It was early morning on a Tuesday, and Shaw was going about his usual routine. London was dim and cool and damp, same as always, though the weak sunlight was starting to fight its way through the fog. It was looking like it might actually shape up to be a decent day.
He didn’t have a job. Hadn’t had a good one in a couple weeks, in fact, and he was getting a bit antsy about it. It wasn’t only that he was bored, though he was. He’d just been around long enough to know that slow, lazy periods like this one were always a sign that the other shoe was just waiting to drop.
Still, he made it to the pub without incident. He even poured himself a pint. But he hadn’t taken so much as a step out from around the bar before the doors to the place swung slowly open.
“Oi, you can’t be in here,” one of the regulars in the corner called out to the newcomer. “Scram.” It was a weirdly gentle tone, and Shaw didn’t really get why until he took a step to the side and could finally see who it was, hovering just inside the doorway.
The other shoe, dropping.
“She’s here for me,” Shaw said firmly as he moved toward the door. It both was and wasn’t the same as saying she can do as she pleases. On the one hand, Hobbs would happily gut anyone who tried to keep his daughter from anywhere she wanted to be. On the other, Hobbs would also do his best to crush Shaw like a grape if he thought Shaw was encouraging his ten-year-old to wander in and out of foreign pubs.
It was a delicate balance.
Besides, he couldn’t think of any reason why Samantha Hobbs would be in this particular city, in this particular pub, on any morning at all, let alone this particular one, unless she was looking for him.
“Hello, Mr. Shaw,” she said. She had relaxed a little as soon as he’d spoken, her head snapping to face him and her shoulders dropping from where she’d had them pulled up tight up by her ears. It was rare that anyone ever looked flat-out pleased to see him, but there she was.
“Hello, Miss Samantha,” he said back, smiling a little at her. He couldn’t exactly help it, not that he tried, and it seemed like she could use the reassurance.
She was both bigger and smaller than she’d seemed in photos. Bigger, in the way that all kids got when they were out of sight for a bit, growing and stretching like saltwater taffy. Smaller, because she’d hunched down into herself, pulled in tight and stressed, and now that he was closer, he could see that she looked rough, like she’d spent the last few nights in the open. Probably hadn’t really slept in about that long.
When she turned her head, her hair slipped back a little, and Shaw could see the shadow of a truly spectacular bruise wrapping up from below her cheekbone to her temple.
“Hm,” he said. It was all he could manage. Probably for the best, since the only thought in his head was the sudden, blinding urge to commit bloody fucking murder.
“Can you help me?” she said softly. “Please.”
Of course he said yes. He hadn’t thought it needed to be asked.
* * *
He got them both somewhere safe and off the streets before anything else. Some things really didn’t need to be said aloud, and Shaw wasn’t slow enough not to realize that things must have gone badly fucking wrong for Hobbs’s kid to end up bruised like that, let alone bruised and on the wrong continent, without Hobbs himself hulking along right behind looking for a culprit to smash.
“Right,” he said, shutting the safe house door firmly behind him. “First things first,” and so he got her some water and something to nibble on while he hunted down the first aid kit. Aside from the bruising on her face, which was a truly spectacular purple-blue in the light, she also had rope burns and abrasions around her wrists and lower arms, as well as sloppy rows of bruise-rimmed track marks along her inner elbows, where someone had stuck her repeatedly and none-too-gently with a needle.
“Do you know what they gave you?” he asked, checking the marks over. They were ugly, but obviously a few days old, and at least it seemed they’d been kept clean. They’d heal just fine.
She shook her head. “I think it was just to make me be quiet,” she said softly. She hadn’t said much at all once she’d made it to Shaw, and what she had said aloud had been barely more than a mumble. The safe house had gotten a brief, curious look as they’d come in, but that was about it; she’d sat down and stayed put. Shaw figured she was crashing a bit now that she was somewhere safe.
So, he didn’t worry too much that she only nodded when he reeled off a quick list of symptoms—did you feel tired? Dizzy? Nauseous? Was it hard to think?
“Just sedatives, probably,” he said, relieved. Not that it was a good thing, but it was better than the alternatives, and with marks that old it was certainly out of her system already. “Anything else hurt?”
This time she shook her head. No. Good.
With that mostly sorted, he could move onto the next priority: information. “Can you tell me what happened? Where’s your dad?”
The mountain of a man himself was, of all places, in New Zealand. He’d gone dark about a week before, but that was all part of the mission plan, and Sam had expected a call when he was back on-grid sometime in the next few days. She’d been attending school as usual, staying with an aunt in the States, and things had seemed normal right up until she’d gotten grabbed while waiting for the bus home on Wednesday night, six days earlier.
She’d woken up in a small town in Germany, tied to a chair.
They hadn’t roughed her up after that, which was the only reason they’d still be in recognizable pieces by the end. She didn’t know who they were; she hadn’t asked, and they’d never said anything about it in her hearing. For three days, they’d mostly left her alone, setting her loose in a small room during the day and tying her up at night. They’d gotten more and more nervous and pissed off that they couldn’t reach Hobbs to threaten him or blackmail him or whatever nonsense they’d been planning. And then on the third night, because Sam had been so quiet and non-threatening and well-behaved, they’d left her untied while they slept.
At that point she’d stolen their wallets, phones, and shoes, taken the keys to every car she could find, and hiked through the dark to the other side of town, where she used the loose cash from one of the wallets to get on a bus to the nearest city. That happened to be Bonn. Lucky for her, Germans tended to know a word or two of English, enough to get by.
“Then I got on a train to France,” she said, and sure, she sounded proud of herself, but for damn good reason. “And then I found a truck going to London, and I hid in the back. It was pretty cold, but there was fruit and stuff to eat and it didn’t take that long, really. And then I asked how to get to the Carpenters Arms.” It was a bit odd to hear the pub’s name out of the mouth of Luke Hobbs’s daughter, but it just meant that she’d known exactly what she was doing, where she was going and who she was going to, the whole time. “I think—I don’t think anyone followed me.”
She grinned at him, pleased as punch, and Shaw grinned back. “Clever girl,” he said. “Well done.”
It had taken her just under three days, all told, to get herself from middle-of-nowhere, Europe, across the Channel, and into London, all without passport or papers. Shaw didn’t think most kids would do half as well—his family could have pulled it off at that age, but then again, they’d had an unusual sort of upbringing. He was well-adjusted enough now to know exactly how well-adjusted he hadn’t been, as a child.
But for a normal kid—or as normal as any sprog raised by Luke Hobbs could possibly be—she’d done extraordinarily well. She even passed over a neat stack of wallets and phones, which she’d turned off and then removed the batteries and SIM cards where she could. “So they can’t be tracked,” she told him solemnly. It was massive overkill, and Shaw was having trouble deciding whether he found it funny or just vaguely adorable. It was sort of like seeing a kitten misjudge a jump and go sliding off the edge of a table.
Not that he told her that. He accepted the offering with a solemn nod.
She hadn’t made an effort to contact anyone yet, aware that she’d been taken from home and that there had to have been some kind of surveillance there. None of the baddies had found her, at least, but none of her people had any clue where she’d gotten off to, either. If Shaw had been on the other side of the Atlantic, he’d bet dollars to donuts he’d have already been pulled into the massive fuss this must have kicked up.
“Alright,” Shaw said. “Let’s get things moving.”
The first thing he did was text Hobbs himself. The man was the kind of looney who took ‘communications blackout’ absolutely seriously, so chances were that he had no idea that any of this was going on. Shaw still wasn’t enough of a bastard not to let him know what was up; he’d see the message along with everything else when he finally checked his phone.
SHE’S SAFE, he wrote. SHE’S WITH ME.
“Go ahead and call your aunt,” he said once that was done, passing over his cell with the country code already pre-dialed. “Let her know what’s what. This phone’s secure.”
She was eager enough to do it once she had permission—perked up instantly. A smart kid like that, Shaw figured she’d spent enough time around her dad and even Toretto and his crew to pick up things to look out for in a real emergency, little tips and tricks to avoid getting caught, only to panic and apply them all at once when things went south. She’d never needed to judge scale and context before, most likely.
“Hey, Aunt Lisa,” she said cheerfully into the phone as someone on the other end picked up, and Shaw was treated to a delightful ten minutes or so of back-and-forth with an obviously panicking adult squawking through one end of the line, and an exasperated-with-the-fuss kid being way too casual for the situation on the other. He didn’t bother pretending he wasn’t eavesdropping, but he did pick up the first aid kit and wander across the open-plan room to the kitchen area to see if he could dig up some better food.
“No, I’m fine,” Sam said. “Really—no—no, I got away ages ago. No, really, I snuck out in the middle of the—no, I’m not in Germany anymore. I took a train, auntie, I wasn’t going to stay where they kidnapped me. Yes…no. Really. Now? I’m with Mr. Shaw, in London. Mister Shaw. Yeah, that Shaw. Yes, London. London, England. Are there any other Londons?”
Eventually she offered the phone to him. “Auntie wants to talk to you,” she told him.
He swapped the cell for a plated sandwich and a bag of crisps, and then spent ten minutes of his own reasserting everything Sam had said and reassuring her that Sam really was fine. In turn she told him that she’d already set Dominic Toretto loose on the case, so whoever the baddies had been and whatever they’d been after, they were about to become a fine paste and therefore unable to cause any more problems.
“I’ll call there next,” he told her. “See if they want to swing by and pick her up on their way back, or wait for her dad to come get her. Which would you prefer?” he threw in as an afterthought, looking over at Sam, who just shrugged. She had already worked her way through most of the sandwich and was happily crunching on a huge handful of crisps.
“Whatever works,” the aunt said, obviously exhausted, and not realizing the question hadn’t exactly been for her.
So, Shaw wrapped that conversation up and then called Toretto himself, figuring it was best to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible.
The line picked up and then quickly clicked off, and Shaw pulled the phone away from his ear to stare at it in disbelief. Had Toretto just hung up on him? He called again. This time, a voice came through, but it wasn’t the right one. “We ain’t got time for your bullshit right now, Shaw,” Roman Pearce barked. “Stop calling.”
He hung up again.
Shaw pulled the phone away from his ear and made a face down at it, exaggerated enough that Sam stifled a giggle with her hand. “Well, I tried,” he said philosophically.
“You gave it your best effort,” she told him, mock-earnest.
“Looks like you’re stuck with me for a bit, then.” Shaw realized all at once that he had no idea what to do with a ten-year-old, aside from the obvious: feeding, watering, and making sure she got some sleep. Did most young girls like grifts, or was that Hattie-specific? Did she even know how to pick a pocket?
“Okay.” She shrugged, unconcerned. “Do you have more food?”
Well, at least he had until she finished wolfing down another sandwich to figure it out.
* * *
She stayed with him for three days and two nights, all told, and honestly, he didn’t need to worry so much about entertaining her. They went on a quick run for necessities—clothes, toothbrush, the like—and then she crashed straight through the rest of the first day and all of the first night, sleeping it off in the second bedroom in the safehouse.
He took that time to do some looking into the phones and I.D.s she’d passed along. Right away, he could tell it wasn’t Eteon this time—it had only been a couple months since that end-of-the-world mess, and the fuckers were still laying low.
After that, he didn’t need to look too deeply. It was obviously a small-time operation that’d gotten lucky, and local chatter was that their group was busy being systematically dismantled by a small team of lunatics running around in sports cars, so clearly Toretto had the whole business well in hand.
Hobbs will come to you once he’s done in NZ, Toretto texted him, early the second morning. Don’t know how Rome got my phone. Won’t happen again.
Fine, Shaw sent back. After a moment’s thought, he added, Tell Pearce he can go fuck himself.
It was barely six thirty in the morning when Sam came wandering out into the kitchen, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and tugging at the loose set of comfortable pajamas she’d picked out for herself at the store. “Have you been to London before?” he asked her, once he’d gotten her fed. “We can be tourists for a bit, if you like. It’s safe enough.”
Her eyes lit up, so it seemed he’d guessed alright.
Probably better if he didn’t teach her to pick pockets, he’d decided. He couldn’t imagine Hobbs taking that well.
* * *
Hobbs appeared without any warning on the third day, in the late afternoon, just after Shaw had brought them both back to the safe house for the night. He set off the security system as he arrived, so Shaw saw him first on the cameras, a towering muscled mass of fury and tightly controlled panic, and figured it was in everyone’s best interests if Sam was right there in plain sight. Shaw called her over, and then yanked open the door before Hobbs even had time to knock.
“Sam,” Hobbs said instantly, with a choked-up sigh of relief, ignoring Shaw completely. As it should be, really.
Sam shrieked like a banshee, the most animated she’d been in days, and lit up like the sun. “Dad!”
Shaw made sure the door was shut and secured again, and then made himself scarce.
It was a half hour or so before Hobbs came to find him in the back room.
“She said she had to pack,” Hobbs told him without so much as a hello, obviously missing about half the tension he’d been carrying when he arrived. Shaw still wouldn’t say he was relaxed, exactly, but he was starting to get there. “She’s been here for three days, what could she possibly have to…”
Hobbs trailed off, and Shaw shrugged. “She told me it was her first time in Europe,” Shaw said. “It’s not the real tourist experience if you don’t get some overpriced souvenirs while you’re out and about. Now Samantha has that.”
She’d especially loved the ravens at the Tower of London—a proper bloodthirsty little beast, that one, all too excited to see feeding time for herself, when the birds were given raw meat and biscuits soaked in blood. She now had a couple new shirts with stylized ravens on the front, along with a mass of other knick-knacks and such from when Shaw had taken her to the shopping districts.
“My kid was targeted and kidnapped,” Hobbs said, with slowly increasing judgment in his voice. “She escaped, hitchhiked halfway across Europe, and you decided to take her sightseeing? To the worst sort of—public—tourist traps?”
Shaw got that the man was stressed, he really did. But that shit just wouldn’t fly.
“Christ, Hobbs,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Dominic Toretto let me put his flesh-and-blood infant in a car seat and carry him through a firefight, but you think I can’t handle taking your ten-year-old to Piccadilly?”
It had been perfectly safe, but it wasn’t as though he’d gone unarmed, or to any place without public visibility and plenty of security cameras. If anything had gone wrong, he’d be able to deal with it. If he couldn’t deal with it there, he couldn’t deal with it anywhere, safe house or no. And at that point, if he failed, then he would be dead, at least a couple of other idiots would be too, and the whole thing never would have passed by unnoticed.
“First of all, she’s nine.” Hobbs took a deep breath in, gearing up for a good rant—and then, to Shaw’s surprise, thought better of it. He deflated, all at once. “And that’s not the point. Shit. You’re right, I know you’re right. It’s just—that’s my daughter, man. She’s—she’s my whole life.”
“I know that, you colossal tit.” Shaw resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and then he remembered that this was Hobbs, and he didn’t actually care what the lunatic thought. He rolled them. “And she’s a great kid, even with a blockhead like you donating half the DNA. You and I might want to go a few rounds in the ring, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be careless when it counts.”
“I know, I told you,” Hobbs said with an eyeroll of his own. “Obviously, I’d rather beat you over the head with a folding table, Wrestlemania-style, than ever work with you again—”
“The feeling is mutual.”
“—but I do know she’s safe with you, peabrain. How many times do I have to say it? I sent her to you, didn’t I?”
Shaw sucked in a breath and held it, feeling it like a punch to the gut, and then nodded slowly as he let it out. Because—yeah. Yeah, actually, he had.
Shaw actually, physically turned to look behind him, because there was no way Hobbs had just said those two words to him.
Hobbs looked like he was seriously considering taking it back and just punching Shaw instead. “Yeah, yeah, real funny, wise guy. You heard me. Thanks. Asshole.”
“Well,” Shaw said slowly. “You’re welcome. Twit.”
They stood there for another half minute of uncomfortable silence before Hobbs gave in and broke it. “If I find out you’ve been corrupting my daughter—”
“Oh, buzz off,” Shaw said with another eyeroll, cutting the threat off before it could really get going. “Get out of my country, Hobbs.”
The threat was pointless, anyway. Shaw figured he had at least a half-day before Hobbs figured out his kid’s new metal hairclip, a rose shaped out of delicate wire petals, was actually hiding a small set of lockpicks and even a standard handcuff key. That was definitely long enough for Hobbs to get on a plane and away from London, too far for any violent retribution.
Besides, Shaw would do it all over again. Sam was a fast learner, and she’d picked up the basics quickly. If she was motivated enough, then one day there wouldn’t be a handcuff or a lock on the planet that would keep her from where she wanted to be.
Pockets weren’t the only thing worth picking.
* * *
Why did you send her to me?
He hadn’t asked. Sure, they could sort of work together now, more or less, and in a firefight Hobbs would show Shaw his back and trust that not only would Shaw not put a bullet in it, but that no one would get past him to do it, either.
That took a totally different kind of trust, an easier kind than the one that made you teach your kid a list of names, numbers, addresses—safe people, safe places. This one will protect you; this one is good.
Shaw was damn good at shooting things that tried to hurt him and his, and everyone knew it. That part made sense. But he and Luke Hobbs definitely didn’t trust each other with the personal, the emotional. They were never going to hug it out. That wasn’t the way their dysfunctional—whatever—worked.
Hobbs’s daughter had still found her way to a specific pub in London. She’d known it by name. Oh, obviously she had other choices in other places; if she’d wound up in Florida instead of Germany, then Shaw was certain that she’d have gone to Toretto and his merry band instead. But Samantha Hobbs had woken up in Europe, and she’d known exactly who Deckard Shaw was and how to find him.
That wasn’t the sort of thing that happened by accident.
* * *
Still, that should have been the end of it. Shaw genuinely hadn’t expected anything else, except maybe a nasty prank to get him back for the whole concealed lockpicks thing—teaching Hobbs’s kid to be a tiny Houdini, and all that.
The prank didn’t come. Maybe Hobbs thought it was even exchange for looking after Sam for a few days. Maybe, with their lives being such shitshows, he didn’t actually mind. Either way, there wasn’t any immediate payback.
There was, however, a phone call that came not even a week later. And not from Hobbs, either, even if it came from his phone. It was Sam on the other end of the line.
“Hi, Mr. Shaw,” she said cheerfully when he picked up. For once, he was glad he’d answered without checking the caller ID, since it would’ve been—awkward, to greet her any of the ways he might answer the phone for Hobbs himself. “I checked, and it should be afternoon there. Are you busy?”
It was, and even if he had been, Shaw got the feeling he’d have found a way out of it, for a surprise like this. “Hello, again, Samantha,” he said. “Don’t tell me you’ve been kidnapped again already. Your dad should put a tracking chip in you.”
She laughed, but Shaw wasn’t entirely kidding.
“No, ‘course not,” she said. “Duh. I just had a question for you.”
“Alright,” Shaw said slowly. “Shoot.”
“I tried to use a paperclip to practice on my dad’s handcuffs,” she said with a little sigh. “In case I don’t have my new picks, or I can’t reach them. But it kept bending when I tried to pull on the latch, and then it just broke. Am I doing it wrong?”
Had she really called him to ask for more lockpicking lessons? “Nah. They’re just too soft, paperclips,” Shaw agreed, amused. “Bit tricky for a first-timer.”
“Urgh,” she said, irritated. “I knew Hollywood was lying to me.”
Shaw couldn’t help it—he laughed. He tried to muffle it in a cough, but it was too late for that. “About most things, yeah, but not everything. Do you have any hairpins? Bobby pins?”
“Sure!” she said. With a mass of curls like hers, Shaw had figured she would. “Tons.”
“Takes some effort to bend one, and you’ll have to scrape off the plastic coating on the tips to get any use out of it, but it’d make sense for you to carry some around with you,” he told her. “As long as you leave it unbent until you need it, nobody asks any funny questions.” They’d ask him questions if he tried that, but not her.
“Nice,” she said, and they were off to the races.
It took about ten minutes of meandering discussion, mostly about improvised escape techniques and the best types of locks to practice with, before Shaw could really convince himself that Sam wasn’t about to get to the point and tell him she really had been kidnapped, or that she was distracting him while Hobbs snuck up on him for that massive prank he’d been expecting—and he had checked. No, the conversation was the point.
“Hold on a minute,” Shaw said at about 3:45 in the afternoon, his time. That would put the time in Los Angeles at around 7:45 in the morning, a time when no respectable kid would want to be awake. Unless… “It’s Thursday, isn’t it? Don’t you have school in a bit?”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “My bus gets here in five minutes.”
“Well, don’t let me keep you,” Shaw said. “Your dad’ll skin me alive if I keep you from school, and I wouldn’t blame him for it. You can call back later, if you like.”
“Really?” Sam said eagerly. “You mean it?”
Shaw hadn’t exactly meant to make the offer until it was already coming out of his mouth, but he didn’t feel the need to take it back. “Sure,” he said. “Why not?”
* * *
She might be smart as a whip, unlike her dad, but she was still Luke Hobbs’s kid; he should have known she’d take that absolutely literally. Still, somehow, he hadn’t guessed that just he’d invited twice-weekly calls from an American ten-year-old.
* * *
Sam called him several times following the exact same pattern: a call would come in from Hobbs’s cell phone number, Shaw would pick up if he wasn’t busy, and then she would ask him a few very specific questions in a way that suggested to him that she was planning these conversations out in advance. If Shaw didn’t answer the phone—if he couldn’t, for whatever reason, which had happened once or twice—then she called again at precisely the same time the next day. She never left a recorded message. No call lasted more than fifteen minutes. She seemed to be timing it so that her bus ride to school gave her a natural ending to the conversation, which could have implied any number of things, or maybe nothing at all. The time difference was pretty awkward.
She mostly talked about her adventures in lockpicking, asking the sorts of questions it would be hard for a nine-year-old to solve with just Google and an iron will. She seemed to see Shaw as a sort of friendly tutor, like a piano teacher or something, though Shaw couldn’t ever remember calling his piano instructor as a kid to ask a couple casual questions and chat a little.
Shaw also got the hazy impression that she’d been attempting to collect or purchase locks to practice on without Hobbs knowing. He wished her luck with that one. It was a mostly harmless hobby, and it’d be funny if a nine-year-old could pull one over on Hobbs; it just wasn’t very likely that she’d manage. Hobbs was, if nothing else, a decent parent.
Midway through the fourth week, somewhere around Sam’s eighth call, the pattern shifted. This time, Shaw should have actually expected it: he could have kicked himself for not thinking about it sooner.
But he hadn’t, not until he was smack-dab in the middle of it. The phone rang, Hobbs’s name came up on the caller ID, and Shaw answered. “Hello?” he said absentmindedly, a little amused to find that he was starting to settle into the pattern. To find it routine. He was thinking about that, relaxing in his chair, until the voice came through the line, distinctly male and very much pissed off, and straightened up instantly.
It wasn’t Sam. It was Hobbs.
“You know, Shaw, the weird Amazon orders were one thing. That’s my bad. Sam’s smart enough to buy what she wants if I leave my computer unlocked long enough, and I know it. But a bunch of phone calls with your number attached? At regular intervals? That’s damn weird. On a whole different level.” Hobbs bit out, dangerous and low. It was the closest his voice gotten to that rattlesnake-warning-hiss with Shaw in a while. “Care to explain why you’ve been calling my kid?”
