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The Way Home

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I'd know that engine anywhere.

And while seeing Brian should be a surprise, it just isn't. The Charger sure is, Mia is, Vince and Leon being anywhere near him. Three great big fucking shocks. But then so is going from imprisonment to freedom, from having no future to having the world at my feet, in the time it takes me to drive a quarter mile. I should yell at Brian for dragging Mia into this but she's a big girl now. I’m too happy, too stunned, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, if she wanted in no one could have stopped her. Not me. Certainly not him.

They leave all the other prisoners still chained inside the bus, leave the guards restrained but unhurt. It's a neat job, no one gets more than a bruised cheek and a black eye; Brian's planning no doubt.

The guy never stops flooring me; from that morning five years ago, leaping from a moving car to a moving truck to rescue Vince, blowing his cover right in front of me to save the guy’s life, handing me the keys to the car and letting me escape to save mine. Five years on there’s the thing with Braga - I’m not one hundred percent certain, but I think he would have let me shoot the guy in that church and not batted a pretty eyelid – and now this crazy ass stunt. He threw his career to the wind for me once and somehow salvaged it. Now he’s doing it again, and this time I doubt there’s going to be any second – third - chances. Like last time he tried to make me run, and after I refused to leave he gave a testimonial in court that should have earned me sainthood, never mind kept me out of Lompoc. But the judge played hardass, gave me twenty-five to life, and now Brian's showing the world what he thinks of that. How the hell can I not feel anything for the guy?

How the hell can my car be here like this, in one piece?

I seriously thought my life was over. For the last few weeks all I’ve known for certain is that I’m going to jail, with the chances of ever getting out being slim to nil. But instead of being chained to some murdering bastard, I’m staring at the open road as Brian puts a lot of mileage between us and the crime scene. It’s taking me a while to catch up.

There’s the blast of a horn and a dark blur as Leon and Vince take the lead in a plain black Honda, leaving us in the middle with Mia bringing up the rear in a blue and silver Skyline I haven't seen before. From what I can see in the mirrors, it’s got enough mods to make insurance a nightmare. Looks like it might glow in the dark too, but it’s not flashy enough on the outside to draw any unnecessary attention. I wonder where it came from. Then I turn and stare at Brian as he drives the Charger with all the confidence in the world, like he belongs behind the wheel of my car.

“You’re the last person in the world I expected to show up,” I tell him, just to have something to say. He’s happy, beaming like a kid at Christmas, not an ex-cop on the run.

“Am not,” he throws back, and now I can’t wipe the smile off my own face.

Nothing phases him. Despite everything we've been through, the only time I've seen fear in his eyes was out there by the side of the road that morning, with Vince's blood all over us, making the call that saved Vince's life and blowing his cover to do it. I could have killed him with my bare hands at that moment and he knew it. But the fear I saw wasn't of me, wasn't even for me. It was for Vince; a guy who hated him, who'd beat the shit out of him as soon as look at him. It was fear of what would happen to Vince if Brian died right there and then with my hands around his throat. I didn't hurt him, not then, and by the time I got my hands on a shotgun and he was standing in front of me, I couldn't hurt him. God help me, the way I felt about him, I couldn’t even threaten him.

He drives me crazy, because no one has ever given so much for me and I don’t get why he, of all people, does. No one else has ever thrown away their life just to keep me out of jail. And why? Because one night I told him I'd never go back, that I'd die first. And man, did he take that to heart.

I look over at him, meaning to thank him, but before I can get a word out, he says, "Strip," and it takes me a moment to process. "There's a change of clothes in the back." He's radiating joy. "Orange isn't your colour, man."

Message received. We’re on an open road and I’m sticking out like a sore thumb. But a guy my size stripping in the front of a muscle car built for racing isn't easy. He ducks my elbows a couple of times, and I swear I can hear him fighting the urge to laugh. I'm fighting the urge to elbow him in the balls even though I'm not sure I can make it look accidental.

A white shirt and faded blue jeans are in the back, neatly folded. I reach over and grab them once I'm down to my briefs, throwing the orange jumpsuit at Brian who winds down the window and lets it fly in the slipstream. I guess the cops don't need the extra clue that we're heading south, it’s probably not the wisest of ideas, but Brian's grinning like a loon and it makes me feel fearless, just like him. I experience a sudden need to snatch back some balance here. So I somehow get into my jeans and let my eyes settle on him, wait until he glances over at me, and say,

"You look so hot driving this car."

It takes a moment for the words to sink in, and as his grin fades I turn away, shrug on the shirt and gaze out of the window as I button up, ignoring the question that’s written all over his face, his slightly high-pitched, “What?”

I leave it for five miles and he just drives. He’s quiet, and that’s so unlike him that it throws me so in the end I have to make conversation.

“How long have we got?”

“Until they realise something’s wrong. All the buses are low-jacked, so normally they’d already know. But we got some help hacking the signal, so now we’ve got until the guards free themselves or until they realise the vehicle they think they’re tracking hasn’t arrived in Lompoc when their GPS says it has.”

He’s got a real talent for this stuff. “So where’re we going?”

“San Jose, Costa Rica. For now. Further, maybe, later.” That’s cool. I stopped in Costa Rica before, on my way to Panama. I like the place, like the city. Hell, anywhere will do. He holds out his hands, letting the wheel go for just a second. He’s still smiling, like it’s plastered permanently to his face. “However far we need to go to keep you out of Lompoc.”

He’s gone pretty damn far already. It’s blown my mind – this seemingly unconditional devotion – I don’t know what to do with it. I definitely don’t understand it. I wonder if there’s anything he won’t do for me. It’s heavy stuff I’m not ready to deal with, we’ve got a long drive and we definitely don’t need any more tension between us. Time to change the subject. So I lean across to glance in the rear view and I ask who the Skyline belongs to. I don’t need a verbal answer; it’s there in his eyes when he glances in the mirror.

I nod. “Nice.”

“I practically built it from scratch, raced it in Miami. I’ve taken some of the more... ostentatious mods off, but it’s a good car. It’ll do us proud, you know, if we need spare cash.”

I nod, catching his meaning. He didn’t say much about Miami in the short time we had back in L.A. I know it’s where the Feds finally caught up with him after chasing him across the entire country. I know it’s where he finally joined up again – another short-lived relationship. So I know about the ‘what’ and I know about the ‘why’. But all I know about the ‘how’ is something about drugs and money and a guy – Roman Pearce. I don’t know who he is and I don’t want to know. Brian hasn’t said much – just that he’s an old friend and they have history. I remember him telling us over dinner. I remember saying something like, ‘you and I have history too’. I remember Mia’s expression. Mom used to look at me like that when I was acting particularly childish.

I definitely don’t want to ask him about that now. Like I said, there’s enough tension in this car as it is. And I can tease him about the colour of the Skyline later. There’s all this stuff between us, yet the deepest conversation we’ve had since he threw his life away for me the first time around was about the benefits of electronic fuel injection. Or maybe it wasn’t. Still, this doesn’t seem to be the time for a meaningful chat. I could ask him if he won in Miami, but it’s pointless. Of course he won, every single time. Bet the Florida scene didn’t know what hit it. So for the next hundred miles or so, neither of us talks. It’s not awkward, it’s comfortable. It feels right.

Several miles before the Mexican border at Heroica Nogales, Brian leans over into the back with one hand on the wheel and his big toe still on the gas and pulls a large envelope from behind my seat.

“I’d have done that,” I point out as he drops the envelope in my lap. He just smiles. Show off. I open it up and let the contents fall into my lap. Currency, permits, passports, insurance, drivers’ licences; all in the names of Brian Connolly and Dominic Santos.

“Mia, Leon and Vince have theirs, along with vehicle permits and insurance for the cars. Borders shouldn’t be a problem, but there’s enough cash, just in case.”

It’s a minute or two before I can speak. “You’re a natural at working the other side of the law, Brian.”

He laughs. “When you’re a cop you mix with the crème of society.”

At the border crossing we blend in with the tourists, put a few cars between our own and get lucky, get across. No problem.

 

Ten miles into Mexico, Vince and Leon pull into a gas station and Brian follows, Mia close behind us. It's the first chance I've had to thank them. I hug Mia. Leon and Vince hug me. Vince mutters that maybe the narc cop isn't so bad after all. Nice of him to admit it after Brian not only saved his life but kept him, kept all of us, out of jail. Still I know how much it cost him to say it - there's more to his wariness of Brian than just the obvious - and I nod my agreement but add, "I don't think he's a cop anymore."

We refuel then hit the store for water and snacks. Mia corners me as I'm lifting a six pack of Corona out of the fridge and asks me seriously if I want to ride with her. I thought women were supposed to be more attuned to these things, whatever these things are. All I say is, "Nah, we're good," and she looks at me in a way that makes me wonder if she's given Brian the same 'break his heart, I'll break your neck' speech that I did. The thought makes me cringe.

It’s not like I’m not about to ask the guy out on a date, although I can see us sitting in some bar in San Jose sharing tapas, drinking cold beer, talking about something other than car engines. Don't know what he'd think about that, don't know how he feels about me, don't know what he wants. Don’t know what I’m willing to offer. He's never asked anything of me, given me everything and never asked for anything in return. Given everything he's done, it’s a fair bet he feels something, but whether it's kinship, lust or anything in between, I have no idea. It isn't news that Brian's capable of taking me for a ride, but I think – I know - it's been real for the most part.

