The first time Dom noticed something was off was when Brian came back to them from the Los Angeles prison. It wasn’t that he was paler than usual and bruised up, that was only to be expected from a trip such as this one. What didn’t fit to Brian’s character, though, was how he avoided, even so slightly, being hugged by his friends.
It could be perfectly natural how he walked around the table from different side than where Rome stood, how he pulled one chair a bit further from the gathered people. It could. But this was Brian and so he ought to exchange hugs with Roman, choose the place in the center of attention and, most importantly, walked straight to Dom upon arriving.
Dom watched him intently as others peppered him with questions but Brian brushed them off, excusing himself rather than really telling them anything. He avoided Dom’s eyes too. That was disturbing but Dom gave him time, assuming his friend needed to sort information out and that he would come to him soon enough.
If he didn’t, Dom would come at him and find out what he wanted to know himself. There was only as long as he could wait for news of Letty.
Brian came to him, as expected, however cowering like a beaten dog.
“I found out what happened to Letty.” He said awkwardly. “She lived through that accident we thought her dead from but she doesn’t remember anything. Shaw found her in a hospital with amnesia. I have no idea what he told her but she doesn’t know you anymore, Dom. That’s why she shot at you. She’s not the same person that she were.”
“She’s still Letty, just without her memories. She’s alive. And that’s enough to get her back and make these bastards pay for what they did to her.”
“It’s all my fault.” Brian sounded on the verge of breaking.
“We’ve been through this, buster. It was her choice.”
“No buts. You just help me get her back now, ok?”
Brian shut up finally and nodded in agreement though he still looked plagued with doubts. Dom stepped toward him to give him a reassuring touch that they’re good but the moment he reached out with his hand, Brian recoiled as if he was about to get hit. Dom froze, then drew back, frowning.
Brian muttered some excuse and fled his presence. Dom put his strange behavior down to the feeling of guilt that time. Only later it came to him it may be something more.
They wasted time, drinking Corona while Hobbs and his men were trying to track down Shaw’s whereabouts. Brian sat on a cot next to Rome and Tej and though he kept rather to the edge, careful not to brush anyone’s shoulder, Dom thought it an improvement to a solo seat.
“Just like old times in Brazil,” Tej mused.
“Only there were more girls,” put in Roman, always eager to disagree with Tej. “I mean single girls,” he looked pointedly at Gisele, who sat at Han’s armchair’s armrest.
“You never stood a chance,” remarked Han, “too big rocks on your girls, to small something else.”
Dom smirked at all the catcalls the comment provoked.
“In old times there was Letty,” Brian spoke up suddenly, chilling the mood.
Roman tried to save the light atmosphere. “Letty’s sound and safe.”
“Yeah, only trying to kill off her boyfriend,” Tej picked up their habitual banter.
“Some may like sharp girls,” Roman saluted Han with his beer, then looked to Dom. “And Letty’s hot. What else would one need? A blue-eyed blond chick like Brian?”
His laughter was interrupted by Brian’s fist connecting with his jaw. Chaos erupted in their small gathering, jokes coming to an end, people leaping to their feet and drinks spilling as Rome and Brian got into a fist fight. Both men slipped to the floor, rolling on the ground and trading punches.
Dom was shocked by the unexpectedly violent reaction from Brian. It wasn’t the first time someone compared him to a girl and Brian was always okay with such jokes, laughing them off. Brian’s default attitude was smile and laughter, wide grin showing his perfect teeth and blue eyes twinkling in joy. That was his reaction often and not only to jokes but in the face of danger too, maybe especially then.
He laughed problems of, he argued still beaming and hit you in the face no less merry.
So it was a haunting contrast to the cold suppressed anger he emanated now.
Dom knew that kind of anger, he held it inside himself all the time, it threatened to go out that time his father died and then with Luke in Brazil. And countless times in Lompoc but these he chose not to count, not to think of preferably. But he never saw it from Brian till now.
Although when Brian got the upper hand in a fight, straddling Roman and pummeling his face with blows, Dom shoved any thoughts aside and stepped into the brawl.
He knew Brian could fight from their discordant history together, so he moved with caution. Yet it shouldn’t be so hard to pacify someone half his size and focused on another fight. Or maybe not. Dom revised his opinion for Brian certainly made up for his mass with the passion and rage and quickness and fluidity. It required both arms and muscles straining with tension to confine the aggression coming from the other man in the form of wildly flying limbs.
“Fuck off, Dom! Let me go!”
“It’s ok, I got this,” Dom still held on Brian, as Tej and Han helped Roman up, dragging him out of the room. Gisele walked out last, casting one concerned gaze at Dom over her shoulder.
