Brian’s shoes slapped the pavement with a hollow sound. The Malecón, the boardwalk that ran along the bay the length of downtown, was well-maintained, freshly paved with decorative stone pavers. Brian’s new shoes almost squeaked on the smooth surface. The sound wasn’t quite satisfying, not like the broken asphalt he’d learned to run on as a teenager, or even the dirt track through the desert he’d run on when he was a junior officer in the LAPD. It made him feel like a stranger.
He wasn’t the only one out in the early dawn light exercising. The citizens of La Paz weren’t all wealthy but plenty of them were comfortable enough to spend money on track suits and yoga pants and running shoes, and trot out in the early breeze hot to work up a sweat. Young women and men more interested in looking pretty than good cardiovascular health, old women shuffling along in groups, their sharp eyes looking for gossip to the detriment of their running form. And of course there were a fair number of American retirees, gray haired and pale. One teenage girl had whizzed past him on rollerblades, headed south in a smooth, almost sarcastic glide, and now he saw her again in the distance. It was all very California, except in all the ways it wasn’t.
Brian hauled in a breath, rolled his shoulders back, checked his form. Tried to focus on the music in his headphones, the feel of his footsteps. His form was good. His balance was perfect. There was no reason for him to be feeling like—
His shoes slapped the pavement faster.
Vince was back in town, had come over on the ferry last night. He had a lead on a small, four-person job that could be done in just a few days if Leon flew in. Something about a corrupt petro-baron’s incompetent son and the washed-up ex-boy-band he’d fallen in with, complete with ex-groupies who were now messy boutique drug dealers. Vince’d come in late, 1 AM, and told them all about it from the front seat of the Civic when Dom picked him up at the ferry terminal. He’d promised to lay out the details later, and then Dom dropped him off at Leon’s currently unoccupied house next door. Brian hadn’t thought about it at all, hadn’t done anything but nod along where Vince could see him in the rear view mirror. Stupid.
Four days ago Dom had been talking about—about going to Campeche. Now…
Now Brian wound his way between a spry white-haired woman walking a bulldog and a fisherman backing his truck down the boat launch, so furious he thought he might have to stop to puke.
On one side of the Malecón, early traffic meandered down the street. On the other, pale sand flowed right up to the concrete base of the boardwalk. The water was high at the moment, covering all but a thin strip of sand and a few rocks here and there. The boat launch was built up a little, to support trucks towing boats down to the water, and the rocks along each side were covered in sea birds: pelicans and gulls and a bunch he didn’t know the names of with giant scooping beaks, making a racket like they were mocking him in a language he didn’t understand.
This morning he’d woken right before dawn to the sound of voices down the hall and shuffled through the shadowy hallway into the kitchen. Dom stood fiddling with the coffee maker, his face still marked with a crease from a fold in the pillowcase, no shirt, thin gray sweats low on his hips. Brian saw Vince at the table, propping his chin up with one elbow over a cup of coffee, but didn’t think before sidling up to Dom and kissing his temple. Dom smelled like sleep, like sweat and heat and the sheets they’d slept on together. His skin was soft under Brian’s mouth. He was never going to get over the thrill of feeling that.
“What the fuck.” Vince’s voice was hard, flat.
Dom swung to look at him, slowly.
“Didn’t you get the memo, O’Conner? The Vegas job’s over. It’s been like a week, man, what are you doing?”
Brian frowned, pulled back, his half-awake brain faltering as he tried to switch gears. The stiff set of Dom’s back as Dom stepped away from him clued him in: Dom hadn’t told Vince. He’d told his parts guy that Brian was his boyfriend, but his best friend hadn’t gotten the news yet.
“Drink your fuckin’ coffee,” Dom growled.
“What the fuck?” Vince spluttered. “You want me to just pretend that that’s normal?”
“I said drink your coffee.” Dom slid the pot into the coffee maker with a sharp click and crossed his arms tight across his chest.
