope around her neck and a raw tiredness in her eyes. She says, “He’s being a dumbass.”
Brian shrugs. “None of my business.”
“You’re being a dumbass too,” she says, taps his nose with her left index finger; god, he loves her. Brian Earl Spilner was in love with her, a desperate kitten kind of love all tangled up in Dom and the assignment and the cars that went so fast he couldn’t help falling, but Brian O’Conner is Mia’s family and that’s so, so much better. “Why now of all times? The Supra’s been gone for years.”
“I don’t know,” Brian shrugs. “The timing - there’s just enough time to breathe now, figure some things out. Maybe.”
Killing Fenix, collecting Braga - that wasn’t so hard, not really.
Well, obviously the part where Brian got beat the fuck up wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t like, unfamiliar or anything.
This was what was unfamiliar: “I’m not running,” Dom said, grave, tired.
Helicopters were closing in and Brian hadn’t even done anything illegal but he was feeling pretty fucking terrified, anyway. It might have had something to do with the massive internal organ trauma.
The Charger was all the way in the tunnels but he could hear her, always could when she wanted to talk to him. Brian, she said, in her low cool voice, shaky like his own sounded.
“Didn’t know you knew my name,” he told her. “He’s okay.”
Dom sighed, hand pressed to Brian’s bloody chest, like of fucking course, Brian. It must have been bad because Dom really didn’t like letting people get away with shit.
Of course I know you, she snapped, like people always got when they were worried. Thank you.
“You don’t have to do this,” Brian said.
Dom said, “You hit your head, Brian, but I’m not going to say it again. Don’t make me.”
Brian coughed. “Whatever,” he said. “Still woulda won that race.” He reached for the Impreza but she was gone; that fucking sucked. She’d been fun, reliable; had trusted him to take her somewhere safe. he’d rebuild her, he told himself. She wouldn’t be the same, since she wasn’t the Charger, but it would be something.
“Hey,” Dom said. “Can you talk to her?”
Brian blinked. “You mean-”
“Yeah,” Dom said. “Listen, just tell her thanks. Tell her I’m sorry I didn’t trust her earlier.”
“Okay,” Brian said, relaying the message. He leaned back into the weight of Dom’s chest, steady and solid, letting her voice wrap around him with its humming magnetism. “She says don’t be dumb, and she she’ll be okay, but you better be too. Also, that she loves you..”
“I didn’t know they could do that,” Dom said.
“Me either,” Brian said, “but I mean, has that car ever done anything normal in her life?”
It’s raining when Dom gets back, pulling the Charger into the drive with that familiar rumble; he’s wet and his eyes are dark and it’s always hot down here so his shirt is hack-sleeved, like Brian’s. He and Han stare at each other; Brian knocks twice and slips into the garage’s office.
Han says, “You tell him or I will.”
Brian blinks, looking back and forth between Han and Dom. “Did you take Gisele’s Glock? She can’t find it anywhere, she’s pissed.”
“I borrowed it,” Han says, short in a way he isn’t, mostly, ever. “That’s not the point. Dom.”
“There’s a garage outside Santo Domingo,” Dom says, shoulders tight, stiff. He’s not much for tone, which means Han really has something on him. “I gotta - it makes sense if I show you in person.”
The Charger says, he’s been an asshole lately. It sounds like an apology.
“Whoa,”Brian says. “Big deal, then.”
The first time the Charger ever spoke to Brian, it was to say, you owe him a ten-second car.
She had flipped, Dom blindsided by that truck coming from nowhere, Brian sitting in the Supra playing worst-case scenarios on a loop in his head.
Her voice had been sweet, surprisingly sweet. He didn’t know what he’d expected – something raw, probably, something echoing. She sounded a little like Letty on her best days, when she’d sit and laugh at all of them, secure in the weight of Dom’s arm around her shoulders.
It figured that Dom would have a type.
“You got it,” he said, digging his keys out of the ignition, limping across that huge vast stretch of scratched-up streaked asphalt to Dom’s side. “Hey,” he said, and Dom blinked, heaving himself out of the wreck that was the Charger, letting Brian’s hands catch him as he moved.
“O’Conner,” he said.
You gonna be okay with this? Brian asked, barely a whisper because she’d always hear him.
This is what you want, the Supra said, kind, because she was his, because he had built her and so had Dominic, so had Jesse whose killers’ blood was on both their hands, now. I won’t let you down.
“Thank you,” Brian said, out loud.
Dom’s eyes widened. “Brian-”
Brian tossed him the keys, the absence of their weight so heavy on his heart he might weep. “I owed you a ten-second car,” he said. “Now I don’t.”
He could feel Dom’s eyes on him as Dom walked, unsteady, to the other car.
Brian didn’t look; didn’t have to; he had other things to do. He could feel the Supra, his Supra, his best girl; all electric sparks and that first heady rush of NOS. They’d built her, all of them, together; she was part of him like no car had ever been. You better see me again, she said, he doesn’t have the right hands for me.