And this isn't getting me anywhere.

I dump the beer on the counter and Leon dumps a pile of unhealthy crap on top, looking pleased with himself. Mia adds in the water and Brian pays for everything, making me wonder if they hit an armoured truck on their way to get me. I try to let it go, but once we get on the road again I can't help myself. I wouldn't be surprised if Brian told me to butt out of his business, but instead he tells me that he and his friend stole a ton of cash from the bust in Miami.

"Rome bought a garage," he says, "I stuck it in the bank for a rainy day." Apparently a rainy day in Brian’s life is one where he needs to bust a friend off a prison transport.

“Feds didn’t miss it?”

“Feds never knew how much we were transporting.”

I can’t help but laugh. “Were you ever actually a cop, Brian?” I get serious, reach over, tap his chest with my knuckles as he drives, “in here?”

He glances down at my hand, over at me, then back at the road. And he shrugs. “Maybe once.” Then his face lights up and he looks at me. “No room anymore.”

That’s a line I’m not going near. It’s like walking through a minefield, talking to him. Which is why we spent the last hundred miles in silence and why we’ll be spending the next hundred miles the same way if I don’t give him something. It’s not that he hasn’t earned it, that he doesn’t deserve it or that I don’t have it to give. It’s just that if I start, I don’t know how I’ll stop.

“Thanks.” It’s not much. It’s nothing. I said it when I first saw him, first saw the car – my car, my Dad’s car – rescued and restored in a matter of weeks; the time it took the Feds to process and prosecute my ass. He must have fuckin’ lived and breathed engine parts and body work because I saw it hit that wall in the tunnel. I saw the explosion in my rear view. There can’t have been that much left of her. I realise he’s been planning this long before I was sentenced – contingency - just in case things went the way they did. I owe him my life and my freedom. Whatever debts he racked up first time around have been paid in full.

He shrugs it off like it’s nothing, says, “you’re welcome,” and I know I am. Like it’s the least he can do. But it isn’t nothing and sitting here, watching the road disappear beneath the car, I finally need him to acknowledge that.

“Why are you doing all this?" I want to know but he shakes his head. "Brian."

I almost regret it when his face clouds over. His smile’s like the sun; too long in his company and I start to feel like I need it just to breathe. It’s what got me hooked in the first place. When we met up again in L.A. I thought he’d be a different guy to the Brian I knew and in one way he is, but it’s just skin deep. Underneath he’s the same. He looks harder but his heart is the same. A lot’s happened to both of us over the last five years, I’ve no idea what’s been going on with him, not really, but I’ll get it out of him sooner or later – I’ve got time now.

“Brian?”

“Letty.” He blurts it out, and it’s nothing I didn’t expect even though it's not the answer I'm looking for. “I got her killed. The woman you love.” His voice starts to break and just for a split-second he sounds frightened, the way he did in the desert, making the call to save a life when for all he knew it was going to cost him his own.

Reaching across, I squeeze his shoulder. “Not your fault, Bri. Once she got it in her mind to do something, she’d have done it no matter what. If not you, some other Fed, some other cop. She did it for me. And I got the guy who killed her. Mourn her, but don’t beat yourself up over it.”

I’ve beaten myself up over it – beaten him up over it too. I was so angry, so fucking angry when I found out about him running Letty. And it had been a long time coming; we were due a fight, something physical to break the tension. I’m not angry now, but I am pissed off. Because even now he’s still lying to me and I want to know why. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe I already know why, deep down.

When I let my hand drop he’s smiling again, only slightly but it won’t take long to get the rest of the way so I relax, dig into a bag of Cheetos and just let him drive, offering them to him. He reaches in, takes a handful and stuffs them into his mouth.

Sitting watching him munching his way through a mouthful of cheesy snacks probably isn’t the best time for an epiphany, and it’s not really an epiphany. I remember back when he used to just come to the store for tuna sandwiches every lunchtime, I noticed him. Hard not to. Kept catching myself on his eyes; two-tone blue, shining like fuckin’ sapphires. Getting to know him, he kinda lost that shine. But it didn’t stop me wanting him around, at the garage, at the house. I wanted him showing up after he finished his shift at Harry’s. Maybe he’d say he was just playing a part, but I know when someone’s playing me and he just wasn’t, not all the time. It was his first undercover gig, he went in heart and soul. I don’t know if he got out with either intact.

This time around, he was the one in control. When I first laid eyes on him again after five years, I thought I didn’t know him. But as angry as I wanted to be with him, as cool as I played it, one of those looks, one of those smiles and it all crumbled away. I was smiling right back at him before I knew what I was doing. When it all went to shit, I knew he’d match my play, knew he had my back. It felt good to be able to trust someone like that, to know without a shadow of a doubt that I could trust him. Even though he was working for the Feds. He protected me at every turn. And in the garage, the night before we went for Braga, when he told me he was coming with me, something between us shifted. He wasn’t the buster any longer; he wasn’t looking for my approval or my respect. He was my friend, my partner. So when he went to Mia after she got back from the store, the sudden spike of jealousy was a surprise and a shock when I guess it shouldn’t have been.

“Can’t believe you’re still lying to me, Brian,” I tell him gently and he shoots a look my way before thrusting his hand back into the bag of Cheetos to fill his mouth. “You threw your life away five years ago for me. You’re throwing it away again now. Why?”

He doesn’t speak again until he’s finished crunching. Then he asks, “Why does it matter, Dom?”

It’s an easy answer. I thought about it while I was waiting for the conviction hearing because it was easier to think about that than about where I was headed. “Because no one’s ever shown me the kind of loyalty you do. Not Vince, not Leon. And I don’t know what to do with that, not when there isn’t a bad guy to be chasing.” Brian smiles but doesn’t speak. “I’ll get it out of you eventually,” I promise, lightening the mood.

He glances at me. “We’re driving to Costa Rica; a week on the road, five nights in shitty motel rooms. Should give you plenty of time to try.”

I give it up for the time being. Like he says, there’s time. Instead, I ask Brian how the hell he rescued my Dad’s Charger from the smoking ruins I left it in and he spends the next two hundred miles telling me, every detail, talking until we pull into the dusty parking lot of a motel just outside Chihuahua.

Brian gets three rooms – two twins and a double – handing Mia the key to the double. I assume he’s sharing with her until he grabs two holdalls from the back of the Skyline and hands one to me, leading the way into one of the twin rooms. Mia doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid, so she obviously wasn’t expecting them to share. I’ve no idea what’s happened because before we left for Mexico and for Braga, she and Brian fucked on the kitchen table while I tuned the Charger’s new engine. Part of me wants to ask her what’s going on, another part is telling me to leave it alone. So I leave it, for now.

The pathetic, lukewarm shower feels like bliss and when I get out, the room’s door is open and Brian’s outside, leaning against the wall, a lit cigarette hanging between his fingers. I didn’t even know he smoked.

There’s a bar down the road, and we walk the short distance to sink a few. It’s not busy and there’s no competition as Brian racks up the balls on the pool table. He beats Leon while I chat to Vince and Mia, then beats Vince while Leon chats Mia up. I take the cue from Vince as soon as he’s defeated. Might as well play if I’m going to sit and watch Brian's ass anyway. At least this way I have an excuse. I remember walking into Braga’s club, seeing him bent over the pool table to take his shot, his head turning, eyes meeting mine. At that moment five years of vague latenight fantasies, blurry lunchtime day-dreams and casual early morning imaginings solidified into one inevitable fact. One I finally accepted out on the road this afternoon.

Brian plays like a pro. He wiped Leon out in nine minutes, Vince in six. I have ideas of making my game last, but he keeps looking up at me as he lines up his shots, and there's heat in his eyes when he catches me looking right back at him each and every time. I don't know what he wants, but I'm starting to get an inkling of what he's feeling.

He clears the table in four minutes. I take three shots and barely notice I’m supposed to be playing pool. What I do notice is that when he bends over the table, my blood tends to run south. I want him so bad during the game it's starting to hurt. I want to be inside him, buried in him, my body flush to his, surrounded by the heat of him, breathing him in. I’ve been with a couple of guys outside of Lompoc. There was Christoph, a speed crazy kid I knew when I was a horny teenager looking for sex anywhere I could get it, and Han, a guy from way back, someone I hooked up with again after running from L.A. With both of them it was easy. We knew what we wanted and we took it. I have no idea, despite everything he’s done for me and my team, what Brian wants from me. The way he looks at me is all challenge and heat and longing. I might be looking at him the same way. But he’s never made the slightest move. Maybe because he thinks I’ll punch his lights out if he does.

It’s an almost overwhelming temptation to take a couple of steps forward, put one foot between his legs, my hands on his hips, just hook my thumbs in the waistband of his jeans and pull him back towards me. I doubt being in public would stop him from taking something he wants if he knows it’s available, so I can imagine his mouth finding mine – open and wet – eager hands reaching for me.

“Dom!”

Brian’s waving another Corona under my nose as Mia’s racking up the balls on the table. I grab it from him like it’s his fault I didn’t hear the first however many times he said my name. But he just smiles and reaches for his cue.

