Brian nearly grits his teeth but fights with himself to keep the calm half-smile on his face. The smile that says he’s not overly invested in this, that this is barely something he’s concerned over, that the tension in Penning’s office barely bothers him at all.
Keep your cool, Brian. That’s your meal ticket .
He drums his hand on his thigh, just for a moment, just to have somewhere to put all this pent-up energy, low and coiling in his gut, ready to spill out, whether in words or actions. And at this point, flight or fight are equally likely.
Those words have echoed in his head, for five years now, as true as they’ve ever been. He’s known his cool was his power long before Dom told him, long before he even joined the police academy, really.
If he loses his cool now, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever get this opportunity again.
Finally, from across the desk, Penning looks up from the paperwork Brian’s spent longer than he’d usually bother with on. Penning looks at him like he can’t believe how stupid Brian is. “How would you even be able to trust him?” He demands. He’s not aggressive about it, but he’s clearly doubting whether Brian’s functioning fully as an agent or not right then.
Brian swallows before answering, composing himself. “He’d have an incentive,” he says evenly. “He bails on us, screws us over—no pardon. And Toretto would be invested in getting back. If nothing else, for the sister.”
The sister. Mia, who Brian hasn’t seen since he saw her cradling Jesse’s body, nearly five years ago.
Well, that’s not true. She slammed the door in his face, once, allowing him to see half her face before she processed who was at her door and made it clear she didn’t want to see him ever again. When he came by to see if there was anything he could do. After Miami, fresh new Fed badge burning a hole in his pocket, not that he showed her. She hadn’t been very receptive, and he had been able to take a hint.
Penning gives him a long, hard look. “You need Toretto?”
Brian mulls that over. He could…he could do it alone, he supposes, although that seems to be a good way to get shot. Not that that’s ever really stopped him before.
Or he could go along with Letty’s original plan, and have her be his partner. She’d be good, great even, could handle the pressure, and the job, and, obviously, the driving.
But Dom is better than both of them. Brian could get Braga’s attention on his own, he knows how good he is now. But with Dom around, they’ll blow Braga out of the water. So yeah, Dom’d be a legitimate asset to the FBI even if he isn’t a strictly necessary one.
Not that he’s going to tell Penning that. That would be counterproductive, would defeat the whole purpose of being here, of putting his career—hell, his life—on the line.
“Guy’s the best driver I’ve ever seen,” Brian says, as evenly as he can.
“Better than you?”
“Been five years since I’ve tested that theory, but…yeah,” Brian says. Doesn’t even hurt him to admit it. He’s good, certainly better than he was five years ago. Even if he played up the stupidity just a little bit then, hitting on just the right amount of naive kid and promising racer to get Dom to look at him twice until it didn’t matter anymore, Brian knows he could never have beat Dom.
Alone, he can win any race Braga sets, impress his way into anything. But together—if he can trust Dom to have his back—there’s a better than zero chance they’ll come back alive, with the information they need to take Braga down.
Penning heaves a sigh so large Brian isn’t convinced his jaw won’t disconnect in protest. “You know you’re a pain in my ass?”
“You know you’re on the hook for the property damage, earlier.”
Brian winces. The chase maybe had gotten a little out of control. He’d like to say he isn’t like that, but, well…it’s not the first time.
“So, does that mean…?”
Penning taps his pen on the edge of his desk. “Make it worth something. Get this done. Enough people breathing down our necks about it, anyways.” He pauses a moment to look Brian over. “You have a way to get in contact with him?”
Once, it would have been a test. Enough people assumed Brian was dirty, back then. Hell, enough still do. It doesn’t feel like a test today though. Just a question.
“I can get a way,” Brian says lowly.
Penning nods, raps his knuckles against his desk. “Do it, then.”
Brian nods, then stands. “O’Conner?” Penning asks when Brian is almost at the door.
“None of the others would work?”
Brian almost smiles, thinking of the parade of wanna-be racer agents the FBI has given him to pick through, all of them easily discarded, most of them as bad as the Customs agent from Miami. “It’s gotta be him,” he says, before leaving and carefully closing the office door behind him.