Oh, shit. “I haven’t,” Shaw said, slowly but completely truthfully. His brain was still ticking over from the way he’d expected this conversation to go to the way it actually was going. “She’s been calling me.”
That did it. The dangerous edge slid away; now Hobbs’s tone was back to its usual levels of meathead confusion. “She called—” There was a long, aching pause.
In the background, Shaw could clearly hear Sam’s voice as she spoke up. Apparently, Hobbs was making this call with her in the room. “I told you, Dad,” she said. “It was my idea!”
“Honestly,” Shaw told him. “I thought you knew.”
How could he not? She’d been calling from Hobbs’s own phone.
“You thought I knew you were training my kid to be a superspy?” Hobbs’s voice was disbelieving. “And I just, what, decided to never bring it up?”
“Dad,” Sam protested, a drawn-out whine. “I’m not going to be a spy. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Oh, I’m being ridiculous,” Hobbs said. “I’m the one being—”
“I’m going to be a cat burglar. Obviously.”
“Obviously,” Hobbs repeated.
Shaw cleared his throat, cutting back in. “Look, that one’s not on me.”
“Aunt Lisa got me a bunch of Batman comics! Catwoman’s the best!”
Hobbs cleared his throat. “Shaw, I’m gonna have to call you back.”
“Yeah,” Shaw said, rubbing at his temples. “You do that.”
* * *
But Shaw’s next phone call came from his own sister, not from Hobbs.
“I just had the strangest conversation,” Hattie said. “Luke wanted to know if you had any—what was it—any nefarious plans, involving his daughter.”
Shaw pulled the phone away from his ear and stared blankly down at it. No, he wasn’t hallucinating; the call was normal and active, timer ticking steadily away. He put the phone back up. “Nefarious—what the hell? She keeps calling me. What exactly does he think—”
“Not like that, Deck, Christ,” Hattie cut in, before he could get too worked up. “Nobody thinks you’re that kind of bastard. I think he’s worried you’re starting her on the path to some kind of rebellion.”
“Well, you can tell him I’m not training her up into some kind of crime lord,” Shaw said, resisting the urge to bash his head against the wall. “She picked that up on her own. Oh, and tell him he’s a tool.”
“I told him not to worry,” Hattie said, blithely cheerful. “You’re quite good with kids, even despite our screwed-up childhood. And I told him that you respect him too much as a father to do anything you think he’d really disapprove of.”
Shaw blinked. “What the actual fuck, Hat.”
Hattie sniffed, disdainful. “It’s only the truth.”
“Why would you tell him—you know what, fine. It’s fine,” Shaw said. It was done. Hattie was a she-demon. “As long as he doesn’t think I’m turning his daughter into a cat burglar.”
Hattie’s voice was too innocent to be believable. “What’s wrong with that?” she asked. “Catwoman is the best.”
Shaw felt his jaw drop. “You—”
She hung up on him, cackling all the while.
Little sisters. Fuck. Some days, Shaw regretted reconciling with her, just a bit.
* * *
In the end, Hobbs finally called him back, and did what he should have done in the first place—he pulled up his big boy pants and dropped the real question he wanted answered.
“Why are you doing this?”
Shaw rolled his eyes. “No nefarious plots,” he said. He wasn’t planning to let that go any time soon. “She asked. That’s all.” It was hard to say no to that face—or, more specifically, to that shy little voice. It was the audio equivalent of a set of Bambi eyes. Saying no would have been like kicking a puppy.
There was a pause, Hobbs processing that one. “And you don’t mind?” he said at last, more cautious than Shaw would have expected.
“Hobbs,” Shaw drawled, “your kid is great and all, but she’s not exactly holding a gun to my head. Barring that, when have you ever—and I mean ever—seen me do a single goddamn thing I didn’t want to do?”
“Okay, yeah,” Hobbs said. “There’s that.”
There was a slightly awkward pause. “Look, Hobbs,” Shaw offered slowly, “she’s your daughter. If it’s too weird…”
“It’s not too weird,” Hobbs said instantly. He sounded like he was trying to reassure himself more than anything. “After this whole Eteon mess, she’s got a bigger support group, and that’s a good thing. She talks to Jonah and her grandma. She talks to some of Toretto’s crew. She talks to Hattie—”
“She talks to Hattie?” Shaw cut in, confused, and then shook his head. “No, forget that, it doesn’t matter.”
“She talks to Hattie,” Hobbs repeated doggedly. “If she wants to talk to you—if it makes her feel safer to have these skills, and if she wants you to teach her—then I’m not going to stop her.”
So, they were in agreement. “Then if she wants to call, she can.”
* * *
And with that—with Hobbs’s reluctant permission, and his not-so-subtle supervision, the calls continued. They even ran a little longer now, since Sam wasn’t trying to sneak them in while her dad was finishing up getting ready for the day.
Smart kid. Shaw was constantly baffled that she’d come direct from Hobbs.
* * *
There were quite a few separate patterns to learn in order to unlock a standard set of handcuffs.
It entirely depended on the side and direction of the locks: front or back of the cuff, left or right side of the wrist. When wearing a set of cuffs locked on both hands, there were four possible positions for the lock on each hand, a total of eight possibilities. And all that was before even considering the double lock, which was almost never used except those few vitally important times when it was. It was easy enough to undo, but it doubled the time it took to pick the cuffs and doubled the number of unlock patterns to learn.
Shaw had picked this stuff up young. He remembered being five or six and prodding at the raw red skin on the tips of his thumbs from where he’d applied pressure to the pins, trying again and again for hours to feel that slip-latch-ratchet-click. It came quick and easy now, muscle memory ingrained so deeply he could do it deaf and blind, drugged or concussed out of his head.
Sam had taken to practicing with the cuffs while they talked, and for hours every day. Shaw knew exactly how painful that could be, the sensitive fingertips, the dug-in red lines around the wrist where the metal cuff bit deep. Sometimes, if you weren’t careful and pushed the cuffs down too tight, you could end up with bruises in stripes along your arm.
She had gotten down the four lock positions on the left-hand cuff easily enough, but struggled a bit at times with the right-hand cuff, since that was her dominant hand. Some of the angles were awkward to reach with the pin in the less dexterous hand.
“Relax, Samantha,” Shaw told her, when she started to get frustrated. “Go slow. You can’t see it, so you have to feel it out. If you fight it, you won’t get anywhere.”
“Alright, alright.” There was a little pause, maybe a half a minute. “Why do you call me Samantha?” she asked suddenly, breaking the silence. “Everyone else calls me Sam.”
Shaw, who was fiddling with a bit of wire and a standard issue, cylinder pin-tumbler padlock to better explain how to get it open, hadn’t expected that. “Do you want me to call you Sam?” he asked, idle. In his hands, the lock popped free; he snapped it shut and immediately opened it again.
Click-snap, click-snap. He didn’t even need to look. He could feel-hear the right angles, the right amount of pressure.
“You don’t have to,” she said. “I was just…wondering.”
The truth was awkward: he’d learned her full name, her face, from files and photos. She wasn’t a target. He’d never have made her a real target, not like Toretto or even her father, so he hadn’t looked any deeper than that. It wasn’t until much later that he’d overheard Hobbs on a call and learned they called her Sam.
“Didn’t think too hard about it, really,” he said instead, because he certainly wasn’t about to tell her that. “Like I said, I’ll call you Sam, if you’d rather. It’s your name.”
“No, it’s fine.” She sounded certain that time, so he believed it. “I like Samantha too. Um.”
Nothing else followed. “Yeah?” he prompted.
“Is it cool if I just call you Shaw?” she blurted out, all in a rush. “My dad calls you that, and we’ve met now, so I know you’re cool, and ‘Mr. Shaw’ sounds like a mean science teacher and not, like, some kind of awesome super spy, so. Is that okay?”
“You can call me whatever you like,” he told her, feeling the corners of his mouth twitching upward. “You can even call me by my first name. I know you call Hattie by hers.”
“Um,” she said again. “No offense, but your first name is—kind of weird.”
Shaw didn’t realize he’d still been poking at the lock until the click-snap, click-snap of it locking and unlocking came to a sudden stop. “It is not,” he said, half-offended and half-amused.
“No, it really is,” she said instantly, because she was definitely Luke Hobbs’s kid. “I heard people called you Deck, and I was like, he’s named deck, like a porch? Like, in the backyard? That’s weird. But my dad said no, it’s short for Deckard, and that’s still weird but at least it’s not porch.”
Shaw couldn’t help it—he laughed. “Fine, fine, alright,” he said. “I’ll tell my mum you said so.” Anyway, it didn’t matter all that much to him. Plenty of people called him by his surname. “Just call me Shaw.”
* * *
If anyone had asked, he would have told them he figured the calls would end on their own, as Sam got bored, or distracted, or ran out of questions to ask him.
That wasn’t exactly what happened.
She didn’t have as many technical questions, sure, because her dad was softening up to the idea and finding ways to get her the training she wanted in person. But she still called. As time passed, she mostly told him about her life, what she was learning that day, the way she’d popped the lock on her friend Janet’s back door after school the time that Janet had left her keys at home. And she still asked questions, but now they were also about him, about his jobs. He told her the truth—though a carefully edited truth, and he made sure to just tell her when she started edging too close to anything he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pass along. It made Sam happy, to know he wouldn’t lie to her, and it made Hobbs happy, to know that he wasn’t about to scar his kid for life with all of the fucked-up, gory details.
They talked twice a week, more or less. It wasn’t like they had a set schedule, just a loose plan set up at the end of each call for the next. Despite what he’d said to Hobbs, Shaw was a bit surprised to find he—really didn’t mind it. He looked forward to it, even. Sam was a good kid, a smart kid, and he liked helping her pick up a trick or two for her own sake. She’d be safer in the long run, and if she caused some extra problems for her dad along the way, then, well—the entertainment would be worth it.
What was even more bizarre was that he talked to Hobbs more than he’d ever thought he would.
It was never on purpose. But sometimes Sam was running late, or had to walk away from the phone to do something else, and rather than hang up and call later she would hand the phone to her father and expect them to fill time until she was ready. Sometimes she just flat-out handed the phone over for no reason at all, like she was under the impression they were the friendly sort who just chatted on any old afternoon, without the full force of the end of the world pushing them into it.
The worst part was that she wasn’t entirely wrong. There was really only so much time they could go on insulting each other, especially when one half of the conversation was sometimes in listening range of a sweet kid who, for whatever reason, liked it when they got along.
So, they talked, and sometimes it was just—normal. No threats or cutting remarks, not even a bit of rude language. Nothing but simple, casual conversation.
For example: “I was in Casablanca on a job the other day,” Hobbs said. His voice was tinny over the speakerphone, but Shaw needed both hands to clean his guns while he talked, so he ignored it. “And then your mom showed up after everything was over. I never got to meet her during the whole Cipher mess, but she’s…”
“An emotionally manipulative escape artist who can smell your every weakness?” Shaw offered. “Utterly terrifying?”
“She’s…intimidating,” Hobbs said, which meant yes, but you can’t make me say it.
“Yeah,” Shaw said fondly. “She’s great.”
“I think she stole my watch,” Hobbs told him, baffled.
That sounded about right. “Yeah,” Shaw said again, still fond. “She does that.”
“Is she…going to give it back?”
Shaw laughed. “I wouldn’t bet on it. Sucker.”
* * *
So, basically, the civil conversations were out of sheer self-defense. But they were still civil. It wasn’t even that much of a stretch.
* * *
“Hey, there, sugarpie,” the recorded message told him in Hobbs’s obnoxious, cheerfully airheaded voice. “Hard to believe, since you’re just so sweet, but it looks like you’ve pissed someone off more than usual. I’ve heard your name pop up a lot lately in places it shouldn’t. Drug running, human trafficking, all the real nasty underground bullshit—but not your kind of bullshit, obviously. Someone’s throwing mud at the wall and hoping something sticks. Watch your back.”
“Hm,” Shaw said, thoughtful, pulling his phone away from his ear to stare down at it. He was feeling a lot less homicidal than he’d thought he would, after the way the message had started.
That had been oddly helpful.
And if he’d tossed Hobbs a quick thanks, but you’re still a tosser text after he’d fixed the problem—just a matter of shaking a rat by the scruff of his neck until he squealed and decided to play nice—well, that was only polite.
* * *
After that it just made sense to return the favor when the opportunity came around, a month or so later.
“Afternoon, petal,” Shaw drawled into his phone after the voicemail message finished playing, giving the endearment just the right amount of painfully drawn-out sarcasm. “Met an old coworker of yours today, a DSS agent who hates working with you almost as much as I do. She scouted me out for a job she’s trying to pull—offered me half a mil to join up and kill you. I took payment half up front, so feel free to add that little nest egg to Samantha’s college fund. Emailing you the details.”
Hobbs didn’t call him back, but Shaw did get an emailed reply only a couple hours later.
Thanks a bunch, honeybunches, it said. Dealt with the problem. Keep half for yourself, why don’t you? Buy yourself something pretty.
* * *
Months passed like that, surprisingly easy and uncomplicated. Somehow, without Shaw ever really meaning for it to happen, an American lawman and his daughter became the two people in the world Shaw talked to the most, outside his own blood family.
* * *
Shaw didn’t make his entrance into the warehouse with gunfire and explosions; that wasn’t the point. The firefight raged steadily around narrow corners and shipping containers, but he made his way through clean and untouched by sheer virtue of not being obviously on one side or the other.
He hadn’t spent a lot of time avoiding a fight, in recent years. It was its own kind of fun.
Hobbs was right in the thick of things, of course, juiced-up musclebound maniac that he was. Shaw duck-rolled-slid past a few hits thrown by some greenhorn in government-issued gear, watched him tumble into the woman trying to sneak up on them both from behind, and figured he could leave the two of them to punch their way through their aggressions with each other instead of him.
Because he wasn’t here to start anything, he waited politely for Hobbs to finish clotheslining the thug in front of him before shouting. “Oi, Hobbs!”
Hobbs looked over and did a double-take. “Wha—Shaw? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Hiring you as a delivery boy, sunshine, since you’re barging in on my city anyway,” he said, and tossed the package over: a sturdy black box, just larger than the size of a book. Hobbs, as confused as he was, still caught it. “Did you really think no one would notice the DSS causing chaos right outside London in the middle of the afternoon?”
“Uh, I definitely didn’t think Thumbelina’s angrier cousin was going to barge in on my op and throw things at me, I’ll tell you that much for free.” Hobbs stared down at the box, then at Shaw, and then at the box again, before he gave it a little shake.
“Suspicious bastard,” Shaw said with a sigh. He side-stepped to avoid a pair of idiots tumbling past, tussling over a gun that wasn’t even loaded. “It’s a birthday present, not a package bomb.”
“A birthday present,” Hobbs said slowly. “For…”
“For your daughter, whose birthday it will be next week,” Shaw said with what he considered truly praiseworthy patience. “I swear to you that it will not explode, implode, catch fire, or otherwise be capable of causing physical harm to anyone or anything.” He droned the list off in his most obnoxious, officious voice, only to drop it for the usual levels of sarcasm instead. “What is it you Americans say? Scout’s honor.” He raised a hand in the two-finger salute, not typically associated with the Scouts.
The package was also unwrapped and unsealed for a reason. If Hobbs wanted to be unnecessarily paranoid, he could take a peek without destroying the wrapping. It was just a book on the weirdest moments in international espionage, a Catwoman comic he’d tucked inside the book’s front cover, and a bottle of that nail polish that changed colors when exposed to drugs in a drink—Hattie’s offering. Nothing that Hobbs should have a problem with.
Hobbs opened his mouth to reply, probably something he believed was witty and cutting. But before he could, three baddies tumbled over the top edge of the shipping container just to their side, landing squarely between the two of them.
“Ah, come on, boys,” Hobbs said instead. “Can’t you see we’re having a conversation?”
Two went for Hobbs, the big, gun-toting, obvious threat, who did at least have the decency to tuck the black box safely into his kit before he started swinging. The third went for Shaw with a stun baton that was juiced up enough to rank as a cattle prod.
The best way to avoid a nasty shock was to not be there to get hit. Shaw danced around the blows—dodge, dodge, duck, lean—and let the idiot tire himself out with wild swings of his baton that were only getting wilder. At last the moron overdid it, and the baton clipped the metal edge of the shipping container and bounced straight back, with enough force that the man dropped it right on his own leg.
The shock and flash that followed left Shaw blinking spots out of his eyes, and the other man twitching on the floor.
“The quality of hired mercenaries these days…” Shaw muttered.
“You know, normally I’d expect more—” Hobbs paused mid-sentence to scruff one of his attackers around the neck like a misbehaving kitten and then launch him a good fifteen feet down the concrete floor, sliding all the way. “—more fighting and less fancy footwork out of you. Feeling a little under the weather? Trying not to chip your manicure?”
“Oh, ha-bloody-ha.” Shaw leaned back against the shipping container, folded his arms, and watched with a raised eyebrow as Hobbs exchanged rapid blows with the last thug. Clearly, he wasn’t trying very hard. “No. I ran into your MI6 contact trying to get inside the perimeter,” he said. “Turns out he’s an old friend of Hattie’s. Told me if I got my dirty mitts on his op, he’d arrest me on the spot.” He’d call Hattie, too, which was the bigger threat. She wouldn’t care about what he’d done, just that she had to listen to someone complain about it.
“And yet,” Hobbs said, finally deciding to stop messing around and landing a punch like a sledgehammer on the man’s jaw, laying him flat. “Here you are.”
“Well,” Shaw said, rolling his eyes as he raised his hands with a little flourish. “I’m keeping my dirty mitts off, ain’t I?”
A guy came screaming around the shipping container right at Hobbs’s back, gun up and ready to fire. One was nothing, and Shaw wouldn’t be bothered, except Hobbs was looking the wrong way, and lunging toward Shaw instead.
“Watch it!” Shaw snapped, at the same moment that Hobbs said something like “Look out!”
He and Hobbs slid past each other easily, and then Shaw had miles of open space and a half-second of surprise. It was more than enough. A quick jab to the elbow loosened the man’s grip on the gun, a twist wrenched it away, and then he rammed the butt of the gun twice to the man’s chest to knock the wind out of him. The guy bent double, wheezing for air, and that put his head at just the right height for Shaw to whack him on the base of the skull.
Don’t mind if I do, Shaw thought, and slammed the gun down.
The idiot hit the ground and didn’t get back up. The whole thing only took a couple seconds.
At his back, in almost the same amount of time, there was a scuffle and a thump, Hobbs dealing with his own issue. By the time he looked back, Hobbs had a gunman of his own on the floor, one Shaw hadn’t even noticed creeping up behind him.
All well and good, a win-win all around, except—
Shaw looked at the man he’d just hit, one of the baddies, and then at the one Hobbs had knocked out, who was in the standard government-issued gear—one of Hobbs’s own people. Hobbs shook out his fist, looking sheepish.
“I ain’t telling if you ain’t,” Shaw said, wandering over to clap him on the shoulder.
Hobbs didn’t hesitate. “Deal.” He nudged a closed fist gently against Shaw’s own shoulder to seal it.
* * *
So, apparently, that was just how they worked now. Sure, they’d fight like cats and dogs. They’d still beat each other bloody with words and fists and pretty much any furniture or bric-a-brac that wasn’t nailed down, if the opportunity arose. But they’d redrawn the lines somewhere along the way. Now, Shaw figured that if anyone else tried to start shit with Hobbs, he’d be a bit pissed off. Alright, he’d be furious. Alright, damn it, he’d tear them to bloody fucking shreds. It wasn’t a big deal.
The easiest and hardest part to understand about the whole thing was that Hobbs seemed to be in agreement—it obviously went both ways.
They didn’t talk about it.
* * *
“Could you drive a car from the backseat?”
Sam had branched out from locks; today she was more curious about the kind of crazy shit that street racers and stunt drivers like Shaw or Toretto could pull off than methods of breaking in or breaking out. On the one hand, Hobbs should be thrilled that she wasn’t always pushing toward becoming a master thief. On the other, stunt racing wasn’t exactly an improvement on cat burglar as a safe and legal lifestyle choice.
“Sure, with the right car.” Shaw tapped idly at his computer keyboard, not paying all that much attention to the bank records he was supposed to be investigating.
“Could you drive two cars at once?” There were some clicks and tapping sounds on the other end of the line as Sam went nuts on a controller, playing some video game as she talked.
Shaw thought it over for a second. “Sure,” he said. “With the right tech. And—”
“And with the right car,” she said with him, giggling. “What about—could you, um, could you drive a car underwater?”
“Nah,” Shaw said, without having to think about it. “Not practical. Might as well just use a boat at that point.”
“Aw,” Sam said, sounding genuinely disappointed. The click-clacking of her controller stopped. “Why’s that?”
“The car’s not heavy enough to get traction underwater while there’s air enough to breathe inside,” he said. “And door seals don’t keep out water, so the cab just slowly fills up. The engine’s not waterproof, either. Eventually the car’s dead in the water, and so are you.”
“But have you ever tried it?”
Shaw stopped typing himself. “Not exactly,” he told her. “I had a, uh, a job once, ended up in a delivery tuck over by the Black Sea. Brakes went out while I was down by the docks. I crashed through two market stalls and hit the water full speed. Cracked the windows doing it, too, so I’m sinking like a stone, water’s flooding in, and of course I’m wearing full kit and gear, the real heavy shi—uh, stuff. Everything you don’t want to wear on a swim.”
“What’d you do?”
“Nearly drowned,” Shaw said, wry. It was the one and only time he’d gotten close to dying like that, so it was memorable. “Dumped most of the gear, kicked out the windscreen, and swam for it. Popped back up near the docks, spitting seawater, and of course the only person around is some punk kid who’s decided to film the whole thing on his phone.”
Shaw had been honestly tempted to chuck the phone into the sea and let the kid dive in after it—see how he liked it.
Sam was laughing, pretty much unbothered by his brush with death. She was still under the impression that her dad and his friends were mostly immortal, and it seemed to have carried on over to Shaw as well. “Then what? What happened to the truck?” she asked.
“It’s still down there, far as I know,” Shaw said. He clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Unless it grew gills and swam away.”
“Or turned into a submarine!” she shot back.
“Well, if it can do that,” Shaw said, “then, yeah, I guess I can drive underwater. With the right car.”
* * *
Stakeouts were boring. That was just a universal fact. No matter the time or the place, no matter how many terrorists or mobsters or Nazis were waiting at the end of the boredom to be righteously punched in the face and then beaten down into a bloody pulp, the actual wait was dull as shit.
Even as nice as it was to work with Hattie, waiting with her on a stakeout was still going to be a trying exercise in patience while he stared at the same dull morons go about their dull criminal moron lives.
Hattie, as always, was smarter than her brother. She’d brought a little pile of books, and was happily reading, her feet tucked underneath her. Shaw, sitting next to her, could make out bits and pieces of the text where her hand wasn’t blocking it from sight, but not enough to get a real picture of the story.
“What’re you reading?” Shaw said, restless.
“I told you, you should have brought your own,” Hattie said archly. She curled over the book a little, like she thought he was about to snatch it out of her hands.
Shaw rolled his eyes. “Save it, Hats,” he said. “I’m not looking for an I told you so, just the title of the book.”