Mia beats him in three minutes straight. He gets on the table once. My sister the hustler. He’s a gracious loser, buying another round before we head back to the motel. I think maybe he’ll peel off with Mia but although they do hug goodnight, he follows me into the room where we left our bags, closes and locks the door behind us. He offers me the bathroom and I take him up on it before climbing fully clothed onto the bed. I listen to Brian take a shower and let my imagination run wild until the water stops. I’ve turned the light off, but if he suspects anything’s wrong when he steps out of the bathroom, butt naked, towelling his hair dry, he doesn’t show it. I can’t help but stare at him in the neon-lit gloom as he digs out a pair of clean shorts from his bag and pulls them on, dropping the towel to the floor as he makes himself comfortable on the second bed. If he’s a messy shit normally, I don’t have a clue. I didn’t know he smoked, didn’t know he was a hustler. I don’t know anything about the guy.

Turning to look at him, watching his silhouette scratching its chest, it’s a minute before I can find my voice.

“Brian?”

“Yeah?”

“Who the hell are you, really?”

He laughs softly at the ceiling. “I’m the man keeping your ass out of jail, Toretto.” He says it almost like he’s kidding around when we both know it’s the God honest truth.

“Yeah, and I don’t get why.” I can hear him sighing. “I don’t know anything about you.”

“You know me. You know I can drive. You know I've got your back, whatever happens. You know you can trust me.” He says the last part really quietly.

“I know I can.”

“So what else do you need?”

My turn to sigh. I'm as frustrated with him at that moment as he is with me. "Answers would be a start, Bri."

"Start with the easy questions then."

“Okay... where did you grow up?”

He laughs again but plays the game. “Barstow.”

Barstow?! How the hell does a guy like Brian grow up in Barstow? I totally bought the Arizona story. “Brothers? Sisters?”

“Nope. Just me.”

I feel sorry for him. I get the impression his childhood was wasn't ideal, it would have been nice to think he'd had someone on his side back then. “First love?”

There’s a smile in his voice when he says, “A black 1969 Chevy Impala. Friend of my Dad’s owned it – kept it in beautiful condition, not a scratch. The engine made this incredible guttural sound. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.” He’s teasing me but I don’t make anything of it. He’s got good taste.

“First time?”

There’s a long pause, and I’m not sure he’s going to answer. But maybe he’s just been remembering, because he’s not hesitating when he replies, “First kiss was Joanne Parker, I was nine, she was twelve. Behind the bins at school.” Charming. “First fuck... Sara Torres, in her parents’ bed while they were at a funeral. First blow job... Tom Garcia, in the showers after football practice."

Strange, but I was kind of expecting that last one. Even if it wasn’t true, I thought he’d throw in a curve ball just to wind me up. No point in not responding. “You let a guy blow you?”

I can see him shrug, lifting his shoulders off the bed. “He’d wanted me all year. He was good at it too.” He turns his head towards me and I swear I can see his eyes twinkling with mischief. “You said it, Dom – a guy can appreciate a fine body no matter what the make.”

I start to wonder how he knew about that. Then stop. It was something I'd said to Gisele, in the garage at Braga’s club, and Brian was all over the place that night, acting so much like a cop I’m stunned they didn’t see right through him. But then again, I didn’t.

The fizzy beer is sitting heavy on top of the stress and exhaustion of the last few weeks, and my eyes start to close of their own accord. “Why did you hand me the keys that afternoon?” I try again, one final time today.

He replies, “I couldn’t let them lock you up. I won’t let them. I’ll die before I’ll let you go back.”

Fuck.

I want to answer, but I don’t know what to say and I’m too exhausted to think of anything. It’s the last thing I remember before waking up alone at sunrise. It’s not something I’m ever going to forget.

 

For a moment, I panic. But it only takes a glance out of the window to see the cars are still parked up where we left them. I take a shower and change clothes before Brian gets back with coffee. We hit the road just after seven, Leon and Vince again asking if I’m okay travelling with Brian. I don’t even bother answering, just take the keys Brian’s silently offering, and climb into the driver’s seat of the Charger. He walks around the front of the car, looking a little unsure, so I say his name just once and he doesn’t need a second invite, opens the door and slides into the passenger seat. I catch my sister’s expression, and I really hope it didn’t sound like me calling him like he’s some sort of fucking dog.

I didn’t ask about him and Mia last night, but then I figure he might be more comfortable telling me if both my hands are on the wheel and half my attention is on the road. So once we’re on our way, I ask.

He drops his head back against the car seat and I’m thinking he isn’t going to answer like he hasn’t answered the other big questions. But eventually he spills.

“We talked about it, about what we’re doing, where we were going. And we decided to do it as friends, not lovers.”

I don’t get it. “If you love her....”

“I do love her, Dom.” He says it like he needs to convince me. I was convinced five years ago. Then he says something which completely blows my mind. “I love you both.”

I know. I mean, I know he loves Mia. And the devotion, the loyalty he’s showing me, has to be based on some deep feelings of some kind. I shouldn’t push it, but I can’t keep my mouth shut. “What do you want from me, Brian?”

He turns in his seat, looks at me, and there's genuine confusion in his eyes. “I don't want anything, Dom.”

He's lying again, but I scraped together the courage to ask that once, I don't have it in me to ask again. Shaking my head, I give the road and the car my full attention. The Charger feels fantastic, sounds perfect: deep like thunder. I lose myself in it for a while until Brian turns toward me and starts asking questions of his own.

“Dom... you knew the Feds wouldn’t let you walk, so why didn’t you run? Why did you stay knowing they'd take you in?”

I bite back my first answer: because I couldn’t leave him, couldn’t walk away again, not knowing if it was going to be another five years until I next saw him or if I’d ever see him. I still don’t know whether he quit the FBI or whether they kicked his ass out, but I knew he’d be in trouble. Okay, so we delivered Braga alive, but we left a trail of destruction in our wake. I don’t think they’d have patted him on the back and sent him home with a full paycheck and a ‘thank you’.

“Couldn’t let you take the rap for everything.” It’s a casual throw-away comment he isn’t buying but he is smiling, rolling his eyes when I glance across at him.

“Right. So instead we have to bust you off a prison bus and I lose my job again.” There’s absolutely no bitterness to back up his words, he’s teasing.

“Were you still a Fed when you busted me off the bus?”

He shakes his head. “Not since the day they sent you down. I left my badge and gun on my desk on my way out.”

“Just like that, huh?”

“I got it when you asked me if I left cookies out for Santa.” There’s humour lacing what otherwise is self-disgust for falling for their bullshit, believing in it because he likes to trust people. “I’d made my mind up when I went with you to Mexico. Then you started doing the right thing and fucked everything up....” He’s grinning again.

“Sorry, man.”

“Should think so.” Another shrug of those narrow shoulders and long arms. He’s all limbs, like a living, breathing rag doll in the seat. “Hell, we’d still be in the same situation if we’d shot Braga in Mexico.” Situation not mess. We not you. “Only I wouldn’t have had to spend a hundred grand rebuilding your car.” A hundred grand?!

“Fuck, Brian, how much did you and your friend steal down in Miami?”

“Five hundred grand.” I’m stunned at how much he’s given me and I’m not just talking about the money he’s sunk into my car. Although, I guess now it’s our car.

He falls quiet and now I really need to know so I ask, “Who is he, Bri?” Shortening his name, it’s proprietary, possessive. I do it on purpose. “Your friend in Miami.”

Of all the possible reactions, I don't expect him to laugh. It’s not a cruel sound, he doesn't have that in him, but it makes me think he’s been waiting for the question, knows I've been wanting to ask.

“Man, that’s really clawing at you, isn’t it? I remember what you said about history, when I mentioned him that night over dinner.” He’s not laughing any more but he’s beaming, like this has really tickled him. I’m embarrassed as hell but I’ve asked now, and I want an answer. “Rome and I grew up together. Then he was an idiot, got himself arrested. Even though there was nothing I could have done, he got it into his head that I didn't want to. When the Feds caught up with me in Miami, I needed a driver to back me up. They said they’d clear his record. It was something I could do for him, finally. I’d fucked up my life but at least I could fix his.”

It was a lot to take in. “Is that how you feel? Doing what you did for me fucked up your life?” It did, no denying it. I just hadn't realised he felt that way about it. Or why did he do it twice?

He stares at me, and there’s a serious look in his eyes I haven’t seen before. “Not what I did for you. That’s about the only thing I did right. The rest of it – Tran, Jesse, Mia, Vince – hell, Dom, I didn’t even know if you’d made it. I knew the cops didn’t have you but you were pretty banged up after the crash, I didn’t know if you were still alive until Letty made contact, and she wasn’t exactly forthcoming with information, you know? So yeah, five years ago I felt like I’d fucked up everything. In Miami, I started to put some things back together.”

“With Rome’s help.” Shit, I sound like a jealous twelve year old. I can’t help it. I’ve never met the guy. But Brian’s made one hell of an impact on me, my life. The way he makes me feel is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. It’s kind of overwhelming. And I’ve only known him for what? Six weeks collectively? Two months at most? This guy in Miami’s known him all his life – probably knows he smokes, undoubtedly knows he’s a crack shot with a pool cue.

“If it’s any consolation,” Brian says gently, and I glance his way to see the truth in his eyes and the naked expression on his face, “I never told him about the blowjob.” Finally, he’s given me something. I feel like fucking singing, but we drive the next hundred miles in silence.