Normally Brian was the definition of happy carelessness, a volcano bursting with joy. You smiled just by looking at him, at least Dom found it hard to resist the urge to beam at him whenever he caught him in his vision and even if he managed to control his mouth not to quirk up, that always reflected in the shine of his eyes.
The contrast of usual vs present in Brian’s behavior was so huge it was visible to anyone that vaguely knew him.
To someone that was closer - and Dom certainly was, knew him better than anyone no matter what Roman claimed – hidden, less obvious things were noticeable as well. He saw how Brian buzzed with the confined fury, ready to snap at any time. He saw how Brian held it suppressed in himself and while such conduct was alright in Dom 's case (better keep it shut in than murder anyone), in Brian it was something entirely out of place. Unfitting like a splinter that got there and festered and it pained Dom to see his friend like that.
Brian stopped struggling in his grip but was still tensed and breathing hard.
“So. You all right now?” Dom asked.
"Can you let me go?" Brian gritted. "I'm not going after him if that's what you fear."
Dom loosened his grip immediately, an idea of what may be going on dawning on him, as Brian put few steps distance between them as soon as he was let go. But for the same reason Dom kept his voice confident, cocky even.
“Careful, O’Conner, for what you say. I do not fear. I put you in your place.”
Brian smiled at him but it was so forced it looked more like a grimace. The expression that never belonged on his friend’s face.
Then Brian was out.
Dom did not go after him.
Since that time Dom kept his distance. Not too much so Brian would notice but enough to give him space he needed, to let him breathe. He might had visited the jail for only a while but something obviously happened, something traumatizing and Dom had a sickening, gut-wrenching feeling of what it may be. He had his share at Lompoc.
He didn't ask. Instead when he sat next to Brian on the coach he was careful not to touch him; while passing him a bottle of beer, careful not to let their fingers brush.
Brian was edgy. It increased when there were many people around. It got trepid when they were laughing of the dick jokes. Dom kept them in line as much as he could inconspicuously: a warning glare when someone was about to clap Brian in the shoulder, a lack of laugh when a joke went too sexual.
Some may notice he was acting strange for himself but not strange enough to not write it off to Letty situation.
And sure Dom thought of her constantly but so he did of others members of his family and Brian was a close one and his story tied with Letty, his visit in prison tied with Letty. They were inseparable in Dom's mind, thought of one induced thought of the other in a vicious circle.
The only people Brian seemed comfortable with was Mia and little Jack. Brian's gaze softened whenever he looked at his wife and child and he touched Mia freely, if rarer than before.
Mia had her hands occupied with Jack most of the time so Dom haven't noticed yet how did touching in the reverse go.
Dom would be perfectly fine to let it go, to let things proceed on their own and time do its slow healing without intervention from the outside. But Mia came at him and then kept coming, nailing him with demands.
“Something happened to him, I know it. I’m worried about him, Dom. Talk to him.”
“Why me?” Dom asked reluctantly, already sensing a lost fight.
“He won't tell me, I've tried. But maybe you after prison... He helped you avoid prison twice already, you’re free because of him. You owe him to help him retrieve some freedom of his own, freedom of mind."
Dom was sure his subtle social ministrations were going perfectly unnoticeable until Brian confronted him about it one day.
“Don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing.” Brian said accusingly, leaning on the wall, arms crossed. He adopted the protective stance often lately. “Don’t be so… tender with me. I’m not some fragile car exterior you need to be careful not to dent.”
Dom refused to show his surprise at being read so acutely. He put down the tools he was working with under the car’s mask and straightened, measuring the other man with a stare.
“Then how about you tell me what happened?”
Brian dropped his gaze to the floor.
“I thought no more lies between us.”
When Brian moved like he was about to flee, Dom was ready. He was at Brian in a second, throwing him at the wall. Brian went all stiff at first, then started to struggle madly but Dom held him firmly through his panic attack, letting him ride out the burst of fear.
“It’s me, Brian. C’mon, it’s just me,” he soothed, “calm down. Everything’s all right.”
“It’s not all right, I can’t- Damn it, don’t touch me!”
“Because I’m afraid, okay?! I’m terrified.”
Dom loosened his grip, put his hands on the wall on either side of Brian, not letting him escape from the talk but not touching him directly anymore.
“Of being held down against my will, overpowered, helpless. Not being able to do anything against it."
"I'd never hurt you."
"I know, alright. I know that. Mentally. But it doesn't feel like that no matter what I tell myself. I know you'd never- never-"
Blue eyes met his furtively, ashamed.
"You already know."
"I want you to tell me."
Brian threw his head backward on the wall, closed his eyes, took in a few deep breathes but shook his head.
His expression was so broken Dom wished to embrace him, cradle him to his broad chest and hold till he calmed down. But given the circumstances that was a terrible idea.
