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do not want war

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Barstow has one of the highest violent crime rates in the entire nation.

Violent offenses include rape, murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault and assault with a deadly weapon. Brian grows up here – all the way from nappies to high school, like a weed through cement.

Things go wrong in his life – so he doesn’t become a cop, maybe, but he tries to go straight because he wants to be good. He doesn’t want to be a bad person, even if that kind of feels unavoidable.

All roads in all worlds lead to this – he ends up in Dom’s garage. In all lives, in all versions of every story and every timeline, this is inevitable.

Brian is a mutant – in danger in a town that hates his kind. He runs, leaves, never goes back and tries to avoid attention. He’s not good at it, is just on the wrong side of too confrontational and is a touch too brutal to ever fall easily into the category of a good person. But he tries.

That’s important to remember.

This is a boy who stood on the edge of power, looked at the ways he could hurt people, at the ways he could do damage to the things around him, and backed away. Said no. He never wanted to hurt people, but violence is his home ground, familiar territory in an ever shifting landscape where people die in the streets, where fires burn long into the night.

 

His neighbourhood looks like something decaying, like crumbling houses and cracked pavements, blacked out windows and homeless people standing around trashcans full of fire. The houses blacken the skyline like a gaping maw with broken teeth and there is broken glass on the side of the road.

Brian grows up with skinned knees and legs good at running – he could recognise the exact sound that a car makes when it slows down and the window rolls down to shoot at you whether he was six foot away or asleep. It burns its way into his mind and he never forgets the way it sounds when he walks how with Rome because he knows what people think of them – the skinny white kid, the black boy with a big mouth. They catch a lot of shit for being around each other.

By the time he’s fourteen, Brian has witnessed enough violence for the sound of it to be permanently scared into the back of his mind. It’s knowledge that saves his life, and more than once.

One day he’s walking side by side with Rome, sun beginning to touch the sky ahead of them when a car cruises past them and doubles back to head towards them. Brian doesn’t even hesitate, just grabs Rome by the wrist and pulls, heart beating a hundred miles an hour as Rome stumbles and curses behind him, and then the panic does something and they land ten blocks over in an alleyway that smell like piss and beer, eyes wide as they stare at each other in the half light, and Rome says, quiet as a whisper but somehow as loud as a gunshot, “Mutant.”

And it’s a secret between them. They try to never mention it again, because being different is dangerous, but being that kind of different is a death sentence.

Brian grows up with bruises shaped like stranger’s hands on his arms right up until the point where he starts carrying a knife in his back pocket and learning how to use it – he spends hours lying on his back in the dying grass of his back yard with a hand on his chest, feeling the thud of his heartbeat into the earth. One day, he accidentally makes all of the flowers in his mother’s dying garden bloom.

 

(He has a scar on his throat just below his ear that would exactly match the tip of a knife point, and it will never fade away entirely.

He will never forget how it felt to almost die.)

 

He learns how to sleep through yelling arguments and thrown bottles but how to wake up and be out of his window in five seconds flat at the sound of his door opening when his mother has friends over. They want him, he knows. They can’t have him. It only takes him half a minute to get out of his house and into Roman’s, and on these nights, they share a bed. Brian bends toward Roman like a sick flower towards the sun and grips tightly to the fabric of his shirt in his sleep.

One night he’s too slow, wakes up to a hand on his mouth and a palm on his throat and jerks, reaches for safety, and lands with a thump on Rome’s bed, heart beating a million miles an hour. He just hopes that whoever was in his room was too fucked up to remember what happened, spends the next week waiting for someone to knock on his door. The police, to take him away. The government. Something is boiling up. Stories about mutants disappearing are spreading like a virus through the streets. The gangs, murdering people probably. What else is new.

By the time he’s ten he’s learnt how to read the streets, how to steal a wallet and not get shot up for it. He can’t learn how his mutation works – can’t make it work for him for fun, can never do it on purpose. He watches videos of mutants blowing up buildings and tries to stay invisible. He can feel it. Can feel something, but he can never make it work for him, can’t force it unless he’s in danger and it reacts, he reacts, on autopilot.

 

(A man is his neighbourhood is outed as a mutant and a gang burns his body in the streets a couple of blocks from where Brian lives, close enough that he can see the glow as the people build the fire higher and higher, dance and drink under the flames. He has nightmares about fire for weeks. He hears more rumours that the police have started coming and taking mutants away, for their own safety, but they never get seen again.

That becomes its own special breed of nightmare.)

 

When his mother actually starts getting on the hard stuff, it takes Brian a little practice to learn how to avoid the meth addicts that now seemingly live in his house, but he gets good at it fast because they have hard hands and he hates the way that there is nothing in their eyes when they look at him.

It’s not so bad – they all ignore him, except for a woman who always watches him a little too closely and once cornered him in the kitchen, stroked the back of her hand down his face and slapped him when he tried to move away. She dug her claws into the back of his neck and said, no, don’t move.

 Said, in a way that chilled his blood in his veins, I want to look at you. When he struggles she slaps him again, casual as swatting at a fly, but hard enough to split open his lip and bring tears to his eyes and says, voice hard, “You look pretty when you’re hurting.”

She says it like it’s meant to mean something – like it’s a lesson that she wants him to learn – like she wants to help him. All he learns is, from that day on whenever she is in his house, Brian makes sure he isn’t. But he doesn’t forget. You look pretty when you’re hurting.

When he presses a palm against her stomach, feels the oxygen in her veins and the breath in her lungs and pushes, the breath rushes out of her. She falls back, winded and gasping and he steps out of the room before she can get up.

He buys a deadlock for his door, just in case.

 

(What is happening to me, he asks Rome, hands shaking. Sparks fly up under his skin, out of control, arcing to spark on the curtain rails, on the lamp. Brian clenches his fist and fights, feels it retreat away again.  It feels like fire in his blood - feels like power. 

I don’t know, Rome whispers back.)

Chapter Text

What’s happening to him is, Brian is a mutant. It’s a realisation like being punched in the stomach, even though, intellectually, he’d already know. Brian is a mutant, and his thing is, he picks up the mutation of the nearest mutant at any given time and then has it for the rest of his life. He works his mutation out one day when it’s raining, and he watches from his window as a man walks without being touched by the water, and then he looks at a drop falling down his window and it stops. The next week, some fire mutant robs a store and runs from the police down the alley by his house, and Brian nearly sets fire to his curtains.

Sometimes it’s like that – he crosses path with a mutant and something sparks awake in him, but sometimes nothing happens at all. A woman crashes into him, jumps up and stretches like elastic up to land on a nearby roof and leans down to watch him with narrowed eyes. Nothing happens for a long moment, and she is gone.

He waits, he watches, and he learns. He nearly downs in the shower when he tries to control the water and never tries it again.

He’s a chameleon, blends into whatever situation he needs to. Rome side eyes him a little, but then figures out how useful it is to have a friend who can make sure they never get rained on when Brian unconsciously stops the water on the long walk home one night, smiles, and never brings it up.

Brian’s neighbour makes flowers grow and when she gets found out she gets dragged out of her house by the police, family screaming, and true to rumour, is never seen again – Brian figures if being able to grow flowers make a danger in the eyes of the government, they should never, ever, find out that he can do what he can.

 

When he’s fourteen a guy in a parking lot looms over him and leers, tells him he’s pretty and, hey, why don’t you come a little closer, sweet thing? Brian flips his hood up and tries to keep walking.

The guy starts following him, grabs his wrist and jerks him to a stop.

“Don’t be rude,” he smiles, teeth shining in the half light of a far away streetlamp. “I’m a friendly enough guy, don’t you think?” and Brian bites the inside of his cheek and pulls his arm free.

“I’m not interested,” he snaps back, presses the point of his knife to the joint of the mans wrist and stares him down, fear congealing into a sick mass in his stomach. When the guy makes no moves to come after him again, Brian backs away and never ever takes his eyes away, not until he’s around the corner and can start running.

This is not about being a mutant, this is about being afraid, and knowing that he has almost zero control over what he can do is and even colder comfort. It seems like this thing works on instinct, but he can feel it under his skin, humming. He’s too scared to try and force it, so he learns how to use a knife, how to throw and hit a target. How to run. How to jump off a roof and roll, keep running when his breath is gone.

 The day after the guy in the parking lot, Brian shaves off all his hair right down to a buzz cut and keeps it that way for years. In this place, being pretty is never a good thing – he’s at that age where he has a solid understanding of what happens to pretty boys in this neighbourhood and it’s enough to make his skin crawl. Eyes have started following him down the street, and he might be strong, but he would never be stronger than the six grown men who cat call him on the street corner on his way to school if they decided they wanted to take it any further. He starts sleeping with a knife under his pillow, too.

When he’s fifteen he sees one of his friends gets gunned down outside a supermarket in a case of mistaken identity and Brian walks past every day on the way to school, staring at the place on the ground where there isn’t even a marker, like all proof of that guy’s existence got washed away with the rain, just like his blood off the pavement. The actual moment happened so fast it felt like someone had pressed fast forward, but he remembers it in a series of snapshots so vivid he can still taste his own fear when he thinks about it – the spray of blood hitting the pavement, the yelling.

Later, the sirens and the flashing lights, and he never forgets the way a police officer comes over to him and stands him up, brushes him down and says, kind but firm, go home, son. He wants to say, I don’t have one, but he just leaves, walks home on unsteady feet and ignores his mother when she asks why he’s all covered in blood. Worry about me, he thinks viciously. See how you like it. He slams his door and tries to not be hurt when she doesn’t try to come in.

He dreams of falling, blood on his hands, and wakes up before he can hit the ground. Downstairs, his mother is smoking a cigarette – he somehow knows this without question, without having to check. He can feel the smoulder of it die as she stubs it out and heads inside, and rolls out of bed to find food.

“Brian,” she says when she sees him, and then says nothing else. When he looks at her, he can almost see the questions on her tongue. He stares at her for a long moment, lit up golden in the pale morning sun in a way that should make her pretty. Instead, she looks tattered, needle scars all visible as they track up the insides of her arms. He looks at her and thinks fuck you. He’d never met his father, though he had wanted too sometimes, to see if they were alike or different. He wanted to know if he was a mutant, what he was like, whether he smiled or frowned when he saw the news of mutant murders on the tv.

There is still blood under his nails from where he’d shoved his hands onto the open gunshot wound, frantic, trying to stem the bleeding. It hadn’t worked. Nothing had. He washes up and goes to school, still quietly uncomprehending.

He goes to school every day and gets good grades, even though his mother stopped telling him you could get out of here, Brian, years ago, right about when she’d gotten hooked on the strong stuff and things like her own kid took a backseat to the next hit. Jesus, he thinks when he looks at her, and sees none of himself.

 

(“What did you get?” Roman asks when the teacher hands back their tests. He grimaces at his own paper and turns to face Brian.

“Passing grade,” Brian replies, and flips his paper over to hide the A. Even to his own friends, it doesn’t do too well in school.)

 

Roman Pearce lives next door right from the start and they’ve known each other since they could walk with clumsy legs to sit together in preschool. By the time they’re sixteen they’ve been in more trouble together than anyone can keep track of. While Brian has the quick eyes, Roman has the quick hands, clever fingers working under his too long sleeves and this is more than just a way to survive. It’s an adventure.

They boost cars together, for the thrill, for fun, because the average life expectancy in their neighbourhood feels like it’s less than thirty anyway and neither of them can really imagine a life where they live past forty. This town is rough on them, and they grow up hard and too fast, always feeling scared of something. There’s a war brewing in the background, mutants against… against whoever it is who hates mutants, Brian guesses. But they’re kids. That’s something for their parents to be worried about.

They’ve never been kind – not like other people have been kind, or are kind, not like they should be. Their kindness extends to watching each other’s backs, to running side by side and holding each other up when they end up taking the corners too fast, when people are chasing them because Rome couldn’t hold his fucking tongue inside his mouth when he got scared, because Brian pissed someone off because he was too pretty and too sharp to take a step back.

 

Brian goes hungry a lot, grows up a little thin and too tall for his own good. Roman’s mum is nice, though Brian doesn’t see her a whole lot because she’s working so much, but she has soft hands and always smells like laundry soap and warmth and she always tries to feed him whenever he comes over. She always spares a minute for Brian, pulls him in for a hug and strokes a hand through his hair, and she would probably take Brian in herself, if she had the money.

He always thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world, even when her hands started cracking from the work, and the stress started drawing creases on her face. She always says she wants to get out of this town, wants to leave so bad she burns with it like a thousand stars exploding at once, but she dies before she gets the chance.

He goes hungry more than he eats, most of the time. He grows up wiry, lean but strong in a way that hides under his skin. He gets a lot of shit from a couple of guys with grudges, mostly about hanging out with Rome, but they stop calling him a bitch when he beats the shit out of them for it. He grows up with anger under his skin like a beast in the corner, and it takes a long time for him to learn when to be peaceful, when to step aside. He never uses his mutation in a fight and tries to forget it even exists. He knows he could kill people, like that, but he doesn’t want to.

It takes a long time for him to learn when to pick his battles. It’s hard to walk away from a fight and tell himself this is still winning.

 

One day, Brian’s mother grasps him by the shoulder in a moment of rare clarity and tells him I want to go clean, please help me, and he’s never loved his mother, really, but in this moment, he thinks he might at least be able to like her if only for the hardness in her eyes.

On the way to the rehab in the next town Brian looks over and she’s watching him with steady eyes, even if her hands shake, and she says I never really told you I was proud of you, and she looks tired and old and ugly. I was a terrible mother to you, she adds, and he has no answer for her because there is no way he’s going to lie for her comfort. He isn’t cruel enough to tell the truth. He looks back to the road ahead of him just in time to come face to face with a truck, horns blaring and the sound of metal screeching – he closes his eyes and has just enough time to think please before the impact.

They don’t get a happy ending.

He spend almost a full month in a coma and wakes up to a scar the length of his forearm, from hip to mid-thigh and a new nightmare – his mother was dead before car number four could even crash. The last thing she ever said was, “I always wanted you to be better than me, Brian,” and then there was blood between her lips and glass in her hair, but not fear in her eyes. Brian lives, but he will never walk without a limp again.

Chapter Text

He gets caught sitting in a broken into car four weeks after he is discharged from the hospital, engine not even started, just staring at the steering wheel with hollow eyes. The red and blue are blinding, and he pretends that the lights are the reason he can’t see, pretends that his vision isn’t blurry with tears. His hand is bleeding, knuckles torn from where he’d punched in the window. He hasn’t even tried to start the engine.

I can’t believe that I’m losing this, too, he thinks and knows he will never drive again. They take him down for grand theft auto – he spends two years in juvie with shoving shoulders and people with fists eager to swing and it doesn’t scare him, exactly, but it does show him where he doesn’t want to be for the rest of his life.

Two skinheads try to recruit him, and when that fails they try to make him their bitch – they say, “hold on to my pocket, and you can have all the protection you want, pretty boy, what do you say?” Brian looks at them for a long moment, sees that look in their eyes that says that this isn’t a question, not really. They look like what they mean is, if you don’t do this, your life is going to get a whole lot harder, pal.

He says no anyway – he’s never been one to take the easy route, and he’s definitely never been one to do anything he didn’t want to, not if he could help it.

There is a long pause when he says no, like the whole cafeteria has put down their food to watch. The taller one goes red, the shorter one goes still. There’s something ugly about the look in their eyes, now, more than before.

In revenge, they make sure that every single person in the place knows that he’s open game for anyone that wants him. Lots of people want him, but Brian has always been a good fighter – knows how to step into the punches so he can control the way they hurt him, knows how to take people by surprise, how to get them to never see him coming. He learns how to hide in plain sight – how to blend into the crowd.

 “Fuck off me,” Brian says when a passing stranger touches his shoulder. “Don’t touch me,” he warns, and the stranger smiles in a way that makes Brian feel like he’s just lost something.

In juvie, he learns how to step away from a fight, how to defuse the tension of a brawl. This is still winning, he tells himself as he backs away, and tries not to taste the lie in his throat. Without meaning to, the people here teach him how to fight for his life. It’s not on purpose, but the violence twists around him and here, it feels like learn or die. They teach him how to sleep with an eye open, how to listen and how to assess, without hesitation, any situation. They never have to teach him how to be dangerous – that’s a skill he already holds in the palm of his clenched fist. He doesn’t dare to try practice using his mutation in this place, knows that there is nothing the cameras would miss. As a result, he lives like a baseline, feels his mutation boil under his skin every time his temper flares.

He tries to not get angry, but people are watching him. They’re waiting for him to step wrong, for him to find trouble. It doesn’t take long – trouble finds him in the end.

Two men grab him from behind and bang his head into the guard rail so hard something crackles, and he nearly passes out on the spot. The skinheads, he has time to think, angry, taking revenge, but his head is screaming out like a cry in the night; he’s afraid.

“God,” he says through the dark spots clouding his vision and spares a thought to worry about the blood he can see streaming down the side of his face.

He wakes up in the infirmary a full day later, panicked and incoherent. The on-duty nurse presses a hand to his shoulder when he tries to sit up and quiets him when he chokes back a sob at the pain.

“Easy,” she tells him, and then he goes away again.

When he wakes up for good, the doctors drop a bunch of scary words like serious brain trauma, and permanent damage and loss of memory function, and then they send him back out into gen pop with uncomfortable shrugs and say, privately, “what can you do?”

Brian worries about what he might do if he loses control of his mind – wonders if he’ll lose control of his mutation too. What if he forgets how to hold on to the mutation boiling inside him, forgets to walk away from a fight and lets loose on some asshole who thought he was getting a fight, not a death sentence? What if, what if, what if.

 

(Years from now, Brian will tell Dom “I had a rough time of it in juvie, I guess. As much as any other pretty white boy has a rough time of it in juvie.” Dom takes this to mean I got roughed up a couple of times, and Brian lets him. It is a relief to not see that particular shade of sympathy darken Dom’s face.)

 

For all the things he’s been – a liar and a thief and half a step away from being a full-fledged criminal – Brian’s never been cruel. Not even as a fourteen-year-old with too much anger and a burning need to show the world that he isn’t scared of it. Not even once he had the power to back it up. He’s never been cruel, but he’s always been a runner, always ready to up and leave and get away. This is about getting away, he tells himself, and tells Roman he wants to leave and, are you coming with me or not?

He feels cruel at twenty, getting Roman to drive him to the bus stop with that confused, hurt look on his face. This isn’t on you, he wants to say when they pull up, but instead he just leans over and kisses Roman, easy and familiar in a way they’ve done a hundred times and hopes that says everything that he can’t.

He makes a flame dance along the line of his knuckles and extinguishes it in his palm. “You know it isn’t safe for me here,” he says, staring at his clenched fist.

“Don’t go,” Roman says.

“Come with me,” Brian replies, already knowing that Roman can’t – knowing with a brittle sharp certainty that Roman has too many roots here to just walk away. When a moment passes, Brian smiles tightly and undoes his seatbelt. “I’ll call you or something, send you a post card. You probably don’t have to worry about me, you know. I can take care of myself.”

Roman cracks a smile and shakes his head. “I always worry about you, you asshole. You better fucking call me every day or I’m going to hunt you down, you hear?”

When Brian slides out of the car, the gravel under his feet feels like a beginning, like a fresh hope. His legs are older than they once were, but this is still about being able to run away. This is still a story about an angry boy. He strokes a hand over the scar at his temple and decides to grow out his hair.

Brian runs away and tries not to attract trouble in the towns he travels through – this is a boy barely out of childhood who knows how to lie, how to blend into the walls and how to react fast and react right. His life isn’t the easy kind – he has essentially nothing to his name and he figures that, apart from the daily call he makes to Rome, he must be untraceable. That feels important somehow. His life isn’t easy, but it is simple, coins in his pocket and sun on his back. He has a limp, but he likes to walk anyway.

Trouble tries to come to him like metal shavings to a magnet, but he knows how to avoid it, how to step aside and never turn his back.  He’s so goddamned tired of running and fighting for his life for no reason, just because his nature somehow invites violence.

He does bad things in the name of staying alive, blood on his knuckles and the savage curl of his lip when backing away stops being an option, a voice whispering in his ear, you like this, you like this, you like this. It’s hard to be himself, some days, hard to relax and be soft and let himself sleep, under bridges and in doorways. It’s almost easier not to try.

Chapter Text

Everyone knows that LA is mutant territory – a couple years ago there had been a massive blow out and the mutants had won. It had been a riot, really, but Brian had watched it on the news, chills raising goose bumps on his arms and felt hopeful. He’d been in Redwood city at the time, near to midnight watching tv through the window of a store front and he had turned around and started heading for LA. For safety, he thinks and lets himself smile just a little.

It takes a while, on foot and hitchhiking when someone would pick him up, but Brian blows into Echo Park on a Tuesday, picks a couple of wallets from a few asshole business people and heads to a shitty café to buy some lunch. This is all routine – he’s probably done it a thousand times, but sudden tension rides his shoulders like a demon because it’s starting to feel like even this is dangerous. Enough with the paranoia, he thinks, and tell himself to chill the fuck out. Nobody is coming for him.

The scar on his leg burns with an old deep ache, from the walk. Brian tries not to take it as an omen of bad luck.

He doesn’t plan on staying in this particular town long, except he has a bad habit of keeping in touch with what’s going on in the racing world, hears that there’s a race on tonight and an old urge burns under his skin. He has no car, obviously. Doesn’t even know if he could start the engine if he had one. There’s no way he can race but he misses the sound, the power, the thrill. He was fourteen when he went to his first race, attracted in by the sounds and the colours and the smoke. He’d noticed it because of the noise, sure, but he stayed for the adrenaline.

The café he chooses is owned by Dominic Toretto, who is a new breed of danger entirely and sets off all of Brian’s fight or flight reflexes at once, like ten different fire alarms all getting pulled at the same time.

Fire threatens to flicker up his arm and he clenches his fist, smothers it in the palm of his hand and pushes his way in the door.

A girl looks up at him, glancing up from her magazine to assess him. Mia, her name tag reads, and he smiles stiffly in her direction.

Brian flirts half-heartedly with her, because men who flirt with pretty women are much more common than men who don’t. He keeps his eyes on the line of Mia’s neck, the fall of her hair and the turn of her smile, and never ever takes his awareness off Dom, so tuned into his every move that the mere presence of him feels like a buzzing in Brian’s ear. He’s something, but Brian can’t get a hold of what it is. He can’t tell whether he’s picked it up or not.

If he’d ever become a cop, he would have called it a cop instinct, but this feels more like the kind of instinct that comes from a personal relationship with both danger and fear.  He should get out of here. He must be casting some pretty intense get the fuck away from me signals because Mia is giving him the side eye the way a person would eye a wounded animal, but Brian has never been good at walking away from food he’s already paid for, not when he spent so much of his life hungry.

In the neighbourhood where he grew up the people were just as likely to draw a knife on you as they were to nod at you in the street, regardless of whether or not they knew you, and he learnt how to recognise which times were which pretty damn fast. Toretto is the kind that nods – if he wanted something from anyone here, he wouldn’t have to draw a knife to get it.

The strongest alpha male is the one who never has to prove himself once he gets to the top. Brian barely resists the urge to give away the fear he’s feeling.

Couple of cars pull up behind him and although he doesn’t turn around to look, his eyelashes flutter at the roar and he knows he must twitch like his soul has just jerked awake. When he looks up again, Mia is staring at him with a kind of understanding that means that she knows exactly what it means to love a car.