Hattie narrowed her eyes at him, but eventually took pity on him. “The Runaway Jury,” she said, and deigned to twist the book around to flash the cover at him. “It’s an American legal thriller. About rigging a jury for a court case.”
Shaw hummed thoughtfully, and bumped their shoulders together. “Doesn’t seem like your usual scene. Any good?”
Hattie shrugged, twisting the book back around to go back to reading. “I like it so far. And it was a recommendation from Luke, so I figured I’d give it a try.”
“Oh, Luke recommended it,” Shaw repeated, with irritated disbelief. He knew that his sister talked to Hobbs and Sam, but hadn’t realized it was involved enough for things like starting a book club. “Luke Hobbs recommended it?”
“Yes, Deck. Luke recommended it. As I just said.”
Shaw stared at the side of her head. “Seriously, Hattie,” he said. “You and Hobbs. Are you—are the two of you actually…?”
“Hm? What?” Hattie said. Her eyes flickered up from the page, and then dropped right back down again, just enough to give him a brief look of bloody mischief. “Oh, you want to know if we’re shagging.”
“Hats…” Shaw said, pained.
Her eyes flicked up-down again. “Knocking boots? Doing the horizontal tango? The old stick-and-poke? Hide the sausage?”
“Christ, Hattie, no.”
“You want to know if I’ve taken a ride on that bucking bronco, so to speak, hm? Climbed that—ah, what was it—that big, brown, well-endowed, tattooed mountain of a man…”
“Ah, hell.” Shaw pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers. “You were awake for that?”
“…over, and over, and over again,” Hattie finished cheerfully, which both didn’t answer Shaw’s question, and absolutely did.
He could have sworn she’d been asleep at that point on the plane, but maybe he shouldn’t have trusted in that after their bickering had woken the air marshal. “Please stop,” he said, more because he lived in hope than because he thought she would.
Hattie carefully shut her book, and looked him right in the eyes. “Deck, you’re my big brother, which is why I’ll tell you that he and I fucked,” she said, drawing out the word while Shaw winced, “exactly once. And I won’t lie, it was bloody fantastic. The man has stamina like nobody’s business—”
“Fucking hell, Hattie, I am literally begging you.”
“—but afterwards we both agreed that it was a one-off. Stressful situations, adrenaline, all that. We’re better off as friends, maybe casual fuckbuddies if we’re ever both in the same postal code and still unattached—I mean, I came three times before he got his, can you believe that?”
Shaw tipped his head back to look at the ceiling, but if there was a god up there looking to smite him for his sins, it looked like they weren’t going to be merciful and do the deed right then and there. “I’m leaving to pour acid straight in my ears, but bloody hell, it’ll never erase the memories.”
“So,” she said pointedly, ignoring him, “no, we’re not together like that, which is what you’re actually trying to ask. Not that it’s any of your damn business. And on that note, listen to me very carefully, Deckard Shaw: never again, and I do mean never, try to police who I do or don’t take to bed. Or to a sofa, or a convenient doorframe, or the backseat of a car, or—”
“Are you doing this to punish me?” Shaw said. “I feel like you’re doing this to punish me.”
“Yes,” Hattie said immediately. She might have been his little sister, but she’d always known how to play him like a fiddle. “I’m glad you noticed. Because if you ever try to make this sort of thing your business again, I’m going to—well, first I’m going to do whatever the hell I want, because I’m a grown woman with excellent judgment and common fucking sense. But after that, since you want to be involved so badly, I’m going to let you know exactly what you missed, and I’m going to do it in painful, graphic detail, maybe with diagrams. Almost certainly with sound effects. Do we understand each other?”
Shaw didn’t think there were words in English or any other language for how much he did not want that. “Perfectly.” He shuddered at the thought.
Hattie nodded firmly, and re-opened her book. “In any case, Luke has decent taste in literature, and I’m not throwing away a solid friendship just because the two of you prefer to fight about your repressed sexual tension instead of having a few good rounds of angry sex against the nearest wall. Or, knowing you two, the nearest car.” She raised an eyebrow at him, pointed. “You don’t get to be jealous that I shagged him first, not when you had plenty of time to do something about it before I showed up. And you never told me that you wanted him. I had to see it to be sure.”
Shaw scowled. “Who said I want him?” he said. “I never said that.”
“Hm.” Hattie turned a page of her book, flippant and obviously only pretending to ignore him. She still managed to fill that one short sound with cutting disbelief.
Shaw hunched his shoulders, scowled a little. “Three times before, you said?” he asked, grudgingly curious and, fine, a little jealous, because—the stamina, holy hell. It wasn’t that he wanted to have sex with Luke Hobbs. He didn’t, really. He just wanted to mess him up a little. Maybe see how much damage Hobbs could do in return.
“And twice after,” Hattie told him, sounding exactly as dreamy and satisfied as that deserved.
“Damn it,” Shaw hissed, and slunk off to think about that somewhere else, away from his brat little sister’s all-too-knowing gaze.
* * *
But Hattie didn’t know everything.
Hattie—Hattie knew barely any of it, actually, nothing but the bare bones shape of the skeletons he and Hobbs and Dominic fucking Toretto had in their collective closet. That was probably a good thing. Regret wasn’t usually something Shaw bothered himself with, but the whole—Toretto—situation, that was—that had been—
Shaw didn’t even like thinking about it, really. It was impossible to find the right words.
Sometimes it seemed unbelievable that the world could have sorted itself out like this, that Dom Toretto had his phone number and sometimes even answered if he called, or that Luke Hobbs could work with him and not even once try to take him in. Put him down. Whichever. That he’d been trusted with their children, helpless and young and small. That he’d wanted them to, or that, shamefully and secretly, he cared at all what they thought of him. It should have been impossible, after everything Owen had done to them—after everything they’d done to Owen—and then, after everything Deckard Shaw himself had found he was willing to do in the name of brother and family and blood—and then everything Hobbs and the Torettos had done to him, in the name of the same.
There was too much there, tangled together, to ever fully unpack. He’d just say there was a reason he would never go back to Tokyo, and leave it at that.
He didn’t regret what he’d done. No, that was wrong. He did regret what he’d done, regretted it fiercely, but never that he’d done it. Family was family, and his baby brother was always going to be his baby brother, even when he’d lost his damn mind.
And Owen had lost his goddamn mind. Owen had taken Toretto’s girl and broken her, and then he’d twisted her around and around inside her own head; he’d kidnapped Toretto’s little sister and threatened to kill her, like anyone who’d done the same to Hattie wouldn’t have earned themselves a one-way trip to six feet under. And, yes, Owen had been the one in a hospital at the end of all that, pale and terrifyingly still, but Shaw had to acknowledge that Toretto hadn’t put him in the grave with his own two hands even when he’d have been well within his rights. It had been Owen’s choices, Owen’s hardheaded unbending stupidity, that had done it. Shaw could admit that now.
Seeing as Shaw himself had gone directly off the rails after seeing his brother in that bed, stupidity seemed to be a family trait. In the same way, everything that had happened to and because of Shaw, the choices he’d made, the mistakes, those were all on him and him alone. He’d lost his goddamn mind, too. And in a sense, he’d been worse than Owen, because he’d always prided himself on being smarter than his irresponsible, impulsive little brother.
These days Shaw looked at Hobbs and saw—okay, most days he saw a numbskull and a fool. But the man also had a sort of shining simplicity, a pure and unrelenting dedication not to the law, not to some bullshit code that had to be followed to the exclusion of morality or decency or common fucking sense—but to Good. To doing what was Right.
Shaw liked that about him. Helplessly. Reluctantly. Against his own will, really. It was the same way he felt about how he couldn’t stop looking at the idiot. It wasn’t his fault. The man was built like a brick shithouse and hot as hell to boot, and all that was distracting even before Shaw had discovered his thing for Hobbs’s tattoos.
But that wasn’t the point.
The point was, in the long term, nobody was ever going to screw Hobbs over the same way Brixton and Eteon and MI6 had done to Shaw, because nobody who’d met the man would ever buy him as a traitor. Hobbs’s own people would never believe it, not like Shaw’s; Hattie had disowned him for nearly ten years without so much as asking Shaw’s side of the story, but Hobbs could video-call his daughter on the run, while the media called him a terrorist, with the bedrock certainty that she would never believe it was true. Hobbs’s people would never wonder, deep down, if he’d really done something terrible.
Hobbs saved the world because he could, because he liked doing it, and he probably got kittens out of trees and helped little old ladies cross the street for the same reason, the annoying do-gooder holier-than-thou prick. He was, infuriatingly, undeniably, a good man. A good person. Shaw didn’t know many of those, and he certainly wouldn’t count himself as one of them. He didn’t like to think about what that meant.
And he just plain didn’t know what to think about the fact that Hobbs, somewhere along the line, had started to treat Shaw like there was good in him as well. Even when they rubbed each other the wrong way. Even when they fought like cats and dogs. It had to be some kind of Hobbsian weirdness, too strange to be understood. Maybe just wishful thinking, a trick of the light. It had to be.
Because, anyway—the point of all this was—even if Hattie was right, sort of, just a little bit, there were other factors. Other things to consider.
Nobody really looked at Shaw, looked at his file and his records and his self, all the things he’d done and all the things he’d been accused of doing, and thought, yeah, this one’s good. This one’s worth something good. If he was worthy of anything, objectively, it was a prison cell. A bullet. A car crash.
Yeah. It was never going to happen.
* * *
Time passed. Things carried on as they were—work, family, phone calls. Travel to break the routine, and the same breakfast every morning to keep routine going.
Same as anyone in the world with a nine-to-five, really, except with more bullets. Shaw was damn good at what he did, the best really. Work would carry him along for a good long time.
* * *
When Mr. Nobody called, nobody loved picking up that phone. But everybody did it, because Mr. Nobody didn’t like to be ignored, and he had the power to make it hurt. Even Shaw wasn’t entirely exempt from that. He was a one-man wrecking crew and proud of it, but even he had people, pressure points. When Mr. Nobody called, he didn’t make any promises—he wasn’t owned—but he went.
Besides, Switzerland was nice enough this time of the year.
Maybe Nobody had wised up, because Shaw had no idea that they expected him to work with a team until he found his way to the black site and heard Luke Hobbs shouting down the walls.
“I don’t work for you. Hell, I don’t work for anyone. Sometimes, if you ask me real nicely and the world is coming to an end, I’ll consider working with someone, but not like this. Not after you pull this kind of tricked-out sneaky bullshit just to get me in the room. Next time, try asking before you start sending agents to pull out the guns and threats.”
Apparently, Hobbs’s invitation hadn’t been as nice as Shaw’s had been.
Shaw came around the corner, saw the standoff progressing about how he’d expected, and sighed. “Bugger this,” he said, eyeing the room where they’d shoved Hobbs, a handler, and three—three!—Swiss agents. Hobbs was standing, one hand curled up under the edge of the table like he was a half a second from flipping it over and starting to swing. “I could have gone to Italy this weekend instead.”
Fast cars, long roads, and killer beaches. Clearly, Switzerland had more than enough manpower to take care of itself.
Hobbs turned at the sound of his voice and saw him standing in the doorway. “Of course,” he said, tipping his head back to stare up at the ceiling. “Great. Of course, you invited Tiny Tim to this hot mess of a house party, too. Bet you folks always wanted a smoldering crater where your supercollider used to be.”
Shaw narrowed his eyes. “I don’t want to hear that from you, Godzilla,” he shot back. “This ain’t Tokyo. Why don’t you crawl back into whatever ocean you came out of, and maybe there’ll be a building or two left intact by the end of the day.”
“Gentlemen, please,” the handler said desperately. “We don’t want a fight.”
“Well, ain’t that nice,” Hobbs said. He still had a hand under the table, and the other was twitching toward joining it. “You sure as shit set yourself up for one. I’m sure you heard that the last two agencies that shoved us in a room together ended up needing major structural renovations by the time me and Peewee Herman over here got finished with them. Or did they not pass that little detail along?”
“I’m more than willing to make it three for three, cowboy,” Shaw said, his jaw tightening.
“Oh, yeah?” Hobbs said. Both hands were under the table, now; it would take him less than a second to flip it, toss it, and charge right in. Shaw loosened his stance and leaned in to take his weight off his heels, anticipating that moment. Gleeful about it, really. “Bring it.”
“Boys, please,” said Mr. Nobody’s voice. Shaw looked that way, and found one of the Swiss agents holding her phone up in the air, a call playing through on the speakers. “Let’s play nicely.”
“Or,” Shaw said, “we don’t have to play at all. I’m out of here.”
“Not so fast, Mr. Shaw.” Mr. Nobody sounded more amused than anything. “Mr. Hobbs, would you mind reading Mr. Shaw the text you just received on your personal phone?”
“I didn’t get—” Hobbs’s phone chimed from his pocket. “Son of a bitch.”
He pulled his phone out of his pocket with one hand, read it silently, and sighed.
“O.M.G. dad you’re working with Shaw again,” he read out loud in a perfect deadpan. “That’s so cool, tell me everything later. XOXO, say hi to Shaw for me.”
Hobbs looked up at Shaw. Shaw looked over at him. Very, very slowly, Hobbs pulled both hands out from under the table. Shaw let his weight settle back on his heels.
“Thank you,” the Swiss handler said earnestly, way too fucking sincere, “for your cooperation.”
It shook out like this:
There really were three Swiss agents along for the ride. There were two women, one espionage and one intel, and one man, also intel. The spy was clearly there to ride herd on the two geeks, both science types pushed way out of their comfort zone. Still, she ended up giving the briefing, because the handler was useless—couldn’t stop dancing around the issue, couldn’t stop twitching and losing his train of thought every time Shaw or Hobbs so much as shifted in their chairs.
Long story short: bad guys, bad tech, someone was cooking up something nasty and hoping to use the CERN supercollider to do it. Not quite end of the world stuff, but possibly bad enough to leave a crater across half of western Europe.
Shaw shared a look with Hobbs that said, pretty clearly, that western Europe could go fuck itself. Then they went back to glowering at each other and around the table.
The group split up as soon as humanly possible. Hobbs got saddled with the brain trust, taking the two scientists and heading off to track down some scientific bits and bobs the baddies needed, which should hopefully keep things from going boom. Shaw was off to look in on the group supplying weapons to the main operation, in the hopes they’d know how to find the lunatics who wanted to do the exploding.
The Swiss spy attached herself to Shaw, and didn’t seem likely to back off.
“Looks like you’ve got yourself a watcher, buttercup,” Hobbs said smugly. “I don’t think Mr. Nobody trusts you not to wreck shit if you’re let loose alone on the streets.”
Shaw shrugged back at him. “Better off than you, mate,” he pointed out. “At least I’m useful. Pretty sure they brought you on just to do some babysitting.”
“You smarmy motherfucker.”
“Okay, great!” said the Swiss agent. “Can we get moving?”
In Shaw’s opinion, there was nothing quite like a barfight to get rid of any lingering aggression. Shaw hadn’t made a living out of being bloody fucking ruthless in a fight, but that fact was more than just padding on his resume. So what if he wasn’t a beefy fucker, not like Hobbs? All that meant was he had to be fast and smart and mean, and he was. He wasn’t going to lie, either, and say he didn’t love a good brawl.
In the dirty backroom of a dim-lit, sticky bar that acted as a front for fences and dealers of all kinds, Shaw was getting a chance to stretch those muscles.
A roomful of bruisers came screaming at him, righteously pissed off by the way he’d punched out the bouncer on the door without so much as a hello or a by-your-leave. The Swiss agent, who’d only just grudgingly given her name as Mila, hissed at him through her teeth for it, a bit pissed off herself. It didn’t stop her from carrying her weight when Shaw shoved part of the fight in her direction.
This was good. This was familiar. This was heart-pounding and fast and fun. Shaw dislocated one man’s shoulder and broke his elbow with the same grab-and-kick; he smashed a decorative vase over the head of another. Shaw threw the third man over his shoulder and straight into number two while he was still bent over double and clutching at his face, sending them both crashing down in a tangle of limbs.
And so on.
Some of them had knives. Shaw took those for himself. A few had guns, but those were as much of a risk to friends as they were to enemies in a tangle like this, and Shaw took cheerful, brutal advantage of that.
It didn’t take long to clear everyone out, and then finally he and Mila stood in front of the big man himself—the bozo who was dealing to Switzerland’s newest death cult, or whatever it was.
Look, Shaw hadn’t been paying that much attention during the briefing. In his defense, he didn’t actually care.
“Let’s have a little chat,” he said, holding a broken shard of ceramic vase uncomfortably close to the man’s balls. The guy was shaking, fear or fury or both, but he didn’t move, which was smart of him. The thing was very sharp. “And if I don’t like what I hear, then…” He pushed down. The man’s breath hitched. “…you and I will be exploring the practical applications of the word eunuch. Understood?”
It seemed that he did. He sang like a goddamn canary.
After that, it was a two-hour drive back to their black-site base, and it took Mila until they were most of the way back before she burst out with the rant that had been building for ages. “That was stupid,” she said. “Risky and unprofessional and stupid. They know our faces now. They know we’re looking, they know our aims, and they even know our car.”
“Hobbs’s car,” Shaw pointed out, mild. He’d swiped the cheap rental keys out of Hobbs’s pocket, and left the sports car behind.
“Who cares?” she snapped. “You—you’re supposed to be the spy, here. You should understand. You’re supposed to be—”
Shaw tuned her out after that, and focused on driving back. She’d either get it eventually or she wouldn’t.
Hobbs, at least, didn’t need everything spelled out for him. “Swap out?” he said the moment Shaw walked into the office. He held up the keys to the borrowed sports car and rattled them.
Shaw held up the rental keys in return. “Yeah.” He tossed them over, and caught the keys Hobbs whipped at his head in return. “All set?”
It looked like Hobbs and the science geeks had found whatever tech nonsense they were looking for, tucked away in a padded case on the conference table. The scientists themselves were huddled over a second, identical case, bickering as they spray-painted, prodded, and adjusted what had to be harmless replicas. The rest of the place had been armored up and emptied out. “You know it,” Hobbs said. “Took you long enough. Did you stop for snacks or something?”
“What in the world…?” Mila said blankly, looking around.
Shaw ignored that. “I’ll take Pinky and the Brain,” he said, gesturing at the eggheads. “You want Mila here?”
Hobbs raised an eyebrow. “I don’t need backup, babyface. I am the backup.”
“Whatever. Just shut your trap and get it done, pinhead.” Shaw flagged down the two geeks. “Oi, you two. Grab the real deal and let’s get moving.”
“Do you even know their names?” Hobbs said.
“Nah,” Shaw said, blithely unconcerned.
“It’s Matteo and Giulia, asshat.”
“Don’t care,” Shaw shot back. The two of them didn’t much seem to care what he called them; they’d grabbed the real case and were headed his way happily enough. “Let’s go.”
“Go where?” Mila burst out.
He didn’t answer her, just headed back out toward the car lot, almost tempted to start whistling, trailing two cheerful scientists and a steaming-mad spy all the way. They piled into the car and took off for a secondary site that the handler had set up before Shaw and Hobbs had even arrived.
It didn’t actually take Mila that long to put it together. “Bait and trap,” she said in the car, after nearly ten long minutes of strained silence. “Right?”
“That’s the ticket,” Shaw said.
The look on her face was impressed, but reluctantly so. “They see us and the truck…”
“Huge red rental,” Shaw threw in. “Can’t miss it.”
“And they follow it back to base, where we’re long gone. Instead they find the decoys.”
Not to mention a seemingly well-armored base and a one-man army, just enough effort to convince them that it wasn’t a trap. Hobbs could and would do a frankly absurd amount of damage, flailing around and smashing through walls, before he made a run for it. “It buys us some time, while they figure it out.”
“Or maybe they don’t,” Matteo said from the back seat.
“And then maybe they blow up only themselves, and not Europe!” Giulia finished triumphantly from one seat over. She offered Matteo a high-five, which he returned with gusto.
“Delightful,” Shaw said, deadpan, glancing between the two bloodthirsty maniacs in his rearview mirror.
“Why didn’t you pass along the plan?” Mila said, still annoyed. “You two took the time to work out what to do, but didn’t tell—”
Shaw snorted, interrupting her. “Oh, please,” he said. “Gigantor and I don’t sit around, chatting about our hopes and dreams and planning this shit out. I just stole his keys. And if a knobhead like him can figure it out from nothing but that, even after all the times he’s been righteously bashed upside the head, then a reasonably intelligent woman like yourself doesn’t need anyone holding her hand and walking her through it.”
It made perfect sense to him, but Mila wasn’t the only one staring at him when he finished speaking, visibly baffled.
Shaw didn’t get it. It really wasn’t that hard to understand.
“Do you two…work together often?” Matteo finally asked.
Shaw shuddered, feeling his lip draw up like he’d just bitten into a lemon. “No. Ugh. I’d rather claw out my own eyes than get stuck with that low-budget Captain America knock-off for a single fucking instant longer than I have to.”
“I see,” Matteo said, in a tone that said he definitely didn’t.
Shaw still thought it made perfect sense.
* * *
They made it to their secondary base easily enough. Hobbs joined them after only a few boring hours of waiting.
“Congrats on making it back without picking up a tail. Or trashing half the city. I know that’s hard when you’ve got the size and subtlety of a river barge.” Shaw leaned casually back in his chair, smirking at Hobbs. It looked like there were a few new bruises there, but nothing serious.
Hobbs made a show of looking Shaw up and down, and then raised a smug eyebrow. “Nice to see you made it about six miles without starting any fires, or getting lost. I know that’s hard, what with your itty-bitty attention span. Or should I say perfectly proportional?”
“Keep joking, wise guy. It’ll be harder to keep your jaw flapping once I’ve jammed my gun between your teeth.”
Giulia leaned closer to Matteo, but spoke in a stage whisper loud enough to carry. “Their friendship is very strange,” she said.
Shaw and Hobbs both swiveled full-body to glare at her. “We’re not friends!” they said at the same time, for once in perfect agreement.
* * *
Things proceeded pretty much as expected from there.
* * *
As much as Shaw hated to admit it, Hobbs made for a decent passenger in a car chase. Much better than the Swiss Musketeers in the back, who were screaming up a storm—at him, and his driving, at the universe in general. Unlike those quivering blobs of jelly, Hobbs at least had a steel spine to match his thick skull.
Some people, honestly, Shaw thought, as he skipped the curb for a second, half up on the sidewalk to dip past the traffic squealing past. You nearly clip one postbox while dodging a pedestrian, and people assume you don’t know what you’re doing.
Or maybe it was only that they’d never before been in a high-speed, life-or-death car chase for the fate of the world, not like Shaw and Hobbs. Well, for the fate of western Europe. Who cared about the specifics? It was almost finished now. If they stayed alive, kept hold of their briefcase full of tech, and gave the proper authorities the forty-five minutes they needed to mobilize and mop up the heads of the organization, then this whole fiasco would finally be over.
“Maybe I’ll go to Italy after this,” Hobbs said, clearly thinking along the same lines. “This kind of shit never happens to me in Italy.”
“Watch the road!” That sounded like Giulia, shrieking at Shaw as he turned a raised eyebrow on Hobbs.
“It doesn’t?” Shaw said.