He takes a deep breath outside the door. Collecting himself, he can’t believe what he just did. Honestly, this is what he’s wanted—what he hasn’t allowed himself to even think of—for years now. Not that he can think about that too hard, open that can of worms. Not here, not during this. Maybe not ever.
He should call Letty. Tell her to let Mia know, let the word spread. Figure out how he’s going to get the conditional pardon to Dom in the first place.
One more stop. He puts his game face back on, mild smirk in place, and makes his way over to Trinh, the new kid who has honestly been more useful than half her more experienced colleagues put together.
She grins when he sidles up to her desk, seemingly set off by his own smirk. “Penning give you good news?” She asks.
“You’ve got no idea,” Brian replies.
There’s silence, for a beat. “You gonna share?”
“Not yet. Not until it’s a done deal.”
“You’re not leaving or something, are you?” She asks, brow furrowed. “Transferring?”
Brian briefly wonders if that’s the type of shit normal people get excited for. “Nah,” he says. “It’s a case, Trinh. Don’t worry. And speaking of. I need to see what we have in impound.” He lets a real smile show. “You know what I’m looking for.”
He doesn’t call Letty until he’s well and truly away from the office. Letty might not technically be wanted—anything they could have gotten her on at all is well past the statute of limitations, considering they couldn’t really link her to more than reckless driving if they actually expected a conviction—but Brian’s not going to be stupid about this.
“It’s me,” he says when he hears the line pick up, not pausing for a hello , not giving an introduction. “They agreed.”
Letty sucks in a breath so sharp Brian can hear it over the phone. “For sure?”
“Yeah,” he says shortly, cradling the phone between his ear and shoulder as he drives, shifting, moving in and out of traffic. “For sure. Get word out, huh?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, I—hey, Brian?”
“Mhm?” He asks, eyeing traffic ahead absently. He’s been back two years, is well-settled into how much he hates LA traffic again, but. Jesus, he still hates it.
“Thanks,” she says in a rush, before hanging up, leaving the end call signal echoing in Brian’s ears.
Bemused, Brian clicks off the phone, deposits it on the passenger's seat, and begins to plan.
Letty calls him back in about eight hours. Not bad, all things considered, Brian thinks. He’s at the gym, steps off the treadmill to take the call.
She doesn’t bother with pleasantries, either. “He’ll meet you in Tijuana. Says it’s the closest he’ll come to US soil without some sort of guarantee.”
Fair enough. “I’ll be there,” he says. “When?”
Four days later, Brian’s in a crappy bar in Tijuana, beer in front of him that he’s been working for over an hour, because it’s either that or slamming shots like the college kids at the high top a few feet away.
He’s not sure if he’s better served sober or drunk for this one, but he figures he’ll dodge a punch better sober. If it comes to that.
Brian’s not sure how things will land. Which usually isn’t much of a problem for him. Dom talks about living his life a quarter mile at a time, and Brian had empathized, even if Dom had seen it as a deliberate choice and Brian as a matter of necessity. He’s never been able to see, to predict, very far ahead. The road twists and turns and is full of hidden potholes and detours, ever since he was a kid. He’d gotten used to just rolling with it, to not letting it bother him, to being adaptable. It’s what makes him so good as an undercover agent.
But still. It’s Dom. Adaptable or not, not knowing how this will go is throwing Brian off. And it’s setting something off in Brian’s gut, something he doesn’t want to think much about.
He pulls his t-shirt away from his skin. It’s hot as hell here, even inside, even after the sun’s begun to set, and he’s still sweating lightly. Not enough to really bother him, maybe, but enough to notice.
He ditched the suit for this. Wouldn’t have made any sense, anyways, to go down to Tijuana in a suit that screamed “I make a federal agent’s salary and I dress like it.” But he’s—sure, they’re his weekend clothes, what he keeps for the few days when he’s not working, the stolen hours between cases when he can’t quite sleep, but he’s slowly realizing that these look like Brian Spilner’s clothes.What does it matter if Spilner and O’Conner were one in the same except for a few crucial truths? Dom’s still going to take it as a con.