Brian’s feet hit the pavers in the rhythm of the music in his ears. Yesterday he’d been listening to Rihanna and Tomasa del Real in the garage with Dom, stripping down the wreck of a 2001 Honda S 2000 Dom’d picked up from a friend of a friend. The car was going to be pretty sweet, once they fixed it up, for all that it was an AP1, not a CR. Brian wasn’t sure if he’d want to keep it—it was pretty low to the ground, which wasn’t great for pulling jobs on Mexico’s washed out and potholed highways. Really you needed something with at least a few inches of clearance, like a Subaru WRX STI with some body mods. But then, it sucked to be practical all the time.
Maybe it didn’t matter. The anger flared up in his gut, twisting his lungs and making his breath hurt. Maybe Dom wasn’t going to want him on the team. Dom and Vince went so far back. They’d known each other since third fucking grade. Who was Brian, next to that?
Fuck Dom, anyway, for making Brian think he could have—
He’d loaded a bunch of music onto his brand new phone at the recommendation of the kid running the counter at the electronics shop, out of some stupid idea that he could—that he’d learn Spanish faster if he was listening to rap in Spanish. Stupid. He didn’t speak Spanish. He didn’t know if he belonged here, if Dom—if Dom actually wanted him here.
Brian pulled out his phone, almost fumbling it with his bandaged-up hands, and stabbed at it until he got online and found something more familiar: old school trance, Above & Beyond. I’m sorry baby, you were the sun and moon to me/ I’ll never get over you/ you’ll never get over me. A low thrumming beat, as fast as his heart after three miles. Used to be a staple of his workouts back when he had a badge.
Well, three miles? All the street signs here were in kilometers, and he kept fucking up when he tried to convert to miles in his head. He’d run something like four, maybe five kilometers, and he was running out of public boardwalk, running out of city.
Vince took a drink of his coffee, but wasn’t letting it drop. He shook his head, disbelievingly. “Man, I know you’re cool with the gay thing and all, but you gotta watch yourself or people are gonna think…”
Dom set his jaw and looked away, and Brian felt like he was watching a car crash from the sidelines, the smash-up too fast to do anything about it.
Vince jerked his head back in disbelief. “You’re fucking him? Seriously, bro?”
“You’re going to want to shut your mouth.” Dom’s arms swung free and he took a step toward the table.
Vince pushed his chair back and lurched to his feet, coffee slopping over the edge of his cup as he let it clatter to the tabletop. The wide kitchen felt too small.
“You’re not a faggot, Dom,” Vince protested.
“You don’t get to tell me what I am,” Dom ground out.
“That doesn’t make any fucking sense, like you’re gonna suck his dick?” Vince gestured messily toward Brian and Dom stepped forward and punched him right in the gut.
“Fuck!” Vince doubled over, breath knocked out of him. His thigh knocked into the table, overturning his coffee cup. Coffee spilled out and poured onto his feet and the floor and he swore again.
Dom rocked back on his heels like he’d surprised himself. Brian reach out and rested the fingertips of his splinted left hand on Dom’s shoulder blade, his heart pounding wildly. He rocked on the balls of his own feet, ready to fight no matter how useless his hands were right now.
Vince straightened, his face twisted up.
He started to say something and Dom cut him off. “Don’t fucking talk to me right now.”
A military truck coming down the street stopped at the light a little ahead. Dull green with MARINA stenciled on the side: Naval police, same as Brian’d seen at the ferry terminal. Mexico had more military deployed inside its own borders than he was used to. On the highway south, he and Dom had stopped at multiple military police checkpoints where soldiers were searching northbound cars for drugs. But even when they’d poked around at the Civic, and raised their eyebrows at Brian’s bruised face, they hadn’t asked for his ID. He wasn’t sure yet if he thought it was an improvement over American surveillance.
On the street, the truck started moving again. Brian looked past it, not making eye contact with the driver. He was so fucking angry he couldn’t even worry about the police right now. Vince was such a fucking dickhole.
And anyway, if the cops got him while he was out on a run, at least he wouldn’t be around to fuck up Dom’s life anymore. Brian snorted, not quite amused. Entertained like pushing on a bruise. He turned his music up again; newer shit, whatever Tiësto he could find on Youtube without stopping to really look. He could barely hear his feet striking the pavers but he could feel the hollow ring vibrate in the soles of his feet with every step.