This car wasn’t his usual, but it did have an engine like a jet and it turned on a dime. He blew a red light and darted cleanly through cross-traffic, easy as anything, ignoring the blaring horns and the shatter-crunch of one of the four pursuing SUVs crashing into something in the background. That left three more to shake.
“Well,” Hobbs said.
Shaw smirked. “That’s not a no.”
The road opened up ahead of them as they hit a straightaway. Signs posted every few feet shouted at him that there was a tunnel just a mile ahead, one with a concrete barrier to cut the four-lane road neatly in half.
Before Shaw could floor it and really open up some space, there was a crunch.
One SUV, armor plated, slammed into the right side of his car. Shaw had to wrench the wheel hard to the side to stay mostly-straight on his path. A second later there was another crunch as a second SUV slammed into them on the left and then held there, boxing them in.
The driver’s side windows all shattered with the impact, glass scattering across the backs of Shaw’s arms and hands. The Three Stooges in the back screamed.
“Shit,” Shaw hissed, tugging at the wheel, but both SUVs had jammed themselves right up alongside him, and now they were stuck, going along for the ride.
“Shaw, do something,” Mila snapped at him.
The tunnel was up ahead: they were going to get rammed, at full speed, into the concrete barricade.
“Shaw!” More screaming.
He yanked the wheel full force to the right, then to the left. The right-side car held steady, perfectly in sync; the left side car bounced off just a little, and then came crunching back into place. If he tried to brake, then the third car would just ram him from behind, and then they’d be really fucked.
“Goddamnit, Shaw!” Screaming, pointless screaming—obviously he knew, obviously he could see where they needed to go and where they were going instead, and when a voice barked “Shut the hell up!” it took him a second to realize it wasn’t just his thoughts, manifesting out loud: it was Hobbs.
“Left or right?” Hobbs asked him, more calmly. He had his gun out and cocked.
Shaw push-pulled at the wheel again; the right was solid, but the left still had a little wobble, a little give. Sloppy driving. He leaned his full weight left on the wheel, enough to make the power steering whine, so the driver on that side had to push back hard to keep them pointed straight at the oncoming concrete. “Right,” he said.
The gun barked twice. One shot to shatter the windows, and one shot to fully destroy the steering column of the car to their right.
As soon as he heard the shots, Shaw yanked the wheel to the right and hit the brakes.
Like he’d thought, the left car couldn’t compensate fast enough. The sudden, full force of two cars veering right, the third car without any steering power at all—hitting the brakes hard enough to slip back just a few feet, just enough to put his front axle on a level with the SUVs’ back axles—all three of them spun out together.
The car that had been on the left was now in the front of a chain of cars sliding almost perfectly sideways down the road at over a hundred miles per hour.
“Holy shit!” someone was screaming in the backseat.
Shaw pushed back against the way the SUV in the front was trying to straighten up, held it for a second, two, ignoring the shrieking wind through the blown-out windows, the shrieking passengers, whatever it was rattling ominously in the driver’s side door area. They slid—just a little farther—
Shaw pushed left, hard. The whole chain of them, two SUVs and a beat-up street racer, swung back to face forward once again, only now they were a good bit farther into the right lane than when they’d started.
The SUV with steering power, once again on the left of their little line-up, barely had time to slow down before it slammed straight into the concrete barricade, scraping it off Shaw’s side easier than peeling a grape. The SUV on the right, without any way to control the ride, made the smart choice to brake, hard, and screeched its way through a messy half-spin stop that left it blocking two lanes of traffic.
The final SUV, the one Shaw had almost forgotten about, rammed into its newly-parked friend broadside. That put all their pursuers out of commission and, even better, blocked access to the tunnel from behind them as they triumphantly sped away.
Shaw smirked, then forced the expression away, keeping himself calm and collected. He was still driving, after all. “Everyone good?”
Matteo was still screaming. Giulia was still chanting “holy shit, holy shit,” and didn’t seem likely to stop. Mila had both hands wrapped, white-knuckled, around the panic handle above the rear-door window.
Hobbs, though, Hobbs was whooping and hollering like he’d just come off a roller coaster. “Hell yeah, that was fucking beautiful!” he shouted. He clapped one hand on Shaw’s shoulder, warm and heavy and solid, and shook him back and forth, too damn thrilled to keep it to himself. Shaw got what that was like. “You goddamn beautiful crazy son of a bitch, that’s what I’m fucking talking about!”
Shaw smirked again. This time he didn’t bother to wipe the expression off his face.
* * *
A small fact, one that no one but him would ever know: if he hadn’t had both eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel, in that moment he’d have reached over to Hobbs and—and—
He’d have kissed him or killed him, whichever one got rid of the bright-sharp pressure building in his chest at the look of sheer, dumb joy on Luke Hobbs’s big, stupid face.
* * *
Maybe Hattie didn’t know everything, but damn her anyway for always being right.
* * *
Back at the secondary black site, the five of them and the useless handler sat around the conference table as Mila cradled her head in one hand and held up her phone with the other.
“Nice work,” Mr. Nobody said over the speaker. “It seems like Road Rage and ‘Roid Rage have done it again. If you’ll excuse the expression.”
Hobbs made a noise like a cat that’d had its tail stepped on. “Oh, hell no,” he shot back instantly. “Never call me that again.”
From directly across the table, Shaw raised a single finger. “Hold on,” he said thoughtfully. “Wait a minute. I think I like it.”
Hobbs put one hand down firmly on the table and leaned in. “Nah, no. Nope. ‘Roid Rage? Ain’t nothing juiced up about all this, peaches,” Hobbs insisted, gesturing up and down at himself. “This is the real deal, 100% all-American meat and muscle.”
“You sound like you’re describing a cow you’re about to send to slaughter,” Shaw said, morbidly fascinated. “Are you a man or a side of beef?”
Hobbs glowered back, bared his teeth. “Why don’t you try and take a bite, find out?”
Shaw drew back a little, startled, eyebrows furrowing. The tone was right, all threat, but the words were—not—
“Okay,” Mr. Nobody cut in, before Shaw had to try and respond. “That’s about enough of that. Great job, everybody, go home, thanks for only causing low-to-middling levels of property damage this time around.”
He hung up.
“I thought they hated each other?” Matteo said quietly, staring across the table at Shaw and Hobbs.
“Their friendship is very strange,” Giulia said again.
Shaw and Hobbs turned again to glower at her. “We’re not friends.”
“You fight the wrong way for people who aren’t friends,” Matteo insisted. “Like my parents. But they have just remarried after a ten-year divorce.”
Mila put her head down on the table with a solid thump.
* * *
Shaw felt alright with never seeing any of these people ever again.
* * *
Well. That was only mostly true. He might be—disappointed, just a little, if he never ran across Hobbs again. It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t as if he liked working with the smug wanker.
And even if he did—even if it was a thrill to be understood without having to explain, to pull off wild and crazy stunts with someone who trusted him and enjoyed the rush of riding along in the passenger seat—even then—
Well. He didn’t. He didn’t, so he didn’t have to finish the thought.
* * *
Things settled back into their usual routine for the next couple of months: semi-regular phone calls, semi-regular contact that was, more and more often, split equally between Samantha Hobbs and her father.
“Sam’s in trouble today,” Hobbs said immediately when Shaw picked up the phone. “Don’t let that cute little innocent voice guilt you into being on her side. We’re not happy about this.”
“About what?” Shaw said, bemused. Hobbs didn’t sound angry. He sounded like he was trying very hard to be stern even though he wasn’t feeling it.
“One of the boys at her school picked up a new word over the weekend,” Hobbs told him. “Ran around at lunch calling all the girls pussies. Not one of them is over twelve years old.”
“Little prick,” Shaw muttered.
“Exactly.” Hobbs snorted. “Well, the little asshole tried it on Sam and one of her friends, and Sam didn’t like it all that much. So she slapped him. Twice. Right across the face.”
Shaw burst into startled laughter.
“Yeah, yeah. Get it all out now,” Hobbs grumbled.
“She’s—she’s taking legit self-defense classes, yeah?” Shaw managed to get out. “Why a measly couple slaps?”
“She says she wanted to shame him, not hurt hum,” Hobbs said, and sighed. “Apparently it was one slap for her and one for Kelsey. Uh, her friend.”
Shaw grinned. “Nice work.”
“No, nope, nu-uh,” Hobbs said firmly. “We’re all very disappointed. Violence should only ever be a last resort. She should have reported it to her teacher.”
“That’s a bit hypocritical, coming from us.” They solved most, if not all, of their problems with extreme violence. And Hobbs might technically be law enforcement himself, but neither of them were about to report anything to the traditional cops, except maybe as a practical joke.
“She’s ten,” Hobbs said. “And a normal kid. Mostly. Normal kids don’t get to hit their way out of normal kid problems.”
“Alright, alright,” Shaw said, shrugging it off easily enough. He switched the call over to speaker so he could start tapping at a couple of apps. “What’re you telling me for, then?”
“Do not encourage her, Shaw,” Hobbs said sternly. “I’m not kidding around. I already had to pick her up early from school. She’s grounded for a week. We’re mad about this.”
“Okay, Papa Bear, I said I got it,” Shaw said, laughing at him. “Who’re you trying to convince, me or you? Let me guess, for the rest of her punishment: it’s ice cream for dinner and her bedtime is never.”
Hobbs hesitated just one crucial second too long. “The ice cream will be after dinner, thanks,” he muttered.
“You massive softy.” Shaw smirked, even knowing Hobbs couldn’t see it; the other man would definitely be able to hear it in his voice. “You’re a huge marshmallow.”
Hobbs made a heavy hmph noise. “I don’t want to hear it from you, short stack,” he said. “She’s got you wrapped around her little finger. What, have you already bought her a pony, or are you waiting to ask her what color she wants first?”
“Don’t be daft,” Shaw said, rolling his eyes. “I’m not doing that.” There was no way Sam had space or time to take care of a live horse in Los Angeles. No. The pair of $100 Amazon gift cards he’d just finished ordering on his phone would be much more useful, and he’d scheduled them for delivery the day after her grounding was over. One for each slap. It was perfect. He switched the phone off speaker and put it back up to his ear.
“Sure.” Hobbs didn’t sound like he believed it. So little faith. “I’m passing you to Sam now. Oh, she’ll call from her phone next time—I’ve got a milk run that’ll take me out of L.A. for a week or two.”
“Have fun, big guy,” Shaw told him. “Try not to get shot.”
“Wow,” Hobbs said. “That’s so demeaning. You really think anyone’ll manage to shoot me on a nothing job like this?”
“Fine, then, I take it back,” Shaw said patiently. “Have a terrible time, and I hope you get caught, shot, and tossed in a hole. Is that better?”
“You’re an asshole and a son of a bitch,” Hobbs shot back cheerfully. “Here’s Sam.”
Sam, despite everything, seemed pretty damn pleased with herself. “Are you going to lecture me, too?”
“Nah,” Shaw said. “Nice work. Next time, don’t get caught.”
“Uh, you’re on speaker, Shaw,” Sam said, a little guilty. “Sorry.”
“Whoops,” Shaw said. “Got to go!”
Better to retreat and live to fight another day. Shaw hung up.
* * *
Sam’s number was saved in Shaw’s phone under her full name. Her dad had once been saved as “Bitch Boy,” but now that most calls on that line involved a ten-year-old, he’d switched it to read a much more neutral “Hobbs.”
Sam didn’t have as extensive an international calling plan as her dad did, so Shaw took most of their calls from “Hobbs.” This time, though, the line was ringing with a call from “Samantha Hobbs,” as expected.
“Good morning, Samantha,” Shaw said, after some quick mental calculations to remember the time difference between L.A. and this part of the Middle East. “How’s your week going? Causing trouble without your dad around to keep you in check?”
Sam sniffled instead of replying straight away. Shaw felt his hackles raise instantly. If anything hurt this kid…
“I need your help,” Sam said, her voice watery. And maybe Shaw was halfway across the planet, but anything that made her sound like that was going to be nothing but blood and ash when he was through.
At least this time she hadn’t made it sound like a question. “Anything,” he said, and meant it.
* * *
Hobbs had gone missing. Oh, his phone and his GPS were in all the right places, and messages were going in and out to the DSS with all the right codewords and intel, but no one had seen or spoken to the man except through text for days. He hadn’t video called Sam or answered her calls in that time, despite their plans in advance. And nobody at the DSS would act, because by their carefully plotted metrics, nothing was wrong.
“But my dad would never do that to me on purpose,” Sam said with unshakeable faith, and, well, she wasn’t wrong.
“I’ll take care of it,” Shaw promised. “Give me a day or two. Where’s he supposed to be?”
“Puerto Rico,” Sam said.
Shit. A bit of a haul, and even worse since Shaw was in bloody Azerbaijan and not London. “I’ll take care of it,” he repeated anyway. “And keep you updated. It’s been, what, three days? Four?”
“Alright.” Four days, where presumably someone had access to Hobbs’s phone and all his secure messaging and passcodes? That stunk of an inside job. No point in playing around with the DSS and international cooperation, then—they were compromised. Shaw alone didn’t have the sort of leverage to get past that.
Instead, he called Hattie and explained the situation.
“Always such a mess with you two,” Hattie said, sighing.
“Hey,” Shaw said, but it was pretty mild. He resembled that remark.
“Go get on a plane, then. I’ll liaise with the DSS,” she said, executing her right as a little sister to ignore him completely. “MI6 and the DSS have been…cooperative, after the Eteon disaster. And if I can get to this Mr. Nobody of yours without raising any red flags, then I can get us back-up with a better-than-even chance they won’t immediately turn and stab us in the back.”
“I’ll get things started in the meantime,” Shaw said, nodding sharply. “Go hunting.”
He had a couple of blocks of C4 still lying around; he could probably put those to good use.
“Go subtle, please,” Hattie insisted. “Don’t spook them, Deck.”
“Subtle as I can,” Shaw shot back, “for a white Brit in the American-occupied Caribbean.”
Hattie was bright enough to know exactly what that meant. “Ohhh, boy.”
* * *
Anyway, Shaw only got into one firefight, two fistfights, and a three-mile car chase before Hattie called him in to meet with her and the reinforcements. In that time, he also verified Hobbs was still alive, and found where they were keeping him. A win-win, really.
“Aw, come on, Hat,” he said, phone on the empty seat next to him as he drove. He veered hard right to avoid being boxed in by a gunman on a motorcycle and a clunky armored Jeep, took the turn on just the right side of too fast, and heard the telltale screech and crunch of the Jeep overcorrecting to avoid oncoming traffic and instead ramming itself headfirst into a tree. “This is subtle, by our standards. And they’re definitely focused on me, not what the DSS might be up to.”
“You better shake ‘em before you get here, moron.” Hattie sounded about done with his nonsense, but what else were baby sisters for? “Let’s keep them in the dark right up ‘til the shooting starts.”
“More fun that way,” Shaw agreed, and stepped on the gas. It was only the motorcycle left, and maybe it had the advantage in maneuverability, but Shaw in his sensible-looking black sedan was much, much more durable. He was betting that if he really tried, he could get the motorcycle flying one way and that doomed sucker of a cyclist flying the other.
It took less than two minutes and strategic use of a roundabout to manage. Shaw was kind of proud of that one.
* * *
In the end, Hattie took the squad of DSS and MI6 agents she’d pulled together on short notice, and went to kick in the front door of the little militarized warehouse and production facility where Hobbs was being held. Shaw, who didn’t actually care about whatever mission the DSS was running, or about the frazzled nerves of the MI6 agents still convinced he was a backstabbing traitor, grabbed a couple of Mr. Nobody-approved field medics and snuck in through the back.
The complex was huge—over a square mile of industrial facilities and office space, gated-in and well-secured. The place was surprisingly well maintained, for a criminal enterprise, with beautifully manicured lawns and landscaped walking paths leading from building to building.
Crisp, and beautiful, and serene. Right up until the first explosions took down the front gate.
Hattie might push for subtlety, but she loved making a ruckus as much as any of them. The guards went piling out of buildings and up toward the front, where the real mess was taking place, and Shaw was able to take his two ducklings quietly to the building where, as far as he had been able to find out, they were keeping Hobbs.
There were a few guards in that building, still. Shaw’s two medics were both field-ready and carried guns, but medics were trained to be cautious and keep themselves safe in a brawl. They were meant to fix up whoever got bashed around, not to get bashed around themselves.
Shaw, on the other hand, was meant for front-line combat. He charged right in.
At least one of the two medics had some sense. That one, a woman with long pulled-back hair and a steady gaze, grabbed her gawking male coworker by the arm and tugged him deeper into the building while Shaw was still using the first guard to reach him as a bullet shield against the ones farther inside.
That was fine by Shaw. Let the medics search; Shaw made for an excellent distraction.
At some point, one of the guards must have radioed in for backup, but the fight never got beyond what Shaw could handle by himself in the narrow entrance hallways. The DSS had requested as many alive as possible for questioning—always real hassle—so Shaw did his best to knock out or incapacitate where he could, building up piles of bodies to trip up any guards that might try to bunch up and rush him all at once.
“The package is secure,” said the male medic’s voice over the radio. They’d found Hobbs. Alive, not that it had really been in question, but the DSS had expressed concerns that Shaw had been happily ignoring. Hattie had agreed with him, even. Hobbs would never go out so quietly.
All Shaw had to do after that was clean up out here, which he was all too happy to do. He twisted one guard around by the arm to slam him headfirst into the wall, kicking his knees out from under him to make sure he crumpled. Another one took a swipe at him with a KA-BAR, slicing a long rip in his jacket that didn’t make it through the body armor underneath to hit skin. He spun back around, caught the knife arm between his elbow and the wall, slammed hard to loosen the man’s grip, and took the knife for himself. A hard closed-hand blow to the temple with the handle took that idiot out of the fight, and then Shaw had a wickedly sharp new knife to use as a deterrent on the last few hapless guards still standing.
In the end, it came down to Shaw and the last two guards, the three of them frozen in place with one at Shaw’s back and one just in front.
“Hands in the air,” Shaw told the one in front. “Nice and slow.”
He did it. Probably, if Shaw had to guess, because of the gun Shaw had pointed in his face.
It wasn’t Shaw’s gun. It belonged to the man at Shaw’s back, who was, in fact, still holding it. Shaw just happened to be holding it too. Shaw also had the other man’s arm trapped between Shaw’s own arm and side, the other man’s hand trapped between Shaw’s hand and the gun, and even the man’s finger trapped between Shaw’s finger and the trigger.
Maybe the gunman should have been fighting back, but Shaw still had his new knife, and pressing the top of it down near the other man’s crotch seemed to be an effective deterrent.
“Shaw,” said a voice from off to the side. He twisted a little so he could see the female medic’s solemn face. “We need you.”
“Just a sec,” Shaw told her. “I’ve got to take out the trash.”
He wasn’t sure what expression was on his face, but whatever it was, the guard in front of him took one look and went white as a sheet.
It took less than ten seconds to finish up, and then Shaw was following behind the medic down the hallways.
“We got the door unlocked and the chains off him,” she explained as they hurried along. She acknowledged Shaw’s dark scowl with a little nod of her own—the bastards had chained him down? Unacceptable. “And then he woke up. Nothing we’ve tried since has calmed him down. He doesn’t recognize us, so he’s going to keep trying to fight us.”
“And he’s got the raw strength to pop your head off like a grape,” Shaw said, understanding why she’d gone to get him rather than risk it. “You don’t want to get too close.”
“Pretty much, yeah.” It was practical of her. “Based on the notes we found, we think part of the problem is he’s on some kind of drug—probably meant to suppress impulse control, and only partially worn off after the last dose. I’d guess from the way he’s sweating that he’s safely on the comedown, but I’d still rather check him over and make sure.”
“Impulse control?” Shaw repeated. Yikes. He winced. “Don’t think seeing me is going to stop him fighting, in that case. We’re cats and dogs, most days.”
“He knows you, though?” the medic said, side-eyeing him. “Trusts you, at least a little?”
“Sure,” Shaw said, because that was easy enough. It just wouldn’t stop Hobbs from trying to crush him down, crumple him into a ball, and slam-dunk him out the nearest window if that was what he wanted. Obviously, Shaw wouldn’t let him. But he still might try.
“As long as you can convince him we’re not trying to kill him, that’s good enough for me,” the medic said with a shrug, clearly fine with it as long as it wasn’t her getting hit with a piledriver while trying to do her job. “Here we are,” she said as they came around a dimly-lit corner.
Someone shrieked nearby, high and terrified. A second later, the male medic came reeling out of an open doorway, clutching at his face. A bit of blood was slipping out from around his fingers, near his nose.
“Hey, Brent, what the fuck,” the female medic said pleasantly. “Why the hell would you go in there alone?”
“I was trying to sedate him, obviously,” the man said. He sounded nasally and stuffed up. “I think the bastard broke my nose!”
“He doesn’t need sedating,” the female medic shot back, ignoring the complaint. “He’s conscious, he’s reacting coherently to stimuli. It’s not uncommon for well-trained agents to react badly after a rescue—that’s why we bring along familiar agents, to give them something positive to respond to—and that’s literally what I told you I was going to go do, so what the actual fuck, Brent?”
Shaw looked past the man and through the open doorway. The room was way bigger than he’d expected, a nine-by-nine-meter cube that was mostly empty, except for where Hobbs was a shuddering, crumpled form against one of the far walls, a solid three or four meters from the shackles embedded in the floor. It looked like he’d gotten loose and flung himself as far away as he could manage. He didn’t seem particularly aggressive, but obviously appearances could be deceiving. This idiot medic was going to have the black eyes to prove it before the day was out.
“He’s losing his shit in there, and we need to check him out,” the man said firmly. “We just need to give him a tranq, or at least restrain him—”
“He’s been locked in chains and drugged to holy hell, and you want to tie him back down and give him more drugs?” Shaw snapped at him, focus moving away from the room and back to the man in front of him. “Yeah, you dunce, I’d be fighting you too. Get the hell out of my way.”
The other man was a lightweight, and clearly hadn’t expected Shaw to grab him by the scruff of the neck, toss him aside, and keep moving. In the background, the other medic held him by the arm to keep him from coming back, so at least someone had some common sense.
“Hobbs,” he called as he approached, nice and slow. He didn’t bother to keep low or try to make himself small—if Hobbs was looking for a threat, he’d find one in Shaw no matter what he did. And even drugged up and crumpled against a wall, Hobbs could definitely still pack one hell of a punch. “Hey, take it down a notch, Hulk. You’re scaring the civilians.”
Hobbs didn’t respond to that. He didn’t even open his eyes, but that was a cheap deception. Strung out and shaking as he was, his head was still turning to track Shaw’s slow, winding footsteps.
“Hobbs,” Shaw tried again. “Luke Hobbs, get it together. Luke.” The first name got a little twitch, a little glimpse of red-rimmed eyes and wide-blown pupils. Awareness started to creep back in. “That’s more like it,” he said, and stopped in place, still a good six feet back and well outside lunging distance. “Come on, Luke. Maybe I told you I hoped you got caught and tossed in a hole on this one, but you’ve never taken me seriously before.”
“Focus, airhead. I know you’ve got a skull that’s made of wood and mostly hollow, but surely there’s still a brain cell or two knocking around in there. You know me.”