We stop in a dusty town for lunch. There’s a roadside diner where we eat quesadillas and drink cold beer. While Brian’s been fixing up the Charger and sourcing fake documents, Mia’s been busy on the Internet, and she’s found a place to rent in the San Sebastian district of San Jose. For a moment I’m struck by what Mia, Vince and Leon are giving up for me. Okay, Mia’s my sister and I’ve known Leon and Vince since school. Still, they don’t owe me anything. They definitely don’t owe me this. But all Leon will say is that he could do with a change of scenery. Vince has always wanted to go to South America, he claims, and I know Mia’s missed me these last five years. Besides, they were careful when they hit the prison transport. Mia, Brian’s assured me, can go home, back to LA, whenever she wants. There’s no evidence to link her to the bust. Vince and Leon could maybe be identified by the security guards but he doubts it. Brian, on the other hand, knew one of them by name. Just his shitty luck holding.

Mia pays for lunch, and on the short walk back to parking lot she tells me to ride with her to the next motel stop. It isn’t a suggestion, so it’s with an apology to Brian that I do as she says. She puts us out in front and Brian tucks the Charger in behind so I can still see it in the Skyline’s mirrors.

This is an impressive car, built for racing. It’s Brian’s car, so I get nosey, opening up the glove compartment and rifling through what I find in there; driver’s licence in his own name - Brian Earl O’Connor – half a melted Hershey’s bar in a faded orange wrapper, a couple of receipts for engine parts and a canister of NOS, a pair of wrap-around Ray Bans. Nothing that should be of interest. But it’s a peek into Brian’s life and I’ll take what I can get.

“You’ve got it bad, Dom,” Mia says, out of the blue. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe this is why I’m in riding with her. I tell her I’m just curious and she rolls her eyes. “If you say so.”

I know exactly what she’s talking about but I’m not going to make it easy for her. “What, Mia?"

“He’s just as bad as you are, you know.” I assume she’s talking about Brian. “He’s been obsessed with that fucking car, with getting it back, fixing it up. He spent every waking moment on it and when he did sleep, he slept at the garage. We barely saw him from the moment he got back to LA. When we did, after the sentencing, all he talked about was the plan; how they’d move you, where to hit the bus, how to do it.”

It’s strange because I’d imagined he and Mia had been spending their nights fucking like bunny rabbits. I wasn’t sure what it meant that they hadn't.

“Why did you come, Mia? Why didn’t you stay in L.A.?”

“Because there’s nothing there for me anymore, Dom.” She puts the emphasis on my name. “At least this way I get to be with my brother.”

“And with Brian,” I remind her, still convinced the fire between them isn’t all the way out. But she just laughs. So maybe it is.

“Why are men so completely inept when it comes to seeing what’s right in front of them?” Her tone softens. “Brian loves me, yes. But he loves you too, Dom. More.” I lean sideways to look in the rear view, see my guardian angel in the devil car behind us. I turn in my seat so I can see him out the back window of the Skyline. “He’s given up everything for you. Don’t you think that means something? Haven’t you ever thought that what he did just the first time went above and beyond friendship? Never mind this time around.”

Rubbing my hands over my face, I breathe out a sigh that’s dragged up from my soul. “Yeah, I’ve thought about it. I just don’t know what it means. And I don’t think he knows either. If he doesn’t know what he wants, I can’t give it to him.”

“Dom, you really are dumb.” She taps her hands against the wheel. “Brian knows exactly what he wants. What he doesn’t know is if you’re prepared to give it to him.”

 

The sun’s set by the time we pull up in San Luis Potosi. The motel looks slightly less shitty than the last one. Not that I’m complaining. By rights I should be bunking up in a six by eight prison cell. Climbing out of the confines of the Skyline I pop some muscles while I watch Brian park the Charger and extract his long limbs from the car. He grins at me and I grin right back.

“I’m riding with him tomorrow,” I tell Mia quietly, and she nods like the long-suffering sister she is.

“Fine.” She opens the back and dumps our bags unceremoniously onto the ground while Brian goes to get our rooms. When he comes back and hands out the keys, Mia doesn’t snatch hers from him exactly, but he obviously isn’t feeling the warmth he did yesterday, and he looks at me like I’m to blame. Which I am. The question’s in his eyes but he doesn’t give it voice until we’re in the room, sitting on the twin beds, looking at one another.

“What did you two talk about?” he asks eventually, not angry, more amused.

“You and me.” As I sit there looking at him, it starts to dawn on me that I can have him. I just have to be as courageous as he’s been ever since I met him.

“There’s a ‘you and me’?” he’s making a joke out of it but I’m not willing to let him laugh this one off.

“Sure there’s a ‘you and me’. You know there is. What was it you said the night of the street race? ‘I almost had you’? You did have me. I couldn’t see passed you to the truth Vince was telling me. I wanted to believe every word you said. Last five years I’ve asked myself why. You asked me why I didn’t leave when you told me to this time. It was because I’d finally figured it out.”

Brian takes a deep breath. “I gave you the car... because I respect you. I care about you. Can we just leave it at that? Please?”

“No.” Shaking my head I rise to my feet and stand over him, forcing him to tip his head back to look at up me. “How much do you care? How far would you go for me? How far would you follow?”

For a long time he looks at me, saying nothing. But this time I don’t back down, I’m not letting him run from this, not again. Finally he speaks, and it’s as if the words are being dragged out of him, so quietly I have to lean forward just to hear him. “More than anything. All the way. And to the ends of the earth.” He looks like it cost him his soul to say it. “Can we please drop it now?”

Mia was right. We’re both as bad – as dumb – as each other. “No.” I sit down next to him. Easier to say this if I’m not facing him or pretending I’m trying to intimidate him, which is pointless anyway. “Are you even listening? You had me, Brian, from the very start. You don’t get it. I’ve known Vince and Leon... Jesse and Letty... all my life. I’ve never invited anyone new in to the family. Never. They didn’t get why suddenly I didn’t want you outta my sight. You were everywhere, and while I think Letty got it and I know now Mia got it, Vince and Leon definitely didn’t.”

He looks down at his hands, at anything but me. “Mia told me, that first night, you usually didn’t like anyone. But you liked me.” I smile, imagining Mia saying that. But he looks sad. “I lied to her.”

It’s not something I want to talk about now. “You lied to us all.” I wave it off but he’s shaking his head.

“No. Well, yeah, but... that’s not what I’m talking about. I told her you were incidental, that being with you was just a bonus. I lied.”

That really shouldn’t make me feel what I’m feeling right now. I should be angry, furious, but I’m not. “I kept you around, kept you close, because you weren’t Vince and you weren’t Leon and I couldn’t understand what you were, couldn’t even begin to fathom what I was feeling, what I was even doing. I left you in L.A. because everything had gone to shit, because you gave me an out and I took it. I spent five years wondering where you’d gone, what you were doing. At the border, I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.”

“You said you’d rather die than go back.”

It humbles me that he’s held onto that like some kind of mantra he’s chosen to live his life by. How could I not love this guy?

“I’d rather die than lose you again.” If I’d known way back that it was the way to shut him up, I’d have said it five years ago. Although to be fair I didn’t know it was in me to say it back then. Now I know it’s the absolute truth. He’s still not quite looking at me, and the expression on his face is as close to fear as I’ve seen him come. I know that feeling. One thing to get a blow job from a guy at school, or share a mutual hand job with a friend, neither mean anything. But this is different, this is strong. “You gave me the car because you'd fallen in love. The feeling's mutual."

He blinks like he’s crying but when he looks at me his eyes are dry and clear, vivid. “If we get into this, it’s for the long-haul. I’ve given up everything but even that wasn’t much. I won’t ever ask you for anything, especially not this.”

I’ve never been hesitant about anything, ever. But as I reach to put my hand on his shoulder I feel like I’m walking blind through a minefield. “But you want it.” It’s not a question.

He nods once. “Yeah. I just can’t believe you do.”

I can’t help but chuckle. “We seriously don’t know each other, Brian.” I run my thumb along the line of his ear. “It’s time we changed that.” My hand moves to curl around his neck and I am so relieved when he turns into my palm, head dropping to kiss the pulse point in my wrist almost reverently and I’m so not having that. Lifting my other hand to his other shoulder, I push.

Slipping the buttons of his shirt isn’t easy, he’s a mass of pent up energy and I’m tryin' to harness it. Holding him down means I lose the use of one hand and I want to touch. He’s already got my shirt undone and my jeans open. His hands are obscene, are everywhere. But in counterpoint, he kisses like he drives; wild but controlled and with total focus.

I get my mouth on his throat and he tastes of cheap soap, sweat and motor oil. Like he spent so long working on my car it got under his skin. Spreading his shirt I kiss around the fading bruises, the raw scar that’s taking longer to mend than the Charger took.

I get my hand between us and unzip, lifting my head to look down at him. When my fingers touch his dick he surges up, lips parted, getting his tongue in my mouth. I take that as encouragement, close my hand around him. He shifts under me, gets one leg hooked over mine, long fingers finally wrapping around an erection so sensitive it feels like I’ve had it for five years.

It’s a bloody long time. I come painfully hard the second he touches me, whole body shaking with the power of it, so intense I don’t notice Brian’s orgasm until it’s drying on my hand and stomach. “Fuck.” I don’t know which one of us says it but I can’t keep from laughing as I roll off him, onto the bed beside him, leaving my sticky hand lying in the crease of his thigh.

“We’ll get better with practice,” he assures me.