Brian didn’t watch Vince stomp out of the house. He felt sick with guilt, literally. The smell of more coffee percolating made him feel like he might puke.
His hand was still on Dom’s back. “Hey,” he said, sliding his still-bandaged fingertips over the ball of Dom’s shoulder. He wanted—to make it up to Dom. To make it worth it. He could, he could fix this. He could act straighter around Dom’s friends. Vince had caught him off guard, he’d just woken up and wasn’t expecting it to be a problem in his own—in Dom’s own kitchen.
“Hey,” he said again, and stepped up close to Dom, let himself feel the heat of Dom’s body against his.
Dom shook his head silently and shrugged off Brian’s hand. Leaned both hands onto the edge of the counter and dropped his head.
He could keep his hands to himself, then. “Are you okay?”
Dom twitched his head like a fly had landed on him. “Knock it off, Bri.”
“Leave it.” Dom pushed off the counter, grabbed his cup of coffee off the counter without looking at Brian, and walked out of the kitchen, toward the garage.
Brian felt like he was in free fall. Numbly, he retreated back to the bedroom to grab the new running shoes he’d finally gotten, just yesterday. Dom had agreed that, yeah, Brian needed clothes and shit if Rome was going to be a while up in Nevada, but the first couple of times they’d tried to leave the house, one thing or another tripped them up. Tripped them into bed. Brian had done it on purpose, even, just because he could and it was funny, gratifying, to see Dom’s face when he walked out of the bathroom dripping wet, drying his hair one-handed, totally naked. Dom had narrowed his eyes and called him a little shit and then Brian had backed him up onto the bed and pinned him and spent half an hour sucking his cock.
But yesterday Brian had insisted on going out by himself, to The Shoppes, which was what the mall was called here, and he'd picked up random shit. T-shirts, swimming trunks, running shoes. Which was handy, now.
Two days ago Dom had called Mia and put her on speaker phone, then lounged on the couch talking to her while Brian sat on the floor between Dom’s spread knees and poked at car videos on Youtube with his single undamaged finger. Mia, Rome and Kumiko were getting on each other’s nerves, apparently, stuck in a hotel suite while the shady surgeon who had fixed up Kumiko’s leg came by once a day and checked up on her. Kumiko was pretty out of it, still. Mia had hesitated when she talked about it, talked around it, but eventually spit it out: the blood flow to Kumiko’s leg below the gunshot wound wasn’t as great as the surgeon hoped, and it was starting to look like she might lose the leg.
Brian had been pissed, half because he was still pissed at Kumiko but not pissed enough to wish that on her, which weirdly made him even angrier with her—he was mad that he felt guilty for being mad. And half because he wanted Rome to follow him down to Baja and he was impatient. Rome wasn’t about to leave Kumiko by herself, though, not when she was still on serious opiates for the pain and couldn’t fend for herself, no matter how angry he was with her too. Mia was heading back to LA in a day or two, but until then she and Rome had nothing to do but sit around and worry and bicker.
It sounded—nice. Maybe not for Mia, or for Rome actually, and definitely not for Kumiko. But—they were family. Sometimes you bickered with your family. It just meant you belonged to them. Or at least that’s how Brian had always calibrated it: there were people you were just straight up an asshole to, if you wanted to be, because they didn’t matter, and then there was family, who knew you didn’t mean it when you were an idiot and a jerk.
Maybe he was fucked up, maybe that was why—
He’d really thought, stupidly, that getting his hands on Dom, getting his fucking dick in him, kind of…solved everything. But of course it didn’t. Of course he was just causing problems for Dom, getting in between Dom and his best fucking friend. The guilt burned like acid reflux in his throat.
Not that Dom was totally innocent here, either. The thought he’d been avoiding tore through Brian viciously and his feet sped up. Dom could have fucking told Vince, or at the very least told Brian that he hadn’t. It wasn’t on Brian to read Dom’s fucking mind.
His hands throbbed in time with his heart, rushing blood sparking the nerves around his broken wrist and the scraped up knuckles on his other hand. The jolting of his feet wasn’t helping either, especially not with his wrist. Fuck, he hated broken bones, they took fucking forever to heal. Having basically no hands was the helplessness cherry on top of the total pile of shit this morning had turned into.