He’ll learn, Brian whispered. He’ll be good to you.
I know, she said. But it’ll be better when we beat them, you and me.
“Brian,” Dom said.
“Don’t,” Brian said. “I asked her - she’ll take care of you.”
Dom nodded. “I’ll watch her,” he said. “I will.”
It meant something else, that heat in Dom’s voice, but they were out of time, or maybe they had never had it in the first place.
Brian leaned against the Charger’s side. She was – faint, he thought. Frail.
So you finally trust him? It felt wrong to say it but Brian did, anyway.
Yes, she said, because she was a car and they didn’t lie. It took him too long to trust me, but here we are. She sounded so tired, he thought; she had never wanted to leave Dominic.
Well, that made two of them.
He could feel in the metal against his skin, how much it had hurt to keep that timing right.
Dom took a breath. It dragged, hitched wrong. Torettos fix things, Brian thought, hoped it extended as far as Dominic himself. “Brian-”
“I got your car,” Brian said, reaching down a hand to press, full-palm against the Charger’s side. “I’ve got you.”
I know, said the Charger, electric and surprisingly, kind.
“I know,” said Dom.
The garage is tiny, painted blue and lovely. It’s run by a girl named Ana who reminds Brian of Letty; she’s wiry, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and she casts suspicious eyes across them both before seeing something in Dom’s face, in Brian’s, and directing them to a familiar silver silhouette-
Hello, Brian, says Brian’s Supra. It’s been a while.
“She’s missed you,” Ana says, looking right at Brian.
Brian moves embarrassingly fast to her side, slips inside, hasn’t needed a key since ever. She purrs under his hands; it’s new upholstery but he fits easy and comfortable like he always has.
“You were keeping my car?” Brian asks. He’d thought- he had looked, kept an eye out for an abandoned ten-second Orange Supra out in Mexico, but it wasn’t like he’d expected anyone to report finding her.
Dom leans into the window. “I left her with Han; it’s how we met. I didn’t want her to get hurt. We’re still on the run, Brian.”
“It’s been six years,” Brian says. “What, have you been moving her, too-”
It sucks, the Supra says, it’s boring, I’m boring. Am I too old now? He never races me.
“You are pretty distinctive,” Brian says. “Even if- what the hell is this paint job?”
Dom ignores him. “You fixed the Charger and you’re right, I did owe you a ten-second car. I promise, she’s got this.”
Brian’s mouth is dry; they aren’t talking about the Supra anymore. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Dom says, a promise. He’s not Brian; he’s never had any problems keeping them.
Though, lately - lately, Brian’s been pretty on top of that shit, too.
Ew, says the Supra. Not on my interiors, thanks.
“Who taught you attitude?” Brian asks; thinks Jesse for a moment and it doesn’t hurt so much; when he leans the side of his face against the headrest. He can feel Jesse in her sparks, in the hum of her engine that all of them built. It feels like home.
The sun is in his eyes. He turns to look at Dom, smiles anyway.
Letty had been fixing up the Charger, before. Sometimes Brian would sit and watch her, help if he was allowed; Letty was particular about the way she liked her tools, the way she liked her shop. She didn’t like Brian much but she tolerated him because of what he could give her and because he made the repairs go faster; he could ask what worked and what didn’t, easy.
The Charger liked Letty, liked her a hell of a lot more than she liked Brian.
Brian figured that was fair; Letty had never gone undercover in her organization.
She didn’t say much but she wasn’t on purpose not talking. Once, before Letty left, she said, you’re going to keep her safe.
“Yes,” Brian said, “but she doesn’t really need me for that.”
Letty was fearless in the shop because she could be; burns never lasted long, and once Brian saw her drop an engine block on her foot, wince, shake it off, keep going. She’d been shot a couple of times, too; Brian’s boss said, are you sure you can’t recruit her? and Brian had laughed, said, you want Stasiak to stay alive? That shit wouldn’t fly with Letty Ortiz.
Letty had blown off all his cautions, weakened as they were by how embarrassingly much he wanted Dom back on this side of the border. She’d shot herself in the hand for emphasis, right in front of him.
Brian, honestly, had thought Letty indestructible; so had Dom, probably. (Once, Mia had said, it’s why they’re so close. He doesn’t think he can lose her.) Afterwards, the world was different, darker - darker even than it had been after Jesse, because nobody had expected Jesse to be capable of healing himself.
He went to see the Charger only once, between Letty’s death and Dom’s return. Mia was out. The Charger was in recovery, nothing like the wreck she had been when Brian had pressed the keys into Mia’s hand with a promise to keep her safe.
Oh, she had said, it’s you.
I’m sorry, Brian said, and then he told her about Letty. Cars didn’t understand death - they couldn’t, they weren’t organic - but the Charger wasn’t most cars.
Thank you for telling me, she said.
He waited for a while but she didn’t say what he had thought she would: you said you wouldn’t let this happen.