Hobbs’s eyes suddenly narrowed, focused in. Shaw held steady and calm and waited, meeting that glassy stare.
And suddenly Hobbs relaxed, all the tension falling out of him at once. “Shaw,” he said. His voice was thick and tangled up on his tongue. “Y’know, you talk out the side of your mouth? Twists so far to the side, looks like it’s trying to run right off your face. Real distracting.”
Shaw rolled his eyes, but let himself move up the rest of the way, dropping into a crouch right next to Hobbs. Yeah, the man was back with it, at least enough to know he wanted to start bitching. Apparently, he didn’t feel like fighting with Shaw at the moment, either. “Okay, sure. I’d consider being offended if you weren’t stoned off your gourd right now.” He reached out and gently wrapped his fingers around the pulse point at Hobbs’s wrist, waiting to see if that would get a bad reaction. Better that Hobbs flipped out on him and not on the medic. Again.
But Hobbs didn’t react at all, except to turn his wrist a little in Shaw’s grasp, enough to catch the tips of his fingers in Shaw’s sleeve.
“Am not,” Hobbs said, indignant, a good second or two too late. His eyes were trying to focus somewhere a handspan to the left of Shaw’s head.
“Sure, you’re not,” Shaw said, piling on the sarcasm. He left his hand where it was, and so did Hobbs. “And I bet you’d never fight the nice medics who’re just trying to check on you, hm? Just doing their jobs?”
Hobbs scowled. “I wouldn’t do that.”
There was a pointed sound of disbelief from the arsehole medic in the back, one that broke off in a thump and a grunt as the other one walloped him.
“Of course not. I’ll hold you to that,” Shaw warned him. “Alright,” he said, shuffling to the side a little so he could keep Hobbs in his peripheral view as he turned toward the medics. He still kept his hand on Hobbs’s wrist. “Go ahead, come on over. No, not you, Tweedledumb,” he said, waving off the idiot who’d wanted to break out the drugs when he tried to head over first. “Her, obviously, the one who’s not got complete bollocks for brains. Actually, what are you still doing here? Get the fuck away from us before I come over there and make you.” It took some grumbling and a few solid shoves from his coworker, but it was still much nicer than what Shaw would do to him in a minute if he didn’t scram, and finally he went. “Great. Come on, then, you. Nice and slow, hands stay in sight. You’re fine.”
This medic was made of sterner stuff than her coworker. Smarter, too, since she’d gone for Shaw right off the bat and not the sedative. She came in, careful, and Hobbs stayed docile as a lamb. Now that he was settled, it seemed like he was leaning into the high, enjoying it while it lasted. There was looking to be a bad moment early on, as the blood pressure cuff tightened, but Shaw already had his hand on Hobbs’s arm and could feel the tension rising before it went anywhere. He tapped two fingers against the side of Hobbs’s wrist to get his attention, and then held his stare until he relaxed again.
The medic started quietly narrating what she was doing after that, and things went smoother. The next few minutes were nice and calm.
“Shaw, come in Shaw,” a voice over the radio said, crackling with static from the jammers near the center of the compound. “Big Boss is running. Intercept possible through the production facility. Over.”
It wasn’t Shaw’s problem, and he didn’t actually care. But Hattie would, after all the trouble she’d gone to setting this whole thing up, so Shaw should probably make himself useful. The production facility was much closer to him than it was to the compound’s front gate.
“Evac’s on its way,” the medic said promptly when Shaw turned her way. “Think he’ll stay calm?”
“If he knows what’s good for him,” Shaw muttered. Then, louder, he added, “Hey, Hobbs. Can you help me out? Do me a favor?” He waited until Hobbs looked over at him to finish. “Please don’t fight the EMTs,” he said seriously, knowing that it was the please that would really drive it home. “Don’t make me tell Samantha her dad’s a drooling vegetable because you couldn’t keep your shit together on a twenty-minute ambulance ride.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Hobbs said, or tried to say. The vowels had all smashed together. “Dick.” Of course, that word was perfectly clear.
But that was good enough for him, and from the medic’s shrug, for her, too.
“Copy,” Shaw said over the radio, pushing to his feet. He’d almost forgotten that he was still holding onto Hobbs’s wrist, that Hobbs had tangled his own fingers in Shaw’s jacket sleeve and didn’t seem inclined to let go. He had to disentangle them gently before he could stand up fully, and he gave Hobbs’s wrist one last squeeze, half-stern and half-reassuring, before he started to move out at a run. “On my way.”
* * *
By the time everything was finished, Hobbs was safely on his way to a hospital, mostly everybody was still alive, Boss Guy was in handcuffs, and the compound was only a little bit on fire. Shaw counted that as a win.
* * *
“He’s fine,” Shaw told Sam as soon as the call connected. “I’m sure he’ll call you as soon as he gets hold of a phone.”
“Where is he?” Sam said immediately, and Shaw hated that a ten-year-old had to sound as terrified as that. “He’s okay?”
“He’s fine,” Shaw said again. “No bits missing, no new holes. Last I heard, they were taking him to the hospital.” He hadn’t made it back from clean-up before the ambulance had come and gone.
Sam’s voice wobbled. “The hospital? But…”
“Your dad’s tough,” he said promptly. Whatever else he was, that bit wasn’t in doubt. “He’ll be back to normal in no time.”
“It’s just, the last time he was in the hospital was bad,” Sam said. “It’s been a couple years, but I remember—”
The last time Hobbs had been seriously injured and in a hospital was because Shaw had blasted him out a window. Shaw didn’t know what she’d been told back then—did she even know who Hobbs had been fighting? Did she know why it had happened?
“Samantha, listen. Your dad’s tough,” Shaw said again, because she was looking for reassurance, not a confession of guilt. “It’ll take more than a little thing like this to take him down.”
“You’d know, I guess,” Sam said. So she did know, but she didn’t sound pissed. She sounded relieved, if anything.
“As someone who’s tried to kill your dad a couple times, and who he’s tried to kill once or twice in turn, then yeah. I’d say I’m uniquely qualified to know that for sure.”
She laughed, just a short huff of breath, so at least he’d judged that correctly. “But not anymore, right?” she said. “You don’t try to kill each other now.”
Shaw would never admit it out loud to anyone but her. “No, not anymore. Not really,” he said. “Samantha, you—and even your dad—are on the short list of people I give a shit about, same as Hattie or my mum.” Or Owen. Obviously, he’d done all sorts of bullshit for Owen, his bullshit baby brother. That went without saying. “What I did to your dad, that’ll never happen again. He’s—”
Shaw scowled, losing the words.
“He’s family. Like you’re ours.” Sam, locked as she was on the edges of Toretto’s orbit, understood family with a certainty and intensity that was entirely different from the rest of the world.
“He’s one of the people I’d do it for, and not to,” Shaw said finally. “And so are you.”
* * *
Hobbs got himself out of the hospital before everything else wrapped up, determined as ever to prove himself as the most manly of macho men, and it took Shaw two days after that to track him down at the fleabag motel where he was holing up.
He would have knocked. Really, he’d meant to. But just touching his knuckles to the door pushed it open, so he let himself straight in, instead. Hobbs was a careless idiot, but not that kind; an open door meant trouble.
Or, Shaw realized a second later, it meant visitors.
Hobbs had a gun out and pointed his way in half that time. Other than a quick jolt of fight-or-flight adrenaline, Shaw decided to ignore it in favor of inspecting the other man in the room—grey suit, dark hair, bland expression. American. Total lack of concern for the gun in the room.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Hobbs snapped, irritated beyond even what was normal for them, these days, at least right off the bat.
“Cool your jets, tiger. I’m just making a delivery.” Shaw pulled Hobbs’s recovered phone out of his jacket pocket and waggled it in Hobbs’s direction. “Thought you’d want this back.”
He wandered closer so he could pass it over.
Hobbs took it warily, scowling down at it for a second. He didn’t seem to buy the excuse; Shaw hadn’t really believed he would. “Let me guess. Hattie sent you to check up on me?”
Not exactly. “She told me I’d better, or she’d want to know why,” Shaw said, hedging. It was mostly true. The actual phrasing was along different lines, more like—if he was going to lose his shit that badly over it, he might as well stop being such a coward and go check for himself. And now that he had, he had to admit to himself that it was…settling, to see that Hobbs was actually fine with his own two eyes.
He was never telling Hattie.
“Who’s the CIA stooge?” he asked instead, still eyeing the third man in the room.
“Ouch,” the CIA stooge in question said. “You know, words hurt.”
“The stooge is Locke,” Hobbs told him, turning his irritated stare on the dark-haired man. “He and I, we’ve worked together here and there over the years. He’s a real shithead, and he won’t leave me alone.”
“Aw, don’t lie,” Locke said, simpering. “You know what we have is special.”
“Every minute with you is a trial,” Hobbs said sharply. “Locke, you dickhead, this is—”
“Deckard Shaw,” Locke said, cutting over him. “Yeah, I know. I’ve seen his file. But really, Shaw, you’re the one who picked him up out of that pit? You don’t look like you’re drinking through a straw.”
“No,” Shaw said, eyeing him and tucking a hand in his pocket, where he still had access to a very sharp knife. Something about this guy was…unsettling. “Should I be?”
“You kidding me?” the man shot back with a high-pitched chuckle. “You think this guy ever goes quietly into that good night? Not likely, home boy.”
Hobbs grunted. “Locke,” he said, an obvious warning.
“I mean,” Locke continued, cheerfully unconcerned by Hobbs’s rising urge to kill. “Look at him. Look at him. Last time this sizzling hot beefcake got drugged up on an op, it took six Marines and enough tranqs to kill an elephant to keep him down. And even then, the Marines were in the hospital twice as long as he was.”
“Locke,” Hobbs said again, more firmly.
“He almost broke my kneecaps once when I tried to drag him home from a bar, and—eep!”
The gun that had been pointing at Shaw slid over toward Locke, instead. The man looked terrified, and only half as a joke—he’d instinctively pressed his back against the wall and put up his hands. Shaw, meanwhile, had actually forgotten that Hobbs had drawn at all. Somehow, he’d managed to assess the gun as a threat and then dismiss it entirely.
It never would have happened, if it had been anyone else holding the gun. But at this point, Shaw was pretty damn certain that Hobbs wasn’t going to shoot him.
“That’s enough, Locke,” Hobbs said.
“Yep, sure,” Locke agreed at once. “Totally done now. Your buddy’s mystery secret beast-taming skills can stay a mystery.”
Shaw rolled his eyes at that. “Well, all he did this time was insult my face and give a real ghoul of a medic a double-shiner,” he said idly, without much heat. “Have you considered—and this is just a possibility, mind—that you’re the problem?”
“You’re right, you’re so right,” Locke said earnestly. “It’s true. I am very annoying.”
Hobbs’s face twitched—almost, but not quite, a laugh. “And here I am, still letting it get to me,” he said with a sigh, and put the gun away. “Locke, fuck back off to whatever rock you crawled out from under. Shaw…”
He hesitated, then stuck out a hand like he was going for a handshake. When Shaw reached out as well, he grabbed onto Shaw’s forearm instead, held it steadily.
“Thank you,” he said seriously, while Shaw was still blinking in surprise. His hand still instinctively returned that firm grip, so that their arms pressed together, the thin skin at Hobbs’s inner wrist warm and soft against his own. “Sam explained how it went down. I appreciate the backup.”
“I’ll take any chance to come riding in to the rescue, rub your nose in it a little,” Shaw said, letting the corners of his lips twist up, which meant, in a roundabout way, of course I came, of course, and I’d do it again. Any time.
From the way Hobbs grinned back, he got it. “Planning to hold it over my head, then?”
“You know it.”
Locke interrupted them with a loud, overdramatic sniffle. Shaw had almost forgotten he was in the room. “Is this a moment?” he said. “Am I witnessing a moment, right now?”
Shaw let go of his hold on Hobbs’s arm, startled. Hobbs took a second longer before he did the same. “If it was, then you just shot it dead.”
“Aw, man. Don’t say that.”
Shaw shook his head. “I’ve got to go meet up with Hat,” he said. Anything to get out of this room, and the weird energy in it. “See you around, Hobbs.”
“And nice to meet you, too, buddy,” Locke grumbled. “Does no one have proper manners these days?”
Shaw ignored him; Hobbs did the same. “Talk to you later, Shaw,” he said. The look he turned on Shaw seemed almost—fond, which was insanity of the highest order. Worse, even, was that Shaw was feeling distinctly fond himself, at that moment, and he was pretty sure his face was showing it.
Clearly, Shaw was losing it. He made his escape.
* * *
The next time they talked, a couple weeks later, things had gone back to normal—bickering about methodology while waiting for Sam finish with her self-defense lessons. Sam had handed the phone over to her dad before the class had started, and at this point the hour was almost up, but they were still going strong.
“What’s the point in making a thousand fiddly little plans when you just have to throw them all out the window as soon as things go wrong?” Hobbs said. “And they will go wrong. Better to just set up the basics and be ready for some improv.”
Shaw clicked his tongue, shaking his head even though Hobbs couldn’t see it. “And that’s why when things go to shit, your only plan is to start smashing through every wall you see and hoping for the best.”
Hobbs made some exaggerated wordless noises into the phone. “I just Googled ‘who gives a fuck as long as the job gets done?’” he told Shaw. “And guess what? My name wasn’t in the search results.”
“‘Course not. You’re not that important,” Shaw shot back. “But don’t worry, you’re definitely in the dictionary. Check under ‘B,’ for ‘big bald baby.’ Bastard.”
Hobbs made a noise that might, if Shaw looked at it sideways, be a laugh. “I just can’t take you seriously,” he said. “It’s the voice, I swear. Big bald baby bastard.” He mangled his attempt to copy Shaw’s accent. “You sure we’re both speaking English? Sounds like you’re gargling rocks.”
Shaw grinned reflexively. “That one I can solve. Hold on a sec.” He switched the phone to speaker, pulled up his camera, and texted him a picture of his upraised middle finger—using the American sign to make sure he really got it. No words necessary, he sent.
Hobbs sent back a photo of the two-fingered salute, the British version of the same sign. Don’t need Google Translate for this one, Hobbs texted a second later.
“What’s going on, Dad?” said Sam’s voice.
“Uh,” Hobbs said, followed by some clattering noises as he fumbled at his phone, probably trying to hide the pictures before Sam could see them.
Shaw laughed at him. “International relations,” he suggested.
“Not helping, Shaw,” Hobbs said, but his voice was mild and his tone was resigned.
“Wasn’t trying to help, Hobbs.”
“Guys, come on,” Sam said. Shaw’s phone vibrated with an incoming text message, which was a photo from Hobbs of Sam in her exercise gear, hair pulled back and hands on her hips. Her eyebrows were furrowed. It was the perfect image of a stern schoolteacher dealing with the annoying delinquents fighting in the back of the class. “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
Hobbs made a funny strangled hissing noise. Shaw figured he was fighting back the same impulse as him, which was to blurt out something like don’t worry, we didn’t.
Instead, they both apologized. Then Sam took the phone back, and shooed her dad off to get the car so they could drive home. Shaw figured it was at least partially so she could talk to them each individually, and he wasn’t wrong.
“I wish you and my dad got along better,” she said. She sounded pretty disappointed in them both, and honestly, it was one of the more effective guilt trips Shaw had experienced in a while, even coming from a ten-year-old—or it would have been, if she hadn’t been assuming based on a misunderstanding. “I feel like you’re always fighting. It’s weird, because I know my dad, and if he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t let you anywhere near me, right?”
Shaw hummed in agreement. “We’re not nice to each other,” he admitted. “We’ve never been nice. But, nah, we get along fine.” And they did. Outside of blood family, there was nobody Shaw gave more leeway than Hobbs and his kid.
“You don’t even call him by his first name,” she said, dubious.
Shaw grinned, safe knowing that over the phone, she couldn’t tell. “Neither does he, does he?”
Hobbs was Hobbs. Shaw was Shaw. First names were soft things, on both ends, things you opened up and gave to people who knew how to be gentle with them. To the people who wouldn’t bite and rip and tear at weak points. Maybe they hadn’t really tried to kill each other for a long time, maybe they were keeping their tongues sharp but their knives sheathed, but that didn’t mean they were about to lean in and bare their throats.
Shaw would take a bullet for Hobbs. He’d rather take a second bullet than admit that out loud where Hobbs might hear.
“Well, why not?” Sam said. She wouldn’t like that reasoning much, Shaw figured—she was brave in a way he wasn’t, open and trusting and firmly convinced that when she told her family that she loved them, they’d say it back, every time. No tricks or traps involved. Hobbs had done good work there, that was for sure.
“No offense, but his first name’s kind of weird,” Shaw said instead, trying to mimic her tone from that early conversation, and laughed at her sound of outrage and disbelief.
* * *
But really, that was pretty standard for their conversations: they talked, they fought. It was all over the top, and at this point it was all more to see who could say the most outrageous and offensive things without breaking. There wasn’t a lot of genuine vitriol left.
Shaw would never admit it out loud, but he especially enjoyed bickering with Hobbs mid-job, even when Hobbs wasn’t actually on the job with him. Phone calls worked just as well.
“Tell Toretto he can fuck right off with that bullshit—just because he’s got a soul-deep mystical bond or whatever with that Charger, it doesn’t make American cars better than anything else. Damn thing’s not even street-legal in my part of the world.”
Hobbs sounded smug, the insufferable bastard. “He outraced you, didn’t he?”
Toretto outraced everyone, and it wasn’t because of the car. It was because he was a stone-cold bastard with nerves of steel and carbon fiber. He probably drank NOS with his breakfast instead of orange juice. “I’d like to see him pull off half the daft shit he tries on a daily basis in a car with right-side steering. At least I can switch it up.”
“Hey, you can’t deny the specialization is working for him.”
Unfortunately, irritatingly true.
At that moment a guy Shaw hadn’t noticed came screaming out of the woodwork at him, wielding a wrench like a club, so he didn’t have time to think about it for long.
“Ah, shit. Hold on,” Shaw said as he ducked and rolled under the first swing, just to put a little distance between them.
“Oh, sure, take your time. No worries. I’ve got nothing else to do today.” Hobbs sounded sarcastic, but if he’d really been busy, he would have already passed the phone to Sam or hung up—he probably was bored. Shaw didn’t feel bad about making him wait.
The screamer went down easy, with an elbow to the gut and a jab to the throat, and then Shaw had a free wrench to use to batter down the next two goons dumb enough to come running around the corner.
Improvised weapons. Force multipliers. Shaw loved them.
“What job are you running, anyway?” Hobbs said idly. He didn’t seem all that bothered by the soundtrack of shouts, gurgles, and cracks, but then again, he was certainly used to that: the ambient noise of a solid hand-to-hand brawl.
“What is it you Americans say?” Shaw said. He nearly had to take a boot to the side to avoid the fist to the face, but managed to catch hold of the leg instead; he threw that arsehole into the wall with a jerk and a twist and almost certainly dislocated the man’s knee. “Plead the Fourth?”
“The Fourth Amendment? The right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure?” Hobbs said, dubious. “You mean the Fifth, dumbass. The right to not incriminate yourself.”
American nonsense. “Sure, whatever. That too.” Both were relevant, in a way. He was in the process of breaking in, searching for, and seizing some shit that definitely didn’t belong to him, for the express purposes of selling it to someone else who probably shouldn’t have it; that seemed like the sort of thing the Americans would try to prevent, and like something he definitely shouldn’t admit to a cop. Certainly not while he was still on American soil. “Wouldn’t you like to know, Fed? Trying to arrest me again?”
“Hey, I’ve definitely already busted you for worse,” Hobbs pointed out. “I’ve been there while you’ve done worse. And you’re not American. You don’t get to plead the Fifth or any other amendment.”
“Don’t think you’d honestly disapprove, anyway,” Shaw said with a shrug. He looked down at the skinhead he’d just dropped, eyeing the eagle and Swastika tattoo on his neck with distaste, and then kicked the guy hard in the crotch a couple times. “For example: I just made sure this Nazi fuck won’t ever be reproducing. I’m doing a service for mankind.”
“Nice,” Hobbs said, sounding honestly wistful. “Better than what I’m doing today.”
“Taking Sam to a birthday party,” Hobbs said, glum. “Thirty-five kids at a Chuck E. Cheese, hyped up on sugar and shitty pizza and arcade-game adrenaline.”
“Sounds like a real bloodbath,” Shaw agreed. “Hope you’ve already got your tombstone picked out.”
“Don’t we all?” Hobbs said, morbid and definitely rhetorical. With lives like theirs, anyone sensible had worked that shit out ages ago.
A radio on one of the downed bodies squawked; distantly, alarms started going off as the techies managed to override the workaround Shaw had put up to keep them quiet.
Whoops. Now he was in for it. Time to bolt, stolen goods in tow. “Hobbs, you’re an American,” Shaw said.
Hobbs made a thoughtful noise. “Really? I hadn’t noticed. You’re a regular Einstein.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Shaw said cheerfully. “But, hypothetically speaking. If I was in the States, about to take a fight outside—not that I am. Would you happen to know the gun control laws for Washington state?”
“Hypothetically,” Hobbs said, thoughtful. “Uh, Washington has open carry laws with the proper permits. Over the age of twenty-one. Have to pass a background check. No assault weapons or heavy-duty shit in public spaces or convention centers. Exactly how hypothetical is this, Shaw? Am I about to get reports of a firefight in downtown Seattle?”
“Well, my handgun is very real, as are the SMGs these fucks are toting,” Shaw said. He could probably fake a pistol permit, if it came to that. These dipshits wouldn’t be nearly so lucky, if the cops picked them up. “But I’m not in Seattle. Nothing to worry about there.”
He was in Everett, Washington, which was at least half an hour farther north.
Down the hallway, off in one of the cavernous garages, a couple engines started to turn over, rev up. “Time to go,” Shaw said. “I’ll keep my clusterfuck from getting too out of hand. Good luck managing the same.”
“Nice as ever talking to you, Shaw,” Hobbs said on a laugh, with absolutely no sarcasm to it. “Have fun. Border crossing is easier by bus than by train if you need to run up to Canada to escape the heat.”
“Not to worry,” Shaw said. “I won’t be the one doing the running once this all shakes out.”
He hung up while Hobbs was still laughing.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” Shaw said to himself, grinning like a shark, and made his way to the garage to steal a car.
* * *
Drivers and spies—they didn’t feel fear right.
Toretto would get it better than Hobbs would, actually. Hobbs wasn’t the right kind of a driver, not a racer, not the way the rest of them were. And he certainly wasn’t a spy, huge damn unsubtle ox that he was. Hobbs was all blunt force, a battering ram. When he came up on a problem, he bulldozed right through it: both unstoppable force and immovable object. Hobbs did this shit, enjoyed it, because he was strong enough to survive the hits and crazy enough to crave the competition. Most days it seemed like Hobbs didn’t feel fear at all, because he so rarely ran up against anything that he really believed would put him down.
Shaw would happily put him behind the wheel of an armored truck and let him go to town, but he’d keep the sports cars for himself.