He didn’t have any right to demand that Dom do anything in particular. Dom didn’t have to tell Vince, or anyone, if he didn’t want to; Brian almost wished he hadn’t, in a way. It would be simpler, pretending he was sleeping in a guest room.
Simpler and safer, and the dark thread of guilt running through his red hot rage was that Vince was right, more or less. It was a bad idea for Dom to put out in the open that he was fucking a man, and he didn’t have to. It was too late now, of course, the rumor was out and their next race—shit, the next job—was going to be interesting.
Hurt and guilt and anger churned in his stomach, going nowhere fast, and Brian slowed as he reached the end of the Malecón and turned for the run back. For a second he walked a shaky circle, trying to decide if he was going to puke over the edge of the boardwalk onto the rocky beach.
Fucking Dom. Told every fucking person in La Paz that he was fucking the American and then didn’t tell Vince. What the fuck was he thinking? He must know he couldn’t walk it back now if he wanted to. Or maybe he thought he could.
Fuck, maybe he could: he was Dominic fucking Toretto and maybe that meant that if he told his parts guy he’d changed his mind, that he was straight again, Javier would just shrug and say, “Okay, whatever you say.” So maybe he’d thought he would test it out on people who didn’t matter and just not tell Vince at all, just in case he wanted to cut Brian loose.
No—Brian knew that wasn’t it.
Mostly. Fuck. Did he?
The sun was an inch above the horizon, streaming through the last of the low early morning clouds onto the tops of the palm trees. A wind was blowing in, steady enough to ruffle the waterbirds’ feathers and the tips of the small waves, and the pavers under his feet were gritty with brine blown in overnight. The whole city was gorgeous, adding another layer of guilt onto all the bullshit twisting him up: it was wrong to feel like this in paradise.
His feet ate up the kilometers as he tried to work his way around the whole mess of anger. Every few minutes, he came around to thinking he could let it go. Whatever was in Dom’s head, he didn’t need an explanation, even if he fucking wanted one. What he really wanted, actually, was an apology, but he didn’t have any grounds to ask for one. Dom must’ve had his reasons for not telling Vince. He didn’t owe Brian anything.
Except a heads up would have been nice. Goddamnit. He kept turning it over and over in his head: he was so angry, and embarrassed, and angry that he was embarrassed. Guilty, and angry that he felt guilty. And afraid.
But he had to get over it. It was like the fucking dust, he told himself, turning off the Malecón and onto the street that led to the house. The landscape surrounding La Paz was a defoliated desert with too many people in it, and every day red-brown dust blew in from the red-brown hills. Everyone had to wash their cars every fucking day to keep them looking clean. He could put up with the dust. It wasn’t a deal-breaker.
And neither was Vince. In fact, if Dom wanted, Brian could do better. Act straighter. Everybody knew, or would hear about it at some point, how Dom had gone to the US and come back with a boyfriend, and he should be fucking grateful Dom had made that much happen. He didn’t need to kiss Dom when other people were around. Like the dust, it was a small price to pay.
Or at least that’s what he kept telling himself. But every time he thought it might stick, the anger burned it away again like a rising sun.
By the time he got back to the house the sun was well up and it was hot, too hot to be running. Sweat poured down his temples, tickled on his neck, and after he let himself in the gate and ducked under the trailing vines that topped the wall he stripped his t-shirt off and wiped messily at the sweat.
His body was alight from running, all his nerves singing, his heart pumping strongly. The pain in his hands was almost completely faded under the endorphins, and he thought he could do this. He’d take a shower and then go find Dom, make it clear that he was fine with whatever, that he wasn’t going to be a problem. It sucked, but Brian wasn’t about to throw up his hands in defeat. He’d do what he had to.
He was expecting Dom to be out in the garage, hiding under a car with just his feet sticking out, so he was surprised when he stepped into the kitchen for a glass of water and found Dom sitting there at the table, staring at the floor.
