Dom’s ReflectionsWho do you need, who do you love, when you come undone? ~ Duran Duran
Brian slides through the turn, tight as you please, Skyline tucked and neat. Big, heavy Chevelle can’t do it quite as gracefully, and I know it. Feel the ass end slide over, the jolt of steel frame on fiberglass. It sends a chill through me.
“You are one quarter mile from your destination.”
I look over at Brian. He’s looking at me.
It’s on, damn it. Show me what you got, snowman.
His jaw clenches, and I nod at him. He guns the Skyline, shifts and starts to draw away.
Fuck that. I punch the NOS. Early, way too damn early, but I know he knows it too, and this big-block, heavy-metal beast doesn’t have the same acceleration as that rice-burner. Speed, plenty of that.
Sure enough, he takes the bait. Always was a cocky motherfucker. Comes sliding up to pass me finally.
“Still a buster,” a smile curling my lips. Nudge his rear quarter-panel, send Brian into a spin. Dirty move. The one that killed my dad. But Brian’s a good driver, and I watch in the rear-view mirror as he pulls the car safely back under control, sliding to a halt.
I need this win, and Brian knows it. Know he can force an “in” by omitting an existing driver. I got no such option, had to win. Even dirty. Fuck the twinge of guilt I feel as I turn the car off and climb out.
“That’s bullshit!” Brian’s voice does things to my nerve endings that I didn’t expect. Like instead of just hearing his voice, I can feel it on every inch of my skin. Didn’t expect that. “I had you. Had you beat. You cheated!”
Brian makes a scene because it’s expected, on some level – he was, after all, cheated out of a clean win. I look him in the eye, offering a challenge of another sort. Brian can wiggle his way out of and around and through just about anything; I know it. It’s there for anyone to see… turning loose an ex-con wanted for high-jacking, walking away from his badge completely, and yet here he stands a legit federal agent on another UC assignment. Brian is, if nothing else, a survivor. But I can see the scars, see what its cost him over the years. The price he’s paid for handing me my freedom and walking away.
The blond meets my gaze. The corner of his left eye twitches. The argument deflates from him. Can read in the tension of his back and shoulders that he isn’t happy. Offended, disrespected, pissed; anything but happy.
Brian drives away in his mangled car. This thing between us is far from settled.
Fenix’s driver is taken out the next morning.
That night, he’s there at Braga’s house for the party. I walk in and see him bent over the pool table taking a shot. Not surprised to see him at all. Pleased, actually. Man looks good bent over like that. And that’s not the years in Lompoc talking, either. That’s pure Brian.
Always has been. I try not to stare. Too many questions about how we know each other will make it difficult. Brian looks so different, though. The blonde curls are gone; I can’t seem to get over that. But so is the easy smile, the vibrant energy that infected everyone around him. I catch Brian’s gaze when he looks up from the shot, head for an empty spot at the bar.
Brian slides onto the barstool beside me just as I order a Corona. I lean an elbow on the bar and turn toward him, prop a lug-soled boot up on a rung of Brian’s seat so my knee nudges into the outside of the cop’s thigh.
The blond seems more than just a bit twitchy. “Wondering what’s keeping me from telling them you’re a cop?”
“Probably the same thing that keeps me from telling them why you’re really here,” he retorts without missing a beat. Sharp, caustic, shields up. On guard and ready to defend himself.
I don’t agree with him though. Because it stopped mattering what Brian was. Cop or no, the man’s a friend. Mine. Maybe not in the way I thought, before I knew the truth. But still mine. I’m certain of it. So certain, in fact, that I take my foot down, prop my elbows on the bar, and lean in toward Brian until my lips are a breath away from the cop’s ear. All up in his personal space.
“Don’t matter to me that you’re a cop. You and I both know we’re here for the same reason. Just got different ways of doing things. Right?”
Brian turns his head, watching me out of the corner of his eye because if he turns any further we’ll be locking lips instead of talking. Not that I’m totally averse to the prospect, but there’s a time and place for everything, and this is neither.
