Brian's coughing woke him. Not because it was particularly loud but because it was close, just behind him. That sense of someone that close to him while he slept triggered something and he was instantly awake and instantly tense. It only took him a second or two to reorient himself, to remember that he wasn't in prison, wasn't sharing a cell with three other guys, and the hot skin pressed to his back had his explicit invitation to be there. The coughing fit lasted about as long as it took Dom to figure all that out.
Brian took a deeper breath and settled, body relaxed. Very carefully Dom shifted and rolled over. Brian stirred again but didn't really wake up. If anything, he relaxed more when Dom dropped his arm over Brian's waist and spooned up against him.
He tucked his other arm under his head and let his fingers brush lightly across Brian's skin, his thumb stroking an invisible line down to Brian's navel.
His eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness of Brian's bedroom. Dark curtains covered the big window across from him but light bled in along the edges, and if he tilted his head a little he could see the dresser mirror reflecting a thin line of light that escaped the nearly closed bathroom door behind him.
That felt familiar. He and Mia left the light on in the bathroom at home with the door mostly closed, just so they wouldn't whack knees or stub toes against the furniture and crap that always seemed to collect in the hallway.
It gave him just enough light to see by; fuzzy, fragmented light picking up the odd corner of a picture on the wall, the less defined pile of clothes on the floor. A glimmer of light skated across Brian's head, just enough to highlight a few of the sleep-tangled blond curls and the edge of Brian's jaw when Dom leaned over a little, trying to catch a glimpse of Brian's face.
He let his hand move up over Brian's shoulder, his thumb guiding him along some invisible line from the ball of Brian's shoulder down his bicep then back again, up along the bone and tendons. A dark irregular line broke up the smooth skin, the flesh slightly raised, uneven. It would be red and obvious with more light on it. Six months had provided Brian with a scar, but not enough time had passed for it to fade into a pale conversation piece. Right now it was still too obviously a mark of violence and a testament to both Brian's courage and his loyalty.
Dom pressed his forehead to Brian's shoulder and let his lips brush lightly over the uneven skin. Brian flinched a little and Dom went still, waiting, half wanting Brian to wake up, but half of him wasn't ready to face him just yet.
Not from embarrassment though, although there had been a couple of things they'd done before falling asleep that would make Dom blush to have to talk about them, as much because he'd enjoyed them as because he was treading on some pretty virgin territory -- so to speak. A virgin Dom wasn't, and neither was Brian. Brian, in fact, probably could lay claim to range of experiences somewhat vaster than Dom's own and that was a little humbling.
They hadn't gotten that exotic, and Dom had, in fact, had his dick in another man's mouth and ass before. But he'd never looked in the face of a man he'd fucked. Had gone out of his way not to look or even think overly much about it while in Lompoc and that had been years ago. In Chino, he'd avoided it all together, not willing to go that route again. It helped that he'd actually landed in a level 2 area, less violent criminals surrounding him instead of the hard core murderers, rapists and lifer's he'd shared air with in Lompoc. They had those in Chino, too, but in a whole other section. Those guys didn't get to walk the fenced-in gardens at will. Those guys still had to visit with their people with glass between them and armed guards so close you could smell them. He was short-term, just visiting really, and from the minute he'd walked in the gates to the minute he walked out again, he'd kept that in mind. A lot of people had put in some extraordinary effort to keep his sentence minimal. Yeah, he had three years of probation to work through, but he could do that too. He was smarter now. He had more to lose now. He wanted more now.
And a huge chunk of what he wanted was in bed with him, right now.
It surprised him a little. No, a lot. Surprised him that after six months of thinking about it, actually finally getting to kiss Brian, to touch him, and yeah, to fuck him, it had been a whole lot better than he'd imagined. That the moments of fumbled adjustment, shifting positions and bodies and not really knowing where to put his hands had actually made it better. That Brian had been so sure and determined and serious and laughing, teasing Dom and at the same time demanding of him…almost like Brian had been the one who'd spent six months with only his own hand for company.
That might be more true than Dom actually realized, now that he thought about it. The first time Brian came to visit Dom at Chino, Dom wondered who the hell thought Brian was ready to leave the hospital. The only thing that hadn't looked bad on Brian was his smile and the light in his eyes. His visits had been iffy at first and Dom had pressed Mia for updates, ignoring the speculation in her eyes.
Not an easy road to recovery. Brian had helped Mia move into her new apartment and the effort of it had laid him up for a week, something Mia found out by accident. Then there had been a cold that turned into pneumonia and still Brian had dragged his sorry ass up to Chino, coughing like he might hack up a lung, but he’d sat with Dom in the sunshine and looked happy as kid at the circus. The last couple of months he'd come every Sunday, bouncing on his feet, that grin of his infectious enough to make everyone around him smile and make Dom laugh.
Letty had come up too, after she'd done her time and been turned out to fulfill her community service sentence. She'd come in slinging attitude, skirted to mid-thigh on thick stacked heels that made her already provocative curves tighten every man's groin. She'd done it for Dom and he appreciated it, appreciated the open visitation and had managed not plop her on his lap and take what she was offering. He didn't have conjugal rights, but it had crossed his mind…except somehow, he didn't think the prison board would let him include Brian in those requests.
That had pretty much sealed it right then. Not that he surprised himself with the thought, but Letty had noticed something different. She didn't understand any of it yet, but she knew something changed, right then. Maybe had even suspected in Mexico only she'd thought Dom's need to play a part in Tran's little cross country drama was all about Mia then. He had no idea how she'd react when she figured there was more to it than that and he wasn't sure if he should let her figure it out on her own or just tell her.
He couldn't rationalize it, couldn't make it better than it was. He and Letty had been together almost exclusively for nearly six years. Oh, there had been a couple of side trips when one or the other of them was pissed off enough, but they kept getting pulled back together by attraction or familiarity, even love. Because he did love Letty; loved the smell of her, the look of her, the taste of her. Loved her fiery temper and her fearlessness. They were perfect for each other -- only they weren't: too much alike, too ready to lash out at what was closest until they were screaming and more than once it had gotten physical. Dom had never hit her, but it had been close a couple of times and she'd gone out of her way to provoke him, like she really wanted to get into it, wanted to see how far she could push it.
Maybe easier if they'd parted in anger and they might yet. Letty was jealous enough of any other woman Dom even looked at. No telling how she'd react when she found out his eyes had drifted to a man, to Brian specifically.
And he couldn't even begin to explain it. Dom, who pretty much demanded loyalty from his little set had been snared and caught by someone who lied to him from the beginning, someone who'd hurt Mia, however unintentionally. Two things Dom had always said he wouldn't tolerate.
Letty would probably chalk it up to some kind of weird gratitude, but she'd be wrong on a lot of levels. Dom had plenty to be grateful to Brian for, but mostly he'd just recognized when he'd met his match. He always thought Letty was that match but she was more a mirror than anything, his own passions and recklessness reflected back at him. Brian was more like the hand that drew the curtain back so Dom could see clearly.
Brian was the first person he'd met since his father's death that Dom wanted to follow. And if that wasn't a weird metaphor, Dom didn't know what was.
Brian took a deeper breath and rolled a little, further onto his belly, legs kicking at the sheets to push them half off, exposing more shadow painted skin from his lower back down, the curve of his ass exposed. Dom's groin tightened in appreciation, so much so he bit his lip, wondering how Brian would take to being woken up because Dom was horny.
Somehow, he didn't think Brian would mind and gave the theory a test, edging the side of his hand down along the crack of Brian's ass, smiling a little when Brian squirmed, took a half breath like maybe he was struggling for consciousness. Dom leaned over him and pushed his hand a little further, fingers brushing right up under Brian's balls and tickling him there, then pressed his nose and lips to Brian's neck.
He got a gratifyingly breathless moan for his attentions, and felt Brian's cock start to swell and firm. He pressed a little closer, letting his dick replace his hand between Brian's legs and reached over Brian's hip to wrap his hand around his dick. "Brian…" he whispered and kissed his neck again, pushing his fingers through the tangled curls and grabbing a handful. Brian strained back toward him and Dom half-successfully stifled a groan of his own.
"Hmm? Dom…" Half asleep, Brian's voice was husky and low, but he was awake enough to cover Dom's hand with his own and squeeze. "Oh, yeah…" he murmured and drew his left leg up toward his chest, opening the way for Dom to do…pretty much whatever the hell he wanted.
Lust wasn't new, but lust for a guy was, even if he'd been practicing it in his head for six months. A little overwhelming, too, because aside from wanting to bury his dick as deeply in Brian's ass as he could manage because it would feel so good -- he also wanted to explore every inch of skin, every crease and muscle, wanted to know the man, and that, now that was something new. At the moment, though, what he didn't want to really do was release his grip on Brian's body to roll back and grab a condom off the nightstand.
Of course, if he did, he could also turn on the light, and the idea of watching Brian warred with the idea of just rubbing against him until he came or Brian did, or both. "Don't move," Dom growled, both excited and frustrated as he made that decision and rolled anyway. The sudden light made him blink, and Brian covered his face, but the condoms were right there and the lube.
Dom pretty much hated condoms. He'd used them though, constantly, with Letty, because she'd been adamant that if he wasn't ready to be a father yet, he damn well could make sure it didn't happen. And not because Letty had any vague desire to be a mother, or because she was a good Catholic girl. No, that was all about them being equal.
And Dom had in no way been ready to be a father, any more than he'd ever had the slightest inclination to ask Letty to marry him, and she'd never brought it up either.
Odd thought to be having as he tore at the foil with his teeth and rolled back, only to find Brian hadn't listened to him and had moved anyway. He still looked half-asleep, but he’d propped up on his elbows, and kicked the sheet completely off, bracing himself with one leg. The firm curve of his dick canted toward his belly, he had darker fuzz on his jaw and he looked sleepy and tousled and totally fuckable.
What had surprised Dom most the night before surprised him again, and that was just how easily he’d shifted gears. How he’d gone from appreciating a good rack to thinking the lift of a certain man’s dick was about the sexiest thing he’d ever seen.
It was one thing to take some release, to understand logically that the mouth attached to his cock was a guy’s, or that the hole he’d buried himself in wasn’t a warm wet pussy, but to look at Brian, at his naked body, at his erect dick, and want it so badly…it should have shocked him. It should have felt like the earth shifted on its axis, day turned to night, night to day, but mostly, Dom just went with it. His cock and his heart were in complete agreement, and his head could go fuck itself -- he had better things to do.
Dom tore the packet open, grunting at the mere thought of trying to get the thin sheath of latex over his dick, which was already swollen and damn near past the point of needing Brian to do anything but lick his lips to make Dom come like a teenager.
It occurred to him that maybe he should ask Brian if he wanted to be fucked again.
Brian's eyes slid from the condom in his hand to the hard jut of Dom's dick and he grinned. "You need help with that?" he asked, flicking his eyes down toward the rubber.
All the moisture dried up in Dom's mouth. Jesus…he nodded and Brian sat up more, took the condom from Dom's lax fingers and went to work. He couldn't remember the last time his brain had shut down on him like this before he'd actually come. He wasn't sure it ever had…maybe his very first time when he was fifteen.
Brian's hands were sure and steady, covering him and squeezing him at the same time. He wrapped his lips around Dom's dick for a minute, so firmly Dom pushed into his mouth in surprise before digging his fingers into Brian's hair to pull him back.
"This will be over really fast if you do that," he ground out.
"Not a problem for me," Brian said. He seemed to have forgotten that his own dick was as hard as Dom's.
"Bri…" His voice sounded strangled to his ears.
Brian studied him for a moment, that slow grin spreading over his face, but he stretched up, caught Dom's head and kissed him before finishing with the condom and then twisting back around, laying on his belly and pulling a knee up.
Dom had to squeeze his eyes shut and squeeze his dick to keep it together. Even as he covered his dick with lube he figured this would be over really fast. He didn't want it to be. If he could just wait…a few more seconds, a minute maybe, until some of the blood throbbing through his cock eased back. He opened his eyes, looked down at his dick…
He took too long, because Brian shifted again, looking back at him, glancing down at the death grip Dom had on his dick. "Hey…" he said, and covered Dom's hand with his own.
Shit…now that was embarrassing. He filled the condom only a second after Brian touched him, the pressure and strain shaking him all the way to his bones as Brian stripped off the unnecessary condom and milked Dom through the last shudders, stroking him until he groaned.
"Not what I had in mind," he said after a second, feeling breathless, disappointed and sated all at once.
"You looked hot," Brian said, catching the back of his neck, kissing him fiercely. He braced himself with one arm but eased Dom down again, stretching out nearly on top of him. Brian's dick dragged along his hip, rubbed his belly, his mouth moving along Dom's jaw and licking just behind his ear. Dom reached for him, grabbed his hips, his ass, and reached for his dick. Brian went still for a moment when Dom had a good grip on him, putting some space between them. Brian lifted his head and looked down at Dom, quick choppy breaths fanning against Dom’s face, cheeks red, eyes losing focus.
God, he loved seeing Brian like this, stretched out and turned on. This was new, too, welcoming a man’s hard length on top of him, the jut of a penis something he wanted to touch, measure with his hand, not close his eyes and pretend wasn’t there. He wanted to see everything Brian felt, smell it, taste it, lose himself in just how much Brian wanted him, too.
Dom watched Brian, watched his breathing shallow out. Watched Brian lick his lips and found himself echoing the gesture, working the hard length of Brian's cock slowly. He slid his fingers along the crack of Brian's ass, found the shallow dip and slid a finger inside.
Brian's eyes closed and he let out a choked moan, dropping his head, rocking a little between Dom's hands, his arms trembling as he held himself up, gave Dom room to move. Dom pressed another finger inside him, deep, and watched the flush spread across Brian's chest, the shudder that snapped his head back as he started panting in earnest, hips jerking his dick into Dom's hand, then pushing back against the fingers fucking his ass.
Now that was hot. Of all the things Dom could have imagined, all the things he had, this hadn't been one of them. He knew it would feel good, nothing that gripped his dick tight and warm didn't feel good. He'd known Brian would meet him strength to strength without having to fight for it like Letty did. He hadn't ever imagined that watching Brian dance in pleasure, caught between Dom's hands, at Dom's command, would be so fucking sexy or such a turn on. Already blood was filling his dick again, getting firmer when drops of Brian’s pre-come hit his groin. Brian's ass clenched around his fingers so tightly he wasn't sure he could get a third in there -- but he tried, and was rewarded with a low moan from Brian that seemed to start at his toes.
Brian shook all over, arms locked, muscles tense and stretching the skin of his arms and chest. His body twisted slightly, thrusting against Dom's hand and hip.
"Dom…" It might have been a warning, but it sounded more like begging and Dom worked his hand faster, dug his fingers in deeper.
It was like he hit some magic button, found the secret key. Brian went rigid, eyes flashing open as he spilled all over Dom's hand and belly, a rope of come landing on Dom's shoulder, a mark on him he wished he could keep. He liked it, hell, he loved it, the heat and wet, the smell of it, all of it. Something else he hadn’t imagined in Chino -- that getting soaked in Brian’s come would make him feel like he’d won something hard-earned and precious.
Instinct more than experience had Dom ready for the collapse when Brian's arms gave and Dom rocked forward and up, catching Brian at chest and hip. As an embrace it was awkward as hell with Brian half across his lap, but he could feel every aftershock, felt the fluttering in Brian's belly as he tried to take a deeper breath and failed. Dom bent over, pressed his lips to the sweaty curls and braced a leg so he could lay them both back down again, Brian a trembling bundle of warmth covering his chest.
Dom dug his fingers into Brian's hair, stroking through the curls, tugging gently through the tangles. He was about half hard but it only felt good, not urgent. When Brian moved a little, he adjusted, smiling over Brian's head. Who knew Brian would be such a cuddler? Right now he was all long limbs and sweaty skin, the muscles of his ass tightening when Dom rubbed his hand across his cheeks, stroking in between.
Once he got his breath back, Brian touched, too, rubbing his thumb over Dom's nipple, one leg rubbing along Dom's, a lazy lap of his tongue on Dom's skin sending a shiver through him. The room smelled like sex and sweat, the cooler air making Brian shiver, and Dom reached over to catch the edge of the sheets, pulling them over them both.
He dragged a thumb across the scar on Brian's shoulder and Brian twitched, rolled back a little until he was lying beside him on his back. His face was still flushed, eyes closed.
It took a little effort for Dom to roll to his side, studying Brian's face until the blue eyes opened and gazed steadily back at him. That slow grin started again, warm but tired. "That was fun."
Dom's lips pulled back in a grin too. "Still not what I had in mind, but yeah…not too bad." He bit his lip then dropped his head, using the arm he had under Brian's head to lift him a little. He wanted to explore that smiling mouth, and did, not trying to force anything, just enjoying the luxury of taking his time, learning what he liked, what Brian liked.
Brian gave him everything. Pulled him closer with fingers splayed across the back of Dom's skull. When Dom finally pulled back and dropped his forehead to Brian's shoulder, Brian's arms came around him, pulling him in tighter without trying to restrain him, just holding on.
Dom could work with that. Holding on was good.
Dom didn't want to move. He had a pressing reason to, but he fought it off. He was wide awake. Short of Brian blowing his mind once more -- which Dom didn't entirely rule out -- he was up for the duration. He tilted his head over to see Brian's clock, wincing a little as the little display rolled over to 5:45 a.m. First call for breakfast in Chino. His call. That might take a few weeks to work itself out of his system.
He still didn't want to move. If he moved, that meant he'd have to start dealing with all the stuff he had to deal with. Stuff that shouldn't freak him out because it was still familiar, even after months in prison. The garage, working, getting his car, his clothes to see what still fit. The day to day, hour to hour shit that he'd thought a lot about while in Chino, but now seemed too much, too big…too overwhelming to even think about, much less do anything about.
His fingers stroked through Brian's hair again and he lost himself for a minute, the repetitive motion calming him. None of it was that big…this was bigger.
He thought again of Letty, of Mia and the boys and where they fit in this brand new world he’d found. They were up there with the other stuff that he’d have to figure out – telling them, showing them, letting them see that Brian would be part of things from now on, and if they had a problem with it, they’d have to settle it with Dom.
The pressing need became a bit more urgent and Dom eased himself out from under Brian, brushing his temple with his lips when Brian came half awake. "Need to piss. Go back to sleep," he said. Brian blinked at him then closed his eyes.
Brian was still sprawled face down on the bed when Dom finished up, occupying at least part of the mattress that still held the imprint of Dom's body. His jaw was darker from a day's growth of beard, but there were shadows under his eyes as well, that Dom hadn't noticed before, and the scar on his back seemed more vivid against the white sheets.
The rest of his clothes were still in Mia's car, Dom realized, and blew out a breath as he found his slacks, then hesitated and checked the bottom two drawers of Brian's dresser and found his own clothes, clothes Mia had passed to Brian months ago.
He wasn't even surprised Brian kept them. Black sweats and a t-shirt weren't exactly styling but they were clean and comfortable and didn't still smell like the harsh detergents they used in prison.
The kitchen was still a mess from the night before but there was enough room to pull out the coffee maker and it didn't take long for Dom to find what he needed. Despite the new furniture and other things Brian -- and Mia -- had done, Brian's cabinets were still mostly empty. Dom checked the freezer and found frozen dinners. He shook his head. Frozen food was not on the menu and if Dom got to cook it, so much the better.
He gave half a thought to cleaning up a little, only Brian didn't have a dishwasher and Dom really, now, wasn’t ready for Brian to wake up. He needed some time himself, to find a little clear headspace.
Coffee made, his eyes landed on the door. A door he could walk out of anytime he wanted. It seemed like such a stupid thing, a thing people took for granted. You go to the door, you open it, you step out. No one would stop him, no one would ask him what he was doing.
It wasn't even quite light out yet. There was light in the sky, but it was all urban bleed. A few cars on the road; people getting up and heading into work or whatever. Dom eased himself down on the shallow front steps and sipped his coffee.
It was the noise that finally penetrated his daze -- cars on the road, the distant hum of trucks on the highway, the intermittent ghostly hauntings of music, birds, and somebody's dog barking. The edges of a headache started tapping at the base of his skull. His fingers closed around his mug, the porcelain scalding his fingers, but it helped ground him. He closed his eyes and tried to isolate each sound, his shoulders tensing under the auditory assault. The clang of someone's garage door made him jerk -- it sounded like a lockdown.
He knew what it was, remembered the days of disorientation when he'd finally gotten out of Lompoc, where nothing felt quite real -- too much like the vivid dreams of normal that had haunted his nights in prison. They'd haunted him in Chino, too, although not as strongly. He hadn't been in long enough for them to build up to the point where his temper had become the final defense against completely shutting down. He felt a flare of panic rise up, concentrating on the sounds he heard, not wanting to open his eyes in case it was bars on his cell and not an open street and houses he might see.
The snick of the door behind him made him tense up again and he turned his head slightly.
Hearing and vision synched up again as he opened his eyes to see Brian coming out with a mug of his own, wearing LAPD shorts, bare-chested, a smile edging up the corners of his lips. He came forward and dropped down on the step beside Dom, crowding him a little, thighs and arms brushing against each other.
"Didn't mean to wake you," Dom said, hiding his relief in a sip of coffee.
Brian gave him a little nudge. "You didn't. I usually get up around now…or I did. Just never got out of the habit."
For work…something Brian wasn't actually doing full time yet. Dom remembered from a conversation just a few weeks ago that Brian had to requalify to be reinstated at work, had to pass physicals and tests before he could carry a gun again, before he could be back on the streets.
"I told Mia we'd meet her for breakfast at nine-thirty," Brian said. "But I thought maybe you'd sleep in."
Dom shrugged. "Same thing…I slept good enough. Your kitchen's a mess."
Brian grinned. "I saw that. Not even my dishes. They'll keep." He took a swallow of coffee and stretched. "I need a run and a shower…you okay?"
Yes. No. Dom only nodded and sipped at his own coffee, ignoring for a moment the fact that Brian was still watching him. "Go on…" he said and then twisted his head around. "Run, like…"
"Mile and a half," Brian said. "That's the test. Shorter for the sprints. Wanna come?" Brian asked, grinning at him, half in challenge.
Dom almost laughed at him. Well, it was a race. "I think I'm handicapped by shoes, Bri," he said.
"I'll give you a head start." Now Brian was laughing, and Dom shook his head.
"I'll take a rain check. Go on…"
"Okay," Brian said and pulled himself to his feet, running his hand across Dom's scalp.
Dom hadn't moved when he came back out with running shoes and a t-shirt on, stretched a little. "I won't be gone long," he said.
Dom watched him jog down to the street, warming up. Brian crossed over and then really did run. When he was out of sight, Dom hauled himself up and went back inside.
He thought about taking a shower, almost craving it, but recalled vaguely that the hot water heater wasn't that big. Brian would need it, Dom wanted it…they might have to share. That put a big grin on his face and he occupied himself trying to sort out the kitchen a little.
It was methodical and again, familiar, washing dishes. Not something Dom gave a lot of thought to usually. He'd worked Chino's kitchens, on rotation with other cons. It had its perks.
Washing and setting dishes in the drain rack put an order to his thoughts that he wanted. They had time enough to get to the garage before they met Mia and Dom wanted his own wheels almost as much as he wanted that shower. The door was one reminder of freedom, his car would be another. He needed cash, too, and that would be at the garage. Then clothes and then…figure out where he was going to stay. Mia had room, kind of. The two bedroom apartment she and Letty were sharing could be a haven for awhile. He almost resented not having the house to go back to. Almost, but the rent was making up for the shortfall Mia'd been dealing with while Dom was cooling his heels in Chino and the garage was closed. She had money coming in from the market, but that had been marginal. It was the garage that gave them their day to day money -- well it had before Dom got the brilliant idea to hijack trucks, and that money was gone, confiscated, turned back for reparations. Thank God he hadn't needed anything more than a public defender or they'd have been in a whole lot more trouble financially.
But staying with Mia meant Letty, and while there might be a sleeper sofa in the living room, Dom wasn't sure that would fly. Nor would asking Mia or Letty to take it or bunk together.
And he was reluctant to ask Brian, although he figured he knew what the answer would be. Yeah, he was definitely interested in seeing where they could go with this, but going from nothing to everything might be too much even for Brian's easy-going nature, and Dom felt a little tense about it for a whole shitload of reasons.
A year ago, he might even have thought it would be the physical part that freaked him out -- and it was a little bit, but not in the ways Dom might have expected. He wasn't that awkward around Brian, and Brian, God love him, did not have a shy bone in his body when it came to sex, apparently. The freak out was coming with the part of him that had wanted to flip Brian over on his belly when he stretched out on the porch and fuck him all over again. Or the part that really had wanted Brian's mouth on his when Brian had rubbed his head instead.
Yeah, some of it was due to six months of frustration and hand jobs in Chino, of listening to other guys working out their business with each other. Maybe not the hard core barter and whore system of Lompoc, but the undercurrents were there, guys doing long stretches and gang-bangers doing shorter stints inside but who were barely past their teenage hormonal fuck-everything-that-moves phase. There'd been more of that kind of action going on than in a Catholic run bordello. If the older guys, guys Dom's age, were working those kids, they were being incredibly subtle about it and most of them didn't have the brains for that kind of discretion. Plus the "kids", eighteen or not, weren't exactly pussies when it came to defending territory -- it's what had gotten most of them locked up in the first place. They were like wolves.
So, the idea of wanting sex and lots of it…not exactly a surprise. But after Lompoc, even Letty had put aside her jealousy for a time when Dom had gone hunting, wanting the freedom and drinking more than was bright, ready to take what was on offer anywhere, anytime. She'd given him a couple of weeks to get it out of his system, had chafed and bitched a bit in a way that was pretty restrained for Letty, but she'd finally hauled him back into line and he settled in once more willing to take what was on offer.
He didn't have the urge to go hunting this time. Granted, he'd only been out for a day, but the feeling of just settling back into some kind of normal life was far more appealing than taking the tour of all his old haunts to see what had changed, to renew old acquaintances. Even the urge to hit the streets at night and have a little speed and power beneath his hands was more subdued than he expected.
Jesus. Maybe six months had been just long enough for him to be able to see what was important without making him crazy. Maybe he was growing up or getting smarter or something.
He set the last dish in the drainer and left the few pans to soak. The coffee was a little strong and digging around in the refrigerator produced leftovers enough to keep his stomach from growling. He gave thought again to the shower but then wandered back outside, less disturbed by the increasing assault of sound on his ears than he had been before.
Timing or chance was in play when he saw Brian return a few minutes later. He'd been gone no more than a half hour and Dom expected that he'd be running back, sweaty and ready for the shower Dom was viewing more as pleasure than necessity.
Only Brian wasn't running. He was walking and that alone wouldn't have been anything for Dom to notice except Brian had a hand pressed to his chest and even as he waited to cross the street Dom could hear the cough, the one that had sounded more like a tickle earlier but now was loud and painful and wet. He might have missed that, too, except his ears were still overly sensitive to the sounds around him.
Dom had already set his mug aside to go meet him when Brian noticed him, and Dom blinked because one minute Brian was bent over a little and the next he was standing upright, hands down, walking like he hadn't just been scaring the birds.
Six months was a long time for recovery. Dom had thought it was enough, but was rethinking it when he got to his feet. There had been setbacks, yeah, but this…Brian might be upright but he was white under his tan, his jaw set.
It took a stoic to know one.
"Have a good run?" Dom asked, willing to play it how Brian obviously wanted it, for now.
"Yeah…still need to shave a couple of minutes--" Brian never finished. Taking a deep enough breath to speak set off the coughing again, and it was all Dom could do not to just grab him and hold him up.
Dom felt his fist clenching but he kept still, waiting until Brian had finished. "You seen somebody about that?"
It took Brian a moment to answer, a flush in his cheeks that helped his color, but Dom was a little startled by it. What did Brian think he had to be embarrassed about?
Better than being on a ventilator maybe, but Brian didn't seem inclined to say anything else and started walking toward the house. Dom fell in step beside him, not sure how to approach this and a little surprised that he wanted to pursue it. Brian kicked his shoes off and ran a hand through his sweaty hair when he got inside, heading for the kitchen. "Oh, man…you didn't have to--"
"It was bugging me," Dom said simply, eyes raking over the mostly clean counters.
"Thank you," Brian said simply. "Not to bitch, but did you save any hot water?"
"If we share the shower," Dom suggested, and the tension still lingering in Brian's face vanished, that smile of his also banishing any hint of weakness.
"You're not freaked out about any of this, are you?" Brian asked, moving into Dom's space, close enough for Dom to smell the sweat on him. Close enough for Dom to be able to taste it if he just inclined his head a little.
He used his hands instead, spreading his fingers across Brian's hips and pulling him a little closer. "Did you think I would be? No faith." He grinned, and Brian chuckled and then did lean down, teasing Dom's mouth open with his tongue.
Freaked out about this? Not exactly, Dom thought, pushing up Brian's shirt to rub his hands over smooth, damp skin, then pushing down under the edge of Brian's shorts to feel firmer muscle there. Everything around this? Maybe, if he thought about it, which he was determined not to do. He gave Brian a little nudge backward, out of the kitchen, until Brian got a clue and tugged him along, making for the bathroom.
Dom wasn't sure they could actually call what they did "taking a shower". They definitely got wet and yeah, Brian managed to drag shampoo into his hair and rinse it out. Coughed a little, too, but the moist heat from the water seemed to help more than anything and cough or no, Brian didn't seem, well, debilitated in any way by whatever it was. Not that his shower was exactly a prime spot for doing anything that would require the shifting of weight. The fiberglass was too slick, the inset cheap and there was nothing to grab onto, nothing except each other, and plenty of that happened, but too late into the water reserve to get completed before they were both swearing at the rapidly cooling water. Dom got out first -- he didn't have to rinse his hair.
Brian was shivering and laughing when he finally shut the water down, grabbed a towel and rubbed past Dom to finish drying himself off in the bedroom. He pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt he left unbuttoned as he went back to the bathroom.
Dom settled for putting his sweats back on, his t-shirt, and the black, heavy workboots. Sneakers. He seriously wanted a pair of sneakers. And cash. "I need to go to the garage," he said, watching Brian towel his hair dry, slicking the wet hair back over his skull before he shaved.
Brian glanced at the clock and nodded. "We've got time. Mia's got your clothes if you want to ask her to bring them."
It took a moment for that to settle in. He didn't even need to ask; there it was. Dom leaned in the doorway to the bathroom as Brian scraped the last of the fuzz off his jaw and wiped at his face. "I think she might be expecting me to stay with her for a few days."
Brian's eyes met his in the mirror, and Dom couldn't be sure if what he saw there was real, wasn't even sure he saw anything in those blue eyes, because really, Brian could lie with those eyes pretty convincingly.
"Letty, too," was all Brian said, and it was Dom who looked away, scraping the paint off the doorframe with his fingernail.
"Yeah, well that's something I haven't quite sorted out yet."
Brian smiled at him, hung up the towel and turned around. "You've only been out a day, Dom. Less than a day. They need to know you're okay. Let's get moving." He was headed for the front door before Dom realized this was all really familiar. This was too familiar. This was Brian giving him an easy way out. Fuck easy, Brian was breaking down barriers with a bulldozer. Barriers Dom was building just as quickly.
"Hey," he called from the hallway; watched Brian pick up his keys, shove his wallet in his back pocket, and look around to see if he needed anything else.
"We're gonna be late if we don't get moving, if you want to stop at the garage first," Brian said.
"Yeah?" Guileless, eyes steady, voice calm. Too calm.
"I just need to talk to her. Letty," Dom said.
"I know. You want to call her and see if she wants to come? If we’re gonna get your car, you could just meet them. I've got stuff I can do…need to do, actually," Brian said.
Dom felt his temper flash up. Oh yeah, this was familiar: Mr. Cool, Mister do whatever the fuck you want, I'll be fine, O'Conner. It was irritating as shit, maybe because Dom saw reflections of himself in it.
"Brian--" He didn't mean for it to come out so sharply, but it did, his tone snapping Brian's head around and Dom caught the edge of it, the one expression Brian really sucked at hiding. He didn't back down when Dom closed the distance between them. "I just need to talk to her."
"I don’t want to cause problems for you, Dom," Brian said quietly
Dom stared at him, then caught the back of Brian's head, pulled Brian's mouth toward his own and kissed him hard and thoroughly. "You are not the problem, Brian."
Brian swallowed at that. He nodded, his mouth tensing when Dom gave him a mocking little smile. "I don't tell them what to do, Bri. I tell them what I'm gonna do and they can come along if they like…that's everybody: Vince, Leon…Letty."
"Mia?" Brian asked
Dom frowned a little. "Not Mia so much," he admitted and leaned back, rubbing a hand over his face. "Mia is a smart girl."
"Woman," Brian said and Dom blinked. "Woman, Dom. In case you hadn't noticed."
"She's still my little sister."
Brian nodded. "I know. She knows it, too." He said it in a way that made Dom wonder just how much talking Mia and Brian had done in the last few months. They'd spent time together and as far as he knew, things were settled between them, transgressions forgiven, amends made. He had a few amends to make himself. But Brian would not have talked to Mia about this, about them Dom didn't think, and Brian's skittishness suddenly made a whole helluva lot more sense.
"Brian, if Jesse's death, two stints in prison and the Trans didn't come between me and my sister, trust me; you and me isn't gonna do it," Dom said, unable to stop a grin from stretching his lips. "Jeez…do you worry about everybody?" he asked.
Brian lips twitched, and he dropped his gaze, looking embarrassed. "No. Just people I care about."
Dom regarded him for a long moment. "I can live with that," he said. "Let's go," he said cuffing the back of Brian's head.
Brian offered up his keys. Dom took them with a grin. "Did you work on it at all?"
"Guess you'll find out," Brian said and led the way outside, locking the door behind them. "Oh, here," he added and pulled out his wallet and fished out a spare door key, freshly cut. "If. Whenever," he said.
Dom took it and shoved it in his pocket. Now Brian looked uncertain, awkward. Hopeful and steeled against some turn he hadn't anticipated all at once. "Are you freaking out about this?" Dom asked, suddenly feeling a little dense.