Dom looked up at the sound of Brian’s feet and for a long second Brian forgot everything as Dom looked him up and down, his eyes lingering on Brian’s bare chest. Brian’s pulse jumped under Dom’s gaze, heart twisting with stupid hopefulness that felt sharp and painful against the anger. That wasn’t the look of a man who was backing down.
“Hey.” Brian knew he sounded breathless, but he’d just run almost half a dozen miles—nine kilometers—so he wasn’t betraying anything. “I, uh. Sorry about earlier.”
Dom frowned. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Brian drifted forward, unthinking. His eyes on Dom’s face. “I should have thought about what Vince would think.”
Dom stood and crowded into Brian’s space, hands settling on Brian’s bare waist. The calluses on his fingers scratched lightly on Brian’s skin, teasing. Brian wanted more. Wanted Dom’s fingernails digging into his back, leaving bright red marks all over him. His heart was pounding so hard he felt like it might come out of his mouth.
Dom walked them back until Brian bumped into the counter, pinned Brian with his hips. “Vince can go fuck himself.”
Brian barked out a laugh, ending on a sharp inhale when Dom’s mouth came down on his neck. Dom licked up the tendon to his ear, getting a mouth full of sweat. “I’m gross.”
Dom’s hands tightened on Brian’s sides, each finger digging in, and Brian let himself close his eyes, let himself feel the power in Dom’s body pressed tight up against his, the hardness of Dom’s muscles and the soft wet heat of his tongue, his lips on Brian’s ear lobe. His breath against the skin of Brian’s neck as he huffed a silent snort out his nose in objection. “You’re gorgeous.”
A noise left Brian’s throat, too soft. Too honest. He’d sworn to be honest, sworn up and down to himself that he would be. But he didn’t know. It was true that he could stop touching Dom in front of people, and he’d be okay. It was true that he didn’t want to. True that he hoped there might at least be a few people he could let down his guard around. Wasn’t sure which would be more honest to express. Couldn’t figure out how to say any of it. Dom was getting hard against him and of course his own body was already racing, his blood high. Brian rolled his hips up, rubbing up against Dom. Feeling desperate, like he needed to get inside Dom’s skin.
Dom slide one hand up Brian’s back and then down, cupping his ass, pulling him against himself. The other hand settled against the back of Brian’s head, fingers working into Brian’s sweaty hair, angling his head for a kiss.
Brian sought a grip with his own hands, the left bulky with a cast and half his right hand still covered in bandages while the skin healed. His left fingertips could grip well enough to pick at Dom’s shirt, lift it from the back until Dom got with the program and peeled it off over his shoulders. Brian let himself watch the flex of Dom’s muscles, the power moving right under his skin. He rolled his hips up, right hand grabbing at Dom’s ass, strung so tight he was nearly vibrating. Not with nerves, just energy, shivering through him everywhere Dom touched.
So much skin. He was rubbing his sweat all over Dom but Dom didn’t seem to care at all.
Dom cut him off with a kiss, slow but strong. Brian felt like he was falling, the rush of speed all around him. Dom’s hand drifted up from Brian’s ass to the small of his back; Brian almost made an undignified sound at the loss, and then did make a sound deep in his throat when Dom’s hand continued moving around his waist to the front and shoved down the elastic waistband of Brian’s running shorts to get his hand on Brian’s dick.
Brian scrabbled at Dom’s jeans with his clumsy broken hand, ignoring the stab of pain from moving his fingers, but the cast got in the way of undoing the buttons. “Come on—”
Dom laughed at him, low and growly, which did nothing to make Brian feel less desperate, and quickly unbuttoned his own jeans. Dom shoved his boxers down just enough to pull out his cock and balls, gave himself a stroke and then pushed his hips forward to thrust through the sweat on the cut of Brian’s hip.
Brian bit Dom’s jaw, deliriously happy. The high from running was quickly morphing into something more complex, all his nerves reaching out for Dom’s touch. The roughness of stubble under his lips, the shift of Dom’s shoulders as his hands moved on Brian’s skin. The shock of pure pleasure as Brian looked down to see Dom catching both their dicks and jacking them together, awkwardly at first and then getting the hang of the angles.