Because street racing, pursuit driving, that was a different kettle of fish. It wasn’t about crashing through a problem. It was about—shifting gears, about dodging the obstacle and keeping momentum. It wasn’t straightforward acceleration. That just sent you faster and faster until you spun out on the curve. It was acceleration but only at the right moment, with purpose, and sometimes even a tap on the brakes along with a deft hand on the wheel. Racers didn’t force a spot to slip through, they found it, the perfect place where traffic opened up, and that was where the fucked-up fear response came in: when you weren’t built like a sledgehammer and armored like a tank, you had to take your openings as they came, and you had to do it with finesse. Because if you fucked it up, then you died. Easy as that.
No hesitation. No doubt. Quick and clean, in and out, all without scratching the paint.
If a driver missed their opening, misjudged their timing, it was a surefire way to end up as a bloody smear spread out along a quarter mile of asphalt. Obviously, they were all afraid of that. But hesitating, getting caught up in a moment of fear, was more likely to cause the crash than avoid it.
The best racers had all lost the ability to flinch. They stared down death ten seconds at a time, with nothing but pinpoint reflexes and a tinfoil-and-glass cage strapped onto a rocket, and they kicked the Grim Reaper himself in the shins every time he tried to come collect. High stakes, high risk, high rewards.
Espionage was the same way, in Shaw’s experience. See the opening, and make yourself fit. Find the gap to slip through. Miss your moment and catch a knife to the back, a bullet to the brain—so make the move, take the shot, and live another day. It was an adrenaline rush better than anything in the world. He’d buckle up and enjoy the ride, as long as it lasted.
Knowing his luck, it wouldn’t be all that long.
* * *
Shaw had never been pessimistic enough to imagine exactly how he’d die. Oh, he’d known it was coming, probably violent, definitely sooner rather than later, but he’d never thought to picture exactly how that death might look.
If he had, it probably would have been something like this: swimming in his own blood in a filthy back alley in Sarajevo, Bosnia, surrounded by the corpses of the dozen or so men he’d just killed. Somewhere behind him, the car he’d been forced to crash into a wall was smoking, rhythmic dings drifting over from where he’d left the driver-side door open when he’d half-climbed, half-fallen out of the front seat. If he turned his head a little to the side, he could probably lock eyes with the bastard who’d stabbed him and finally taken him down.
He had maybe an hour before he bled out, if he didn’t get some help. His phone was on the ground, only about six feet away.
It might as well have been six miles. He was tasting blood every time he breathed, and chances were good that the only reason his broken ribs hadn’t yet collapsed a lung was that he was staying perfectly still, at just the right angle, leaned up against the alley wall. If he didn’t move, breathed shallow and slow and careful, maybe he’d be lucky enough to stay alive for the full hour it would take to bleed out. If a lung went, he was looking at a couple minutes.
So the phone was a pipe dream. Just close enough to taunt him, and just far enough away to be hopeless. The one thing that could save him would almost certainly kill him for trying.
Story of his life, probably.
Who would you even call? he asked himself furiously. It was the middle of the night for Hattie and his mum back in London, so even if they picked up the damn phone, they were still twelve hundred miles away, too far to get anywhere in time. Who the fuck knew, or cared, where Owen was? And everyone else he knew was twice as far and twice as unlikely to help. Even the cops had been bought off by the baddie of the day. They’d kill him themselves if they found him like this. So, who was there to call? It was better to live the extra hour, cling to life with his fingertips as long as he possibly could. He’d always been exactly that kind of stubborn, hadn’t he?
Maybe not. He went for the phone.
Careful, slow. So, so slow. His chest ached and pulled; his side bled and burned and screamed protests. His arms and legs felt thick and useless. The brick wall at his back was the only reason he was still partially upright.
This was stupid. He was so damn stupid. He had to look it, too, sitting on his arse and shoving himself along an inch at a fucking time, just to pick up a phone and make a call that no one was going to answer, anyway. Whoever found his rotting corpse was going to laugh at him for trying.
Six feet turned to three, then two, and then one, and he could fumble with fingers going numb at the cell he’d left face down on the gravel. The screen was cracked to hell but still turned on, and Shaw hit one of his saved numbers at random, barely bothering to read which one it was.
That was a lie. He knew it even before the call picked up, with exactly the voice he’d wanted to hear.
“Go for Hobbs,” that voice said, catching around a yawn.
“Were you—asleep?” Shaw found himself saying, bewildered, instead of anything useful. His own voice was fainter than he would have liked, but so was Hobbs’s, actually—both quiet. The perfect middle-of-the-night hush. Maybe Hobbs wouldn’t notice anything unusual.
“Shaw?” Hobbs said, surprised and still not entirely awake. “What do you want? It’s ass o’clock.”
“It’s—five P.M., in Los Angeles,” Shaw managed. “Isn’t it?” He’d been bashed around the chest and then stabbed, not hit over the head, so he was pretty sure he’d done the math right. Then again, he had crashed a car into a brick wall. “Bit early for a nap.”
“Very funny, wise guy. I’m in Bosnia right now, asshole,” Hobbs said, more amused than pissed off. Shaw felt his breath catch in his throat, this time from surprise instead of blood that he had to swallow down. There was no way—there was no way— “I’m staying in Lukavica for the night. So yeah, actually, I was asleep. It’s two in the damn morning.”
Lukavica. Shaw knew where that was, because he’d driven through it no more than half an hour before. “Wait—you mean. You’re in—Novo Sarajevo? That Lukavica?”
“Yeah.” There was a pause, where Shaw processed that and Hobbs woke up enough to get suspicious. “Hey, are you, uh. You sound a little off.”
“Fucking—of course,” Shaw said, ignoring that, and started to laugh. He heaved in quick little breaths where he could, forced himself to keep talking. “You’re—fifteen bloody minutes—away. Of course you are.” The laugh caught something in his chest, set him coughing, and somehow that was worse, fire blooming on his chest and back. It was a wonder that he wasn’t screaming, but then again, he didn’t exactly have the breath for that. “Ah, shit. That hurts.”
“Shaw,” Hobbs snapped at him. “Deck, what the hell? Talk to me. What’s going on?”
“I’m bleeding out,” Shaw told him, still trying to laugh even though it hurt, damn it all, everything hurt. “In an alley. In Sarajevo.”
And it was funny, wasn’t it? It was hilarious. Maybe it was the shock setting in, because it hadn’t seemed quite so laughable when the knife had first sunk into his side, or when it had ripped its way free.
“Shit,” Hobbs said faintly, almost like he’d pulled the phone away from his ear. And then his voice came back, clear as ever. “Okay. Shit, alright. Stay on the line, do you hear me? And don’t pass out.” Shaw didn’t answer, too busy heaving for air that didn’t seem to be coming. “Hey! Do you hear me?”
It would be harder to not hear him, what with the way he was bellowing right in Shaw’s ear. “…Yeah. Wanker. Don’t…” Don’t tell me what to do, he meant to say. But he got lost somewhere in the middle, and it was all too easy to ignore the voice shouting at him as it got more and more distant, until it finally slipped away.
* * *
“There you are,” Hobbs’s voice called out, inexplicably relieved, only this time it wasn’t coming from the phone in his—oh. The phone on the ground, apparently. He didn’t remember dropping it again, but it was no longer in his hand. “Hey. Hey. You still with me?”
Shaw cracked an eye open to make sure he wasn’t having a really vivid and annoying deathbed hallucination. Nope, that really was Luke Hobbs looming down at him from across the alley, quickly moving closer. “Fuck…off,” he ground out from between his teeth. It came out breathy and wrong, and something whistled inside his damn chest when he tried to suck in enough air to finish the thought.
“Oh, excellent,” Hobbs said, tone too damned cheery even if his face didn’t really seem to match. “Still kicking. Let’s keep it that way, huh, sweetheart?” He dropped to a squat right next to Shaw, a towering mass of overinflated muscle way too fucking close. And then he started touching, big broad hands that were way too warm against Shaw’s clammy skin, too damn good at finding the places that hurt and prodding them.
“Lower left side,” he managed, because if Hobbs found the hole in his gut maybe he’d stop poking at him.
“Okay,” Hobbs said, and the poking did stop for a second as he looked it over. “Shit. You know we have to keep pressure on it,” and Shaw would have thought he felt bad about it, right up until he reached over, grabbed Shaw’s wrists, and used Shaw’s own hands to do it.
Everything went white.
“Fuck off,” he wheezed again when he came back to himself, but he kept his hands where Hobbs had put them, pressing down.
Hobbs ignored him, again. “Sorry, Deck. This is going to hurt,” he said, like it didn’t already. He reached out.
“Fuck—” You, Shaw was going to say this time, except Hobbs picked that moment to tug him forward, up and out of his careful sprawl. Something in his chest ground together, an unspeakably awful feeling. He choked on the word instead, and then he lost his voice and his breath and his consciousness in quick succession.
He surfaced again in the hospital three days later, alone.
It wasn’t a disappointment, he told himself sharply. It couldn’t be, not when he’d been so sure he wouldn’t wake up at all. Besides, Hobbs had left him a note, tucked inside a sealed envelope, with all the details Shaw could want.
“RICHARD,” the bright pink post-it read, quotes and all, LEFT TO FINISH THE JOB. HOSPITAL HAS YOUR PAPERS AND INFORMATION. SAM IS WORRIED, WANTS YOU TO CALL. DON’T BE YOUR NICKNAME! -LH.
The man had even doodled a cheery little winking face, like Shaw hadn’t already known exactly what he meant by choosing ‘Richard’ as a name for Shaw’s cover.
“Ah, you’re awake,” a white-coated doctor said cheerfully from the doorway, in perfect, unaccented English. “How are you feeling, Mr. Head?”
Shaw’s eyelid twitched involuntarily.
* * *
Shaw would have killed him for that, except—by the time he got it together and called Sam, Hobbs had finished up Shaw’s job as well as his own.
“Shaw,” Sam told him, with all the audible disappointment she could muster. It was a lot. It was the sweet and terrible certainty of a smart and loving kid surrounded by emotionally damaged idiots. “You scared me, and I wasn’t even there. So, you know it had to be worse for my dad. And you know people are mean when they get scared.”
Shit. Kids these days.
* * *
Why would you send your daughter to me? How could Luke Hobbs trust him that way, that much? It had been ages, and Shaw still hadn’t asked. But he didn’t need to, did he? If he was honest with himself, he already knew the answer.
Maybe Hobbs was the same. There was a memory creeping back, blurred by drugs and trauma; maybe Shaw was only imagining it had ever happened at all. But somewhere between his lung deflating in a back alley and waking up properly, Shaw dimly remembered wandering toward consciousness and seeing Hobbs sitting there, right by the hospital bed. Looking at him. Talking to him.
He thought he remembered Hobbs holding his hand, but that was almost certainly just a side effect of the drugs.
“You didn’t know I was in Bosnia,” Hobbs had said.
Shaw had wheezed his way through agreeing, tongue thick and heavy in his mouth. “Not a clue.”
Hobbs had just stared at him, long enough that Shaw had let his eyes start to drift shut. “Stop chatting and go back to sleep, Deck,” Hobbs had said at last, “before you puncture your other lung.” And Shaw wasn’t in the habit of doing as he was told, but drugged and tired as he was, he figured he’d allow it, just this once. After all, someone he trusted was there to keep watch.
But Shaw wasn’t drugged anymore, and now he could hear the question Hobbs hadn’t quite asked. If Shaw hadn’t known Hobbs was so close, if he hadn’t expected or even hoped to be saved—
Why had he called?
Yeah. If Shaw knew the answer to his question, then Hobbs did, too.
* * *
Shaw didn’t let people get close to him, for good reason.
He didn’t have friends, not really. He had contacts, some friendlier than others, and even a few he liked enough to take home with him once in a while. They still weren’t anything more than that. It could be—almost lonely, sometimes.
Oh, he still had plenty of people, where it counted. He had his family, and as much as he loved them, deep and unyielding, they were a whole hell of a lot to deal with—his emotionally manipulative, high-handed mother; his self-assured steamroller of a little sister; his gleefully egotistical mercenary of a baby brother. The Shaw family was made up of forces of nature, and it was hard to ask for more when most days he was looking to get a little distance from what he already had.
Back in his MI6 days, things were different. Oh, he still hadn’t had friends. But he’d had a team, closer than blood, almost a second family. He would have done anything for them—or, as Brixton had found out, almost anything. If Brixton had expected Shaw to stand still and let Brixton kill him, he’d been even crazier than Shaw had thought. There was nobody on earth who had that right, and nobody who really loved him who’d ask it of him—not his mum, not Owen or Hattie.
The worst part was that after everything, all his history and experience, his childhood and his time as a spy, he hadn’t seen it coming.
He’d let Brixton in. He’d trusted his team and his government. It was the closest he’d ever come to faith for years and years, until he’d met Toretto and his crew, until he’d met Hobbs, and come face to face with what real, solid, faith looked like, when it was given and returned. The sheer conviction in it. The way it moved mountains and deflected missiles.
But that came later, and it wasn’t for him, besides. He got Brixton, instead, coming to kill him. He got Eteon, setting him up as a traitor and having his own team sent to take him out.
He’d gone on the run, gone deep and dark, and made himself into so much of a boogeyman that it cost more than it was worth to take him down.
All the way down the rabbit hole, that whole long fall from grace, he hadn’t believed how far down he could go. Someone at MI6 had to realize something was off. They’d call off the kill order, listen to reason and common sense and the bloody fucking truth. He’d done everything right—lived and breathed his work, done everything for country and duty and honor—killed the one person in the world who knew him best rather than betray that. He wasn’t a traitor. He’d passed the test, thrown away the one and only temptation that might have swayed him. He’d done everything right.
As ridiculous as it seemed, he’d been an optimist. He’d lived too long through too much that should have killed him. At a certain point, with a certain level of skill, it was all too easy to believe that things were just destined to go his way—it wasn’t like there was anything to prove him wrong, no problem he couldn’t shoot his way through if he couldn’t overcome it or sneak past.
He knew better now. It was hard not to learn, when the world kept kicking him while he was down. The problem was that knowing better didn’t actually stop him from wanting to believe in it, so instead he’d just trained himself out of acting on it.
It wasn’t exactly a secret. It was just that nobody had ever known him well enough to see the difference, except a family who’d fight and kill and die to keep him safe, to build walls around those obvious weaknesses, and an ex-partner who Shaw had killed twice for trying to take advantage.
But deep, deep down, pushed down and buried as deeply as he could manage, he was still an optimist. He’d covered it with layers of sarcasm and cynicism, forced himself every time to stop and think and think again, cultivated suspicion and skepticism and paranoia like a blackberry thicket—wrapped it all up in dense and twisted branches and brutally sharp thorns. But it was still there, still tangled up tight inside.
Still trying to bear fruit.
* * *
“Shaw. Shaw, do you copy?”
Shaw hadn’t felt good like this in ages. The world felt distant and soft. Nothing hurt, for once—he was a jumble of loose pieces, disconnected, and he thought he could slip right off and maybe, for once, sleep a full night through. The only thing bothering him was that one damn voice, right on the edge of awareness, refusing to leave him the hell alone.
“Shaw. Come in, Shaw. Deckard. Shit, answer me.”
He was tired. Too tired to pull himself together. It would take too much effort. Answering wasn’t all that important, was it?
“Deck, come on, where the hell did you—oh, fuck.”
Something moved near him, footsteps crunching at a run. And then there were hands on him, moving, like they were trying to push the pieces of him back together—pressed under the hinge of his jaw on the pulse point, straightening his arms, running gentle pressure along his torso to feel out the ribcage. One hand settled, cupped, around the side of his neck. The other swiped at something sticky and warm on the side of his face.
“Alright, Sleeping Beauty, you’re alright,” the voice said. The hand on his face tapped at his cheek, but he couldn’t bring himself to even flinch. “Time to wake up for me, princess.”
The hand moved from patting his cheek, open-palm, to grinding knuckles just this side of way too fucking hard directly into Shaw’s sternum.
The air pushed out of his lungs all at once. He sucked a deep breath back in, and it was like getting walloped in the chest with a rush of biting cold and sharp, fresh oxygen—pulled his pieces back together and woke him right the hell up.
His eyes shot open. His body tried and failed to jerk upright, panic roaring to life—
“Shit!” Hobbs said, and those were his hands sitting on Shaw’s chest, cupped around his neck, gentle now. “Hey, hey, Deck, you’re fine. It’s all fine.”
“Ow. Fuck.” Shaw went limp again. The hand on his neck wasn’t a threat; it was just supporting his head, keeping it from spinning right off his shoulders. His pulse was pounding in his temples. The world dipped and swam no matter how much he blinked his eyes to try and clear them. “Hobbs.”
“There you are,” Hobbs said, relieved. “Everything still working? All your fingers and toes still attached?” His hands stayed where they were, and Shaw made no move to shake them away. He kind of liked the reassurance that his head wasn’t about to fall off.
But his arms moved, and his legs, even if shifting made his back light up like one long bruise. At least his spine was probably still in one piece. “I’m good, ‘m fine. Just the headache.” He reached up to touch the spot on the side of his head that hurt the worst, and his fingers came away red.
“Yeah, no. Nice try, tough guy,” Hobbs said. “You are concussed to high holy hell, darlin’. I can see your eyes crossing as we speak.”
Shaw made a real effort to focus on the leftmost of the two Hobbs wobbling in front of him. It almost worked. “I’m fine. What happened?”
He shook off Hobbs’s hands and started to push himself up. Hobbs didn’t fight him, but also didn’t let the hand on Shaw’s neck slide away until Shaw was seated fully upright and looking to stay that way. It took a couple seconds. The ground was swaying like a ship in a storm.
“You don’t remember?” Hobbs said.
Shaw squinted around him, hoping for some recognition. He was sitting up against what had once been part of a building’s interior wall, and was now part of the framework of rubble left behind. There was no ceiling overhead in this section of the building. He could see a star-filled night sky directly overhead, the spots of light weirdly blurred and stretched. If the windows had once held glass, they were empty now. Snow blew in through the gaps. It was—warmer than freezing where Shaw was sitting, he thought, but at this rate it wouldn’t be for long. “No idea,” he said, rolling his gaze back to Hobbs. “Where are we?”
“Shit,” Hobbs said instead of answering. His expression tightened. “Definitely a concussion. Think you can get up?”
It wasn’t like it mattered why. “’Course,” Shaw said firmly, lying through his teeth.
“On three, then,” Hobbs said, and grabbed him by both wrists as he got his legs in some semblance of order underneath him. “One, two, three.”
He yanked Shaw up and to his feet. The world tripped and spun, funneled itself down and down to a pinprick of too-bright light. Shaw held onto that pinprick of awareness by the skin of his teeth—he was not going to pass out. He wasn’t. He clawed his way back and found that Hobbs had ducked down and slung one of Shaw’s arms over his massive shoulders, and was already in the process of half-carrying and half-dragging Shaw deeper into the shelter of the ruined building.
Shaw got his feet underneath him and tried to help, not sure how well he was managing. The ground kept trying to walk out from underneath him. He clenched a fist in the fabric of Hobbs’s coat to at least keep himself upright.
Hobbs, alarmingly, grunted in pain.
Shaw let go instantly, but even with his head rattled, his hands knew what they’d felt. “Hobbs,” he said tightly. “Is your shoulder out of joint?”
“Yep,” Hobbs said. His voice was clenched tight between his teeth.
“You fucking idiot.”
“I’ll deal with it in a minute.” Shaw tried to turn to look at him, but couldn’t do it—turning that way sent a spike of pain down his neck and a lurch of nausea through the pit of his stomach. “Worry about yourself,” Hobbs told him firmly. “You look like you just got pummeled in the face with a brick, your head’s bleeding, and—where the hell’s your coat?”
Shaw let his head loll around and then drop down so he could look at himself. Unlike Hobbs, who had on heavy cold-weather gear from head to toe, he just had on a thin cotton shirt over heavy boots and pants. “I don’t…huh,” he said. He had—not quite a memory, but a flash of sense-memory: a big, fuck-off knife, and a hand on his collar, choking. He didn’t know exactly what had happened, but he knew himself well enough to guess what he’d do. Take the coat off, use it tangle up the knife and the arm holding it, and then beat the crap out of whoever had been dumb enough to try. “Fought a knife with it, I think,” he said. “The knife won. And then I did.”
“Think that made more sense in your head than it did out loud, buddy.” Hobbs came to a stop. Shaw wasn’t ready for it and stumbled another step, but Hobbs had them twist and drop with the motion, and suddenly Shaw was sitting again with his back up against another wall, head spinning and stomach churning but the rest of the world thankfully, miraculously, still. “Give me a sec, okay?”
“Sure,” Shaw said, blinking to get his vision to clear again. “Take two, even.”
It took Hobbs close to a minute, three tries, and help from a still-intact doorframe to shove his dislocated shoulder back into place.
“Better?” Shaw said, while Hobbs leaned his head against the doorframe and heaved for air.
“Better.” Hobbs pushed himself upright, took a few stumbling steps, and finally dropped to sit down against the wall, his good shoulder leaning into Shaw. That left Shaw boxed in between Hobbs and the corner of the room, which probably wasn’t an accident, but Shaw was in no place to argue about it.
“Alright, big guy,” Shaw said. “What’m I missing?”
“Aside from half your brain cells?” Hobbs said. Shaw flailed over to smack at him and ended up just leaving his hand where it fell, around near Hobbs’s knee. “Okay, shit, geez. We’re up in northern Canada. Got a lead on Eteon up here that turned out to be a bust, but we did find this place—” Hobbs waved his good arm a little to point at the ruined building they were sitting in. “—and the bunch of white-supremacist dickfaces trying to start a terror cell in here. We figured we might as well shut it down while we’re up here, so…”
“You crashed a truck through the wall,” Shaw said, abruptly remembering something. “You arsehole, while I was already in there!” He flailed his hand at Hobbs again.
“Yeah, well, shit happens,” Hobbs said, grabbing at Shaw’s hand and pressing it down to his leg again to still it. “Hindsight’s twenty-twenty, and all that jazz. Anyway, shit went down, some other shit blew up, and long story short I found you in a totally different room than where you were when the explosions started. My bad.”
“Explains why my head’s ringing like a dinner bell.” When his brain wasn’t trying to leak straight out his ears, that was.
“Just take out your earpiece, idiot.”
Hobbs reached up and plucked it out of Shaw’s ear himself. “Better?”
A doubled echo that Shaw hadn’t even realized was from the earpiece stopped. The tinny ringing in his ears did not. “Yeah.” He shook his head back and forth, and his eyesight only sloshed back and forth a little to match—waves in a bucket and not on the ocean. Not good, but better. “We waiting on pickup, then?”
“Yep. Four hours, at least.”
“Well, shit.” Shaw stopped holding himself so stiffly and let himself slump, just a little, into Hobbs’s side. There was no way he was faking being totally fine for the next four hours. Better to give up now and take advantage of the body heat and stability as much as he could. “Four hours without a jacket’ll be…fun.”
This part of the building at least had a ceiling and most of its walls, so they wouldn’t be getting wind and snow to the face, but any lingering heat was going to dissipate fast. It was about to get bloody fucking cold.
“Take mine,” Hobbs said, and actually started unzipping his coat.
“Fuck off with the noble sacrifice bullshit,” Shaw muttered. “If these bastards show back up somebody better be in some fucking shape to go at ‘em. And it ain’t gonna be me, coat or no.”