“Sure, Dom. Not that I don’t want to do this…” His gaze flicks past me, eyes narrowing in warning. “Business before pleasure, though, yeah?”
I don’t jerk away, just ease off and take a swig of his beer. Smooth as you please. Brian seems to breathe a little easier without all that Toretto up in his personal space. A lot of man to contend with, no matter how he went about it. And I’m curious to find out just how he’d go about it, actually.
Campos slaps us on the back like we’re friends from the old neighborhood, leads us off to sit with him. The man’s not an idiot. It’s readily apparent the two of us have history, and as I hold Brian’s gaze over Campos’ head, I know the cop will go along with whatever I choose to say. He’ll have my back, and to hell with the consequences. Mine. My mechanic, my cop. Oh, the irony.
The relaxed grin that eases onto Brian’s face when I say, “he used to… date my sister,” was totally worth the unnecessary pause I tossed into the sentence.
The rest of it is so much water under the bridge.
It isn’t until I’m giving Giselle a description of what I assume to be Letty, and discover I’m describing Brian, that a few things piece together in my mind.
So I go looking for the cop before the man disappears altogether. Like the damned ghost he is. I have no intentions of interfering with Brian doing things his own way. Hell, we both ended up at the same man’s apartment, by totally different routes. That speaks for itself, as far as I’m concerned. Braga’s a lower priority once I’ve seen the Gran Turino. I want me a piece of Fenix. The bigger, the better.
“Follow me.” My whisper rumbles into Brian’s ear from behind and triggers a shudder. Slight, but he doesn’t manage to suppress it. I can even see the goose bumps rising on his arms.
“Damn you, Toretto. A little warning next time, yeah?” Brian growls and slides into the Skyline.
I turn around, walking backwards to hold Brian’s gaze through the windshield. “And where would the fun be in that, buster?” Find a grin, somewhere, but its fleeting at best. Chevelle starts with a roar and Brian trails in my wake.
I don’t know where I’m going. Head into the hills, let the Chevelle rip through the turns and up the grades until my shoulders and wrists ache from the stress and strain of driving. Joints do that sometimes, years and abuse taking their toll. Don’t know how long it takes. Pull off the road at an overlook, the city a rabid blanket of stars swarming on the ground.
Brian shuts the Skyline off, hips the door shut, and props his ass on the hood of the Chevelle beside me, rubber-soled sneakers on the chrome bumper. Forearms folded over his knees, he watches me stare out into the endless night. Waits.
“Mia doesn’t want me to do this.”
“Letty probably wouldn’t want you to either, Dom. But she’d understand why you’re doing it.”
I turn and look at Brian. “Mia doesn’t. Do you?”
The cop takes a deep breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I do.”
Brian’s throat convulses as he swallows, and I look at him. Really look at him. He’s a faded, hardened, and weathered version of the man I knew five years ago. There are faint lines at the corners of his mouth and eyes, creases along his cheeks, grooves between his brows. Signs of age, collecting slowly like dirt settling into the details of a paint job. It’s been so long, though, that I see them all so clearly. Twinge of sadness tightens my throat.
“Do you really, Brian O’Connor. Have you figured out yet why you gave me your keys?”
Brian’s face shows no response, seems totally frozen for a heartbeat. Then he licks his lips. “Wasn’t it enough of a reason that I owed you a car?” Voice sounds kinda rough.
“No. It cost you a helluva lot more than just a car.”
“And I cost you a lot more than the car was worth, don’t you think?”
“Your career. Your credibility. You cost me more than those were worth to you?”
Brian unfolds his arms and straightens, feet sliding to the ground. Long, wiry body leaning in close. “Fine. You want me to say it, Dominic Toretto? Yes. Standing there in the street by the wreck of the Charger – hell, the wreck of your life – my lies and choices had cost you more than my future was worth to me.”
“Your choices saved lives. The least of which was mine, Bri.”