So instead he let his hands drop. Brian looked after him as Dom stepped back. Dom didn’t like the amount of distress in his eyes.
Dom wondered what to say to him to make him talk because Mia was right in one thing – it would make him feel better once he’d share with someone what troubled him. The problem was Dom was never that good with words, he acted, not talked his way through life. Mia would be far more effective at this but for some reason she always insisted Dom and Brian should solve most of things just between the two of them.
They lasted in impasse when Roman burst into the room with his swagger and loud mouth, finishing a conversation with someone in the other room, yelling last words over his shoulder. Only then he turned and saw the two of them.
“Ops, am I interrupting something? An important war council just for bosses of the team?”
He was still a bit bruised up from the brawl with Brian, there was a small plaster at one of his brow ridges, though it seemed even that couldn’t dampen his mood.
Brian immediately took up the opportunity to escape Dom’s questioning.
“Hey, Rome, good to see you.” He sneaked out from Dom’s personal space and went toward his childhood friend. “I wanted to apologize for the- uh-” he gestured at the healing wounds.
Roman palmed at his face. “This? No problem, man. I think they’re making me look manlier. You agree? Because if so, you could tell Tej, he’s blind or stupid or both.”
Dom followed them both with a stare as they exited the garage.
Next time Dom planned his battle ground better, didn’t wait for Brian to approach him again but set everything himself. He chose the time and the place and the means.
It was a night when he found Brian standing alone in the spacious hall where their temporal headquarter were located, staring through the glass wall into the lights of London city.
“Brian,” Dom called out quietly to let him know of his presence.
Brian tensed up a little bit, almost unnoticeably in the unlit room. Dom approached him slowly. Brian glanced at him only as he stood beside him.
“I thought you might want a drink. Always helps me for trouble sleeping.”
“There isn’t enough Corona in the world to make me talk.”
“That’s why I brought tequila.”
Dom uncorked the bottle and took a deep burning swallow himself before offering it to his friend. Brian took it. For a while they just drunk in silence, switching turns.
“Listen, Dom, I really appreciate what you’re doing,” Brian started after some time, “but I think you shall be out there, watching out for Letty and not wasting your time here with me.”
“You’re family too. Since that moment you first took my beer at 1327 you became part of it.”
“I betrayed you since then. Just as I keep failing you.” Brian hit the window with his fist lightly. “This whole situation with Letty, everything that happened to her-”
“Letty’s fine, I saw her. Perhaps not recognizing us but she will remember eventually. Or if not, I’ll make her fall in love with me again.”
“Maybe sometimes it’s better to not remember,” muttered Brian. “Maybe it’s better if she stays unaware of what she suffered because of me.”
“Hey, not because of you. Because of guys like Shaw.”
“But I’m the origin of all the trouble, don’t you understand? It’s all my fault, Braga was right.”
“What did he do to you?”
Brian chuckled darkly.
“Nothing. He just stood to the side and laughed while his men-” Brian’s voice caught. He stared at the night city intently, one hand propped on the window, the other holding tequila bottle convulsively.
“They hurt you?”
“They fucked me. That’s what you wanted to hear? Happy now?”
Dom swallowed the lump in his throat, wishing he had the bottle to wash out the sour taste Brian’s confession left at his tongue. He stayed quiet, waiting for Brian to continue if he wanted, giving him the silent support of listening.
“They held me down on the cot in the solitary. God, I have never felt so helpless in my entire life, so terrified. There were just the two of them but they were so big… Once they overpowered me- I still have nightmares from it.”
Brian took another swallow from the bottle. There was a distinctive glint in his eyes but Dom didn’t comment on that.
“I feel so pathetic whining here in front of you. I mean, that wasn’t even the worst pain I felt. Being shot hurts more, I don’t know why I can’t deal with it.” He hit the glass a few more times.
“I bet you didn’t go see the doc.”
“And I’m not going to. I eat Jack’s food and drink beer, I’ll be fine. It’ll heal.”
“Brian,” Dom started.
“Wait, it isn’t all. I- I need to tell you… I ought to told it to you sooner but I didn’t know how. Braga said,” Brian finally looked at him, shaken, “he said they did it to Letty too.”
Rage clouded Dom’s vision that everything, Brian’s face, lights outside the window disappeared momentarily. He felt like killing someone, a lot of someones, Shaw, Braga, Phoenix. The last one was dead already but not enough dead in the light of new information.
Only after a long moment he came to himself, Brian stared at him alarmed. And somewhat anticipating.
“Well? Ain’t you gonna hit me?”
Dom looked him over.
“No matter how I’d hurt you, it would be nothing compared to how you’re already punishing yourself. Sorry, Brian, I need to think it over.”