If he moved too fast, he was either throwing up or blacking out—so, no.
“I don’t like it. You’re already shaking, and you’ve been spilling a good bit of ketchup, too.”
Shaw tried to roll his eyes and felt his whole head dip to the side instead, balance shot. He felt drunk, all woozy and wavering and reflexes a full second too slow. Unlike being drunk, his head was already pounding away like the percussion section of an orchestra—the buzz and the hangover happening all at once. “‘M fine. Got plenty more ketchup,” he said. Head wounds always bled a lot. “You don’t have to like it. Just fucking leave it.”
“And the shaking?” Hobbs said. He did stop fiddling with his coat, even if he didn’t sound happy about it.
“No?” Hobbs picked up the hand Shaw had left back on his knee and held it up. Next to Hobbs’s firm steadiness, it looked like Shaw was vibrating. “Want to try that again?”
“You’re either cold or you’re going into shock, sunshine. That’s not—”
“Fine enough,” Shaw insisted. It wasn’t going to kill him. “Shut the hell up, Hobbs. Head’s killing me—don’t need your voice grating along on top of that.”
Miracle of miracles, Hobbs did.
Time passed, sticky and stretched. It could have been a minute later or it could have been an hour when Shaw felt his head dip and drop. He forced himself back upright. Another maybe-minute later, and he caught himself again. The third time his head actually touched down on Hobbs’s shoulder before he realized what was happening.
“No sleeping,” Hobbs said.
Shaw grumbled wordlessly back at him.
“Nope, nu-uh,” Hobbs said. He shrugged his shoulder a couple times, bouncing Shaw around a bit. “No goddamn sleeping—ah, shit.”
Shaw’s stomach rebelled. He leaned over into the empty space at his side and heaved—there was barely anything in him to come up, but if Hobbs hadn’t snagged him by the shoulder he would have reeled over face-first into the stinking lot of it.
“Oh-kay, there we go, get it all out,” Hobbs was saying from his other side. Shaw, still heaving, was too busy with the ice pick jammed in the side of his skull to respond. “Are we good? You done?”
Shaw didn’t answer. He hung in Hobbs’s grip and tried to stop shaking—and, yeah, he could definitely feel it now, the full-bodied tremors. He was tired and cold and he felt like shit, and there was nothing he could do about any of it.
“Yeah, you’re done,” Hobbs answered himself. “Come on.”
Hobbs did all the work—lifting, shifting. It seemed like Shaw blinked and he was sitting between Hobbs’s legs, back pressed to the other man’s chest. Hobbs even wrapped his arms around Shaw like a seatbelt. If he really wanted out, there was a lot of damage Shaw could do from that position, but he was suddenly much warmer, and much more comfortable than he’d been leaning against cold concrete. The arms around his chest weren’t too tight and held him steady, so at least he wasn’t in danger of shuddering out of his own skin. Warm. Still. Good. He hated that he didn’t hate it.
“You’re too hot,” Shaw muttered after a long minute, annoyed. “It’s bloody irritating.”
“Uh-huh,” Hobbs said. His chest shook as he laughed. “I’ve got a fast metabolism.”
“And muscles like a—bloody—” The end of the thought escaped him. Shaw prodded at one of those tree-trunk arms. “Annoying.” Nobody should be able to pick Shaw up like a rag doll. Nobody needed to. The big, muscle-bound, tattooed irritant. Warm skin, hot body. What a prick.
Hobbs had gone very, very still.
“…I say all that out loud?” Shaw asked, leaning over so he could try to stare at the side of Hobbs’s face. It didn’t exactly work, even when Hobbs figured out what he was doing and went from holding him back to helping him.
“Yep,” Hobbs told him.
Shaw just didn’t have the energy to care. “Well. Whatever.” It was true.
“Are you calling me hot, or hot?” Hobbs said, curious but careful.
Shaw definitely couldn’t process that kind of cryptic bullshit. “Whatever.”
“I thought you tolerated me, at best,” Hobbs said slowly. “And only on alternating Tuesdays, as long as I keep my mouth shut.”
“Y’make me want to bash my own skull in most days, but I’d still ride that ride,” Shaw informed him. “‘Sides, s’not like you wouldn’t rather shove a boot up my arse than have a civil fucking conversation.”
“You know it hasn’t been that bad for a long time,” Hobbs said, still slow, still unusually careful. “Now I’d settle for sticking some other things up there. And-slash-or in some other places.”
“Huh,” Shaw said, processing that. He squinted over at the other man, pushing past the wobbly vision, but didn’t see anything to suggest it had been a joke. “‘S’that so.”
Hobbs stared back at him for a long minute, long enough that Shaw almost lost the thread of the conversation. “I think we should talk about this later, huh?” he said at last. “When your brain isn’t hot meat soup inside your skull.”
Gross. “Whatever,” Shaw muttered for a third time, irritated again and not sure why. He let himself stop trying to look at Hobbs’s face and slumped back into leaning on him, instead.
“Oh, trust me, I’m definitely not going to forget about this,” Hobbs said, patting Shaw on the chest with one of those annoyingly big, warm hands. “But I’m pretty sure you will.”
“Gonna remember you’re hot,” Shaw insisted. That bit didn’t need much effort—he’d known that for ages. Grudgingly, he added, “Probably’ll forget I said it.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
There was a quiet stretch of time, the silence mostly comfortable.
“Shaw. Hey, Deck,” Hobbs said. He tapped at Shaw’s chest again, a little more insistently than before. “You still have to stay awake.”
“Mnf,” Shaw told him. His eyes were shut. When had he closed them?
“I’m probably going to regret this,” Hobbs said. “Hell, you’re not going to like it either, when you’re back in your right mind, but you have to stay awake, because it’s too damn cold and you’re getting hypothermic. So I need you to keep talking.”
And for once, Shaw, who had always been his own worst enemy, did as he was told.
* * *
Shaw heard later that they were split up during evac: Hobbs got his shoulder wrapped and his arm in a sling before he was chucked on a commercial flight back to L.A., and Shaw got the good drugs, a warm IV drip, and a nonstop flight to London, where he checked himself out of the hospital against medical advice as soon as he was conscious enough to sign the paperwork.
He was concussed, not dying. He could sulk and lick his wounds in private, from the comfort of his own bed, where he didn’t have to deal with paper sheets and a gown that left his arse hanging loose in the breeze.
About a week after he got home, he got a text from Hobbs, asking to meet up, since apparently the other man was already in London. A bit odd, but it wasn’t like Shaw was about to say no. Their little Canadian adventure had ended pretty badly, and Shaw was missing quite a few pieces in the middle; Hobbs could probably fill some of those gaps. And besides, they needed to decide if it was malice or just plain bad intel that had sent them into that clusterfuck in the first place.
It was easy enough to meet at a little pub down near the Thames waterfront, one with outdoor seating, just public enough that an American tourist wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb, but still enough of a hole-in-the-wall that the place was deserted on a Tuesday in the late afternoon.
They got the important business out of the way, first. As far as either of them had been able to tell, the whole thing could be chalked up to just plain bad luck, and worse timing. Shaw took slow sips of a glass of water—no alcohol for a while longer, just until he was sure that he hadn’t battered his brain any worse than usual—and tried not to sulk about the whole thing.
Hobbs didn’t look much happier, honestly. But at least he got to have a pint of something American and probably cheap. Lucky bastard.
“You really got your eggs scrambled. You remember much of anything?” Hobbs’s voice was casual, and the man was letting his eyes wander calmly around the open courtyard, like he didn’t care about the answer to his question.
Shaw’s own eyes narrowed, because that was definitely the face of a man who was trying very hard to appear cool and collected when he wasn’t.
“I remember everything leading up to the explosion, now,” he said. That had trickled back in after the first couple of days. “Most everything after is missing. Something about your shoulder.” He squinted. “Something about hot meat soup?” He remembered, very clearly, being irritated with Hobbs, though not why.
Delicately, Hobbs said, “Ah.” He didn’t follow that up with anything else.
Shaw scowled at him. “Out with it,” he said. “What am I missing?”
Aside from half your brain cells? Hobbs didn’t say it, but Shaw heard the thought in Hobbs’s voice with a sense of something uncomfortably like déjà vu. From the way Hobbs twitched a little, it probably was. “You had a couple complaints,” Hobbs said instead, with careful humor. “Mostly about my metabolism. And my muscles.”
And then Shaw had a flash of crystal-clear memory, of his own voice, saying, you’re too hot, it’s bloody irritating.
“Fucking hell!” he said, and fumbled his glass of water. The top third sloshed out and over the table.
“And…there it is,” Hobbs said. He set down his own drink with a firm thunk of heavy glass on wood. “Was wondering if all that would come back to you.”
Shaw felt his face go blank and still with surprised horror. “I said…”
“Yep,” Hobbs agreed.
The rest of the memory came back in fits and starts, a little blurry, like the crackling of radio static, but mostly, terrifyingly complete. “And you said…”
“I sure did.” Hobbs leaned back in his chair, away from Shaw, casual as anything. “Did you mean it?”
“Yeah,” Shaw said, unthinking, and Hobbs’s shoulders actually dropped a little, almost in relief. Definitely not as casual as he looked, then.
“Good. Me, too.” Hobbs stayed where he was, but his head tipped to the side. His eyes narrowed a little. “Hey, Deck,” he said. “Are you freaking out right now?”
Shaw hadn’t moved an inch, and his face was still perfectly blank. It was a skill he’d learned years ago, back when he was a kid, when he’d still been such an open book. It didn’t do him any good if he couldn’t keep his hands from shaking, and they were. He carefully pressed both palms down on the tabletop so he didn’t have to look at it happening, ignoring the puddle of spilled water, wet and cool.
“Yeah,” he said, surprised at himself. “Yeah, I think I am.”
The problem was that it was all coming back to him.
Most days I even like you, Shaw remembered saying, somewhere near the end of that hazy stretch of time where Hobbs had forced him awake again and again, forced him to keep talking. It had probably kept him alive, but Hobbs had been right: he didn’t like it. I like you. As a person. It’s the worst. What the bloody hell am I supposed to do with that? And then he’d thought, I don’t even like myself most days, but he’d been concussed and hypothermic and half out of his head, so who knew whether or not that had slipped out as well. If he was lucky, he’d been so scrambled that none of it had made sense, but Shaw was never really that lucky, was he?
And then, even later, he’d said the one thing he’d been desperately trying to ignore, the one thing he hadn’t even allowed himself to think about, because thinking about it, vocalizing it, made it real. I know you, he’d said. And you know me.
It probably hadn’t meant much of anything to Hobbs. To Shaw, it was terrifying.
Trust was one thing. He could handle trust, and loyalty, even coming from a gravitational force of personality and uncompromising righteousness like Luke Hobbs. He might not have a single clue how or why he’d earned it to begin with, but he’d made himself—would keep making himself—a person who deserved it. He was trustworthy. He was loyal. Those parts of him had never fully disappeared.
But being seen was something else. Being known was something else. Letting yourself be known was the same as telling someone how to destroy you. Shaw could be damn certain that was true, because the last time he’d stopped hiding and given up all his secrets, the last time he’d carved out space inside himself for a real partner, had been with Brixton. And when Shaw wouldn’t join Eteon’s technological dystopia of a death cult, Brixton had used that to crawl inside his head, tear apart everything he cared about, and then try to murder him.
And in turn, Shaw had shot him three times. He’d killed Brixton, no matter what kind of fucked-up techno-biological bullshit Eteon had pulled to bring him back.
It was brutally easy to do for something so impossible to live with. He’d just pulled the trigger. He’d just swung a sledgehammer at the foundations of himself, the bedrock of who and what he was. Simple. Permanent. The person he’d been after that, the Deckard Shaw he’d reassembled out of the pieces of the life he’d left behind, wasn’t the same Deckard Shaw that had belonged to Brixton, to MI6. They just happened to share the same face.
You know me, Shaw had said. I know you. I like you.
His worst nightmare, really.
“You need a minute?” Hobbs said.
“Just—just give me a second.” And that was—Hobbs was definitely laughing at him, the overinflated prick in his painted-on too-goddamn-tight t-shirt. “Oh, what? You’re telling me this doesn’t freak you out? Huh, chuckles?”
“Nah.” Shaw scoffed at him; Hobbs gave up the ghost instantly with a little shrug. “Okay, fine, yeah. You got me. It’s weird as shit and terrifying as hell. I’ve just had an extra week to bounce the idea around in my skull like I’m playing a set of bongo drums up in there, the same way I can see, yeah, you’re doing right now.”
Shaw stared. Hobbs looked back, probably not as infuriatingly calm as he seemed. There was something happening in Shaw’s head, a buzzing white-noise static, the kind of panic that hit just before a crash. He wanted a drink. If he moved his hands even one inch off this stupid sticky faux-wood tabletop, then they were going to start shaking again, and he got the distinct impression he wasn’t going to handle that well. He already wasn’t handling just sitting here, feeling like this, without wanting to punch something or bolt, and he definitely wasn’t going to handle it well if he had to see the look on Hobbs’s face when he finally did—
Shaw’s phone chimed. The buzz of it in his jacket pocket knocked him out of the panic spiral before he could hit rock bottom and lose his shit in a public space.
He checked it. The message was from one of his contacts, something he’d been waiting weeks to get; he could wait a bit longer to respond. “I have to go,” he said anyway, pushing back his chair with a screech of metal on concrete.
He was being a bloody coward, and he knew it. Hobbs would be well within his rights to call him out on it.
“Yeah,” Hobbs said instead, and that was almost worse; he was being kind. “You do what you’ve got to do.”
Shaw paused. He was halfway out of his seat but still had the firm, cool support of the table under his hands. “Might take me a bit more than a week,” he admitted. It felt like pulling teeth, but if Hobbs could do kind then Shaw could at least manage honest.
“What’s that, Speed Racer?” Hobbs said with a cheerful grin that went sharp around the edges. “Finally admitting you can’t keep up?”
“Never,” Shaw shot back, embarrassed at how relieved the challenge made him, how normal it was. He tapped two fingers against his temple. “I’ve just got more up in here to bounce a thought off of, is all.”
If relief was embarrassing, at least Hobbs was feeling it, too, along with something painfully soft. Shaw had never seen anyone, let alone Hobbs, direct a look like that at him before. He couldn’t look at it for long.
“You can tell Samantha I’ll talk to her as planned next week,” Shaw said, and when Hobbs nodded, he finally took his chance to walk away.
It wasn’t the kid’s fault that Shaw had to get his shit together, after all.
* * *
It took considerably more than a week for anything to come of it. It took considerably more than a couple weeks, actually, though Shaw at least had an excuse for that one. Ten days in, following up on the lead from his contact, he’d found himself—distracted—during what should have been a simple infiltration and recon run, and like a moron, he’d gotten himself caught. A bunch of British twats had no right running a gang in Albania, but that was the British way; it was his own bad luck that these particular arseholes recognized Shaw by name and reputation and decided to lock him up while they figured out what to do with him.
They were too young and too scared to kill him, or even really hurt him. That was a nice ego boost.
It was hard to find a silver lining to getting tossed into an iron-barred cell and having his wrists and ankles chained to the ceiling and floor, but he was managing. Sure, having his arms suspended above his head was killer on his shoulders, but at least he had plenty of time to think—days of it, so far.
First, he thought about just how much time he spent being stabbed, shot, otherwise beaten up, blown up, tied up, locked up, fighting for his life, racing for his life, etc., etc., etc. It was a lot. It was, without a doubt, an absurd amount. Normal people didn’t live like this. Shaw hadn’t lived like this, back before his baby brother had fucked with Toretto and gotten their whole family caught up in that particular whirlwind of crazy.
That train of thought could only last so long. Shaw was used to the crazy, now. He couldn’t even bring himself to be all that worried about this situation. Either it would work itself out or it wouldn’t, and the universe had, alarmingly, seemed inclined to bend itself in his favor these days more often than it didn’t.
So, then he thought about Sam, who’d be disappointed he wasn’t picking up her calls. She’d understand, of course; it wasn’t the first time Shaw had been working and unable to answer right away. These days, she’d been teaching herself sleight-of-hand and telling Shaw all about it. It was really more Hattie’s thing than Shaw’s, but it was still one of the best parts of any given day, hearing about her practicing on her friends, her family, even her dad’s coworkers. Apparently the only one who’d caught her in the act of picking a pocket was Hobbs’s nutcase of a CIA contact, Locke, and he’d just bought her an ice cream before he dared her to try again.
Okay, Shaw was pretty disappointed to be missing that call, too.
She would call, and when he didn’t pick up, she’d try again later. And when she still couldn’t reach him, she’d—well. Shaw didn’t know. He’d never not picked up twice in a row without some kind of message to explain.
Sam was her father’s daughter; she would definitely do something. Her dad would almost definitely hear about it, so Hobbs would know, and then he would—do what, exactly? Assume that Shaw was too chickenshit to answer, even though he’d all but promised to the man’s face that he would?
And that put him squarely back where he hadn’t wanted to be: thinking about Luke Hobbs.
He’d been hanging from the wall for ages, and he had spent most of that time stuck on the same thought. It wasn’t like there was much else to do. He was mostly left alone, except for half an hour twice a day when they gave him some slack on the chains to eat and then do his necessary business.
So, he thought about Hobbs. He thought about the shitstorm when they’d met, and about how it had seemed—almost too easy, somehow, to go from enemies to very reluctant, very temporary allies, and from there to saving the world and Shaw’s own little sister together. He thought about how irritating, how aggravating the man had always been; how damn annoying he still was; and how easily the hulking lunatic got under his skin. There was nobody else in the whole world who got to him like that.
Shaw wanted to punch him in the fucking face. He wanted to kiss him. He wanted to go at him again in a no-holds-barred, all-in fight, all of his own speed and sharp angles against all of Hobbs’s raw power and durability. He wanted to see which of them would kill the other first. He wanted to climb that bald, baby-faced, oiled-up monster of a man like a goddamn tree, and he wanted to get his mouth all over those tattoos, maybe nip a bite or two at some of those muscles. Maybe Hobbs would try and hold him down. Maybe Shaw would let him.
And he wanted—he wanted—
He wanted to call him Hobbs and refuse to work with him. He wanted to meet up with him around the world by accident-that-wasn’t, and he wanted to bicker and fight and never, ever have to explain his plans or wait for Hobbs to catch up to his train of thought. He wanted Hobbs steely-eyed in the passenger seat, when anyone else would, by all rights, be screaming.
And he wanted to call him Luke. He wanted to know what he looked like first thing in the morning and late at night. He wanted to go to L.A., no world-ending crisis in sight, and he wanted to be wanted there when he showed up at the door. He wanted to talk to him outside of calls to Sam, with no excuses needed; the next time he was bleeding out in an alley somewhere, he wanted to call just like he had in Sarajevo and have that be unquestioned. Accepted.
He wanted a lot of things.
He especially wanted out of this fucking cell so he could stop thinking about it.
* * *
He was used to not getting what he wanted.
* * *
Three weeks after he’d left Hobbs behind in that café, and eleven days after he’d gotten himself chucked in this cage, something finally happened.
Six men came trooping into his cell together, all of them well armed and all of them staying well back. One near the back had the look and style that screamed I think I’m in charge; one right up near the front was holding a ringing phone. Every time it seemed like the ringing should stop and the call should go to voicemail, the noise would stop for a few seconds and then start right back up again.
“Is that my phone?” Shaw said, raising an eyebrow.
“Deckard Shaw,” said Boss Prick, ignoring that. “It looks like someone’s finally wised up that you’re missing.”
“Took ‘em long enough,” one of the others muttered, and took an elbow to the gut from his colleague.
“Looks like this Samantha is getting worried,” Boss Prick continued, ignoring the interruption. “She’s been calling on and off for a while, but this really takes the prize. Phone hasn’t stopped ringing for almost an hour, now.”
Shaw tipped his head to the side. “You can just turn it off, you know, if the noise is bothering you,” he told them. “If you hold down that button there, and then swipe the bar at the top of the screen—”
“We know how to turn off a phone!” That snarl came from the tosser holding Shaw’s phone, who took another couple of steps closer to Shaw so he could loom overhead.
“Alright, mate, just trying to help out,” Shaw said, rolling his eyes.
The phone went quiet, and then started up ringing again. “What’s with this bird?” Boss Prick said. “She just doesn’t give up.”
“Is she your girlfriend?” The idiot holding the phone leaned in closer still, probably thought the chains would keep Shaw from reaching him. “Maybe we’ll pay her a little visit after this, eh? She can come keep you company in here.”
Shaw snarled. He didn’t have much range of motion, but there was more than enough for him to kick out the prick’s leg where he was looming overhead, and then knee him in the face on his way down. The rest of the goons started shouting, guns cocking all around, but Shaw didn’t give a shit about that. “She’s a kid, you psychopathic bastard. A ten-year-old kid. And if you so much as breathe near her, I’ll come over there, rip off your head, and jam it so far up your arse it’ll pop right back out your neck again.”
The wanker shouted and went crawling back, his friends reaching out to drag him away as Shaw gave him another kick or two for good measure.
Boss Prick took back over with a shout and a gunshot up in the air. “Greg, get the fuck up and sort yourself out. You, do that again and I’ll shoot you on the spot,” he said, pointing his gun right between Shaw’s eyes. “Why’s she still calling, then? If it’s just some kid.”
Shaw bared his teeth at the gun but stopped kicking. “Told her I’d talk to her last week,” he said. “She won’t stop calling now ‘til I pick up. And if I don’t, she’ll know something’s up, so there goes your little plan to keep me here ‘til I give up the ghost.”
“How’s that?” Boss Prick didn’t sound all that impressed.
“Her dad’s DSS, you twat,” Shaw said. Most of the goons looked unimpressed, but at least the head honcho had some idea what that meant. He blanched. “There’s a tornado of shit you don’t want coming down on you, huh?”
“We’re fucked either way, then,” said Boss Prick. His gun wavered a little, but not in the way Shaw liked—more like the idiot was starting to realize he might actually have to use it. The guy didn’t want that any more than Shaw did, but he also wasn’t a total idiot. He wanted to die in a rain of bloody DSS hellfire even less.
Whoops. Shaw did some quick talking before they decided he was more trouble than he was worth and just killed him on the spot. “Well, it’s not like I want to deal with him either,” he said. “Can you imagine? The smug bastard, riding in to the rescue, and me sitting here trussed up like a turkey? I don’t fucking think so.”
That got him some weird looks. “You…don’t want to get rescued?” Boss Prick said slowly. Now he was too confused to move straight to murder, at least.
“Not by him,” Shaw said.
The boss stared at him. Christ, these kids were still so young. Still so stupid. “I could just shoot you now, you know.” There was a sharp edge of sarcasm there. “Save us all the trouble.”
“Or you let me talk to her, get her to relax,” Shaw said. “She’ll stop calling, and her dad’ll never know anything’s up. Win-win all around.”
“You’re really gonna give up your one chance at escaping…to spite this kid’s dad?” Boss Prick said, dubious.
“Fuck him. I’ll get out of here when I’m good and ready,” Shaw said, knowing they’d take that as a joke. It even was one, mostly.
And Boss Prick even seemed to think it was reassuring, so that was something. “Answer the phone,” Boss Prick said, suddenly deciding. “Yeah, Greg, I’m fucking serious. Answer the phone and hold it up so he can talk to the kid. Buys us some more time, doesn’t it?”