Brian took a slow deep breath and nodded. "A little. It doesn't feel quite real, just yet."
Dom nodded, then leaned in under the shadow of the porch, caught the back of Brian's neck and brought their mouths together again, pressed his other hand to Brian's chest, curling his fingers into Brian's shirt, able to feel the heat of him through the cloth . He took his time, lips moving over Brian's, coaxing him, and Brian's heart beat a little faster under Dom's hand. When Dom pulled away, Brian had a little trouble catching his breath.
"That help?" Dom asked, low and soft.
Brian looked a little stunned and a lot pleased. It made Dom want to laugh. "Not really."
"Guess we'll have to keep working on it, then," Dom said and nudged him down the steps.
From the slight smirk on Brian's face, Dom figured the fact that he was impressed showed on his face.
He actually gave the engine a few moments of idling, just enjoying the feel of power vibrating through the seats. The clutch moved smoothly and a tap on the accelerator made the engine rev happily. "You pushed it yet?"
"Only on Mulholland," Brian said. "Opened it up on the Five, but I don't think it's up to any after-hour time trials just yet. Didn't want you to be embarrassed."
Dom chuckled at that and pulled his eyes away from the smile on Brian's face to pay attention to the road. He didn't push it, either, though it was tempting. The wheel under his hands made his fingers itch, and the tachometer kept trying to edge a little higher, so he took the long way, counting on traffic lights to stifle his desire to just hit the accelerator and drive straight through until he ran out of gas. He didn't think Brian would try and stop him, might not even question it.
Traffic was already tight but it wasn't driving Dom crazy. Just being out in it, the sound of it, flashes of color and brightness -- it was all almost too real. Blasts of music came at them from passing cars, from other businesses. It was too loud, too busy after the months of quiet and routine and mind-numbing sameness of Chino.
They stopped at a light and the song blaring from another car was something Dom had never heard, some mix of reggae and hip-hop. Not that he was a huge music buff, but if it was playing, was popular…he'd been in a black hole for six months and surfacing was going to take some time.
It was kind of like nearly drowning only to finally break to the surface.
"Dom?" Brian's voice was like the air he needed to breathe, letting him focus. Worried blue eyes watched him and he could only imagine what was on his face.
"I'm okay," he said to reassure Brian, but it worked on him just as well, at least long enough for him to weave his way back into familiar territory. Seeing his initials on the garage sign bled more of the tension away. This was his, still. Familiar, welcoming. Still standing.
He handed Brian his keys, let him wrestle the padlock of the high chain link fence and followed him up the drive, pulling the Mustang up to the bay doors and waiting for Brian to trot back up to meet him. Brian unlocked the entry door and disappeared inside to hit the door lifts.
Someone had been keeping an eye on the place, and Dom suspected it was Brian, maybe Brian and Mia. New graffiti in places but that was to be expected. The two Airstreams looked like no one had messed with them and Dom stopped again, wondering if Mia had cleared the one Jesse had been living in. He didn't feel up to checking right now, though, and he turned his attention to the big bay doors as they started to rise. When there was clearance enough, he nudged the Mustang into the open slot beside his own car and got out.
The RX7 had a coating of dust on it; almost everything did. Light filtered in through the big wired windows. It was deathly quiet, like the whole place was holding its breath.
Dom let out one of his own and hit the lights. The smell of motor oil and gas, the lingering scent of paint and hot metal felt more like real air to him than the relatively untainted smells of the outside yards of Chino, where dirt and pine and grass had seemed to be all he could smell.
"This place is a mess," he muttered, although in truth it wasn't. Just needed a little cleaning up. It would give him something to do until he could coax business back. Some customers he was pretty sure he'd lost for good, but he'd put the word out that DT's was back in business.
"I'm off the next couple of days if you need help," Brian offered and Dom nodded.
"Leon and Vince can get their butts back in here too, but not today," Dom said, watching Brian as he pulled himself up onto the hood of the Mustang, his feet braced on the front bumper. Brian leaned forward, hands clasped, elbows braced on his knees. The intricately knotted twine friendship bracelet hung loosely on his wrist and Dom found his eyes drawn to it. It looked like it might fall off, was a wonder Brian hadn't lost it yet.
He moved closer, sliding a finger under the twine to touch smooth, tanned skin. The bones of Brian's wrists stood out. He'd gained some weight back but not enough. The loss of it looked more pronounced now that Dom was paying attention. Brian wasn't a small man.
Dom had little fear that Brian wasn't well on the road to recovery, speeding down it really, but he could fit three of his fingers under that thin braid of twine and still have room to stroke Brian's skin.
He didn't ask about it. It wasn't that fancy, a single bead and the little macrame knots Dom vaguely recalled learning in some grammar school art class. Not like the beaded-charmed ones that he saw some kids wearing, that they could buy at any drugstore or mall. He moved his hand and pressed it against the hood, taking a good look at Brian.
The hood of the Mustang was still warm, the glossy finish reflecting the high windows. Between his jeans and black t-shirt, Brian looked a little like a ghost, not quite substantial. Tanned arms stood out against the dark jeans, the t-shirt was loose -- no tell there. Brian wore them that way as far as Dom knew. The blond hair on his arms picked up the same reflected light as the hood.
His face was thinner, his jaw hard where the skin was stretched across it. Brian's lips quirked up in a smile at Dom's studied regard. "What?" he asked.
There were a lot of things Dom wanted to say, things he practiced in his head, questions he still wanted answers to. Questions Brian probably didn't have the answers to anyway, like why things just seemed to make sense when Brian was close. "Just…remembering what’s real," Dom said, hearing his voice break a little. He lifted his head and captured Brian's mouth to cover it.
Definitely not a ghost. Brian tensed for a fraction of a second -- surprise more than anything -- then relaxed into the kiss, his mouth opening, tongue teasing Dom's. He slid forward a little, raising his arms to pull Dom closer, between his legs, knees pressing into Dom's sides. With Brian's legs bracing them both, Dom could move his own arms; his hands skated along Brian's ribs to his back, underneath his shirt.
Brian dropped one foot off the bumper, bringing them closer, his pelvis fitting snug against Dom's, contact and friction firing up both their engines.
Even for Dom this wasn't normal. This wasn't just opportunity, or making up for months of loneliness, this wasn't even just horniness -- this was a hunger that clawed at Dom's guts, that made the muscles of his back tense, that made his chest ache. Brian filled his senses -- clean and sweet, still damp hair carrying the scent of shampoo; skin smooth and warm, firm under his hands. Brian's hands were strong and sure on his back and shoulders, stroking and rubbing, his thighs cradling Dom like Brian was holding him upright, and maybe he was. Brian had his face buried in Dom's neck, tongue tasting him, lips moving over his skin. It took him a minute to realize Brian was talking, murmuring against his throat, the sound humming against his skull. "It's okay, Dom. Whatever you need," Brian said, and Dom could only wonder at what he'd said, what sound he'd made that Brian felt required such steady reassurance.
He needed to get his shit together. Reluctantly, he pulled back, leaving his hands on Brian's hips. He was hard, his dick finding plenty of room in the sweatpants. Brian, too, although maybe not as much, but his jeans were tight and there was a flush to his cheeks. The rest of the garage came back into focus: the filtered light, the smell of it. "I need to …I've got to get some cash…from the safe," Dom said finally pulling his hands away.
"You need help?"
Dom almost snapped back a sarcastic answer, wanting to respond crudely, maybe take this back down to something surface and banal, grab his crotch and leer, but Brian wasn't kidding, wasn't being suggestive. He looked worried.
That cooled Dom's jets a little and he reached up and cupped the back of Brian's neck for a moment. "No. I'm good. You might crank up the car."
Brian nodded and slid off the hood. "It should be fine…I tuned it up. When I worked on mine." But he got the keys.
Dom watched him for a minute before heading to the office, a smile lingering on his face. Brian had worked on his car here. Dom's, too, apparently. Somehow, that reassured him. Stupid really, to be glad a fucking garage hadn't been empty all those months, that someone had been here, working, listening to music. The place hadn't been abandoned entirely. He hadn't been abandoned.
He rubbed at his eyes and went into the office, immediately going to the upright file cabinet and pulling the bottom drawer free to expose the small safe inset in the floor. The scent of the cleaning supplies stored in here made his eyes water.
Right. That would be the excuse, he thought as he worked the combination.
The safe popped and he pulled out a bank bag, checking the contents. He found a couple grand in there, cash receipts he'd never deposited. He'd had Mia deposit any checks, but told her to leave the cash. Hedging his bets before the courts could seize all his assets. His own checking account was gone, cleared of the few thousand he'd kept for when cash wouldn't work. The cash that was left from the heists, he’d also turned in. His one flash of brilliance in the whole criminal enterprise had been never turning the cash around in the garage or market and leaving everything in Mia's name, including the RX7. He owned nothing, hadn't then, didn't now. And somebody, either Tanner or Brian or even the FBI guy, Bilkins, had made a good case for the insurance companies and the trucking companies not going after property by extension, because Dom had no doubt that some lawyer somewhere could have stripped everything from Mia as well and left her on the street with nothing but the clothes on her back and her schoolbooks. In a very real sense, Dom would be paying for the hijackings for the rest of his life, in cash.
Sometimes he wondered what it was about him that inspired such loyalty from his family and friends. It didn't seem to have done any of them much good. Not Mia, not Vince…definitely not Brian. Yet, they'd saved his ass, his life, and not just in the physical sense.
There were guys in Chino who never got a visitor. Not one. Guys who'd been there for years that never saw anyone but their lawyers, if them. Never got a letter. It was no surprise to Dom that so many ended up repeating their stints. At least there, people knew their names.
Him, he'd caught shit for having someone there nearly every weekend. Because he got letters. Because he got pulled out for stints of testifying, for depositions. He'd spent a couple of nights down in LA county lockup when the lawyers required him for more than a day. They'd all visited: Mia, Brian, Letty, even Leon -- and Dom didn't blame Leon for only coming up once a month. He had done his time in LA County and that was no joyride. Vince's mom had come up with Mia a couple of times, his dad as well, fussing over him -- glaring at Dom and Dom couldn't blame him. He couldn't take all the blame for the trouble Vince got himself into, but they'd pretty much been doing it together since they were kids and Vince's dad was pretty clear on who led and who followed.
And this had been worse than any of the trouble they'd gotten into over the years. Vince was going to have a couple of nasty scars. He still limped from where the shotgun had torn out a pretty sizeable chunk of flesh and muscle from his thigh, and he might never get all the strength back in the arm he'd nearly lost. His brush with death hadn't made him any less mouthy, hadn't really improved his temper any, but it hadn't dulled his sense of humor either, something to be thankful for. Having Vince in prison with him had given Dom an opportunity to take a little better care of his friend -- not that he let Vince know he was being watched over. Vince just didn't think things through and never had; he was short-tempered, judgmental, and frequently a pain in the ass. He was also loyal and pretty brutally honest in his own way.
Dom wondered who would have a bigger problem with him and Brian -- Letty or Vince. He leaned back against the office wall, staring at the open door. He could hear the purr of the RX7's engine idling. Brian had the radio on, music barely heard over the engine. Dom leaned a little and saw him, running a chamois cloth over the finish, wiping off the dust. His lips were moving -- he must be singing along although Dom couldn't actually hear him. He stretched across the roof and Dom closed his eyes, the hunger rising up again. Desire. Need. All the shit facing him seemed less overwhelming when he had Brian to focus on.
It was very possible he might lose a friend or two over this, over Brian. His oldest friends, maybe. Leon…Leon didn't worry him so much. Leon was live and let live. Letty…it was fifty-fifty on whether it might be jealousy or betrayal, or if she'd be pissed off because it was a guy or Brian…or whether she really believed that she and Dom would be forever, regardless. It said something that after so many years, Dom probably should be better able to guess which way she'd jump, but he was totally clueless.
Vince…definitely the guy thing. Dom couldn't be sure the fact that Brian had saved Vince's life would be enough to overcome that. If Mia gave him any encouragement, he might be distracted, but…Dom dropped his head in his hands. Brian had been the first serious competition Vince had run into -- something he probably wasn't going to forget either.
The engine cut out but the music kept playing, quietly and Dom realized he'd completely lost track of how much time he'd spent sitting on the floor until Brian poked his head in cautiously. "You okay?"
Dom stretched his legs out and nodded. "Yeah, just thinking. We need to book?"
Brian shrugged. "It's not even nine yet. You're good. Anything I can do?"
Dom pulled a few hundred dollars out of the bag and zipped it back up again before dropping the bag back down in the safe and closing it. "No. I got it," he said and picked up the drawer to shove it back in before getting to his feet. He probably needed to check supplies, make sure the drums of oil hadn't picked up rust or water. Check and make sure the lifts and pneumatics weren't sticking. Check belts and stuff for dryrot. He'd kill to have somebody's old clunker in here to work on. Working on cars he could do in his sleep -- the rest of this, the tangle of emotion and expectations, he wasn’t sure he could handle as well.
He wanted to see Mia and he didn't. Wanted to see the others as well, but not just yet. He wondered if Brian would be willing to pack up a car and head upstate, downstate, Nevada…Timbuktu.
He wanted to run.
He couldn’t do any of it. Couldn't leave the county, much less the state until he'd checked in with his parole officer on Monday.
"Just give me some space, Brian," he snapped, and caught the look of surprise on Brian's face, quickly masked. Brian nodded, backed out, and left him to himself.
Dom tapped his forehead on the cinderblock a couple of times, hoping to knock some brain cells back in place. Then he heard the Mustang's engine fire up.
Fuck. Shit…he moved back into the garage, not sure he could catch Brian before he split.
The hood of the Mustang was up, Brian bent over the engine, and the flood of relief that washed through Dom was so intense he almost dropped to his knees.
Brian's head came up, fixing Dom with that blue eyed stare of his, the one that cut through Dom like a knife, the one that had nothing behind it but cool calculation. No sign of hurt or pain or fear. He slammed the hood down, reached in through the open window and shut the engine down.
"You ready?" he asked.
"No... no. Not yet," Dom said and wanted to say more, to apologize, something. "It's not you, Bri."
Brian nodded, accepting, and swung his butt back up on the Mustang's hood, his arms resting lightly on his knees. His fingers came up to tug at the twine bracelet on his wrist again, twisting it a little so it was tighter, but it went loose again when he moved his fingers.
"You're gonna lose that," Dom said coming a little closer.
"I don't want to cut it to make it tighter," Brian said.
Dom nodded, wondering if he'd ever get the story behind the bracelet, but not feeling like he had the right to ask. Not right now.
He glanced at the upright tool chest and then flipped it open, hunting around until he found what he was looking for -- the sharp end of a micropunch.
"Let me see it," he said quietly. Brian hesitated but finally held his arm out, resting it on his knee. Dom had to get closer to find the knot, carefully working the sharp tip under the frayed strands. Brian didn't say anything, just watched him, palm open and relaxed, not moving as Dom worked the knot.
It really would be easier to just cut the damn thing off and retie it, because the twine was frayed and fragile, Dom pulling individual fibers out and some of them broke, but Brian didn't try to stop him, didn't warn him again, didn't pull his hand back.
The music on the radio shifted to something with an underbeat that jangled on Dom's nerves but he kept at it, willing to take the knot apart one strand at a time if he had to.
It took him maybe ten minutes and all the while he was incredibly aware of Brian -- of how still he was, how even his breathing was, the warmth of his arm, the way the tendons and veins became more pronounced from being held in one position so long. He could smell Brian's sweat mixed with the more metallic and oilier smells of the garage, of warm rubber and acrid exhaust. The edge of his hand brushed across Brian's wrist as he held the tiny knot, and when he finally had it, he let his thumb brush over the thin skin, seeing the blue veins there before setting his tool aside and catching the now free ends.
"Hold it," he said quietly, waiting until Brian gripped the twine, then hunting through the toolbox again until he found the tin of heavily oiled wax used to lubricate tiny parts. He set the tin aside and then carefully tied a slipknot, pulling the bracelet a little tighter, still leaving a gap between the twine and Brian's arm. It left him with longer ends and he waxed those to keep them from fraying further, wrapped and tucked until they were smoothed down along the bracelet itself. Then found a little flange of metal and held it up for Brian to see.
Brian nodded again, bending down to watch Dom press the improvised clamp around the ends and use a pair of pliers to flatten it, close it, so those straggling ends wouldn't get frayed any worse than they were.
No chance of it falling off now and Brian tested it, twisted it until the single bead rested on the back of his wrist. "Thanks," he said.
"I'm sorry," Dom said. He wasn't sure that was what he meant to say.
"It's okay. It's got to be weird for you right now," Brian said, holding Dom's gaze steadily. "I'll try not to crowd you."
Dom dropped his head and took a deep breath. "I'm gonna tell you this…just once more," he said when he lifted his head again. He reached up and caught the sides of Brian's face in his hands. "You are not the problem," he said, and pulled Brian toward him.
No resistance at all, not physically, Brian's mouth not hesitating at all to take what Dom offered -- or maybe it was Brian offering, which felt a little more like the truth, that Dom was taking and Brian was letting him do it with no conditions, no promises. Promises Dom wanted to make but didn't know how to, not yet. Brian slid back down the hood again, like he had before, giving Dom a place to rest, a firm body to lean against. He wished they were back in Brian's bedroom, with the darkness all around so he could take it slow this time. They hadn't managed that yet, to go slow; Dom too eager, Brian too willing.
Dom's hand slid around Brian's back and down, finding the gap between his jeans and his skin, pushing the t-shirt out of his way. Snug fit to push both his hands down along Brian's ass, the fit tight and warm and Dom's dick jumped to attention, anticipating some other tight, warm fit.
He tugged Brian forward until his feet hit the floor, and almost lost it when Brian's tongue slid into his ear and his hand cupped Dom's dick, squeezing and kneading and tickling his balls through the cloth. Brian shifted his hand, Dom's sweats less of a barrier than Brian's jeans, and Dom yelped as a really skilled hand covered him, stroking. Brian had that grin on his face again -- the smug one, the one that really, really enjoyed catching Dom off guard.
"Unless you plan on doing this alone -- again," Dom ground out, catching Brian's wrist.
Brian leaned in, his hand squeezing Dom's dick despite the interference. "I like watching you," Brian said softly into his ear, following his words with a nip to Dom's throat.
Great. Just what Dom needed -- a voyeur who knew what he was doing. Firmly he pulled Brian's hand out of his pants, took a deep breath and reached over to unsnap Brian's jeans. "And I've been doing it by myself for months now…think we could change that?" he said. He couldn't believe he'd just said that.
He wasn't sure what it was about what he said, but Brian eased back, something in his face softening, looking less intense, less predatory, as he pushed the zipper down on his jeans, leaving them open. "You can have anything you want," Brian said, leaning back on the car like some poster boy for gay porn. "As long as it's me."
Dom couldn't help it -- he burst out laughing, and from the still smug look on Brian's face, that was exactly what Brian wanted. Dom leaned in and shook his head. "You practice this shit or what?"
"I have a really good imagination," Brian said catching Dom's head, pulling his mouth close, teasing Dom's lips with his tongue. "I mean it, though. What do you want, Dom?"
Dom knew what he wanted, his hand gripping Brian's hips to pull him closer, feeling the open zipper catch on his sweats, rub against his hard on. He shut Brian up by otherwise occupying his mouth and Brian gave in -- for about two seconds before he started talking again.
"Come on, tell me," Brian said. "You want me to blow you?" he asked, and Dom groaned. Brian kissed him again, sucking on his tongue, releasing him slowly. "Want me on my knees sucking your dick?"
It didn't even sound dirty coming from Brian, it sounded like a prayer, felt like a breeze on his overheated skin. He squeezed Brian's ass, and Brian leaned in again. Dom found himself burying his face in Brian's neck, tasting the sweat on his skin. Brian's arm wrapped around his neck and shoulders, his tongue leaving a path of coolness on Dom's skull from behind his ear and up, as far as Brian could reach.
"You want to fuck me?" Brian asked in the same tone he might have used for "you want fries with that?" but his voice dropped low and breathy. He slid a hand down Dom’s sweats again, got him in a grip tight enough for Dom to know he meant business.
“You can put this,” squeezing a shudder out of Dom, “anywhere you want.”
Brian wanted him dead. This was some kind of weird revenge. Had to be.
Brian asked him again, his lips right next to Dom's ear, in a whisper that sent another tremor through Dom that made his jaw ache. He almost came right then.
"Both? All of it?" Dom finally sputtered out.
Brian's chuckle vibrated against his skull. "Fun as that might be, neither of us are that flexible," he said, and then leaned past Dom, stroking his cock with an irregular rhythm. Dom heard the sound of metal scraping, the jangle of tools hitting the floor until he heard Brian give a triumphant, "Knew it," and pulled back, holding up a condom between two fingers. "I do like the way you keep your toolbox stocked," he said with a grin. He tucked the condom packet between grinning white teeth and moved his hands, but only far enough to push Dom's sweats and boxers down in one smooth move.
Cooler air brushed across Dom's ass, made his dick want to shrink a little but then Brian's hand was back, warming him up, stroking him with a rhythm so perfect Dom wondered briefly if he hadn't somehow managed to get a glimpse of the surveillance tapes from Chino. Then he didn't care how Brian knew, only that he did, and found himself pushing into his hand, reaching out to press a palm against the Mustang's hood because his knees were giving out.
The rhythm eased off and Dom watched while Brian tore open the packet and stretched out the rubber, his head ducking down as he rolled the latex over Dom's dick, going easy, trying to prevent a repeat of the morning, probably.
"Lean back," Brian said, guiding him, keeping Dom from falling over his own pants to get him against the hood of the Mustang, before crouching down.
There wasn't anything Dom could do but push into his mouth when he offered it, groaning out loud when Brian pressed his hips back and licked and sucked and covered him. "Brian…" Dom had to warn him, wanted to. He didn't want to give it up alone again…he really didn't.
Almost before Brian's name was out of his mouth, Brian was getting up, gingerly, and his jeans were coming down…all the way down and off, sneakers too, stripping until he stood in front of Dom with nothing but his t-shirt on and he reached for that as well, but Dom stopped him, fisted his hand in the cloth and pulled Brian to him, kissing him hard. Pulling back, Dom leaned down and swept up Brian's jeans, rolled them over his arm and pressed them to the hood of the Mustang. He set his hip against them to hold them in place before letting his hand slide up under the back of Brian's shirt, then down along his ass, fingers stroking the tight warm crease there. The touch sent a shudder through Brian and when he staggered, Dom caught him with an arm across his chest, burying his face in Brian's neck for a minute and breathing deeply.
Brian took the step he needed and bent down, spread his hands across the metal but his arm span wasn't that wide and he ended up with his hands splayed on the hood, legs open wide and braced.
He looked illegally good spread out there, and Dom knew he’d never razz Brian about the ‘Stang again. As far as he was concerned, that car didn’t owe them a thing after today.
Dom leaned against him, pushing Brian's shirt up, pressing lips and hands to the warm skin, pushing his dick between Brian's legs. Christ he felt good, smelled good, and Dom might have been content to just jerk his dick in between Brian's legs, rub it up against his crotch until he came, almost lost it anyway when Brian sighed and relaxed against the hood of the car, barely holding himself from sliding off the warm, shiny metal, and Dom settled his own weight a little more firmly against Brian's back.
He gripped the end of his dick and found Brian's hole with his thumb. At that first touch, Brian moaned and twitched underneath him. God he was tight, almost too tight, despite the saliva Dom added to his dick, trying to wet Brian a little.
"This isn't..." he said, started to say until Brian twisted a little and met his eyes.
"Don't worry about it…just fuck me," Brian said, softly, not impatient, but certain, sure.
Dom's brain shut down, but his body knew what to do and his dick absolutely knew where it wanted to be. He pushed in and Brian grunted, tensed, but got his hands under him and pushed back. Dom gripped his shoulder and his hip, caught a glimpse of Brian's face, lower lip caught between his teeth when Dom's dick got impatient and shoved in harder. Hard enough to make Brian grab for purchase on the slick hood that he couldn't find and he went down. Dom followed, weight and momentum driving him into Brian's ass suddenly and fully.
Shit…Christ. He moved without thinking, pressing Brian down, his hips thrusting against the resistance in Brian's ass, the tight friction burning through his nerves. He tangled one hand in Brian's hair, the soft strands caressing his fingers in direct counterpoint to the firm, nearly rough grip Brian's ass had on his dick. Somehow Brian's t-shirt had gotten rucked up under his arms, Dom's fingers digging into the sleeve at the shoulder and he was glad he'd actually given two seconds thought to shoving the folded jeans under Brian's hips. He had almost all his weight on Brian's back, had to be driving Brian's dick against the car…and it couldn't be pleasant or comfortable, but all he heard was Brian grunting, dragging in stuttering breaths as Dom thrust, exhales hissing out in a stop and start that almost sounded like pain. Brian's fingers were curled into fists on the hood of the car, but he pushed back against Dom, meeting him, while his whole body shook and trembled underneath Dom's.
Dom made himself stop, grinding his teeth because it was harder than he could imagine, he was still harder than he thought possible, like there wasn't room left in Brian's ass for him to pull out or push in.
Brian sucked in a breath, steady and slow and his fingers uncurled, body relaxing.
"Move, Dom…" Brian said, slightly raising his hips again, shifting the angle and Dom groaned and did as he was told, because it was a hell of lot easier to follow instructions than it was to think about any of this. And it was easier suddenly, his dick sliding in and out of Brian's ass when he went slower. It was more intense, too, feeling every spasm of muscle that closed around him, Brian's heat washing through him, into him. He shifted a little and Brian jerked and moaned, scrabbling a hand beneath him and Dom eased up a little to give him room to move, wanting to pull on Brian's dick himself but unable to let go.
"That's it…yeah…yeah…" Brian was muttering in between quickened breaths, the rhythm falling into place between them until Dom thought they'd never stop, that they'd found that perfect pace, that perfect balance that would let them do this for hours, days…forever -- and feel good, feel great, the whole time.
His dick had other ideas. He barely choked out a warning, felt Brian tense up around him, shove back, and Dom was coming so hard and fast he was surprised he didn't pass out. He felt Brian spasm around him again, swearing and triumphant, and the smell of him, of come on metal, on Brian's skin, of sweat, almost made Dom come a second time.
He dropped down on Brian again, burying his face in the nape of Brian’s neck, sweaty curls tickling his nose and cheeks, trying to get his breathing under control. His heart pounded so hard it should have echoed off the hood. Brian seemed completely relaxed, boneless to the point that Dom thought if he moved at all, Brian might just slide off the hood and onto the floor of the garage.
Dom got his feet under him, found strength somewhere and pushed up, easing himself out of Brian's body and stripping off the condom and dumping it in the trash. The imprint of the folds of his own t-shirt decorated on Brian's back, reddened marks showing on his upper arm. Brian took a deep breath and pushed up as well, unsteadily, and stretched, craning his neck to look back at Dom. He grinned, and rapped his knuckles on the hood of his car. "Buy American," he said, but his eyes weren't on the Mustang at all, but raking up Dom's body to rest on his face, and Dom felt laughter building up in his chest.
He had no idea how Brian did it, but he consistently made Dom laugh. And it was funny, the two of them naked from the waist down, their dicks swinging free and limp. Dom took a step forward, almost tripped, and Brian caught him. Once more he dug his fingers into Brian's hair, loving the feel of it, loving the flush on his face, and kissed the smiling mouth. Brian returned the kiss with interest until they parted and he dropped his head to Dom's shoulders.
"I think…my jeans are not going to work for breakfast," he said after a minute, and Dom glanced down and chuckled again. Nope, Brian had definitely made a mess of them, on them. Reluctantly, Brian pushed away from him and went digging into the back seat, pulling out a gym bag and sniffing at the clothes he had there. He found shorts, made a face but pulled them on nonetheless, while Dom pulled up his own pants. Brian found a towel in the bag, too, and used it to wipe a few stray spatters of come off the Mustang’s hood.
"We should go," Brian said, tossing the towel and his jeans into the bag. He leaned against the side of the car, eyes resting on Dom, just that faint smile to his lips, like he didn't want to leave, didn't want to do anything but stand there and look at Dom.
Dom understood the feeling. It seemed stupid, but it felt safe here, in his garage, with Brian. Beyond this, everything else was uncertain, not as clear. He rubbed a hand over his scalp and nodded. "Yeah. I'll get the doors."
Not the time or the place. It wasn't even really fear of getting caught, of testing the judge's warning that he'd nail Dom but good if he so much as got caught jaywalking. He'd pushed that risk before, over and over. Six months had given him time to really look at how much his recklessness could cost. Not him. If it was just him it wouldn't matter. But it wasn't and it hadn't been for a lot longer than he was willing to admit.
He pulled into the street and Brian followed.
Yeah, he nudged it a little, just past the speed limit, took a few tight weaves just to remember how the RX7 handled and Brian stayed right on his tail. It was kind of fun, in heavy morning traffic, keeping it together, keeping it close and Dom found himself grinning into the side mirror, catching glimpses of Brian grinning too.
The restaurant was small, crowded, and Dom pulled his car into a slot in the shopping center next to The Coffee House, rather than try and find a space in the smaller lot. He had to clamp his jaw down hard, the sounds and smells and movement all around him too much like trying to watch a movie while driving -- things catching his eye only to turn out to be nothing more interesting than someone backing up. And God…he wanted cotton for his ears. He didn't remember the sensory overload being quite this bad before.
Brian pulled in beside him and got out, checking his watch before coming up beside Dom. He didn't say anything, only eased himself onto the hood of Dom's car. Not crowding him, Dom noted. Close enough to touch, but not crowding him.
He watched Brian, saw his eyes tracking the movement of people and cars, just as Dom did only Brian wasn't tense about it. This was all normal…it was, Dom knew it. He leaned back as well, beside Brian, and took a deep breath.
Brian was fiddling with his bracelet again, but not looking at it, tanned legs braced on the bumper and the light picked up the individual hairs there, golden fuzz that blurred the otherwise clean lines of muscle and flesh. Dom wanted to reach out and stroke those hairs, wondered if it would make Brian shiver. Wondered if touching Brian would let him focus on one small thing instead of the bazillion small things that kept distracting him.
"Time?" he asked.
"Twenty after, "Brian said and leaned back on his elbows. "I don't see Mia's car yet."
Dom hadn't even thought to look but now he did, scanning over the parked cars and didn't recognize any of them. "She's never late," Dom said.
"No, but she likes to cut it close," Brian said with a grin and Dom found himself answering it with a nod.
Dom dropped his gaze, drove his heel into the asphalt a couple of times. "You and her…you're okay?"
Brian sucked on his teeth and slid forward, hunched over a little. "Mostly. Yeah. I treated her bad, Dom," he said quietly, eyes sliding up to look at the sky. "I haven't forgotten it. It makes it worse…you know. Because I can't really…" he cleared his throat and slid off the car to stand. "I can't really be sorry about why," he said eyes settling on Dom, taking him in -- not with lust or desire, just resting on Dom's face like he was seeing something incredible, something he wasn't sure was entirely real. "So, I try to be careful, with her, you know?" Brian said and dropped his gaze, staring back toward the restaurant.
Yeah, Dom knew. Maybe once he hadn't but now he knew. He moved as well, coming up behind Brian and laid a hand on his neck, rubbed his thumb up under his ear and watched Brian swallow. "Yeah...let's grab a table," he said and gave Brian a little nudge forward.
They walked and Dom didn't let his hand fall from Brian's neck. In a weird way he felt kind of blind, like Brian was leading him to unfamiliar places. Which he was, but Brian didn't seem all that certain of the path either, but he kept moving and Dom was surprised all over again by how much he trusted that Brian wouldn't let either of them fall.
There was a crowd at the door, people going in, coming out, carrying cups and boxes that smelled amazing. Brian was still leading and Dom dropped both hands on his shoulders, just so they wouldn't get separated -- this was obviously a popular place.
Then he saw Mia, sitting in corner booth in the back, her head turned just enough for Dom to recognize her profile. Some huge fake potted fern almost hid her and Dom steered Brian that way. He pulled Brian back and leaned in. "There, in the corner," he said and Brian turned toward him, almost close enough to kiss. Too close not to actually.
Dom didn't really mean to, it was more accident and opportunity than intent and Brian looked surprised and pleased even though their lips barely even touched, but Brian relaxed under his hands, pressed his body to Dom's like a promise of later, then turned back around and before Dom could even take a step, Brian stopped, almost went rigid, staring.
Letty. Dom had missed her behind that fucking bit of silk and plastic. But there she was now, on her feet and she'd obviously seen them.
Seen them. Not that it probably made much difference. She'd had months to feel the distance, just as Dom had. And of everyone on the team, Letty was the least likely to miss a detail. Maybe Vince -- but Vince was willfully blind most of the time.
Letty wasn't blind and she didn't ignore anything, least of all any time Dom might look elsewhere.
Brian tried to duck away and Dom gripped his arm -- not tight -- squeezed it, before pushing past him, putting himself between Letty and Brian
He could see her jaw working, grinding her teeth, her eyes flicking past his shoulder to Brian before narrowing.
"Oh, no. You didn't…" she said, more accusation than question. She wasn't talking loud but the place was crowded. Behind her, Mia was on her feet, eyes wide, worried.
"You wanna sit down?" Dom asked her, taking a step forward. Letty didn't back off and he didn't expect it, but it made her look up at him and that made her madder.
"Tell me you did not just -- kiss him?" she said flatly.
He glared down at her. Shit. Leave it to Letty to forget the whole rest of the world when she was pissed off.
"You want to step outside?" he asked, dropping his voice.
"No. Right here is fine," she said, jaw clamped.
Letty had a right hook better than most guys he knew and Dom should have seen it coming. He heard her fist hit his face before he felt it, even though it rocked him sideways. Some woman shrieked out in alarm, and he felt Brian's hand at his back, blinked as the pain hit and then twisted before Letty could lash out at Brian too.
He wasn't fast enough, but Brian was. He tapped Dom once and then he was gone, and Letty after him.