He left the room, seeing in his peripheral vision how Brian slides down the glass wall until he sat slumped at the ground, a half-empty bottle of tequila in his hand.
After a fast ride to the racing area and seeing Letty there, so herself and so distant at the same time, things got clearer. She was that same though girl he had spent half his life with, eager to race, eager to risk, driving with the same style as she ever did.
Racing with her felt almost as good as sex.
Talk with her showed she’s confused but also strong, no fragile, easily breakable type some of the lesser guys preferred. And even if what Brian told him happened, it didn’t affect her. Even if, because it may as well be a lie, Dom realized. Just another mental punch Braga made up to torture Brian some more.
After that confrontation Dom’s mood lifted considerably. World gained brighter shades, English food became eatable, even Roman’s unstopping chat ceased to annoy him. Chances of getting Letty back and killing Shaw seemed high.
Day was great until Mia dragged him into an empty room and hit him in the head.
“Ouch! What was that for?”
“Hush, Jack’s asleep,” Mia hissed at him, raising her hand again. Dom grabbed her slender wrist before she could punch him once more. “You were supposed to make him feel better, not worse. And now he’s blaming himself even more.”
“I didn’t tell him anything that could make him feel that way.”
“Then maybe it’s about something you should tell him but choose to stay quiet on the matter.”
“All right, all right. I’ll talk to him again. I’ll clear things.”
That night Dom found Brian leaning under the mask of his blue Escort.
“A bit late for working with cars.”
“And who says that.”
“Mia sleeps alone. While my girl’s currently set on killing me.”
“Did she tell you something? Mia, I mean. Did she complain-”
“I think you overestimate our social relationship and underestimate our blood relationship. Mia doesn’t tell me such things but then she doesn’t have to say anything for me to notice you two aren’t sleeping together.”
Brian flinched as if he was slapped.
“You didn’t tell her, did you?” Dom sighed.
“Of course not.” Brian looked up at him warily. “You don’t tell her either.”
“I won’t. But I think she knows already, just like I knew before you spoke up. Well, maybe not exactly like me, she wasn’t in Lompoc after all.”
Now Brian stared at him wide-eyed, car engine forgotten.
“You’re kidding. You’re saying it to make me feel better. You- it’s not possible, you’re Dom. You know, the guy that makes green cops switch sides. And I mean, just look at you.”
“Yeah, I not always have these muscles, you know, and there happen people like Hobbs. Besides muscles are sometimes not enough, just like police training. Why do you think I didn't want to go back that strongly? Too little luxury for me? Too little space for a guy that spends most of his day under the car’s chassis?”
“I assumed it was the lack of cars that got to you.”
“That too. Cars are good, makes you feel truly free. Wanna race?”
“You mean now?”
“City's almost empty at this time.”
Brian straightened, wiping his hands on his work pants.
“But no cheating.”
“Not gonna let you win.”
“And no cheating to win either.”
“That I cannot promise.”
It was different than with Letty, more peaceful. Suburbs were heavily asleep and that meant no pedestrians, no traffic, no police sirens. Just them and the cars.
When they got back Brian was smiling brightly and it felt so much like home that Dom squeezed Brian’s shoulders out of habit. The moment he touched him, however, Brian’s mood faltered, Dom could sense his tension but he didn’t retrieve his hand immediately because that’d made it even more awkward.
“I met with Letty yesterday.” He said instead.
“I guess you two are making progress if you’re still alive?”
Dom smiled genuinely before letting his hand drop.
“You could say so. I was also thinking… maybe you were right.”
“That she doesn’t remember. At least for now.”
Brian’s good mood dissolved entirely.
“Dom, I’m so sorry,” he croaked.
“Jesus, Brian, chill out. I don’t blame you. Nobody’s blaming you beside yourself. Stop doing that to yourself, will you?”
They reached the shot-through drink machine and Dom grabbed two cokes, tossing one to Brian.
“You don’t?” Brian asked quietly over the sound of opening can.
“I have no idea how you can doubt that after everything we’ve been through.”
“Half of these things we’ve been through because of me.”
“And the other half was because of me.”
“But whatever you had done, you’ve never acted against the family or to endanger it, while me... It felt kinda like I didn’t deserve to be part of it.”
“Family isn’t about deserving. You don’t have to earn it, you simply are a part of it, no matter what you do, no matter what happens to you. We stick together and get each other out of trouble. That’s how it works.”
Dom looked at Brian seriously, making sure Brian acknowledges his words. Only after the important stuff was said, he allowed himself an innocent joke.
“And if it was about deserving, then I cannot think of anyone that could earn his place better than a guy who can almost override me.”
Brian’s mouth quirked up. “I’d win that time in LA if you’d play fair.”