Doesn’t matter. Not like he brought an overnight bag, and, anyways, Dom’ll be here any second. No time to make any changes; Dom will just have to take take Brian at face value or kick him to the curb.
There’s a mirror in the back of the bar, and Brian uses it to his full advantage to watch the door, so he catches the moment Dom walks in. Hard not to. The guy still stands out in a crowd, big and built, imposing and not just because of his size.
Brian takes a sip of his beer.
Dom’s narrowed eyes latch onto Brian as he makes his way over. Brian fights the urge to turn around. Maybe get his hands up, ready for a fight.
Whatever. If Dom wants to sock him, Brian’ll let him get one in. One. It’s not like he doesn’t deserve it, probably, and, anyways, it’s not like he hasn’t had worse.
Of course, he pushed a guy off a roof and fell three stories just four days ago. He still feels that one.
Brian allows his eyes to slide closed, just for a second. That voice. Deep, like the bass cranked up to eleven, and always somehow warm. Even when Dom is an angry, mean bastard, at his absolute worst, he can’t quite shed the warmth.
“Dom,” he says without turning around. He takes the paper he has in front of him and slides it over to the empty stool Brian’s been glaring people out of for the past hour. “Here it is.” Better get this handled up front; Dom might not feel that he has much reason to trust Brian’s promises.
Dom skims the terms of the deal, all laid out in black and white, and then glances back at Brian, seemingly unconcerned. Brian finally turns to face him as Dom slides onto the stool next to him. “Not gonna read it?”
Dom shrugs. “Be a pretty elaborate con to get me back, wouldn’t it? Easier ways to do it.”
It’s true, if Dom was a fish the FBI were even still interested in. Mexico technically extradites; Brian got him all the way to Tijuana, basically the border.
“So, it’s real, the job is real, the pardon is real,” Dom says, signalling to the bartender that he wants a Corona by pointing at Brian’s. “What’s next?”
Dom’s beer is set down. He doesn’t hesitate in grabbing it up, taking a long drink as he continues to watch Brian.
Brian shrugs. “Race is in a few days. Get some cars ready. Race. Sure Mia an’ Letty’ll love to see you between now and then.”
Dom brightens. “I get to go home?”
Brian swallows. “Well, uh…you can visit. They ain’t gonna hold you in jail or anything, but they’re worried you’re a flight risk. So. You’ll be staying with me. Just ‘til the job is done.”
Dom’s eyebrow raises, but he seems to be taking it in stride. At the very least, he’s not fighting it yet, which Brian’ll take as a win.
Dom reaches into his pocket and throws some money on the bar. “Let’s go, then,” he grunts, stopping only long enough to pocket his deal as Brian follows him out.
Dom’s car is obvious, among the rentals and crappy cars in the lot. Brian looks at him out of the corner of his eye, can’t help the small smile. “Another RX-7, huh?” He asks. Wants to make a comment about imports and bites his tongue.
They’re not friends. They’re nowhere near friends. Whatever it might have once felt like, at least for Brian, Brian was lying. It doesn’t really matter if almost all of it was true, or if it was his job, or, hell, even that Dom was a criminal. They’re not friends, and Brian doesn’t get to tease him about his car.
“If I had to run, I’d want something with some speed,” Dom shrugs.
It’s not the worst logic Brian’s ever heard, although he wonders what Dom’d do, when that quarter mile is up and Brian would be, if not on top of him, still right on his tail. That’s the thing about police chases criminals don’t really consider: there’s no finish line where they win and then the race is over.
Of course, Brian’s driving a piece of shit, so in the RX-7, if Brian can guess even half of what Dom’s done to it, Dom really could outrun him. But Dom should think Brian would show up with a little something of his own.
Brian makes a split-second decision. He’ll get Penning to send some junior agent to pick up his piece of shit car, all he’s allowed himself, all the bureau really trusts him to have. It’s not like it’s a huge loss, even if it’s not there anymore by the time they get to it. Hell, insurance payout might be worth more than the car. And he’ll spin it to Penning. Babysitting the criminal, he guesses.