Which is when the drivers file in and Brian goes danger in a half second, like a light going on, because guy number one is the kind of asshole who thinks that a bigger hit is equal to a win, which isn’t really a problem. Brian has probably fought a hundred guys exactly like this, big guys with anger issues and something to prove.

But the second guy has the kind of easy stride like he has nothing to prove and that’s probably the most dangerous kind of fight to step into. Danger, Brian thinks again, and looks away. He shrinks into his seat, rounds his shoulders and watches the rest of them come in through the reflection of a window.

The third guy has eyes that take in every single movement in the room and actually think about them. Physically, he’s lithe, with cat-like laziness in every limb and twitching fingers, but he’s watching with bright amused curiosity, which makes him look sharper than a tack and ten times as dangerous. He catches Brian’s eye in the reflection and winks and then turns his head to murmur to the woman beside him.

The woman who walks in looks easy and comfortable and ready for a fight. An alarm starts blaring the second he lays eyes on her and sees that she is watching him back, eyes evaluating and somehow finding him lacking – nope, he thinks. No thanks. She looks like she’d bite, like she wouldn’t hesitate to use her nails if she thought it would get her anywhere. They get a little closer and he is bombarded by the feeling of their mutations, all of them, bar the girl behind the counter, rushing at him at once.

“Hey,” guy number one says, sitting down a touch too close, looming to try and seem big. It works, but it doesn’t really do anything for Brian. “Hey,” he says again, when Brian ignores him. This is a guy who wants a fight, and with the sudden buzz under his skin, Brian is somewhat inclined to give him one. Circumstances being what they are, it’s been a while since he’s had to kick someone’s teeth in and he figures it’s somewhat overdue. Not that he really likes it, but there’s something to be said about knowing that he’s still got it.

“I don’t know you, man,” Brian replies after a minute. “What’s your problem?” Then he glances over and raises a brow, like yeah, little guy? What do you want? It’s a good look – just the right mix of condescending and challenging to get the job done. Brian learnt it from Rome, and there’s probably not a person in the world who it doesn’t piss off.

This guy is no exception. He practically goes red and steam is all but coming out his ears. “Vince,” Mia warns. “Cool it, you asshole.”

Brian looks back at his sandwich with a smile, knowing he’s being a dick and not particularly caring. The corner of his mouth tilts up and he kind of wants to say, yeah, Vince, cool it you asshole, but somewhere between growing up and juvie he must have gotten a little smarter, so he just lets his smile do the talking for him.

Vince sees it and somewhere in the background he hears a low, uh oh, and then Vince grabs him by the front of his shirt and throws him out of his chair. Brian comes up rolling and there is a sick moment of tension as he has to get his bearings back, room tilting and heaving as his balance whacks out, one of the weird side effects he kept from his time in the coma. He spares a glance to Mia, who looks quietly furious, and frowns.

“Let’s go outside,” he suggests. I don’t want you to be able to throw me through a window, he means. Also, rule number on, always take your fighting outside. It’s polite.

Vince pushes past him and strides out, fists flexing. Brian makes eye contact with Mia and winks at the concern he sees. When he steps past the cluster of people at the door, he makes eye contact and winks at them, too.

Vince is waiting in the parking lot, stance wide and steady like maybe he does know what he’s doing after all. Brian rises an eyebrow and jerks his head a little, like saying right here, buddy. Come and get it. Vince scowls and steps up in a stride that means he’s probably never actually fought for his life before, back against the wall knowing he’s going to walk away with a couple of new scars even if he wins – fights with his hands up like he’s never fought someone looking to slide a knife in between his ribs.

Brian ducks the initial swing and steps into the gap Vince is leaving wide on his left and jabs him hard, once. The he ducks back before Vince can get his shit together enough to swing at him again, bouncing on his toes a little. This is fun, in a wistful kind of way – he doesn’t try to get into fights anymore, is tired of the victory flaring under his skin, but there is no denying that he loves it once it starts. Vince swings again, twice in quick succession and Brian twists so that he catches it on his ribs, not in the soft parts of his stomach. While he’s turning, he sweeps a leg at the back of Vince’s knees. His thigh pulls tight and he flinches, off balance, but his foot catches and Vince, not expecting it, goes down but catches Brian on the way, rolls him over to straddle his hips and fist a hand in his hair, shit, Brian has time to think, and then Vince slams his head back onto the ground.

Sparks light up behind Brian’s eyes and he snarls, forgets about playing nice so as to not offend the locals. He’s just winding up to start fighting for real when Dom breaks it up, which is just as well. Brian was never the kind to walk away once the shit hit the fan, and the years since he’s left home haven’t been kind to him - he’s a much better fighter than Vince, especially when his back is against a wall.

He likes to think he wouldn’t strike out too hard, wouldn’t do something he couldn’t take back, but his control has been getting shaky these days.

His head is bleeding, just a tiny bit at the back but Brian presses a hand to it nervously, thinking permanent memory loss, and Dom tracks the motion with sharp, dark eyes, sees the blood and turns Brian around to check it out, thumb warm against the top notch of Brian’s spine, other hand gentle as it brushes Brian’s hair aside.

“For fucks sake, Vince, a head injury?” Dom questions, and Vince shifts his feet restlessly with something like shame. At his silence, Dom turns Brian around again and looks into his eyes, checking for any pupil weirdness, Brian figures.

“You dizzy?” Dom asks. Brian shakes his head, wordless. “Any nausea?” Brian shakes his head again and Dom frowns, like he doesn’t quite believe him.

“Then get lost, O’Conner,” Dom warns, hand a firm weight against Brian’s chest where it’s bunched in the fabric of his shirt. His voice is firm – no give at all – and he’s clearly the authority. Brian has never had much love for authority, but he can respect it well enough. He goes slack, presses a touch closer and bares his neck a little, lets his eyelids go a fraction lower and watches as those dark eyes narrow. His body is a weapon. He knows this and doesn’t mind letting it do this kind of work. Getting away unharmed is getting away unharmed, and sure enough Dom sets him back down, face unreadable.

Well, Brian isn’t complaining - he just nods, looks Dom up and down and smiles, just a little. “Sure thing,” he says, and walks away. This is still winning, he repeats, and clenches his jaw so tight his teeth creak.

He feels eyes drill into his back as he leaves but doesn’t turn around to see who it is. He has a long walk ahead of him, and no intention of getting into any more fights. He makes it a couple of blocks before he has to pause to throw up, hands shaking with dying adrenaline hard enough that he has to shove them into his pockets so that no one can see, like a secret.

He grabs out his phone, dials from memory. “Hey, Rome,” he says when it picks up. “How’s it?”

“It’s fine,” Rome replies, clearly stifling a yawn.

“Did I wake you up?” Brian asks, glancing at the time. It’s only five in the afternoon, but Rome has been working night shifts lately.

“Nah, man, I’ve been up a while. When you at today?”

“Echo Park, LA,” Brian replies. “It’s nice enough. Safe enough, you know?”

“Hmm, yeah I’ll bet it is. Have fun in mutant town, O’Conner.”

“I will. Might stay a while, if I can avoid trouble.”

He can almost hear Rome’s raised eyebrows. “Keep safe. Don’t pick any dumbass fights. How’s your leg?”

“Well it’s still on there,” Brian laughs. “That’s about all I can say for it.”

Rome blows out a breath. “Alright, man. Take it easy. I have to go. Don’t pick any dumbass fights, I really mean that.”

“Bye, Rome.”

Hidden from prying eyes, his scar starts to ache. He heads towards the noise of firing engines, trying not to limp.

“Tell me about this scar,” Dom will say one day, months from this moment, and he will kiss the hinge of Brian’s jaw so softly he almost can’t even feel it at all.

Chapter Text

When he gets there, the race is everything he remembers, the noise and movement a familiar rhythm that is almost hypnotising. His fingers twitch for a car to drive but he doesn’t move. Doesn’t even know if he could convince himself to get in a car if it was offered to him.

Toretto catches sight of him within the first five minutes, at least once that Brian knows of, but if he’s still angry about earlier he’s too good of an actor to let it show on his face. Eventually he makes his way over, stands up in Brian’s space and says, “I thought I told you to get lost, O’Conner.”

Brian looks at him, smiles slow and shrugs. “I doubt you could have kept me away,” is all he replies quietly, and he can practically feel Dom’s eyebrows shoots up even though he’s not looking. Somewhere near the start line, an engine revs and a chorus of cheering goes up.

“You raced?” Dom asks once the noise has died down, and Brian shrugs again.

“It’s been a while since I drove,” he admits, and doesn’t elaborate. He doesn’t say I don’t even know if I could convince myself to drive if I had a wheel in my hands right now. “My lifestyle doesn’t exactly allow it,” he adds, and thinks Dom understands. After a while of watching in silence, Dom pushes off the fence and melts away into the crowd, broad shoulders eventually swallowed up by the heaving mass of viewers. People make room for him, almost unconsciously. Like they don’t even realise it, but they see a predator. Could be something to do with his mutation – Brian is sure now the he could feel the edges of strength when they had talked, but it’s more likely to be to do with respect. Just the kind of guy Toretto is, probably.

Jesse comes up, makes a little conversation, and Brian gets the feeling that he’s being babysat to make sure he doesn’t cause shit. He doesn’t really care, just flirts a little and laughs when Jesse goes red at the attention, waving him off.

He’s always been a runner, but something about this town catches hold of him and he thinks, maybe he’d like to stay a couple days. It’s too bad about Toretto. The best town in the world couldn’t make him stay if it was going to cause actual shit with that man. It’s just easier to leave. LA is plenty big enough for them to exist without seeing each other, and Brian is disinclined to leave this undeclared mutant safe zone.

He’ll head off tomorrow, try to find a part of LA that Toretto doesn’t have friends in. Or something.

Then he gets in Dom’s good graces almost without even trying, by sheer coincidence in an alley that smells like booze. Brian’s hiding from the cops in a shadow, waiting for it to calm down when Dom strides along and Brian doesn’t even think about it, just snags the sleeve of Dom’s jacket and pulls him into a shadow about half a second before three cop cars go flying past, sirens off and clearly hunting.

Dom opens his mouth and Brian clamps a hand over it, straining for any noise. When he hears none, he abruptly goes slack, hand dropping away, only to become instantly and insistently aware of how closely pressed together they are.

From head to toe, so tightly that Brian can feel the rise and fall of Dom’s chest against his, so close that he can feel icy fear pressing urgent fingers up his spine, until Dom takes a step back. The alarms quieten in Brian’s mind, just a little. The sirens that are blaring from the police cars nearby are getting louder.

“I hope you have a car around here somewhere,” Brian manages eventually, through a throat tight with tension, and the corner of Dom’s mouth twitches up. When he jerks his head and starts walking, Brian follows.

“You better not get car sick,” Dom says, voice low and steady. In the distance, sirens bellow out their warning and Brian just smiles, puts his seatbelt on and holds on because if there’s one thing he knows it’s going fast with sirens in the rear-view.

They’re home free, Brian figures. Dom can drop him off at a hotel somewhere and they can just never see each other again, only they get pulled up by Johnny Tran and his cousin, faces Brian vaguely recognises as bad news, and Brian listens quietly to the threats, keeps his eyes on the guns around him and tries not to flinch when Lance runs a falsely gentle hand across the span of his shoulders and down his spine.

“Hey, pretty,” Lance whispers, and leans in close to clamp a firm hand on the joint of Brian’s elbow.

“Fuck off me, man,” Brian mutters back and keeps his eyes firmly on Dom and Tran, looking for a sign that things are about to go south. It’s not that he dismisses Lance as not threat, it’s just that he knows Lance’s type. The kind of person who holds threats of violence in the palm of their hand like a stone they aren’t afraid to throw. Then they almost always have the actions and the crazy to back it up and are too much of a loose cannon to function without a leash and a firm hand. In this case, Tran is the leash. Lance is the dangerous one, but he won’t act up too bad without Tran’s say so.

Any attention Brian gives to him is going to fuel the flames higher, and if Lance gets too good of a look at him, he’s going to instantly see the fear that’s hiding in Brian’s eyes. Like a shark drawn to blood in the water, Lance is going to come for him. It’s better for everyone involved if Lance doesn’t know how afraid Brian is.

“Don’t be like that, sweetheart, we could be friends,” Lance drawls back, brow ticking up.

“Where did you pick this one up from?” he asks, interrupting the quiet but intense conversation between Dom and Johnny. Both of them glance over, and Lance smirks almost audibly and slides his hand up into Brian’s hair and twists it until Brian has to tilt back his head, bare his throat. Brian smothers a scowl, tucks away his fear, and forces an expression of neutrality. Irritation would be best, but he can’t muster that up, not under the circumstances.

He wants to drive back his elbow, knock the air out of Lance’s lungs and get him away, but no doubt a fight would break out. Taking deep breaths, he stays quiet. Two against ten is shitty odds, even if Toretto is as good a fighter as he projects. And all of these guys are packing, semi-autos at the least.

“He’s pretty, Toretto. Maybe I’ll take him for a ride, sometime.” And he’s so obviously looking for a reaction that Brian goes still and refuses to give it to him, jaw clenching in silent fury. There’s nothing he can do against a whole group of armed men anyway, but for a long moment he considers driving his elbow back into Lance’s ribs just to make a point.

This is still winning, he tells himself. Living is still wining.

Dom’s eyes go hard and flat as Lance tucks a hand into Brian’s back pocket, and the negotiations come to a rapid conclusion. Within minutes, the motorcycles all roar off, but Brian has never been the trusting type and he gestures for quiet.

“Wait,” he says. “Just listen.”

There – the roar of an incoming motorbike. Brian knows what they’re about to do before they even do it – it’s been years since he’s been anywhere near a drive by, but it’s not exactly an instinct that fades and so he’s already diving away and taking Dom down with him when they open fire, and the car goes up in a rush of fire and explosive gas.

“Ah, shit,” he says, in the aftermath. Understatement, but it’s all he’s got.

He’s still sitting on the ground and he swipes a shaking hand down his face. It only probably takes half a minute for him to get himself under control, to shove the fear that Lance has inspired back into the shadows where it belongs, and he bats Dom’s hand away when he offers to help him up. He shoves his hands into the pocket of his jeans so that Dom can’t see them shake and swallows, hard.

“What was that about?” Dom asks, and his voice is pretty neutral, but Brian can read the curiosity there. He’s always been good at shit like that, half from necessity and half because of the way he’s wired.

“I grew up in a rough neighbourhood,” Brian admits easily, ducking his head to avoid eye contact. “When people pulled the trigger in my direction, they weren’t often aiming at the cars, you know?” Brian has no reason to lie, but he has no reason to tell the whole truth either. It’s not like he’s planning on hanging around long enough for it to matter anyway. So what if Dom thinks that his shaking hands are from the explosion? It’s easier than the truth – that Brian had looked into the eyes of a man today, and that a void had looked back.

Dom raises an eyebrow, as if to say, sure, if you want to pretend that’s all it is, that’s cool, and jerks his head. “It’s a long walk home,” he says, and damn it, Brian thinks. Damn it, I like him. Dom pauses and waits for him to catch up, head tilting in something that’s almost a challenge. Brian goes.

 

Dom invites him in when they get to his house, gives him Vince’s beer just to piss him off and then walks away into the depths of his house. Vince starts talking shit, like he thinks he has something to prove, and just when Brian starts wondering if this is going to end in violence Mia steps in, eyes hard in a way that reminds him in sharp relief of Roman, of the way he knew how to tilt his head back and tell lies without pausing to think about it.

“Back the fuck off, Vince, I’m sick of your shit,” she snaps, and then drags Brian by the arm toward the kitchen.

Mia has no interest in him, really. Mostly, Brian thinks she likes pissing off Vince, because the more she flirts with him the angrier Vince gets and the harder she does it. Vince follows them to the kitchen and then tries to start shit with him. Brian conceals a smirk – Vince should know better than to try the alpha bullshit in front of Mia – she’s not the kind that likes it, and he falls back to let her handle it.

She asks him out, not really like a question and enough like an order that he’s half nodding before he even processes what she’s saying. Vince storms out and the kitchen goes silent, just the two of them washing dishes, and Brian says, quietly. “Mia listen,” and she goes still.

He watches her pour out a glass of water for a second and frowns a little. “I’m not actually-”

And she cuts him off and says, “I don’t date my brother’s friends,” and then looks surprised and a little offended when he says “Oh, good.”

“What?” She questions, one eyebrow raised. Her expression shifts a touch and she looks like she wants to say, you don’t want to date me?

“You’re, well,” he stutters at her curious expression. “You’re great, and all, but I’m more inclined away from women, you know?” he offers up tentatively because it’s the truth and what the hell, anyway. Why not. If things go to shit he can always just get the hell out of dodge. Wouldn’t be the first time, and no way could they ever hope to stop him if he really decided to go. If he really had to go.

There is a long pause where Mia watches him, eyes narrowed. There is something sharp about her eyes, but kind. She smiles. “You’re very… open,” she says in reply, mouth ticking up bemusedly as she turns back to the dishes.

“Maybe I just don’t have time for secrets,” he offers back, relaxing when it gets him a full-blown smile.

So, he makes friends with Mia Toretto, treads carefully around Vince and flirts harmlessly with Jesse, who twitches in surprise and laughs, head thrown back, before going back to his work. He watches Dom and tries not to get caught lingering on the shape of his shoulders, the strength of his hands. For some reason, they keep inviting him back. For some reason, he keeps coming.

He’s there for a week and it’s the longest he’s stayed in one place since he got out of juvie. He thinks about running, about leaving after dinner is finished one day, and gets about as far as the front gate before Mia comes after him.

“Whatever you’re thinking about doing, Brian, don’t.”

Brian pauses, hand still on the gate latch. “Come on, Mia. It’s time I moved on anyway.”

“Well don’t,” she argues back. “Be here tomorrow, Brian,” she orders sunnily, already knowing she’s won. “We want you to stay.”

He stays, and blows out a breath when he realises that this home doesn’t feel like a cage.

 

He stays – fixes cars and gets grease up to his elbows, and smiles more, and he falls a little in love with the house, with its slightly crooked front steps, and the way he walks inside and feels something uncoil. He stays useful to them – if he is not useful, then he can not stay, surely. Surely this can not all be for free.

He is never that lucky – there has to be a catch somewhere.

Vince still calls him a cop, and sometimes he looks up to find Letty watching him with her head tilted to the side and her eyes narrowed. She looks like fire and ice, and she scares him a little, in a way that not even Dom did, at the start. He stays out of her way and laughs when Mia calls him a chicken. “It’s still winning if I don’t have to fight,” he calls, dodging a handful of soapy water on his way out and smacks into Dom, still laughing.

Things are good, and he falls into something like love.

Dom walks in on the tail end of Brian’s daily check up with Rome, watches as Brian smiles and rolls his eyes.

“I told you, man.”

He waits for a response, smile widening. “Fuck you, don’t be a dick.” But he’s still smiling right until he catches sight of Dom, and then the smile flickers, and he winds down the conversation. “I have to go. No, not-” he cuts off, rolling his eyes again.

“Okay, Rome. Yeah, See you man.”

He ends the call and tucks his phone into his pocket. “Hey, Dom. What’s up?” He seems nervous, so Dom doesn’t push it, just shakes his head and jerks a nod towards the garage.

“Want to give me a hand with this suspension? I could use an extra pair of hands.”

The moment – whatever the hell that was – cracks and Brian smiles. They head inside, tension dissipating. But Dom doesn’t forget the look on Brian’s face. He’d been afraid when he saw Dom, like he thought Dom might snatch the phone off him. Dom’s hungry for information about Brian; he can’t deny that. Watches as Brian sneaks off to make his call each day, watches as Brian is always lighter afterwards. He doesn’t ask.

He isn’t hungry enough to invade whatever remains of Brian’s former life, no matter how curious he is.

But he watches, and he notices the way that Brian is watching him back. Huh, he thinks. Well that’s something.

Chapter Text

Dom catches his eye couple of weeks later and jerks his head toward the garage in invitation, and Brian frowns a little in confusion but comes easily, stride casual.

“What’s up?” Brian asks, and he’s always been a good liar, a weapon he’s honed sharp as a blade over the years, but his voice still wavers a touch despite his attempts to feign casual interest. Sue him, he’s a little nervous to be alone with the guy who sets off all of his alarms and all of his nerves, in a way that he isn’t is bad. “Is something wrong?” he asks, when Dom just stares.

Dom doesn’t reply straight away, just walks over to the bared open guts of a nearby car and stares into it like maybe he can talk better with a car under his hands, too. He takes a deep breath, wide shoulders heaving, and Brian leans against the nearest wall to watch the show that it makes. Dom glances up and sees him watching, and that must cement something in his mind because he turns around and props a hip against the car and says, “you aren’t interested in my sister,” eyes sure and steady.

Damn, Brian thinks, even as he nods in agreement. Dom tilts his head. “Not even in the slightest, are you?”

“No,” Brian agrees easily and then waits for the reaction. It… isn’t what he expects. Dom smiles, slow and easy and strolls over to where Brian is leaning to plant a hand on either side of his head. Brian swallows, and tries to work out what to do with his hands. They end up landing on Dom’s hips, fingers hooking into the beltloops of Dom’s jeans and Dom raises an eyebrow.

For a second, they pause. Brian thinks, no going back from here and his palms curl reflexively. No running if I go down this road. Not until they don’t want me anymore.

He’s always gone all in when it comes to people.

“Tell me if I’m doing something wrong,” Dom says, and then they’re kissing. Dom kisses in much the same way he does everything else - no holding back, high intensity like a fight he already knows he’s going to win or a race he’s never going to lose. Brian lets out a hum of surprise and kisses back, feeling the strength and softness of Dom in every nerve in his body.

Brian breaks away, gasping, and lets his head hit the wall behind him while he tries to catch his breath. Dom hardly pauses, just traces his lips down Brian’s jaw, his neck, until Brian’s shifting and desperate for something, anything, and his chest is heaving. Dom waits until Brian stills, then he bites, hard and relentless until Brian is jerking forward into it helplessly, like the pain and the ache are doing something really good for him. When Dom lets go, Brian can’t help the low whine that escapes him, couldn’t stop the way his hips jerk forward if his life depended on it.

“I fucking knew it,” Dom mutters when he lets go, and he presses a firm thigh between Brian’s legs until they slide open for him, and then he just leans back a little to look at the pretty picture Brian makes. He’s flushed, high on his cheekbones, and his eyes are dark and lidded as he looks up from under his lashes.

“Knew, uh, knew what?” Brian asks eventually, trying not to grind down on the thigh between his legs and failing to keep the distraction he’s feeling from showing in his voice. Dom grins, sharp, and leans down to kiss him again.

“Knew you were watching me,” he says against Brian’s mouth. “Didn’t know why because I thought maybe you and Mia were starting something – everyone did.” And Brian lets out a surprised laugh that cuts off on a moan as Dom presses forward to grind against him.

“We’re just friends,” he says before Dom takes his earlobe into his mouth and tugs, and he loses all sense of coherent thought. “Oh,” he manages, surprised. Oh. That was –

“That’s good.” Dom pulls back and smiles, but his tone is serious. “I don’t share well, Brian.” And then he’s gone out the door on silent feet and Brian is left, tense and breathless against the wall feeling like his universe has changed on its axis. Maybe it has.