"Fuck," he said and followed, aware of Mia pushing through the crowd of waiting patrons, of the manager moving toward him warily.
"Jesus, Dom," Mia spat at him and shoved past him.
The scene in the parking lot wasn't any better and people were staring. Brian, however had sense enough to put the bulk of somebody's Acura between he and Letty.
"That something they teach you in cop school, cop? Cocksucking? You fucking bastard!" She wasn't even trying to keep her voice down, and it might have been funny the way she was trying to edge around the car to get to Brian and Brian dancing around, keeping the car between them.
"Letty! Lay off!" Mia said.
"Don't you fucking start with me, Mia!" Letty snarled back at her. "Did you know about this? Were you gonna tell me your fucking brother turned faggot? Huh?" She turned around again and launched herself over the hood of the car.
"Shit!" Brian said and he ran; twisting and dodging and stumbling as he nearly got clipped by someone in the parking lot.
"Letty!" Dom ducked into the parking lot as well. He wasn't even sure what she would do, could do if she caught Brian, but he was really glad the chances were high that she wasn't carrying, although Brian might wish he were if she caught him.
Brian ducked between two cars, heading for his own, climbing the short, steep embankment to the upper parking lot.
And then tripped on the uneven ground. It wasn't so much the fall that made Dom run faster after them, as the cough that got set off when Brian hit the pavement.
He reached Letty just as she was reaching for Brian and grabbed her from behind, trapping her arms and twisting, lifting her away.
Letty didn't stop fighting and despite Dom's strength and the weight difference, Letty had been taking on people bigger than herself since she was five. Her struggles almost sent them both down the hill but he gritted his teeth and found his balance, staggered forward and pinned her against the hood of his car.
"Get off me, you motherfucker!" she yelled, kicking and still twisting. It was like holding onto a wildcat but Dom had practice at holding back this particular two-legged feline.
"Chill out," he snapped at her, pressing her down. "You want to beat the shit out of someone, I'm your problem Letitia."
"Not any more, asshole," she spat, gulping air. "Let me go and I will kick your ass. Faggot. Cocksucking, lying bastard!"
"Shut up," Dom said. "Before someone calls the cops."
"He is a cop!"
Brian was sitting up, still coughing, face as red as Letty's and Mia was watching them, close to Brian, but she wasn't offering to help him up or anything.
"I know that," Dom ground out and eased his grip a little, pulling Letty up and making her face him.
"You're fucking a cop? You letting him put his dick in your ass, D?" Letty spat at him. She had blood on her lip where she'd bitten it; her face was red, eyes hard and cold and wet looking. Shit, if she started crying he might just kill himself. "Is this like last time? You just need a little change of pace, Dom-i-nic?" she snarled, over-enunciating his name in a way he hated.
That brought him up short and he stared at her. "No. I didn't know you'd be here…"
She waggled her head at him, "Oh, and that makes this what? My fucking fault?"
"No! I was going to talk to you, say…tell you. Not like this. Not just…slam you with it."
She put her hands on his chest and shoved him backward and he went, letting her get clear of the car. Brian got to his feet, sucking air but at least he was breathing rather than just exhaling forcefully.
"So, what is that? What is it? Him and you? You think I'm going to wait until you get tired of your new hole?" Letty rounded on him. "You fuck Vince while you were inside, too, Dom? That the new team rule? We all gotta bend over and take whatever you dish?"
He knew she was pissed -- he knew how she could be when she was -- vicious and cold and there was nothing below the belt that was off limits. "You think I planned this? That I wanted this?" Dom snapped back at her. "This has got nothing to do with being in prison…nothing to do with…with you."
"Nothing to do with me. Right. You got that fucking right, you son of a bitch," she said.
"Shut the fuck up," she said, cooler now and looked at Mia. "Did you know? Did you?"
Mia stared at her, pressed her lips together.
"Shit," Letty said and smiled, lips stretching over her teeth. It wasn't a pleasant smile; it twisted her face in unattractive ways. "I thought we were friends…friends," she said and looked back at Dom. "If nothing else….I thought we had that, D."
"We did. We do. I was going to talk to you. This isn't how I wanted it to go down."
"No..no, I'll bet it's not," she said. "So, when you were going down on him, what did you think? Were you thinking? Got a little taste for now, Dom? You always like it when I do it…I didn't know I was giving you lessons all this time." She tossed a look over her shoulder. "So how was he, Brian? He take you all the way or did he choke on the clutch?" she asked.
"I didn't --" Dom started and Letty laughed at him.
"You didn't? Jeez, Brian you don't know what you're missing!" she said. "That mouth of his is good for things other than yapping and lying."
"I didn't lie to you," Dom said and knew it was a mistake. He should have kept his mouth shut, let her get it out of her system.
"No, you just didn't bother to tell me the truth," she snarled at him. "You don't get to do that to me, Dominic. Not to me. Not this time." She got in his face. "You get a little taste for ass and now you miss it? Missing the inside already, doing a little hard cock instead of hard time? This what prison did to you, D?" she asked, demanded, but she was studying him; her mouth set,
Something she could understand. Something that wasn't her. It pissed him off.
"Yeah, Letty. That's it," he said evenly, spread his arms. "I went to prison and came back a faggot, because obviously, what we had wasn't enough…"
This time he saw it coming and he almost didn't catch her wrist in time. Even so, her nails raked his face before she jerked her arm away. "You fucking -- cock sucking bastard," she said. "Always your way, any way you have to have it. You don't even know what's real any more," she sneered. "You don't get a pass on this one, Dom. When you crash and burn this time, you're on your own. You want his dick so bad -- I hope you choke on it," she said viciously and swung away, heading back to the lower parking lot.
She shot him a bird over her shoulder, head high, back straight and tense and people just stopped and let her pass. Not ten seconds later her car peeled out of the parking lot like she'd hit the Nos standing still. Horns sounded and tires screeched but she cleared it all, ripped down the road like the cops were chasing her.
"Fuck," Dom said softly and glanced back. His eyes rested on Mia first and she looked torn between pissed off and sad.
"You should have told her, Dom. You should have told me," she said and glanced down at Brian. He hadn't moved from where he was sitting on the curb. She looked back at Dom. "I'm going to need a ride. Letty drove me here."
Brian nodded and got up, glanced at Dom, face expressionless except he was still a little red and pale -- interesting combination.
"I'll take you," Dom offered. "Brian--"
Brian shook his head. "Do what you have to. Whatever you want," he said evenly, nothing at all in his voice but distance and cool as he got to his feet and brushed his ass off. He sounded pissed -- or as pissed as Dom had ever heard.
"Wait…wait," Dom snapped out.
"For what?" Brian asked.
Dom didn't have an answer for him. But Brian waited, gave him a lot of time, too much time until Brian looked away, tossed his keys in his hand and caught them. "Right. Take care of business, Dom. I'll see you."
He should stop him, Dom thought, watching Brian get in his car, pull his sunglasses on. He should stop him because something had gone wrong and not just with Letty and he didn't know what it was.
But he didn't know what to say.
"Dom…" Mia was watching him watch Brian pull out. "Shit…shit…shit…Dom. God." She flopped down on the hood of his car, closed her eyes.
"I didn't mean to -- for her, you, to find out that way," Dom said and eased down beside her, bent low and rubbed his face; he might just puke.
"That's not what I'm talking about!" she snapped. "Jesus, Dom! Yes, you should have told me, us. Okay? I believe you! This was -- bad timing, bad…planning," she said and got up. "It's not like I didn't guess something was going on but, God…"
"What?" he snapped, jerking his head up, angry now and Mia was the only one he could take it out on -- only he couldn't. Wouldn't, damn it. "Get in the car. I'll take you home."
She stared at him for a long moment then went to the door and got in. Dom took a couple of deep breaths and followed her.
He was extra careful not to slam the door. The way he felt, he might just snap it off its hinges. "What's the address?"
She didn't have much to say to him other than to give directions and Dom was just as glad. Mia was pissed off at him but he wasn't sure about what, exactly. He also wasn't in the mood to get into it with her at the moment.
And Mia, of all people, knew better than to push it.
The apartment was small, with two tiny bedrooms, a crowded-feeling living room, a small kitchen and one bath. What it lacked in size was made up for by off street parking and an easy climb to the second floor and lots of light.
Dom hovered in the doorway for a long moment, recognizing some furniture, some of the art on the walls, gritting his teeth when he saw the colorful hand-made serape on the couch. Letty's. She'd gotten it a few years ago at some cultural festival that Mia had dragged them all to. It was probably meant to be an art piece but Letty had liked the colors and the feel of it. She'd carried it around in her car for months, perfect for spreading out on the grass, on the beach.
Other things of hers were scattered all over, a mix of her things and Mia's and things he'd grown up with that made his head ache.
"You want coffee?" Mia asked him, voice subdued.
"Yeah." Then, "Thanks," he said and eased onto the sofa, rubbing his jaw. It was swelling; Letty had a lot of power in those small fists. The scratches stung but he didn't pull his hand away with any blood on his fingers. He hoped she hadn't hurt herself. He sincerely hoped no one else got in her way today.
He heard the coffee pot start gurgling, but Mia stayed in her small kitchen, fidgeting, keeping her distance and Dom watched her. There was hardly room for her to pace in there but she was doing a good job of trying. He should say something. Apologize, but it was stuck in his throat because this -- this thing between he and Brian -- wasn't what he wanted to apologize for. Not any of it. He had plenty on the list of apologies he owed his sister that had nothing to do with Brian at all.
He also had a lot of things to say to his sister that didn't include apologies. Like thank you and I love you and…he dropped his head in his hands. He should never have stayed with Brian last night. It had been a bad idea.
Except…he didn't know where he'd be, how he'd be if he hadn't. Take that step, reach for what he'd been waiting for, keep a promise -- one. To himself.
Mia finally came out, carrying mugs, setting Dom's down in front of him and sitting on the coffee table in front of him. He reached for it. His stomach growling loud enough to hear.
Mia glanced at him quickly. "You want something? I've got eggs and --"
"Later," Dom said, sipped at his coffee and nearly scalded his tongue. He set the cup down and looked at her.
She looked unhappy. Not pissed off, just unhappy. "I really didn't plan on springing it like that, I just--"
Mia waved an impatient hand. "There wasn't any good way to tell her. She's…she's probably more mad that you said it first. That it was over," she admitted.
Dom sucked in a slow breath. Yeah. That would be part of it. Mia was playing with her coffee cup, testing the temp with a finger tip and sucking it. She liked her coffee the same way Brian did, he realized; lots of cream and overly sweet. He had a flash of a much younger Mia, sitting at the kitchen table in the morning, drinking her heavily creamed coffee with a spoon while Dom and their father went over the car ads in the paper, planned out a day at the garage.
"How you been, Mia?" he asked, taking a cautious second sip. Mia looked startled.
"Okay. Good mostly," she said slowly. "Light class load. Doing some tutoring on the side. Picked up some accounting classes," she added watching him.
"You're good with numbers. You always have been," he said, wondering if she'd told him that before. Accounting. Did you need that for med school? He didn't know -- in truth he had no idea what classes she'd need at all for med school, only that she'd always impressed the hell out of him, carrying home books and talking about things he could barely pronounce, much less understand.
"I like them. They make sense…always come out the same," she said and looked guilty. "I'm thinking about changing majors. I could finish faster, get an MBA instead of having to do an internship -- wouldn't cost as much as med school. Or nursing. There's a nursing shortage, you know. "
She was talking about something that didn't make sense. "Changing majors…I thought you wanted…" he stopped, bit back what he wanted to say. He didn't want to fight with Mia. Not at all. "You like it, these other classes? Then you should…you should--"
He stopped. He should shut up. What had Brian said?
He looked at Mia. She was watching him, not frowning but looking puzzled. Waiting.
All grown up. On her own. He glanced around the apartment. He couldn't move in here, not even for a little while. Not because of Letty or anything else. They couldn't share a house anymore -- not now anyway.
That hit him a whole lot harder than Letty's punch. "You like it here? This apartment?"
She looked surprised at the question but nodded. "Yeah. I mean it's small but it's nice. Not so much…" She chewed on her lower lip. "Easier to keep up with, you know, when I get busy."
Busy life. School and classes and however much work she was putting into the market, handling Dom's stuff, their stuff -- what was left of their life before.
"There's room, Dom. Or we could get a bigger one. There's a three bedroom up the next--"
He waved her off. Shook his head, tried not to choke on the knot in his throat. "No. No, this is good for you. And Letty--"
"Dom, I love Letty like a sister but you're my brother," she said firmly, moving to sit next to him. "There's always gonna be a place. A few more months and we can tell Rosa we're moving back. They'll be good. We'll give them time."
"No. No we should sell it," he said and got up suddenly. Sell the house, salvage what they could. Make sure Mia signed the papers -- she'd have to anyway because Dom's name was on nothing.
"No," Mia was firm and now she looked worried --resolute -- but worried. "Dom…I'm not selling the house. Not now. Not today, maybe someday but no. And you --" she took a breath and gripped his arm pulled him round to face her, and looked up at him. "God…I missed you," she said finally, eyes wide and brown and wet.
He had no defense against that. Not her tears; he'd been able to ignore them when it suited him. But Mia's love? None at all. Never had. Never would if he was any kind of man at all.
This was easier, just to fold her in his arms and hold on. To feel her small hands at his back, the silky soft texture of her hair on his cheek, under his lips. "I missed you too. You have no idea how much," he said roughly.
She squeezed him hard, hard enough to make him grunt then chuckle and she lifted her head, a smile pulling up half her mouth, and she looked at him hard. Like their mother used to do when Dom would come in dirty -- trying to check and see if he'd been fighting.
She cupped his jaw, ran her thumb over the scratches and shook her head. "Let me get a washcloth for those," she said and he let her pull away. Sat back down while she went to the bathroom and came back with a wet cloth. It eased the sting and he held it in place while he sipped his coffee; now cool enough to drink.
She watched him for a minute then sighed, eased back down on the coffee table so she could see his face. "Dom, what are you doing?" she asked.
It was a fair question but not an easy one and he leaned back, rubbed at his eyes. "I did not mean for her or you to find out that way," he said.
"I know that. You can be stupid sometimes, D, but you aren't usually cruel. And that was…" She sighed again and picked up her cup. "You should…you should call Brian."
He looked at her sharply. Not what he was expecting. "What-- why?"
She had color in her cheeks. "You didn't even hear what you said. Just call him and make sure he's okay."
"What, you're worried about Brian?" Dom asked, feeling sucker punched. What had he said?
"I'm worried about you. But if this thing -- if you're really gonna be in this thing with him….shit," she said dropping her head. The rueful smile on her face reassured him a little but the flash in her eyes had him worried. "Just trust me and call him," she said and got up, grabbed her cell phone out of her purse and handed it to him.
He was still confused but he took it. Found Brian's number and dialed.
"O'Conner. Hey, Mia," he sounded okay. He sounded good, glad to hear from her.
"Dom." There was silence for a moment. "You okay?"
"Aside from feeling like an idiot and a sore jaw, yeah. You?" Dom asked feeling awkward as hell but when he glanced up, Mia was grinning with him.
"I'm thinking about investing in body armor," Brian said and that made Dom smile. "What do you need, Dom?"
He glanced at Mia and she looked away, chewing on her thumbnail. "I...uh. Nothing I just wanted to check," he said feeling lame.
Brian sounded a little surprised. "I'm okay. Thanks," he said and Dom blinked. "I thought I might…you going to stay with Mia?"
"No. I don't know…it's kind of tight. And Letty -- "
"Yeah. That might be a little awkward," Brian said.
He sighed, scratched at his sweats. "I'm going to have to settle some things. Get some stuff handled."
"I get it. It's cool," Brian said. "Look, Dom. Crash at my place. I'll make myself scarce for a couple of days."
"What? No. Brian--"
"No. Listen to me. It's cool. I should have offered earlier. You're a day out, Dom."
"You don't need to disappear." I don't want you to.
Brian chuckled. "I'm not going to. Just giving you some room. Look, I'm going to run some errands, pick up some food, then head back to the house. Call me or come by. It'll work out," he said, easy and confident. Like he knew it would work out. Somehow.
"Okay, Bri--" he said before he could change his mind. "Don't vanish until we talk," he said and waited
"All right," Brian said but Dom didn't misread the hesitancy in his voice. "I'll be back at the house in a couple of hours. By lunch anyway."
"All right. I'll see you then," Dom said and let Brian ring off first. He glanced at Mia. She was deliberately not looking at him. She picked his cup and her own and went to get more coffee. He followed her.
"We should probably go over the accounts," she said, all business. "You opening on Monday?"
"Probably Wednesday," Dom said going along for the moment. "I need to check stock, make some calls. Meet with my parole officer."
"There's still a box of the old flyers in the office. A meet later this week, we could put out the word."
"A meet?" Dom asked hauling himself up on the counter. "Who's wording you?"
She gave him a quick grin. "Hector. He's been around. Checking. Talks to Letty mostly. Edwin too. They've been dropping your name for a couple of weeks," her smile slipped to a frown for a second. "You can still do that, right? Nothing in the parole--"
He nodded, feeling bad that she was worried about it. "I can still do mods."
"But you're not going to race right?" she asked suddenly, the frown deepening.
"Mia…" he blew out a breath, feeling a little irritated but it wasn't her fault. "I'm not going to do a damn thing to even make them look sideways at me. Not this time. You're not even going to recognize me."
"That's not what I meant," she said, offering him his cup back. He set it aside, laid his hands on her shoulders.
"Yeah, it is," he tipped her chin up. "Older. Smarter."
She eyed him skeptically. "Six months doesn't seem long enough to recover from a brain transplant," she said wryly.
He grinned back at her. "I was motivated."
Her gaze softened, the humor fading from her eyes even though her lips still curved. They were heading back into uncertain ground. "Yeah. I guess so. I'll get the books."
Dom had the urge to push it a little but he let her go, slid off the counter to head back to the living room, glancing around the room. He could hear Mia rummaging through papers, drawers closing. His eyes rested on a tall narrow open glass shelf, photos there, in the little cheap acrylic slide frames. He and Mia, older pictures of their parents. The team. Most were Mia's; he recognized them from her old room, from the albums at the house. Letty wasn't much of one for keepsakes. Mia had stuff squirreled away from when she was a child. Dom was the same way.
He'd put her here. It didn't matter so much that she might like it, have gotten comfortable in this small apartment. Maybe she would have moved out someday on her own anyway. Met somebody. Dom had never thought that far ahead, had expected life to keep going on as it had -- maybe with a few curves here and there, but he'd never thought about losing his home. About losing the life he'd known, like it was permanent and unshakable.
There were times when he thought dead would be easier. He hadn't had much to do but think about it. Like what would have happened if he'd hadn't been able to walk away when he rolled the Charger. If that trucker's shot had hit the fuel tank or taken out a tire.
He supposed he wouldn't have known or cared what happened to everyone else. Not how it had gone down though. Brian had pointed that out again and again from the start. This is where he was, this was what had been dealt. Deal.
Brian had made him mad a couple of time, spouting that in-the-moment shit when he'd visit. Like some fucking Buddha of the present. Made him madder because it made sense but didn't help in much in Chino.
He found himself squeezing his fists, wanting to break something; the only things in reach weren't his. There was very little that was any more and that was no one's fault but his own. If Mia loved him any less he'd have nothing. Nowhere to go, no way to make a living. The garage, the market, none of it was his not on paper. It had even been his decision, conscious, thorough so that his failures would rob Mia of everything too. All he had to do was ask and Mia would sign it all back over to him. She might even be grateful to be rid of it, to be out from under the responsibility. It didn't matter that she came to him for all the decisions, that mostly what she did was sign the checks, file the taxes, work with him at both places like they'd always done, done before their father was killed. She'd been barely eighteen when he'd dumped this on her the first time. And for two years she'd handled all of it. Oh, she'd had help: Letty and Vince, even Leon, they'd moved in, kept the garage going, kept the market open, other friends of their family. For the two years he'd been in Lompoc at least part of every visit had been about business, like Dom knew any better. She'd put off school, put off her life. She should have been going to school, raising a little hell.
He fingered his jaw. If anyone deserved to belt him a good one it was his sister.
And not just for that. It was kind of funny now, to think of Letty going after Brian. She might have first shot at Dom but Mia -- Mia should get the first jab at Brian O'Conner. Dom just wasn't sure if he should be next in line or first for Mia to get her hits in.
Except whatever issues Mia might have with Brian seemed to be resolved. Or she'd set them aside. For now.
"We can do this later," she said and he jerked around. He hadn't heard her come back. Her arms were full of account books and file folders and automatically he moved toward her and reached to relieve her of the burden.
Like he could. He set the stack on the coffee table.
"Dom…another couple of days really isn't going to matter. We're good. You've got money at the garage--"
"I got it," he said and reached for his wallet, opened it, counting out half.
Mia stared at the offered money, then at him. "I don't need it."
"Take it anyway."
"Dom," She closed her hand over his. "We're fine, honest. The market's doing good. The garage…I leased it out some, to Edwin and Hector, a few others. People we know. We were good before. The rent on the house, it covers this. The rest, I'm saving. We're good. Not great," she added with a twist of her lips. "But good. You're gonna need that." She pushed his hand closed, left her hand around his fist and squeezed.
He really didn't know what to do with her forgiveness. With anyone's. Letty's anger was almost a relief. It was shitload easier to have other people mad at him than be mad at himself, and not know what to do with it. He knew what he would have done, before.
Not an option. Not one he was willing to take.
Mia tugged at him, made him sit down again, sat next to him and rubbed his back.
"I'm sorry, bella," he said quietly.
"I know." Her smile wasn't as steady but it was there. She tapped the back of his skull lightly. "Don't fuck it up this time, 'k?"
That wrenched a snort of laughter from him and Mia's smile got steadier, wider. "D, this is different. You know that, don't you?"
"I guess. I don't know…"
"Yeah, you do," she said and pulled her hand away, leaned over her knees. "We're both smarter. The businesses are okay. A setback but we can pull it out again. Maybe better."
"How you figure that? We're starting all over again."
"No, we're not. You aren't so angry now. You don't have anything to prove," she said but glanced at him. "You don't, right?"
Did he? Maybe. Not like before though, when he thought he had to prove that prison hadn't left a permanent mark. It had though. Prove he could be something better? Maybe.
He chewed on it. Better. Better would be good. "Why did you want me to call Brian?"
It caught her off guard. She stared at him for a long moment, chewed on her lower lip. "Because I don't want him to be an asshole," she said finally.
Dom felt a prickle of something creep up his spine and leaned back, rubbed her shoulder. "You want to explain that?"
She sighed and got up. "Not really. You know how he talks all the time but never says anything?"
The prickle intensified. "He listens really well," she said after a moment. "And he talks, all the time. Sometimes he even says things that make a lot of sense, but he doesn't…he doesn't look out for himself like he should."
Dom's brow furrowed. "I'm still not with you -- entirely," he said but there was glimmer of understanding. He had to think back a bit, back to what Brian had said and done so many months ago.
"You told Letty you didn't want this," she said quickly, her face flushing.
"What?" he had to think about it. "I wasn't talking about Brian."
"No? Because I wasn't so sure. You didn't tell her, Dom. You didn't tell any of us. If you do want this…you need to make sure he knows it."
Dom could feel a flush rise in his own face. This was not something he wanted to discuss with his sister -- and Mia didn't look all that happy to be doing it. But he had asked. "All right," he said slowly. "Asshole?"
She flashed him a quick grin and shrugged. "He can be. He…backs off. Like you never do, or Letty," she added pointedly. "Just be…careful. I don't want you…I don’t want you to get hurt," she said.
Get hurt? He studied her. Hurt like she had been and that sense of something very wrong took hold of his spine and shook it. Shit. Had he even thought of this -- when he was promising himself he wouldn't hurt her again? "Mia…is this, me and Brian, is this…" he couldn't even say it but he knew he'd hit close to home by the glare Mia shot him.
Fuck. Nothing like creating his own little soap opera. But he had created it, or let it happen. "I can--" What? Give up this thing he had with Brian? Cut it off before he even knew if it would work? "Are you in love with him?" he asked, his throat tight and his mouth dry. Rock and a hard place didn't even begin to describe it.
"And if I was?"
Dom closed his eyes and got up, felt the muscles in his jaw clench. "I can crash with Leon for awhile. Until I can get a place."
"Jesus, you're stupid," she said and he turned back on her in surprise. He almost got the shot he felt Mia deserved but she pulled her hands down around herself. "He doesn’t love me, Dom. Not like he does--" She stopped, drew back into herself. "Giving him up for me isn't going to do a damn thing but make all three of us miserable."
"Then what?" he said "What can I do? What do you want?" he said, reaching out for her. She almost jerked away -- almost.
"I want you to be careful. More careful, with the people who love you," she said, and the anger broke like water from a dam. She pulled away then fled, into her bedroom, and slammed the door.
He was torn between going after her and just leaving. It took him a moment to move at all, to go to her door. He didn't hear anything. Not sobs, nothing breaking.
He glanced at the account books on the table, at the tiny apartment. He picked up their mugs and left them in the sink, then sat down again and opened the books.
She'd been right about their finances; not that he doubted her but sometimes he wondered if Mia didn't put a shine on things because it was so much a part of her to try and see things better than they were.
The numbers didn't lie, though, and they were doing better than breaking even. They wouldn't be back stocking any import parts for a bit yet, but they were okay.
That is, unless he decided he did want his own place. That would require some adjustments.
"You hungry?" she asked him and he leaned back, spread his arms over the back of the couch.
"I could eat," he agreed. He could have made himself something but it felt like an intrusion into his sister's life into her home, he hadn't earned yet. She pulled out eggs and bread and Dom got up, leaned over her counter. "Can I help?" he asked and got a quick flash of her smile.
Some kind of balance was found again over eggs and toast, sitting at Mia's cramped breakfast counter. Dom glanced at the door once or twice until Mia shook her head. "She won't be back until later this afternoon. Community Center…probation," she reminded him.
"How's that working for her?" he asked, leaning on the counter and pushing his plate back.
Mia gave him an odd look. "Maybe you should ask her."
Dom blew out a sharp breath and got up, picking up his plate to carry it too the sink. "Right. Sorry I asked," he said.
"I didn't mean it like that --" Mia started and he glanced back at her. She dropped her head, played with her fork.
He shook his head and ran water in the sink. After a minute Mia came up and nudged him aside, slipping the dirty dishes into the soapy water and let it run for a minute before turning it off and looking up at him. "That wasn't fair," she admitted. "Things are…different, Dom. I keep forgetting that they've been different for me for awhile now. But you went in to prison when everything was one way and came out and it's all changed."
He'd changed too, but the only ones who had seen it were Vince and maybe Brian. "I did…a lot of thinking inside, Mia. Don't, for a minute, think I don't know how -- stupid -- I was. We were."
"Yeah, you were," she said, cutting him no slack, but she wasn't angry either. "We're okay, Dom. You and me," she said looking up at him. "I'm being a bitch but I'm not angry at you. Not really. Guess I've gotten used to things being…different when you aren't around," she said and winced. "I don't mean it like that."
"Yeah you do," he said carefully and put his back to the sink, folding his arms across his chest. "This is a great place, Mia. Yours. Your life…what you want. Not what I think, or what I want. You. That's the way it is isn't it?" he asked her watching her, seeing the discomfort on her face, the way she worried her lower lip between her teeth. "Nothing wrong with it, bella," he said more quietly. "You're my sister, Mia. Business partner," he added with a small grin. "Not my keeper. Not my conscience."
She looked like she was going to cry again and Dom didn't want that. Maybe he couldn't stop it, but he didn't have to watch it. He hooked an arm round her and pulled her to his chest, once more felt her grab at him. That felt right. Made more sense to him. He was supposed to be the strong one, right? The safe one, the oldest. The one she could lean on instead of the other way around.
She held on for a long few minutes before taking a deep breath and lifting her head again. "What are you going to do?"
"Take a drive, meet Brian for lunch. Maybe dig out those flyers, yeah?"
She smiled, slowly. "Yeah. But I'm going to be there, right? I'll get my class schedule. We can get a work schedule put up," she said looking like she thought he might refuse.
"Well, it's not like I'm going to sweet talk the customers," he said with a roll of his eyes, which made her laugh. He pulled himself away. "So, for now, I'll stay at Brian's place. Figure it out but will you do me a favor?"
"Anything. You know that--"
"I know. Looks like we can cover a payroll for a couple of weeks. Just…tell Letty. If she wants to work -- or I can call later. Up to her."
She shook her head. "I'll tell her."
"Thank you," he said solemnly and kissed the top of her head before grabbing up his bag of clothes.
He walked to the door with his arm around her shoulders and found himself reluctant to let her go, but he did to open the door and Mia reached up to kiss his cheek. "Dom…about Brian."
He waited, a little tense. "He's a good guy," she said and shrugged. "I still want to either strangle him or kick him in the balls half the time but mostly -- he's a good guy."
"He thinks he owes you. You could probably get a lot of mileage out of that."
Mia raised an eyebrow and the corner of her mouth twitched up. "What makes you think I haven't been?" she said and Dom stared at her before he burst out laughing. Oh, yeah. The Toretto blood ran true. O'Conner was doomed.
As he jogged down the stairs to his car, he realized Brian probably already knew it.
That thought put him in a good mood all the way until he hit traffic and found himself twitching again over the slow crawl and stop and start of traffic lights. He didn't lose it entirely but found himself tapping the gas as he waited, eyes jerking to every movement of people on the sidewalk and hyper aware of just the sheer number of people around him; on the street, in their cars, probably filling up the businesses and office buildings that rose around him.
It was weird to feel so crowded out here on a more or less open road than he had in the yard or common hall at Chino, where just counting the number of men around him was as much a way to pass the time as a well honed survival technique.
It was better once he moved off the main drag, taking side roads and residential streets that he knew by instinct more than he actually recognized. Businesses changed, stores he'd once used as landmarks were gone, replaced by others. The whole world had changed in six months.
It didn't surprise him to find himself back in his old neighborhood, to recognize the hill and curve that would drop him in front of the market that still advertised his name. He slowed down, finding some humor in the fact that he kind of sucked at being a low profile criminal.
It had changed some but not much. Rosa had apparently thought having bright pots of geraniums on the tables outside would be a good lure and maybe she was right. There were a couple of young mamacita's sitting out side, umbrellas tilted to shade the two strollers that got used as much for shopping carts as for transporting their infants around the neighborhood. A few new signs in Spanish on the windows advertising more commonly stocked things -- produce that he and Mia had never bothered to carry because neither of them wanted to be at the central markets before dawn to purchase fruits and vegetables at prices that could actually turn a profit. Rosa obviously didn't have that problem -- or Santos didn't. Dom suspected he was the one making the trip, while Rosa got the kids ready for their day -- school, whatever. But he could see the appeal, especially for people close by, to be able to pick of the fresher food that was as much tradition and culture as preference.
He almost went in, just to see what else they'd changed, thinking again that maybe they should sell it, let the Vegas have it; although Dom got an entirely queasy twist in his gut at the idea of "Vega" being emblazoned where his own name now advertised the market.
He couldn't stop himself from driving by the house, his house. Still. He couldn't shake the feeling, biting back the urge to park in the drive and go in, see what else had changed. There would be toys he bet. The smells in the kitchen would be different: chilis and corn flour and spiced chicken and pork rather than the lingering scents of basil and garlic.
Brian's kitchen smelled like nothing but dish soap and bleach, the lingering aroma of burnt toast. Brian couldn't cook worth a damn and he admitted it cheerfully during one Sunday visit in Chino, was both awed and amused that Dom could cook.
It was a safe topic. Visits had inevitably edged toward the safest topics possible in Chino. Cars and mods and the latest releases, new technology. Road and Track was on the approved circulation list and his friends, his family, had known what to bring him to help kill long hours of nothing to do. But even they could exhaust a topic after while. And Brian wouldn't talk about his job, and they couldn't talk about themselves or reveal anything with too many eyes watching and too many ears listening, but the need to talk had been something that surprised Dom about himself only small talk wasn't exactly a strength.
Brian could find things though. Stuff Dom would never have thought about. He'd bring the Sunday paper and if Dom tried really hard, he could almost almost believe he wasn't in prison but was sitting on the porch or the patio, reading the paper. Pointing out articles to each other, squabbling over the latest celebrity sports headliner. Laughing over the lifestyle section. Usually Brian would bring lunch, pick up something on the way. Nothing fancy, easy enough for the guards to check without actually having to paw through the food.
The food in Chino was nothing to write home about, had all the character of a school cafeteria, enough to eat but not enough to ever satisfy an appetite. Dom could read the cooking section and the dining out guide and dream of restaurants to try rather than having to worry about having to put his life back together once he was out. Plus he found out that Brian had all the curiosity about food of a brain-dead snail. He liked fish because it had been rare enough growing up, tuna because it was familiar, surprisingly liked sushi because he'd tried it on a dare and he could eat it with his fingers. The thought of it kind of made Dom want to gag which Brian thought was funny as heel. "Tough guy. Totally scared of a little raw fish." Dom could have gotten mad but Brian was all bright eyed and laughing and for some reason that didn't bother him at all. Otherwise, Brian was a meat and potatoes kind of guy and vegetables properly came out of a can or frozen but he'd avoid them given a choice.
Cooking was a family thing the way Dom grew up. He couldn't remember a time when he hadn't been expected to help with more than just setting the table. His father too, even when he worked late. You fixed it together and you ate it together. And you didn't fight at the table -- except when you did.
Making dinner, working on engines, cars. Even when he wasn't with other people, Dom found himself doing those things. Wanting to do them. Staring at the house he'd grown up in that was still home, he felt that urge again. To be doing something, to be able to focus on just one thing so the rest of the problems and worries eating at his brain would fall into line or just fade away for a bit.
They'd painted it. It was still white but it was fresher, shinier looking. The front gate looked like it had been fixed. The cracks in the sidewalk filled, the weeds pulled up from the front of the house and Rosa had set out more geraniums, bright red, dropping their petals under the light breeze, staining the sidewalk.