“What if it’s a trick?” Greg said. “Or—what if he attacks me again?”
“Then we’ll shoot him, Greg. Solves the problem either way.”
Greg, the tit, grumbled a bit but did as he was told. He edged in carefully, eyeing Shaw like he thought the kicking might start up again, waited for the phone to stop ringing and start again, and then picked up the call, setting it to speakerphone.
Shaw started talking immediately, keeping his voice casual and calm. Conversational, even. “Hey, Sam. Sorry for the delay. I’ve been on a job, got a bit tied up.”
The goon gave him a quick thump on the back of the head for that little joke. Shaw rolled his eyes at him.
“Oh,” Sam said. There was a brief pause, nothing too noticeable; she was a smart kid. “No worries, Uncle Deck. Are you free now?”
“Not just yet,” Shaw told her, trying not to smile. Uncle Deck. Christ, this kid was a natural. “Tell you what, I’ll give you a call when I’m done here, alright? I’d better go.”
“Okay, Uncle Deck. Oh! Aunt Hattie says hi.”
Shaw smothered the urge to grin. Good girl. “Tell her hello from me, too,” he said. “Bye, Sam.”
* * *
The gang didn’t exactly buy it—they weren’t entirely stupid—but Shaw hadn’t done anything outright objectionable, apart from that first little joke. They kicked him around a bit just in case, and then went right back to leaving him the hell alone.
They didn’t break any bones. They only barely left any bruises. For getting out a call as useful as that, a couple bruises were more than worth it.
* * *
It took three days for the cavalry to arrive.
It was the dead hour, middle of the night and silent as the grave. The only warning Shaw got was a quiet noise or two down the hall: something scuffling on the concrete floor; rocks pinging off metal bars as someone kicked them along.
Even before he saw anything, he knew it was his ride out of there.
He also knew—disappointed, reassured—that it wasn’t Hobbs. It was too damn quiet for that. There was only one person Shaw knew who was subtle enough for stealth, and involved enough for Sam to mention by name in their phone call.
“Hey, Hattie,” he said, a few seconds before his little sister appeared, framed by the iron bars of his cell.
“Hello, idiot,” Hattie said, and opened the cell with a ring of keys she was spinning around and around in her hand. She had Shaw’s cell phone in the other hand, held up in the air like a war prize. “I know you hate talking about your feelings, but getting chained to the ceiling in an Albanian dungeon just to get out of it? That’s a bit extreme even for you, Deck.”
Shaw sighed. There went his chances that Hobbs and Sam hadn’t immediately told Hattie everything about this whole mess of a situation. “Thank you, Hattie, for those words of wisdom. I didn’t do it on purpose.” He rattled his wrists, sending the chains clanking. “Now will you please get me down so we can get out of here?”
“That’s adorable,” Hattie said, smiling at him. She didn’t move any closer. “You think this is a rescue.”
Understanding hit him like a brick to the face. “No. Don’t even think it. I don’t need a bloody intervention.”
Hattie out and out laughed in his face, spinning the key to his shackles around and around her finger, just out of reach. “Sorry, but that’s the price for getting out of this hole in the ground. You either take one on the chin and come with me, or you spend some more time up on the wall until you change your mind. Up to you.”
Shaw let his head fall back to hit stone. “Christ.”
“Oh, and I almost forgot,” Hattie threw out brightly. “Mum will be there, too. She’s meeting us at a hotel in Greece.”
“Christ,” Shaw said again, because there was no getting out of it now. If he didn’t go there, Magdalene Shaw would absolutely bring herself here, instead, and have their bloody intervention with him chained to the wall. At least this way he’d maybe get a shower first. “Fine, fucking hell. Get me down.”
* * *
His mother was meeting them in Trikala, a solid five-hour drive from the hole-in-the-ground dungeon in Albania. Hattie took pity on him and dragged him to a fleabag pay-by-the-hour motel first, so he could take a shower, change clothes, and eat, and then she shoved him in the passenger seat of his own McLaren while she drove the rest of the way. Shaw meant to protest, he really did, except the car door shut behind him and he was suddenly too fucking exhausted to do anything but drop his head against the window and sleep for the entire five-hour ride.
He woke up when the car came to a stop in a hotel parking lot, and followed Hattie inside and up the elevator to the third floor without a protest. He’d mostly accepted his fate.
It was good to see his mum again, even if she spent the first fifteen minutes after he’d walked in the hotel room door wittering around him, complaining about the state of him, how pale and underfed he looked, his terrible judgment, how could he let a bunch of bastards like that get hold of him, wasn’t he better than that? Shaw just sat down on the unused hotel bed and took it. Better to let her get it out of her system.
At last she sat down at the little desk near the bed, where Hattie had already dragged two chairs and then sat down herself, and Shaw straightened himself up as he saw what was about to happen.
Here it was: the intervention. Hattie took over then, while his mum made a big show of leaning back and picking up a cup of tea.
“You’re a moron, Deck,” she said.
Shaw breathed in deep, and then blew it out in a heavy sigh. “Starting out strong, Hats.”
“Oh, I’m just getting started,” she said. Her tone was a warning. “You know what I thought when I got the call, hearing that something was up with you? I thought maybe you were in serious trouble, something big, something important. Probably deadly. And then Sam and Luke told me what was really happening, why Luke wasn’t just going to Albania himself, and I remembered you’re my idiot big brother, and maybe you can kill a man eighteen ways with his own pinkie finger, but you can’t deal with your own emotions to save your life.”
Shaw wrinkled his nose. “Harsh,” he said, but it wasn’t really a protest.
“Truth hurts,” Hattie said sharply. “Anyway, I thought I’d take my sweet time getting there, since you didn’t seem to be in any real danger. No, shut up, you could have gotten out of there in a flash if you’d damn well wanted to, and we both know it. I figured you just needed the extra time to think.”
“Is that why you drove my car all the way here, instead of taking a flight?” Shaw asked idly.
“A few extra days didn’t hurt you,” Hattie said. His mum sniffed a little in the background, but didn’t say anything, which meant she wasn’t happy about it but still agreed. “The real question is whether or not you got your shit sorted while you were lazing about. Did you sort out your shit, Deck?”
Shaw shifted a foot along the carpet, rolled his shoulder a bit, little nervous tics he couldn’t quite help. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, no?” Hattie said. She leaned forward, folding her hands together and putting her elbows on her knees. Her eyes narrowed. “Deckard, you damn idiot, I’m talking about the fact that you’re in love with Luke Hobbs.”
Shaw recoiled, because that was a bit much. “I bloody well am not.”
“You are,” Hattie insisted. “You love him. You even love his daughter. And don’t try to argue with me—I know for a fact you want to shag the man, but if it was just that, you’d have climbed on for a ride by now—”
“Mum doesn’t need to hear this,” Shaw cut in desperately.
“No, no,” his mother said, taking a sip of her tea, prim and gracious as anything and looking thrilled by the turn in the conversation. “Go on, don’t mind me.”
Hattie pressed grimly onward. “You’d have shagged him already if that’s all you wanted—sorry, Mum—but instead you’ve just been slowly inserting yourself in their lives, hoping they’ll keep you. It’s just that you don’t know how the hell to go about it.”
“First of all, you’re a lunatic, and you’re wrong,” Shaw said. “And second, even if you weren’t—even if you weren’t, Hats, what the bloody hell am I supposed to do about it?”
Hattie threw both hands in the air. “Deckard Shaw. You are a tit. If you want them to keep you, let them keep you.”
Shaw hesitated, thrown. “…what?”
“Darling boy,” his mother said, finally cutting in. “It’s really not that difficult. If you want him, then running away to Albania the first time the subject comes up? That’s the wrong way to do it. Just tell him.”
“I don’t think—”
“No, you don’t. Clearly.” She looked at him the way only his mother could, the way she’d looked at him every time she wanted him to pick out the obvious flaws in his own bad choices. “The man cares about you. Obviously. He set up a rescue for you from a continent away. And Hattie says it’s not the first time he’s gone out of his way to help you out of a jam. Or the first time you’ve done the same for him.”
Hattie nodded agreement. “And did you know, mum? His daughter calls Deck twice a week for little chats. Has for months.”
“Twice a—” Magdalene Shaw stared at him, appalled. “That sells it. I could have a granddaughter by now, Dex. What are you waiting around for?”
Shaw pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers. This whole conversation was sliding firmly off the rails and toward the absurd. “Maybe for Hattie to give me some tips,” he said sarcastically. “She’s already bagged him once, haven’t you, Hats?”
“Oh, come on, Dex, don’t be cruel. You’re better than that,” his mum said. “But Hattie, darling, what were you thinking? Really, having sex with the love of your brother’s life?”
“Whoa!” Shaw said. That had escalated damn quickly. “Nobody said anything about…”
“Obviously he wasn’t Deck’s anything back then, mum,” Hattie said, steamrollering over Shaw, same as always. “And anyway, how was I supposed to know? All they did was bicker and fight and shoot things, waving their cocks all over the place while they ran around in a bunch of over-the-top muscle cars.” She paused. “Hm. Actually, on second thought, I probably should have seen this coming. Sorry, Deck.”
Hattie looked, if anything, genuinely remorseful, which was absolute batshit lunacy.
“A man who cheats on you with your sister can’t be all that good for you,” his mother tossed out, bafflingly, in clear disapproval. “I don’t know about that, Dex.”
“Hold on,” Shaw tried to say, but his mother was on a roll.
“You need a man who respects you,” she said, speaking a little louder so she could talk over him. “You don’t need to put up with this kind of nonsense—”
“Mum, come on, don’t be ridiculous,” Shaw snapped, pushing to his feet. His voice came out louder than he meant it to be, almost a shout. “I’m in love with the bastard, not married to him! Cheating on me with—what a load of toss.”
He was ticked off enough for it to take a few extra seconds to realize that neither Hattie nor his mum had anything else to add after that. In fact, they were both just looking at him—one smug as anything, the other intent and pleased, and both smiling like the cat that ate the canary.
“What?” he said.
And then he realized all at once what he had just admitted, and the horror dawned slow and clear and unmistakable: he hadn’t misspoken. He hadn’t been lying. He’d meant it, and he hadn’t even known.
He slowly sank back down to a seat on the bed. “Oh, fuck.”
“I think I’ll call that one a Vanilla Ice,” his mother said thoughtfully.
“What’s that?” Hattie asked.
Shaw was too busy having a moment to really care.
“The grift, darling, this grift,” his mum said. She looked damn pleased with herself. “You think the conversation’s going one way, some Freddie Mercury about to sing Under Pressure, and then wham!” She mimed swinging a bat. “Hit in the face with Ice, Ice Baby instead.”
Yeah, Shaw felt like he’d taken a bat to the face, alright.
Hattie must have made some expression; Shaw didn’t see it, too busy staring blankly at the wall. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Hattie,” his mother said. “I was alive in the 90s, same as you.”
* * *
His family wasn’t exactly known for taking their time and really processing things, thinking things through, before they acted. But even for them, the five minutes Shaw got to let his newest realization settle before there was a knock at the door wasn’t much time at all.
“I’ve got it,” Hattie said brightly, which was the first sign something was off. She didn’t seem at all surprised to hear it.
“Right, I’m off, too,” his mother said, and that was when Shaw knew he was screwed: it wasn’t just expected, it was planned.
So, when Hobbs came in, Shaw figured he didn’t have much right to be surprised. It was his cue to stand up, take a few steps from the bed, and try to figure out what the hell he was supposed to do with his hands.
“Shaw. They didn’t tell you I’d be here, huh?” Hobbs said, nodding to Shaw’s mum, accepting a quick hug from Hattie, a pat on the cheek and a hard stare as the two women left the room.
“Nah,” Shaw said. “I think Hats was hoping I’d be so angry with her I wouldn’t have time to overthink this whole…thing.” He gestured between Hobbs and himself.
Over her shoulder, halfway out the door and into the hallway, Hattie called out, “Is it working?”
“Hell no,” Shaw said. “I am excellent at multitasking.”
Hobbs laughed at that, and Hattie, too, as she shut the door behind her, leaving the two of them alone in the room. “Fair enough,” Hobbs said. The laughter softened, turned into a smile as he took a few steps farther into the room, putting himself over by the table where Hattie and Shaw’s mum had been sitting earlier. “You good?”
Shaw remembered that he was, in fact, a recent escapee from an Albanian dungeon. He’d had other things to think about, obviously. “Fine.”
Hobbs looked him up and down, but ultimately decided to accept that as truth. “And are we good?”
“Course,” Shaw said. He tucked a hand in his pocket, thought better of it, pulled it out again, and then rocked back on his heels to try to get rid of some of the tension he had built up. “Why wouldn’t we be?”
Hobbs raised an eyebrow at that. Shaw wrinkled his nose back, well aware that it had been a stupid thing to say. “You know,” Hobbs said, “it occurred to me, the other day. I let you say a lot of things, back then. Things you wouldn’t’ve said otherwise. And I didn’t give you much back, did I? So maybe it’s only fair if I say a thing or two first, this time.”
“What kind of things?” Shaw said. He shifted in place again, took a few slow steps to the side, carefully casual, pacing out a little half-circle around Hobbs so that the other man was no longer between him and the door.
“Let’s get the basics out there,” Hobbs said. And then, like it was just that easy, he added, “I like you. I might never admit it again, but I do. I like working with you. You like my kid, and my kid likes you. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re damn good at what you do, and you’re hot as hell when you do it. I’d bang you like a screen door in a hurricane if that’s what you want, and it sort of sounds like you do. So that’s always a nice bonus.”
Shaw made a noise that was trying to be casual acknowledgement, but came out sounding a little strangled. “Mn.”
“But it’s the rest of that stuff that’s important, you know?” Hobbs said. “I’d hate to lose any of that. I think we agree there, yeah?”
Shaw let himself nod to that. “Yeah.”
“Yeah, well.” Hobbs looked at him straight on, no hesitation. “Now for the harder stuff.” He took a deep breath, let it out slowly. “Did you know, a couple years back when Dom shot you in that street, I punched a dent into a metal wall? Had the bruises for ages.” He made a loose fist with his right hand, and then shook it out, like he was remembering it. “The first time we met, we put each other through some plate glass windows and a couple tables, and then you blasted me out a window, down four stories, and onto a parked car. Two years later, I thought you were dead, and I’d’ve rather done the drop again than watch you go down like that.”
Shaw looked back at him, steadier than he felt. He hadn’t known. “What’s your point?”
“Point is, at that point I was still pretty convinced I hated your goddamn guts,” Hobbs said. He gestured between them, back and forth. “Point is, this, you and me? It was always something, from the minute we stopped trying to kill each other on sight. And that Eteon shitstorm just solidified it. You’re one of my people now.”
“What’s your point?” Shaw said again.
“You’re one of my people,” Hobbs said, more insistently. Shaw kind of got the feeling this was one of those Hobbsian things that he just wasn’t getting—or maybe even a Toretto thing. “That’s not going anywhere now. The only thing we’re still working on is what that looks like.”
Shaw wanted to trust that. He almost did, even. It just seemed too easy to be true. “Yeah? And what do you want?”
“Me?” Hobbs said. He sounded a little surprised, like he wasn’t sure why Shaw would even need to ask. “I’ll take whatever you’ll give me.”
“Anything?” Shaw said. He raised an eyebrow. “You’ve got no idea what that might look like.”
Hobbs grinned at him, sudden and sharp. “You should know by now I can take anything you could dish out.”
Shaw grinned back. He couldn’t help it. And then he forced his face blank again. “So, if I say we carry on as we are?”
Hobbs shrugged. “Then we talk sometimes when Sam calls you. We run into each other when we’re in the same neighborhood. Every once in a while, when Mr. Nobody makes us do a job together, we’ll confuse the shit out of the baby agents he makes us drag along for the ride.”
“And,” Shaw said, “if I think we should add in some sex on top of that, no strings attached?”
“We can do that,” Hobbs said, smirking. “On a bed, in a car, up against a wall—any position, every position. It’s all good with me.”
Shaw looked at him, really looked at him. He took a single, careful step back toward the door. It was the only way he could keep looking Hobbs in the eyes when he admitted, “The last time I did something like this, he tried to kill me. I had to shoot him twice in the chest and once in the head.”
Shaw could see the moment that hit Hobbs, the way understanding dawned. “Well,” he said, raising both arms for a full-body shrug, “think about it like this. You and I have already tried to kill each other, several times over. So at least that’s out of the way.”
“What, you’re saying we can only go up from here?” Shaw would have liked to laugh, but couldn’t quite muster it.
“I’m saying we’ve already gone as far downhill as we can get, and we’re both still here,” Hobbs said, and, well, he wasn’t wrong.
Shaw wasn’t a coward. He wasn’t. He was a spy, a driver, a street-fucking-racer that had once given Dominic Goddamn Toretto a run for his money. If he was afraid—and he was—then that was only sensible; he’d been burned once before and it had almost killed him, in more ways than one. He still didn’t have to let that fear get into his head. Hobbs, wrecking ball of a man that he was, the goddamn human battering ram, was right there with him, right in front of him, throwing out opening after opening like he was forcing holes into traffic for Shaw to move through.
All Shaw had to do to get what he wanted was buckle the fuck up and take the chance.
He made his decision. “Hattie says I’m in love with you.”
It wasn’t like he could just come out and say it. Obviously.
“Oh,” Hobbs said, and then blinked a few times, a little too quickly. “Well. Good.”
“Good?” Shaw repeated, dubious.
“Yeah,” Hobbs said. “Good. That’s, that’s good. Sam told me—uh. Sam says I’m in love with you.”
“Oh,” Shaw said. That took a few seconds to process, so it was his turn to blink a few times, let it really settle in. That sharp pressure was back in his chest, the kiss-or-kill building heat, except he was realizing that he didn’t need to shove it in a box or squash it down.
“Was Hattie right?” Hobbs said.
“Hattie’s always right,” Shaw shot back. “Damn her.”
“Yeah,” Hobbs said, mouth twisting, softening, pulling up into a wry smile. “I get that. Sam, she knows everything about me. Usually before I do.”
Well. That was alright, then, wasn’t it?
“In that case,” Shaw said, “I’ve got just one thing left to say.”
“Oh, it’s not for you,” Shaw said, shaking his head. He didn’t turn or look away. “Hey, Hats,” he called out, barely raising his voice. “Remember that chat we had a while back, about me staying out of your sex life?”
There was a pause, probably Hattie deciding if she could get away with pretending that she wasn’t standing just outside, listening in. “Yeah,” she finally said. The closed door barely muffled it at all.
“Same goes for you,” he told her. “Diagrams and sound effects, wasn’t it? Eh?”
“Yeah,” Shaw said. Hobbs was laughing silently and not bothering to hide it, his hands tucked casually in his pockets, and Shaw let his lips quirk up. He wouldn’t be laughing for long. “Get lost, Hattie. And take Mum with you.”
Hobbs froze on the spot, blood draining from his face, eyes wide with horror.
“That was the least romantic confession I’ve ever heard,” his mother complained instantly. The door was still shut, but it didn’t bloody feel that way. “That’s the best you’ve got, Dex? You had to use your little sister to do it? Not even going to kiss the man after all that?”
“Christ, mum,” Shaw said, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. “Not while you’re listening in just outside the door, I’m not.”
He wasn’t a randy fifteen-year-old, sneaking around the house, trying and failing to be subtle about it. But by god, his mother could still make him feel like one.
The only thing that could make this more embarrassing would be if—
“I thought it was pretty good,” Sam’s voice said, tinny but perfectly understandable. “For them, anyway. They’re both really weird.”
“Do you have—is that my kid on speakerphone?” Hobbs said. He took his hands out of his pockets and straightened up. “Hattie Shaw, did you call my kid and put her on speakerphone?”
“…no,” Hattie said. It wasn’t convincing.
“Hi, Dad!” Sam said cheerily. “Hi, Shaw! Oh, and Locke’s here, too.”
“Of course he is,” Hobbs said. He sighed, put his head in his hands, and turned so he could sit down on the bed with a heavy thump. “Why wouldn’t he be.”
“Oh, Rebecca…” said a muffled male voice over the phone speaker. “I’m so glad I could be here for this moment. That was…that was so beautiful. So moving. I’m speechless.” Was that—was the man actually sniffling? Was he crying? And who the hell was Rebecca?
“I cannot imagine,” Hobbs said slowly, “a single way this conversation could be going worse.”
“Nah, I’ve got one,” Shaw said. He took a few steps over and dropped to a seat on the bed as well, right next to Hobbs, so he could bump their shoulders together. And then he just sort of—didn’t lean away again, so they stayed that way, one long warm line of contact with their sides pressed together. “Think about it: that door could be open, instead.”
They both sat quietly and thought about that. Outside the door, Shaw’s mum got into a spirited discussion with Hobbs’s daughter, mostly critiquing Shaw and Hobbs’s personalities as a whole, on top of mocking this specific conversation. Hattie made her own sharp comments about the both of them. Every once in a while, Locke could be heard breaking into huge, hopefully fake sobs.
“We don’t have to just sit here and let this happen,” Hobbs said finally.
“You want to try to make Hattie and Magdalene Shaw go anywhere before they’re damn well ready, you be my guest. Otherwise, we’re stuck ‘til they decide they’re through,” Shaw said, gloomy. And then he paused, reconsidered, as Hattie started in on some of the more embarrassing parts of their Eteon escapades. “On second thought. Did you know, from here it’s only seven, eight hundred kilometers to Santorini? They’ve got the Katikies Hotel there, supposed to be one of the best spots to stay in Europe. I’ve always wanted to go.”
“Well, I’ve got your car keys,” Hobbs said, bafflingly, and then actually pulled them out of his pocket to flash at Shaw before tucking them away again. “Hattie thought you might try to bolt when I came through the door,” he explained to Shaw’s look of disbelief. “But that doesn’t matter. Eight hundred kilometers, huh? That’s, what, nine, ten hours driving?”
Shaw scoffed. “In my car? Six hours, tops, plus the ferry ride,” he said.
“Out the window, then?” Hobbs pushed quietly up onto his feet.
Shaw nodded easy agreement, rising with him. “East side,” he said.
“Obviously.” Hobbs rolled his eyes, started to turn toward the windows on the east wall. “It’s the third floor. We need that climbing ivy to get down.”
“Obviously,” Shaw repeated, mocking, and grabbed him by the shoulder before he could get too far. “Hold up. Just one more thing.”
He pulled. Hobbs let him, even turned with it, so when Shaw pushed up to kiss him all Hobbs had to do was lean down.
It lasted a bit longer than Shaw had planned, but that wasn’t a bad thing. By the time he managed to pull back, Shaw had a hand fisted in the fabric of Hobbs’s too-damn-tight t-shirt, right over the man’s heart; Hobbs had one hand wrapped loose and proprietary around the base of Shaw’s neck, the other settled low on Shaw’s hip, tugging him closer.
It was hard—heh—but Shaw managed to take a step away, toward the east windows. “Come on, big guy. Luke. Let’s get moving,” he said. And then he grinned, and held up the keys he’d snatched from Hobbs’s pocket while the other man was distracted. “I’ll drive.”