It becomes a thing. Brian will be lazing around the house, or working on a car or cooking lunch and Dom will materialise out of nowhere and kiss him, get him going crazy with soft touches down his spine and rough fingers in his hair until he’s bucking forward and smiling into the kiss, just starting to feel the tight string of pleasure stirring in his gut, and then Dom will pull back and walk away, pleased smirk in place while Brian practically dies from the frustration.

It's probably too easy to get him going crazy – nobody has ever touched Brian like this before, all hands in his hair and smiles against the hinge of his jaw. Nobody has ever touched Brian like he was something to be gentle with, not even Rome, who tried to love him but grew up rough, surrounded by so many rough hands.

It goes on like this for weeks, mostly because Dom is an asshole and a fucking tease, but Brian doesn’t really mind it so much – it’s kind of nice to not jump right into bed together and besides, it’s not like making out is the summation of what they do. They fix cars together and go driving. They don’t have to talk much, and mostly they don’t.

It’s easy, like breathing.

Mia finds out somehow that he’s sleeping day to day in a shitty motel and says, “No,” one day when he’s about to head out. He looks at her, confused, until she says again. “No, I think the fuck not, actually.” He stares at her a little more, suddenly very aware of everyone’s eyes on them, just out of earshot.

“Mia, what’s wrong?”

“I’m not letting you be homeless, Brian.”

“I’m not!” At her dubious look he backs up a little. “It’s not like I’m living under a tunnel.”

“You can sleep on the couch.”

“Mia stop it. I can’t live in your house, we don’t even know each other that well.”

“I know you well enough to know that this is happening whether you like it or not.”

He looks at the firm set of her shoulders and the steel in her eyes and groans when he realises she’s not letting this go any time soon. He runs his hand down his face. “Fine,” he shoots back. “But you’re convincing everyone else.” By everyone else, he means Letty and Vince. He grabs his dishes and heads inside, pretending he’s not running away.

He shouldn’t have doubted her – for about ten minutes, there’s loud conversation from outside, mostly from Vince and Letty, which is hardly shocking. Mia walks back inside, hips swinging triumphantly, and heads over to grab a blanket and pillow from the closet. Vince follows her inside and as soon as she’s gone he veers over and steps into Brian’s face. Brian watches with hard eyes and doesn’t give an inch, just letting him say what he needs to.

Vince opens his mouth, but Dom says, quiet, “settle down, Vince,” and Vince does.

“O’Conner can sleep in my room,” Dom says, and Jesse muffles a laugh in the background, but Brian can’t find it in himself to care.

Jesus, he thinks. Oh Jesus, I’m fucked.

“Starting tomorrow,” Brian manages weakly, and takes off before anyone could argue.

 When Brian was sixteen he hooked up with exactly four guys, and one of them was Roman. It just wasn’t safe, not when being pretty was practically an invitation anyway, walls had a way of talking, and secrets hardly ever stayed that way for long – it was hard to find guys who had as much at risk if they talked as he did, what with the whole mutation thing. They were hasty hand jobs and quiet moans muffled into his fist. He’s never had sex with anyone but Roman, who took Brian’s virginity on the night of his sixteen birthday, just so he could have him first. “I’m jealous like that, baby,” he’d said after, staring down at Brian’s fucked out face with a smile, and it was just easy to lean up and kiss him, natural as anything else Brian had done.

Everything else that’s happened to Brian doesn’t count. Not in his books, anyways.

The next day Brian is working on a car, up to his elbows in grease when Mia steps up beside him and leans her hip casually against the car to talk to him.

“He owns you now,” Mia murmurs in his ear, and her voice is soft, but her eyes are sharp, and she sees the way that the casual possessiveness of that statement sends a shiver of tension down his spine. She looks surprised and curious, leans against the car he’s bent over, pretty and graceful in the dying light of the dusty garage. “Really?” She asks incredulously. “My brother is the type that does it for you?” When he continues to blush, she shrieks delightedly. “You hooked up with my brother? Can I tell Letty? God, her face is going to be amazing. I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen.”

“Yes,” Brian says and then falls quiet, tongue tied. He blushes right up to his ears and pretends to focus on the guts of the car he’s messing with, just so he doesn’t have to look at her. “And I do not have a type,” he protests hotly, and she smacks him across the shoulder with a grimy rag and bounces off, giggling quietly to herself.

He can’t look Dom in the eye for the rest of the day and finds his eyes lingering whenever his hands have nothing to do, so he keeps them as busy as he can. 

That night Dom fucks him in slow hard strokes that have him gasping into the mattress, hips rolling back desperately for some kind of friction – anything. “Please,” he begs, fingers scrabbling for purchase, for a hold, “more, please I can’t-”

“Easy, Brian,” is all Dom tells him, then bites the back of his neck, so gently it might not even leave a mark, and Brian comes.

Chapter Text

He stays.

When he tells Rome he’s settled in there is silence on the line for almost a whole minute. A record, practically. “I’m proud of you man,” Rome says, and then hangs up. Brian smiles. Rome has always been shit with emotions, but Brian knows he’s serious.

 It’s four weeks, and then it’s ten. And then he’s been there nearly a whole year, and he runs his hands over the smooth skin of Dom’s shoulder, lit up gold and tawny in the warm morning sunrise, and thinks about putting down roots.

Maybe he could call Rome up, ask him to come visit. He tries to imagine the explosions which would inevitably occur when he meets Letty and smothers his smile into Dom’s back.

Gradually, as the team start to trust him, they begin to use their mutations in front of him, wary at first, that he might react badly, and then easier when he takes it well. He still doesn’t use his in front of them – can’t quite break that particular habit of swallowing down his mutations every minute of the day even though he knows that they wouldn’t walk away from him now, not now that they’ve looked into his eyes and seen that he wants to stay.

It starts off basic enough. Dom, casually lifting an entire engine block out of a car, effortless and absentminded. Then Jesse, flickering in and out of visibility when he gets especially excited about a particular engine mod that he’s trying to explain.

Letty lights the barbeque with a rush of sparks, one eyebrow raised at Brian like a dare, and Leon snickers in the background, sends a wave of static electricity at her until her hair floats around her head when she turns around to scowl at him.

They probably assume he’s a baseline human but never ask him – he doesn’t bring it up, although he’s sure now, that if they asked him what he was he would tell them the truth.

He still hasn’t set foot in a car to drive it, apart from riding passenger. Won’t do any more than touch them, no matter how much anyone tries to convince him, just bites the inside of his cheek until it bleeds and goes quiet until they go away. Just stares into the guts of the car in front of him, like he wishes it would keep his secrets for him.

Dom kisses the taste of blood from his mouth and fails to hide his worry.

“You must have driven once,” Vince presses. “You know too much to be anything other than a great driver,” and then looks like he’s swallowed a lemon once he realises that it’s a complement. Brain laughs him off and tries to forget the way a car felt going around a corner, all control in the palms of his hands. Tries to unlearn to roar of a car under his chest, the rumble of going fast. He can’t.

And then quite suddenly they all start keeping secrets. Or rather, a secret, and it hurts like a dagger to his chest when he realises. Not that he has any right to be so offended – he’s keeping his secrets too, but his secrets aren’t anybody’s but his own. They’re all on this together, with him on the outside. He sees the way Jesse is getting wound up tighter and tighter every day, the way tension is riding Letty like a demon on her shoulders and wonders what could possibly be worth the stress.

They disappear at nights, huddle over plans and maps which they roll up and disappear like magic whenever he walks into the room. It stings the back of his throat and he knows that he isn’t really a part of this family, not like the rest of them, but it still comes as a shock when he realises that he isn’t the only one who knows how much of an outsider he is. It curdles something in his stomach to see that they are aware, too.

Jesse won’t look him in the eye when he starts to bring it up, Vince just flat out doesn’t talk to him, Letty pretty much ignores his existence, and Dom deflects every time Brian tries to ask where it is that they all disappear to at night, but for all of the things that Brian is, he’s not stupid. He’s never been stupid, but it’s not exactly surprising that they think he is – he just wishes they didn’t. He’d thought – well. It didn’t matter what he’d thought.

He tries to ask before they leave, and Dom brushes his hand away when he reaches out, and Brian takes the hint like a crowbar to the chest. Stay out of it, the casual gesture says. It’s not any of your business.

Dom comes home in the middle of the night buzzing and doesn’t say where he went – they fuck out his adrenaline, Dom finally letting a little bit of that incredible strength out. Then Dom goes to sleep easy in a relaxed sprawl, but Brian feels hollow with the knowledge that the home he has crafted here is slipping through his fingers. He lies awake after and looks at the slackness of Dom’s mouth and wonders if he is going to lose this, too. Wonders what he has done so that they will not trust him with this secret.

Wonders how long he has left before the space he has carved for himself collapses.

Dom is still sleeping when Brian slides himself cautiously out of the sheets, pads out of the room on feet that have long ago learned to be silent. The kitchen is empty when he gets there, dark blue with the shade of the early morning, and the chair he takes creaks when he sits down.

He borrows Letty’s fire for a minute to light a candle and stares into the flame like it could tell him what to do. His mother had a friend once who used to say she could tell the future from the smoke of a blown-out candle – could see the roads of life in the curl of smoke that the fire left behind. Brian remembers her face, solemn and patient as he sat across from her in a darkened room, all wrinkles and dark eyes. She had been so certain when she had looked at him.

Now, in the present, he extinguishes the flame in front of him and wonders what it says that he can’t read anything in the curl of smoke.

Something cracks like ice in his chest and he curls around that old wound like a sick dog, swallowing back the sudden tightness in his throat. He can deal. Being lonely, being on the outside looking in, is practically second nature to him.

Jesus, but it is a festering wound to live with. He goes back to bed as the sun starts to come up and holds on tightly to Dom in his sleep. He clenches his hand into the fabric of Dom’s wifebeater like it might stop him from going away.

There is nothing he can do, he tells himself. Being a bitch about it won’t help any, and it’ll just hurt him worse. So he stops asking, goes quiet and ignores the way everyone side eyes him when he stops speaking so freely at meal times, when he fades back into the corners of the conversation like he did when they first began inviting him.

Jesse is open with his concern in the same way he’s open with everything else, frowns when Brian stops coming to see what he’s up to in the garage and has whispered, furious conversations with Dom in the corners where they think Brian can’t see them. He looks away, moves through the motions of fixing a lose transmission without paying attention.

“Brian, talk to me,” Mia demands one day drawing him aside and brushing a concerned hand against his forehead, hands cool. “What’s wrong? You know you can tell me.” Her dark eyes are honest, concerned, and he is suddenly and strikingly reminded of Roman’s mother, of the only pair of adult hands that ever touched him to be gentle. Some of that old hurt must show in his eyes, in the downward turn of his mouth, because she reaches for him again, tugs at the strands of his hair at the base of his neck until he crumples forward like a marionette with cut strings to fit his face into the curve of her neck.

He tries to keep his hands to himself, find them tucked tight into the fabric of her loose shirt anyway. His eyes sting as she strokes a gentle hand down his neck, swallows thickly in the face of her kindness.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” she whispers. “Please, tell me,” and he takes a step back, brushes his fingers under his eyes to get rid of the telling wetness under them. Fuck, he thinks. Damn it.

“Dom thinks that I don’t,” his throat goes too tight to speak and he has to stop. There is a long pause. “I don’t know what Dom thinks, actually.” If possible, Mia’s eyes soften even further. She steps forward and touches a hand to his jaw.

“Dom is a fucking idiot,” she whispers fiercely, eyes glittering dangerously. “And I think he’s an even bigger idiot for not telling you.”

He opens his mouth to object, but she cuts him off. “You have every right to know. I know you haven’t been here as long as some of the others, but you are family, Brian.” Brian manages a weak smile. “If it was up to me,” Mia ads, “you would know already. Dom thinks he’s keeping you safe.”

For a long while after that, there is silence.

 

“Tell me about this scar,” Dom breathes into the skin of Brian’s throat that night. He’s looking for honesty, for truth. Brian is helpless to do anything but give it.

“Once upon a time,” Brian replies, “a man tried to kill me.”

 

It’s about three weeks after that when the cop shows up.

At least, Brian thinks he’s a cop – he’s got that way of walking, like he knows exactly how valuable his life is down to the dollars and cents of it, and he talks the way that only someone with the big guns and all the knowledge would talk. He talks like he knows that someone is watching his back.

Vince thinks so too, because he might be a bit of an asshole with a lizard brain, but he’s got damn good instincts. It’s probably the first and only time they’ve every agreed on anything on purpose.

The guy first turns up at one of the races, a Friday night, so the crowds are huge. He turns up in a flashy bright yellow import, steering it like he has no idea what’s under the hood. Brian shrugs it off – there are hundreds of idiots driving around in cars they don’t understand, ready to try their luck at going fast and making money. It’s nothing unusual, right up until the guy put up a pink slip for his car and tells Dom he wants to race.

Brian blinks bemusedly from where he’s perched leaning on the hood of Dom’s car, side warm from were they press together and Dom’s hand in his back pocket. What the fuck? What was the guy trying to prove? Mind working at a hundred miles an hour, Brian tenses against Dom’s side. In his head, alarms started blaring. Cop, he thinks, cop, cop, cop.

“I don’t want your car,” Dom says, raising an eyebrow is a way that clearly indicates exactly how much he thinks of the car and several people hoot and laugh.

Clearly embarrassed, the man flushes. “Sure thing, man, fair enough,” he manages, and then makes an awkward retreat, trying not to look like he’s running away. And that’s the first time Brian sees him – in the next couple of weeks, he starts turning up more and more at the garage, obviously regaining his composure. He hangs around Dom constantly, trying to be subtle about it.

Brian tries to tell Dom about the vibe he gets, rolls his eyes when Vince yells it because when has that ever worked when it comes to trying to get Dom to listen? He takes Dom aside and touches a hand to his jaw, signs at the stubbornness in his eyes. Tells him, at least keep an eye out, and then defuses the tension by smiling. You know I wouldn’t agree with Vince on anything unless I had a feeling.

“You’re all being paranoid,” Dom sighs, exasperated. Brian pushes at his shoulder and furrows his brows.

“What is there to be paranoid about?” Tell me the truth, he implores. Please, please tell me a truth, I’m asking you right now.

Dom does not answer. That’s it’s own kind of answer.

 When Brian was seventeen, running with the wrong crowd and on the path towards juvie, he’d met a guy like this one – too quick with words, story a little too practiced, hands a little bit too steady for the kind of stuff he was into. Six days after they met for the first time, the guy was dead because some powerful people had found out he was a narc.

He was too quick, too practiced, and now he is dead. Brian tries not to think about it.

“I knew a guy like you, once,” Brian tells the cop a few days later. His name is Jacob Eden, and he nods with disinterest. Clearly, he has already dismissed Brian as Dom’s bitch and is willing to leave it at that, eager to discard any information which he deems irrelevant. For a minute, silence reigns in the garage, empty but for the two of them.

“Yeah,” Brian continues neutrally, peering deep into the engine in front of him, looking for a loose nut to explain the rattle it was making. “Once I knew a guy just like you, down to the whole, being a cop thing,” he lets the impact of that sink in for a second. “When I was seventeen he nearly killed me in a back alley,” he continues softly, “so you can imagine exactly how pleased I am about you being here right now, can’t you?” and Jacob looks up with wide eyes, suddenly paying attention, so Brian keeps talking with casual disinterest, steamrolls right over him when he makes a move to open his mouth.

 “Shut the fuck up,” he says, gesturing with a wrench pointedly. “I’m not done. That cop hurt me in a back alley for the express purpose of convincing some scumbag gang members that he was worth their time – I don’t know, somehow, knowing that what he did wasn’t even about me made it almost worse. It could have been anyone, and he chose me. He’s dead now, anyway.” And here his voice loses some of its neutral pleasantry and he finally looks up from the bowels of the engine, making eye contact, sure that his eyes are hard and dark. “Really dead. He died slowly.”

Once Rome had found out about it, he’d called in some of his more important family members and recommended some retribution, at which point they did some investigating and found out who he was. Brian and Rome are the only two who really know what truly went down in that alley that day, but sticking to the vague story is enough.

The second he pauses for breath, Jacob is speaking up desperately, like a thirsting man with a glass of water just out of reach. “I don’t know what you’re talking about - I’m not a cop.” He looks around like one of the more sympathetic garage workers might suddenly appear and comes up empty, and then turns back with a look in his eye that indicates his sudden and brutal realisation of exactly how much danger Brian presents to him. If he wasn’t on the list at all before, Brian figures he’s at the top of it now. “I’m not a cop,” Jacob repeats weakly, paler with every increasing second.

“Sure you aren’t,” Brian agrees mockingly. “You just walk like a cop, and you just happen to talk like a cop, and you sure as shit drive like a cop. Must be a coincidence. Hell, man, you even fucking smoke like a cop. You need a different job, because you suck at this one. I want you out of here.” Away from my family, he thinks but does not say.

Jacobs voice breaks as his denial wavers and then cracks. “Are you threatening me? That could be dangerous for you,” he finally says, shifting abruptly from denial to bargaining.

Brian smiles, slow and easy, at the half confession. In the house, a door opens, and Dom calls out for him. He stares hard at Jacob for a long second, and then rolls his eyes, throwing up his hands. “I may have never graduated, but I’m smart enough not to threaten a cop.”

“Brian?” Dom calls out again, obviously in the kitchen from the rattle and crash of the draws. “You in the garage?”

“Yeah,” Brian calls back. Quieter, to Jacob, he tacks on, “Get the fuck out of here, man. And tell your superiors that sending another cop in isn’t going to work as soon as I tell everyone who you are, so not to bother.” When Jacob continues to stare in bewildered shock, Brian rolls his eyes again. “Get gone, man. And don’t come back.”

 

“Tell me a truth,” Dom whispers into the space between their bodies.

“I think I’ve fallen in love with you,” Brian whispers back.

 

At family dinner that night, Brian taps his glass and awkwardly waits until everyone goes silent, looking kind of surprised. Not without reason, he guesses, because he hasn’t really been talking much lately. “So,” he announces. “Jacob was, in fact, most definitely an undercover cop, and you guys need to stop doing whatever illegal thing it is that would make the police send an undercover cop into this family. Thanks.” Then he sits down, already cringing at the noise.

In the uproar that follows, Brian sits back and fiddles with his glass. When silence falls again, Dom is frowning. “I take it you have actual proof of this?” He asks, and Brian flinches.

“If by proof you mean I had a conversation with him wherein I got him to admit he was a cop, then yes, I have proof,” he defends, curling in his shoulders defensively. “If that’s not enough for you, fucking fine. Go back to prison.” With that note, he shoves back from the table and walks upstairs, fuming in a way that he knows is only a cover for the hurt he’s feeling at Dom’s lack of trust in his word.

He sits down on the edge of their- on the edge of Dom’s bed, and shoves his head into his hands.

Behind him, the door opens and shuts, and Dom pads closer on quiet feet. He’s got a surprisingly quiet way of moving, Dom. Can walk so quiet he doesn’t even make a whisper of a noise. Brian pushes away from the bed and stands in front of the window instead, arms wrapped loosely around himself. When Dom presses cautiously into his space, he leans back into the warmth he provides, but he doesn’t shift his gaze from the window. Everything just sort of feels irrelevant at the moment, like there isn’t enough energy left in him to care.

He’s been in this place before, beating against the glass of his own mind, but now he can hardly find the energy to struggle.

Don’t be dramatic, his mind supplies uselessly after a moment of contemplation and Brian sighs lowly into the quiet of the bedroom. “I’m tired,” Brian whispers, wishing he could at least cry or something, anything to get rid of the mountain of emotion crushing his ribs.

“I’m sorry,” Dom whispers to the soft skin of the back of Brian’s neck, suddenly struck by the feeling the Brian is a hundred thousand miles away and standing in his arms at the same time.

“Yeah,” Brian murmurs back, suddenly exhausted and sick of wanting to know. “Let’s go to bed.”

They lay down and do not sleep well – Brian dreams of endless oceans and skies with no clouds, and highways he will never ride. A couple of days later they head to race wars with the tension still lingering between them like a bad taste, but when Dom looks over at him and says, “I was trying to protect you,” Brian smiles.

“I don’t know if I want you to tell me,” he decides. “I want to know. I don’t want you to keep secrets from me, but. Plausible deniability – I don’t want to know.” The smiles falls away and he stares out the window. “Just be safe,” he says. “Jesus, just be safe, Dom.” I can’t lose you, can’t lose this family he doesn’t say. By the way Dom goes a little soft eyed he gets it, but he doesn’t comment. The world goes silent in the face of the engine’s roar and Dom floors the accelerator to the tune of Brian’s laugh, like a thousand pounds of weight he didn’t even know he was carrying has lifted off his shoulders.

Chapter Text

Jesse is a fucking idiot. He’s smart as hell, quick as a whip and his brain works in ways that Brian can’t even begin to comprehend, but he’s a fucking idiot if he thinks he’s going to make any kind of deal with Tran and come up on the other side a winner.

Tran knows it too, watches with sharp eyes as Jesse writes up the pink slip and knows, already knows, that Jesse is going to lose – Brian clamps a hand onto Jesse’s shoulder and hauls him away, offering a tight smile in Tran’s direction and pointedly ignoring the way Jesse struggles. A few people boo, jeering as Jesse is hauled away and that’s going to put a stab in his reputation, no doubt about it, but when Brian levels his best come fuck with me, I dare you, eyes at them, they shut up and move on to the next potential race.

The sun is beating down on them, blindingly bright, and Brian feels a sweat break out on his forehead.

Where the fuck was Dom? Brian scans the crowd once more in search of Dom’s familiar shape, and then shoves Jesse into a nearby tent when it doesn’t appear. The sun outside is excruciating, almost opaque, and the sun and dust mix into something almost impossible to see through.

There are a couple of people in the tent, already day drunk and merry, raising their glasses at the new commers. Brian ignores them, turns on Jesse with a spin. Jesse is freaked, trying to hide it, like a cat backed into a corner. He opens his mouth, looking angry, but Brian speaks first.

“What the fuck are you doing, man?” He whispers, trying not to shout. No doubt, Tran’s got ears around here – wouldn’t do for anyone to get more pissed off than they are already. One of the drunk men in the tent stands, wobbles, and shoves past them, muttering about taking a leak. Brian waits for him to pass out of earshot before he speaks, again. Thankfully, Jesse seems to be taking his cue and stays silent as well.

 “Making a deal with Tran? You know he’s gotta have a hundred grand of modifications under the hood of that car.” Jesse opens his mouth to protest and Brian shifts abruptly to pleading. “You know he’s never going to enter a race he won’t win, Jess, come on.”

“What would you know about racing?” Jesse shoots back, and then flinches away from his own words. Even he knows that was cruel, and he watches as Brian’s expression shutters before it settles into a mask of indifference. Every person at the garage hates that face, hate when they bring it out. Brian is never an especially open book, but they all try to avoid shutting him down entirely.

Hurt curls into a hot ball in Brian’s chest, but he swallows and tries to think. “Would I lie to you, Jesse? Do you really think I would stand here and hurt you on purpose if I wasn’t telling the truth?” Brian clenches his jaw and tries to choke back his frustration and the sick, knife twisting feeling of hurt in his stomach.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the expression of stubborn determination fades from Jesse’s face and he shrinks down, hunches his shoulders and when he looks up again, his eyes are wet. “You really don’t think I would win?” he asks, but he already knows the answer.