A glimmer of the old energy flicks through Brian’s gaze, eyes as dark and colorless as the nocturnal landscape. “The least?” There’s a hitch in the cop’s tone that makes me drop my arms and shift back a little in surprise. “The least. You’ve got to be shitting me, man.”
Brian moves away suddenly, carding his hands through his short-cropped hair. Long fingers fisting, finding no purchase. When there’s a buffer of space between us, he turns back. Points a finger at me, radiating righteous indignation. “You weren’t the least of anything. You were the only reason I did any of it. Damn you. My choices saved lives. So the fuck what. If you had died in that Charger then my choices wouldn’t have meant shit. The price I paid… whatever it was, whatever it might be, was worth it. Because you’re standing here, living and breathing – free – and being a thick-skulled dickwad.”
An owl hooted mournfully in the silence that followed.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Brian shakes his head, hands crammed back in his jeans, shoulders hunched. “You don’t owe me squat. I made my decisions of my own free will. Nobody forced me. I chose where my loyalties lie, and I don’t regret that.”
One corner of my mouth pulls up in a smirk. “That’s good, Bri.” Brace my hands on the warm steel of the Chevelle’s hood. “Can’t think of anyone else I’d ever want at my back.”
The rumbling bass of my voice soothes Brian’s nerves. Knew it would. Like luring a skittish creature, the fed steps closer. “Yeah? Why’s that?”
I cant my head to the side a fraction. “That loyalty cost you more than anyone would want to pay. With the exception of Mia.” Brian edges closer, a shadow amongst shadows. Even the moonlight is too weak to pick out more than basic forms. “You really think someone else would have done that?”
His gaze slides away, toward the Skyline. Not seeing anything. Remembering.
I watch the pensive curve of his shoulders in silence. Then decide to pull him back. “Officer Brian O’Connor. Off-duty.” That does the trick, the blonde’s head swiveling around. “What, you think I didn’t notice that? You think I’d be so blinded by rage ‘cause you lied to me? That I wouldn’t notice there weren’t no cops? Until they were coming after you?”
I ease off the hood of the car. High time I met Brian halfway. The man looks like a skittish dog on the street corner. Desperate, ready to react at the first sign of hostility. This is a side of him I’ve never seen. He wouldn’t step away, wouldn’t flinch – but one wrong move, and this stray who thought all his loyalties had been abandoned wouldn’t hesitate to move into the source of hostility and danger and attack. Viciously.
Nobody would ever accuse Brian of backing down from a fight. Of any kind.
“It’s really good to see you again, snowman.” To hell with halfway. I walk up to him, hook a hand at the nape of his neck. Pull Brian’s forehead down until it bumps against mine. Bristly soft hair tickles my fingers. I hold him there, run my thumb over the silky skin behind Brian’s ear. Watch those night-dark blue eyes close in increments, feel the weight of the man’s head lean into my touch. “You miss me while I was gone?”
Can’t decide if my words trigger it. Can’t tell if that crucial moment is more melt or crumble, but Brian’s entire body just loses rigidity, arms wrapping around my chest, stubble-coarse cheek scuffing over mine until his forehead hits my shoulder.
Hot, moist breath against my neck. I wrap my free arm around Brian’s waist, feel something ease behind my ribs, can’t say why. Brian’s arm tightens, pulling closer until I can feel every inch of muscle and bone in the man. No soft curves, heat everywhere. Radiating into me, chest and abdomen, pooling in my gut. Intensifies when my fingertips brush bare skin just above the waistline of Brian’s jeans, soft flesh, hot and smooth at the small of his back.
I don’t know what this is, with Brian. But then, I never have.
And the more it haunts me, the more I know that putting labels on things isn’t something I do well. Not that it’s really necessary.
“Missed you every day.” Brian’s voice is quiet, hoarse and muffled against my neck, lips brushing feather-soft. Whether deliberate or not, it sends a shuddering tingle straight down my spine. “Thought I was hallucinating, back in Park’s apartment.”