The groan Dom let out when the head of Brian’s cock caught on his, the way his hand in Brian’s hair stopped moving, like he couldn’t focus on anything but the feeling of them pressed together.
Brian wished his hands weren’t so fucked up. It was hell to not be able to do anything but lock his forearm over Dom’s shoulder, to pant in Dom’s ear and whisper how good it was and know that Dom was doing exactly what he wanted with Brian. No more, no less.
It was agony, the way Dom didn’t stop. His other hand slowly drifted from Brian’s hair down his back to his ass. He groped, thoroughly, and the only thing stopping Brian from making Dom pause so they could get lube and Dom could fuck him over the kitchen table was how fucking good he felt. Every steady movement of Dom’s hand threw incandescence along Brian’s spine, his nerves and skin everywhere lighting up.
The brightness washed over him in waves, rising, and Dom murmured something Brian didn’t catch over the white noise in his ears as he came, hard, all over Dom’s hand and Dom’s cock and up his bare belly.
Dom kissed him through it, stilling his hand when Brian made an uncomfortable noise. Then he kissed him and kissed him, like it was everything, and only when Brian broke away to breathe did he unwrap his wet fingers and let Brian’s dick slide free.
A look on his face like he was in pain, Dom smoothed Brian’s come along his own cock and started stroking again. He leaned his forehead against Brian’s cheekbone and Brian held on, as best he could, heart pounding. Looking down at Dom’s hand working, Brian said, “You look good like that. So fucking good.”
Dom’s laugh was more a catch of air in his throat. “What, covered in your come?”
He said it like he was trying for a joke but Brian couldn’t help the twist of lust that curled in his belly at the deep burr in Dom’s voice and the filthiness of the words, and he knew it showed in the way he inhaled, dug his fingertips harder into the meat of Dom’s shoulder. “Yeah.” Maybe there was something to this honesty thing. “You look perfect covered in my come.”
Dom inhaled roughly, a sound in his nose almost like pain, and dropped his open mouth down to Brian’s collarbone. His tongue pressed against the bone and then he sucked at the skin, his hand speeding up and his jaw tightening into an actual bite as he came in spurts all over Brian’s stomach.
Brian did his best to cradle Dom’s head with his right hand. Gentle patting was the best he could do without sending shocks of pain through the healing skin on top of his last three fingers, but at least Dom didn’t have any hair to catch in the bandages. And it was enough to get Dom to turn his face into Brian’s neck and breathe in great humid gusts for long enough that the sweat on Brian’s back began to dry and itch.
Dom smeared his sticky fingers across Brian’s abs, head bowed, watching his own hands. Brian didn’t mind; he needed a shower anyway. Quiet, so low it was almost hard to hear, Dom said, “I’m sorry, querido.”
“What?” Brian wasn’t following.
“For not telling Vince. Before.” Dom hesitated. “Couldn’t figure out how to say it.”
Brian breathed in, let his mouth rest against the curve of Dom’s skull while he thought. “It’s okay,” he said. Was it? He was—worried, still. Still couldn’t quite believe that Dom would pick him. His stomach twisted when he thought it plainly like that.
The fear made him feel sick. Even more than the fear, though, the guilt made him feel crumpled and small. Dom shouldn’t have to pick between Brian and his family. Family was important. Brian didn’t want to ruin that.
“I texted Letty,” Dom said, and stopped like he was finished.
“I thought she didn’t have cell service on her honeymoon,” Brian said, fishing a little.
“Yeah, but she’ll get it when she gets back.” Dom nuzzled his nose along Brian’s temple. “So now everyone knows. Everyone who matters.”
Brian bit his tongue, hard. Mortifyingly, he felt like he might start crying, all the energy and movement that had been running through him now turning to shakiness. He would make it worth it, he promised himself. Dom was—he was betting on Brian, in the biggest way. It felt huge, a planet’s worth of gravity pressing him down, but he wasn’t about to back down from the challenge. “Okay,” he said. He breathed in. Dom’s face was so close his eyes couldn’t focus, so he closed them, let his head roll to the side until his mouth found the side of Dom’s skull, and kissed him. “Okay.”