“You gotta call it off, man,” is all Brian can manage in the face of Jesse’s distress. Jesse takes a long look at him, at the surety in his gaze and the quiet strength of him and he trusts. He nods, says “yeah, man, sure,” and has no idea that his life has just been saved. Brian feels his breath leave him in a sudden rush of relief.

When they go to tell Tran, he doesn’t pitch a fit in the way Brian was half expecting, but he doesn’t smile either – his eyes go snakelike and terrifying in their flatness and if he feels any anger it is as still as the surface of a deep pond. Brian clamps his hand down on Jesse’s neck and tries to look calm, steady. He doesn’t know where Lance is, and it’s pissing him off.

Tran looks like a predator lurking in the shallows waiting, playing the long game, and Brian shivers and tries not to show it. “Maybe next time,” Tran says and gives Brian a slow once over, lips turning up into what could almost be called a grin. For a second, Brian gets chills, hair raising at the nape of his neck like something real bad is about to go down, but Tran just walks away, fading easily into the crowd. They part for him, the same way they part for Dom, the same way all crowds part for threats they don’t understand on a human level, but understand loud and clear on an animal one.

“What do you think he’s going to do?” Jesse asks, voice wavering a touch.

Brian watches Tran go, eyes on the spread of his shoulders and the arrogant way he expects the crowd to part for him. “I don’t know,” he admits finally, aware of the way Jesse blinks in surprise. Normally, Brian has an answer for everything. He’s lived a lot of life, knows a lot of things, but he’s never met someone quite like Tran before – doesn’t know how to predict him.

Eventually, Tran is swallowed by the heaving mass of people and Brain looks away, down into Jesse’s eyes. “I think we should get out of here,” he says.

They find Dom, locked into serious conversation with an anonymous looking man, who fades away as soon as Jesses touches Dom’s shoulder to get his attention. Brian watches him go, eyes narrowed in thought as he listens absently to Jesse explain what’s going on. Dom curses as his phone rings, listens for a long moment and closes it with a jerk, and Brian snaps half way back to attention.

“We’ll have to go tonight,” he hears Dom say, like he’s a million miles away, but Brian’s mind is working too fast to really focus. He’s looking through his mind, trying to find the connection which is screaming at him – Dom and Jesse, tonight. What’s happening tonight?

Three events are crying out for attention: Earlier today, he remembers walking past a stranger, Dom’s hand in his back pocket, the stranger nodding significantly at Dom, then jerking his head at Brian and narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. The look on Dom’s face as he had nodded back, like he’d sucked a lemon and was trying to hide it.

Johnny Tran, shaking hands with a shaded figure in the dark confines of a tent Brian had ducked into while looking for Mia, early in the morning. Lance, absent even when Tran was making a shady business deal, the kind he normally stood in for as back up.  

Lance, absent when Brian had steered Jesse away. Where was Lance? What was he doing?

Dom and Jesse start to move away but Brian stays still, trying frantically to connect the two points that are blaring in his mind – something has just connected loud and clear, but he has no idea what. Something to do with Tran, Dom and Tran, the jobs, Tran and Lance, the money. What was going on? Of course, he had just said he didn’t want to know details about what Dom was doing, but something is wrong, and he just has to think…

Dom was working for Tran. That much was clear, although the way they spoke made it clear they didn’t like each other, and Brian was sure they would never work together willingly. So who was holding who hostage in a working relationship? Who was it that held the power? Brian was betting on Tran, since Dom and the crew were presumably the ones sticking their necks out for this, but why? And what did Tran know? What did he have?

It comes in a flash, like a dead bolt sliding home in one smooth click. The team’s mutations. Stands to reason that if anyone of any importance found out about Dom and the team, things would go sour for them in this town. LA was fairly good, when compared to other parts of the world, but at best they would get put out of work. At worst, someone might report them to the police and they might get taken away for being threats to society.

All sorts of shit comes out when the mutant gene comes up – people would point to Vince’s drunk and disorderly charges from his youth, Letty’s street fights, and all of the rest of the minor infractions which they were bound to have, and they would say that the Toretto family were unsafe, that they were criminals.

So those were the motives, maybe. Maybe. What was Dom’s plan? No way he was just going to sit there letting an asshole like Tran walk on him without complaint or repercussion. It had to be something to do with the job that Tran had them doing, but since Brian had no idea what that job is, that’s about where he can get up to in terms of working this thing through. But they had to go tonight. That was important.

Time to find Dom, only when he looks out into the crowd, he can’t see anyone from the team. And his cell, when he checks it, beeps once and then dies. Fantastic, as if this situation wasn’t complicated enough. He wanders around looking for a while as his anxiety slowly revs up when it looks like everyone is gone.

When he goes to where the cars should be parked, they’ve already left. Well, the cars are gone anyway.

Did they leave without him? Surely not – and anyway they were planning on staying the whole day so he can’t be late.

He’s still standing there, dumb and confused, when Lance steps up beside him and he has to find it in himself to at least pretend at being calm. It’s not easy – everything is going to hell in a handbasket, last thing he wants to be is calm. The wind is blowing hot dry air into his face, the kind that carries dirt and sand and dries out skin instantly.

Regardless, Lance smiles, slow and calm and cruel. “Looks like you’ve lost your ride home, Puppy.” Then he grins a little wider, teeth bright in the sun. “I could be persuaded to help you out, if you want.”

“At a cost,” Brian replies, voice quiet.

“Everything has a cost,” Lance shoots back. “I’d like to take you for a spin, return you to Toretto ridden hard and put away wet. Maybe if you’re good to me I’ll let you come before I dump you out onto the road.”

Brian pretends to think on it for a second. “Get fucked,” he says pleasantly, all pretences of tolerance fading away in an instant. “I could not be less interested.”

The smile fades away and Lance goes cold, like stone, as he latches onto Brian’s forearm and grips tight. Brian can feel the bruises already, but he doesn’t let on that it hurts, still not looking at Lance. He’s somewhat aware that he’s staring into the desert like the team’s cars might turn up on the horizon. Which is stupid, they aren’t coming back clearly, and he’ll have to take care of himself. Again.

“Don’t be like that,” Johnny Tran says from somewhere behind him, and Brian tenses, but Lance latches a hand into his hair so he doesn’t turn around. It’s a shitty scare tactic, but Brian can’t deny that it’s an effective one. Just the fact that he can’t see Johnny, doesn’t know where he is, is enough to set his teeth on edge.

“You gonna do this here?” Brian replies. “With all these people around?” he gestures vaguely with his free hand to where he can hear the noises of people, car engines and laughter. “Even if they’re afraid of you, I don’t think they’re afraid enough to let you hurt me right here.”

“Who says I want to hurt you, Brian?” Johnny takes a step closer, the sound of his shoes crunching onto sand just enough of a whisper to tell Brian he’s moved.

“I know guys like you, Tran,” Brian shoots back. “You don’t do anything but hurting. You get off on it.”

“Perhaps you are mistaking me for Lance. He likes the hurting. I like the outcome.” Johnny’s voice is cool, even. He isn’t shouting, or even angry, but he sounds insulted. That’s almost worse. The ones that hold their sanity even when they are angry are the most vindictive, and tend to have the most brutal methods of taking out their frustration when it all comes down to it.

Still, it’s an interesting comment. “What outcome do you want, Tran?” Lance’s hand twists in his hair and Brian hisses though his teeth, almost going up on his tiptoes as he arcs back.

“You ask to many questions, Puppy,” Lance growls in his ear, teeth sharp on his neck.

Tran sighs, stepping forward to lay a hand on Lances shoulder. Eyes rolling wildly, Brian can barely see him out of the corner of his vision. “That’s enough,” Tran warns when Lance’s grip tightens even more.

They have a silent conversation. “Perhaps we should continue this conversation somewhere more private?” Tran asks.

“No,” Brian snaps back. “I don’t think so.”

“I think you misunderstand,” Tran drawls, voice sharp. “I require you as a guarantee of work well done. You do not have a choice. Right now, I am being very patient, because those responsible for doing their job have not messed up. I’d like it to stay this way, but I do not have to be kind to you.”

Lance releases his grip and Brian spins around to stare at Tran. “Right now, I’m not so inclined to go anywhere with you. By proximity, these people are all protecting me.” Again, he gestures vaguely to the people around them. “You’re not gonna get the chance to take me away.”

Tran sounds amused. “Am I not?”

“No,” Brian returns evenly, wrenching his wrist out of Lance’s grip. “You aren’t,” and then, heart beating double time, he hopes that his fear is enough to get him away. Away, he thinks, please, I need to be away, and he jumps.

Chapter Text

Using his mutation has always been a drain on his energy. Something to do with the thought needed, the power necessary to force something he usually tried to hide away. He’s normally exhausted, after. Sometimes when he’s had to use his mutation to get out of a sticky situation, he’s come away with a bleeding nose, headaches. If he’s less lucky, it’s blurry vision, fainting spells, blackouts.

But he needs to get away from Johnny and Lance, no doubt about it. There is pain, but he forces his way through it.

It works, this time. Brian flickers out of view for a second, jumps away again when Lance lurches reflexively forward and lands, panting and visible, on the floor in one of the tents nearby. His ears are ringing, breathing hard like he’s run a marathon. He has just enough time to glance around and notice that it’s empty before his vision blackens and he crumples onto the floor.

When Brian comes to, the police are there, hauling him up onto his knees, trying to get him on his feet. The lights swirl sickly above him, then he’s in a van, on the sidewalk, walking through a corridor. Time is passing weirdly, like pictures instead of video and he fades in and out of consciousness.

Then he’s in a cell, familiar in the way that all cells become familiar, after a while of seeing them. He’s slumped uncomfortably at a metal table, chains linking his hands, cuffed down to the table. A subtle movement of his leg proves that they are similarly tied. And he isn’t alone.

“Morning, Princess,” says the other occupant of the room as they step forward. The face is familiar and Brian squints for a second before he gets it.

Jacob Eden, though that obviously isn’t his real name. The undercover cop from weeks ago. He steps forward, name tag reading Palmer. Reflexively, Brian jerks back, wary at seeing the smile that’s ticking up the corner of his mouth. Jacob’s light hair and pale eyes, once unthreatening and anonymous, seem more intimidating in the dimness of the fluorescent lighting. More so when Brian hasn’t even got his hands to defend himself.

“Princess?” He replies belatedly. “I don’t know what I think about that.”

“Quite frankly,” Eden – Palmer – replies, “I don’t give a fuck what you think. What I do care about, though, is what you know.”

Okay Brian thinks, mind working furiously to try and think of a story, a spin, an anything that might get him off the hook. It’s instinct to lie to cops, but he decides on the truth. “I don’t know anything.” It sounds pale even to his own ears and he cringes silently.

Jacob lets out a condescending huff and pulls out his chair, sitting down opposite Brian. “I don’t believe you,” he replies. “Obviously. You can understand why.”

“Not really. Why should I know anything?”

“Because,” Palmer, replies, leaning forward. “You caught me. You were, at the very least, clever enough to spot an undercover cop. You know how long I’ve been doing this? Years. Nobody has ever caught me before, and I’m a bit miffed that it started with a little piece of street trash like yourself. And you expect me to believe you don’t know what your little family were up to?”

Brian sits back, eyes on Jacob’s hands. Right now, he’s sitting easy, relaxed, but that could change in a second and Brian has never been once for much faith in cops. Cops have smacked him around in the past, no reason to think this one would be any different. “Well,” he shoots back, swallowing nervously, “that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know anything. Maybe it was just a lucky guess that I caught you.”

“I don’t think so,” Palmer sneers.

“Too bad.” Brian snaps, and then freezes.

In half a second, the mood of the room changes. Before, it had been tense, but both parties had been playing at friendly, acting like they didn’t know where the power was – now, Jacob loses the smile, leans forward and raises an eyebrow. His face says, don’t test me.

“You should have more respect,” he says quietly, intense.

“For you?” Brian shoots back. “I had more respect for my mothers boyfriend, the piece of shit, and he used to use me as a punching bag. You think threatening me is going to make me do anything I don’t want to? You’re dumber than I thought.”

Palmer goes a little bit squinty eyed, like he’s looking for a weakness, but Brian played this game with murderers and didn’t lose. Palmer must see this, because he blows out a breath, frustrated. “I’m giving you the chance to try again,” he says quietly, “but I won’t be giving you another. And if you don’t start telling me the truth I’m going to start getting angry, do you understand?”

“What I understand is, I don’t know anything,” Brian snaps back. His head snaps to the side and it takes a second to realise what’s happened – Jacob has hit him across the face, open palmed and casual. A bitch slap, Brian thinks, a little stupid. 

“I wish you hadn’t made me do that,” Jacob sighs, settling back into his chair.

Made you?” Brain sneers, glancing at the small camera in the corner of the room. “Ain’t no way I made you jump across the table and land one, but here we are.” He glances up again, trying to see whether the camera’s on or not. There isn’t a blinking light or anything, but maybe-

Jacob follows his gaze upward and laughs. “It isn’t on.” He says, eyes glinting. Which is about when Brian starts worrying for real. Until that point, he’d been thinking, well, at least he isn’t going to do anything to me that he doesn’t want other people to see but that’s clearly off the table now. Which means he might be in for some serious trouble, which means he should start trying to get the hell out of dodge. It was his last resort, prison breaking, but the hell was he going to get shit beaten out of him if he could help it. He’d known a guy once who could unlock anything, and a girl who could get any body to do anything for her. He could break the lock, maybe, get out of here that way.

Except, when he reaches for his mutation, it isn’t there. What the fuck. He looks at the cuffs he’s wearing a little closer. They look standard issue, but they must be suppression bracelets. Is that just basic procedure, or do they know about him? His mind whirls frantically, working through it. In the background, Jacob is still monologuing away about how smart he is, and how he’s going to catch Dom and co, at which point Brian huffs a quiet laugh. Nobody in the world is gonna get hands on Dominic Toretto unless he lets them, not when he has a car in his hands and the team behind him.

“You think something is funny, kid? Let me tell you something. Your friends have committed serious crimes, and guess who is going down if we can’t catch them? It’s you. You got left holding the bag, you got left with the mess.” Jacob pauses, tries on sympathy like a poorly fitted coat. “I feel for you, kid. No doubt about it, you thought you were getting a family, and I read your files, okay? So I know why you might want one. But they left you behind. When we found you, you were passed out in a tent and they had already gone – were already committing crimes that they had to have known they couldn’t come home from. And they left you.”

“So, what does that mean for me?” Brain asks, bitter and trying not to show it. “You have nothing on me, because I didn’t do anything. You aren’t going to try and get me to confess or something are you? I’m not. I haven’t had a hand in anything that you seem to think I have, so you might as well let me go, because at this point, you know more about whatever this is than I do.” Then he slumps back, exhausted suddenly.

“I don’t need a confession from you, Brian. As far as everyone important is concerned, you’re already guilty of aiding and abetting at the minor end of things, and obstruction of justice at the bigger end. You’re going down regardless of what you have to say about it.”

That seems uncomfortably likely.

“So what do you need?”

Palmer pounces; “locations, Brian. We need to know where they are, how to get to them. How they’re getting there. All of it.” Already, he’s beginning to look smug, like he think’s he’s won.

Like he thinks Brian is going to sell them all down the river because they left him behind. That might be what other people do, but Brian isn’t like other people, not really. Loyalty is his nature, and surely they wouldn’t have left him if they had had the choice. If they had known what was going to happen.

This whole situation would be a lot easy to understand if Brian actually knew what crime the crew had committed. Something to do with vehicles, obviously, and Tran too, but how did they sync up? Everyone and their mother knows that Tran is on some shady shit, even if nobody can ever get enough on him to make him go away. Tran has a way of getting other people to do things for him so that he never goes down, not in any way that matters.

But Tran. And cars. That makes something ring in Brian’s mind and he sits back to think on it. Brian thinks about Dom, the conversation he’d been having when him and Jesse had been walking up to him. That guy. Brian has seen that guy before. He rolls back his thoughts, trying to find out where. Comes up blank. Goes further and there – there’s a flicker of him at a race, hidden by the noise. He’s loading something into the back of a truck. No, Brian thinks. Retracts. Unloading. He stews it over, wishes he had had a better look at what it was the guy was doing. Goes through his memories again, this time a little more carefully. It’s a long process and he has to focus to do it, but he finds another glimpse of the man and Dom, standing close together and speaking, angrily. Brian is too far away to hear what about, and at the time had never even thought to ask what they were talking about – there was always someone who was angry at Dom, always someone trying to pick a fight.

He should have known that it was important, if only from the way Dom looked. Coiled like a spring, and angry back. Dom hardly ever got angry.

Jacob snaps his fingers when he notices that Brian has stopped paying him any attention and asks a few more questions that Brian has no answers for and trails out eventually, making a show of locking the door behind him. Obviously, Brian is less fun to pester when he doesn’t fight back, and Palmer is a cat rapidly losing interest in a mouse that’s playing dead.

After that, a steady stream of people rotate in and out in quick succession, asking questions, trying everything from blatant manipulation to good cop bad cop to try and get some answers out of him. “Where are your friends going now?” they ask, or “tell us a place your friends would go,” until he’s so stressed he can hardly think straight and nobody seems to believe him when he says that he didn’t know, even though he doesn’t, he really couldn’t say even if he could, but he doesn’t want to.

His heart must be beating a million miles an hour, and he must have missed his daily check in with Rome by now, so the worries stack up until he can hardly stand it. His control issues were kicking his ass right now.

“We just want to make sure your family is safe, Brian,” one woman tries and something in him fractures.

“Oh please,” he spits back and tries not to sound bitter. “I was never really a part of that family.” She blinks, surprised at his answer. He is too, a little – it’s the first time he’s spoken in nearly an hour. First time he’s ever admitted that out loud, too.

“So why are you trying to protect them?” She prods, needling a little deeper as though she doesn’t know it’s hurting, although she must see it, must read it in his face. “Why are you still trying to help them?”

“They don’t need me,” he says in answer, sick of telling them he doesn’t know. “I needed them. Need them. Can’t back out on them, just because I needed them more than they need me,” he chokes out eventually, words a block in his throat.

She tries to ask him more questions but he’s tired, practically slumped in his chair, so she shakes her head and stands, shuffling her papers back together with a smooth tap. When she leaves, her heels click on the floor in smooth, measured strides, and he feels himself slump even further in his seat as the last of his tension leaves him in a sudden burst. Surely, it has to be over now.

About five minutes later the Captain comes to stand in front of him, frowning. “I don’t have enough to charge you, you understand,” she announces suddenly. “I can’t technically keep you here any more, since we have no evidence that you were actually involved in any crime other than by association.”

“Thought I was going down anyway,” Brian replies, trying to stretch out his back. Chains clink restlessly against the table and he hunches back over to silence them. “That’s what Palmer said. Was he bluffing, or did he really think he could nail me?”

“He was bluffing,” she dismisses easily. “Regardless, we can’t keep you any longer, and you’ve actually convinced most of my staff that you’re innocent anyway. If you’re a liar, you’re a damn good one.”

Brian raises an eyebrow at her and doesn’t answer, just lifts his hands until the chain lets out a clink against the table. “Then if you don’t mind, it’s been a really long night.”

Stepping out of the station feels like taking a breath of air after not breathing for years and he cuts north, heading away from the station with vague plans of finding a place for food before making his way home. The night is cool, clear as a bell and the moon is out, making is seem bright despite it being – he glances at his watch – almost midnight.

Can he even go home? What if, when he gets there, everything is gone? What’s he going to do it it’s all still there? And which is the worse option, that they thought they would be coming back, or that they didn’t?

It’s a nice night for a walk, one he might appreciate a lot more is he wasn’t so exhausted.

He only gets about a block from the station before Johnny and Lance step out of the shadows of an alley, face’s twisted in the half light. Brian blames it on the exhaustion when he walks right into Lances flying fist, snapping his head back and setting fire to the nerves of his eye socket.

He wishes he could say there was a fight, that he gave as good as he got. There is no fight – Lance just kicks him in the knee, right at the end of his scar, and Brian goes down. The last thing he sees is a syringe glinting brightly in the light of the full moon, and then he fades to black.

The first thing he becomes aware of is the smell, as he wakes up. It’s a pungent mix of gasoline, smoke and burnt rubber, combined with something raw, like meat. Blood. Smells dangerous and overpowering, enough that he then he lurches awake the rest of the way already thinking that he’s going to be sick.

This place smells like fear. Once, he’d met a girl who swore up and down that she could feel the emotions lingering in places where people had felt strongly about things, that she could tell when someone had been afraid, almost like the feelings left a greasy fingerprint on the walls.

He hadn’t believed her then – he still wasn’t sure if he believed her now, but there was something in him that just knew that bad things had happened here. Maybe that was just human nature, warning him.

For a moment, he trembles, caught on the edge of throwing up. When he’s determined that he is unlikely to throw up, he struggles into an upright position, as well as he can with his hands strapped together, bound from wrist to elbow in front of his body. It almost paints a picture of prayer, of religion.

So, he thinks, looking around. A warehouse. Which is as far as he gets before the pounding of his brain catches up with him. “Ouch,” he says out loud, stupid with surprise, and then he freezes, head pounding. A couple of metres away, four men look up from their game of cards to watch him on the floor.

They’re all dark eyed, one pale and worried looking, which doesn’t bode well. There is a pregnant pause as they stare at each other, and then one of them, a lean man with a slick ponytail sighs deeply and lets out a sharp whistle, ear piercing in the other wise empty space.

Somewhere, Brian hears a door open and then close and trepidation builds up in him as he waits for something. For whoever is coming to hurry up and get here.

Chapter Text

It's Johnny fucking Tran, because of course it is, with Lance at his shoulder like a particularly ugly ghost. Tran pauses, assessing, and then jerks his chin at Brian. If his face when they saw each other last was angry, he is now all pure cold fury, displeasure set into the turn of his mouth. Here lies danger, says his posture.

“Get him on his knees,” he orders quietly, pulling out a cigarette and hunching a little to light it, eyes staying firmly on Brian the whole time. Two men lurch into action, each taking Brian by an elbow to haul him to his feet. Tran steps forward.

“If you don’t already think of Lance as an attack dog,” he says, pulling a chair out to straddle it, “I suggest you begin to think of him as such now. You know much about dogs?”

Brian shakes his head, keeping quiet. His leg begins to ache in warning, but Brian doesn’t need it to know he’s in trouble. Brian spares a glance at Lance, at the heat in his gaze. Attack dog, he reads. Danger.

“Dogs are smart,” Johnny announces suddenly. “But trainable. Otherwise we wouldn’t have them, would we?” Tran doesn’t see it, but at these words Lance glances at him, and Brian sees something, right in the dark depths of his eyes, that almost looks like hate. Like resentment. It flickers out of existence almost instantly, but Brian sees. And he starts thinking.

“If you can’t train an attack dog to only attack when you tell it to, an attack dog will attack everything. Including its master. So, you can understand why I keep Lance on a short leash, can’t you? But you can’t stop an attack dog from attacking all the time, or they will begin to resent you. It wouldn’t do for him to come for my throat just because he hasn’t had a chance to go for someone else’s. Do you understand?”

Brian nods, still silent, but Tran frowns. “When I speak to you I want a verbal answer. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Brian agrees, trying to ignore the fine trembling that is breaking out in his every limb.

Johnny smiles, slow and unconcerned. “That’s good,” he says easily. “That’s very good. I want you to keep being good, naturally, because it makes my life much easier when you are good compared to when you are bad. I want you to understand that this is not personal, but I view you in much the same way that I expect that a man views an ant that he treads on as he makes his way to the top of a mountain. Do you understand my meaning?”