After that, Dom was arrested and she was barely there; most cars, totalled and rebuilt from scratch, forgot everything they had been, became a new thing. It was not a surprise that Dominic Toretto had not followed protocol in this, of all things.
Brian and Mia fixed her. It wasn’t as quick as it would have been with Dom, as it had been that time he’d come back to rebuild her, but quicker than it would be just Brian and a wrench - Brian wasn’t so good a mechanic as he was behind the wheel, used to conversation, to saying please rather bending the physicality of a machine to his will and Mia was good with organics not mechanics, but she loved Dom, said if I tilt my head sideways and squint it kinda works.
They spent a lot of time sitting together, just in the wake of her bulk. Mia said, “I fucking hate this car,” and Brian felt the Charger flinch, all hot metal despair.
“She’s not so bad,” Brian said. “You know, for a muscle car.”
Mia sighed. “Every time someone I love drives this car,” she said, “they fucking disappear.”
Brian looked at her, at the grease on her cheek and the sad darkness of her eyes. He thought, maybe he should kiss her; but they weren’t children, that wasn’t the solution, not anymore. “Yeah,” he said, carefully, honestly. “Yeah, this time, we’re not going to let that happen.”
He was beyond making promises he could not keep.
Most cars, they didn’t know about timing.
Not the Charger: she’d learned in the worst possible way. She’d learned from Kenny Linder, and from Mia and Dom’s father, and from Dom, a little, too.
She’d been Dom’s father’s car for so long and in time to be Dom’s she’d wrecked, again and again. Cars weren’t people; mostly they didn’t care.
The Charger wasn’t a normal car.
Brian had never met Dom’s father, but he’d eat a tailpipe if he hadn’t sat like this, long ago, and told his car to keep his son and daughter safe.
I know about leaving people behind, the Charger said. I think you and I have that much in common.
It was why she didn’t trust him; why he had never wanted to drive her himself. “We’re going to get him back,” Brian said. “We’re gonna change the story. You in?”
On one condition. The hum of her engines was low, a promise.
“Name it,” Brian said.
You’re both idiots, the Supra whispers, a laugh curving warm through her voice, through the heat of the side panels against which Brian has pressed his hip.
I agree, the Charger says.
Brian swallows. Dom is looking at him. “Hey,” he says, stepping forward. “Whatever it is you want to ask, the answer’s yes.”
The air is the air before Race Wars, before that first illegal drag out in those LA streets, all those years ago; static snapping through Brian’s teeth, exhaust thick in the air.
Dom’s eyes are so dark. “What if,” he says, and Brian thinks - hopes - “I’ll race you. Think you can win this time?”
It’s better than anything else. Dom’s always been able to read him better than anyone should.
Brian’s mouth is so, so dry. “What are you gonna give me when I do?”
Dom takes one step forward, then another. “What do you want?” he asks. His mouth is so close to Brian’s; Brian could just –
“I see you’re driving my car,” Dom said, sliding into the Charger’s passenger seat. It was not right but close enough given the orange jumpsuit he was still wearing.
She was singing, Christ, all of her, overcome, awash with love, with joy. That first crash had not just hurt Dom’s father, and Dom, and Kenny Linder; it had left a scar on her too, somewhere deep, so deep even Dom’s capable clever hands had not been able to heal it over.
Maybe Mia had been right.
Maybe Brian had been able to do something - help, even - that even the Torettos who fixed things could not. Maybe.
Maybe it had all been her.
“Welcome back,” Brian said, for him, for the Charger.
Dom tilted his head, like a nod, gracious. “Thanks for fixing my car. You did a good job.”
Brian exhaled; he could sort of feel, at the edges of his senses, Dom flooding through the Charger – he couldn’t talk to her but he could tell how she worked, that she was okay, and she appreciated that, his presence soothing out the minor hurts the chase had accumulated. “You know I always will.”
Dom looked at him, heavy-eyed, tired. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess I’m stuck with you.”
“Yeah,” Brian said, and he flipped the switch for NOS, and he smiled.
There’s a straight road by the beachside. Ana gives them directions, bemused; laughs when Dom asks her to count them off but nods and gets into position anyway.
The Supra purrs under Brian’s hands. It’s been too long, he says. Thanks for sticking around.
He did take pretty good care of me, she concedes. It was better than an impound lot.
“Good,” Brian says, and he looks across to Dom in the Charger, Dom with his bright eyes and the hands that catch all of them, that never let go. “Thank you,” he says.
We owed you one, the Charger says. Thank you.
Still gonna smoke ‘em, the Supra says, and that is why she’s his favourite.
I’m never going to leave you like that again, Brian promises.
Better not, she says. You know I’ll find you.
He does. It feels good, that certainty; warm. Something he can keep inside him, next to his heart.
“Tres,” Ana says. “Dos, uno-”
The Supra is beautiful, has always been beautiful, will always be beautiful. She hums with anticipation, with joy, with the knowledge that for once everything is- good, maybe, right. He breathes in and she breathes in with him, all rippling exhaust, ignition sparking to life. Go.