He felt nauseous suddenly, mouth dry as he stared at the sidewalk, at the ground. There were no stains, the chips in the stone had been healed by time and rain and road dirt, no signs of bullets or blood. No ghosts except the one Dom felt he was summoning with every breath. I'm sorry, Jesse. Man, I'm sorry.
He'd never had a chance to say that or think it.
He tore his gaze away from the house and gunned the engine a bit. Felt the engine thrum up to a happy roar and the tires squeal. That was probably a sound that hadn't been heard in this neighborhood for awhile.
It took him a minute to realize where he was going. He'd followed the streets without thinking, repeating a pattern, like the outcome would be different, like maybe there was a magic reset button along the way that he'd missed. But there was nothing. The bushes had grown back where he'd forced Lance off the road, the underpass was clear of anything but traffic. The guard rail at the crossing had been replaced.
The light cycled through three times and Dom sat there, staring, the engine idling until someone honked behind him and the light changed again. He almost ran it he was so startled.
The car behind him pulled around and the guy in looked angry, was shouting something at him Dom didn't understand. He stopped mid-sentence, stared and took off.
Very, very carefully Dom pulled out when the light changed, paid attention to the roads he was taking and ended up back at Brian's without killing anyone or even thinking over much. He got out of the car quickly before he could change his mind and just start driving again. Anywhere. South, East…it didn't matter. Just keep moving.
Brian wasn't back yet and Dom sat on the front porch, fingered the key. Not his place, anymore than Mia's was. Any more than the house in Echo Park was. This was how and why other men ended up back in prison. Most of them. Some were just stupid. But mostly, it was because there was nothing out here for them. Not once they got back. Family maybe, who didn't know what to do or how to be. Lives that moved on. No one waited. Not forever, sometimes only for awhile.
He rubbed at his face. He wasn't stupid and he did have people waiting. Family. Friends. Be more careful with the people who love you.
She was wrong. Not to ask, but she had it backwards. He needed to be more careful with the people he loved and that included Mia, and Letty. Vince and Leon, even them, as much as they could drive him crazy.
And Brian. That made him feel like he had to clear his throat to think about that, this thing they'd started so many months ago but still hadn't quite…well, they'd certainly consummated it.
Body, keys, home, space. God alone knew what else Brian would offer, what else he could offer -- no questions, no regrets, nothing expected in return. Except there was always something to be given back. Always. He just didn't know what it was yet. Or maybe he did but he couldn't put a name to it, could get his brain wrapped around it, didn't even know how to ask Brian about it.
He still didn't when Brian pulled up. But he got to his feet, came out to help Brian grab the few bags of groceries he had and the dry cleaner bags. Two of them. With Brian's uniforms.
"Why didn't you go inside?"
"I was thinking," Dom said, pulled his eyes away from the uniforms and took an extra bag. "It's nice out."
Brian stared up and around and then grinned. "Yeah, it is. You and Mia…you're okay?" he asked as they headed to the door.
"We're okay," Dom agreed, waited while Brian worked the lock. Grabbed his own bag. Brian looked down at it.
"I, uh…cleared the left side of the dresser…if you want," he said, meeting Dom's eyes but he still looked fidgety and nervous. It reassured Dom for some reason.
"Thanks. These go in the closet?" he asked, taking the dry cleaning.
"Yeah, but I'll get them," Brian said quickly. Too quickly.
"I think I can work the hangers--"
"It's just that--"
Dom stared at him, trying to figure it out, because Brian was flushed. "I figured you'd seen enough uniforms for awhile."
Something clicked in Dom's brain. Not entirely but a piece of it. "Bri, you're a cop. It's not like I forgot," he said and took the uniforms and his bag. "You get the food."
Part of the closet had been cleared too. Dom wasn't exactly sure when, but Brian's offer to take off for a few days and give Dom some space made less sense. He was making room for Dom here -- pretty damn obvious that he wanted Dom to be here.
The uniforms were black, "O'Conner" on the bar, his uniform badge pinned to one that that was no longer in a bag. Belt, cuffs, nighstick. He didn't see Brian's gun though and wondered if he'd even gotten it back yet.
"I have a locker at the station."
He hadn't heard him come it. His fingers tightened on the plastic and he clenched his jaw not to snap out something that had more to do with being startled than with being angry. "It's okay," he said and let go, smoothed the creases his fingers had made. "Where's your gun?"
The hesitation was minimal and Brian crossed the room to the nightstand, opened the drawer. It lay there, unloaded, along with a slim wallet, next to a half dozen condoms and a tube of lube which made Dom smile and reach in and hold up the tube. "I'm thinking this is not approved for gun care," he said.
Brian's grin broke like sudden sun and he reached a bit further back in the drawer to pull out a bottle of gun oil. "Just don't pull this out by accident."
"I'll remember that." Dom took it from him and dropped both back in the drawer and closed it.
"Although, you know, it's supposed to be all-purpose," Brian said idly, still grinning.
"Yeah? Never tested it?" Dom asked stepping in close.
"Not for…all purposes," Brian said then dropped his gaze, the smile fading. "Uh…about Letty," he started.
Dom wasn't ready to talk about her, not yet. Not now. He caught Brian's face and lifted it, studied him; his mouth, his eyes, his face, the crease in his forehead. Brian's hands covered his wrists, tight enough for Dom to feel but not pulling them away and Brian had gone stiff. If this was resistance, Brian needed to work on it because his mouth didn't resist at all, opening under Dom's without a single word escaping. Dom slid one hand to the back of his neck, tilting his head down slightly. Brian's hands finally pulled Dom's away from his face but only to push them down, locking their fingers together, touching only there, mouths and hands, until Dom pulled back and pressed his forehead to Brian's.
"Don't go," he said and it came out hoarse. He didn't want to ask, he didn't want Brian to come up with reasons or arguments.
"Go?" Brian sounded a little hoarse himself, was breathing a little too hard for just a kiss. "Oh...oh. Okay."
One of these times he was going to ask Brian something and get a no. But not right now. Not here and the only thing Dom heard when he reached for Brian's shirt was, "yes."
Brian shifted a little, cradling Dom more comfortably against his chest. Maybe Dom should have protested that, but he felt too sated and bone heavy to do anything but close his eyes. "Compared to what?" Brian asked.
Compared to six months without? Probably. Dom wasn't sure he wanted to push the question. Wasn't sure he could. "Guys." He finally grunted out.
Brian didn't answer immediately but his arm slipped across Dom's chest, fingertips brushing a nipple, which sent a little spark of warmth further south. A spark only, though, because while Dom could definitely summon the thrill, he wasn't sure he could find the will to go another round. His skin was barely dry from the clean up after the last tumble.
"According to studies, the only thing guys think about more than sex is food and sports. Not necessarily in that order," Brian said.
"More like informal polling."
"This some UCLA thing?"
"Naw. Locker room, LAPD. Not that anyone would claim those guys are normal."
"Always with the smart answers," Dom said but he couldn't stop the grin stretching the corners of his mouth. Okay, so it wasn't exactly unusual for a guy's brains to spend half his time in his dick. Hadn't been before prison, hadn't been while he was in Chino. Given the opportunity and a willing partner, most times Dom could go with the urge. And two guys? He could do the math.
"I don't think there are many people who would think we are normal," Brian said and Dom's math faltered for a minute. "Seventy five percent of the population never drive more than ten miles over the speed limit."
True enough. "Make our own rules."
"That should be stamped on the top of your resume, Toretto."
"I don't have a resume." The compliment pleased Dom -- a lot. He rolled up and over. "What about you? Making your own rules, O'Connor?"
He was teasing but Brian's face went suddenly serious, smile fading but his gaze raked over Dom's face like he was afraid he'd forgotten something. "Only with you," he said, fingers coming up to stroke over Dom's lips.
Maybe Dom should have been thinking what kind of trouble he might be bringing Brian. He didn't have time to follow that thought far though because Brian kissed him hard then lunged off the bed and grabbed his shorts. "I'm hungry."
Lunch was both late and tossed together, Brian pulling down plates and leftovers and sandwich things and tossing them on the table by the time Dom had pulled a pair of pants on and followed him. "I don't think I've ever had this much food in my house," Brian commented peeling off pieces of chicken from the ones left over from yesterday's cook out.
Dom hit the freezer for ice and pointed at the stacked boxes. "That is not food. That is…just sad, man."
Brian grinned at him. "I bought vegetables. You said you liked vegetables."
Dom almost pointed out that bags of frozen peas and broccoli were not vegetables, only Brian was still grinning, daring him with his eyes. "I have got to teach you to cook," he said. "And without using high power on the microwave. Didn't your mother cook?"
"She used to. She made great spaghetti…" Brian said and finished building a sandwich that looked like it would need staples to stay together. He took a knife to it and managed to not squish out all the insides. "I think I've got a can of the kind she bought when I was a kid."
"That is so wrong," Dom said, and grabbed half of Brian's sandwich. "Your dad didn't cook?"
"Not so much. Grilled. Made a mean batch of popcorn," Brian said and hooked a soda for himself. "You got anything we need to get out of storage?"
Dom shrugged. "Not so much. Nothing I need right now. Probably stuff I could get rid of. I've done without it for six months. Tools are at the garage, I've got clothes, my car. More than I've had."
"Yeah," Brian said and took a swallow. "Just, you know…mi casa--"
"I get it," Dom said, cutting him off, and an awkward silence fell for a second or two before he started building another sandwich. "Where were you gonna go? I don't need the space," he added quickly. "Just curious."
"Head down to Barstow for a couple of days. Check in on my dad," Brian offered. "I wasn't gonna disappear. I haven't seen him in awhile, so it wasn't a big deal. Just, keep it in mind if you do want some space," he added seriously but grinned. "I wasn't planning on sleeping in my car."
"Naw. If I needed the space I could, you know, bunk out in the Airstream. So when are you looking to head back to work?"
Brian blew out a breath. "PT part of the test is set for next week. In on the range and evals starting Wednesday."
"Psych," Brian said, drawing the word out. "Make sure I'm not harboring suppressed rage or something. Make sure I don't go postal if a car backfires," he said rolling his eyes.
Dom found himself cutting the newly built sandwich very carefully before lifting half onto Brian's plate. "That an issue?"
"Naw. It's SOP, Dom," he said. "I've seen the department shrinks at least twice a month since I got out of the hospital. Retaking procedural courses." He said it casually enough but Dom was aware of the tension rising in Brian, the way he hunched forward slightly, the twitch in his jaw.
"You worried about this thing -- the requalifying?" Dom asked him but couldn't help wondering if would be such a bad thing if Brian didn't make it -- for entirely selfish reasons.
"I'll make it," Brian said evenly. "They want me out, they'll have to come up with something better."
Whoa, wait. Dom took a breath eyes narrowing as he studied Brian's curiously impassive face, conversations months past coming back to him. "Do they want you out?"
"Some, maybe, yeah," Brian said and relaxed suddenly, like he just realized he'd gotten tense. "Wish I'd transfer out. Wonder whose ass I'm kissing," he added with a smile that was colder and harder than anything Dom had seen.
"Those two cops, the ones that worked you over--"
"Busted down. They've been working evidence lock up," Brian said and went back to his sandwich.
Busted down? They should have been busted out although maybe it was better to have them where somebody could keep an eye on them -- tax dollars at work. Dom suddenly wasn't very hungry. "So, you pass. Then what?"
"Back on the job in a couple of weeks maybe," Brian said. "Back on patrol. Keeping the streets safe for punks like you."
Dom threw a napkin at him. "I plan on being a model citizen."
"I need to get hold of Leon and Vince, make sure they're up for going back to work," Dom said and Brian reached back to snag the phone on the counter.
"You should call Harry," Brian said, and finished his meal, then started cleaning up.
Leon was easier to get hold of than Vince, but he promised to track the big dog down and hustle his ass to the garage by mid afternoon. Dom's meeting with his parole officer was at eight in the morning, but he knew it could take a couple of hours.
He let Brian finish the clean-up, feeling restless, fighting the sudden urge to go out again, raise a little hell. Recognizing that it was a conscious effort to do it all differently. Not so much fear of going back in, although that was there too. Fear. Loathing. He didn't even have to try and summon up the sound of cell doors locking, of how voices, even soft voices, echoed against the concrete. How the ceilings in the cells seemed too low, the walls too close. The routine so rigid it felt like he had no will of his own any longer.
He stared at Brian's living room, the beige walls almost familiar, the points of color of pictures on the wall against the secondhand brown leather sofa. The TV on the build-it-yourself fake wood entertainment center. He didn’t want to watch TV or listen to music or read.
The knob of the back door was in his hand before he thought anymore about it. It was still a narrow little concrete pad with an overhang, plastic chairs and a little plastic table, but there were a couple of hanging baskets; the colors bright against the faded yellow of the siding. A wind chime too, silent and motionless right now, some little thing of metal and stained glass that Dom stared at, almost willing it to move. Beyond that patchy grass and the house next door, the street. He could just see the nose of his car. He listened hard for the sounds of cars, for voices -- anything. It was a lull or he'd gone deaf. It was freaking him out.
He was aware of Brian behind him before he made a sound. An arm reached around him, offered him a beer and when Dom took it, the rest of Brian slid into view, eyes staring outward, not looking at Dom. A car engine rumbled and someone's old Dodge came down the cross street, made a left and rumbled out of sight. The world started moving again.
He was losing his mind.
The beer was cold and bitter and felt good when it hit his throat -- so dry he felt the urge to cough. Brian sprawled out in the far chair, legs spread wide and stretched, taking a long swallow of his own beer. Dom pulled his gaze away from him swallowing and came nose to nose with one of the hanging baskets.
"These are fake."
Brian chuckled. "Your sister, man. But I warned her I'd kill them if she put real plants up there. She offered to come by and water them but -- too much."
"She likes taking care of things. You should have let her."
Brian shook his head, not really looking at Dom except when he finally sat. "She did take care --" he stopped and hunched forward. "She's been really great, Dom, but she doesn't owe me anything, you know?" he said and polished off his beer, setting the bottle down carefully. It still clinked on the concrete. "Neither do you."
Dom could argue that. "Well, there's owing and there's owing," he said slowly.
Brian shook his head. "No. No, man. You owe me nothing."
"Shut up," Dom said and stared at him. Jesus, he looked stubborn. "There were times in Chino that I wanted to cash it all in. I don't take shit off people. I never have. Not in Lompoc, not out here--" he waved his arm wide. "I had to prove something in there. Do it or die. I had to prove something in Chino too, but it was different this time. You made it different, Bri," he said carefully. "In there, you can either let it be time you're doing or it becomes everything that's real. I didn't know that before. That's not the life I want. It never was." He finished his beer and reached over to pick up Brian's empty before standing up. "Ten seconds of freedom is too little, Brian. I want more."
Brian was staring at him like he didn't understand. "Spell it out," he said, when Dom moved to take the empties back inside. Dom stared at him, long and hard. He wasn't sure he could. He definitely would need more beer to do it.
Except he didn't. It was an excuse to put some space back between them. Talking to Brian had never been the problem. For a while, Dom had thought that it was the problem; that he could tell Brian anything, had told him everything. Confessions he'd made long before he was even sure if he liked the man. And Brian hadn't even asked then -- Dom had just spilled his guts. It had bugged the shit out of him, that when Brian was around, he'd just start talking. But it wasn't a problem -- it was actually an answer of sorts. He wanted to tell Brian things. It had taken him a long time to realize why. Longer to realize he wanted Brian to tell him things.
Brian was asking now. Mia's warning -- suggestion? -- echoed in the back of his brain. Make sure he knows…make sure they all know.
He set the bottles down carefully and leaned against the door, arms across his chest. He didn't want Brian any closer. Brian didn't move at all, nothing but his eyes, watching Dom, more or less relaxed in his chair, lips parted slightly.
"I still want to race," he said finally. "I don't know how or when. It used to be everything. Almost everything. From when I was little. Like my whole life was about that one thing. Racing. Winning. I thought it was worth anything. Every time I lost one…just made me want the next one more."
Brian dropped his gaze for a second, gave a little nod. Yeah, he'd understand that. "But I lose a race -- it's a race, man," Dom went on quietly. "On the street, on the track…Nobody is supposed to die. It happens," he said, throat tightening. "People die. Accidents. But nobody wants it to happen that way."
He'd never know if Linder had meant to win at all costs. Chances were Kenny Linder didn't know either. Not anymore. But he'd bet that if Linder had known what the cost would be, he might have thought twice.
"Is this about Jesse?"
Dom chewed on his lower lip a little, traced some cracked paint on the doorframe. "Some. I was willing to take the risk. Me. For the win. I never wanted anyone else to pay -- not for me. For themselves," he shrugged. "Yeah, if they wanted. But Mia…you." He shook his head.
Brian looked away then unfolded himself from the chair and stood in front of Dom, arms folded loosely across his chest. "You don't owe me," he said again, more softly. "My choice. If that's why you're here--"
"It's not," Dom said quickly, flatly. Okay, it was, but not the way Brian meant it. "It stopped making sense," he said, struggling for the words. "The winning. It stopped being enough."
Brian chewed on that for a long moment. "Maybe it never was enough, Dom," Brian said, brow furrowed a little. "The freedom, it was never about the winning, it was about being in it -- you know, like they say. In the moment."
Dom felt a grin tug at the corner of his lip. Brian knew him too damn well and that was both a little scary and a lot satisfying. "You and me…it's the same. Not the end of it…not even the start."
It took Brian a second more, and Dom might have been unable to hold the laughter back if the pink had extended any further than the tips of Brian's ears.
Dom leaned forward a little, glad Brian didn't pull back. "I get into habits. When something works. Keep at it. Test it out a little."
Brian raised an eyebrow at him. "You haven't had much time to get into a habit…not with me."
He didn't take it wrong, though, and Dom smiled, shook his head. "I've had months, O' Conner. Where have you been? You think this is just about balling my brains out?"
It was interesting to see uncertainty on Brian's face. Not something Dom recalled seeing very often, not when he was talking, not when he was driving…not when he was busting Dom's chops for being an idiot.
It felt a little strange to be the one who was sure -- reasonably sure -- that this thing with Brian went deeper than fascination and obligation. But just for a second Dom had some doubts of his own. Maybe Brian wasn't sure. Maybe he really hadn't put as much thought into this as Dom had.
If Dom was wrong, he was well and truly fucked.
No. No. Half empty dresser and half empty closets, months and months of Sundays. Brian was sure…he just wasn't sure. Mia really was the smart one.
He reached out and hooked a hand around the back of Brian's neck and Brian stepped in automatically, dropping his hands. Brian's eyes were wide, blue enough to seem almost fake. He licked at his lips nervously and Dom thought he might be shaking.
"Some habits are hard to break," he said. "They can be bad for you."
"Yeah, well I brush my teeth twice a day too. I've always heard that was good for me."
Brian ducked his head for second and brought his chin back up, showing his own teeth. "That's true. Probably should buy a bigger tube of toothpaste."
"I like the minty kind," Dom said and tugged a little.
Mostly he tasted beer, and he was right. Brian was shaking just a little. Of course, he might have been laughing.
He pulled back and bent down for the bottle. "You want another?"
Brian followed him in but only as far as the living room, flicking on the TV, settling into a corner of the sofa and making room for Dom. They settled on ESPN, not that Dom cared that much. Brian finished his beer and dropped off halfway through some basketball highlight show and Dom wasn't far behind him, his earlier restlessness easing off either from the beers, or maybe he'd been picking up some kind of weird anxiety from Brian.
When he woke up again, it was like repeat of the morning; Brian coughing and rolling off the couch, heading for the bathroom. The living room was more shadows than light, but Dom didn't have any trouble following him this time, doing it before his brain really registered that Brian's coughing bugged him on a gut level.
Even so, he didn't do anything but hang out in the door, watching as Brian bent over the sink, ran some water, coughed and spat. Dom did not really want to see the amount of phlegm he coughed up, but for somebody who didn't have lung cancer, it didn't seem normal.
Brian didn't really notice he was there until he brought his head up and Dom caught only a glimpse of his face in the bathroom mirror -- pinched and white, jaw tense and twitching. He was taking air in slowly and carefully like breathing deep hurt. There was real pain involved in this coughing.
Brian fought to hide it only Dom wasn't letting him get away with it this time, but he waited until Brian was actually breathing a little steadier. "You want to tell me what this is?"
"It's just a cough."
"And I'm just a mechanic. Try again," Dom said.
Brian leaned back against the sink. "I had pneumonia. It's just taking longer to get over it than I expected."
Dom cocked his head at him. "You had pneumonia months ago. Are you taking anything?"
Brian studied him for a moment then twisted, opened the medicine cabinet, and pulled out a bottle. "Antibiotics."
The name of the drugs didn't mean anything to Dom, but the bottle was big. "They don't seem to be doing you much good."
If this was better, Dom didn't want to think too hard on what worse had been like. He handed the bottle back to Brian. "If you want to tell me it's none of my business, you better say it straight."
"It's not anything…" Brian started and then looked away. "I don't requalify, Dom, and they'll wash me out. Six months to get back in uniform…or I take disability."
"That sucks," Dom said, leaning against the doorframe. "It's not what I want to know, though. So, this cough -- they won't clear you."
"They will if I pass the physical."
Dom tensed a little but made sure he didn't show it. "And you might not? Because of the cough or because of why you're still coughing months after you should have been over it?"
Brian turned around and splashed more water on his face. "Both. It's better, Dom. I swear to God."
It probably was. It still wasn't an answer, though. "Is it none of my business?"
Brian wouldn't meet his eyes when he turned around. Not immediately. "No. No, it's not that…it's just--"
Dom didn't know what to make of the expression on Brian's face. Scared, worried -- hard to tell, but he'd drawn a line and Brian recognized it. "None of my business."
"No!" Brian's eyes flashed and color flooded back into his face. "It was pneumonia, Dom. And the running. Shakes things loose. I lay down for a while and they settle. I cough it up. It's better."
Dom still didn't believe him -- entirely. Brian was trying too hard. He stopped trying to figure out what Brian wasn't telling him and concentrated on why. "Sounds like disability might not be a bad deal. Steady income…"
Brian snorted and reached over to grab a towel, wiping at his face. "No, thanks. I'm twenty-eight years old, Dom. I'm not ready to retire just yet."
Dom studied him long and hard, then nodded a little, backing out of the bathroom. "None of my business." He heard Brian's voice softly say, "Fuck," before he left the bedroom.
He didn't go far -- no further than the kitchen, scanning the refrigerator, the freezer. He wasn't really hungry but it was close enough to dinnertime to think about it. Habit. He caught Brian slinking out of the bedroom from the corner of his eye. Patience was something he'd cultivated, practiced.
Brian was stubborn though or maybe Dom was making more of it than there really was. Brian said nothing only came in and sat down in the living room, grabbed up a magazine. He didn't look at Dom or say anything, not even when Dom started pulling things out, hunting through cabinets and drawers as much to acquaint himself with Brian's kitchen as to find a really good knife. He glanced over occasionally to find that Brian was still stubbornly not looking at him.
He also wasn't reading the magazine. He wasn't even trying particularly hard to fake it. Dom didn't know whether to be amused or pissed off.
He was still mulling it over when he heard a car -- high performance engine -- approaching fast and tires squealing as it braked and pulled up in front of the house. That got both their attention and they headed to the windows.
"I forgot to pick up body armor," Brian said and Dom glanced at him. He looked perfectly serious.
Nearly as serious as Letty did.
She didn't come up to the house, just got out and leaned against the side of the car, staring, arms crossed. Nothing as blatant as honking the horn and she looked like she was prepared to wait. Or maybe she was just trying to make up her mind to come up to the house. It wasn't like she hadn't been here before -- only yesterday. Probably before that.
Things had changed a little.
Dom blew out a breath and headed for the door, Brian following him until Dom put a hand on his chest. "Let me talk to her," he said and Brian shrugged.
He'd probably watch from the window and Dom wondered if he should have told him to stay put no matter what.
Letty didn't move or even shift position until he was right in front of her and then she only lifted her chin a little, eyes hidden by sunglasses, arms still tightly folded across her chest.
Before he could say anything she turned around and reached into the open window, pulling out another soft sided bag and tossed it at his feet. "The rest of your damn clothes."
Dom stared at the bag. Right. Mia was supposed to bring them at breakfast only Letty had taken off. "Thanks."
"Mia said you're opening up shop on Wednesday."
"That's the plan. You want in?" he said, respecting her distance both verbally and physically. He shoved his hands in his pockets. Keep it to business, for now.
"Is he gonna be there?"
"Brian might be around some. He's got another job."
She sucked on her lower lip and nodded. "That's right. Cop. Cop that was gonna turn us all in."
"Cop that saved my ass," he said evenly.
"Yeah. And now we know why, don't we?"
Dom pulled his hands up, rubbed his face and then clasped his palms together, pointing at her. "You and me… this is not Brian's doing. You want to be pissed, you be pissed off at me."
"I'll be pissed at whoever the fuck I want to be pissed at," she said, stepping into him and slapping at his hands. "You. Him. Kind of doesn't matter anymore. And now you want me to come back to work?"
He could feel his jaw twitch. "The offer's there if you want it. We're still a team -- can be. If you want. Pays the same."
"The pay's for shit," she said flatly. "It's not what I was there for."
"I know," Dom said and he did. She was still a damn good mechanic, and a friend long before she even knew how to find an air filter, much less change one. "What do you want me to say, Letty? I'm sorry. Sorry you found out the way you did. Sorry I didn't say something. Sorry we…we didn't --" he stopped there. What could he say? Weren't meant to be, couldn't make it work? He hadn't tried all that hard. They'd gotten too familiar, too used to each other. He couldn't even be sure when he'd known it wasn't going anywhere for certain. Maybe on his long ride cross country through Mexico. Maybe when he thought he'd lose everything and suddenly the only things that were important were all he could think about. Letty hadn't been on the list.
She chewed on her lower lip then straightened up. "Get in the car."
"Go for a ride with me."
She still looked tense, but she pulled her keys out, tossed them. "I can't talk to you here with him probably watching."
"You owe me this much," she said.
He did. "Okay," he said and reached down to pick up the bag. "You mind?"
Her jaw tightened up again but she shrugged. "Whatever." She turned around and got in the car, started the engine.
Dom didn't hurry, not sure if he hoped she'd change her mind and take off, or if he was trying to prove something by taking his time.
Brian was still near the windows but he looked up when Dom came in and dropped the bag in the foyer. "We're gonna go for a ride," Dom said. "I don't know where or how long. To talk."
"Okay," Brian said and went to the counter, grabbing up his cell phone. He offered it to Dom.
Dom stared at it.
"You know, if she dumps your ass on the side of the road somewhere," he said.
Dom fingered the phone then pocketed it and grabbed up his own wallet and his keys. "I owe her."
"You don't owe me any explanations," Brian said evenly. "See you when I do," he said and headed back into the bedroom.
Dom stood there for a few seconds then Letty revved the engine and suddenly a ride seemed exactly what he needed.
She drove straight-armed, seat pushed back almost too far, like she always had. He'd warned her about it, about surrendering control for cool, and she'd ignored him -- except when she was racing. He didn't know how many times she'd lost before she'd realized he wasn't just talking out of his ass.
But for this, for cruising and just being out, being seen, she'd slide the seat back, tuck her head, stretch out her arms and give anyone who passed her a glare that would freeze water. Letty really wasn't someone who let a challenge go unanswered, no matter how small. He needed to keep that in mind.
She didn't say anything, only booked out of the neighborhood, angling for the highway. He had no idea where they were going and he didn't ask.
Letty volunteered nothing, only drove, picked up some speed when she hit the freeway and Dom leaned back, closed his eyes and let the wind rub against his face and arm until they tingled. He opened his eyes again when she slowed and exited and started to work her way back through town, all of it without a word between them. But she looked calmer, her jaw not so set and her wrists relaxed on the wheel. Loose hair slid across her cheeks, her forehead, and she glanced at him, opened her mouth like she was ready to talk but then closed it again and turned away.
A few minutes later they were back in the neighborhood, coming in from the opposite side. When she pulled up to the garage he was glad he'd brought his keys. She stopped on the drive and looked at him again and he gave her a little nod, got out and opened the gates, let her pull in.
She didn't stop in front of the bays but pulled back into the lot, next to the newer of the two
Airstreams, and got out. Dom walked back to join her, irrationally glad she hadn't wanted to go into the bay. It would have been too much, he thought, ghosts and images of just hours ago and he felt his pulse pick up a little just at the thought of it.
Letty was the reason there were condoms in the upright tool chest. Letty was the reason there was a decent couch in the office, that the bathroom had hot water and real towels in the cabinet. And now Brian was the reason he was glad for all of it and God, if he said any of it or even let on that he thought it, Letty would be well within her rights to just kill him.
Letty was also the reason there were two Airstreams instead of one, even though both of them could sleep six in a pinch. Why one had always been available for Jesse.
She unlocked the door to the newer one, the one they took to meets. The one they'd taken to Race Wars all those months ago. Dom hesitated at the door, touching the dull aluminum, and wondered for the first time who had managed to get it back when everything had gone to shit that day. He stepped up and inside, blocking the light. The shades were drawn, the interior dim with him blocking the sunlight. Letty was a shadow in the narrow corridor between the kitchenette and the table.
It smelled musty and stale, but not sour, not like it would maybe if someone hadn't cleaned it out, dumped the food they'd brought, emptied the waste tanks. The power wasn't hooked up and if it had been sitting all this time, the battery was probably drained; the propane tank might have evaporated if the valves hadn't been set tight.
Letty shifted, the sound rather than the movement bringing his attention back. His eyes had adjusted some while he stared at nothing. She was pulling the clip from her hair, toeing her tennis shoes off. Dom stepped further in, breath tight in his chest, and the Airstream shifted with the redistribution of weight. One of the tires must be low.
Letty turned to him, unsnapping her jeans. "Get your clothes off," she said.
"Wha- why?" he said and only a fraction of a second later realized what a totally stupid question that was.
Letty didn't even give him that long to complete the realization, she just moved, so fast and so sure, hooking one arm around his neck to pull his mouth to hers and using her other hand to slide and rub across his dick. She touched him flat-palmed, but her fingers curved to rake across the base of his cock, through his sweats, dragging a reaction from him that had everything to do with instinct and memory and nothing at all to do with thought. His mouth had the same reaction, well and thoroughly trained to react specifically when he found her tongue in his mouth, her soft, full lips wet and demanding.
All instinct, no thought. He almost forgot that only an hour or so ago, he'd had Brian pinned to the bed, rubbing hard and urgently, practically begging Brian to do with his hands what Letty was now doing with hers; he almost forgot that he thought he might get drunk on the taste of Brian's mouth, his skin, the feel of his lean, hard body driving them insistently toward yet another orgasm.
Letty's breasts pressed to his chest, through his shirt, warm and full and soft, her nipples already peaking through her own shirt, little nubs that made him want to groan and pull his shirt off and hers, just to feel them, cup them, take them in his mouth. He blanked for a minute and went with it, arm encircling her back and pulling her up hard against him, half lifting her, only to set her down again to nudge her hand away, and slide his own hand into the open gap of her jeans, driving down to feel her, feel the crisp curls of her pubes, soft and thick, cushioning the softer, damper skin beyond. She groaned against his lips, teased his tongue into her mouth and sucked in that knowing, familiar way she had and ground her hips against him, asking for more of his hand, demanding more of what she wanted.
She swore when he pulled his hand back, but then chuckled when he pulled her up, lifting her as easily as he would a bag of laundry, her splayed pelvis rubbing across his dick. The crappy linoleum table was right there, ugly and hard but stable and solid, too, and he dropped her butt on it. He reached for her jeans as she reached to pull her shirt off, stripping down to her barely there bra while he was still tugging at her jeans.
He got them only as far as her thighs before she was dragging his shirt up and over his head, biting his chest while her small, sure hands worked the drawstring of his sweats, shoving them down over his hips and grabbing his ass to tug him forward, scissoring her legs to work her jeans down enough to spread her legs. Only to stop, suddenly, and start swearing.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck…," she said panting and suddenly she was pushing him away as firmly as she'd been tugging him in. "Your wallet. Give me your fucking wallet."
Dom was stunned and shaken and didn't react. Weird for him but the breather gave him time to think, even as his dick throbbed and ached. Letty slid off the table when he didn't react fast enough, digging into his sweats to find his wallet and opening it, searching through it and tossing it aside. "Shit. Where are they?"
"Where are what?" he asked. She stopped long enough to finish kicking off her jeans so she could walk without tripping, hunting through the narrow drawers next to the bunk beds until she found what she was looking for with a little yell of satisfaction. A handful of condoms and she tossed all but one on the table, opened the one she kept.
Dom stared at her at it as she unrolled it a little, spit into it and reached for his dick.
He grabbed her wrist. He still couldn't think straight. She was smiling at him, lips parted and wet, cheeks flushed, hair wild and tangled. Her skin was brown cream and smooth. Firm muscles were showing through the softness from her arms to her chest to her stomach. The little not-bra thing she wore was practically translucent, showing the darker brown of her aureoles, nipples hard and tiny and he licked his lips because he wanted to feel those small nubs between his lips, pressed to his tongue, wanted to bite down on them just hard enough to make her cry out and grab his head. Her hips were curved and slid smoothly into the hollows of her pelvis, and Dom actually remembered with a flush in his own cheeks how much he loved burying his face against that smooth skin, how strong the scent of her was when he did it. There was just a little roundness to her stomach, a cushion he'd used more than once. Her pussy soft and damp even now, his fingertips tingling in memory of how the hair and the soft, damp, hot skin felt. His mouth dried up from wanting to taste her. Christ, she was beautiful and aroused, and the light in her eyes had nothing to do with anger or disgust and everything to do with lust and pleasure and triumph.
She stared at his hand, her expression changing, slowly, like she was giving him time to change his mind.
He wasn't holding her tightly, just enough pressure to keep her hand away from his dick. Her other hand came up, hovered, pushed back her hair. She stared hard at him and jerked her wrist away. For a second he thought she might slap him again. She looked like she wanted to, her body tense, and it occurred to him that it wouldn't take much for her to just drive her knee into his very unprotected crotch.