“Yes,” Brian says dutifully, though he doesn’t get what Tran is trying to say, not really.

“You’re unimportant,” comes the clarification anyway. “The mountain top, though.” Tran leans back to take a long drag of his cigarette. “I care about the mountain top. That’s your boy Toretto, if you didn’t catch that.”

“Dom?” Brian asks, forgetting his silence in the face of his surprise. “I thought you were working together.”

“Together?” For a second, Johnny looks surprised, but it rapidly transitions into something calculating. “No,” he says after a short pause. “Toretto was working for me. And he didn’t finish his last job.” He takes another drag of his cigarette and blows the smoke out slowly.

“How much do you know about the jobs he was running for me?”

“Nothing,” Brain replies, shifting a little nervously on his aching knees. When Tran raises an eyebrow, Brian hurries to explain further. “Just that you’re working together, and that it had something to do with transporting. Or something like that. But that’s all stuff I figured on my own. Dom never told me anything.”

Tran huffs a laugh and smiles. “Right.”

“Do I-” Brain swallows nervously. “Is that wrong?”

Tran gives him a long considering look, assessing. “Lance,” he says and Lance snaps into alertness in an instant. Tran keeps his eyes on Brian. “Could you take Brian’s shirt off for me?” His slides a knife out of a holster on his thigh and hands it to Lance, who takes it and strides forward with a concentrated kind of focus directly on Brain. “Don’t break his skin,” Tran orders absentmindedly, stubbing out his cigarette.

Lance kneels onto one knee in front of Brian and reaches out with a steady hand to fit the knife into the junction of Brian’s throat, blade facing away from the fragile skin and pulling the shirt tight.

Brian swallows, looks into the nothing in Lances eyes.

In a single, rapid movement, Lance jerks the knife down, slicing through the thin fabric of Brian’s shirt like its tissue, and in a flurry of tightly controlled movements he slices through the sleeves as well. Brian gets the feeling that in front of him right now is a hurricane trapped in a bottle, furious and dark with anger. An attack dog, he thinks again.

The cloth falls silently to the floor and lands between Brian’s spread knees. Lance, breathing steadily, returns to Johnny’s side on silent feet. Hands back the knife, handle first.

Johnny stares at him for a long second, eyes sweeping up and down his chest the way that a man looking to buy a race horse might look at a thoroughbred at the sales. “I can see what Toretto might want with you after all,” he announces finally, still in that same quiet measured pace of before. “But I can assure you right now that I have no interest in you like that. I’m not even interested in the knowledge you may or may not have. But you are obviously of great sentimental values to Toretto, and I want him to come to me, seeing as we have unfinished business.”

“Unfinished business?” Brian asks, unable to help himself.

“Of course,” Tran acknowledges, shoving himself onto his feet and striding to a small desk of draws off to the side. “You wouldn’t know, would you?”

“No, I don’t.” At this, Tran gives him a look which could almost be considered pity, on another more kind man.

“A pity. No doubt, you could have been a fantastic accomplice, if only Toretto wasn’t so consumed with your safety.” Tran rummages inside the draw and comes out with a plain white package, a little smaller than a brick. “Drug running,” Tran says. “A lucrative business, but a dangerous one. Especially if you make your own product. Which is where the Toretto family comes in.” He must see Brian thinking it over and sits down again.

“I have been told you can connect the dots well enough. Tell me what you’re thinking,” he orders with a careless gesture of his hand.

“You stole product from other drug runners,” Brian replies absently, even as he’s still thinking it over. “You were stealing it from...” he trails off, thinks a little more about that man, the one who was unloading from the truck that day, who Toretto had been speaking with. “You were having Dom steal it from drug runner’s trucks, weren’t you? While they were going along. That’s the only way I can figure it – you had them steal it from the moving trucks and then sold it off as your own, which makes it practically risk free for you. You aren’t making it. Nobody can nail you for that. You never even get your hands dirty once during the whole process. So, theory is, you’re untouchable. Is that right?”

Tran apprises him again, this time with something a little bit more interested in his eyes. Like sitting up and saying, hold on. “That’s right,” he confirms easily.

“But I can’t figure out,” Brian pauses. Rephrases. “There’s only one thing I can’t get. If they wanted out, and you wouldn’t let them, why didn’t they just nail you? Or at least, if they got caught, they could just point the finger at you and you’d go down. So, what was stopping them?”

“We had come to a deal regarding money, naturally. But I didn’t trust him and needed a failsafe.” Tran leans forward and steeples his fingers, looking serious. “I was blackmailing him, you understand. He had no choice, because if he didn’t play nice, or if he snaked on me, I was going to start playing nasty.”

Brain started to get a really bad feeling about this, but he has to know. “What was the blackmail?” he asks, mouth dry.

Tran begins to look something like sympathetic, but Brian is busy looking at Lance, who is almost trembling with excitement. Tran commands his attention when he leans forward. Brian flinches away instinctively as Tran reaches out to stroke a line down his face. “Oh, Brian. The price of Toretto’s failure was you .”

There is a long pause as Johnny sits back to take another drag of his cigarette, blowing out slowly. He seems to be thinking, eying Brian narrowly.

“Or, to say the price of Toretto’s failure was your safety is probably more accurate. Yes, your continued safety was reliant on his good behaviour. And he has behaved badly.” As Brian absorbs that, Tran leans back and frowns.

“How badly is bad?” Brian asks tentatively.

“In the nine hours you were in police holding, Toretto managed to not only screw up the retrieval of a shipment of drugs, meaning we have not got the product we were counting on, but he also got my name involved somehow. I don’t know how. But now I have some very dangerous people beginning to connect the dots on who exactly was stealing their product.”

“Not good,” Brian replies.

“Not good for business at all,” Tran agrees.  “So you can probably imagine my dilemma right about now,” he continues, like he hasn’t just dropped a bomb on Brian’s head. “I like you. I think that you’re intelligent and that is to say nothing of your mutation.”

The word is like a slap to the face. “Mutation,” Brian repeats dully, mouth dry.  

Tran sees his surprise and raises an eyebrow. “It’s very powerful,” he says. “You could be running this city if you wanted. But instead, you don’t even use it. Toretto, he seems to think you’re some kind of baseline. You never told him?”

“He never asked,” Brian replies. “I would have told him if he had, but I never use it unless I can’t help it.”

“Why is that,” Tran demands, leaning forward suddenly to get up close, like he can’t help it. “You could probably set fire to this town, if you decided to. I know for a fact that there isn’t a person who could hope to stop you.”

“I don’t want to hurt people,” Brian admits quietly. “And even if I tried, the odds of me actually doing what I want are terrible.”

Tran sits back again. “You lack control?” he asks. “That can be taught.”

“You think I don’t know that? You think I haven’t tried? I can only use my mutation when I’m afraid. When my life is in danger. Sometimes not even then, if I overthink it.”

“So, you are useless,” Tran agrees thoughtfully. “A shame – although I had one of accomplices bind your mutation anyway. I’m sure you can feel it.” And Brian could, when he reached for his mutation and came up blank and reeling, like hitting a wall at speed.

“I was hoping, with time, that I could draw Toretto back to me using you as my weapon, but I suppose that will not work. There would have been something sweet about that, you working for me. But even now, after he has left you behind, I can see that you are loyal to him. Perhaps I will have to do it the old-fashioned way – with pain.”

Somewhere in the background one of the men barks a laugh, only to fall silent under Tran’s glare.

“Do you know what my mutation is?” he asks suddenly. “I don’t suppose Toretto ever mentioned it to you?”

“No,” Brain says. “He never talked to me about anything like that.”

“Hmm,” Johnny murmurs. “I isn’t open knowledge.” He stands, slowly and makes his way to where Brian kneels. For a moment, he just pauses, looking methodically over every inch of Brian’s face, but then crouches and places two fingers to Brian’s neck, almost like he’s taking a pulse. “The truth,” he says finally, suddenly looking scornful. His eyes go dark and narrowed. “I don’t have much time for it personally, but nobody can lie to me while I lay hands on them. It has it’s uses.” With that revelation he unfolds and retreats back to his chair. “Someone go and get me a camera,” he orders without looking away from Brian.

Lance, still standing steadily two paces behind Johnny’s chair, suddenly looks wildly excited.

(Six months ago, Dom had pressed a kiss to Brian’s throat, to the skin of his ribs, to the fragile skin behind his ear. Had whispered, hushed by the morning and the gentle tip-toeing of the sun across that wall, “will you tell me a truth?” and Brian had said yes.

There had been a long pause. Then; “are you happy here?”

Brian must have said yes. He must have. He wishes he had held onto that memory for what it was, like it was treasure. He wishes he could remember the colour of Dom’s shirt, not just the tone of his voice. Wishes he could remember the heat of Dom’s breath against his neck, not just the words he had said.

He must have said yes. But he doesn’t remember.)

The camera takes a long time to come, although Brian can’t imagine why. Tran must have known that things were going to come to this, surely. And he seems like the kind to think ahead.

Maybe he was just letting Brian stew in his own worries for a while.

“You know what I like about the truth?” Tran asks the room at large. “It’s that you can’t hide. Not from me. Not anything. Even things that you thought you had forgotten. The body remembers,” he adds, tapping a finger to his temple. “It all comes out eventually.” He waits while the camera is set up, taking the time to light another cigarette, shaking out the match with a casual dismissive gesture.

“Sometimes, physical hurts are more effective at breaking people down. But you aren’t like that. I can see it. When you get hurt, you go somewhere else. When it is your own life that you are recounting, that becomes more difficult. Sometimes, the truth is a more efficient blade than any knife in the world.”

He pauses to pull deeply on the cigarette and then stubs it out, blowing the smoke away slowly. It feels elaborate, acted. “That’s not to say that I won’t let Lance have his time with you – I love to watch him work.”

Threatening. “Come here,” he orders, gesturing to the ground between his spread feet. Brian doesn’t move, so Tran jerks his head at the guards, who lurch him up and walk him on knees numb from kneeling to dump him gracelessly on the floor.

Brian manages to catch himself on his hands and straightens up slowly. Thinks about trying to fight out, fight back, and knows that he would never make it to the door.

“Turn around,” Tran orders, and Brian does, and ends up basically kneeling on the floor between Tran’s spread knees, facing away. Tran laces his fingers into Brian’s hair and pulls him upright a little further, nudges him with his knees until he is facing the camera directly.

The red light is flashing.

Tran slides the hand in Brian’s hair down to sit at the base of his neck, fingers curling to rest shockingly gentle on the topmost knobs of Brian’s spine. “We’ll start easy,” he says. “Because I like you, and I don’t want you to and up as a vegetable after this.” He pauses. “I would recommend that you don’t try to fight. You will only hurt yourself.”

“Noted,” Brian replies, feeling his limbs start up that fine tremble again.

If Tran notices the sarcasm, he ignores it.

“What is your name?” Tran asks. Brian glances into the camera and tries to guess who might see it. Dom, for sure. Maybe Lance, or Leon, if they happened to be there. Dom would send Mia away. He doesn’t want them to see him go down without a fight.

Except... he opens his mouth to say fuck you, and chokes. It’s like a pool ball appears in his throat and all he can do is shake and retch until all that comes out, like coughing up a furball, is “Brian O’Conner.”

“That’s good,” Tran acknowledges. “You see what happens when you attempt to lie? Don’t do it again.”

“Can’t guarantee I won’t try it,” Brian replies, trying to catch his breath. Tran clenches his fingers down on Brian’s nape, shaking him like a disrespectful kitten.

“Don’t be insolent,” he warns before carefully relaxing his hand. Making sure that everyone in the room knows exactly where the power is. “For that, maybe this time I will ask a harder question? Lance, will you come here please?”

Lance steps forward to stand in Brian’s peripheral vision, inching closer. He is unnervingly silent and a quiet buzzing starts up in the back of Brian’s mind. He tries to lean away, subconsciously, and then curses himself when he touches Tran’s thigh and feels Tran look down. There is a long pause as he feels Tran consider.

Quietly, he speaks. “Lance likes to watch as people break down – to him, it doesn’t matter is he is doing the breaking or not. He just likes to see it. Are you afraid of him?” he asks. His tone is even, friendly, but Brian can almost hear the wheels turning in his mind, like sharks circling underneath an icy sea.

“Yes,” Brian admits, before the feeling of pressure can even return to him. He isn’t really ashamed of that truth, not when it’s a truth that he knows that they can all read on him anyway. Not when he has much worse things to keep secret. He’s never been ashamed of the things about himself which he can not hide.

“Why is that?” The hand clamps down a little further and he shudders, feels his words building like a tidal wave in his chest.

The red light flashes steadily.

Six days later, Dom gets the first recording.

Chapter Text

The call comes through at about half twelve in the afternoon. Dom slides suddenly and unpleasantly from a doze to wakefulness when it rings, and then lurches upright when he realises that it’s Brian’s ringtone.

The others all sit up too, alert at his urgency as he answers it.

“Brian?” He asks, and they all lean forward, Letty with her elbows on her knees and her fingers pressed over her mouth like she’s trying to hold her words in. They’ve all been waiting to hear from Brian. They’ve all been worried. The other end of the phone is silent except for the distant sounds of breathing, the rustle of fabric. “Brian?” Dom asks again, this time with more caution.

“Not quite,” comes the smug voice of Johnny Tran, and everyone sucks in a breath. “Hello, Toretto.”

“Where is Brian,” Dom demands, feeling his heart beat rapidly against his chest. “What did you do to him?”

I didn’t do anything to him.” There is a pause as Tran reconsiders. “Well, nothing permanent, at least. You shouldn’t make such hasty accusations,” Tran replies in a drawl. There is a distant thump, like he’s just swung his feet up and let them fall onto a coffee table. “I can’t say as much for Lance, though… he can be an animal when the mind takes him.”

Dom lets out a growl, sounding feral even to his own ears. Considers a threat, discards it instantly. “What do you want, Tran?”

“I want you to check the mailbox of the following address.” He rattles it off and Dom gestures to someone to write it down. “Inside, there will be a tape. I want you to watch it, and I want you to suffer for your betrayal of me – as a result of your failures, troubles are coming to my doorstep. I want you to pay for that in pain. That’s all I want, for now.” And then he hangs up.

“It’s a fucking trap,” Vince explodes sometime later, cradling his injured arm close as they stand around trying to decide how to go about it. He’s been arguing against going for nearly half an hour and Dom finally turns to him, snarling.

“If you don’t like it so much, don’t fucking come,” he snaps. “But Johnny fucking Tran has Brian right now, and I don’t know where or for how long, or how to get him back. So if you think I’m going to stand here with my thumb up my ass just because I’m worried about Tran, you must be out of your goddamn mind.” His fury is a living thing.

Vince subsides as quickly as he had risen. “Of course I’m coming,” he replies softly. “Even if I think he’s a bit of a dick, Brian is… family.” It’s as close to an apology as Vince ever gets, and Dom takes it.

Dom thinks about Brian, the way he was when they had seen each other last. His hair, gold in the sun as he stood behind Jesse, that wrinkle between his eyebrows that meant he was thinking hard. Brian was always thinking hard, even more so lately.

Christ, Dom wishes he could go back. Wishes he could soothe that wrinkle and feel Brian smile against his mouth. He wishes he had time to explain or had had time to think about anything but moving out. He has a lot of wishes.

He wishes he had cupped the back of Brian’s head and let his hand rest there.

Wishes he had thought to grab Brian by the wrist as they had walked away, thought to check that he was riding along with one of the others instead of just assuming. He has a lot of regrets about that day, but that one sticks out.

The team are staring at him, brows high, and he realises that he’s breathing hard, clutching the corner of the table hard enough to dent it. “Let’s go,” he says.

In the end, the retrieval is anticlimactic to the extreme. Dom rolls up to the address Tran had given him and grabs the small package that’s waiting in it. He opens it to make sure it’s the right thing once he’s about a block away, and then heads on a roundabout way for home. He wouldn’t trust Tran not to shoot him up on sight, forget what he had said earlier about wanting Dom to suffer first. Nobody follows him.

When the screen flickers to life, Brian is already crying on screen. He’s kneeling between Tran’s legs, facing the camera, hands resting palm up on Johnny’s knees. His head is bowed down almost onto his chest, which is bare. He looks like an angel, like he’s in agony, suffering for humanity. He’s bleeding. He’s begging.

“Oh, Christ,” Dom hears Leon say, as if through a tunnel. But all he can here is Brian on the screen, saying “please, please don’t, don’t make me, please,” and then Tran yanks his head up by the hair so that he is looking directly at the camera and smiles, just a little.

“What is he doing to him?” Letty cries, outraged.

“Brian,” Tran says, and Brian falls silent, although he is still shivering visibly. “Tell me about what happened to you in prison.” Brian jerks his head no, but Tran just tightens his hand in Brian’s hair and shakes him. “What happened to you in prison?”

Brian moans, tears starting again. Then he appears to choke, mouth working uselessly as he shudders. He heaves, then begins to talk. “I nearly died,” he says. Somewhere in the background, Dom hears himself suck in a breath.

He hadn’t known that. On screen, Tran raises an eyebrow. He’s surprised, too. “How?” he asks.

“Two guys tried to,” Brian flinches, twists in agony. “Tried to kill me because I said I wouldn’t, said I didn’t want to hold onto their pockets,” Tran’s eyebrow creases in confusion.

“What does that mean?”

Brian lets out a moan of agony, fighting. Instinctively, Dom feels his hands curl into fists on his thighs, because he knows what that means. He was in prison, he’d seen – of course, he’d seen what people had done to survive. He realises he’s still crouched in front of the tv and stands, sits helplessly on the couch.

“They wanted me to be their bitch,” Brian explains on a shuddery exhale. “Because I was pretty, and young, and I looked soft. But I said no. In front of people, so they had to pay me back, because they couldn’t,” he grunts, frustrated, and twists, “everything was about power, and I had just disrespected them, so they had to get me back.”

Tran looks into the camera, turns his voice into something sympathetic. “And they hurt you?”

Brian twists again, sweating, and doesn’t answer. Tran wrenches his head up higher until his back bows and leans forward to speak in his ear. Loud enough that the camera picks it out easily, he says, “I expect answers when I ask you questions. If you will not respect me, maybe I’ll give you to Lance. I’m sure he would be much less kind than me – he doesn’t have a mutation, but as you know he’s good with his hands.” Brian pants quietly and nods. “Now,” Tran continues. “How did they hurt you? I’m sure your Toretto will be especially interested, especially if you’ve never told him the whole story before. Did you?”

“No,” Brian admits, loud in the otherwise silent room. Tran nods, like this was a forgone conclusion.

“Of course not,” he agrees, all fake sympathy and sweetness, but Brian is already talking again, words coming out like they hurt him to say and to hold in both.

“They came up behind me during downtime, just the three of us, in between the courtyard and the cells. They smacked-” his voice breaks and he struggles soundlessly for a moment, tears spilling over again. “Smacked my head against the railing and I remember the blood on my face, and they took me to an empty room, so that I was alone,” he breaks off, jerking like a fish on a line.

“And then?” Tran prompts, although he must know where this is going by now. Dom feels a clench of nausea tighten in his stomach. Feels so angry he could jump out of his skin and kill somebody, wants to stop watching and throw the tape away, but he can’t move off his crouch, and besides, maybe there is something on this tape that he needs to see, some clue to help him find Brian.

On the screen, Brian is still talking, speaking fast, like if he talks fast enough this will all be over, like a confessional, he’ll be free. “They locked the doors,” he says, “tied them up with rope so no one could get in to stop them, and I just sat there because the walls were spinning so hard I couldn’t move, and then they had me. Just like they’d wanted in the first place, only I wasn’t holding their pockets. And I couldn’t stop them, I couldn’t.”

“Oh, Christ,” Dom hears himself say, and knows that he must be crying too, by now. For Brian, who is having to live this moment twice, as if once wasn’t enough. He rubs his hands over his eyes roughly, so as to keep watching. He has to keep watching, because otherwise it feels disloyal – like Brian has to suffer through it alone.

Luckily, Tran seems interested enough to move the story on. “What then? When they were finished?”

“Then,” Brian says, going quiet. He stills, cocks his head like he’s trying to sort through the memories.  “They took the rope off the door, and they took me out of the room, and they threw me down the stairs.”

Tran goes quiet, looking thoughtful. He looks directly at the camera, glances to the side and nods, and the camera cuts off. The date at the corner lingers – the 12 th . Dom lets of a weak groan and drops his head into his hands, pressing his palms into the eye sockets.

He does the math – the recording was taken five days ago. Five days. Oh, Christ.

And Brian had been scared, had been bleeding and in pain and had long since given up hiding it. And that was five days ago. Dom lurches suddenly into action, flying to his feet, and then he pauses, fraught with tension when he realises he has nowhere to go. He doesn’t know where Brian is, or how to get to him, or if he’s even still alive. He’s useless like this – he doesn’t know anything. But he knows someone who does.

He snatches up the phone and thumbs at Brian’s contact, presses call. Tran answers almost instantly, like he was sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring. Maybe he was. “Did you like the video?” he asks. “That was an excerpt from about five hours of footage, but I thought you might like to see that part in particular. Maybe I’ll send you more – he told me his life story. It’s a tragedy, full of sadness.”

“I want proof of life,” Dom replies, trying to breathe steadily. He feels the rest of the room sit up, tension skyrocketing.

There is a pause. “We don’t all get what we want, Toretto.”

“He’s dead?” Dom almost doesn’t recognise his own voice, rough as it is. Mia lets out a low sound of pain behind him.

“I didn’t say that,” Tran replies, and then there is a muffled sound, like he’s covered the microphone, or pressed it against his chest. “Lance,” he says distantly, and then the rest is blurred out in static. He waits, picturing Tran as he may be right now, sitting in an office, or in his home, holding Brian’s cell phone to his ear like it is something that belongs to him.

A door opens and closes and then there is a thump, quiet in the background.

“What do you want him to say?” Tran asks. “No guarantees he can talk though – he’s been doing a fair bit of screaming, as of late. His voice might be broken.”

“Why are you doing this to him?” Dom asks, trying not to yell. He flinches away from the broken sound of his own voice, rough edged and raw even to his own ears.

He isn’t imagining the smile in Tran’s voice as he answers. “You fucked me over, Toretto. We had a deal – it isn’t my fault that you went back on it.”

“I fucked you over,” Dom admits freely, “but why the fuck are you taking it out on Brian? He was never part of our deal.”

“Not out loud he wasn’t, but I always had him on the list of ways to control you if you had any thoughts about getting out of hand. And here we are.”

“If you want me to come in, I’ll do it right now,” Dom vows. “Just tell me where you are, and I’ll come to you. Just tell me where you are.”

Tran hums, condescending. “I don’t want you to come in yet,” he says finally. “I want you to suffer for a while longer, and then maybe I will have you come to me to die.”

Treading the thin line between furious anger and despair, Dom makes a small sound.

“You wanted proof of life?” Tran asks. “Here,” the faint sound of crying transmits through the phone, getting louder like Tran is walking closer. Dom pictures it, though he’s trying not to – Brian, lying on the floor, Tran crouched over him holding the phone close.

“Please don’t,” Dom hears Brian begin to beg, “please, please don’t, I can’t, don’t,” and then his voice cuts out into a long thin scream of fear and pain. It carries on for an endless, fragile moment, and then the call cuts out.