“That was pretty damn good.”

He turns his head, those incredible eyes looking straight through me, through the bullshit, to the good inside me. I love him, so much it terrifies me. “Best I’ve ever had,” he says, and he’s deadly serious, like he’s saying a hell of a lot more.

A sudden banging on the door makes us both jump. I’ve forgotten the rest of the world exists, forgotten Vince and Leon and Mia are waiting for us, getting hungrier by the minute. Brian starts laughing. “Shit.” It’s a shared sentiment. I know the moment he’s gonna make a break for the bathroom, and feeling playful, I tackle him halfway, taking him down easily because he’s not expecting it, bolting over him, slamming the door behind me, making the walls of the motel room shake.

“Bastard!” he yells good-naturedly, and I feel so fucking happy there’s no way the others aren’t going to work out that something’s happened, something’s changed.

He’s waiting outside the door when I open it, his hand plasters itself around the back of my head and he pulls me into an open, wet kiss. I get him in my arms, hold him so tight it’s gotta hurt but he doesn’t even flinch, just gets his other arm around me and brings us impossibly closer.

“Dom!” Vince. Shit. I’m sorely tempted to yell at him to get lost, but chances are that would lead to him breaking the door down in case I’m finally giving Brian a beating and he’s missing out on the chance to get a sneaky boot in. Not that he hates Brian. Not now. Just because. If he catches us like this, he might try to beat the shit out of us both.

Brian backs off, gives me a look like this could have definitely gone somewhere interesting if it hadn’t been for Vince, and slips past me into the bathroom with a grin.

My dick’s giving me pointed instructions to check out what else is on offer, but Vince yells for me again and I give it up, not bothering to check if my jeans are containing the situation when I throw open the door and yell, “What?” in his face.

#

Mia’s smirking. She sees through us the moment we step out of the motel room. It doesn’t help that I can’t keep the joy from my face or my eye's off Brian's. He’s less obvious, but the tension’s gone from his shoulders and he’s smiling all the time like he used to.

Leon definitely picks up that something’s different in the time it takes us to walk to the bar, and Leon makes Vince suspicious. Mia distracts them for a while, playing pool, letting them win every other game while Brian and I sit at the table out on the veranda and talk about what we’re gonna do when we reach Costa Rica. I tell him all about the time I spent in Panama City, the garage I worked in for two years, the shitty rooms I lived in above a hardware store. We could open our own garage. Brian’s incredible with his hands. He can rebuild any car he sets his mind to and turn it into a winner; the Charger’s proof of that. And what he did to me earlier was pretty damn fantastic. He was wasted as a cop.

I’ve heard that the street racing scene in San Jose is small but it could be lucrative. With the right car, Brian and I could own every race. I suspect the Honda would be sufficient, the Skyline would decimate.

“Is Vince going to turn me into road kill when he eventually works it out?” Brian asks eventually, when the conversation lulls. I’m watching Mia rack up a new game through the window. “Or Leon?”

“No.” I’ve got my hands wrapped around my beer bottle to stop from touching him. “Leon’ll get over it. Vince... you saved his life. He might not like you but he won’t forget that. Not saying he’d walk over broken glass for you, but he’s sure as hell got your back.”

Eventually the other three rejoin us. Leon’s carrying a tray of beers and shots and I know the night’s about to go downhill. Five rounds make us all a bit looser, a bit more relaxed. Brian’s sitting next to me on the bench and sometime between shots three and four he accidentally nudges me with this shoulder as he laughs at one of Leon’s crappy jokes. When he turns to apologise our eyes catch and the humour is burned away by the heat. The sudden urge to kiss him takes my breath away; I let my gaze slide off him, reach for my beer and down it in one swallow. He turns back to whatever rubbish Leon’s spouting, but under the table he’s got his knee pressed into my leg, I can feel the heat of his thigh alongside mine. It’s me who gets up to get the fourth round in, just to give my erection some breathing space.

When I get back the conversation’s turned back to San Jose, Mia’s talking about the place she’s rented for us on the edge of the city; a four bedroom house with a back yard and a double garage. Vince too brings up the possibility of buying a legit business, a garage with a real rep, with us as a bunch of mechanics and that starts Leon off again with jokes about overalls and butt cracks. I swear he’s been smoking something more than tobacco, but I’m distracted by the thought of Brian wearing nothing but blue overalls, of closing up early and taking him over the hood of a muscle car; lifting the straps from his shoulders, licking a line down his spine, biting gently, one vertebrae at a time, peeling his overalls off slowly, revealing tanned skin that tastes of a day’s sweat, motor oil and grease. I’m imagining my fingers spreading out, moving down his sides to the flare of his hips, thumbs following the thick material of his overalls as they drop the rest of the way, over the swell of his ass, sliding my thumbs along the creases of his thighs, stepping between his legs, lifting him further up on to the hood, leaning over to kiss the small of his back, catching the blissed out expression on his face....

The fifth round is down to me too.

 

Amazingly, we make it back to the motel before midnight. If I had any worries about things getting awkward between Brian and I, they’re fumes within a second of the door closing. Brian’s in my face, backing me up until my knees hit the first bed and I’m falling, Brian straddling me, trapping my dick between us. I’ve been half-hard all night and his immediate, intimate proximity sends my blood south in a single heartbeat.

“What were you thinking about, back there before you shot off to buy the last round?” For a moment I honestly have no idea what he’s talking about. “You left the table like it was on fire, dude.” Oh, yeah, that.

His hands are on me, thumbs hitching my T-shirt up, doubling over to kiss my stomach. I have to think about the internal workings of fuckin’ motorbikes just to stop from coming as fast and as embarrassingly as I did earlier.

“Was thinking about you,” I tell him, “in overalls and nothin’ else. Taking you over the hood of a car.”

He lifts his head, eyes flashing. “’Taking me’?” There’s a smile playing across his lips. “Fucking me?”

The answer catches in my throat but who the hell am I kidding? Not like I haven’t done it before and yeah, I want to be inside him. He’s amazing. He’s beautiful. The last guy I fucked I didn’t even know his full name, didn’t look into his face. I don’t want it to be anything like that with Brian. I reach up, wrapping my hand around the back of his neck to pull him down to me, to whisper into his ear,

“Making love to you, Bri.”

It’s the right thing to say. He flushes red and covers my mouth with his, tongue reaching back for my tonsils. I get a hold of his T-shirt and he breaks the kiss, lifts up to get it off over his head.

“You know this place Mia’s rented,” he starts, assisting me in getting my own T off, “only has four rooms.”

I get his jeans unfastened, get my fingers around his hips in a vice grip. “We only need four.”

 

We’re up and out just after sunrise. We’re heading down to Oaxaca today and I gather from a short-lived argument I only half hear that Brian wants to do the trip in one push, without a stop except for the basic fuel and toilet breaks. He wins against whatever opposition Leon’s putting up and it doesn’t seem to be a big thing because just before we leave, Brian offers a conciliatory bag of Cheetos from our car and Leon accepts it with a grin.

It’s a long-ass day, hard drivin’, and we take it in turns, swapping at stops and just once out on the road when Brian suddenly tells me to take the wheel and I don’t question him until we’ve swapped seats at seventy miles an hour with just a tiny swerve and a lot of body contact. When I do ask why he grins and shrugs and tells me he just wanted to see if we could.

I’m too stunned to be angry. And by the time the surprise fades, anger isn’t foremost in my mind. At the next stop I wait until Leon and Vince have finished in the bathroom then drag Brian into a semi-clean stall and jerk him off, ringing a muted cry out of him as he comes, swallowing the sound in an open-mouthed kiss.

It doesn’t take long, and the others are still buying a pile of unhealthy crap at the store, they haven’t even noticed we’ve been missing. Brian takes sex in a toilet cubicle in his stride the same as he does everything else that happens to him. It’s that crazy, fearless streak in him that drew me to him and that’s gonna keep me with him.

“One day,” I tell him as I slip into the driver’s seat, “it’ll be a five star hotel with Egyptian cotton sheets and wall to wall room service.”

He gets what I’m talking about immediately and shakes his head, replying seriously, “As long as it’s you, Dom, I don’t care where we are.” He’s a walking, talking ego boost; I’m amazed there’s room for the three of us in the car.

It’s built up most of the way until we reach Tehuacan. Then the road opens out and there’s nothing but desert on each side for the final hundred miles of the day.

“Vince’s idea about a legit business was a good one,” Brian declares out of nowhere.

I nod. “Yeah. If everyone’s gonna stick around it’ll be a way of keeping ourselves busy.”

“You want everyone to stick around?”

I can hear the sudden uncertainty in his voice and it touches me the way he’s so confident in some things and so unsure in others. “I want you to stick around. Leon and Vince might get restless; for a while back there our lives contained a lot of regular adrenaline highs.”

It strikes me that I’m not sure what they’ve been doing while I’ve been hiding out in Panama City, but I’m not ashamed to admit the whole thing with Braga fuelled my passion for danger. Eking out a living as a mechanic doesn’t provide the thrill ride that jacking trucks on Californian highways did, or chasing down bastards like Braga across the Mexican border.