She shoved the condom into his hand and stared for a moment longer, then very carefully got back up on the table, legs spread, expression defiant. The anger was coming back.
The triumph, not so much.
And he thought about it. Fingered the latex, tried to ignore the throb in his dick. No promises. He hadn't made any, Brian hadn't asked for any -- Brian probably wouldn't even care, wouldn't understand why this was a problem at all.
And maybe it wouldn't be between him and Brian. Between him and Letty? That was a whole other thing.
Very carefully he set the condom on the table, bent with some discomfort to grab up both Letty's jeans and his own sweats.
He offered her hers first.
It took her a moment to reach out, pull the denim from his hands, lay the jeans across her lap. It took longer for the anger to ease off her face, replaced by confusion, but Dom felt it was safe enough to pull his own pants back on, swallowing the grunt as the heavy jersey pulled against his cock and made him want to bite his lip.
He backed up until the knobs of the little two-burner stove dug into his back. He started to cross his arms but then spread them wide, gripping the counter, feeling the metal edge dig into his palms.
"You are such a bastard," Letty said, softly, like there was no anger there at all, just fact.
He couldn't deny it. Wouldn't. Even so, part of him really wanted to make this her fault somehow. Just a little. Like this didn't all fall apart just because of him, but it did. Had. Or he could blame Brian.
It was closer to the truth but he wasn't sure he could explain it to her. Wasn't even sure she'd want to know. "I'm sorry."
"Fuck you. Sorry means there's something I can forgive and there's not," she said and slid off the table, pulling her jeans on hunting for her shirt.
She's gonna leave. She would, and this time there would be no coming back. No seeing her. Just this -- hate -- between them after so many years.
He wasn't willing for that to happen, not without a fight. A different fight. Not one he was sure he could win. "Letty," he said and reached for her, not surprised when she jerked away. But he did it again, grabbing both her arms, holding her. She tried to shrug him off and he pressed harder, not sure what he could say, if there was anything, any words that could salvage anything from this -- for them -- at all. "Just tell me one thing…," he said quickly, his voice sounding flat and a little desperate to his own ears. "One thing. What would this get us? Where do we go -- could we go -- from this? Back to what we had? Is that what you want?"
She jerked again, although not as strongly, but then brought her arms up between his, broke his hold and he let her go. "What kind of stupid-ass question is that?" she said and grabbed her shirt, pulling it on. "What was wrong with what we had? What? You feeling a little restricted? Need to get out some, work out something? Fine. Do whatever you want, but you have to tell me when. I can't read your fucking mind, Dom."
"No. It's not that. Jesus, Letty -- it's not -- just answer the question. We go back, where we were. And then what? What do we do? I'm not racing anymore. There's not going to be another job. There's gonna be work, and more work and getting my shit together and what? That's what you want to be part of? What you want?"
"You don't get to decide for me!" she snapped, whirling on him. "You made this…this…decision. You just decided and didn't tell me! Didn't even try! And now you give a shit about what I think? What I want? Fuck you, Toretto!" she shoved him, stepped into his space. "Not gonna race, not gonna push it -- gonna be a good boy?" she said in a whiny voice. "Bullshit. Six weeks you'll be out of your skull, so bored you won't even be able to get drunk. Now that you've got some cop shoving his dick into your ass, you decide you want to be walking the straight and narrow? Bullshit. Although I guess you can't really be straight anymore, huh, Dom?"
Dom bit his lip, hard, holding back on the urge to let her have it, to meet her insults with a few of his own. She was watching him, openly mocking him, lips curling up when she saw his face, thinking she'd made a hit.
Maybe she had but it was the wrong one. "Why the condom, Letty? Why not just go with it. Maybe get pregnant. I'd be there then, huh? That what you want?"
It could have been worse, she could have used her fist. But the palm of her hand burned his skin, rattled his skull, jolted his neck and sent a spasm of pain along his shoulder.
He'd shocked her. Shocked himself. Yeah, it was a low blow and not really Letty's style. Trapping him. No. She wouldn't. He knew her better than that, he really did. His tongue tested his lip but he didn't taste blood. His hands were numb though, from holding on to the counter. Carefully, he eased his grip. "Kids, family," he said slowly, shrugging his shoulder and wincing again. "You didn't answer me. What do you see, Letty? In a year. In five. Where do you want to be?" Who do you want to be?
"That what you want, Dom? A family? Kids running around? Because I got news for you -- Brian fucking O'Conner isn't going to give you them either."
He didn't have to say anything, just watched it hit her. Watched her test it, look at it. She was pissed off, yeah. But sometimes the truth was clearer then. Kids for her? Maybe, someday, but she couldn't see it. Neither could he.
"You left last night, early. Why?" he pushed it because it was the only way he could see through this. The only way to save anything. It was over long before Brian, but Letty hadn't seen it because she wasn't looking. In the moment, absolutely. The next hour, the next day. The next job. The next race. He should have said something but he hadn't. He could have said something any time she visited him in Chino. Could have written or called her.
"I had…I had to do the community thing -- early."
"But you had time to meet us for breakfast."
"Fuck you," she said but there was less heat in it and for the first time she seemed unsure. Righteousness giving way to confusion.
"I never wanted this to be this way, Letty. I owe you more than that -- you mean more to me than for you to have to..."
"Yeah. But I never meant to dump you. Or hurt you," he said.
She made a derisive sound, reminding him that she didn't bruise that easily. She turned away and then bent to find her shoes, sitting back on the table to pull them on. "It wasn't like I was going to get you to fuck me at Brian's house," she said harshly. "That would have been --"
Rude. Tacky. Presumptuous…. None of it would have mattered once. "You didn't know I was going to stay there. I could have gone back with you and Mia. Not like she hasn't heard us go at it."
"Don't make this my fault!" she snapped.
"I'm not. I'm just trying to -- Letty, you. Me. This didn't happen last night. Or last month...or even --"
"Shut up. I think I'd have noticed. Jesus, Dom. We just are. We have been forever. I didn't hear you spelling out any long range plans. Oh, yeah. Go to Mexico. A little beach, a little…what did you see.? What did you want? You wanted kids and a house and what? Working this fucking garage for the rest or your life? Be your father all over again?"
Dom was silent for a long moment. "Maybe not exactly like that. But, yeah. This garage, this town…"
"You had bigger dreams than that."
He nodded. "Yeah. I did. And I fucked them up. Me, Letty. No one else. You have bigger dreams too, don't you? You never wanted me to help you get there --"
"I wanted you to be there!"
He swallowed. "And, maybe once I would have been. Could have been. I was almost twenty-five when I got out of Lompoc. I turned thirty doing my time in Chino. You remember? You brought me cookies and magazines. When you turn twenty-five, where do you want to be, Letty?"
"I waited for you. Years and years before you'd touch me. Then I lost you," she said, voice low. Not a whisper, but harsh and fierce. "And when you got out I was still there. And here I am again. God, I'm a fucking idiot."
"No. No, Letty," he said and closed the distance. She tensed up before he could touch her. He wouldn't make the same mistake he had with Mia. He couldn't offer to make this better, not without making it worse. Couldn't stop her from hurting or from being angry.
And he couldn't -- wouldn't -- prove Brian right after all; that it was nothing, that it was no more than something new, different. He didn't have to try very hard to know how Brian would react, what would happen. If the thought of never seeing Letty again made his chest hurt, the thought of never seeing Brian again, made him want to throw up. He and Letty had history. It had to count for something, should count for something, and no matter what, no one could take it away. All he had with Brian was a future, a possible future, a maybe thing, but there was no cushion there, no common ground to fall back on. Brian would probably get over it faster than Letty would.
But God, if he was wrong. And here he'd been thinking he was done fucking up other people's lives. Apparently not. "I should have said something in Mexico but didn't have time. I didn't…I didn't even know for sure what was going on, what I was doing or why, only that I was losing everything. Jesse, Vince, you, Mia…."
She stared at him, her jaw tense. "You knew then…with Brian that--" She stopped, jerked away again and got to her feet, pacing, looking at the door just to check her escape. "Then?"
"No. I didn't know. I didn't know what it was. Nothing happened between Brian and me before last night." Not exactly true and he could only pray that little of sin of omission wouldn't require a penance of some kind. "Not like there was any time."
"You stayed with him."
"Yeah. For a couple of days but there was nothing.Trust me, Letty. Even if I'd known, neither of us was in any shape to do anything."
"Trust you. Don't count on it."
Dom sat on the table, heard it creak under his weight. He rubbed at his face. "That's it."
"You never looked at another guy in your life."
Not exactly true either but he sure as hell wasn't going to rake the dregs of Lompoc back up from his subconscious, not even for Letty. Maybe especially not for Letty. "You want me to explain it, I can't. Not even to myself."
"You need to come up with a better story, Dom."
"There isn't one."
He could see the question hovering on her lips, could almost hear her ask it, but she wouldn't. With everything else Dom had taken from her, she wasn't giving him her pride too. "What do you want from me?"
Whatever I can get, he thought. He didn't have the right to ask. "You're still family. You always will be," he said carefully.
She stiffened at that and shook her head, a hard smile curling her lip. "Yeah, my dad says that. I don't believe him either."
Dom didn't try to stop her from leaving. Didn't move when he heard the engine start up. He heard her tires squeal, heard the bumper grate on the pavement when she took the driveway too fast.
He should lock the gates again, he thought. Call Brian for a ride. Or Mia. Instead he got up and closed the door to the Airstream, the inside going almost completely black. He felt his way along the counter to the back, found the lower bunk by touch and stretched out on it. With the door closed, the trailer smelled stale and felt hot and closed in. Sounds from outside were muffled but still there. When he closed his eyes, the difference in the darkness was minimal. Blind, he reached up, touched the upper bunk, felt the metal slats, but without the mesh the bunks in Chino had. If he concentrated really hard, he thought he could hear the steps of the guards, walking the hallways and ramps, could maybe even hear the sounds of a thousand other people breathing around him. But the blanket beneath him was soft and the only sweat that assailed his nostrils was his own. A horn sounded somewhere and he never heard those inside.
Minor comfort, major distinction and he dropped his hand. He'd have liked to get really drunk. There was a liquor store less than a block away and he had plenty of cash on him, but it required too much planning, too much effort. Instead he rolled over, facing the back of the bunk so that even if he opened his eyes he wouldn't see anything.
That he was able to fall asleep was the most surprising thing that he could have imagined.
He whacked his head on the upper bunk when he got up and fumbled for the door to the miniature toilet and shower. No surprise that the taps were dry -- not that he'd want to drink water that had been sitting in the tank for months. He could go to the garage but the need to relieve himself was pretty severe. He'd have to flush the systems anyway.
He was still more or less blind, but there was some light bleeding in. Maybe he'd only slept for a couple of hours. He flicked the blinds up in the bathroom, blinking at the brightness.
Very bright. It should be getting on toward dusk, right? He'd been ready to fix dinner when he'd left…
It wasn't streetlights, or the motion detectors on the garage front. It was daylight. Morning light, bright and full.
"Fuck. Fuck!" he snarled out, digging into his pants, fishing for Brian's cell phone to check it, staring at it. He hadn't ever turned it on. There were messages waiting and his mind barely registered them as he stared at the time. A little after six a.m.
Relief rushed through him. He hadn't missed his appointment, although he'd be cutting it close because he needed to snag a ride, grab a shower, get changed and try to look presentable when he met his parole officer for the first time. Jesus. Some deep down part of him must really want to keep right on fucking up his life.
He found his shirt and wallet, grabbing up both, thumbing through trying to find Brian's number -- which wasn't in there -- no reason for it to be. But Mia's was, which was good, because he sure as hell didn't know her new one. He'd dialed and was listening to it ring through when he pushed out of the Airstream and, then stopped, just as it was answered.
"Hello? Brian -- Dom?" she demanded.
"Yeah, Mia. It's me," he said, but he was staring, even as Mia was giving him what for in his ear.
"You scared us to death! Do you have any idea how long we were out looking for you? I swear to God, Dom, you can't do this! I know you're having a hard time, I know yesterday sucked, but Jesus Christ--"
He heard it with half an ear, took in what she was saying and approached the car slowly, then stopped.
"Mia. Mia--" he said sharply, but without raising his voice. "I'm sorry. I'll call you back."
"You'll -- You --"
He closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I am. Brian's here. I need to wake him up. He's asleep."
"He stayed all night?"
"Looks like," Dom said and then stepped back, when Brian shifted, twisted a little and barely missed cracking his head on the window frame of the Mustang.
"Call me back," she ordered and hung up. It suddenly occurred to Dom that she knew where he was. Maybe she hadn't the night before but they'd figured it out.
Probably got it out of Letty, whenever she'd rolled back in, and Dom didn't want to think about it. Who knew? Only Brian hadn't parked here to protect the garage and Dom wondered if he'd come into the trailer, to check. If he'd tried waking him or just slipped back out again.
The latter felt more like what had happened and he approached the car carefully, trying to figure out the best way to wake Brian without startling him. The last thing he needed was for Brian to give himself a concussion.
There was no way that was comfortable and it didn't look it. Yeah, Brian had pushed the seat back as far as it would go, reclined it. Wrapped his arms around himself, but he was still all kind of twisted up. It wasn't uncomfortable out, but it was warm even this early. Dom felt sweat still even without his shirt on.
"Brian...," he said it softly, then again. The third time it penetrated some part of Brian's brain and he moved, woke up slowly and blinked at Dom. Managed not to crack his head when he pulled himself upright.
"Hi. You should call Mia," Brian said, reaching for the door, his voice thick and rough with sleep. He looked like hell. No surprise there, sleeping in his car.
"I just did. What are you doing here?" Dom demanded as Brian pushed open the door and got out stiffly, stretching. Suddenly he was a little pissed off, that Brian was here. Checking up on him. Following him.
"Mia called me…when Letty got in. She was pretty trashed," Brian said, coughing to clear his throat.
"No, Letty. Mia called me to see if you'd come back," he shrugged, winced and turned around to stretch against the car.
"When the hell was this?"
"Two, three this morning. We tried to call you, make sure you were okay. I told Mia you probably were."
"I'm fine," Dom said, ignoring the fact that Brian hadn't asked. "I sure as hell don't need a baby sitter."
Brian wiped at his face. "No one thinks you do, Dom. She was just worried, okay? Letty said she'd left you here so I came over to check. Gate was open…you were asleep."
"So why'd you stay?"
"Because you had my phone and Mia's got an early class and I figured you'd need a ride."
"I'd have called."
Brian looked down at his feet then away. "I didn't actually mean to stay," he said finally. "I was just…thinking. I fell asleep. Sue me," he said a tinge of defiance in his voice and a small flush starting at the base of his throat. Dom didn't know if he was embarrassed or getting pissed off. "Can you open the garage? I need to piss."
Dom stared at him for a long moment before stalking over to the door and unlocking it. Brian followed him and then pushed past him heading for the bathroom.
Dom stayed outside, staring up, feeling both annoyed and grateful. And embarrassed. But mostly pissed off in ways he couldn't even get a handle on.
Brian wasn't long. When he returned, he passed the keys to Dom. "You drive," he said and didn't wait for Dom to agree.
It was a mirror of the drive with Letty, only shorter, both of them silent, Brian scrunched down in the passenger seat, arms folded, staring out the window. He didn't say anything when Dom pulled up in front of the house, just got out and headed in.
Dom followed him, hesitating in the foyer. He was still pissed off, but it was less sharp. Brian peeled off his shirt as he headed back to the bedroom, saying nothing and Dom got to the bedroom in time to watch Brian pull off his last shoe, and crawl onto the bed.
Which didn't look slept in. Dom didn't know if it meant anything -- if Brian hadn't been asleep when Mia called or if he was just a compulsive bed maker.
"I need a shower."
"Won't bother me. Go," Brian said waving vaguely in his direction.
The shower eased his temper some, but he still had to hustle if he was going to make his appointment.
He wasn't surprised that Brian had put his clothes away. He found the two empty bags folded up in the floor of the closet, most of his stuff hung up. It didn't take a genius to figure out the rest was tucked into the dresser drawers.
Grabbing clothes, he got dressed quickly. His dress shirt could have used the touch of an iron, but he didn't see one. He also had no tie, but he had a decent pair of slacks and a pair of what Mia called his Christmas shoes because the only time he ever wore them was when she or Letty could convince him to go to church once or twice a year. They felt a little big, but socks helped.
He was buttoning his shirt up when he came back into the bedroom from the closet, eyes searching the room again, out of habit -- checking his environment. Brian was fast asleep, half under the blankets. He hadn't taken his jeans off.
Dom checked the clock again and figured he had time for coffee and made it, watching the liquid drip through for long minutes before he realized he still needed to call Mia..
He was pissed off at her too, but couldn't really find any reason why -- it didn't say much that he was pissed off at his sister because she was worried about him.
He fingered Brian's cell phone. He'd have to get one. They'd confiscated his when he'd been arrested. He couldn't remember if he'd ever gotten it back or if he had, where it was now. Mia would probably know.
She picked up on the second ring and gave him time to identify himself; he managed to get a "hey, Mia," in before she started up again. Dom let her go for a few seconds, pouring himself a cup of coffee and getting a first sip before interrupting her. "You want to stop ragging on me long enough for me to apologize?"
She fell silent for a moment then huffed into his ear. "You already did."
"Apparently I didn't do it good enough," he said, well aware he didn't sound contrite at all. He was tired -- not sleepy. He'd actually slept really well. "I'm sorry, you were worried. That you had to deal…how is she?" he asked wondering if he'd get nailed for that, too.
"Passed out. Been awhile since that happened. She's lucky she didn't get herself killed."
"She was pretty mad when she left."
"She was still mad when she got home, although…" Mia paused and Dom swore he heard her chuckle.
"What?" he asked, genuinely curious. Letty couldn't hold booze for shit. A couple of beers, yeah, but when she really wanted to tie one on, the results were pretty hysterical.
"She really wasn't pissed at you exactly, or not totally. Pretty much men in general, you, her dad, Brian, just guys. I can't believe she just left you there."
"She was mad. At least she didn't leave me in the middle of the freeway," Dom said, wondering if Brian was psychic or just a really good judge of human nature. "I didn't turn the phone on. I'm sorry. I should have told you I was okay. Something…Checking in with you isn't really a habit, you know?"
"I know. I do, Dom. I'm sorry. Okay. I just… you didn't seem like yourself yesterday and with Letty being so…I'm not your keeper," she finished and now she sounded contrite. She did it so much better than him -- probably because she meant it.
"It's okay, Mia-bella. There are worse things than having my sister worry about me, okay?"
"He's asleep. He called you, right?"
"Yeah. He did, from a payphone. I should have…I should have gone with him. We could have left you a car. Crap. I probably need to apologize to him."
"You're gonna end up owing him."
"Hah. Not yet. I've got some miles left on that ride," she said and it was a little more cynical than Dom expected.
Except Brian seemed to think she was right, no matter what he said about Dom not owing him. House rules applied, maybe.
"He was worried, too," Mia said, almost defensively. "He called me, earlier, to see if you were here."
That was interesting. How long had Brian been out looking for him? And Mia, too. He didn't know whether to be pissed off again or amused that the two of them were acting like frantic parents.
"Okay. Don't you have class?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I need to get ready. You're okay?"
Dom pushed down the tiny flare of resentment that now she was asking. "I'm okay."
"Just that Letty was…I guess it didn't go so well. I'm sorry."
"It's a bad situation, all around, Mi. I tried."
"I know you did, Dom. I know."
"I need to head out myself. I'll call you later, okay? Maybe go to dinner."
"Okay, that would be good. I love you, Dom. I really do."
"I know. Me too, bella. Have a good day," he said and hung up, feeling dissatisfied and out of sorts.
He turned the coffee off and finished his cup, rinsing it out, wandering around the tiny house until he absolutely couldn't delay any longer, and wondered if he should leave Brian a note.
He grabbed his keys and wallet before that idea even had a chance to become a full fledged urge.
There were no surprises. No more severe restrictions than he'd had before. Check in by phone or in person once a week, but at least once a month he had to show up in person. He was half tempted to give the garage address when he was asked but he gave Brian's address instead although he thought about it while paperwork was processed. He could get the Airstream hooked up, fill the tanks. He didn't need more than a place to crash, someplace to make coffee. A shower. His space, no one to worry about or to call.
And then he thought about the half empty dresser and closet. About how with all the ups and downs of the day before, everything seemed okay, mostly, when Brian was around.
And he still didn't know Brian's phone number. That annoyed his parole officer a little but he promised to call with it the minute he got back.
Two hours later he'd finished up, managed not to piss Mr. Telligas off any more, and Brian was still dead to the world. There was a bottle of water on the bedside table that Dom hadn't seen before, but otherwise Brian looked like he hadn't moved.
And his number wasn't on the land line. Dom swore softly but there wasn't any way around it. He could call Mia but she was probably still in class.
Brian didn't move when he sat down on the edge of the bed, but when Dom reached out to touch his shoulder, he jerked awake and twisted, making Dom wonder what the hell he'd been dreaming about.
"Sorry," Dom said, and meant it. Brian still looked like he needed sleep. "I need to give my parole officer a phone number."
"'s okay," Brian said, rolling to his back and sitting up. "What time is it?"
"A little before ten," Dom said.
Brian raked a hand through his hair. "Uh, it's 714-555-8215. That's the house line. You want my cell?"
"Naw. I'll get one. Go back to sleep," Dom said and got up, repeating the number to himself. Brian's hand closed over his wrist.
"It went okay? They didn't give you too much shit?" he asked.
"Only about not knowing my phone number," Dom said. "I need to call him."
Brian nodded and let go, dropping back onto the bed and watching him. There was a remote phone plugged into the charger on the bedside table and Dom used it, made the call and actually got a thank you from Telligas which made him snort. "I wouldn't want his job for all the money in the world."
Brian grinned at him and stretched a little. "Well, with your record, I don't think you have to worry about it."
Dom nodded and started unbuttoning the dress shirt he'd put on, stripping down to the tank beneath it. He folded the shirt up carefully. He'd have to wash it. It wasn't terribly hot out but he'd been sweating anyway and his scalp itched. He had time today, he thought as he rubbed his head, to get a shave, maybe run back over to the garage and start inventory.
When he'd gotten out of Lompoc, he'd been restless too, but he'd wanted to go out, mix it up a little, get really drunk, get laid a lot, showing up to work on his car because racing meant he could get lots of people to buy him drinks and a flashy car was a great way to get laid. Letty hadn't been too thrilled with any of it, but she'd given him space when he'd needed it. He'd been a little crazy coming off that stint. This time, she wasn't giving him space and it felt weird not to actually need it. Not from her. But Brian was doing the same thing, more or less.
"Mia said you were worried."
Brian tucked an arm under his head. His gazed panned over Dom's face, down his chest and then back up. "A little, yeah. Letty looked pretty mad."
"You think I can't handle myself with Letty?" Dom said, too incredulous to even be insulted.
Brian didn't flinch. "I think Letty means a lot to you. You tend to let your guard down with people you care about."
That did piss him off. "I sure as hell did with you," Dom said flatly.
"Yeah, you did."
Dom shoved himself off the bed before he actually hit something, like Brian's face. He tossed his shirt in Brian's open hamper and headed for the bathroom, as much get some privacy as anything. He splashed cold water on his face and stared at himself in the mirror, eyes narrowed at a series of small red marks on his neck and chest.
He almost missed them but he was pretty sure Brian hadn't; a small blood bruise on his neck that hadn't been their yesterday, another on his collarbone. He groaned softly to himself and was suddenly very glad he'd worn a dress shirt. Chances were Telligas hadn't seen them. Not that Dom really cared. Letty had given him a hickey or two, a scratche here and there. He was half tempted to pull his T-shirt off and see if there were others but he didn't actually want to know, right at the moment.
And Brian was a smug, righteous bastard.
Dom came out of the bathroom with a purpose, changing clothes and putting on his boots. Brian watched him, but didn't ask where he was going or what he was doing. Not even when Dom very deliberately put Brian's cell phone on the dresser, making sure Brian saw it. He left without a word.
He spent the entire drive back to the garage wondering if he hadn't made a huge mistake. He didn't even know what he was doing any longer. Letty had been right about that. Yeah, Brian was…a really good lay, and Dom did owe him no matter what he said. It wasn't up to Brian to decide which debts Dom would or wouldn't pay off.
He wondered what would happen if he called Letty and told her he'd made a mistake, that he'd been wrong, that they need to talk…or fuck. She'd give him shit, make him work for it, but he thought she'd take him back, wrap her leash a little tighter for a bit. He could deal. It would be more normal, it would be familiar.
Like the neighborhood was familiar. A few changes here and there, but not many and he cruised past the garage and down the street, pulled up in front of a barber shop that had been there since he was a kid.
Mateo was surprised to see him, but opened his arms in greeting. "Dominic! I didn't know you were out. I knew it was soon but no one's been around. Welcome back!"
It felt a little surreal but it was familiar and right now, Dom was all about familiar and simple and things that made sense. He settled back, let Mateo give him a shave -- head and face -- and nothing felt as good as the old -fashioned warm cloths on his face. Mateo was a talker and with only a few grunts from Dom, he pretty much got the whole run down of changes in the neighborhood. Who had moved on, who had moved in, who had died. Businesses and bad news.
Dom tipped him better than he probably expected, but not better than he deserved. He felt, if not better, then at least calmer. Standing on the sidewalk, it all looked the same more or less. People going on with their lives. People looked at him as they walked or drove by, but their stares and glances while assessing didn't show the wary, challenging glares of other cons. He had no turf to defend.
Or maybe he did, but it was different turf, inside and out.
He didn't bother with the lights inside the garage; it was bright enough if he left the doors open. Paperwork for the inventory was where he'd left it months ago although there were few notes in Mia's small neat hand. She'd done what needed to be done like she always did. Resenting her for that wasn't fair but he couldn't seem to shake it.
He went after the most likely stock to need replacing, checking belts and sealants, looking for wear, for dryness. All in all not so bad, very few he had to pull off the shelves and toss, write up an order. A couple of hours of that and he could feel the numbness set in, kind of vaguely comforting. He could do this in his sleep. He set the inventory aside made a few calls, to see if he still had accounts with the various auto parts stores. Chances were he'd have to pay cash up front for a bit, but that was fine. It wasn't like there were cars lined up outside needing work.
Mid -afternoon had him headed for the market, out of habit more than anything. Rosa seemed surprised to see him but glad, offering him lunch, her kids set up in the office area in the back with blankets and toys, in her sight but out of the way. The oldest might still be in school he guessed.
He didn't stay and he insisted on paying, which even Rosa thought was kind of silly. Technically the store was still his -- Mia's -- still under the Toretto name, but it wasn't really. The Vegas had put their own mark on it, even without the name.
He loaded a box up of water and dry foods, some canned goods, sodas. Hauled it all back to the garage and then set up the generator on the Airstream and spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning and priming tanks, refilling the reservoir, putting the food away, tossing the few things that had remained in the cabinets.
The linens needed to be cleaned and that was one down side. There wasn't a washer and dryer close -- there was a laundromat down by the barber shop or he could haul them back to Brian's.
He'd managed to pretty much go the whole day without thinking of Brian at all, but he stopped there, with a pile of dirt laundry.
It wouldn't be a big deal. Brian was willing to give him space, and that was the problem, wasn't it?
He didn't want Brian to give him space, he'd rather take it on his own. He'd rather be at odds and force understanding than own up to the fact that Brian seemed to understand most things pretty well, regardless of what Dom said or did.
Maybe better than Dom did himself. He sat down at the dinette, thumbed his lower lip and stared out the window, not even seeing the slatted chain-link beyond. There was an unopened condom on the table and he picked it up, fingered it.
Mad at Letty, he'd taken it out on Brian. Mad at himself, at Mia, and yet Brian was the one he'd wanted to hit, to shove at, the one he'd needed to get away from.
Inside Chino, able to see Brian only once a week or so, he'd come to count on that. He was disappointed but not mad when Brian couldn't make it. Getting out, it had seemed to be effortless, to stay, to give in to Brian's suggestions, his appeal, but he was still pissed off, not nearly as sure as he'd told Brian he was.
But Brian wasn't the problem. Dom knew it, felt it, could see it in front of him.
He hadn't been ready for this much of a change in himself. It had been okay when it was just thinking, when it was just "maybe", "what if…", "when". But those weren't distant ideas any more, it was all right here, right now and Dom was running from them faster than he'd ever run from cops. He bet if he pushed hard enough Brian would eventually take off, take the burden off Dom, fulfill the doubts that he hadn't wanted to look at.
Somehow, though, he thought pushing Letty away might have been easier.
He wasn't even sure that's what he wanted. Maybe Letty was right and it was just the sex, new and different, easier than it had any right to be, only he'd have never have gotten to that part at all without the rest, without knowing that Brian was as familiar to him as his car, as the garage, the neighborhood -- that was where he stumbled. It still bothered him that Brian had gotten so close, so fast. That Dom had let him get that close.
Then wanted him closer when holding people at arm's length had been more his style for most of his life.
It was a theory he needed to check, a modification he needed to test.
"Fuck. Fuck me," he murmured rubbing his hand over his newly shaved skull. "Face it or fail, Toretto," he thought and got up, shoved the linens into a trash bag and shut down the generator.
It didn't take long to lock up, push the laundry into the back seat and head back. Reaching Brian's house, the first thing he noticed was that Brian's car was gone. Dom was both relieved and annoyed. Not like Brian didn't have a life of his own, even if Dom knew very little about it outside his job. Who his friends were, what he'd been doing with his down time.
The porch light was on, and the kitchen light. Dom dumped the laundry in the washer and started it and headed back. The bed was made, no note, but he found one taped to the bathroom mirror.
"Mia Called. Dinner?"
That was it. No indication where Brian had gone or how long he'd be gone. The cell was gone from the side of the bed.
It took him a fumbling few minutes and two wrong numbers to get Mia's number right.
"Hey, you still up for dinner?"
"Yeah, if you want. You want to come here? Cook? Go out?" she asked him and there was no trace of her earlier irritation.
"No. She slammed out of here about an hour ago. I guess she's mad at me now."
Dom winced. "Sorry."
"She'll get over it," Mia said, sounding confident.
Yeah, maybe. "Let's go somewhere. You pick," Dom said, not even sure if his favorites were still in business and he didn't want to ask.
"Maggiano's then. Brian coming?"
"He's not here. You could call him."
She was quiet for a long moment and Dom fought back the annoyance. "Do you want me to?"
"Whatever, Mia. I don't know his cell number."
"No, it's okay," she said quickly. "You want to meet there or --"
"No. Mia…" This was so awkward it was painful. Having to make a date to see his sister. She should be here or him there. They should be in their house.
He should have walked out of prison and into his own life, instead of walking into the life of a stranger. "Can we do this some other night?"
"Uh, yeah," she said but sounded uncertain. "Dom--"
"Don't ask," he said quickly, flatly. He had enough questions of his own he couldn't answer he didn't need hers too. "Mia, I'm sorry. I just need to get some things--"
"Dom, please stop apologizing to me for things that don't need it," she said, interrupting him just as flatly. She wasn't mad though, he knew this tone of voice. It was more business than family, but it was a tone of voice Dom paid attention to because she used it so rarely. "You are freaking me out. I'm not going anywhere, okay?"
"I know," he said leaning both elbows on the counter, rubbing at his eyes.
"Maybe you should go for a drive," she said after a moment.
"Yeah, maybe. I'm good. I'll talk to you tomorrow." He wouldn't, though, the thought following him even as he hung up. Getting in his car was a bad idea, even though his whole body twitched at the thought of it. He could do it, find a stretch, open up, pull the plates, out run any cop that came after him.
What he wasn't sure of was if he'd stop.
He checked the refrigerator and pulled a beer, drank it while standing there with the door open then grabbed another. The house seemed too small, even when he went out, stared at the street. Wide open, cars moving. People living their lives. The RX7 all but winked at him, tempting him and he ignored it, polished off the second beer and started walking, past his car, up the street, toward the few businesses that framed the neighborhood. He remembered the route from the last time he'd walked it in pain and confused as hell. He was more confused now.
He didn't really know what he expected except that he felt he needed to move, to keep moving. The upside to walking was that it wasn't likely he'd make the county line, much less the state line.
Brian's street eventually dumped into a five street intersection, the edges of the sidewalk breaking down into scrubby grass and gravel and then dumping into a parking lot. There was a bar there. He hadn't noticed it before; maybe it was new, although the building looked older. Beer signs and Tequila signs and neon and an ad for pool tables crowded the dark windows. No one would know him, he'd never been here either, but it was immediately familiar.
As was the solid black Mustang in the parking lot.
For a second Dom hesitated, staring at the car, wondering if it was just coincidence, but no. He knew those hubs, he knew the scuff on the front fender. And Brian was drinking here instead of at home where he had booze he'd already paid for.
The shift from sunlight to darker interior took a second to adjust to, but long enough for Dom to see Brian at the bar, working on something in a tall glass with ice. A nearly empty plate was at his elbow and a bottle of ketchup and Dom glanced up to see a meager menu. There was an unopened pack of cigarettes on the counter as well, a book of matches placed squarely on top. The bartender eyed Dom as he entered but Brian didn't even glance up. The mirror behind the bar covered the door; if Brian even flicked his eyes up, he'd see Dom.
Nothing. Brian took a swig of his drink and then studied it, like the ice inside held something fascinating and revealing. Before Dom could move, Brian drained his drink, picked up the cigarettes and tucked them in his shirt and swung around, off the bar stool.
He didn't miss Dom then, couldn't. He stared for a long minute, then half sat back down when Dom took a step forward. Dom moved up beside him, leaning on the bar instead of taking the stool next to Brian.
It took Brian a second to swing back around as well. "You drinking?" he asked, and Dom glanced sideways to see a flush on Brian's neck, and his eyes were a little glassy but still intensely blue.
"Joey," Brian called. "Two Coronas. Unless you want something else?"
"What were you drinking there?" Dom asked pointing at the glass.
"Scotch rocks," Brian said and Dom felt his eyebrow twitch upward. That was a pretty tall glass for scotch.