“Right,” Brian says. “So. Guess you’re driving. Let’s go.”
Brian slides into the passenger’s seat, no room for argument, and takes a subtle look around. Dom clearly put some work into this. Brian wonders if he’s been racing, how he’s managed that, then snorts to himself. The man got away from LA with a cut of one and a half million dollars. Split five ways, that’s still more than enough money to trick out a car and enter some races. And, assuming he didn’t abandon it by the side of the road somewhere, that Supra was worth a fair bit too.
Dom is silent as he enters, puts the car in gear, and drives them towards the border. Brian doesn’t say anything, content to watch the lights of Tijuana pass them by for a bit, but as they pull closer to the border, he has to ask. “Do you have a passport?”
Dom raises an eyebrow. “You think I got down here with my passport? Stopped off at the house, grabbed my papers, with LAPD on my ass?”
Brian bites his tongue, wants to say they weren’t on Dom’s ass—not for a few hours, anyways—because they were too busy being on Brian’s. He doesn’t. Wants to ask what the hell kind of papers Dom’s been using to get by, but figures that’s the type of question that Dom won’t answer and could get them onto real shaky ground real quick, considering Brian’s profession. “Figured. Here,” he says, fishing it out of his pocket and tossing it into Dom’s lap.
“The FBI wants this case handled,” Brian says shortly. “Don’t much care how I do it. So, your passport. Pretty sure I’m supposed to take it back from you as soon as we cross the border.”
They get through customs. Brian doesn’t take the passport.
Now in San Diego, they have a ways to go and the sun is going down. The car’s silent except the hum of the engine, tense in a way that makes Brian a little twitchy. He takes a deep breath.
“Not gonna ask me where I’ve been?” Dom asks.
“Figured you’d tell me if you wanted to. Figured you’d want to keep that to yourself. In case you have to run again.”
“ Will I have to run again?” Dom’s hand tightens on the wheel.
“Shouldn’t, but, fuck. You know the FBI,” Brian says. “I’m doing what I can, Dom. I believe in keeping your options open.”
Dom side-eyes him. “You’re a shitty cop.”
Brian huffs in lieu of laughter. It’s the first thing Dom’s said to him that sounds even remotely like when they talked five years ago, and of course it’s about him being a cop. If only Dom knew the truth.
They make it to Echo Park long after dark, but Brian’s pretty convinced Letty and Mia will be waiting for them. Well, for Dom.
It’s not like he can fuck off, though. He can’t really let Dom out of his sight, so he follows Dom up the walk, onto the porch. Dom doesn’t have a key, apparently, because he knocks and waits, leaning against the frame.
Mia opens the door, and Brian wants to pull back into the shadows. Maybe wait in the car.
He doesn’t have time to make that decision, though, because Mia slaps her brother hard enough for it to make a thud that echoes on the small porch, then launches herself at him, arms around his neck and face in his chest.
Dom, for his part, seems surprised by none of this, and just lets her, bringing his own arms up to hold her.
Letty edges around them, seemingly content to hold off her own greeting to Dom for a moment. She comes to a stop a few feet away from Brian, watching.
Mia finally pulls back, her eyes wet but not crying. “If you ever…” She threatens, but the words seem to get lost.
“I know,” Dom rumbles. “Mia, I know.”
He turns to Letty, arms at his side, spread just wide enough to indicate he’s perhaps hoping for a hug. If he is, he must be disappointed, because Letty rips a chain from her neck and slaps it against Dom’s chest. One of Dom’s hands comes up to grab hold of it before it falls, chain slipping halfway through his suddenly clumsy fingers before he catches it.
Letty walks right by him, only turning once she reaches the door. “Dinner’s in twenty,” she says, despite it being almost eleven pm, and then walks the rest of the way inside, after Mia.
Dinner’s an awkward affair, tense. Bowls passing, forks scraping, no one looking at each other, no one talking. Brian half-wonders if he made a mistake, if he really should have just waited in the car, set this up like some sort of stake-out.
At least on a stake-out, silence is expected.