I knew if I went back to L.A. my chances of getting arrested were pretty high. I knew too that there was a chance of running into Brian. For me, finding the guy who killed Letty was worth both risks. I didn’t know if Brian was still around, still a cop. He’s already told me sometime during the fifteen hundred miles we’ve travelled that he knew I was at Letty’s funeral, didn’t see me but still knew I was there, up in the hills overlooking the cemetery. I didn’t spot him, wasn’t looking for him. It would have been good to have been able to stand shoulder to shoulder with him at her graveside, but life’s too short for wishes.

“Have faith in them,” Brian recommends, looking out of the passenger window at the setting sun.

“Like I had faith in you?”

He glances over. “Think you were wrong to?”

I don’t hesitate, shaking my head once. “No.”

It brings a smile to his lips and he turns away again. I let memories seep into my head: one hot afternoon, a truck carrying a wreck pulling up in front of the garage, Brian jumping down from the cab telling me to pop the hood, accusing me of not having faith in him, me assuring him that I did, based on nothing but strength of feeling, Jesse opening the hood of the wrecked Supra, blown away by the possibilities offered by what we found beneath. I’ve replayed that afternoon over and over in my head over the last five years, asking myself why I said that, where that faith had come from in the course of one night, knowing the police at the street race had been orchestrated, just like Vince had said, but still knowing I was right. Brian might have lied to us all, but he never betrayed us.

“I let the Feds re-instate me because I wanted to get back to L.A,” he says, “no way were you ever going to rock up in Miami. Then Letty came to me and I tried to talk her out of it but she knew about Braga from the street racing crowd, and she was going to do it no matter what I said.” He’s talking about her reverently, as if he isn’t sure he should even be mentioning her name. “Everyone the Feds had managed to get next to Braga had turned up dead. I told her that. After they killed her, I went all in.” He laces his fingers together. I know he’s sorry, I know now how much it must have cost him to agree to be her handler because of the way he feels about me. Like he said, being responsible for the death of the woman I loved was never going to win him a place in my good graces.

“You weren’t responsible for her death.”

He doesn’t respond to that, just carries on, “I was going to be next. I was going in and either I’d get the guy who killed her or I’d die trying. I didn’t care. I was living in a vacuum, I had no idea who I was or what I was trying to accomplish. Then I find you dangling Parke out of a fourth story window and suddenly everything changes.”

This is getting real heavy real fast, but then I guess we have to do this, talk through this stuff, and out on the road is the best place to do it because we can’t get our hands on each other, not safely. “You saying I give you purpose?”

He drops his head back to the seat and laughs. “Yeah, Dom. Keeping your sorry ass out of jail.”

I laugh too. “Not exactly a purpose to live by, Bri.”

“You know, the one person I lied to more than you guys is myself. I didn’t want to be in Miami, it was just where I ended up. I didn’t want to settle down running a garage with Rome, so I took the Feds up on their offer. But I didn’t want to be a cop anymore. I just wanted what other people had; family, friends, something stable, something I can rely on to be there when everything turns to shit.”

“The only person you can ever rely on is yourself, Bri.”

“Not true.” He’s shaking his head emphatically. “You can rely on Mia, on Vince and Leon. Hell, you can rely on me, Dom.”

He’s proved that, over and over again. “Think you can rely on them too?”

“God, no. Not yet anyways. Maybe one day.” He shrugs. “I don’t know how Costa Rica’s going to pan out. I just wanted you to know, in case it means anything... I’m never going to regret what I’ve done.”

It’s a while before I can get words around the lump in my throat. “Yeah. It means something.”

There follows yet another hundred miles of silence. More or less.

 

Oaxaca’s the biggest place we’ve stopped, so Leon and Vince take full advantage of the city’s nightlife. They’re wired, despite having done more driving than Brian or I because they’ve been alternating with Mia as well as with each other. I think they’ve had several too many Red Bulls but the tequila and beer will undoubtedly combat that eventually. Mia by comparison is exhausted and turns in early. Brian and I find a quiet bar not far from the hotel and sink a few shots. I finally ask him what’s been on my mind since they got me off that bus in California: how safe we really are, how far the Feds are likely to go to catch us. I wish I hadn’t, because his answer scares the shit outta me.

“Chances are they're looking for me harder than they’re looking for you.”

“Why?”

He looks at me over the tiny round table and the tight collection of glasses and bottles like the answer’s obvious. “I’m supposed to be one of them. I’ve busted a convicted criminal off a prison transport, which will have made them look stupid so I’d bet they’ve tried to keep that part quiet. Finding you would just put another career criminal behind bars; you’re nothing special to them. Finding me would give them a chance to make an example to anyone else thinking about turning to the dark side. Think you’d have a tough time of it in jail? I’m an ex-cop, an ex-Federal agent. Think about what kind of time I’d have.”

I don’t want to think about it. Vince, Leon, Mia; they’re family. Brian’s the guy I’m in love with. I feel my protective streak kick in, about a mile wide, and I know if anyone lays a finger on him I’ll break it off. Then I’ll stick it where the sun don’t shine.

“No one’s gonna touch you. You’re a part of the team now. You’ve given me everything, it’s time I started paying you back.”

He erupts in a heartbeat. “That’s not why –“

“- I know.” Hand palm-down over our drinks, I placate him. “I know it’s not. I couldn’t protect Jesse, from Tran but mostly from himself.” I can’t help the smile. “I’m not even going to try to protect you from yourself – that would be like standing in front of a speeding train.” I get serious again. “But I got your back, Brian. We all do. Not gonna let you go to jail.”

Brian nods, and there’s a sparkle in his eyes when he says, “Good. Cos I think I’d die first.”

We have a few too many shots after that. I’ve been opening up to Brian since I met the guy, so a deep and meaningful conversation isn’t all that alien to us. Still, it’s always easier with tequila lubrication.

By the time we get back to the motel room, we’re both drunk and exhausted. By the time I make it out of the bathroom, Brian’s crashed out on his back on the bed nearest to the door, fast asleep, snoring loudly. I strip down to my shorts before shoving him over, tipping him on to his side which shuts him up, getting an arm around him and closing my eyes, feeling him the length of me. Before I fall asleep, I lift my head slightly and bite his neck gently. He hums softly but doesn’t wake. If we weren’t driving five hundred miles a day I’d wake him, but we are, so my dick’s gonna have to wait.

 

Both of us wake up hard, limbs tangled. There isn’t time to do more than jerk each other off and grab a shower before Mia’s knocking on the door offering coffee and pastries from a bakery in town.

The journey from Oaxaca to Tonala is a smooth one. There’s a rusty sign, a gas station and diner and not much else. We refuel, then pull up to grab beers and burgers, which turn out to be surprisingly good for a place that really can’t get much passing traffic. Vince mutters something about Tonala’s resemblance to a film he once saw and Brian says he’s seen it, and wasn’t it called ‘Zombie Town’? It’s banal chat but at least he and Vince are managing to be at the same table as one another without the need for a referee.

As we head back out the cars, Leon casually asks if I want to ride with him. This afternoon will take us over the Guatemala border at Tapachula. Brian says it’s probably a good idea if he and I split up, and although I seriously don’t want to let him out of my sight I understand what he’s saying. We’re not expecting trouble, but it won’t do any harm to take precautions. I grudgingly agree just so long as I can drive and I’m about to reluctantly slide into the Honda when Brian stops me. He presses the keys of the Charger into my hand and pushes me towards the other car, sliding into the Honda himself with a smile.

Leon climbs in with me and I watch Vince join Mia. He doesn’t speak until we’re under way, Brian up front, Mia behind us.

Then he says, “He’s done a fine job.”

I can feel the perfection of Brian’s work all around me; the handling and balance of the car, the response and sound the engine. “Yeah.” I assume he’s talking about the car.

“Listen, Dom, you know I’m not gonna judge you, whatever you do. It’s your life, dawg.”

Right. Brian and I aren’t exactly being coy, but we’re not holding hands in public either. So I’m expecting questions, I’m expecting comments. But there’s going to be a fucking fist fight if anyone dares to suggest it’s wrong, or Brian isn’t worthy, or some such crap. Leon falls silent, and it’s a mile before I realise he’s actually waiting for me to say something. Looking at him, I just widen my eyes and he laughs.

“Okay. Is that how it’s going to be?”

“Don’t feel the need to explain myself to you, bro.” It comes out a little bit like a warning. I don’t think they ever caught on to me and Han, back in the Dominion Republic. Nothing to catch on to really. It was just a couple of nights, a couple of one-offs, mutual attraction being satisfied. With Brian it’s serious, long-term. They don’t have to like it but if we’re all living together under one roof, for however short a time it might turn out to be, they do need to accept it.

“Hey, listen, live and let live I say. Just... we’ve known you since Grade School, Dom, and you’ve never, you know....”

“Leon? No offence, but this really isn’t your business.”

He holds up his hands. “Okay, man.” He shuts the fuck up for no more than ten miles. “You know, we like Brian.”

“Leon....”

“I’m just saying! He’s straight up. Busting you off that bus, it was all he talked about, I think it was all he thought about.”

There’s nothing I can say to that. It’s nothing I don’t already know. “Leon.”

The cars swallow another ten or fifteen miles before he speaks again. I occupy myself with watching the back of the Honda, following the pace Brian’s setting, just a couple of MPH over the limit.

“He’s cool, dude.”

“Leon! “ With a sigh, I say, “Tell me about Vince and Brian – they gonna be okay under the same roof??”

He shakes his head. “Vince won’t hurt him.”

No, he really won’t. “Not Brian I’m worried about.”