"Beer's fine," Dom said and watched while the bartender -- Joey -- pulled two bottles from the cooler and opened them, wedging a piece of lime in each.
"You drive or walk?" Brian asked, shoving his lime into the bottle.
"You can give him my keys," Brian said to the bartender.
"Let's see how much he's drinking first, Brian," Joey said easily enough, settling back with a cup of coffee. Dom glanced around. The bar wasn't empty but it wasn't crowded either. Still, early in the afternoon, on a Monday. Maybe most of the regulars were still working off their weekend.
"I'll settle for this," Dom said taking a sip of his beer. Joey eyed him for a moment then shrugged, reached under the bar and pulled out Brian's keys and laid them on the wood. Dom pocketed them. "Table?" he asked, and Brian took another second to nod. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his wallet, dropping another couple of bills on the bar before getting up.
He swayed a little, gave Dom a half grin and then made his way more or less steadily to one of the high backed booths that lined the other wall and slid in.
Dom settled in on the other side, checking the bar out again. It wasn't that impressive but it wasn't a dive either. The felt on the pool tables looked in good repair, even if the edging showed a few stains and rings from too many beer mugs set on them. There were a couple of dart boards on the back wall. When he inhaled deeply, he could catch vague aromas from the kitchen that didn't make him sick. Chili, the lingering smell of fried food. Fish and chips on the menu. Someone, sometime, had an eye toward making this some kind of English or Irish pub but it looked like they'd fallen short. It was just a neighborhood bar, probably catered more to men than women. Joey looked more bored than surly.
"You come here a lot?" Dom asked, because it was awkward. It sounded like a pick up line, but Brian just slouched a little in the corner, turning sideways to get one foot up on the bench.
"On and off. It's close. Food's not bad. Weren't you supposed to have dinner with Mia?"
"Gave her a rain check. Didn't feel much like going out."
"So, you came to a bar?"
Dom scowled and swallowed about half his beer. "I wasn't looking for you."
Brian glanced sharply at him. "I didn't think you were." He said it easily enough, but he drank his own beer and stared at the middle of the room.
It wasn't hostility exactly, but Dom couldn't put his finger on it. Disappointment maybe, which annoyed him, but pretty much everything did today.
"I didn't know you smoked," Dom said and Brian did look at him then.
"I quit. About a year ago."
Dom didn't say anything, only stared at Brian's pocket. Brian looked down and pulled out the pack, fingering it. "It's like a test…," he said and set them on the table, fingering the cellophane, swinging the pack around to peel off the top. It stuck to his finger until he crumpled it into a little ball. Then he pulled the foil and wrapped it around the cellophane. He pulled out a single cigarette and laid it across the pack, then sat back. "Waste of money."
"Worth more inside," Dom said and picked up the cigarette fingering it. "Pack of these is money. A carton will buy you a friend."
"Nobody needs friends you can buy," Brian said and finished off his beer, picked up the pack of cigarettes. "I'm headed back." He slid out. "Will you get the car back? I'm gonna walk."
Dom didn't know what to make of that but he nodded and watched while Brian made his way more or less steadily to the door and pushed outside.
When he couldn't see Brian anymore, he turned back and finished his beer, picked up the cigarette and tucked it behind his ear. He stopped by the bar. "You got matches?" he asked and Joey pulled a pack tossed it on the bar. "He been here long?"
Joey shrugged. "A couple of hours. Steady on, though."
"Thanks," Dom said and headed out, blinking a little in the fading light. He could see Brian a block away, walking slowly but he wasn't staggering or anything, hands stuck in his pockets, head up as he walked. Just a guy out for a stroll. Dom fingered the keys and leaned against the Mustang's rear bumper.
The cigarette tasted sharp, the smoke made his nostrils twitch. The last one he'd had had been, when? Wednesday or Thursday of the week before, shared between a couple of guys who weren't really friends but weren't total dickheads either. It wasn't a habit he'd picked up in prison, but like a lot of small things, it was something to do, another way to kill ten minutes.
He was fucking this up. He could see it coming as clearly as a head on collision. He could blame it on a lot of things: reorientation to a world that wasn't prison, breaking up with his girlfriend, taking up with Brian. One second things were so clear it was like an epiphany and the next minute he wasn't even sure he wasn't dreaming this whole thing, wasn't sure that he wouldn't wake up any minute and find himself back in prison, staring at the sameness that was as familiar as all the things he kept seeking out, but without the comfort.
He didn't want to pull Brian into this. Or Mia or Letty, any of them. Inside, he'd been so sure it would be different this time. He had a goal, he had some opportunities. He'd made decisions and plans, spent a lot of time figuring out how his life would be: toe the line, don't fuck it up, remember what matters. Stop trying to unmake the past.
The smoke burned his lungs and he held it there, fought the urge to cough, let it out easily and tossed the cigarette away.
He should walk too. Clear his head, but he had the keys and he doubted Brian would appreciate him leaving the 'Stang here. Joey either.
He almost stopped to offer Brian a ride but Brian didn't look up, even after Dom passed him, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other in away that reminded Dom of a little kid.
Dom had coffee made by the time Brian got back but he didn't offer it, just stood in the kitchen and drank his own. He needed to eat something. Beer, coffee, and cigarette had apparently decided to stake out rival territories in his gut.
"Thanks for bringing the car back," Brian said stopping on the opposite side of the counter and leaning forward, arms folded against it.
"De nada," Dom said and hauled out sandwich stuff again. He was going to get tired of them really fast but he didn't have the energy for anything else. The milk looked good though and he pulled that, pouring a tall glass and ignoring his coffee. Brian watched him but didn't say anything. It looked like he wanted to, like maybe he had a lot to say but he didn't, only watched while Dom fixed his food.
"You want something?" Dom asked when his sandwich was built.
"Naw, I'm good," Brian said then grinned and leaned over to pull a slice of chicken from the plate. "This is why you have parties right? Because you don't have to worry about food for days?"
Except for the fact that Dom was usually the one providing the grub, yeah. "It beats the stuff you got going in there," he said, jerking his head toward the freezer.
Brian grinned again and tore the chicken into two pieces. "You got the full treatment. Usually I do take out."
And just like that the tension eased. Dom inclined his head toward the table and Brian slid around the door. He didn't make a sandwich but he did grab a handful of chips and echoed Dom's preference for a glass of milk before settling in at the table across from him for no better reason than to keep Dom company while he ate.
"You got a reason for that?" Dom asked tossing his head, like the bar was on the counter next to them.
Brian raised an eyebrow. "Are you seriously going to rag on me for drinking?" he asked. He looked like he might laugh in Dom's face.
"No…no. I'm just curious. That usual for you?" Dom tried to keep it light, to not let there be worry in the question, to not let how very little he knew about Brian's day to day life throw him off stride.
Brian studied him and sat back in his chair, relaxed and sprawling. "No. Once in awhile thing. Getting drunk every day isn't something I plan on ever doing," he said, evenly, without any anger but his gaze was steady. Dom believed him. "That was just -- " he shrugged and looked away and Dom had that prickle between his shoulder blades again. Not disbelieving Brian, but there was something there. "My brain was starting to hurt. Thinking too hard, I guess."
"Okay," Dom said, although he wanted to ask why -- compare notes. See if they were both suffering from the same affliction. "I shouldn't have gotten mad at you this morning," he said and took a bite of his sandwich.
Brian shrugged again and leaned forward, ignored the pile of chips at his elbow and snagged one off Dom's plate. "You had someone watching every move you made for the last six months. I can see why it would be annoying."
"It's not that," Dom said quickly. He didn't want Brian to know that much about him, to know him so well. It was freaking him out and suddenly he wasn't hungry anymore. He shoved his plate away as he got to his feet. The kitchen was to his back and there was nowhere to go except past Brian and then -- where?
Brian got up more slowly. His eyebrows were lowered, his lips parted, but the corners of his mouth turned down. His hands were loose and easy by his side, spread fingers raised slightly. The gesture itself made Dom's gut clench a little: unconscious calming, something cops did, something people did to strange dogs or hysterical children.
"I can still leave," Brian said, but he dropped his hands, shoved them into his pockets.
Dom drew a deep breath. There was no threat here, no danger. Why the hell was his heart running at full throttle? It's your house, it's your life, he wanted to say, snap it back at Brian like he'd been accused of something.
He forced himself to stop to think, calm down. It was harder than it should be and he didn't know why. He'd stared down and out-calmed men who were far bigger threats than Brian inside Chino and done it in a way that, by the time he got out, had most of the harder cons giving him a pass and moving on to less resolute prey. "I stocked up the Airstream," he said finally and Brian blinked at him and then relaxed, except it wasn't like a storm had passed, it was more like he gave up.
"Oh, well. Close to work anyway," was all he said and then he shifted, moved past Dom -- and managed not to touch him -- to pour himself a cup of coffee and then start putting the food away.
"Just in case," Dom said and Brian recovered the plate of chicken and slid it into the refrigerator. He closed the door carefully and looked at Dom.
"In case of what?"
"In case I need some space."
Brian gave that some thought then pulled himself up on the counter and sipped at his coffee, rubbed at his eyes. "Better the Airstream than here."
"It's your house. The Airstream is…it's mine," Dom said finally and leaned against the door frame. That was it. He hadn't even been able to put a finger on it before.
Brian nodded. "Okay."
"It's not you."
"I get it."
"Brian -- "
"Dom, I get it," Brian said and his voice was sharper, harder than Dom thought he meant to be, or maybe not. "Look, you're gonna do what you gonna do, okay? I get it. I'm not trying to push you into anything."
Dom rolled forward, placed himself in front of Brian with his arms across his chest because otherwise he'd be reaching out to touch and somehow, he thought he'd just forfeited that right. Well, up until Brian tapped him in the thigh with his sneaker. Dom reached down and caught his ankle, then his calf. "I could just turn around," he offered, stepping in between Brian's legs.
Brian eyed him and took another sip of coffee. "Well, if I thought your brains were in your ass I might actually consider it."
Dom leaned in and put his hands on either side of Brian's hips. He had to look up then. Interesting angle to see the flush on Brian's throat. "You're making me a little crazy, here," he said after a second.
Brian raised an eyebrow. "I'm making you crazy?"
Dom nodded. "Too nice. Too understanding. If things were different, I'd definitely be in your face."
Brian grinned at him and ducked his head slightly. "You are in my face." he ducked his head a little more and caught Dom's mouth with his own, lightly, tongue just leaving a damp swipe on Dom's lower lip. Brian's mouth was salty from the chips, his breath still slightly smoky from the scotch. Too gentle, still, and Dom felt a flash of heat lance through his belly to his groin.
Brian's hand came up to cup the back of his neck and after a moment his thumb rubbed softly against Dom's skull but he lifted his head, took a deeper breath. "I'm not thinking very nice things," he said, eyes meeting Dom's. The flush had moved from his neck to his face.
"No? Like what?"
"Like I'd really like to have you suck my dick."
Dom's mouth went dry, his fingers tightening on Brian's hips. He licked his lips and Brian took that as a yes, pulling Dom's mouth to his and this time far less gently.
'Yes' hadn't exactly been the first answer that sprang to Dom's mind.
He kissed Brian back though; didn't stop him when Brian pulled at the button of his jeans and slid the zipper down. Didn't stop him when Brian pulled Dom's hand off his hip and pressed it to his crotch so Dom could feel the rising hardness there. Familiar and hot, and Dom rubbed at Brian's erection, easing his hand beneath the cotton of Brian's briefs to feel him, stroking him firmly. Brian grunted against his mouth and pulled his head back, thumbs stretching the corners of Dom's lips.
Dom stroked him harder, feeling like he might get away with it, when Brian moaned his name. He pulled Brian's dick out of his underwear and Brian jerked and shuddered, watched him.
Dom could feel Brian's eyes on him when he looked down at the full, flushed, thickness in his hand. Blood colored Brian's cock dark, escaping pre-come making it wet, the scent of him strong.
Dom couldn't find a hint of saliva in his own mouth. He'd gone down on Letty before; knew the taste of her as well as he knew the curve of her breasts, the swell of her belly. It couldn't be that different, couldn't be that difficult given how easily Brian had managed to take Dom over and over again, stretching his lips over Dom's dick.
Brian leaned back, bracing his hands on the counter and Dom bent down, still rubbing hard, practically willing Brian to come before his lips ever touched skin. And his lips did touch skin, at Brian's belly, the scent of him even stronger, the barest brush of pubic hair tickling Dom's lips. This close up Brian's dick looked enormous and Dom couldn't even imagine getting his lips around it much less taking Brian into his mouth.
And he wanted to. Wanted to be fair, when he hadn't been, would have liked to give something back.
The shudder that ran through him had nothing to do with passion or lust and he straightened up, jacked Brian off hard, forcing himself to look Brian in the face even though he was too much of a coward to tell him no or explain why.
And he hated seeing the realization hit Brian's face, to watch him swallow it and take less than what he'd asked for like it was good enough.
Good enough to get him off, because Brian let go and Dom didn't even try to avoid getting his spunk on his clothes. He felt the thick, hot stuff slide off the skin of his hand, hit his arm, stain his shirt. Brian's arms trembled when he pushed forward, grabbed Dom around the neck and kissed him again, still breathing hard.
Dom couldn't quite look him in the eye when he finally pulled back and away. He wiped his hands on a kitchen towel, then turned around to run the water, planning on cleaning Brian up too. The floor. The counter. Maybe he'd do the windows while he was at it.
He heard Brian slide off the counter, feet hitting the floor. He didn't move when Brian came up behind him and managed not to flinch when Brian's hand slid across his shoulder. He did stop him when Brian's other hand eased across his hip to his waistband, gripping his wrist. He wasn't that hard; fear and uncertainty had pretty much driven any surge of arousal right back into hiding.
"I'm not keeping score," Brian said, resting his chin on Dom's shoulder. He pushed his hand further but only to spread his fingers across Dom's stomach, not pushing beneath or doing anything but rubbing his thumb across the cloth of Dom's T-shirt.
Maybe he should be. Everything else with Brian had fallen into place, everything physical anyway. But this was a wall and Dom couldn't even explain it to himself. Not like he didn't know how it felt, not like he hadn't had his dick in another guy's mouth even before Brian. He'd never sucked anyone off in prison -- it wasn't expected. Not part of the deal. Never been fucked either although it had come close once or twice before he'd established himself as someone not to be fucked with on any level.
"It shouldn't be a big deal."
Brian shrugged. "Maybe it won't be sometime. I'm not worried about it," he said and spread his fingers over Dom's. "This," he said, opening Dom's palm. "Makes me pretty happy. So does this," he added and tugged Dom's shoulder back, turning him.
He needed to get Brian a muzzle -- his mouth was dangerous. Beguiling, demanding -- Dom didn't want to say irresistible, but he wasn't putting up any kind of fight at all.
When Brian's hands moved down to his waistband again, this time Dom didn't stop him. He did push him backward before Brian could shove his pants down, not sure he could actually stand to watch Brian go to his knees. Brian let himself be shoved, then tugged, both of them practically tripping over each other as they made their way down the short hall to the bedroom.
Vaguely Dom thought he should stop this, pull back. Think things through. Call for a little time out or breathing space but his hands and his mouth seemed to have no doubts at all, and when he finally did shove his pants down, his dick was hard and ready for whatever; qualms about Brian going down on him vanishing.
Somewhere between the feel of Brian's mouth on him and the sudden appearance of lube on his condom-sheathed cock he remembered being able to say no to Letty with a lot less effort but no better reasons. Then Brian was rocking with him, urging him on, face red with effort and eyes dark with need and want, and any semblance of reason Dom had took a hike as well.
Only afterward, when their bodies were stuck together and Dom was actually able to breathe and think did it come back to him why this was so hard, why he kept coming back, why saying no to Brian was so much more difficult.
Brian turned his face into Dom's shoulder and exhaled strongly, body relaxing, hair tangled under Dom's fingers.
Once he hadn't been able to say no to Letty either.
Back when he'd loved her.
He'd always sucked at being able to say that to her too.
And for just those couple of hours Dom watched Brian, the way he moved around the house not so much nervous as much as he couldn't sit still for very long. He rearranged piles of CD's and magazines, then left them discarded and Dom honestly couldn't tell if it were nervousness or if Brian was just like this. Or if he were just buzzed.
"I've got requalifying tomorrow," Brian said after the news was off, after he'd dumped a load of towels in the washer. Dom thought he had it then. Brian was nervous but only about his testing, about being able to pass enough to maybe go back to work full time.
"That take long?"
Brian shrugged and rolled his neck. "A couple of hours. Should be done by noon."
"I'll be opening the garage tomorrow," Dom offered back. It wasn't so hard. Schedules, appointments. At home he and Mia had kept a board up to keep track of each other. Mia's classes, Dom's "meetings".
"Maybe I'll come by after?" Brian said, throwing the idea out there and Dom nodded. That much he could do, would do. He wasn't entirely sure what Vince or Leon knew if anything, but he'd get it out there just to get it over with. Hope Letty hadn't gotten to them first, although it might be easier if they had a day or so to get used to it; Vince maybe more than Leon. Or not. Vince hadn't missed how often Brian had visited Chino, had talked to Brian a couple of times -- both times to say thanks for pulling his ass off that truck. Vince had said it before but it was worth repeating and again when Brian had brought him a few things he'd asked for. Nothing big: soap and safety razors and a couple of boxes of tissues. The prison was supposed to supply all the necessary things, but Dom had watched guys practically take on hits out on other inmates to get more toilet paper.
Going to bed was about exciting as toilet paper because Brian caught Dom yawning before the weatherman finished his forecast: clear, sunny, hot. Dom wanted a job like that.
Brian offered to lock up, sent Dom to bed. Maybe Dom should have noticed that it took Brian a while to do that, but he was nearly asleep by the time Brian finally did climb under the sheets. He was still for a moment and Dom had a vague impression that he was being watched but it penetrated no further, set off no alarms or even any desire.
A couple of hours later he woke again, checking the clock with bleary eyes. Barely catching the edge of Brian coughing in the bathroom again. For a long time he stared at the thin line of light under the door, still half asleep, listening to the water run, the medicine cabinet door squeak open. He couldn't quite get back entirely to his dreams until the light went off and Brian cleared his throat a couple of times. It seemed to go on longer than the night before and Dom felt vaguely anxious but he didn't know what to do about it so he rolled over and tried to go back to sleep again.
Somewhere in vague dreams he thought Brian came back to bed but whatever followed was shadowed and indistinct, feather light touches that seemed to dance along the inside of his skin, and a rocking motion that made his dreams teeter far too easily into a replay of the first night here, with Brian riding him like kids rode plastic ponies in the park. Pleasant enough for him to finally wake up with a hard on that only needed the touch of a hand to finish him off. He hadn't had a wet dream that intense in awhile.
Brian's side of the bed was empty and Dom ground his teeth together kicked off the sheets and came hard without any effort at all, but feeling vaguely disappointed. He'd gotten tired of his own hand in Chino. He spread his release over his skin to keep from having to change the sheets, then got up to take a shower. The fiberglass walls were already wet and he made a rush job of it before the water ran cold.
At least he made it to sleeping past eight.
There was coffee made, a note taped to it; "Running" and Dom shook his head, seeing Brian's keys and his wallet on the kitchen counter.
A half hour later Dom had managed to throw together a quick breakfast, polished off his second cup of coffee, and was feeling weird about the other silence. He was used to talking to people in the morning. Might not be deep conversations but talking. With Mia at home as she hurried around to get her day started, even in prison where there was pretty much always someone around, the murmur of voices, even if the conversations weren't directed at him. He could hear street noise, even distant voices, clearer when he went to the front door and stared outward, eyes tracking across the street to the route Brian had used a couple of days before but he saw no one.
By the time he was dressed and ready to go, Brian still hadn't made an appearance and he couldn't wait really. He fumbled with a note of his own, discarding two before he penned a simpler version. "At garage. Call me after." He left the number at the garage and stuck the note on Brian's wallet, then gathered up his own things to leave, chewing his lip. Brian had left his keys. He hoped the neighborhood was better than his own as he left the door unlocked.
He thought about taking the cross street, just to see if Brian were close, but beside that first morning's run, he had no idea what route Brian usually took. Five miles could cover a lot of ground.
Vince and Leon were already there and Dom found himself grinning at the two of them, perched on the top of Leon's cars like little kids, coffees in hand and wrapped up greasy things from some fast food place. Leon was practically bouncing with energy, teeth bared when he saw Dom's car and Dom leaned out and pulled the gate key of his ring. "Open her up," he said and Vince didn't move, just sat on the hood of Leon's car watching Dom. When he did move it was more slowly, favoring his left leg still. Maybe always. He'd trimmed his beard back, gotten a haircut, but he wasn't hiding the long, snake-like scar that wrapped around his right arm. It had messed up his tats and Vince had bitched long and hard about that inside.
Vince offered up his fist and Dom pressed his own knuckles to it. "Vacation's over, brother." Vince gave him a half grin and leaned on the open window.
"I dunno. I was kind of down with the no working part of it."
Dom snorted. "Well, then coming back here won't be much of a change. You gonna get your lazy ass inside?"
Vince gave it some thought, dropping his head down for a second, when he lifted again he was smiling but his eyes were serious. "Where's the snowman?"
So he did know. Maybe mostly. "Had some kind of qualifying thing to do. He may come by later."
Vince nodded and stared up at the garage. "'K. I don't care," he said pushing off the car. He stared Dom down. "But I don't wanna know."
Mostly knew. "We're working here," Dom acknowledged and put his car in gear when Vince turned around to move Leon's car up the drive. Not over, by a long shot, but for now it looked like Vince was still working it out in his head.
There wasn't a whole lot left to do since Dom had worked out his frustrations on inventory and cleaning out what wasn't worth keeping, but there were pick ups to do and Dom passed Leon cash to get some oil drums delivered, put Vince to work testing out the lifts, the generators and pressure packs on the tools. Leon had just gotten back when they heard the whine of engine echoing from outside. Letty pulled to a stop blocking both bays and got out. She was dressed to work, coveralls hanging low on her hips hair pulled back, work boots scuffed and oil stained.
"Letty!" Leon broke what could have been a tense moment. The smile she gave him was real, warm, and even after they clasped hands and rocked back, it didn't entirely leave her face.
"I got service on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays," she threw down at Dom, and he nodded.
"We can work around it." He spread his arms. "Not exactly overloaded right now."
She met his eyes for a long moment, mouth tightening, then gave a little nod then turned to greet Vince, admiring his scar.
By noon they actually had business. Not much, locals who'd used DT's before and wanted to see if he was really open again. Dom was a little surprised at how much doing an oil change and tune up felt like opening a present. Leon made a run at one to grab pizzas and by mid afternoon, somehow the word got out. The old crew came to check in; Hector and Edwin, Tomas and Miguel, until the drive looked like DT's had more business than it could handle.
Everything else dropped away for Dom; it got easier to breathe and it wasn't until it was nearly five that he realized that other than the few tense moments in the morning, he hadn't worried about a damn thing. It was like he'd stepped out of his life for a little bit and now he was back. It took him until then to realize Brian hadn't called, hadn't shown. He called the house and got the machine.
He tried Brian's cell and got a message. Locking up, he found three expectant faces looking at him -- even Letty. He agreed without saying and they ended up at a little place around the block, munching on chips and knocking back a few beers.
He left them an hour later reminding them that Mia was putting out flyers. Letty fingered her bottle and glanced up. "I'll drop 'em by on my way in," she offered and Dom nodded. "Thanks," he said and Letty looked away quickly. She offered the truce but she wasn't ready for his gratitude just yet. It would take time. Maybe a lot of time.
It felt weird leaving them like that, the three of them still sitting back, nursing the last of their beers. It was different for sure, when usually the beers would come from Dom's own refrigerator and it was nothing for them to never leave, to crash on couches or the floor more often than not. And yet Dom was ready to go, the noise and press of people in the bar starting to get on his nerves and even as he cranked the engine he tried to remember when the desire for peace and quiet would even out against the strangeness of always being surrounded by other people.
Brian's car was in the drive, pretty much where he'd left it in the morning and Dom stared for a long moment. It didn't look like it had move at all but it wasn't like he'd measured the distance between the cracked front bumpers and the front door.
The door was unlocked too and Dom felt the first prick of something uneasy. Brian's wallet and keys were still on the counter along with his phone and the note he'd left that morning was still there. The only lights on were those Dom had left, like he'd walked out five seconds ago rather than twelve hours ago.
The only change was the blinking light on the answering machine and when Dom pulled the note free, Brian's cell had messages too.
Brian hadn't come back from his run. The thought thudded through Dom's brain along with his quickened heartbeat. He'd left. He hadn't come back.
He was still trying to find a reason when he punched up the answering machine and listened to a woman's voice: "Officer O'Conner, this is Alicia Gonzales from Human Resources. You've missed your requalifying. I'll need you to reschedule and call me or come in and file for an extension. Give me a call please or stop by, the number is…" Dom shut it off but didn't erase it. It was after seven, not likely even the LAPD's personnel office was open this late.
Brian's cell felt too light in his hand. He couldn't pull the messages but he could see the recent incoming calls. The first two were Gonzales again and the second rang to the desk of a Sergeant at the police armory. Dom didn't leave a message. That was it. The next call was Mia's from the day before.
He almost called her. Would Brian call her if he was in trouble -- call her rather than Dom out of habit? He checked Brian's cell again, scrolling through his directory. There weren't that many entries but he found one marked "Dad" and after a second, punched it up.
Another machine, this one with the mechanical voice, he hung up. Further down the list was "NT" but Dom had no idea who that was. He tried it anyway. There was no identifying by name but Dom recognized Detective Nick Tanner's voice after a second or two.
He didn't know what else to try or who to call. A million things could have happened to Brian in this town, maybe more given that he was a cop, a cop some portion of his own people didn't like much.
He reached for Brian's wallet and it felt like far more of an intrusion than living in his house did, but he found the card, the cheap little paper card that had contact information on it, in amid appointment cards and scraps of stuff and about fifty in cash. Even as Dom was pulling the card out and flipping it over he realized that Brian had no ID on him at all. If he'd been hit by a car or mugged or who knew what, unless he could talk, no one would know who the hell he was.
Four numbers on the back, one for his Dad, one for his Mom which wasn't even a California area code and Dom vaguely recalled she lived in New England somewhere and listed last was Nick Tanner again, two different numbers than the one he'd already tried.
The first was Tanner's office. No joy, the second though, sounded like a pager rather than a cell phone. No message but he punched in Brian's number and waited.
He thought he'd go nuts -- the need to do something, jump in his car and start looking, even go down to the police station and file a missing persons report except he doubted they'd do anything, not yet.
He grabbed a beer out of the fridge and opened it, taking a swallow as something to do more than anything, fingers drumming on the counter. If it were Mia missing, or even Vince -- who'd been known to lose a day or two too drunk to get home -- he'd have plenty of places to start looking. He knew where they went, their haunts, their friend, most of which were mutual. With Brian he had nothing. Didn't even know what route Brian took to work. What stores he used. What he did with himself during the day with no job to go to.
Except the bar up the street. Dom tipped the bottle over in the sink and grabbed his keys, along with Brian's wallet and his cell. He didn't really think Brian would be there again, but it was someplace to check, maybe just see if he'd been by. Anything better than sitting here feeling helpless.
He was halfway out the door when the phone rang.
"Hope this is important, Brian--" Tanner.
"It's Dominic Toretto, Tanner."
There was silence for a moment. "Toretto. How did you get my pager?"
"It was on the emergency contact in Brian's wallet," Dom said but even saying it, he felt the anxiety rise up again. Tanner didn't know anything.
"I see. And you called it because…?"
But Tanner might have a better idea where to start looking. "He's missing. Has been most of the day, as far as I know."
"Missing," Tanner's voice took on a sharper edge. "Why don’t you start over? No, why don't you start at the end. How do you know?"
Dom chewed on his lip. "I've been staying with him since I got out -- since Saturday. Look, he left a note this morning that he was going running. He was supposed to do some kind of requalifying thing today for you guys, for the cops. He didn't show. His stuff -- his wallet, his keys -- still here. Didn't anybody tell you he'd missed his test?"
"Brian doesn't report to me, Toretto. Not any more. When did you last see him?"
Last night, Dom thought but narrowed it down a bit. "He got up around seven-thirty to run. That's the last time I saw him. I went to work around nine, got back fifteen minutes ago."
"All right. I'll call his captain do some checking. Stay where you are, Toretto. In case he calls. Or I do."
"I was gonna check the bar--" Tanner was gone and Dom hung up the phone then stared at it and Brian's cell, wishing he'd taken the time to stop and get one of his own. Very quickly he dialed up Mia on the cell.
She picked up after three. "Brian--"
"It's me, Mia."
"Hi. What's up?" she asked, voice cheerful and bright.
"Have you heard from Brian at all today?"
"No. No, I haven’t talked to him. What's going on, Dom?"
"He's not here," Dom said and gave her a briefer version of what he'd given Tanner.
"Well, that's weird," she said. "I'm sure he's okay, Dom, I mean--" she faltered.
"You know anything, anyone, I could try, Mia? Friends. Anybody he talked about."
"I don't, Dom. Mostly...mostly when we talk, it's pretty -- he doesn’t talk about himself. There's a gym he goes to sometimes over near Silver Lake, but mostly, no. We talk about cars or school or...you. You want me to come over?"
He could use the company but he squeezed the phone hard. "No. Give it some time, see if Tanner can find out anything."
"Did he say anything? I mean, he was okay yesterday, right? You guys didn't…"
"He was okay," Dom said but wondered if that were really true. "He was up last night, coughing and stuff."
"Coughing. Bad?" Her tone changed again.
"I dunno. No worse than he has been, or maybe a little. He said it's just leftover. From the Pneumonia."
"Call the hospitals, Dom," she said in a rush. "Brea community is closest to you--"
"The hospitals?" it hadn't even occurred to him. If Brian had been hit by a car, an accident-- "Shit. He's got no ID."
"Then they'll be looking -- check the emergency rooms. Brea, Kindred, and Glendale, those are the closest to you."
"I will," he said dully.
"Do it. I'm on my way over," she said and Dom didn't try to stop her this time, only hung up and dialed information.
He had to use the land line for information, getting the numbers of all three hospitals, then Barton, Barlow and Gateway when he asked information for other hospitals in the area.
Brea and Kindred gave him nothing, not for Brian's name, or his description. No unidentified patients. He was calling Glendale when the phone rang and he ditched the call.
"He's at Glendale," Tanner said and it sounded like he was moving, driving. "They managed to get his name out of him."
"What happened?" Dom asked, caught between relief at finding Brian and a whole new set of worries.
"I don't know, exactly. He was brought in by ambulance. He's listed as stable but they took him back up to the cardiac wing. I'm on my way there now. I've already told them to request his records from Mercy."
"I'll meet you there."
"Bring his wallet, clothes probably. He's got meds? Bring those too," Tanner said, checking of a list like he'd done this before. Dom might otherwise be annoyed at the tone of command.
"I'll do that. I've got Brian's cell…just. On my way."
"Toretto," Tanner said sharply.
"Try not to get arrested for speeding on your way over?" Tanner said, the sharpness dropping.
"I'll drive like my grandmother," Dom bit out and then hung up, already moving through the house.
Half way throwing clothes and meds into a soft side bag, Dom remembered Mia and tried calling her again, praying she'd answer. He wouldn't wait for her, even if she didn't answer, feeling the crawling sense of dread across his skin, like if he didn't leave, he'd be too late. Too late again and again.
This time he locked the door when he left and Mia picked up just as he was ready to disconnect.
"He's at Glendale," Dom said, throwing the bag into the passenger seat.
"I don't know. I'm headed over."
"I'm five minutes from you, Dom. Wait for me."
"Wait for me," she said and hung up.
He stared at the phone, anger simmering at her tone, at the situation, but he bit it back, didn't give into the urge to just get behind the wheel and take off.
It was less than five minutes and Dom heard her long before he actually saw the flash of blue and silver. Even tense and wired with worry, he found himself grinning. He wasn't the only one likely to get a ticket.
Mia didn't cut the engine, only screeched to a halt in the street. "Get in," she said and Dom might have otherwise been less than happy with her commanding tone, but her motor was running and his wasn't. He grabbed Brian's bag back out and slid into the passenger side. Mia was moving before he had the door closed.
She didn't ask him any more questions only glanced once at him worriedly and Dom could only wonder at what expression was on his face that had her chewing her lip so harshly. But the silence between them was no blessing, because it gave Dom time to think.
Cardiac wing. Which is where Brian had been months ago in another hospital, after being shot. Something had gone wrong and Dom honestly couldn't remember what it had been only that Brian had nearly died, that his heart had failed, been compromised he vaguely remembered without knowing what it meant. He'd thought then that of all things on Brian that could fail, it shouldn't be his heart.
It wasn't that far and it didn't take that long, but Dom found his hand on the door almost before Mia stopped, his other clutching the small bag of Brian's things. He waited for her though, staring at the hospital entrance and wishing Tanner had told him more.
He'd have gone directly for the Cardiac floor -- he could see the signs, but Mia dragged him to information, got a room number while Dom fidgeted and met the stare of the woman behind the counter blink for blink. He probably looked like an idiot child when Mia grabbed his hand an pulled him toward the elevators.
Dom tried to ignore the incredibly bland colors of the hallway, the carpet that looked like it was cleaned every night, the high polish on the floors. An institution was an institution and the repeated sameness was grating on his already stretched nerves.
He almost tripped Mia when he stopped, seeing Detective Sergeant Nick Tanner leaning on the wall across from an open door. Not quite dressed as Dom always pictured him. He was actually in jeans and a T-shirt of all things. An unlogoed pocketed Tee, and for a moment Dom had to stare to let it register that Tanner actually had a life outside of the LAPD, and that Dom's call had probably interrupted that life in some way.
Tanner turned his head and looked at them like he'd known they were there, and he stood up a little straighter. "Toretto. Ms. Toretto. The doctor's in with him."