“Fuck,” Dom yells, and gives in to the temptation to throw his phone at the wall.

Behind him, Jesse is making excited noises, typing furiously. When Dom looks at him, Jesse’s eyes are fever bright and focused. He looks up, makes eye contact. “I got it,” he says. “I know where the call came from.” Dom stares, uncomprehending. “I’ve traced the call, Dom,” Jesse exclaims, almost yelling now.

It takes a second for the words to make sense – they sound like something from another language to Dom, like something he has no way of ever decoding. The realisation is dawning, like the sun coming out after a week of dark. Dom shoots to his feet, already grabbing his keys.

“Well then what the fuck are we still doing here?”

 

(“Please,” Brian begs, coming into existence with a sharp awareness of pain. “Please, I can’t-” his voice cracks on a sob and someone hushes him. Abruptly, he remembers that to talk is pain although he doesn’t know why. But. There is danger. His ribs are burning, he’s blinded by light and by darkness and he’s defenceless. Legs weak, he kicks out, struggling. Always struggling. But he’s tired.

Someone grabs his kicking foot, fingers gentle against the bone of his ankle.

“It’s okay,” they say. “Settle down, Brian,”

Distantly, he recognises the voice. It’s Dom. Of course it’s Dom. Who else would it be, so gentle with his flailing limbs? It’s okay . He fades away again.)

Chapter Text

Waking up is slow. It always is, after a beating. Like his body has had enough and is trying to crawl back into some place where pain is a memory, not a reality. Brian takes stock, slowly. His ribs. Maybe broken, like Lance had really got suck in with the metal toed boot.

Lance. Where the fuck was Lance? Where was Johnny?

Brian is in a darkened room that is not his own – the walls are cream, and the curtains are holding back only the palest of light. It isn’t his room, but it isn’t the cell he’d been in at the warehouse, so things were looking up. It must be early morning, but he has no idea what day. He has no idea about anything, actually, and begins to feel the stirrings of panic. He’s covered in bandages, all the way up his arms and over his chest, and he figures they must carry on under the blanket. Where the fuck is he?

Almost as if someone has sensed his panic, the door opens. For a second, Brian holds his breath, but it is Dom who steps through the door and he relaxes again. For all the shit, Brian is glad to see him. Dom looks exhausted, bruised and unfocused, and when his eyes scan the room, he looks surprised to see Brian awake. Like it’s been a few days, and he was expecting it to be a few more.

“Hey,” Brian tries to say, only it comes out as a croak like he’s thirteen and his voice is breaking all over again. At the sound, Dom looks pained.

“Hey, Brian,” he says, and steps to the side of the bed, crouches down to eye level. “How you feeling?”

Brian shoves up onto one elbow and flinches when every muscle in his body protests violently, wounds pulling tight. “The fuck?” he asks. Or tries to ask. His throat hurts something serious and when Dom offers him a glass of water he takes it gratefully. “How did I get here?” he asks when he’s done, pushing upright so he’s sitting because this feels like a conversation which should maybe not be had lying down.

“We drove,” Dom replies drily.

“No kidding, Dom.” It sounds snappy and Brian tries to soften it with a smile, grimacing when it pulls against his split lip. And ain’t that a metaphor for his life?

“We busted in on Tran’s place,” Dom says. “He had you in a shipping warehouse that his father owns.” At Brian’s raised eyebrow, he elaborates. “Jesse got a trace on your cell when Tran was calling me, we went in fast and busted down the doors without knocking.”

The words take a second to make total sense, but slowly a picture draws clear. “You were on the phone with Tran?” He asks, brows drawing down. “About what? No wait let me guess; he called to monologue. God, what an asshole.” He tries to make light of it, but he’s tired, and the tone falls flat.

Still, the corners of Dom’s mouth tick down in amusement. “Yeah, he went on like a super villain in a B grade movie,” he admits. “It definitely wasn’t funny at the time, though.”

Brian goes quiet, thoughtful. “He send you the film he was making?”

Wordless, Dom nods.

“Never gave much thought to being an actor before.” Brian presses his fingers to his mouth, gaze down. His expression is unreadable; not cold, necessarily, but thinking hard. When he speaks again, it isn’t what Dom is expecting; “Is he dead?” Brian asks.

“Yes,” Dom replies instantly, not even a doubt in his mind. “I snapped his neck myself, and Lance’s too.” They didn’t stand a chance, he doesn’t add, not with all the rest of the team standing around waiting for him to make a move. Brian must see some of that show in his face anyway, because he twitches a tiny smile.

Brian thinks on that image for a minute; Dom, with those strong hands and endlessly powerful arms wreaking havoc like an avenging angel. “’s good,” he says eventually, and lies back down, satisfied.

“Where are we?” he asks. “I mean, we’re safe, right?”

“Mexico,” Dom says. “We’re in a house that used to belong to Vince’s grandmother, and the people who brought it left a key for us to use whenever they aren’t in the country.” At Brian’s look, Dom shrugs. “Small town people, very trusting. And they were family friends, once upon a time. Or something like that.”

“But we aren’t going to be traced back to here?” Brian confirms restlessly, picking absently first at the sheets and then at a bandage on his forearm. “None of you guys officially have names down anywhere here, do you?”

“No,” Dom replies, eyebrows drawing down into a worried crease.

Brian blows out a breath. “Well that’s good, because you have half the authorities in LA on your asses about all of this drug trucking shit, from what I figure.”

There is a pause and Dom shifts uneasily on the bed. “From what you figure?”

Brian closes his eyes and lies back down again, hums in agreement. “When they were questioning me-”

“When they were what,” Dom interrupts, voice like steel, low in the quiet of the room. Brian opens one eye lazily and blinks at the fury written across Dom’s face.

“When the police were questioning me,” he says again, and blows out a long sigh. Starts from the start: “After you guys left race wars Tran and Lance tried to get a hold of me, but I got away. Next thing I know I’m being arrested. About your truck jacking bullshit or whatever, drug distribution, I don’t know, only they had no actual evidence to tie it all in.”

Dom blows out a breath, nodding. Though he mostly looks relaxed, there is a tension around his eyes which hasn’t quite faded away. Brian watches him for a long moment, stretches out his back, and sits up with a long groan. “Help me up, I want to see the others.”

Dom scoops him up easily and heads down the stairs while Brian rolls his eyes. But all amusement he’s feeling snaps away when he catches sight of Vince, sitting in an armchair, shoulder bandaged tightly, blood spotting through the fabric.

“Holy shit Dom. Put me down.” When Dom complies, Brian staggers over on unsteady legs to crouch at Vince’s feet, grimacing at the pain in his legs. Dom makes an aborted gesture to help him and Brian stops him with a glare.

“Let me see.” Brian demands.

Wordless, Vince leans forward so Brian can unwind the bandages looping around his arm, from wrist to shoulder. The wound is ugly, curling savagely and quite frankly Dom can’t help but think it was nothing short of a miracle that Vince hadn’t lost the arm entirely, pure luck that he had managed to untangle himself and jump into Dom’s car.

If Jesse hadn’t been there to distract the driver, who knows what would have happened. It’s almost not worth thinking about, really. Could have been death in an instant.

Brian blows out a long breath at the sight of the wound and then presses his palm to the widest part of the injury. Mia lets out a sound of protest but Brian cuts her off before she can say anything. “How much of that film did you watch?” He asks the room.

“Just the part about prison,” Dom answers quickly, lips pressed tight together. “Only about five minutes.”

“Hmm.” Brian acknowledges. “So you didn’t see anything about my mutation?”

There is a stunned silence as everyone sucks in a breath. “Your what?” Dom asks quietly, voice deceptively calm and low.

Instead of answering, Brian turns back to Vince and closes his eyes. Vince lets out a quiet noise of pain when Brian presses his hand more firmly against the wound, then trails off when he realises what’s happening. The wound is closing up, healing over, like a zip closing, until all that’s left is a thin sliver scar.

Brian slumps, and everyone stares. “Ta-da,” he manages to say, breathless.

“You’re a healer?” Jessie asks eventually.

“Nope,” Brian replies. “Not. Not always.”

“I think it’s about time you started talking straight, Brian,” snaps Letty, arms crossed.

“You think ?” Brian closes his eyes for a second, feels the room spin and opens them again to stop the nausea. Too tired to explain, he clicks his fingers and summons a flame, waves his hand to disappear it again. The room is silent, so he summons a shield, a gust of wind, lifts the water from the glass beside Jesse and throws it across the room. The water hovers above Letty, drops over her with getting her wet. He picks up the glass without touching it and scoops the water up out of the air.

He has no idea why his mutation is working so easily for him right now, but he figures it has something to do with what Tran did to him – his mind was cracked open so wide that he hasn’t got the strength to hold everything back.

Some kind of block has given in his mind; he can almost feel it. A wall has come down, one which stood between himself and his mutation and he’s too tired to work out how to put it back up, or if he even wants to. Tran’s psychic had something to do with this maybe, kicking down all of Brian’s walls to make room for new ones, those new ones being taken away. No defences stopping his mutation from flowing out into the world.

“That’s enough, Brian,” Dom says, resting a hand on his shoulder. Brian realises suddenly that he is swaying, damp with sweat. It takes more effort than he would like to admit to, when he tries to stop.

“I think I need to sit down.”

Dom guides him down onto the couch, uncharacteristically worried. Or, openly worried, which was unusual. Dom normally kept things like worry close to his chest.

“What’s your mutation, Brian,” Letty demands once he’s seated. “Cause you not telling us about it is some bullshit I’ll tell you right now.”

“Ah, Christ Letty, would you knock it off?” Leon interjects. “The guy looks like he’s about to go into a coma.”

“No it’s fine,” Brian mutters, pinching the bridge of his nose. His hands had set up a fine tremor, he realised, although he couldn’t say when it had started. “I just pick stuff up,” he says. “Mutations I mean.”

Mia stares at him, eyes dark. “Alright,” she says, and it’s like the whole room breathes out. Brian smiles at her and leans his head onto Dom’s shoulder. Which is when he is sudden and violently reminded that everything hurts. Some of that must show on his face, because Dom scowls at him.

“Why are you not healing yourself?” he asks, pressing a warm palm to Brian’s shoulder, kneading gently at the bruise there.

“Don’t know if I can. It doesn’t normally work like that,” Brian admits, eyes sliding closed.

“Like what?” Letty interjects.

“Easy,” Brian says. “Normally gotta force it, or I can’t do it at all. ‘S normally all crazy.”

“Well try it,” Mia snaps, sounding exasperated.

Okay,” he snaps back and then presses his hands to his ribs. There is a flare of heat and then when he moves his hands, his bruises are gone. “Huh,” he says, instead of freaking out like he kind of wants to do.

He doesn’t lift the bandages on his chest or arms, but when he presses down on the bandages he feels that same sensation of heat and release. He stares at his hands for a long moment, throat tight.

No way that was normal. “Is anyone else hurt?” he tries to ask, but he’s tired, so tired his head is falling sideways onto Dom’s shoulder, and he has just enough time to hear Mia tell him that everything is okay before he gets to sleep.

It takes him three weeks to get back to anywhere near normal strength, sleeping almost constantly and eating most of the time he’s awake. Turns out that recovery is hard work, but he gets better eventually.

Except, whenever he gets angry his mutation goes crazy. Dom tries to get him to sit down and he snaps. “I’m not dying, Dom,” he says, and then realises that there is fire on his hands, and has to concentrate really hard to make it go away again.

He trips going down the stairs and ends up back on the top story of the house, still falling, to land half on Jessie. Letty, who is with him, gives him a narrow eyed look and carries on walking.

Shit happens, Brian figures. Not much he can do about it, and it’s not like he’s hurting anyone. Or, he hasn’t yet. Honestly, he isn’t sure how he really feels about all this shit, bt he’s got other things to occupy his time now days.

Then it’s another five weeks, everyone recovered and strong, happy. He gets back into surfing, which he hasn’t done since he was sixteen, high on life in the freezing waters of a beach that never properly got warm. Things are good. When he falls from his board, the water catches him and sends him to shore, and he comes up laughing.

There are some problems. Dom almost refuses to let Brian out of his sight, tailing him like a grumpy shadow until Brian snaps, turning on him to shout. “For fuck’s sake,” he scowls. “No offense to you, Dom, but I took care of myself for years before I met you. I know this is some kind of guilt thing, but I don’t give a fuck. You made your bed, you can sleep in it alone.” Then he storms off into the house and gets busy doing things that aren’t thinking about him and Dom. And then realises that the curtains are on fire, and curses as he puts them out again.

He and Dom don’t touch, really. They share a bed - that hasn’t changed - but Brian shakes himself awake with nightmares more often than he doesn’t, and neither of them are really ready to go further than where they’re at. Brian hides a laugh. They must be the most dysfunctional couple in the country. But they’re a couple, at least. The rest will sort out eventually. He says, “come here, Dom,” and lets Dom fold himself into the space between his arms.

Quiet, Dom shudders and breathes, and says, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” into the skin of Brian’s throat, like a flood that’s been building in him has broken free, a raging torrent of apologies that he hardly knows what to do with. “I didn’t know,” he says. “I didn’t know we were leaving you, I swear to god, you think there’s a chance in hell I could ever leave you if I knew what the fuck I was doing?”

“I know, Dom,” Brian says, and realises that he believes it. Not to say he still isn’t mad, but at least now he knows it wasn’t on purpose.

Life continues.

Everyone is home free, across the border and no official charges on them anyway. Leon and Jessie sulk around in the shade and complain about being sunburnt a lot, but Dom buys them a car and gets a friend to drop them some tools, so they work on that with the kind of cheerful determination that makes it clear that they want to go home, back to Echo Park.

“When things cool down a little,” Dom says, grasping him by the shoulder. “Soon, once the case gets closed.”

“What about Tran and Lance? You gonna catch heat over that whole mess?” It’s a valid question; Brian pictures Dom killing for him and then going down for it – it’s a disturbing image.

“Could be some heat,” Dom admits eventually, shading his eyes. “Maybe we should stay a little longer.”

Brian cracks his neck and smiles. “I don’t know, I kind of like it here,” he confesses. Things are good .

When does that ever last.

Chapter Text

Their temporary peace is shattered in the middle of the night. They get about a seconds warning as all the windows burst inwards and the front door crashes open. Dom and Brian snap upright, staring at each other in the dark. Dom is just making a move to stand when the police burst into their room, and downstairs Brain can hear Mia scream as the same happens to her. There are twin crashes as Leon and Jessie’s rooms are flooded and Vince is cussing up a storm from somewhere to their left.

The moment is terror - blind in the half dark, Mia still yelling downstairs. Sparks flicker up Brian’s arms unheaded, as he wonders if he should start fighting his way out now.

Brian can feel Dom tensing up beside him, rearing up like he’s looking at the door and wondering how easily he could get through it. But Brian has a bad feeling about all of this; the kind of slow, sinking feeling that he knows means that he’s not going to like what comes next.  

Dom’s hands fist in the sheets. “Don’t,” Brian says quietly and places a hand on Dom arm, feeling it shake. It’s dark, only the pale moon lighting their vision, but Brian can see the gleams of weaponry, hard steel all pointed unwaveringly in their direction.

Someone is shoving forward. “Nobody fucking move,” snaps a tall man in tactical gear, vaguely different to everyone else’s. “And I mean that – nobody better move an inch.” He cocks his head at Brian, takes off his headgear. “O’Conner, I’m glad as hell to see you right now.”

Before he can expand on that in any meaningful way, his eyes go a little off focus to listen to his com. “Copy that,” he replies to whoever is on the line, and then to the rest of the room he says; “get them out of here and back to base, our timetable just shortened again. We’ve had another incident.”

For a second, Brian considers refusing to move – but those guns which had just began to waver slightly all swing back unnervingly to the centre of his chest. To the centre of Dom’s. Brian has been practicing this mutant shit for weeks, and he’s fairly sure he could stop a bullet, but a whole storm of them? What if it turned into a bloodbath? No way he had enough control to stop every bullet, jam every gun. People would get hurt. He looks Dom in the eye, takes a deep breath, and doesn’t resist when someone steps forward to usher them out.

They get hauled out into the night in handcuffs, Dom a stiff line beside him, but he’s going at least, and when it looks like he might fight Brian shoots him a look, eyes wide. He remembers the taste of heat and dust, Dom’s eyes when he said he would never go back to prison. He’d looked wild, impossibly far away as he stood across from Brian, staring over the hood of the charger.

And now Dom had killed for him. No doubt, these people knew that. Dom wouldn’t go back. He’d fight, if he trusted Brian less, refused to take his cue.

Don’t do it, Dom, Brian wills, feeling more fear than he knew was possible. But Dom catches his eye and gives a tiny head shake, face unreadable. He looks like fury personified, but he isn’t fighting.

The ride is long, all shoved together in the back of a van, chained six ways to Sunday. Even longer just because he has to sit there and watch Dom’s thinly veiled fear play across his face, even though he’s trying to hide it. It’s unnerving to see Dom so openly emotive, especially when that emotion is fear.

He tries to pass the time by thinking, but nothing will stay in his mind long enough to really focus on. He just keeps circling around to why now? and where are they going?

They pull off the main road eventually, journey getting rougher as they crunch across a couple of minutes of gravel. Not a good sign. For a second, Brian wonders if these people have brought them out here to kill them. That’s stupid, but the thought is there.

Whatever he was expecting to see when he got out of the van, a bustling hive of cops and the frantic typing of ten people on computers just visible through the massive windows of the mansion in front of them wasn’t it.

Brian was thinking a prison, maybe, or some kind of cell anyway, but he should have known that there was no way a whole god damn swat team would come to take them down if getting them to prison was all they wanted. So what did they want? He looks to his left and can see the same questions playing out on Mia’s face, lit faintly by the just barely rising sun. They share a glance, her eyes dark and thoughtful, and he turns to look back at the house.

There is something familiar about some of the men hustling around and Brian narrows his eyes trying to work out why, but he doesn’t look for long before they all get shoved inside, walking awkwardly because of all the cuffs and shit, blinking blindly in the brightly lit room. Someone looks up and takes notice of them, hustles over.

“Get them into interview,” he says, adjusting his glasses nervously, talking over the team like they aren’t even there. This time, Brian resists when they get shoved along.

“How about someone tells me what the fuck is going on,” he asks instead, leaning into the pressure of Dom at his side, trying to make it look casual and not like his leg was bitching a fit because of how cramped the ride was. Everyone else stays quiet, taking their cue from him. He must look in control. He doesn’t feel it.

The man gives him a long look and sighs. “In a minute,” he deflects. “If you can wait for another minute, we’ll explain everything.”

 

“Everything,” turned out to be this; Carter Verone was collecting drivers like they were going out of style, and the police wanted to know why. He was under suspicion of drug dealing and human trafficking, along with a slew of other wonderful crimes, like murder.

At the same time, fourteen people not previously know to express the mutant gene had gone on drug fuelled mutant rampages, resulting in over twenty five deaths. Police thought these two things were linked somehow. All fourteen people were known to police as frequent drug users, and all people, when it was worked back far enough, got their supply from one Carter Verone.

Naturally, the police wanted to send in an undercover officer. The first one had failed to check in on the first day and been returned minus a tongue, all of his fingers, and the ability to ever walk again. The second guy had been returned in a body bag. They hadn’t sent another.

Word got out eventually that the drivers had to be mutants to even get a genuine look in the door, which is where the cops struck out – they got as far as the race, normally, but then caught it as soon as things went any further - the cops had a strict policy of refusing mutants into the police force, and especially not into “high risk” jobs like undercover. Hence, they needed mutants with experience driving fast and dealing with nasty people who got their hands dirty. And who had something to gain from working with the cops.

“So you want team Toretto to stick their necks out for you?” Brian rebuffs, eyes gleaming dangerously. He tossed his head and snorted derisively. “You think, what, you gonna threaten to stick someone with Tran’s death and we’ll jump into Verones life for you?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” sneers the officer in charge, pushing his glasses up his nose. “But we also thought you might behave better if you had a motive, too. I’ll be frank with you, gentlemen-” and here Letty and Mia made twin noises of annoyance and Brian coughs to cover his smile. Give him hell, he thought. “And ladies,” the cop corrects nervously, glancing over to them warily. “I’ll be frank with you all.  We need your help and we aren’t afraid to pay for it. Whatever you need, and cleaned records too, for all of you, and we’ll forget about the Tran situation, and the truck jackings.”

“And if we aren’t interested?” Brian pushes.

“Prison,” interjects Jacob Palmer smoothly, stepping into the conversation smoothly. He gives Brian a slow look up and down and smirks. “O’Conner,” he smiles. “Good to see you in custody again.”

Brian stares at him until the smile fades away and the room falls silent to watch. “Nice to see you out of interrogation,” Brian counters, “I didn’t know they would let you do anything outside of slapping people around, considering how much of a shitty cop you are.”

If the room was quiet before, a pin dropping would sound loud now. Palmer goes furious and red, and then silent.

“Actually,” the other cop interjects, fingers twisting nervously in his shirt. His glasses are starting to fog up, he’s sweating that hard. “We were wanting to know how you spotted him as an undercover officer. He’s one of our best, it was a shock to us all when he came in and told us he had been busted, and by-” before he can say something like the resident bitch, or anything else of equally dangerous stupidity, he cuts himself off. “Especially by a civilian with no undercover training.”

“He was obvious,” Brian replies dismissively. “And he couldn’t lie for shit. If he’s your best then I’ve got to wonder what the hell you think you’re doing.”

“I’m trying to stop a lot of people from dying,” the cop snaps, and Brian looks up at him, at the slouch of his shoulders and the way stress is riding him. Brian pinches his brow between thumb and forefinger and sighs deeply. He’s always been wary of cops, but for all of the violence and danger, he never lost the urge to take care of people. It was hard for him to stand by and watch while people got hurt, if he could help it.

‘Talk to me,” he says, weary and letting it show. Dom makes a noise in the back of his throat in protest, but Brian raises an eyebrow, like saying do you really think you get to talk right now, and he goes silent with a wry smile.

“Christ, I was hoping you would say that.” The cop says, shoulder slumping with relief. “Come sit down, and someone get those cuffs off these people.”

“I’m listening,” Brian says evenly, jaw tight. “I hope you have something worth listening too.”

Chapter Text

About six months before he had met the Toretto family, Brian O’Conner had been in a nightclub owned by Carter Verone. The music had been blasting in his ears, bass so heavy it made his chest vibrate.

He’d been looking for a couple of drunk people with heavy wallets, the kind that frequented expensive nightclubs like this. But after a couple of finds, a hand had clamped down on his wrist and he had looked directly into the eyes of Carter Verone.

He hadn’t known who he was at the time, but he recognises the face in the photograph of the thick dossier Palmer throws down onto the table in front of him.

“Huh,” he says, and eyes it in a way that feels vaguely like the way a man would eye an extremely venomous snake. Dom is watching him when he looks away from those cold eyes, and so it everyone else.

“Something to share with the class?”

Palmer sounds pissed. Brian smothers a frown and tries not to let his thought show on his face. Verone, the most dangerous man he had probably ever met, with those cold, cold eyes and that smile with nothing behind it. He smiles like he had learnt how from a tutorial; not like he had ever done it when he was doing anything other than hurting people.

“I’m not letting my family go in against that asshole,” Brian says simply. “No way. He’s a death sentence.”

“You know this guy?” Dom asks, tone flat.