The road we’re on – the CA2 - follows Guatemala’s West coast and weaves through a town every five miles. It’s slow going and after three hours we’ve only covered about a hundred miles. In Escuintla, Brian surprises us by taking a right hand turn onto the CA9 – not the route the rest of us had on our maps and definitely not the way to the border. Still, I follow him and Vince and Mia follow us. Twelve miles of smooth tarmac and green countryside later he pulls up in the coastal town of San Jose.

It’s mid-afternoon on a Thursday and the place is busy, there are cars of every make and model trying to push through the busy main road, or parked up in ways that’d get them towed in L.A. All of them are as dusty and dirty as ours are and it helps our attempts to blend in as we find spaces and reconvene in front of a cafe on the beach. I’ve been to better places, cleaner places for sure. But it’s nice to be somewhere just for the hell of it and while Leon gets the beers in, Mia goes to look for a half-decent hotel.

“I’m happy just sleeping out here,” Brian declares, holding out his arms as if to embrace the glorious scenery and I’d agree with him if the place didn’t smell so bad.

“Why the stopover, bro?” Leon asks and typically, Brian shrugs.

“Shame not to do some sight-seeing on the way.”

We sit in the sun and drink for a while. Mia returns after twenty minutes. She’s found a place just up the town’s main street. It’s cheap, the kind of place American backpackers stay at, but it has rooms available, all doubles. We head up there after another round, ask for four rooms, and the proprietor doesn’t blink an eye. It’s handy having Mia with us because people assume she must be dating at least one of us, leaving Brian and I free not to correct them. I give our room a perfunctory once-over, to check there are no roaches in the bathroom big enough to have my dick off in the middle of the night, before we head back out.

San Jose is a colourful place. There are tiny bars with tables outside, tinny Spanish music fills the air. We stop at the first one with a free table, order a round of Gallo beers, a round of tequila shots and a plate of tortillas. The conversation revolves around the usual things – where we’ve been, where we’re going, what the hell we do when we get there. We’re high enough up that we can watch the sun set over roofs of the buildings between us and the beach. The beer’s good, the tequila’s particularly strong, and the food’s plentiful. We’re all mellowing, even Vince. Brian’s touching me more, leaning into me, brushing against me when he reaches for something, and I like it. He turns his head to say something to me and I get my hand around the back of his neck, thumb brushing into the short hairs at his nape.

For a second he lets his forehead touch mine, but just for a second, like he doesn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

“We drive through El Salvador tomorrow and stop in Choluteca close to the Nicaraguan border. It’s a small town, should be okay. On Saturday we go through Nicaragua straight down to San Jose.”

“You worried about El Salvador?”

He shrugs slightly. “Think we need to be?”

I roll my half-empty beer bottle between my hands, remembering my own drive up from Panama City, the reverse of what we’re doing now; through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico into California, setting many alarm bells ringing no doubt. I don’t remember any trouble along the way, but I was distracted and I was exhausted.

“Nah. It’ll be fine.”

Brian’s knuckles graze my own when he reaches for his own beer, it could have been accidental but it isn't. I don’t realise I’ve been lost in memory until he asks, “Okay?”

“Yeah.” I am. Not sure Letty would have understood this, but I’m exactly where I want to be. Or maybe she would, maybe she did. I don’t think she and Brian exchanged more than a couple of sentences back five years ago. They tended to stay out of each other’s way. She was a smart woman; it was part of what I loved about her.

I take a deep breath and change the subject in my own head. When we get to San Jose I need to check on the cash flow situation. I’ve got money stashed; Mia and I were always careful with the proceeds from the racing and the jackings. Brian got it right, all that time ago, when he said the shit under the hood of our cars cost more than the garage and the store made. Of course he was right. He was pushing, he was stressed, desperate. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d found out about him when Vince’s life wasn’t hanging in the balance. Didn’t I know he was a cop when we found him sneaking around Hector’s place that night? Didn’t I know, in my head if not in my heart, that Vince was right?

I’ve gone over it a hundred times and I don’t have an answer. I just know I couldn’t let Vince shoot him as sure as I knew I wasn’t going to hurt him. Even out in the desert I don’t think I’d have done more than punch him a couple of times. Like when I found out about him running Letty and got into that wrestling match with him; rollin’ around like a couple of girls, a fight that was more about getting physical than getting even. He’s completely safe with me, always has been. Not that he can’t take care of himself. I know he can.

Without thinking, I reach up, stroke my hand over the back of his head, exerting enough pressure so that he has to push back into my palm just to keep upright. His eyes lock with mine and for a second there’s no one, nothing, but the two of us.

Then Vince groans, and Mia makes this ‘aww’ sound that makes Leon laugh. Brian tries to duck out from under my touch but he’s earned his place, and hell, he’s my lover, my partner. So I lean in and bite his neck, into the muscle just below his ear. He literally growls. Leon laughs louder and harder. Mia falls quiet and some part of me feels guilty about rubbing her face in this, but we’re all about to move in together, I need them all to know I’m serious about him. When we break apart, Brian picks up his beer and turns back into his conversation with Leon, who to his credit picks up the thread without hesitation. Although maybe he’s smirking a little more, and maybe Brian is too. I risk a glance in Vince’s direction and watch him deliberately put down his beer and push his chair back.

“Vince....”

But he’s off, heading in the direction of the hotel. So maybe I have gone too far.

“Vince!” I go after him. I need to, because if I don’t I’m not sure he’ll still be around in the morning. “Vince!” I’m not chasing him, but he’s walking slow, I’m walking fast and I get within reach of him about halfway to the hotel. “Vince.”

Grabbing his arm non-too-gently, I pull him round and he closes his fist like he’s ready to land a punch. I let go, hands up in surrender.

He drops his own hands to his side. “I don’t know you anymore, Dom.”

I can’t help the eye-roll. “I haven’t changed.”

“You just bit a guy in public, bro! You’re.... Shit, I don’t even want to imagine what you two are doing....”

“Then don’t. But my sex life isn’t your business. Brian saved your life, Vince! Saved mine too.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to... to fuck the guy!”

I really want to hit him, but that would lead to a full on fight in the middle of the road, and that would probably get us both arrested at best. “I don’t know what you want to hear.”

“That you’re still you. That we’re gonna land in Costa Rica and hit the clubs. That it’s gonna be how it always was.”

“Nothing’s how it was. We’ve all changed! I changed when I spent two years holed up in Panama while you guys went back to L.A.”

“So we’ve got some catching up to do, brother. We can do that over Coronas and shots, yeah? You, me and Leon? Hit the bars, hit the clubs, pick up some beautiful Senoritas.” He’s grinning hopefully.

“Vince....”

“Sure Brian won’t mind staying home....”

It’s his insinuation, it’s the flat-out insult, it’s that Brian saved his fucking life. I take a step towards him, feet planted, I can feel my fists tightening. “Vince. You need to listen to me. You need to accept that Brian and I are together. Or you need to leave.”

His eyes widen. “You'd choose him over me?!”

“I’m not sleeping with you!” It comes out louder than I mean it to.

A look of something that isn’t actually disgust crosses his face and I start to think maybe this isn’t about Brian being a guy, maybe it’s about Brian being Brian. “We’re family, Dom,” he says seriously, “family comes first.”

I back off slightly. If that’s what this is about there’s a way through it. “Brian’s family too, Vince. Me and him, it’s serious, bro. I won’t leave him behind, not again.”

“You’d rather leave me behind.”

“Don’t make me choose.”

I half-expect him to walk away but he doesn’t. He stands there for a long time, then he half-shrugs and nods reluctantly. “Just do me a favour, yeah? Keep the physical stuff to yourselves until we get used to the idea?”

I snort. Then I laugh and nod. “Yeah. No problem. Come and have another beer.”

Back at the table he sends a muted apologetic look Brian’s way and picks up his half-empty bottle as he sits back down. Brian smiles like it’s nothing, and there’s not even a break in the conversation, so it’s forgotten as quickly as it started.

At some stage during the night Mia corners me too – this time in the tight confines of the bar. She pushes her hair back from her face, behind her ear. And smiles at me. And all I can feel is relief. “So...”

“Sorry.” She can make me feel about a foot tall with just a look. “I wasn’t trying to upset Vince. And I wasn’t trying to stake a claim.”

“You don’t have to, Dom.” He’s always belonged to me is what she's saying. For a moment she looks sad but it passes quickly, and she kisses my cheek before giving the bartender her undivided attention. It’s an easier discussion than the one I had with Vince, but it feels harder.

It’s late when we head back to the hotel. The others turn in but I persuade Brian to take a walk with me down on the beach. It doesn’t look as dirty in the dark and there’s no one else around. My own unpredictable psyche offers up the image of Brian bare foot, sand sliding between his toes, and my dick takes a distinct interest. But no one in the right minds would walk barefoot on this beach and luckily neither would Brian. I squeeze the back of his neck gently.

“None of this bother you, does it?”

“Running from the Feds? Nah, man. It’s worth it.”

Despite not being what I was talking about, his answer floods me with warmth. “I meant you and me.”

“Oh! No. Why? Should it?”

“You're not even a little bit freaked out?”

“No. Are you?”

Good question. “Apparently not.”

I slide my arm across his shoulders and pull him into my side. His arm crosses my back, fingers lifting my shirt, finding skin and spreading out across it. We walk like that, sliding about in the sand, rocking into one another as we try to keep upright. His shoulder bumps against mine and turning my head I press my lips to the side of his head.