"What happened?" Mia asked and Dom let her. He was still holding Brian's things, trying to get a handle on what he was doing...the helplessness hitting him like a brick to the head, a sense he'd felt before, over and over only there was no anger accompanying it this time, no rage to give him reason to move or speak.
Tanner glanced at Dom before rocking back on his heels. "His story; he was running along the edge of the park a few blocks from his house. He got dizzy, felt sick. The next thing he knows, an EMT is holding oxygen to his face and there's a crowd. Apparently he collapsed, passed out. Someone saw him and called an ambulance. That was this morning."
This morning. Maybe even before Dom left the house.
He stared at the door hard and then pushed through it despite Tanner's reminder the doctor was in there, despite Mia's worried little squeak. The curtain was draw around the bed and Dom pulled it.
"Excuse me, I'll be done in just a minute--"
Dom ignored him, barely seeing the older man, chart in hand, nurse hovering close by.
Dom gripped the curtain tightly. Brian looked okay. No, actually he looked great, alert, color in his face, rising in his cheeks. If he hadn't been in a hospital bed, surround by probably a couple hundred thousand worth of equipment Dom would have asked him what he thought he was doing. He was sitting up and there was an IV and some kind of mask over his face, hooked to some kind of machine with liquid and vapor and a pump.
"It's okay," Brian said, pulling the mask away to look at Dom. He had to twist a little, exposing leads and wires running under his thin gown to his chest.
The Doctor glared at Dom a little and Dom only stared back, dropped the bag on the end of the bed. "I brought your meds," he said.
"If you'd wait outside for just--"
"He can stay." Brian cut the doctor off again and it didn't look like the doctor was too happy. Dom folded his arms.
The doc did a little regrouping of his own. "I'm going to want another set of tests; and we'll schedule you for a set of cardiac tests in about a week, just to follow up. You brought his medications?"
It took Dom a minute to realize the doctor was talking to him. He unfolded his arms and opened the bag, pulling out the pills and bottles. The nurse came and sorted through them but the doctor pulled out two bottles of some over the counter cough syrup. Dom hadn't been picky -- he'd pretty much cleared the medicine cabinet. "This is what you've been taking?" the doctor asked Brian.
"Yeah. For the coughing."
"Mr. O'Connor, do us all a favor and take the medications your doctor prescribed. This and this, together, probably made this episode worse. You cough to clear your lungs. You take this and you don't cough and what's in your lungs stays there."
"What's wrong with him?" Dom finally asked.
"He has pneumonia -- again," the doctor said, glancing at Brian who nodded. "Plus a build up of fluid around his heart again, from over exertion."
"It's been six months," Brian said and Dom glared at him.
"And you spent three months on limited activity because of the injury to your shoulder and to your heart. You've had two previous episodes of pneumonia, all of which have lengthened your recovery time. I understand your impatience, Mr. O'Connor, but you keep overdoing, and you will keep ending up here or worse."
"What should he be doing?" Dom asked and the doctor gave him another look, sizing him up, sensing a potential ally, maybe.
"For the next couple of weeks, resting. Taking his medications as ordered. Limited physical activity. Patience and time, Mr. O'Connor."
"I need to get back to work," Brian said but not so loud and the color was fading from his face.
"The job will be there," Dom turned his head to see Tanner in the doorway, Mia sticking her head in. "Sorry, Doctor--"
"Nick Tanner, LAPD. I work with Brian. This sets him back how much?"
Dom moved out of the way toward the windows, glad someone knew what questions to ask. He caught Brian waving his hand when the Doctor looked to him for permission to talk. "Four to six weeks depending on how well he follows directions this time."
Dom only half listened. The anger that had been missing before was rising up, slowly. It wasn’t even directed at Brian so much or even himself, just a low simmer.
"When was the last time you saw your own Doctor, Mr. O'Connor?"
"About a month ago."
"After the tests tomorrow, we'll send the results. Set a follow-up appointment. Any questions?"
Dom had a thousand, none of which the doctor could answer, so he kept staring out the window.
"All right then. I'll see you in the morning, Mr. O'Connor."
The doctor made a non-committal noise and left the nurse following him. "Only two visitors at a time," she tossed back.
"I'll wait in the hall," Mia said and Dom turned around to watch her step back. She smirked at him.
Don't kill him, she mouthed and then she was gone.
Dom didn't plan to but from the look on Tanner's face, if he'd wanted to, he'd probably have to get in line. And Brian looked -- Brian looked defeated and stubborn.
"The last thing I needed on my day off was to be tracking you down," Tanner said. "I don't even want to know what this is about, but you need to get your story straight, because the first call I'm making when I leave is to your captain."
"I didn't tell them to call you."
Tanner pulled his glasses off and rubbed at the lenses with his T-shirt. "No. But you didn't call anyone else either. Show some brains, this time, Brian. There's more to being a cop than taking risks and this...this is pure stupidity." He put his glasses back on and looked at Dom. "You're staying with him? That's what you said?"
"Yeah. For now," Dom said.
"Then you sit on him. He needs a keeper," Tanner said. "Get better, Brian. And get smarter."
Tanner glared at Brian with a fury Dom didn't expect before leaving. He heard Mia's voice in the hall and then she poked her head in. "Uh…I'm going to go park in the deck," she said, looking from one to the other.
"I won't be long," Dom said. "Just wait."
Mia rolled her eyes and ducked out again.
Dom started putting the medications back in the bag one by one.
"Shut up," Dom said calmly, finishing his packing. He set the bag on a chair and sat on the edge of the bed, staring toward the windows again. "I don't want to know why you didn't call or try to. I don't even want to know if you knew you were this sick."
"I thought it was just a cough--"
"I do want to know," Dom said like he hadn't heard Brian at all. "What you are trying to prove."
He looked over. Brian had pulled the mask off. What color had been in his face had fled and still he didn't look sick. Tired, though, except that wasn't different really. Paler, but not so much that his tan looked weak. Brian fidgeted a little, shifted in the bed and Dom waited him out. Waiting he could do. He was starting to understand that waiting wasn't something Brian did well at all.
"I don't requalify and I have to go on disability," Brian said at last. He'd said that before but Dom wasn't sure he'd understood it was an issue.
"Aren't you on disability now?"
Brian shook his head. "No. Not…workman's comp, short term." He shrugged. "Line of duty crap. But it's done…I have to file for disability," his gaze dropped and color touched his cheeks again.
"That's what it's there for. The job will wait," Dom said carefully, anger sliding away into confusion and curiosity. "What is it? The money? Not full pay?"
Brian shook his head quickly. "No. It’s not about the money. It's…disability is for guys who…who…really take a hit, you know? Who really need it -- who--" he stopped, hands moving restlessly over the sheet.
"Did you hit your head when you passed out?" Dom asked. "Because Tanner's right; you aren't making a damn bit of sense."
"My dad's on disability."
"Because he got shot."
Dom would have laughed if he didn't recognize that something about this whole thing was making Brian really twitchy. "Brian, you got shot."
"It's better. It's not my shoulder," Brian said and now he sounded mad. "It's just my…six months is long enough."
"Obviously not," Dom said and twisted around to look at him. "I hate to be the one to break it to you, O'Conner, but you are not indestructible. Nobody is."
"I fucking well know that." Brian's temper flared, flashed like a hot burn and Dom was startled by it, taken aback at the break in Brian's cool.
"Then what are you doing?" His own anger flared to meet it, instinctively. "Did you listen to the doctor at all? Push it and the next time you might end up on it for good."
"I won't," Brian said, but his tone lost its edge. "I'm sorry. I should have called. I didn't think they'd keep me. I thought it was…" he shrugged again and pulled the mask back on, breathing deeply -- or kind of deeply. His breath hitched and his eyes squeezed close for just a second. "You've got enough to worry about," he said finally.
"And so I shouldn't worry about you?" Dom asked and got up. "It kind of comes with the deal, doesn't it?" he said. "You, me. Is this what you want or not?" Dom asked, knowing it came out angrier than he actually felt at the moment. But for him, frustration looked a lot like anger. Felt like it too. "You keep giving me room to back out. Maybe it's not me looking for an escape."
"No. That's not it," Brian said, pulling the mask off and sitting up. One of the monitors squealed. "I just didn't want you to feel pressured."
"Pressured? By you?" Dom said and pushed Brian back against the pillows with the flat of his hand. "I just spent six months behind bars with a bunch of guys who are starting to look a whole lot less nuts than you are. You don’t know shit from pressure, Brian," he said and backed up as a nurse came in, Mia edging in behind her. "I'll be back tomorrow," he said and left without looking back.
He made it all the way to the end of the hall before he realized Mia hadn't followed him. He put his back to the wall and waited near the elevators. It took her maybe five minutes before she came out of Brian's room, looked back once then saw Dom waiting for her.
She pushed the button for the elevator.
"Nothing to say?" he asked her when the doors opened.
"Oh, no. You don't get to start on me," she said but she looked amused. She kept the look on her face all the way down and out to the car.
Dom didn't know what to say to her on the drive back and Mia didn't seem to have any conversation to offer. He was just starting to feel both tired and relieved when she pulled in front of Brian's house. Yeah, it had scared him. Hopefully it had scared Brian as well.
"You want to come in?" he asked when she sat there with the engine idling.
"No. I've got studying to do." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "He'll be okay."
Dom grunted. "Yeah, he's doing a great job so far." He opened the door and slid out, closing it carefully. "Thanks for coming, Mia."
She grinned at him and then leaned over. "Dom -- you know what I said, about being more careful with the people who love you?"
"Yeah, I do," he said, leaning on the open window and closing his eyes. His sister gave good advice. He should learn to take it.
"I'm glad you didn't listen to me -- this time," she said. She was smiling broadly now, teeth showing, that little crinkle to her eyes she got when Dom did something that both pleased and exasperated her. She revved he engine and he backed up, still thinking it over when she pulled away with a wave.
Not for the first time, Dom wondered if his sister hadn't been dropped on her head one too many times as a baby. Probably by him.
He'd felt good all day; his life falling back into place, working with his best friends, seeing other friends. Work to do, tools in his hands and the freedom to…go anywhere. Do anything.
And Brian had pulled that particular comfortable rug right out from under his feet again. He thought he understood Mia's smirk though. In the stubborn department, he might well have met his match in Brian. She probably thought they deserved each other.
Maybe he did. Staring at the sprayed stucco ceiling of Brian's living room, with the TV on low in the background, this felt really familiar, only not. He always thought he played what he felt and thought close to the chest -- no use in telegraphing intentions to competitors, to rivals.
Only Brian was neither. And that fact got lost under that exuberant, talky exterior. Under the interest that Brian seemed to show in what was going on around him. Reflective mirrors, deflection. Distraction.
We talk about cars or school or…you.
Dom chewed on the inside of his lip and sat up. He could call Tanner, if he really wanted to know, but somehow, he doubted that Tanner would a) be thrilled about hearing from Dom again so soon and b) know anything about Brian that Dom really wanted to know. Friends maybe, guys on the force he might hang out with. Or maybe not. Brian didn't report to Tanner.
He was going to well and truly make himself nuts. So, Brian didn't want to be laid up. That wasn't so unusual. The disability thing was a little weird, like taking it was a failure of some kind, or a choice Brian didn't want to make. Maybe he should make a fucking list, he thought irritatedly, getting up to grab a beer, staring at the food in the refrigerator.
That all needed to go and Dom set the beer aside, clearing out the left-overs, finding bags to dump them in and taking them out to the trash cans. As with organizing the garage, it gave him something to do, something he didn't actually need to think about -- he saw something that needed to be done and did it. Vince and Leon used to tease him about how much housework he actually did do. Mia would say it was never enough, and Dom had never argued that the bulk of it fell to her, mostly because the mess and clutter bugged her faster than it did him.
But Brian wasn't really a clutterer. He probably wasn’t the best housekeeper either if the level of dust on the entertainment center shelves was any indication, or the fact that he had an entire kitchen cabinet full of used take out containers. Mia had helped him decorate some and Dom would have loved being a fly on the wall for that. But Brian did, or at least over the last few days, put clothes where they belonged. Washed up dishes after dinner. Didn't leave mail and crap all over the counter.
Done with everything he could see, Dom half wished he hadn't taken all the meds to the hospital. He thought he'd seen some sleeping pills there and he would probably need them. Well, enough beer would give him the same effect.
He was on his second, watching the fuzzy images on the TV without much interest when he heard the cars. For a second he thought he was hallucinating but he got up and looked out front. The shadows were lengthening, the sun almost gone, but the remaining light glinted off the highly polished finishes. Vince and Leon were driving together, and for the first time Dom wondered what had happened to Vince's car. Leon and Letty's were familiar; the custom finishes and low rumble of the engines all Jesse's doing, his design.
He opened the door and leaned on it, staring at them, at the three people gathered together before they looked toward the house and saw him. Leon and Vince both held up twelve packs of Corona, no doubt already cold, and Letty was carrying a brown paper bag.
Dom detached himself from the door way and came down the two steps, staring at them. "What's this?"
"Bar got loud and filled with button downs and business boys," Vince said, moving up the walk. Dom wasn't sure he believed that. The Taquieria was pretty far out of the range for anyone wearing a suit.
"So you came here?"
"It's where you are," Vince said and pulled a beer from the case, pushed the rest of it into Dom's stomach until he grabbed it. "We not welcome at your house no more, dawg?"
There was definitely an edge under Vince's question and Dom bit back the immediate "it's not my house," and grabbed the case of beer instead. Vince grinned and popped his bottle on the step before sitting down to drink it. Dom wondered how many he'd already had.
"We thought we'd check on you," Leon said but it was kind of strangled and Letty shifted uncomfortably. It looked like she was pissed off at being dragged along. Only Dom knew her too well and she'd driven herself.
"You saw me a couple of hours ago."
"Mia told us," Letty said finally, tired of the bullshit. "These two geniuses thought you could use company. She's got a test but said she might pop over after she finishes studying."
"Did I suddenly turn five when I wasn't looking?" Dom asked and jerked his chin at the bag in her arms. "What's that?"
Letty looked in, then reached in and pulled out a bottle. Clear. Tall.
Oh, it was the good stuff. Below the border Tequila. She let the bottle drop and pulled out a lime. "I'm guessing the cop has salt?"
"The cop has a name," Dom said and Letty almost sneered at him.
"I know that. Jesus, D., Back off," she said. "Does Brian have salt or do I need to go get some?" she asked.
If she left, she wouldn't come back. "We've got salt."
She stared at him for a minute longer than barreled past him. "Good, cause I need a fucking drink," she said and stepped over and around Vince and went into the house.
Dom wanted one too. Possibly several. Maybe lots.
Only him. This could only happen to him. His best friend -- oldest friend -- and ex-girlfriend were pretty clearly pissed off at him. And that was reason enough, apparently for a party. He looked at Leon and wondered what his reason was. Damage control, maybe. Didn't matter.
Dom reached into the box he held and handed Leon a beer.
"Maybe this was a bad idea," Leon said, fishing a bottle opener off the key chain on his belt.
"Nah, it's fine," Dom said. "Come on." He led the way. Vince got up and followed them in.
Letty had managed to rummage through the kitchen cabinets and find small glasses. Only one shot glass, though. She'd found the salt too and a knife, quartering limes with the intensity she usually only showed when she was banging out dents on the frame of a car, but she already had a couple of limes quartered and halved. Dom slid the beer into the refrigerator, suddenly glad he'd cleaned it out, when Leon's case fit beside it.
And Brian's kitchen counter was perfect for this. Their own private stand-up bar. "I should have scored some weed," Vince said when Letty started pouring and the beers were ready as chasers.
"Oh, shit yeah, Vince! Brian would love having pot stinking up the place," Letty said, sipping at her beer before licking her hand.
"We could smoke outside," Vince pointed out and followed suit.
Oh, yeah. Dom was going to need a lot of alcohol.
The first set of shots went down in near silence but Dom caught them all looking at him and he had the sudden urge to pour another shot for those that weren't here -- for Jesse, for Brian, and even for Mia. They weren't outside of this. They couldn't be.
Instead he drank. He took the time to feel the burn in his throat, all the way to his stomach. Waited for it to ease rather than tipping his beer back to cool it. Letty didn't even hesitate to line them up again.
The second was no less fiery than the first, but this time the heat spread and stayed. Vince made a loud, satisfied sound and grinned. "Man, I have missed this. Six months of bottled water and bad food and just…."
"I hear you, brother," Leon said and this time he set them up -- far more generous with the tequila than Letty had been.
"What shit is this?" Letty asked. She'd grabbed her beer and headed for the stereo, sorting through Brian's collection. "Who the hell is Joan Baez? She looks like somebody's grandmother."
"She probably is," Dom said.
"Eagles? Led Zeppelin? Who listens to this shit any more?"
"I like Led Zeppelin," Leon protested.
"Yeah, well, that's 'cause you're an idiot, Leon," Letty said and headed out, returning a couple of minutes later with her own sleeve of CD's.
The first group up Dom didn't recognize, but he recognized the rhythms, the backbeat, the wail of protest and anger in the Spanish singer's voice. "We need to score you a better stereo too," Letty pronounced. "Edwin's got a cousin--"
Dom watched them settle in, on sofas and chairs, comfortable and familiar. He didn't need to go into the storage box to get shit. This is what was missing. He didn't even need to go get it himself.
He grabbed the glasses and the bottle and deposited them on the coffee table, nudged Vince's legs out of the way so he could sit on the sofa and found the remote.
ESPN was the channel of choice although there was a monster flick on one of the other channels. Some Japanese thing that Leon wanted to watch but got shouted down. The music was louder than the TV, but nobody was saying anything that meant anything.
It felt right. Righter than anything had so far, even the day before it had fallen to shit. And still there was something missing. A couple of somethings. Someones. Dom ignored the empty spaces.
Letty and Vince started arguing over a bad soccer call and Dom leaned forward, snagging the bottle and carrying it into the kitchen again. Found a glass and poured a shot. It felt stupid but no one was paying attention to him. He left it on the counter and came back with fresh beers and a bag of chips and salsa.
He changed the channel to the monster movie just so he could listen to Letty and Vince rag on Leon. And he drank.
The toilet flushing woke him up because it sounded really loud and frighteningly close, but no, he was on the bed. He could see the bathroom though, through the open door and he could see Leon's back, loose jeans that tightened when he finished his business. His shirt was gone, back tan and lean and covered in freckles that he mostly didn't want anybody else to ever see.
He ran some water and Dom was reminded forcefully that he'd drunk way too much last night even if he couldn't remember when he'd stopped.
And Christ, his head was killing him. If he'd had the energy he'd have panicked at the thought that he'd probably taken any ibuprofen Brian had to the hospital as well, but he heard Leon shake a bottle then watched him set it down on the bathroom sink and drink water right from the tap.
Getting up was a failed attempt at coordination and queasiness rose in his stomach. No surprise. It had been six months since he'd drunk that much that fast. Leon wasn't even out of the bathroom before Dom was in it.
Leon gave him a glance and grinned when Dom pulled his dick out of his underwear with a groan. Partly relief but mostly not.
"You want something to take the edge off?"
"You got a gun?" Dom said which made Leon laugh. He ducked out and Dom finished pissing. Leaning on the sink to splash water on his face felt like a great place to stay for a little while but he finally pushed up to take his share of the pills on the counter.
The towel on the bar smelled and looked clean enough, and Dom pulled it free, pulling off his underwear. Leon returned with a beer. "I'm gonna try and get Vince to go. Back at the shop in a couple?"
Dom barely heard him, tipping the beer back and wondering if he could hold his breath long enough for it and the ibuprofen to kick in. He only wanted to throw up when he breathed. But he had to breathe. "Where is he?"
"Living room floor. Like a baby."
Probably drunk twice as much as Dom was. They'd opened the second bottle of tequila at some point, cracked open the second carton of beer.
Dom turned on the shower. "Where's Letty?"
Leon stared at him and then started laughing. "Fuuuuuck, Dom! You really did get trashed, didn't you?" he said and obviously thought that was hilarious. He stepped back from the door and pointed with his own beer.
Dom hadn't pulled the curtains, hadn't turned on a light. He didn't need to now because the only sheets Brian had were white, bargain-store plain, and Letty's dark hair and brown skin stood out against them like stains.
She wasn't wearing a damn thing that he could see, but he could see her clothes in a pile on top of the dresser.
Dom rubbed at his face. Stared at the underwear he'd dropped to the floor.
Shit. "Anyone flushes the john while I'm showering, dies," he grumbled at Leon and ducked under the water.
It helped some. Helped the boat ride going on in his stomach anyway. A mouth full of water took away some of the sourness. For several long minutes he just let the water pound over him, trying not to think, which he managed pretty well. And even without trying he couldn't remember a damn thing beyond the bottom of the second bottle of tequila. Not going to bed. Not Letty climbing in bed with him.
He finally managed soap and a washcloth and finished cleaning the scent of sweat and beer off himself.
He was toweling off when Vince staggered in, bleary eyed and scowling. "Got a towel?"
Wrapping his own around his waist, Dom pulled another out of the closet. Vince was having a little trouble with his shoes but Dom didn't offer to help. He found sweatpants and changed, glancing at Letty, who hadn't moved at all, still on her stomach, arms wrapped around the pillow.
Leon was on the sofa, looking like he might go back to sleep. "You want coffee?" Dom asked him.
"Be good," was the mumbled reply but Leon didn't move.
It took another half hour for Leon and Vince to down mugs of coffee and hit the road. Leon hadn't asked to shower but both of them needed to change.
"We working?" Vince mumbled.
"Hell, yes, we're working," Dom said gruffly but he wasn't angry. He'd like to be, but no. He fished out the shop keys and detached them, tossing them to Vince. "Start on Quijada's Nissan."
"You gonna be late?" Vince asked, glancing toward the bedroom.
Dom tightened his jaw. "Yeah. I'm gonna stop by the hospital."
"Uh huh," Vince said, eyeing him with skeptical red eyes.
"You got a problem, Vince?"
"Me? No, bro. I got no problems."
Leon nudged him. "Let's go, V.," he said and headed for the door.
Vince gave Dom another look with a half-smirk and followed Leon out. So much for thinking Vince might cut him some slack. It looked like he was starting to form his opinion, choose his sides. Dom wasn't sure what that meant for them -- for their friendship. What he could do about it if anything.
He heard the toilet flush again a few minutes later and pulled a fourth mug down, pouring the last of the coffee for Letty. She came in wearing her tank top and the tiny thong that passed for underwear. Dom had always loved those on her. Skimpy, sexy, one of the few nods to femininity Letty made even though she swore it was because regular cotton panties like Mia wore drove her crazy.
She pulled the mug to her and settled on the stool next to Dom, taking the first sip without so much as a glance at him. For Letty, coffee was like a contact drug. She pushed her hair off her face and glanced around. "Where's the boys?"
"Went home to get changed."
That got him a grunt and Dom nursed the last of his coffee. Letty was close enough for her arm to brush his every time she lifted the cup. Her knee bumped his thigh; her sitting on the stool like it was a motorcycle. If he looked down he'd see the inside of her thighs and probably pubic hair the way her T-shirt rode up -- cropped short to show off her belly button.
He didn't look down when her hand slid across his thigh to the inside, but he looked at her, coffee cup in one hand watching him, a little challenge in her eyes. Or maybe she was still half-asleep. She looked it; hair tangled and face softer with less expression. She curled her fingers, dragged them up the inside of his thigh, her nails catching the fabric. His dick apparently hadn't gotten its share of booze because it was definitely awake enough to pay attention. She pulled her hand away but it only moved behind him, long strokes from his shoulder to his waist and Letty watching him, waiting for him to stop her or tell her yes. She took another mouthful of coffee and swallowed, set the cup down and swung around on her stool. She grabbed his legs and swung him around too as she slipped off the stool. Her fingers curled around the waistband of his sweats and tugged, urging him to slide forward, to let her pull down the loose fabric more than the few inches she could with him sitting. His dick nudged up against the cloth and Letty licked her lips, rolling the cloth under her hands.
He caught one wrist, gently. "What are you doing, Letty?" he asked her.
She cocked her head a little, hair falling across her forehead and Dom didn't stop himself from pushing it back off her face. "Seems like I'm always waiting on you, Dom," she said, resting her hands on his thighs again. "When I was fourteen, waiting for you to think I was old enough. Two years before you'd touch me." Her thumb rubbed against the head of his dick through the cotton.
It felt good. It felt great. He closed his hand over hers to pull it away.
"Your father would have killed me. He almost did anyway."
"That's not why."
It wasn't. "You were still a girl, Let. A kid."
"Then I got tits."
Dom didn't deny it. Hadn't forgotten the first time he'd realized Letty wasn't the little scruffed up tomboy always hanging around the garage, who learned shit faster than Vince and wanted to be the best. Trying to impress him, his father. Wanting them to notice. And they had. She was good with cars, not afraid of getting dirty, her small, thin hands getting in places his larger ones couldn't. And they were strong, capable, steady... clever.
Wasn't like she came in one morning with breasts, but he'd noticed, maybe when she was fifteen, that she'd started tucking in the t-shirts she stole from her brothers, that they fit her tighter in the chest, that there were curves holding up her jeans instead of a belt notched too tight. That the other boys on the block had noticed too and Letty had been fast with a mouthy put down, suddenly aware of her power.
They hadn't talked then either unless it was about cars. She was around constantly, kind of a little sister like Mia, but never really a friend either. She was good with cars. His father thought she was a great girl, a clever mechanic.
They'd let her do a mod by herself and she'd done it great, not a rattle, not a shudder. It had been pride that let Dom kiss her the first time. Nothing sexual about it.
A few months later though, there hadn't been anything brotherly in Dom's thoughts about her. She'd stopped wearing her brother's shirts, had picked up on wearing the suspenders that were the hot style for a while, started wearing skirts which Dom had never seen on her outside of school uniforms and church. And she could still handle a wrench and a pair of pliers better than half the guys Dom knew.
No surprise that their first time had been in the garage, in the back of some customer's Cadillac in for a tune up. Dom didn't even remember when he stopped dating anyone else. He remembered it being too fast. That Letty hadn't cried even though she'd been sore afterward, that too late he realized he hadn't taken enough time to relax her completely. That she'd fallen asleep lying across his lap in that big car and that he'd walked her home.
His father had known but hadn't been pleased though he'd never said anything, looking toward Mia like Dom and Letty had unleashed a chain of events that he couldn't stop. That for a few days, weeks maybe, sometimes Mia would look at him and get all red faced and tongue tied which meant she and Letty had talked. And didn't knowing his sister knew what kind of lover he was just make him want to climb in a hole and bury himself?
When Letty's father had found out, it had nearly come to blows. He'd paid little or no attention to Letty while she was growing up, not sure what to do with his youngest, strong willed, sassy daughter. His oldest daughter had married young, yes, but Dom always suspected Yolanda had done it to get out of the house. First he'd been angry and accusing, then threatening, warning Dom to leave Letty alone. Letty had been in his face before Dom could say anything. And when her father demanded a wedding, Letty had laughed in his face.
He'd thrown her out of the house.
Letty had stayed with them for a couple of weeks, but Victor Toretto, while he'd said nothing, wasn't going to have Dom and Letty sleeping together under his roof. Letty could share with Mia or she could sleep in Dom's room and Dom could sleep on the couch.
The couch was hell.
Between Letty and her mother, they managed to come up with a truce and Letty had moved back home. Not that she spent a lot of time there.
Dom had thought about moving out, finding his own place, a place he and Letty could share. He'd saved money, checked with friends, had even managed to talk to Letty about it a little.
And then his father had been killed. A couple of months after that, Dom had walked through the heavily guarded gates at Lompoc and that dream along with so many others had died a death no less fast than his father had.
When he'd gotten out, Letty was all grown up, nineteen, and those two years had hardened her as well as him. Differently than Dom but she was definitely more confident, had a few sharper edges, more sure of what she wanted. He'd never asked her to wait for him and when he got out he didn't ask if she had. How many, if any, lovers she'd had was none of his business. But she'd expected to be part of his life -- had expectations he didn't know what to do with. So he'd avoided them: he'd gotten drunk, gotten laid, gotten into fights, not necessarily in that order. In prison he had to keep it close, keep his anger sharp-honed for when he needed it, stay in control. Outside he let the anger take center stage. It wasn't even anger at Kenny Linder at that point. It was for the loss of two years of his own life, anger at having to let go of dreams he'd had since he was a kid.
If he hadn't known it before he learned it then, that Letty would fight for what she wanted. And she'd fight dirty. Dom still wasn't sure if it was her loyalty that pulled him back or just that he grew tired of fighting with her about it. She was still and always would be part of what he saw as family. He'd gone to prison and dumped the bulk of his life, the Toretto family responsibilities on the shoulders of his eighteen-year-old sister. Mia might have broken under it, lost it, but she didn't and Letty, Vince, Leon, Jesse -- all of them had helped her keep it together both for her sake and for Dom's.
He owed them. All of them. Things he couldn't pay back.
Letty was still studying him. "I waited for you after Lompoc."
"I know. This is different. I'm different."
"It's not, D.," she said and Letty's anger was either not there or so pushed down he couldn't find it. She was watching him with those wide dark eyes, like she could see the answer to something he didn't even know he'd asked. Patience there he hadn't seen before. Maybe he wasn't the only one who had changed. "You freaked out a little when you got out before. You're making decisions on stuff you don't have to decide yet. I don't get this thing with Brian. Maybe I don't need to. You need to work it out, okay. I can wait," she said.
She would too. She'd hate it, and things would be tense but she would. Until she couldn't anymore. Maybe he should just let her do it her way, except that seemed cruel and being cruel to Letty…he couldn't do it. Maybe if he was pissed off but he wasn't. "Letty, I can't make this right, or make it make sense. I can't make it easy. But you and me, it's done. Not because of you--"
Letty didn't let him finish, just pushed forward and caught his face, pressed up against him, her mouth fastening on his like she'd never let go. Maybe she couldn't. She didn't want to. She moved her hands to his waist, pushing down his sweats again.
Dom pulled away so fast, Letty stumbled. He did too, putting his back to her, taking a deep slow breath before turning around again. There was a flush to her cheeks, anger or embarrassment, he didn't know but he'd lay money on the first. Letty didn't shame easily. "I thought we settled this?"
"What? You could screw around on me, but not on him?" she asked.
"I didn't screw around on you," he said, which was true as far as it went.
"Bull shit. What the hell was her name -- Johnny Tran's sister -- Kim or Kathy or whatever."
"We weren't even talking, then."
"And Monique or Monica or Mandy -- the chick with the red hair."
"Flirting isn't fucking."
"You say," she said with a sneer. "Jesus, Dom, he fucked your sister!"
She said it to make him angry. At her, himself, Brian, maybe even Mia. He could be flip, tell her Brian had great taste. Tell her it was none of her business.
He didn't say anything, he pulled up his pants and gathered up their coffee cups, took them to the sink, more to get them out of her way, but he still half-expected her to throw something.
"I don't understand," she said and Dom turned to face her, hearing something in her tone. It wasn't even anger. She stared at him like he was a stranger, arms across her chest. "What’s he giving you that I can't besides his dick?"
He didn't know how to explain it to her to explain it to himself. Looking at her, so familiar, so wanting it to be like it was. To go back to the familiar. And Dom had been looking for that too, in places, in his friends and family, looking for someplace to start from. No matter what he said or how he said it, he wasn't sure Letty would understand. He wasn't sure he did.
Or he could stay silent, let her be angry -- not that he was sure there was anything he could say that wouldn't make her mad. Once that would have been his choice, not to explain himself, to let people figure it out or not. He told them what he wanted them to know.
Maybe this wasn't so different. He moved closer, watched her tense, fingers digging into her arms. "A fresh start, Letty. I don't know what else to say but that. It's not you; it's not even Brian so much. Whoever I was, whatever you thought, what I thought…I'm not there anymore. I can't be what I was. I don't want to be who I was."
She stared at him but her posture eased as she gnawed on her bottom lip. "So, you just decided to become a faggot and shack up with a cop because it would be different? Do you know how crazy that sounds? How insane?"
It did. He knew it did. And she didn't understand -- not that he was doing such a great job trying to explain it. "Yeah, I do. But you've got it backwards. We left Mexico, and I knew then that it was already different. I fucked up. I was so sure my way was the only way, best for me, best for all of us. I was wrong. I was wrong and because of it I nearly lost everything. We lost…"
"This is not about Jesse."
"No. Not entirely. Or Brian. It's not about you either."
"And you think Brian's going to show you something different? Take you someplace you can't get on your own or with me? With us?"
"He already has. Jesus, I don't even know if this is going to work out. It is crazy. Maybe I am nuts. But this is where I am."
"And you want us to wait this out. Want me to wait--I've waited before."
"No. No," he said and got closer still, reached out to touch her face, glad when she didn't flinch only looked at him like she really was trying to understand. He bent down and brushed his lips against her forehead. She looked up at him, confused and starting to get angry.
"Don't wait for me this time, Letty," he said voice thick but even. He felt like the worst kind of bastard, the worst kind of liar.
He could see her tense, like she might hit him again, lash out, but instead she backed up a step, then another.
Then she looked away, turned and headed into the bedroom.
Dom didn't move. He honestly didn't know what she would do, if he'd ever see her again. When she came back she was dressed, her hair pulled back, her face hard and expressionless. She didn't look at him, didn't stop any longer than it took to find her keys. She didn't slam the door when she left.
And Dom waited, but it was a long time before he heard her car start up and pull away.
He didn't like thinking of himself as a coward though and how he could be so sure of himself in front of Letty and so unsure with Brian made no sense. He stalled as long as he could, picking up the empties, trying to make the house look less like there'd been a bunch of five-year-olds playing in the living room, changed the sheets on the bed for no other reason than it gave him a reason to start the washing machine.
He hated, hated hospitals.
In the end there wasn't anything left that he could do and putting it off was just making him dread it more. He parked in Emergency again, didn't check in at the desk, just made his way through the confusing maze of hallways and signs and colored stripes on the wall that were supposed to help guide people places and finally found himself in the hallway that looked vaguely familiar. He still had to check the little signs outside the door. The last thing he wanted to do was bust in on somebody he didn't know.