“Yeah I know this guy. He’s a fucking psycho, not a person. Nothing going on in that head except thoughts on how he’s gonna hurt people. No way.”

“Then prison,” Vince speaks up. When everyone looks at him, he curls his shoulders in defensively. “Either we go in a catch this guy, or we go to jail. And what do you think will happen to us then?”

A stubborn gleam enters Brian’s eye. He tosses his head, beautiful and dangerous. “That’s still safer than letting you guys go in there. No way.”

“We don’t need you all,” the cop interjects. “Just two, maybe. Three. He’s probably not looking for a whole team, just a couple every few months.”

“One,” shoots back Brian. “One person, and we do this on my terms.”

“Two,” Dom interjects. “I’m not letting you go in there by yourself and you know it.”

“No dice, Dom. No way.”

“Would you both stop being self-sacrificing for one second and let me think?” Mia shouts, eyes flashing in that dangerous way she had that meant she was close to letting someone have it.

The room pauses to watch her, and she sighs. “Someone has to stop this guy,” she says. “That’s not up for debate. But why should it be us?”

“You guys have a history with driving fast for not strictly legal purposes,” says Palmer. “We know that. And we know that O’Conner is fast on his feet at least,” his lip curls like it physically pains him to carry on: “and he’s probably smart enough to not get caught. We need your mutations more than anything. Verone only recruits’ mutants, and we have none in the force with the right skills to send in.”

“And we’re expendable,” Brian ads. “That’s part of it, right?”

“For fucks sake,” Palmer shouts, “of course that’s part of it. But the way I see it, you don’t have a choice, because either you do this, or you go to jail and so does the rest of your little family, and none of you are ever going to see the outside of a cage for the rest of your lives.”

Fuck,” Brian hisses, sitting down. He hadn’t even realised he was so fired up, took a deep breath and tried to think things through. This was no time to lose his cool, so he shoves down his temper and tries to focus. “So we have to do this. I have to do this.”

“Brian, this guy is clearly a fucking psycho, no way are you doing this alone.”

“Quite frankly, Dom, I don’t give a fuck about how you feel about this,” Brian snaps, and Dom reels back like he’s been slapped across the face. Regardless, Brian forges, ruthlessly, quietly: “I don’t trust you to have my back on this, and I’m sorry about that, but that’s how it’s going to be.”

“Then I’ll go,” Vince says, and the room falls quiet.

Brian has never seen any sign of a mutation on Vince, but that doesn’t mean much. Not everything is obvious, or logical.

“Okay,” Brian says easily, not looking away from the hurt on Dom’s face. “What can you do?”

Scowling, Vince stands. Mia spares a second to look worried, and Dom is a bar of unreadable tension where he sits.

“We don’t all have sparkly super powers, Brian,” Vince says, stalking away. “Some of us just hurt things.”

“Hurt things?” questions the cop timidly.

“Yeah,” Vince says. “Yeah, I just hurt things, I guess. Or, control em, more like. I can get control of people’s systems, kind of like hacking into em. And then I can make them do what I want. Sort of. I influence the way people feel about me. I don’t control their actions, really.”

“Vince you don’t just hurt people,” Mia snaps, defensive. “You aren’t like that, come on.”

“You can’t say that for sure,” Vince argues back. “I could be doing it to you right now, you wouldn’t know.

“Can we spare the self sacrificing for one second,” Palmer drawls, and in sync the entire team turn to him and snap at him to shut up.

“Do they know what you’re doing to them?” Brian asks, mind whirring.

“Not if I... go slow.” The implication of if  force my way in, yes, goes unsaid.

“So, say if we were spending a couple of hours a day with a guy, and you were getting your roots in them, you could make him feel however you wanted him to?”

“I guess so. I’ve never tried it out like that though, but that’s how it works.”

“What I’m getting to,” Brian says, “is if we were undercover for with Verone, could you get him to trust us, after a few days? Nothing too crazy, or he’ll know it isn’t real. But could you do it?”

“I.” Vince pauses, thinks on it. “Yeah, I could do that.”

Exhaustion creases Brian’s forehead and he sighs. His chest is heavy, fear and something darker weighing on his mind when he thinks about any of his family coming face to face with Verone. To his left, day is just starting to break; orange and red splitting the skies.

It looks like an omen. Like that saying - red sky in the morning, shepherds warning. “Okay,” he says, shoulders slumping. “Okay, fine. How are we doing this?”

“Verone is holding races – the people who win get a place in his team. That’s how you get in.”

“No good for me,” Brian notes. “Vince can go in like that though. What am I doing?” Of all of the team, Dom would be the one he trusts to protect himself the best if shit hits the fan. Not that the others can’t or won’t, it’s just that Dom has a tendency towards brutality that makes most people wary enough not to try it, and he isn’t afraid of going all in with his strength. Vince has edge, though. And Brian hasn’t got the same history with him walking around causing problems as he has with Dom.

“We thought you could go in as Vince’s...” the man trails off nervously, adjusting his tie.

“As what? Vince’s bitch? His boyfriend?” there is an awkward pause and then Brian laughs. “Yeah cause that’s gonna fly real well.” It could work, but; “even if we ignore the whole fact that Verone might just tell me to fuck off on sight, there’s no way he’s going to say shit about his plans to one of his driver’s bitches. I’ll go in another way.”

“Oh really,” Palmer condescends. “How’s that? You gonna walk up to him and ask for a job? Cute. You going to whore out for him? It’s not like you can drive.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Vince and Dom say in synch, and then grin sharply at each other.

“Don’t be an idiot, Palmer,” Brian replies airily, making sure his voice is syrupy sweet and as condescending at he can make it. “I’m not walking up to him. I’m going to call him.”

Palmers eyes narrow and the temperature of the room drops sharply. “You’re full of shit,” he sneers. “No way you’re going to pick up a phone and call Carter fucking Verone. You’re full of shit.” He turns on his heel and strides out, slamming the door, only to return quickly with a nondescript grey cell phone which he throws in Brian’s direction. “Go on then. Call him.”

Wordlessly, Brian types for a second and presses call, putting it on speaker phone. While it rings, he holds up a finger, the universal sign for quiet. “Not a word,” he announces. “Not one, or this thing is blown open, you get me?”

Everybody shifts closer to hear the phone. The ringing is both shrill and monotonous, and it seems like it goes on for an age before it clicks onto voicemail. “Please leave a message,” says a pleasant but oddly genderless voice, and then there is a beep. “Once bitten, twice shy,” Brian says, speaking clearly. In a more normal voice, he says: “Hey, it’s Brian O’Conner. Call me back.” Then he hangs up.

Puts the phone on the coffee table and sits back to wait. He doesn’t have to wait long.

“What the fu-” Palmer begins, but he is cut off by the cell phone which begins to ring merrily. Brian gives him a smug look, like, what did I tell you, asshole and picks up the phone.

Chapter Text

Brian lets it ring for ten seconds before he answers, feeling eyes on him. “Hey, Verone.”

“Brian O’Conner,” Verone purs back. “To what do I owe the honour?”

“Unfortunately, this is a business call,” Brian replies, swallowing. Something about Verone sets off all of Brian’s reflexes, like he’s crawling out of his skin. “I’m heading into town, and in need of some work. I was wondering if that offer from before still stands?” He lets his tone go a little silky, sweeter, knowing Verone will know he’s flirting and get a kick out of his audacity. He catches Dom’s narrow eyed stare and shakes his head. His eyes don’t roll, but it’s close.

“You trying to sweet talk me, O’Conner?”

“Is it working?”

“Could be.” There’s a pause. Verone sounds thoughtful. “Are you still not driving? I’m afraid that puts you out for most of the positions I have available.”

“That’s still a no, I’m afraid.”

“Hmm.” Verone pauses. “I don’t suppose you would–”

“I’m not being a whore either, Verone,” Brian cuts in, and this time his eyes do roll. Everyone sucks in a breath at his tone, but Verone just lets out a sharp bark of a laugh. He likes it that Brian talks back - likes them dangerous and beautiful. Likes what he can’t have, most of all.

“Very well. Why don’t you come by and see me, I’m sure we could sort something out.”

“What time do you want me?” Brian questions, making eye contact with Palmer across the room.

“All the time, Brian. But be at mine at twelve tomorrow, we can have lunch.”

“Three days,” Brian counters. “I’m not in town yet, just heading your way.”

Verone lets out a hum. “I’ll see you,” Brian says, but Verone has already hung up. There is momentary silence as everyone absorbs.

Eventually Letty breaks the silence; “Was that guy… flirting with you?” Her voice toes the line between curious and mildly disgusted.

“Hmm? Yeah, probably,” Brian replies. “Hey, Vince is going to need a partner. Someone to watch his back when I’m not around.”

“Then I’ll go,” Doom cuts in, voice frustrated. The implication of if I can’t watch your back, I want to watch his is clear, but no way is that flying today.

“Dom, you can’t lie for shit. And you get angry too easy. No way. You’ll get us all killed because you can’t keep a lid on it.” Brian has the grace to look awkward when he sees Dom’s raised eyebrow. “Ah, no offense.”

“Christ. None taken, I guess. Who’s going in instead? Not someone from here?” Not one of the team, Dom means. Of course not. All of these people have edge, but Verone doesn’t look for edge. He looks for violence, for potential. It’s why he had liked Brian so much, back when he was all anger and fear, and something to prove to the world.

“No I… I know a guy who can lie. And he’ll back me up on this, if I ask him.”

Dom looks doubtful, but he trusts Brian’s judgement. Clearly, Brian knows the most about this situation, and Dom appears willing to defer to that, for now.

For whatever reason, police take him at his word from that point forward - he only has to say the words “get me to Barstow,” and someone is on it. There was something about Brian that made people sit up and look. Verone had been no different from everyone else, not really, and neither had Tran; both of them looking at him and thinking they were the first people to notice he was dangerous.

They thought he had a power in him. They were blinded by him, didn’t think to look deeper. Their mistake. It got Tran killed - it could do the same to Verone, sure as anything.

Verone had wanted to see what Brian could do, even before he knew Brian was a mutant - when Brian left him, Verone had made noise about being offended, but hadn’t been stupid enough to try and force something that wasn’t there. He’d been smart enough to know that Brian was hiding claws somewhere. Cages were never going to hold him again, and neither was anything else.

Brian had liked that. It felt something like respect, like knowing that at least someone saw that he wasn’t to be taken lightly. And Verone didn’t ask awkward questions about his past either, mostly kept his nose in his own lane.

Verone was pushy, but he was sharp. Smart.

Brian had hung around for a week or two, ‘til he walked in on Verone getting right to the point whaling on someone who was probably a cop, with blood up to his elbows. Brian had walked back out again. That shit was too messy for him. He didn’t like hurting people, and he had no interest in tangling with the law. The stupidest Verone ever got was when he was angry.

There had been a single, stupid moment when Brian had thought about stepping in, about stopping Verone, but he’d been too hardened by his past - he knew that would never fly, no matter how much Verone liked him. He was too much of a coward to test it out.

But Verone had caught him before he left and pressed a card into his hand, phone number scrawled inelegantly, and his name underneath.

Brian hadn’t kept the card, but he’d memorised the number. It wasn’t like he ever thought he would call it.

 

In the end, Brian, Dom and Vince are the only ones in the team who go to Barstow. Everyone else heads towards a safe house where the FBI or whoever this is can keep them updated - and, Brian presumes, where the FBI can stop them from getting in the way.

When Brian had drawn Dom aside to suggest that he stayed behind too, Dom had stuck his heels in - “no way,” he’d said. He’d cupped the curve of Brian’s cheek and said “let me have your back for now, at least,” and Brian had said “okay,” soft as he knew how, into the space between their bodies.

They drive through the streets and Brian sees ghosts on every corner. He can’t imagine what Dom sees, or Vince. The place is somehow exactly the same and entirely different, cracked pavement and glass everywhere, but it’s like Brian doesn’t even recognize it.

He doesn’t think of this place as home. Doesn’t know if he ever had, not really. When he thinks of home, he thinks of the uneven steps of Dom’s garage, the smell of Dom’s sheets.

He doesn’t know what that says about him.

It’s unbelievable to be about to see Rome again. Their phone calls haven’t been enough, not really. After living in each others pockets for near on twenty years, even speaking once a day is a massive lapse. Brian had always sort of thought Rome was looking to spend some time in jail, but it hasn’t happened yet.

He’d gotten out of the shifty stuff a while ago, got more into the legal side of cars and grew a reputation. People liked him - he liked his job. Doesn’t mean he wouldn’t drop it in a second for Brian, if Brian ever asked him to.

Rome looks the same, mostly. He still swaggers out of his place like he’s looking for a fight when the cars pull up, the asshole. But when Brian steps out of the car that falls away. His eyes light up and his swagger turns the last three or so steps into a run, and then he’s clapping Brian across the back, arms tight enough to crush.

Brian smiles into him and laughs at the tight look on Dom’s face.

Dom is instantly suspicious when Rome doesn’t ask many questions. When Brian tells him that he needs help, Rome just stands up and starts packing a bag, calling a few clients to let them know he was going away. Dom watches this all with narrowed eyes, and catches Rome alone in the kitchen as soon as he can.

“You aren’t even going to ask him where he he’s taking you?” he demands, arms crossed. If he had hackles, they would be up right now. As it is, he just leans against the counter and takes deep breaths.

“Nope,” Rome pops back, voice mellow in a kind of way that makes it clear he’s finding this shit funny. The corner of his mouth rides up a fraction.

“You just going in blind?” Dom presses, skeptical.

For the first time, Roman looks serious. “Dude, I would follow Brian blind to the end of the world. He’s my only family. He’s more than family.”

Rome is steady, and dedicated. He is loyal, all that shining through clear as a bell in the way he glances at Brian when he walks in the door. Not like love, even. Not in the way Dom loves Brian.  It’s more. Like Brian is the roots that hold Rome up, like he can’t hardly grow without him.

Dom feels his fingers curl into his palm, and tries not to be threatened by that dedication, by that love.

On the car ride to Miami, Dom drives and listens to Brian laying down the plans in the back seat, Vince craning his head back to watch closely and Rome slouched, a lizard conserving energy.

To someone else, this would look like laziness - Dom watches carefully and sees the way Rome pays attention, eyes lidded and teeth working casually on the end of a toothpick.  

For the first time, Dom feels a little better about Brian going into this without him. It’s not that he doesn’t trust Brian to handle himself, but now he knows for sure that nothing is going to happen to him, not with Rome around.

 

 

By the time they stop over in a tiny hotel off the beaten path, they’d apparently decided to not hide that they knew each other - the less secrets they had to hold the better, and Brian wanted to make sure that nobody fucked up. By nobody, he had meant Vince - he knew Rome could hold onto a lie, could fight and wiggle his way out of a situation, no doubt in his mind.

Vince was somewhat of an unknown quantity, in that respect, but Brian had mostly told him to try to play the silent type when he could, and told Rome to draw attention. That, obviously, wasn’t going to be a struggle. Rome lived for the attention, could attract it like nobody's business, and he had years of experience drawing it away from Brian’s smart mouth.

When he mentions this, Rome just laughs, clamps a hand down on the back of his neck and says, “Sure thing, O’Connor, someone’s gotta keep your ass out of the fire. Might as well be me.”

If he notices the way Dom’s fingers curl on the steering wheel, he doesn’t comment - but he does glance at Brian and wink, cheek crinkling. Brian makes them drop him off in town, and glares at them as he tells them that they’d better win their respective races later in the day.

“This is important,” he emphasises.

“No shit this is important,” Rome snarks back. “We’ll get it done. You just get in there.”

“I’m not worried about me,” Brian replies, and steps away from the car. “Just try not to do anything too stupid, you know what I mean. Don't piss this guy off..”

 

Brian disappears into the bathroom, and when Dom makes a move to ask him if he’s okay, Rome puts a hand on his wrist. “Don’t, man.” He sits on the bed and digs through his bag for a moment. “He’ll just be in there getting himself sorted.”

“Don’t touch me again,” Dom replies firmly and goes to stand by the window. The air is hot and dry, and there isn’t anybody moving as far as he can see. “What do you mean sorted?”

“You know, he’ll be in there getting into character. Buzzing his head, probably.”

“His head?” Dom turns to look, but Rome is still digging though his shit, shoulders loose and relaxed. “What do you mean he’s shaving his head?” As long as Dom had known Brian, he’d had a decent amount of hair. Not super long, but it curled down a ways. Dom’d never seen Brian with a buzz before.

“Yeah man. You know, it’s a big thing with him that he’s got hair. He always kept it short when we was kids ‘n all. Safety thing. He was too pretty to be hanging around with long hair as well, too many people lookin’ to take advantage, you know. I ain’t seen him with long hair in years, not sure when he grew it out.”

Dom didn’t know. Seems like there was a lot of that going around, lately. Not that he could lay blame on anyone; Brian had a right to keeping his history private, and Dom had never wanted to push.

Too late now, with all this shit going down. They would talk when this was over.

When Brian comes out of the bathroom, true to expectation his hair has been buzzed off, right down to a number two. His hair looked darker, and so did his eyes - something about it made him look sharper, unkind. When he turned his head, Dom could see a long scar which trailed from behind his left ear around the back of his head to end at about where Brian’s hair did, at the base of his neck.

The lack of hair made the scar across Brian’s throat look stark, painful. It made him look dangerous in a way he never seemed to, previously.

“Are you ready?” Dom asked, not really knowing why. Brian looked ready. He didn’t look afraid, though he should. Of course he should. He was a good actor.

“Of course I am,” Brian said, and came to stand by him and look out the window, their elbows just barely brushing together.

Chapter Text

In the end, they go in seperate. Brian goes in alone, because that’s what he’s good at.

He goes to lunch with Verone, dressed casual like he’d blown into town after living off the streets. He tries half heartedly to make it look like he was trying to dress up. That was the kind of thing that was flattering, to a man like Carter Verone.

The mansion is how he remembers it, but the security team isn’t and they don’t know him. They clearly don’t know he’s coming because as soon as he’s walking up the driveway two men are appearing out of the shadows to escort him back away again.

Unlikely that Verone has replaced his whole security team. More likely, he’s sent these two new ones to meet Brian. Why , would be the question, but nothing about Verone’s twisted logic makes sense to anyone but him.

“No,” he says, and their hands twitch towards their weapons.

“I think you’ll find you don’t have a choice,” one of them replies. And that’s when Brian understands what this is.

“I think you’ll find that Verone is expecting me,” Brain snaps back, voice as cold as he can make it. Snowman, all ice cold. It clearly takes them by surprise.

The thing about human psychology is that people find it extremely difficult to disbelieve people who act like they know what they’re doing - they can’t help it. That’s the reason why people can walk into stores and shrug on a uniform, all in plain sight, and become an authority. That’s the power of conviction.

Never one for hesitation, Brian forges ahead. “If you want to call him, by all means. It’s on your head.” Step two; make them think that the consequences of doing what they’re thinking about doing are worse than they really are. If Verone thinks Brian has lost his edge, there’s no way he’s getting a job. Ergo, Brian can’t let himself be pushed around by a couple of security guards.

For a long second they stare at him, and then at each other. Brian hold steady, waiting for them to give in.

It works, because of course it does. The men step aside and let him through, although he can feel their eyes burning a hole between his shoulders. The grip they have on their weapons is almost audible, waiting for him to make a wrong step.

He doesn’t. Taking a left, he heads around and towards to pool, unsurprised to find Verone waiting for him already. He’s standing facing away, eyes narrowed critically down towards the land below him. There is something unnerving about the stillness of him, wind tugging at his coat but body so motionless; he looks like a statue.

“Carter,” he says, stepping up to stand next to him, watching the view and trying to work out what Verone is looking at. Briefly, Verone spares him a glance but returns his gaze to the ocean wordlessly.

Brian wonders whether he should talk again, but before he can, Verone narrows his eye and spins on his heel to stride inside, gesturing over his shoulder for Brian to follow.

“I’m being watched,” he spits, as soon as they get inside. “Some bullshit, I tell you. What’s the point of paying off half of the police force if I am still under surveillance?”

“Hmm,” Brian agrees, grinning at the look of disgust on Verones face. Even though Verone was and is a murdering piece of shit as well as a slew of other unsavoury descriptions, he’s always been dramatic as hell, and it could be kind of funny. If your life wasn’t on the line, that was.

Taking a deep breath, Verone switches tracks. “So, you’re looking for a job?”

“Mmm,” Brian agreed, stepping around the bar to pour them a couple of drinks. “Me and a couple of… friends.” He hands the drink to Verone and doesn’t complain when the man passes it back and takes the one that Brian had already taken a drink from instead.

“You know you have a job with me whenever you want it. Tell me about your friends,” Verone says, tone absent but grey eyes sharp.

“Couple of drivers,” Brian replies. “Rome’s a friend from way back. I trust him with my eyes closed. Vince is an asshole, but he’s the quiet type that does what he’s told. I don’t get on with him that well because he thought I was trying to steal his girlfriend when we met, but he’s good people. I trust them both.” Honesty is the best policy. Verone is dangerous, in that smart, vindictive way of men who have the time and money to plan out how to kill you the slowest.

Right now, Verone likes him, thinks he has spark. That could change. “And their status as mutants?” Verone asks, playing casual.

“Private,” Brian replies firmly. “Rome, he’s a good liar. Whether that’s because of a mutation or just a product of growing up the way we did, I don’t know. Vince… I think so. I don’t know what. But I get a vibe off him that he’s backing up his shit somehow.”

“I know how you trust your gut. You know I only employ mutants. Last time, I let you work for me and still keep you secrets because I knew you had edge, and I knew you wouldn’t be hanging around for long. If this is going to be long term, I want to see some honesty from you.”

“You’ve got honesty,” Brain snaps, testily. “If you keep pushing, you’ll have my anger too.”

There is a long pause, in which Brian can almost see the scales in Verones eyes tipping back and forth. To push or not to push, to start a fight or not. He decided it wasn’t worth it, changes tracks again.

“They have to  win their ways in, just like everyone else,” Verone acknowledges over the rim of his drink. “But sure, you know I take your word when it comes to people.”

“Ha. You don’t take anyone’s word for anything,” Brian says back, raising his glass in a mock toast.

“Well I’m still here,” Verone smirks, not denying it. “Hasn’t failed me yet.”

Brian twitches, looks at Verone over the rim of his glass. “What are you doing that’s got you in the spotlight, Verone?”

Verone narrows his eyes and Brian rolls his at the speculation and suspicion. “Feel like maybe I’m entitled to know what I’m getting into, you feel?”

“Maybe you should keep your head down a little more,” Verone snaps back, but he jerks his head towards a nearby door. “Let’s go for a walk.”

Brian tips his head agreeably and gestures for Verone to lead, unsurprised when Verone returns the gesture, signaling for him to go in front.

Through the door, and Verone crouches beside an innocuous desk, fiddling with a hidden clasp. After a second, he withdraws his hand, clutching a white brick. An extremely familiar white brick. A white brick very similar to one Brian had seen before, only once, clutched in Johnny Tran’s hand, in an abandoned warehouse far from home.

There was no way that was good.

Trying to cover his surprise, Brian whistles lowly. “You’re keeping shit in the house now? What are you, crazy?”

“Maybe a little,” Verone smiles, “but this isn’t shit . Not by any means.”

“You making your money of something special now?”

Verone takes a drink and looks at Brian over the rim of his glass. “Special would be as a good a word as any, I suppose. Hard to explain.”