We walk a few more unsteady steps. “Is Vince okay?”

“No. But he’ll deal. No choice.”

Up ahead the sand dusts a low pile of large rocks. Brian untangles himself from me and steps up onto the lowest one, climbing upwards until he finds a flat surface we can both sit on. We’ve lost the light from the various beachfront bars but the sky’s clear and the moon’s bright. Clambering up, I get behind him, one leg either side of him, both arms around him, pulling him back against me. I like holding him this way, like that he lets me. He’s a strong guy, it’s different from holding a woman. If I push, he’ll push right back. If we fight, he’ll give as good as I give. I nip the back of his neck with my front teeth as his fingers curl around my arms, drawing his nails through the tiny hairs. I kinda long for the blond curls he's shaved off.

“Vince doesn’t like the idea of you banging another guy, huh?”

“I doubt it. But I don’t think that’s the problem.”

“So what is the problem?”

“The same thing that’s been the problem since you first showed up at the street race that night and lost your car to me. You’ve taken his place.”

He cranes his head around to look at me. “Dom, you know that’s not –“ I don’t need to hear it, so I effectively shut him up by sticking my tongue in his mouth. He turns in my arms, gets up onto his knees and kisses back with a ferocity that surprises me. His hands settle on my face, mine at his waist and I sit back, lick my lips and look at him in the darkness his shadow’s casting between us.

“I know it isn’t.”

Sliding one hand around to the front of his jeans, I stroke firmly between his legs. Gotta get him back to the hotel so I can test the commitment of the mattress and the bed springs. Getting to my feet, I hold out my hand and he grabs it, rising gracefully. “Come on. Bed time for ex-cops and robbers.”

I have no idea where that came from.

 

We get breakfast at a cafe on the beach before leaving. Apparently Brian and I were noisy last night and the walls at the hotel are thinner than newspaper. They know for damn sure now that we’re not kidding around with this. I remember yelling his name as I came in his mouth, his fingers in my ass, him chanting my name as I sucked him off. That’s seriously more than I wanted my two best friends and my sister to ever know about my sex life, but I guess if we’re all gonna be under one roof for a while it was inevitable somewhere down the line.

Brian doesn’t have an embarrassed bone in his body, but he is chugging back espressos like there’s a national shortage of coffee and there are dark lines under his eyes from not getting enough sleep. It’s enough to suggest I kept him up last night without them having heard every groan. I sink a couple of caffeine shots myself.

 

We’re sixty miles from the El Salvador border. It’s a hundred and sixty, give or take, to the opposite border with Hondoras. Another fifty will put us in Choluteca for the final overnight stop. Politically, El Salvador makes Nicaragua look like Disney Land, but as long as we drive straight through, we don’t stop, we should be fine. I was, last time I drove through.

I know Brian wants us to split up, but I make it perfectly clear that isn’t going to happen and I put us up front, Vince in the Skyline with Mia as his passenger, Leon bringing up the rear in the Honda. At the border we do what we did coming into Guatemala – put other cars between the three of ours, hang back and regroup on the other side, just taking it easy until we’re back in convoy. Then we gun it. We cover the mileage in two hours, no trouble, and Brian starts to worry about the second border crossing. It’s my turn to reassure him and I’m right – they don’t bother that we’ve been in the country for less time than most. They just care that we’re leaving.

The hotel’s on Choluteca’s main road. We park out front and Mia speaks to the guy at the desk, insisting in Spanish that we get back rooms, away from the street. The rooms are basic but clean.

This is our last hotel, last night on the road. Tomorrow it’s straight through Nicaragua and on to our own place in Costa Rica’s capital city. Until we’re there, none of this is going to seem real. And once it is real, I hope to God I can keep these silent promises I’ve been making to Brian, because he’s kept all of his.

In the room, Brian changes his T for a blue shirt, buttoning it half-way before I stop him, fingers brushing the backs of his hands. He looks right at me, tips his head and kisses me; all open mouth, wet lips and tongue. I’ve got his shirt off him as fast as he’s got my T-shirt up around my chin. Yanking his head back, he lifts the T off and drops his hands to my pants, springing up into my arms the moment his jeans hit the deck, legs wrapping around my waist. I get my hands under his ass but he’s too tall, too heavy and we unbalance, laughing like kids as we hit the bed which protests with a rusty screech. He’s a critical mass of energy, hands everywhere, and I sink my teeth into the muscle in his neck making him growl. It’s one of the sexiest fucking sounds I’ve ever heard and I get my tongue back in his mouth like I can’t taste enough. I’ve never felt so possessive about anyone or anything ever. Spreading my fingers, I stroke one hand along his side, thumb bumping over his ribs, into the hollow of his hip, over the pelvic bone, the swell of his ass, down the hard muscle of his thigh, following his left leg where it’s hooked up over me, his ankle on my butt. When I touch the sole of his foot, he twitches and the idea that he’s ticklish just makes me want to do absolutely everything I can think of to him.

I want to fuck him so badly it’s an aching need; it’s getting tough to hold on to my resolve not to do it in one of these shitty motel rooms. But it’s like he’s reading my mind because his hands settle either side of my face and he says, “First time has to be in a garage, Dom, over the hood of a car because that’s all I’ve fantasised about for the last five years.”

How we can be so alike when we’re outwardly so different, I have no idea. Before I get to ask him if his fantasy involves overalls, one of his hands insinuates itself between us and he slides our dicks together, setting sparks off behind my eyeballs. I last all of sixty seconds and it feels like it’s been weeks, not hours since we were last like this.

This time I let Brian finish dressing. By the time we leave our room the others have already given up waiting and gone, but it’s not difficult to find them. A short walk along the main road brings us to a tiny cafe, no more than a couple of shaky tables and some rickety metal chairs out on the uneven street, a yellow door and a rotting wooden bar with an old coffee machine and a fridge filled with unlabelled green bottles. Whatever’s in them must be strong, because Vince and Leon start wolf-whistling the moment they set eyes on us.

Mia’s got a gin or something, because her eyes are clear and all she says is, “Nice of you to join us.”

I get a round in to apologise. So does Brian. Two turns into four. This time tomorrow we’ll be in San Jose. If we have to run further, I won’t ask everyone to uproot themselves again. Not that there’d be any point in telling Brian that. I know he’ll be with me as long as I want him, without question, without reservation. He’s already given me everything he is, given up everything he has – probably more than I know about. When we first met up again back in L.A. he told me lots had changed. That night, in Braga’s club, I felt the attraction like a magnet and knew that whatever had changed, it wasn’t what was between us.

I’m sure of him now, more sure than I’ve ever been. The love of my life. Fucking strange, the way things turn out.

#

Nicaragua’s beautiful. With Brian driving I get a chance to enjoy the scenery; lots of lush green and volcanic hills. It’s tempting to stop in Masaya but it’s also more of a risk than we’re willing to take. Stick to the plan because when we don’t, things tend to go wrong.

So we drive straight and reach to the final border crossing to get into Costa Rica. We’re the last ones through, Mia and Vince having gone through first, Leon in the middle. It’s supposed to be the same drill as with all the others, only something’s off this time and one of the guards orders Brian out of the car. I can feel my heart start to hammer against my ribcage as I watch him disappear into the little white hut next to the barrier along with two armed men. The door closes and my imagination goes into overdrive, picturing Brian with his hands behind his head, forced to his knees, one of the uniforms rubbing his stinking crotch against Brian’s face, the sick jibes, the filthy threats....

My fingers are around the door handle and I’m almost getting out when the door of the hut opens and I see Brian coming back, the guards behind him all smiles and salutes. He slides into the car, starts the engine and we’re free and clear.

He doesn’t say a word, glances at me with a smile, then looks again, presumably having seen the expression on my face. “What?”

“What happened?”

He shrugs. “We just agreed a price, that’s all.”

“Was it a lot?”

I try to keep it nonchalant and light but he must pick up on something because the look on his face changes as he shakes his head. “Nah, man. Nothing we hadn’t prepared for. What is it, Dom?”

“I was worried about you back there.”

He looks like he doesn’t know how to take that and it takes him half a mile or so to formulate an answer. “You don’t have to worry about me. I can take care of myself.”

“I know that. In my head. But you’re crazy, Bri, you tend to do some crazy shit. In my heart, I’m gonna worry now and again.”

 

It’s two hundred and fifty miles from the border crossing to San Jose. We regroup just ten miles in, refuel and grab some food. I guess the momentary glitch at the border is still showing on my face, cos Mia asks me if I’m okay, asks me what happened, and I tell her nothing happened, everything’s fine.

After lunch, I settle the check and take a piss. Brian’s already at the car, leaning against the passenger side door. He throws the keys at me as soon as I get close enough, saying, “All yours, Dom.” I kinda think I’ve already laid claim to both of them, but I’m touched by the sentiment.

Mia’s got the exact directions to the house in San Sebastian, so they’re taking point. I’ve got the driver’s side door open and Brian’s already half in when I pause, one hand on the roof, to ask him,

“That afternoon, in Mexico, would you have let me kill Braga?”

He nods. “Course.”

“So when did you stop being a cop, really?”

He laughs. “Five years ago, when I fell in love with a convicted criminal.”

Cool. Next stop, home sweet home.