Not so difficult after all although he had second of doubt -- the curtain was drawn and he didn't see Brian immediately. He looked around carefully, irritation fading slightly when he caught sight of Brian's face. Most of the monitoring equipment was gone and the bed table was pushed to one side with the remains of Brian's breakfast. Brian was watching something on the TV mounted on the wall at the end of his bed, looking tired and bored and Dom could only barely understand how anyone could look tired when all you did was stay in bed.
But some of the tiredness and most of the boredom fled Brian's face when he saw Dom, that grin of his showing up so fast Dom couldn't help but respond with one of his own, feeling stupid and relieved.
"What's the word?" Dom asked and screw being pissed off. It wasn't working for him anyway. He'd have sat next to the bed but Brian sat up and moved over, caught the hand Dom offered and tugged.
"I'm good," Brian said and then as if to prove him a liar he started coughing.
It sounded just as bad, maybe worse, wet and deep and Brian's whole body got involved in it. Dom slid off the bed and poured him some water.
"That's good?" he asked when Brian had sipped and coughed a couple more times and then sunk back on the bed.
"That's what they say," Brian said. "That stuff they had me breathing, supposed to break it up." He didn't look too happy about it but now Dom knew why he looked so tired, if he'd been coughing like that all night.
"They gonna cut you loose?"
"Yeah, sometime this morning. Don't wait though, Dom. I'll get a cab."
Dom ignored him. "What about the other stuff -- the test. The heart."
"They did it already, around six," Brian said.
"And?" Dom said after Brian didn't seem inclined to explain further.
Brian gave him a half-glare but then shook his head. "Pressure's up, but no damage. I've got meds for that too."
"But you still have to go see your doctor," Dom pushed.
"I've got an appointment on Monday."
Monday. Not so urgent then that they could make him wait. That reassured Dom some but Brian looked worried -- not so much about his health, Dom didn't think, but something was bugging him. "You talked to your boss?"
"He called last night."
Dom waited again and then sat down on the bed. "Maybe I should just write down all my questions and you can write in the answers. Be like filling out a report," he suggested. "You call your folks?"
"You want me to?"
"No. Dom, just, let it go, okay? Please."
"No," Dom said evenly, and got more comfortable, as comfortable as he could. "I don't know what your deal is, Bri, but this…" He shook his head. "Not working for me. What part of your life do I fit into?"
Brian looked startled by the question. "All of it…whatever part you want."
"But not your health? Not your job? That pretty much leaves cooking and cleaning and fucking. I don't think you're paying me enough to be your puta."
Brian's Spanish might not get him an "A" in school but he knew that one. "That's not even funny," and shoved his legs out from under the covers, getting his feet on the floor. He swayed a little, coughed, but Dom only sat up, watched Brian move to the window, open the blinds, and squint at the sunshine. The hospital robe gapped open exposing lines of red across Brian's back from the sheets, a flash of his ass. Brian leaned his forehead against the glass and shook his head a little. "I don't know what I'm doing, D.," he said after a second or two, twisting around. "Maybe you were right. This is a bad idea."
"I never said it was a bad idea," Dom said surprised he didn't even feel a twinge of anger at that. Not even irritation. Where was Brian's confidence, his cock-sure attitude? Maybe this little run-in with his own stubbornness had shaken him more than Dom realized.
He moved off the bed to stand beside Brian. L.A. kind of sparkled under the sunlight through the haze. Big world out there, bigger than his prison cell, bigger than his neighborhood.
He should be pissed off. Brian had scared the shit out of him yesterday. He wasn't sure he and Letty were still friends -- if they were anything at all. And Vince didn't seem to be sure of where he stood either. Or where Dom stood. "You ever done a road rally?" he asked still staring out the window. Brian looked him, his reflection perfectly clear in the window.
"A rally? Like one of those cross country things? No," Brian said, and turned sideways, confusion on his face from the change of subject.
"Yeah, only they don't have to be cross country. You can do 'em anywhere. People do them for charity. Everybody starts at the same place. Everybody ends up at the same place. It's how you get there, how fast…that's how you win."
"Dom…I have no idea what you are talking about," Brian said.
Dom glanced at him, caught again by the look on Brian's face. He wasn't looking at Dom like he was nuts -- well, maybe a little -- but he was totally focused on what Dom was saying. Listening.
"You start at the same place and they give you the next point, the next stop. Two people, driver and navigator, 'cause you lose time if you try to figure out where you're going while you're driving. So, you drive and your navigator tells you the best way, the fastest way. And when you get there, they give you the next place, the next checkpoint. You don't even know where the race ends. You just keep going from point to point, find the best way. Sometimes another team is right on your ass. And sometimes you all get there by totally different routes."
"Like a scavenger hunt only you don't have to find stupid shit," Brian said, still confused but he was keeping up. Dom cracked a smile at him.
"Pretty much, yeah."
Brian studied him long and hard. "You're not talking about actually doing one of these things?"
Dom shrugged and put his back to the window, crossed his arms over his chest. "Maybe…maybe we kind of are already."
Brian rubbed at his face and settled next to him, shoulders just touching. "If we are, I gotta tell you, man, our navigation sucks."
Dom didn't disagree. "That's 'cause we're not team yet. We both want to get to the same place…we're taking different routes."
Brian looked down at his feet, "I don't know where we're going, Dom," he said quietly. "I'm likely to get us lost."
This was as hard for Brian as it was for him, Dom realized. Maybe harder. He'd thought -- he wasn't sure what he'd thought. That maybe because Brian had been with guys before he might have a little better idea of how this was supposed to work? That it worked any differently than Dom's relationship with Letty or Vince or anyone? "Part of the race, you know?" Dom said. "You get lost. You back up, you start over."
"Just so we end up at the same place."
Brian was still looking at his feet, but a smile was tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"If we're in it together that's kind of inevitable."
Brian wouldn't look at him, not directly, using his cough to cover the desire and Dom fought back his own grin because he had no doubts at all that Brian was pleased by his answer.
"So, what time are they cutting you loose?" Dom asked.
"Later this morning or afternoon," Brian said and rubbed shoulders with Dom before pushing off the window ledge to go back to his bed. Dom didn't know if it were accidental or on purpose and it didn't really matter. "You don't need to wait," he said.
Dom had thought about it, although it seemed like a waste of time he could be working. "Okay, but when they tell you, call me at the shop. I'll come get you."
"You don't need to," Brian said and met Dom's gaze. "I'll call you when I get back, okay? But I can handle it, Dom. They'll call a cab, pick me up right at the door. Not a problem."
Dom wanted to argue but he remained silent for a moment, looking at Brian, trying to hear what he was saying without his own ideas of how it should happen crowding out Brian's words. He'd been doing this for months, in the hospital, out of it. Mia had given him a lift a couple of times when he couldn't drive, or just when he wasn't supposed to.
He had been doing this for months, years before that as far as Dom knew. Brian was no more used to being taken care of than Dom, maybe less so. "Okay. But you call me, just so I know."
"I will," Brian promised, settling back against the pillows, one arm tucked behind his bed. He already looked tired again.
Dom gave his thigh a squeeze then patted it before leaving. He glanced back at the door and Brian already had his eyes closed.
He wasn't surprised that Letty wasn't at the shop, disappointed though, deep down. He wanted to make it right with her but he didn't have a clue where to start. Vince and Leon kept a kind of wary distance, not unfriendly or angry, just giving Dom some space.
It was well past lunch when Brian finally called to let him know he was home, that he'd most likely be asleep when Dom came in and not to worry about it. And Dom tried not to, stubbornly working through the most boring jobs imaginable rather than give in to the desire to call and check or drop in. Vince and Leon watched him like he had dirt on his face or food in his teeth and he ignored them as much as he was able until Vince came over to lean into the engine of a Honda Dom was working on.
In a short-sleeved tee, the scar on Vince's arm stood out, less red and vivid than it had been but bisecting the tattoo on his upper arm, wrapping around his bicep almost to the elbow then vanishing. There was another scar across the meaty part of his forearm where the jump wire had cut deep into his skin. That one the doctors though might eventually disappear for the most part. Vince had joked that he'd pass it off as knife fight but it didn't look like a knife cut, the scarring shallow at both ends.
Even after Vince had found his ass dumped in Chino, it had taken months for him to get all the feeling back in his hand, all the use back. Dom wasn't entirely sure it was all back and Vince still occasionally carried around the rubber ball the therapists had given him to exercise with, squeezing and releasing. Even when he wasn't carrying it, Vince tended to tense and relax his fist a lot. Some people thought he was being threatening.
Dom knew different. More than the hole in his thigh, the loss of the use of his hand had scared Vince like few things could. Pissed him off too and more than once, over a bad day, locked in their cell in Chino, that anger had been directed at Dom. Rightfully so. Dom had let him have his say, have his anger.
It was never anything Dom said that brought Vince back around.
"He know how long he'll be laid up this time?" Vince asked, taking the filter Dom pulled free and setting it aside, offering him a new one.
"Month, six weeks," Dom said without looking up. "If he stays down for three I'll be surprised."
Vince chewed the inside of his lip and nodded, glancing back into the garage. Dom could hear Leon with the air gun, rotating the tires on a Ford. "You know what you're doing there, bro?" he asked and Dom was pretty clear he wasn't talking about the Honda.
"You want details, Vince?"
Vince snorted. "No. I know more'n I want to. It's just…"
Dom waited him out.
"He's a cop."
"He's a guy."
"Two for two, Vince."
"This isn't funny."
"Do you hear me laughing?"
"I don't like him."
There it was and Dom straightened up and looked Vince in the eye. "Then it's a good thing you're not the one fucking him, isn't it?"
"That's -- man. I don't even want to think about that part."
"Then don't," Dom said flatly. "You liked him well enough when he was pulling your ass off that truck. You liked him well enough to ask him to bring you shit in Chino. You didn't have any problem showing up at his house."
"That was for you," Vince said starting to get a little belligerent.
"And I appreciated the company. So, what is it, Vince? He's a cop. He's a guy. The cop thing, I get. The rest? None of your damn business."
Vince set his jaw. "We're friends."
Dom nodded. "Yeah, we are. For a long time. Me being with Letty never bothered you. This shouldn't either."
"It's not the same."
"No, it's not," Dom agreed.
"Everything's different," Vince said after a second, leaning in to secure the casing on the engine.
It was. Dom watched him, everything about Vince familiar. He hadn't changed. Or maybe he had a little only Dom had been right there with him so any changes had been gradual, so much so Dom hadn't noticed. Hadn't needed to.
And he'd changed too, same way. Gradual, slow. Time to think in Chino, when there wasn't much else to do. Outside things had changed but he hadn't been there, hadn't seen them, watched it happen like he had Vince so it all seemed sudden, different.
Seeing Brian once a week hadn't been enough to notice it either. He kept expecting Brian to be the same, for Mia to be the same, but they weren't, not really. Not unrecognizable, just different. Letty had held steady and Dom sucked in a slow breath. That said something.
Dom wiped his hands on a cloth, handed Vince a smaller wrench, glanced around. Familiar and not. He'd said it to Letty just this morning. A fresh start. And here he'd been fighting to go back to what was on some things, like all the new stuff would fit in if he pushed hard enough, like he could force it.
Mia seemed to understand it best, but then she would. She knew him better than any of them, even Letty. And Brian seemed to know him like Mia did but without the history and it freaked him the fuck out, that Brian always seemed to know when to push and when to back off.
Only now Brian was off his stride, offering space he thought Dom needed and Dom telling him no, then backing off anyway.
And here was Vince doing his own kind of testing, his own kind of pushing, trying to figure out where they stood on this thing with Brian. Only he wasn't pushing Dom away, he was pushing in, seeing how far he fit, where he fit now.
Mia was so damn smart she ought to get a prize or something. He leaned in and tested the screws Vince had just set, not looking at Vince. "He likes you," he said sweetly.
Vince's head came up, scowl on his face. "He does not. Shut up."
"He thinks you're cute," Dom said.
"Fuck you, Toretto. I don't like him."
"Okay," Dom said and Vince straightened up, dropped the wrench back in the box and glared at Dom.
"This is stupid, what you're doing."
Dom shrugged and started clearing tools and cloths away. Vince gave him another glare and stalked back into the garage.
"Vince!" Dom called as he shut the hood. Vince turned around. "I think you're cute too," he said loudly.
Vince looked horrified and then pissed off and shot Dom a bird. "Cock-sucker."
"Your mother sucks raw eggs, Vince."
Vince stared at him. That was an insult Dom hadn't used since they were kids. "Yeah, well you smell bad and your momma dresses you funny."
Dom grinned, Vince glared and shot him another bird. "Fuck you, Dom."
"Naw. I'd rather fuck Brian," Dom said and had the satisfaction of seeing Vince scowl in revulsion.
"Just…just…man. I don't want to know, okay?"
Dom grinned wider, showing his teeth and picked up his gear. "Run this sucker around the block, make sure she's good to go," he said and Vince didn't move at first but then he came back, muttering under his breath. Dom ignored him, walked past him. Vince got in and revved the engine up and Dom listened. Sounded good. They'd put it back on the computers when Vince got back, but that was one down. He leaned in on the window, met Vince's pale blue eyes, ignored his scowl. It didn't mean anything. "I know what I'm doing, Vince."
Dom wasn't thinking about the Honda either.
He expected Brian to be asleep but he wasn't. He was sitting in the living room, TV on low. Dom could smell food -- something in the oven, spicy with oregano and garlic.
Brian looked up when he came in swung around and immediately started coughing again. Reaching for a glass of water before he could even say hello. He drained it and Dom got him another one, sat down across from him.
"Thanks," Brian said and drank half the glass before the tension in his shoulders eased. He cleared his throat, waited and Dom waited with him. The coughing didn't come back.
It looked like Brian had managed a shower and a shave, and he looked less pale although Dom didn't know if it were true or if it were the lighting in the room. And it struck him that Brian looked pretty much as he had a week ago and he'd been sick then, even if he didn't know it. Wasn't sure when was the last time he'd actually seen Brian healthy like he'd been when they first met.
"Dom, you got something to say, man, just say it," Brian said and Dom refocused his gaze, realized he'd been staring into space, past Brian's shoulder, hands clasped loosely in front of him. Brian didn't look wary or angry or even determined.
Another day and it would be exactly a week since Dom had gotten out, put Chino behind him. Put his old life behind him. That had been the plan. He got up and went back to the refrigerator, looked at the beer and pulled out a soda instead.
Brian watched him, half sitting up, half leaning on the arm of the sofa, eyes not leaving Dom when he sat back down.
"What are you afraid of, Bri?" Dom asked and sat back, stretching his legs out until they almost touched the front of the sofa.
Brian's brow furrowed. "Afraid of…like…with us?" he asked.
"No...not really. Just…what scares you? Anything?"
Brian picked up his water and sipped at it. "Snakes," he said after a moment. "I don't like them at all."
Dom grinned. "Snakes…Okay. Make you scream like a girl?"
"Naw…just...you know, give me the creeps."
"Rats," Dom said and it was Brian's turn to grin. "Hate 'em."
"Got it. No rodents for pets."
Dom closed his eyes. It wasn't really what he meant, but it was okay.
"Not mattering enough," Brian said more softly and Dom opened his eyes. Brian wasn't looking at him directly. "You know, not making a difference?"
Dom sat up a little and nodded, it made sense -- it made a lot of sense for Brian. "How do you know when it's enough?" Dom asked him.
Brian blew out a breath and stretched back out on the couch. "I don’t know. When I get it right, I guess. When it…works out." He looked over. "What about you? What are you afraid of?"
Dom didn't really have to think too hard about it, but putting it into words, that was hard. "Mattering too much, maybe," he said finally. "I don't know if I'd have put it that way before you said…what you said. But…I keep…what I do, what I decide, shouldn't matter to so many people. I mean…that they care one way or another, it's okay, but--" he rubbed at his face, not quite sure how to say it.
"It’s not what you do, or say, Dom," Brian said quietly. "It's you…you matter. To…them. To me."
"I know I do," Dom said, staring up at the ceiling. He just couldn't figure out why and wasn't sure he'd wanted the responsibility. "I know…you, Mia, Vince -- Jesse. Your choices but…"
"Easy to fall back into old habits," Brian said. "You said it…"
"Yeah," Dom said and dropped his head back, closing his eyes again. He heard Brian get up, cough a couple of times but only to clear his throat.
"Did you listen to your Dad, when he was still alive?" Brian asked him. He sounded further away and Dom opened his eyes to look, seeing Brian in the kitchen, taking whatever he'd put into the oven, out.
"Yeah. Most of the time. About most things."
"How come?" Brian asked.
"Hell, Brian, I don't know. He was my father. He was a pretty good guy, smart. Not book smart maybe but you know, he knew what he was talking about most of the time. Cars, Stuff around the house."
"Other people listen to him?"
Dom had to think about that one. "Yeah, I guess so," he said, remembering his father's friends, talking on the porch, in the back yard. Ringing him up at night to talk. Had his father given advice? About cars, probably yeah. Maybe other things too. His folks had seemed to have a lot of friends. Some of them stuck around after his mother died, most were there when his father died. Afterwards… Dom chewed on his lip. Afterwards, after prison, a couple had tried to come by to check on him. He hadn't exactly been gracious or interested. A few had pushed, maybe one or two, like C. Harley. That Dom had managed to stay in touch with them said more about them than him.
Brian was in the doorway, leaning on the frame, watching him. He wasn't exactly smiling but he had that soft look around his eyes, his mouth, and Dom shook his head and got up. "Okay, so people liked my father and listened to him. Doesn't mean I want to be the one responsible."
Brian folded his arms across his chest and grinned at him.
"You are such a smart ass."
"I didn't say anything," Brian protested but his grin got wider. Dom stepped in and Brian dropped his arms, rested his hands on Dom's hips. "I'm just saying, that anyone who sticks around you, must really want to be there."
He was right. Dom knew it. It still sat uneasily, but hadn't Vince proved it? Letty too, maybe -- but maybe it was possible to push hard enough to get them to back off if that's what Dom wanted. He could push harder on Brian maybe -- hadn't he been thinking that?
Instead he mirrored Brian's grip, fingers sliding through the belt loops of Brian's jeans. They were a little loose. Brian chuckled a little when Dom lifted his head to kiss him, but he relaxed against the door frame, tightened his grip on Dom's hips and pulled him in closer. He tasted vaguely of garlic and spices and tomato sauce. He'd sampled dinner.
"What did you make?"
"Lasagna. Mia said you liked it it."
"You made lasagna?
"'Made' might be stretching it. I, uh, heated it up."
"Take out lasagna?"
"Well, yeah. But I only took it out of the freezer case at the grocery store."
"Can you cook anything?"
"Scrambled eggs. And uh…grilled cheese."
"A regular gourmet." Dom kissed him again, but he couldn't taste anything but Brian.
Dinner got cold.
Beside him Brian slept with his back to Dom, propped up higher on a couple of extra pillows, deeply asleep.
Sleeping. Not coughing. Not wheezing or moving carefully because he was awake and he didn’t want to wake Dom. In bed and not in the bathroom or in the living room or even outside which he'd done a couple of times, like the air outside could possibly somehow be better for his lungs than the air inside.
A little over a month and Brian looked like he might actually sleep through the night.
And now Dom couldn't sleep.
He didn't actually feel tired. They'd gone to bed relatively early last night. A celebration of sorts or so Dom had planned with a good dinner and a bottle of wine because Brian had passed his re-qualification on the firing range yesterday. He still had to pass the physical and he was worried about it, but he was back to running in the mornings, two weeks earlier than the doctor had expected but Dom wasn't surprised. He'd even gone with Brian a couple of times. The first few because despite the fact he didn't say it, he didn't want Brian to end up face down in the dirt again. They hadn't run very far or very fast and Brian had been wiped out at the end of it, but really, Dom hadn't been much better. He'd never been much of a runner. At the end of a mile though, he was wheezing almost as much as Brian and he didn't have the excuse of being post-pneumonia to blame it on.
He was getting better though. Good enough to keep up with Brian as long as they kept to a decent pace. If Brian ended their runs with a sprint, Dom just let him go. It wasn't even showing off. Brian just ran for the fun of it, jack-rabbitting the last two or three hundred yards back to the house like he'd get a prize at the end of it.
Sometimes he did.
Wide awake and not sure what to do about it, Dom eased off the bed, trying to remember where he'd left his pants. It wasn’t too clear. They hadn't been as careful as usual in putting their clothes up last night. He found a pair at the foot of the bed but they were Brian's, tangled up with their shirts and socks, and after a second's thought, Dom figured his own were probably under the sheets somewhere, along with his underwear. He didn't think he'd been entirely naked when Brian had gone down on him hard and fast. Probably not until Brian had swapped mouth for ass.
He tripped over one of Brian's sneakers near the door. The other was in the hall. Nope, they really hadn't been thinking about clothes at all last night, except about getting them off.
Dom rubbed at his belly and cupped his balls, checking to make sure the awareness he felt there was only memory and not a sudden need to piss. Then grinned to himself as he made his way into the darkened living room.
The leftovers from the restaurant were still on the counter and quietly he threw them out then got a glass of water.
He couldn’t even begrudge being wide awake this early in the morning. It had been a good night and those were happening more often.
The street in front of the house was quiet when he looked out, shadows still, the pockets of light from the street lamps washing out the greens and browns, turning the yellow and pink and reds of houses into a uniform grey.
Things were settling in, more or less. Brian had spent a lot of time with Dom at the garage over the last few weeks, mostly because Dom insisted. Brian was, as he feared, bored out of his mind at home by himself during the day. It was no wonder he'd pushed himself back into a relapse.
Not that he could (or that Dom let him) do much at the garage, but writing up service tickets for customers, doing the simplest of things like checking fluids and the air pressure on tires, recharging batteries, those he could do. And in between, when Dom would catch him staring off into space or hunched over from fatigue (or pain although Brian rarely admitted that either). The Airstream was stocked and close and cool and even Vince didn't say anything when Brian slept most of the afternoons away, regardless of the level of noise in the garage. Like he remembered being that tired himself. Or like maybe he finally took a good long look at Brian and realized that as hard as his own recovery had been, Brian hadn't had it any easier despite his freedom, despite not being in prison.
The two of them still sniped at each other with less than good humor sometimes. Dom ignored them both, let them argue and snap at each other. As long as they didn't come to him to referee, they could find their own way. And they seemed to have. It had taken Dom a while to see it. Taken Vince longer but he'd finally caught on too, that as smart mouthed as Brian could be, he wasn't particularly vindictive. If Brian went to pick up lunch, he remembered that Vince didn't like lettuce on his burgers or his sandwiches but that he did like extra hot peppers.
And Vince didn't make one single comment about Brian rolling over to take Dom's dick up his ass. For Vince, that signified real progress.
Letty didn't have quite the same restraint, although most of her barbs were aimed at Dom and not Brian. She'd shown up the Sunday after their last showdown, looking sullen, not entirely forgiving and at Dom's surprise, she'd bitchily remind him that she was still working out her community service hours and that if she was going to quit she'd have damn well told him to his face, not just disappeared and never said.
Mia told Dom later that Letty had come home, packed a bag and taken off without a word. She hadn't seen her until she rolled in Sunday morning, grabbed a shower and headed out to her service stint. She never told Mia where she went. Dom didn't ask.
Things weren't easy between them. Letty wouldn't talk to Dom or Brian if she could help it, going through Leon if she needed to ask something. If Leon felt weird being the go between he didn't say anything, but Leon understood things better than Dom did sometimes. Vince would have resented being Letty's errand boy; Leon seemed pretty happy to do whatever it took to keep the team together.
The only time things approached even vaguely like normal was if Mia came by. Nobody was mad at her. If Dom could have figured out a way for her to be at the garage full time when she wasn't in class, he'd have done it.
Then Hector had dropped by with his latest spin on an Altima, showing off a little and wanting to talk to Dom about getting a little more pickup at the front end of a race and differences were forgotten for a little while.
Watching them, and himself, Dom put a call into C. Harley to see what he'd picked up lately. A week later a wrecker pulled in with an Impreza. The body was intact, but the engine was totally blown. It wasn't something any of them had worked on before. It was perfect.
It would also take them forever to overhaul, which suited Dom fine. Brian went on a hunt online for specs and parts and Letty was perfectly happy taking the whole block part if need be to find out what they had to replace and what they could improve on. Dom didn't even know what he would do with the damn thing once it was done but he didn’t really care. It gave them something in common again, all of them. It was enough.
He couldn't shove things back the way they'd been. There was no going back even if he'd wanted to. Some days he did, desperately, but back meant before, long before. Before Brian, before Jesse, Before he'd noticed that Mia really did have her shit together better than he did. And the hard question came up, not so much what if as if he could would he….
He sometimes expected Jesse to be haunting the garage, hanging around the Airstream he'd used more as a home than his mother's apartment. That maybe the splash of red geraniums at the house in Echo Park would be the place Dom would always see him. He'd never believed in ghosts, but he'd expected Jesse to be there somehow, somewhere.
And if he could go back…undo it all.
He'd gotten seriously drunk one night turning that thought over and over in his mind. The cigarettes Brian had bought and never smoked had ended up in the trash after his little vacation in the hospital and Dom had swiped them, hidden them, discovered them again one late afternoon when the tensions at the garage seemed to have peaked somehow, turned into something ugly and vicious. Long before, Dom would have sent them all away, out of his space, his kingdom. Lit into Vince and Letty and probably Leon just for the hell of it, taking an irrational glee at watching Jesse scurry off into a corner somewhere to sulk.
Jesse wasn't there, but Brian was, distant from the verbal melee, watching and listening to the shouting and the insults and the threats of bodily harm like he was watching a freak show, fascinated and repulsed.
Dom felt the same way, seeing them all, himself included like he was watching them on film, some bizarre documentary on what a dysfunctional family looked like.
When he'd looked again, Brian was looking at him, something unnamed and confused in his eyes, like Dom should do something. Like he could.
Once he would have, told them to take off until they'd cooled their heads.
He left instead, took a sour triumph from a glance back to see them all staring after him as he left the yard in a screech of tires and without a word.
He thought of half a dozen places he could go, places he knew, faces and names he'd recognize.
He ended up at the bar near Brian's house. And he'd recognized the bartender, but his face was only recently familiar and unlike other bars Dom knew, the third drink wasn't served until Dom's keys were safely tucked under the counter. While he could still stand, he'd gone outside, pulled Brian's cigarettes from the glove box and stood outside, letting the humid air prick at his skin, the smoke prick at his lungs and the alcohol numb it all back to nothing.
If he could go back…bring Jesse back, put it all back; him and Letty, Vince mooning after Mia, keeping an eye on Jesse to make sure he didn't wander off or get lost inside himself. He didn't have an answer until Brian showed up, picked up his keys and thanked Joey for calling him.
"What are you doing here?" he'd asked and Brian had blinked at him like he didn't understand. Maybe he didn't. Dom wasn't sure his tongue was actually working right. He'd stopped talking to Joey hours ago, just tapping the counter when he wanted another. He'd played a couple of rounds of pool, losing against himself. No one had approached him, tried to talk to him. Joey wasn't the talkative type, apparently, and the rest of the bar -- not the kind of bar or people Dom was used to. The music wasn't too loud, the women were few and older. The pool tables saw some action early on but it all slid away.
"Joey needs to close up, Dom. Come on," Brian urged him.
Close up? "What time is it?"
"After two," Brian said and Dom tried to look at him, see him clearly.
"Where were you?"
Brian grinned at him. "In bed. Where you should be."
"I know. But Joe would like to go home."
And Dom looked at the bartender, who grinned.
"Oh. I'm not done."
"Okay, but we've got tequila at home."
That seemed like a reasonable alternative for some reason.
He'd been sitting too long, though. He thought. Because he almost hit the ground when he stood up. Brian got a shoulder under him and Dom saw him wince, remembered why and tried to pull away. "You hurting?"
"Not as much as you're going to," Brian assured him, and that sounded reasonable too.
Driving back almost made him need to hurl; getting out of the car did.
He felt Brian's hand on the back of his neck, didn't have the strength or the urge to shrug him off. Wondered if sleeping on the cracked walkway was really as much of a bad idea as it seemed like it should be.
The rest blurred: getting into the house, the offer of more tequila if he wanted it -- which he didn't. There was a bed and the flash of blond hair in dim light when Brian crouched down to pull his boots off, push him back on the mattress. He was sick again and this time it was cool tile he wanted to stretch out on instead of cracked concrete.
When he woke up again, Brian was still there, wrapped in a bath towel, legs stretched out, head back against the tile, mouth open a little. Dom had been covered too and there was a pillow -- that he had drooled on. It smelled foul and so did he.
That world of hurt Brian had promised him didn't hit until he moved and for a minute he thought he'd be sick all over again. He must have made a noise or Brian wasn't sleeping as deeply as he appeared to be, because the next thing Dom saw was a handful of ibuprofen and a glass of juice being handed down to him
"You want to try for the bed again?" Brian asked him, sounding and looking about as tired and crappy as Dom felt.
"Are you trying to kill me?"
Brian grinned at him, that white-toothed-stretched-his-mouth and gave-him-lines-around-his-eyes grin, that looked one breath from laughing. "Would it help?"
It would be an improvement. But Dom shook his head and moved carefully, not entirely sure he wasn't leaving body parts on the floor parts of him were so numb from the hard tile. Other parts of him were still queasy and shaking.
Brian had coffee made by the time he managed to get on his feet, wash his mouth out and exchange yesterday's clothes for something a little cleaner. A shower would have helped more, but Dom didn't trust himself not to drown. It had its merits, that idea, but the whole turn the water on and step into the tub thing was feeling a little too complicated.
Brian pushed a mug at him when he staggered into the kitchen and the heat and caffeine was almost as good as a shower -- almost.
A good look at Brian was something that made his own aches pang in sympathy and he hadn't even been in a fight last night. He didn't think.
Brian looked a little hollow and tired, which wasn't new, but he had his left shoulder down, arm resting loosely across his lap like it was too heavy to get up on the counter. Dom downed half his coffee and then stood behind him, Brian glancing back without asking what he was doing. He didn't stop Dom when he laid a hand on his skin, palm spreading across the scar; still red and swollen now because Brian had overdone it, probably in hauling Dom's ass back to the house.
"I know," Dom said and rubbed it anyway, fingers closing over the muscle and squeezing gently, but it was enough to make Brian hiss and hitch his shoulder higher. For whatever reason, rubbing Brian's muscles, easing the tension in his shoulder, settled Dom's stomach, left him thinking death was less of a viable option and more something to be avoided for another day.
"Do you?" Brian asked him and twisted around and Dom knew they weren't talking about Brian's shoulder or Dom's drinking or anything else.
Two words. It was like a magic spell or maybe just common sense. Sometimes it was hard to tell with Brian. It's okay. Not perfect, not comfortable, still strange but it was okay. A week out and Dom could see it finally, like the sudden end to the confusion and indecision he'd been battling for the past week.
Dom had slid his hand from Brian's shoulder up into his hair and tugged him closer, felt the give in Brian that had always been there to cushion the lack of give in himself. Felt the steel in Brian's resolve that could anchor him when Dom knew he was flailing, looking for balance.
"I don't know. You think you could use smaller words?" Dom asked him, cocking his head, and watched Brian's eyes flash.
"You're such a dick," Brian said and then used no words at all.
There were still times when Dom could only half-listen to what Brian had to say, learning to parse bullshit from what was important, times when he thought Brian over thought things or else his brain was scarily complex place to be. He kind of thought the same thing about Mia, but his sister had years of practice in getting what was important through Dom's head.
But in the non-verbal communication department, Brian had Mia beat hands down.
He wasn't quite sure when he realized Brian was better, rather than getting better. Maybe a week ago as his testing and reevaluations moved closer. Something in Brian ramped up: energy, focus, something.
Yesterday morning Brian had left or the range looking like he did before a race.
Last night he'd acted more like he'd won one.
He heard Brian clear his throat in the hall, and turned to see the shadow of him there, a glance of light off a paler shoulder, off the gold in his hair, the reflection of his eyes. "You okay?" he asked without coming closer, giving Dom space if he needed it and sometimes he did.
"Yeah. I'm good. Just woke up," Dom said and went to him, Brian putting his back to the wall. The angle of the light was better here, letting Dom see features, the tangled curls kind of lopsided from sleep. His lover had the worst bed-head ever. "What woke you up?"
He could see the flash of teeth when Brian grinned at him and pulled him closer. Dom felt the nudge of Brian's dick against his hip and couldn't stop the smile from sliding across his own mouth. "You'd think…" Dom pressed his mouth to Brian's and found the welcome he expected. "You were the one…" Brian's fingers teased across his nipples and Dom sucked in a sharp breath. "Who spent six months in prison." Brian's hand closed around both of them and his fingers splayed across the back of Dom's skull.
Brian's mouth was hot and wet and his body ready, tight and hard. Dom felt the shivery recognition, the déjà vu of this hallway and this darkness and yes, even this desire. Different though. He'd been angry then.
Gears ground together if they weren't synched properly, they shook and rumbled, sent reverberations through the whole frame. Sometimes you had to back off and shift again, let them come together as they were meant to, engaging like they were supposed to, smooth and solid.
Brian stretched his neck when Dom's mouth found the tendon and nerves that made his shudder. "It feels like a lot longer than six months," Brian murmured in his ear and Dom felt his heart clutch and his breath get caught in his throat, accompanied by the equally familiar coil of tension and heat in his belly as Brian stroked and squeezed them.
The really good drivers double clutched through the transitions and never lost a moment of speed. Dom pushed into Brian's hand, breathed into his mouth and counted…ten seconds, when you were really on the groove could stretch out like minutes or hours, days…
He came hard all over Brian's hands, and pushed until only Dom's weight against him was holding Brian up against the wall. "I'll make it up to you," he promised, resting his head on Brian's shoulder as his body down shifted into something that felt less like a crash and burn and more like crossing the finish line.
Brian's fingers stroked across the back of his skull and he held Dom up as much as Dom was holding him up. "You already have," Brian said, so softly, he wasn't sure he'd heard it.
Dom could almost hear the crowd cheering.