He can’t figure them out. He knows Mia wanted her brother back, even if she never would have said it—or anything else—to him. Knows Letty wanted Dom back. Knows how hard she pushed, the intel she brought him, the courage it took to come to the FBI with that. But here they all are.
As soon as it even remotely looks like people are done, Brian jumps up, declares he’ll get the dishes, that cooks don’t clean. He grabs plates and utensils at random, bringing them into the kitchen, filling up the sink, and beginning to wash.
Dom joins him five minutes later, grabbing a hand towel while Brian hears the TV turn on in the next room, hears low voices.
He keeps washing for a moment, but really, the silence is becoming unbearable. There’s been a lot of silence in Brian’s life, and precisely none of it came from the Toretto house, before today. There was always someone, always something, here. It’s making him a little twitchy.
“Well that was…something,” Brian says as evenly as he can.
Dom snorts, beginning to tuck plates and cups and silverware back into the proper cabinets. “What’d you expect, the welcome wagon? Mia told me to stop a hundred damned times, that I’d get my ass in trouble. And Letty…I left her behind. You expect a thank you and a hug?”
“With how hard Letty pushed to get you back…something like it,” Brian admits, finishing the last of the dishes and grabbing another hand towel so he can take over the drying.
Dom shakes his head. “Family is where they gotta take you in. Doesn’t mean they have to be happy to do it. They love you, they don’t gotta like you all the time.”
Brian frowns. Dom and the others had spent enough time giving him lessons on family, inadvertently and on purpose, mockingly and in a ‘pitying the sad sack’ sort of way. If family is about cold welcomes and obligation, Brian’s pretty sure he’s just fine without one.
If he’s—privately, in the thoughts he can’t really control nor stop—been thinking of the black hole inside of him for the past five years as the result of missing the Toretto house, then this hasn’t exactly gone a long way to soothing that hurt.
Dom grabs beers from the fridge, casual as anything. Like it hasn’t been nearly five years since he’s set foot in this house, like he still buys the beers with his salary at the corner store on his way home from work. “C’mon, then,” he says. “Gotta face it.”
Brian follows him when he takes the beers to the living room, passes them out silently and then takes a seat on the couch. Mia sits stiffly on the opposite side, but she does relax, slowly sliding closer to her brother.
Brian, for his part, grabs the free armchair and tries to tune everyone out.
It’s Letty who breaks the silence. “So,” she says, voice drowning out the TV. “Braga.”
Dom inclines his head. “Braga.”
“I…The Charger’s in the garage,” Letty says, awkward, not looking at him as she speaks. “Racing shape. If you ever wanted…”
Dom leans forward, suddenly, and reaches for her hand on the arm of her chair. It’s awkward and stretched, and she pulls back for a moment before letting him take hold. “Thank you,” he says, sincerity making his voice even deeper than usual. “You didn’t have to—”
She laughs. It’s an almost mean sound, cutting and sharp, short-lived. It makes the hairs on the back of Brian’s neck stand on end. “What else was I gonna do, Dom, since you decided I should sit at home and wait for you?”
The silence is back. Brian, for the first time since he moved back to LA, thinks longingly of his shithole apartment. “Let,” Dom says lowly. “That’s not fair. I—”
“ I get to decide what’s fair right now, Dom,” she interrupts him coolly. Brian’s always thought of Letty and Dom as perfect for each other, both made of fire, constant and easy to burn over, flaring and flashing, but here Letty is, and she’s definitely got plenty of ice inside her veins. It makes Brian shiver.
“Can we not—”
She stands, abruptly, forcing him to drop her hand. “Come on,” she says, leading the way up the stairs, not looking to see if he’s following. He is.
Which, of course, leaves Brian with Mia.
Brian closes his eyes, wonders if he can pretend he’s asleep. He’s not going to begrudge Dom and Letty this, whatever it is—a fight, makeup sex, undying promises, whatever—but he feels like he might physically catch fire where he sits.
“So,” Mia says, as soon as the door upstairs closes. “You’re planning to bring my brother undercover, huh?”