“So make it simple.”

Verone disappears the brick, somehow. His eyes are hard - Verone’s eyes are the best way to judge his mood, most days. Everything else, he can suppress pretty well, but his eyes are harder than most things to hide. Brian is expecting a throwaway comment about money, about power. Those are the things he cares about, and not much else gets the time of day.

“So imagine a world where everyone was a mutant,” Verone says instead.

“Sounds dangerous,” Brian comments neutrally.

“Really? Do you really think so? Mutants are rising. I can see it - I’m sure you can see the potential as well.”

“But the mutant gene doesn’t work like that. Either you have it or you don’t.”

Carter’s eyes glitter. “Are you really so sure about that?”

The world tilts. “Are you telling me different?”

Once again, Verone switches tracks in a way Brian can’t see, although it clearly makes sense to the man in front of him. “What do you know about the way the mutant gene is triggered?”

Clearly, this is important. Brian sets his weight back in his heels and thinks about it. About how it was triggered in him, or at least how he had realised it. “Fear?” he guesses.

“Adrenaline,” Verone corrects. “Lots of it. And in combination with the right chemical compound, a mutant gene which has lain present, hidden for years, can be found. Forced out of hiding.”

Brian took a sip of his drink to hide his expression. “What are you trying to say?”

“Use that mind of yours to take a guess,” Verone replied sharply, chin jutting forward contemptuously. He was a fire, a snake, a wolf in man’s clothing; there was nothing human in his gaze. This was a test, a trial.

“You’re trying to trigger a change in the people who are taking your drugs,” Brian concludes eventually. “You want them to be mutants - to unlock their mutant gene.”

“I want more than that - keep going, I’m sure you’re getting there.”

Brian thinks of the news articles he has read, the stories he has seen on the screens of televisions all across the country. He thinks of the panic, the fear, the fires and the burnings, the riots. He thinks of the deaths. The deals. The profits. He remembers being fourteen, listening to the radio of a stolen car announce deaths, naming names in a list that took five minutes to read out loud. The smell of ash in the air, alcohol.

“War is a business,” he says eventually. Quietly. “A business you are in. You want fear; it’s good for your profits. And maybe your own agenda. You want people to take your drugs and turn into fucking bombs. You want them to kill people, so that you can make a bit of cash.”

“Don’t act like that, Brian,” Verone purrs, stroking a hand down Brian’s face. Brian makes a concentrated effort to not move away, lets a little disdain show on his face. “You sound troubled by it. I seem to remember you making some questionable profits, once upon a time.”

“Not by turning people into bombs, Carter.”

Just as Verone starts looking a little like he might want to start a fight for real, the doorbell rings. “Saved by the bell,” Carter says, tone ironic. Brian wonders who Verone thinks was saved; Brian or himself.

At the door is Rome, Vince at his left shoulder. Rome is holding a small paper bag, face set stonily.

“Special delivery,” Rome snarks, tone bland. It’s a cigar cutter - Rome and Vince are in, provided they don’t get themselves killed by pissing Verone off. Now is when things have the potential to go wrong for real; Brian just hope they can hold it together long enough to lock Verone, with enough evidence that means that he won't be getting out for a long, long time. 

Chapter Text

Verone stares hard at Rome, though god knows what he is seeing. Making a show of raising an eyebrow, Verone jerks his head. “Maybe you should come in,” he says, slow and hard, ice cold like a glacier, not like a welcome. Like saying, come in if you want to lose a hand. Like a threat. Baiting, clearly, waiting for someone to mess up so he can cut their throats on his doorstep.

Rome doesn’t bite. He smart enough to know, hey, this is a predator. He grew up just as hard and just as fast as Brian, and grew up to be just as dangerous in his own way. Enough times in his life, Rome has learnt the hard way not to enter unless told to the right away.

Vince, less so. When Verone makes a wide, sweeping gesture which could easily be mistaken as an invitation, he goes to step forward. Rome snaps his hand out and presses his palm to Vinces chest, jerking him to a stop.

“May we come in?” Rome asks. Verone cocks an eyebrow at the tone, surprised by the insolence Rome somehow managed to sneak in under the respectful words. Brian hides a smile, watching as Rome’s left hand twitches. It’s a tell he’s had since he was a kid, too small to be noticed by anyone who didn’t focus on it.

“You may,” Verone replied, and in that moment he was a perfectly polite gentleman, inviting in a guest, a friend. It was moments like these that made Brian wonder at exactly how dangerous Verone was; his acting was impeccable, threateningly so and for more than one reason. One, if he was acting so fantastically, to the point where even though Brian knew he was acting, he looked real, how in the name of fuck was Brian meant to get a read on him? Two, actors know what to look for in actors. Ergo, if Verone knew what acting looked like, he knew what acting looked like on Brian. Maybe. Who would know?

Not good.

Brian steps forward, slips a casual arm into Verones elbow. It might look pathetic, but now Brian could delay Verone half a second if he moved to attack. It was the little things really. Half a second here, a minute delay there. Tiny victories that would, hopefully, make up a big win somewhere along the way.

Verone shot him a look like he knew what Brian was thinking but didn’t comment, lip curling. “In you come, then,” he allowed pleasantly.

Nothing pleasant about him, not really.

But he was a hell of a good liar. Brian knew a little bit of Verone’s story; just the stuff that people say on streets, on corners and behind newspapers when they thought no one was listening.

Supposedly, Verone had been born middle class, but his father had bankrupt the whole family and left them to the streets when Verone was twelve or so. Verone had grown up savage, cold and miserable and more brutal than most; he had grown up getting into fights with people over his size and winning, starting wars between street gangs with lies and misdirection, just for kicks and profit.  

He’d grown up torturing animals, people liked to say, and then he’d moved on to humans. There was something broken in him from the start, a fathers love gone twisted in him and soured by time.

Lots of people said that when he had been on the streets, he’d been known as Kindness, because he could twist a knife in you and still make you think he was doing it out of the goodness of his own heart. He had a face like a choir boy, eyes like the sky. People said that he was kind, sometimes; that he’d buy you a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and listen to your stories, and tell you that he had come from nothing, and that you could too.

He was still a man who made his money off of blood in the streets and white powder in the hands of poor people, off of woman’s tears and murder. At the end of the day, he’d made his money on the bowed back of violence. Kindness was not always good.

Brian didn’t know if any of it was true. He didn’t know much of anything about Verone, besides what he could see on the surface that other people could not. But it didn’t matter. Stories had to come from somewhere, and even if everything he had heard was bullshit, the stories still said a lot about the kind of person who people thought Verone was.

Verone led everyone out to the pool, Brian directly behind him, and Rome and Vince behind. It was interesting that now, when there were new threats around, Carter trusted Brian to walk behind him.

He sat down, rolls up the sleeves of his shirt and lights a cigar. Brian sprawls next to him, and Rome and Vince stand. Smart move.

“So I guess you two are winners, today.” Verone starts.

“Guess so,” Rome popped back, balancing on his heels like he's ready for flight. Vince stays silent, stoic and neutral.

“So you have an in - I expect you to use it. If you fail me, I will make you wish very, very strongly that you hadn’t,” Verone paused to puff on the cigar for a moment. “Brian has vouched for you. But remember that unlike him, you do not have a use outside of the job which you have been hired for.”

Rome muffles a laugh. And then, almost like he doesn’t mean to say it, he asks. “And what is it that he does?” Brian very carefully does not stiffen, but his jaw ticks. Rome goes totally still, looking like he wants to kick himself. Not good. Not good at all, to go asking awkward questions on the first day of the job, and it puts Brian in a tight spot too; now he has to exercise his worth, or face eviction. There’s not a doubt in his mind that this thing would fall apart without him there.

Luckily, Brian doesn’t have to do anything, because Verone does it for him. He reaches over and grabs the back of Brian’s head with one surprisingly large hand, tilting his head back and giving it a little shake. Brian lets it happen, face blank and eyes slitted lazily, like a cat. Verone clearly wants Rome to think they’re having sex - Brian can play along with that.

He’ll find out the why later.

“Brian sits here and looks pretty,” Verone sneers, squeezing once and letting go. “Now get the fuck out of my sight; I want you back here at ten tomorrow, and if I see your face again before then, I’m going to hurt it.

Rome snaps a sharp nod, and Vince jerks his chin in agreement; they spin around and leave, making tracks. They don’t linger, but Rome catches Brian’s eye on the way out and shakes his head in apology, which Brian ignores.

It’s dangerous to even blink wrong, like hell is Brian making eyes at Rome.

Carter watches them leave, looking all for the world like a snake that’s still thinking about striking out. But as they disappear from sight, Verone turns to him. He leans in close and his eyes are bright in the sun, endless and empty. When he speaks, his voice is like old leaves, the skin a snake leaves behind once it has shed and moved on, like a broken mirror and a dropped plate - it cuts. There is nothing soft about it. Nothing that can even slightly be mistaken for kindness.

Verone says, “Tell me about Dominic Toretto.”

Chapter Text

 

What the fuck? What the actual flying fuck?

The moment hung for a second, like a scale almost perfectly in balance giving way. Like watching a building fall, unhesitating and massive, but looking away before it could hit the ground.

“What about him?” Brian replied, cool as he could be, but not trying to hide his surprise.

“Everything you know, starting with your relationship to him,” Verone answered, sliding on a pair of sunglasses. “I’ve heard whispers about you and him, about the kind of team you make. Let’s say I’m curious.”

“Whispers?”

“When you said you were coming in to me, I couldn’t find anyone to tell me anything about you except you had been living with the Toretto family essentially between the time you left me and the time you came back, give or take a few months. I couldn’t hear about one of you without hearing about the other.”

“Huh,” Brian managed, pulse beating a rapid rhythm in his throat. “Well that’s, uh.” He coughed quietly and cursed himself for freezing up like this. He felt young and stupid, frightened by a question he didn’t know how to answer.

To compose himself, he stood and made himself another drink, a weak one under the guise of being strong. “He took me in and took care of me,” he allows cautiously. “But him and his family were in some shady shit that he thought I couldn’t handle, and by the time he wanted to tell me I didn’t want to know.”

“And then what?” Verone asks, coming to stand behind him, breath a whisper against Brians neck. Brian recoiled in surprise, but Verone clamped a hand onto his shoulder and squeezed, hard. Making an effort to seem unaffected, Brian went slack against the pressure and sighs.

“And then I got into his mess anyway,” Brian says, voice steady like talking about it doesn’t feel like pressing on a bruise. Like something raw and unhealed, and though he doesn’t show it, Brian is angry that he has to speak about it like this; he wants to whisper to Dom under the sheets of their bed and feel Dom curl a hand around his skull and hold, like there’s something fragile to protect within it. Within Brian.

“I got into his mess, and then when he got me out of it I had to split. We’re on okay terms, but I can’t look at him without feeling out of control, you know?” Maybe that was too much the truth - Brian trusted Dom with something in his chest. His instincts had got him burnt before, but he’d never trusted like this, like spinning out of control at a hundred miles an hour and knowing you were gonna land wheels up anyway.  

“I know all about how you hate being out of control,” Verone sneers, but he steps off and goes back to his seat. Brian composes himself for a little while longer and then follows, glass slick with condensation between his loose fingers.

“Why do you want to know?”

Dangerous question to ask, really. Verone could - and has - flown off the handle when he thinks his authority is being questioned.

Brian had heard a story once, about him. It had come from shadows and bars, in bits and pieces until he could put it together and make a story. Once upon a time, Verone had been having some trouble with infighting. People below him, squabbling over the scraps he was throwing them. Bad people, a lot dirtier than average. Not physically, but the kind of work they did left marks on their souls that could never be washed away and could always be seen, shining through their faces.

People would lean in over their drinks and whisper, You can always tell, when someone is bad in that way, and Brian had to tilt his head back and look through lowered lashes because, no you can’t - I’m sitting right here and you have no idea that I’m bad at all.

Verone has eyes like a choir boy, a face like something beautiful only ever seen in a mirror with a crack through the middle. You can’t alway tell.

Or these were Verone’s clients, all wanting better deals than each other, bartering for more, leveraging. And he got pissed off. Or they were cops who had been on his payroll, trying to get off it. And he didn’t like that at all.

There were lots of stories. But one thing everyone who told the story was very clear on was that there was conflict; and Verone got sick of it. He told his people, be they clients or policemen or just straight up bad men, that he had an opportunity for them. He told them, come with me. He was compelling like that.

They went. They didn’t come back; Verone stood over them and made them dig their own graves, six feet deep. One at a time and then he put those people in them. It wasn’t clear how. After the first grave, the first body, nobody wanted to be the next to dig. Nobody mentioned how Verone made them dig, or why they did it, only that they all did. Except for the one who lived to pass the story on.

Or maybe Verone put the story out, just because he was sick of his authority being questioned.

Stories were stories, but Brian had kind of wished he didn’t hear that one; it took a special kind of man to watch people dig their own grave and then put them in it. It took something else entirely to look a man like that in the eye and make a decent act at not being afraid.

Regardless, Brian half wished he hadn’t asked why Verone gave a fuck about Dom, only now Verone was looking at him like he maybe knew what Brian was thinking, and that he was a little pleased with it.

“I want to know about Toretto because I want to know if he’s going to be a problem.” Verone takes a drink and stares across into the distance. “He killed for you. Wouldn’t do for a rumor to get out about us and for him to get ideas about doing it again.”

“He won’t,” Brian argues weakly, even as he wonders. If Dom thinks that Verone is hurting Brian in a way Brian isn’t letting happen, he’ll come. Of course he’d come. There was nothing in his nature but that bullheaded rightness, doing what he thought was right.

He could get them all killed. Try to change topics.

“Why am I here, Carter?”

Fuck. That was not what he’d wanted to say. Brian narrowed his eyes at the drink in his hand. “Did you drug me?” he asked incredulously. “Really, Carter?”

Verone leaned over and took the glass from Brian’s weakening grip. “I did,” he confirms easily, eyes rolling. “Apologies. I thought you might talk more openly.”

“Very sincere, thank you,” Brian snapped. “What did you want to know that you think I wouldn’t tell you?”

Verone breathed quietly and Brian slumped back into his chair, irritated. He focused very hard on the inside of himself, clenching a fist around his mutation and thinking out, and his head cleared. Interesting.

Drugs, for fucks sake. What were enemies for, if your “friends” drugged you? His heart thundered in his chest, but he set the glass aside calmly and leveled a stare in Verones direction. “Go on then,” he prompted, since Verone clearly had something he wanted to know.

“You and your Dominic. You were together?”

His Dominic? Brian’s mind caught on the phrasing, turning it over. He kept silent. Brian had learned the long hard way that sometimes, when you wanted to know something, it was better to just stay quiet; let the silence do it’s talking. Verone wanted to know something, and he would make a mistake and say what he was really thinking if he tried to fill the silence hard enough.

Sure enough. “Do you think you could kill him, if you had to?”

Brian went still under Verone’s stare. What the fuck was that supposed to mean? “Explain,” Brian demanded, gesturing with an errant hand. It was moment like these that he did not feel the danger he was in - when he could feel the energy between them almost like banter, when he could feel Verone enjoying the way Brian snapped at him and pressed back. So few people ever did.

That’s part of what Verone liked about Brian, Brian figured. Verone knew that Brian was a challenge, and a fighter, and that he wasn’t openly afraid. That’s why it was so important that Brian never let himself freeze, or go quiet.

“Your friends.” Verone mused slowly. “I had planned on having them killed after they had completed their tasks for me, and then I had considered having Dom come work for me too, but I don’t actually think you could kill them, could you?”

Brian slammed his head dramatically onto the back of his lounger. “Are you kidding me with this right now?” Brian asked, trying to cover his surprise. He was doing a lot of that, these days.

“Part of the reason you like me is that I’m not loyal enough to you to do everything you say,” Brian muses. “But I think I would kill for you, should you present a real enough reason.” Lie. Brian would sooner cut off his own hand, but Verone doesn’t need to know that.

Verone raises an eyebrow, lazy and sceptical. In his pocket, Brian’s phone rings.

It’s Dom. Of course it’s Dom, because how else could Brians day get any more fucked up?

Neither of them move, until Brian flips open the phone and presses answer. “You’re on speaker,” Brian says as a greeting, short.

“I need to speak to you,” Dom says, voice calm and low, and Brian can picture him; eyes lidded lazily like he was pretending he didn’t see the threat hanging in front of him. Or like he did, but he knew it couldn’t lay a hand on him. “In person. It’s important.” That was basically code for, what? Shit’s hit the fan, I need to update you?

Brian spared a glance at Verone, but he had slipped on a pair of sunglasses and his face was hard to read. “It’s important,” Brian relayed, even though Verone could no doubt hear the call anyway.

“Is it?” Verone murmured. His voice had gone slow and syrupy, not sweet but thick with threat, like a snake curling up to spit venom. “Then I suppose he will have to come and see you.”

Fuck, Brian thought, heart racing. There was no way this was going to go easily, no way at all.

“Do you know the address?” Brian asked, and then gave it anyway. They set a plan for tomorrow morning, and Brian hung up feeling like the world was ending.

Chapter Text

Verone glanced over his glass, glaze assessing. “And what do you think is so important that he would call you like that?”

Brian rolls his eyes, slouching back into his chair. “He probably wants to get his dick wet,” he replies, knowing it’ll piss Verone off, hopefully enough to make him go away. God, Brian has some serious thinking to do. No way is he going to get anything done with Verone hanging around him like a bad smell.

Sure enough. Verone stands, limbs lazy and relaxed. On his way into the house he pauses, tilts Brian’s head back, fingers tight against the hinge of his jaw. “Then you must be a gracious and giving host, yes?” Verones fingers tighten, and his eyes go hard as steel. “ Yes? It is in my - and therefore your - best interest to keep him happy. I may still try to bring him in yet. Understand?

“I told you I wouldn’t be your whore, Carter. That still stands. If I fuck him that’s my business.”

“Not in this house it isn’t. In this house your body belongs to me.”

Wary as ever of his wildly beating heart, Brian forces his gaze away, schooling his face into something almost like insolence. Like he was saying with every inch of his body; fine. I’ll do it, but I’m not happy about it. Which is the head space where he wanted Verone to think he was living in, like he was cracking and giving way.

He wasn’t. Or at least he didn’t think he was. When Verone had slunk back into the house, Brian stayed for a long time staring into the middle distance, listening to the faraway sound of cars.

It was a long night, and he didn’t sleep well. He dreamt about the car accident, glass flying, his mothers face. By six he had given up on sleeping, and every second slowed down to a crawl. 

The waiting game.

 

By the time the doorbell rang he felt like he was walking on eggshells. He hadn’t seen Verone all morning, but whether that meant he wasn’t around or whether that mean that he was just slinking in the shadows was anyone’s guess.

Turns out he was home, anyway, because when Brian stepped out of the room he was staying in, Verone appeared at the end of the entranceway.

Brian beat him to the door, but only by a fraction; when he wrenches open the door, Verone steps close and rests his chin on Brian’s shoulder, setting the hair on the back of his neck on end.

“Hi, Dom,” Brian said, voice steady. He hoped his face was saying keep your fucking mouth closed without being obvious to Verone.

“Yes,” Verone purred in his ear. “Hi, Dom. Come in.”

Dom stood frozen for a half second, eyes flicking between all of the points of contact between Brian’s body and Verones. Something in his face tightened, like he didn’t like what he saw, but he stepped inside without comment. Smart of him. 

Linking a finger into the belt loop of Dom’s pants, Brian pulled him a little closer and steered them in the direction of the room that he was staying in, hoping to to get away without Verone sticking his two cents in.  

He’s never so lucky. “Be good, Brian,” Verone calls meaningfully after them, and Dom bristles like an angry cat. Great.

Brian gets to his room after what feels like an age, and Dom opens his mouth as soon as they get the door closed.

“Brian-” he gets as far as saying before Brian shoves him back onto the closed door and presses their mouths together. That’s one way to get Dom to shut up, clearly. When he’s sure that Dom won’t talk, Brian moves back a fraction and then presses a kiss behind Doms ear, listening to the hitch in Doms breathing.

“This room is probably bugged to all hell,” he breathes. “Cameras too, maybe. Don’t speak freely, unless we’re like this. Nod if you understand.”

Dom let out a long slow breath but he adapted fast and then his head jerked in a nod, and he nudged his nose into the crease of Brian’s jaw, pressing a kiss onto the skin of his throat. “Things are moving along faster than we thought. Cops got a bug in on the other end, they’re making arrests tomorrow in the afternoon. That’s why I’m here, to let you know.”

Though he tried not to, Brian went stiff. “They can’t do that,” he rebuked. “Verone’s crazy, but he’s smart. No way are they pinning shit on him unless I’m the one to do it.”

Realising they were still pressed against the door, Brian drew Dom towards the bed, sprawling backwards and dragging Dom on top of him. “Like this,” he says, and arcs up when Dom’s weight presses them together.

“You’re gonna have to fuck me,” Brian says.

“What a hardship,” Dom murmured against his mouth. “But I’m not doing it unless you want to, too. We can always act like we’ve had a fight.”

“Nah,” Brian whispers back. And then louder; “I’ve missed you. Come on,” he pulled them together more tightly. Once Dom had his mouth set hard against the curve of Brian’s shoulder it was safe to talk again, and he whispered. “You know that crazy shit Tran was selling, or was gonna start selling or whatever? Turns out what he had you stealing from was from Verones trucks. What he had was definitely not cocaine. Not the normal stuff anyway.”

Dom stuck a hand up between them and started in on Brian’s buttons. “Well what was it then?” he asked. Finally all of the buttons were done, so Brian sat up a little to shrug it off, and then tugged at Doms shirt until it came off, too. That was a sight he had missed, that was for sure.

“Some shit Verone cooked up in a lab,” Brian murmured, leaning in to press a kiss onto Dom's collar bone. “Best I figure, it piles a shit tonne of energy onto latent mutant genes and then stresses out the body enough that the gene activates. And then there’s a bunch of coke heads off their faces running around with shiny new powers, and never having learned how to control 'em as kids. I’m sure you can take it from there what happens next.”

“Yeah,” Dom agrees. “I can figure.”

“So what I’m saying is, nothing can happen until I know who knows about this drug. Because it’s already being made. Presumably by like minded people, and I want them all arrested as well.” Brian’s breath stutters as Dom bites down on his neck, and the heat that had been building between them this whole time suddenly exploded into what felt like a furnace.

“Let’s not talk about this right now,” Brian says, squirming up the bed  a little. “Get your pants off; we can pillow talk later.”

“You sure?” Dom asked, and Brian said “if you don’t get your hands in my pants in the next thirty seconds, I’ll take care of it myself.”

He didn’t have to take care of it himself.

Dom huffed a laugh into his throat and then they maneuvered around so that they both had their pants off, and Dom got a hand around them both.  

Brian opened his mouth to say something smart, but Dom saw the look on his face and shut him up by tightening his grip and rolling his weight down together, and then they were moving; really moving, like cruising at a hundred on the open road, smooth as anything and top down, breathless.

After they lay down close, mouths barely moving. Brian says, “god I missed that,” and Dom smiles down at him.

“Not just that, I hope,” he asked, a question turning up the edges of statement.

“Not just that,” Brian confirms. But there was more going on than the shit they were figuring out between them; they still had to figure out Verone. Brian had always been a planner, and this was no exception. It was just about execution.

And faith. And gods honest good luck, if there was such a thing.