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On Beds of Sorrow

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The desert sun slanted low in the sky, casting an orange-red glow across the paper Dominic Toretto held in his hands. He sat on the hood of the Skyline, letting the hot breeze sweep past him, remembering: what it felt like to drive the desert highways at night, smell of sagebrush and hot earth surrounding you, sound of the radio on low fading in and out, and next to you the brightest smile you'd ever seen, blinding even in the dim light of the dash. A rich deep voice that wrapped around your ears, crept inside them and made you shiver with its promise.

He didn't even have to read the letter he held, not anymore; he'd memorized it by now. But it wielded a superstitious power over him, as though in its lines and creases, smudged ink, and wrinkles he could conjure back Brian O'Conner to life. Words had power over time; they filled the space left empty by the loss of those you loved.

Hey D--

It'll be a little longer before I get back there. You won't believe who nailed me the other night (they trashed the Skyline!) Remember our buddy Bilkins, of the FBI? Apparently he wants me to do a little job for him. At first I wasn't exactly down with it but they offered me something I couldn't resist -- clean package. And I'm thinking that I can leverage it into one for you, too. No more fake ID and stolen passports. They dragged my ass back to California but tempting as it was to jet down to TJ and meet up, I was there to grab my old friend Roman Pearce (they wanted me to drive with some guy who wouldn't know a Glasspack from a glass of beer to which I said no way, I'm picking the driver). He's a good guy and he's got a vested interest in this thing, because he gets his jacket pulled too (he was in for GTA).

There's this dude named Carter Verone, your generic sleaze. He's moving money out of the country by car and we're gonna get into the organization by posing as drivers. Once we get him, I'm free and clear, at least that's what Bilkins says.

Dom folded the letter down and gazed out at the sky, unable to read further, even though he knew what the rest of it said. He always hoped for a different ending, but it never came.

 

*****

He'd been in Baja just a few weeks before the postcards started coming. Dominic had bought a small house in Rosarito just in case something went wrong, and now it was home enough that people knew he was here, mail was delivered -- including totally unexpected mail. The first card was a picture of a big cactus, with the word Phoenix on the front. On the back read a cryptic note in handwriting he had never seen before: "Fnly getting a chance to see the country. Moving too fast though, what with the f frm j thing." Dom had puzzled over that before realizing it meant fugitive from justice. "They came by for a visit, had to split in a hurry. I'll be in touch."

So Brian had paid a price for letting him go. Dom had wondered off and on, but he'd had no way of finding out in the chaos of their departure. The card amused him and struck him as a peculiarly Brian thing to do. He'd gone back to setting up his garage and hadn't given it a second thought until the next one arrived a few days later; another cactus.

"New Mexico, old Mexico. Kind of ironic. Near miss with SP but I picked up a few games." So he'd nearly been caught by the State Patrol, but still managed to get a few races in: typical Brian luck. "Stuff we need to talk about when I get settled. Let you know when that is."

The next one came weeks after Vince, Leon, and Letty had finally joined him in Mexico. Vince brought the card out to him in the garage, still hobbling from the damage to his leg, and raised a suspicious eyebrow, but refused to say anything. Vince had changed a lot in the weeks after the shooting.

That card was postmarked San Antonio, and was more cryptic than usual. "Dude, found a NS, rhd intact. Ttly sick, you won't believe what I'm putting in it." It took Dom about ten minutes to figure out that he meant a Nissan Skyline, not a Sentra, with right hand drive, and to decipher the abbreviated list of parts he'd put into it. That had been all Brian wrote, but somehow it had been enough for Dom. Brian hadn't been able to let go of this thing any more than Dom had. And even if they were worlds apart, that knowledge was plenty good at keeping the connection alive.

He wasn't lonely. Letty was here, and Leon and Vince. They had done their grieving for Jesse and taken care of all the details for his funeral; at home Mia had handled the other painful details of temporarily storing away Dom's life in LA. He hadn't made things easy for her, and she resented him because of that. But he understood her feelings, even if there was nothing he could do to change the situation. He'd planned badly -- or not planned at all -- and the past was not something you had the luxury of changing no matter how well-intentioned the fixes you wanted to make. Things were normal on the outside, and though Dom knew in the quiet spaces when he was alone that they weren't normal inside, he tried not to let it show.

Yet the way Vince or Leon would look at him sometimes, catching what they called his vacant stares or noticing his listless pursuit of the things he used to enjoy, gradually made him realize he didn't hide it as well as he'd hoped. While they would never ask him what was wrong, they showed their concern in other ways; the harder they tried, though, to get him to act the way he had before, the more withdrawn Dom became. Knowing it was happening didn't stop him from doing it. He would drive out alone into the desert sometimes for hours, and when he returned they watched him with questions in their eyes. They wondered if it was Jesse he grieved for; if it was the betrayal by Brian he couldn't accept; or if it was his forced exile because of his failure that made him so distanced. If he'd been a better friend, a better lover, he'd have explained, but he never did, and they never asked.

Weeks went by and finally another postcard arrived, this one from New Orleans, picturing some typical French Quarter building. "Damn, I'm coming here for MG. If it's this much fun now, I'll think I died and went to heaven. Speaking of... The nite bfr RW, and after. Things to say."

He'd waited through all the cards to see if Brian would mention that night or if he'd play it cool. In the short time they'd known each other it had become clear that Brian was a mystifying combination of eager kid and icy, distanced pro. The trouble came in trying to guess just which personality he was going to show you -- and how you were supposed to react to it.

 

 

It had been the evening before they were leaving for Race Wars that everything had finally boiled over. Dom had gone to the garage to close it up for the few days they'd be gone and to make sure he had everything. He hadn't been too surprised to see the bay light still on and hear music coming from the bench stereo. But it hadn't been Vince making last-minute adjustments; instead he'd found Brian huddled over the Supra's block. He hadn't even looked up when he'd said "Hey."

Dom threw his keys on the bench and leaned against the wall. "Glad to see you're taking this so seriously."

"Yeah, I was thinking that something just didn't sound right. Can't take a chance on disappointing you, since you need to make some money off my ass."

The way he'd hit ass made Dom laugh. "You're going to have to win a lot of races this weekend to pay me back for all this." He swept an expansive hand over the car and stood next to Brian.

"Dude, I'm so gonna win." Brian cracked that blinding smile and Dom got the same sensation he'd felt weeks before when they'd first started working on this car together, as if he was being pinned by the light of that smile, dazzled into a kind of stupor. All he could really see were those eyes that glittered, the cant of his head, the color of his lips... "So what brings you here?" Brian asked.

Dom shook himself out of his little trance and shrugged. "Just closing up shop. Wasn't expecting to find anyone here."

"Weren't you?" Brian gazed at him as if he knew something he wasn't telling. He'd been doing that all night, in fact, when the team had gathered for dinner before taking off separately for the desert. Brian wiped the oil and dirt from his hands with a shop rag.

"Weren't I what?"

"Thinking someone might be here? You didn't have to close up shop, not really. Did you honestly think I wouldn't be here?"

Dom cocked his head sideways. "What are you getting at, Brian?"

"Ah, come on. We've been dancing around this since the beginning, haven't we?" He smoothed his hands over his jeans.

Dom shrugged. "I don't know. What would that be that we're dancing around?"

"You. Me." He pointed at Dom when he said it, and inched up close to him, but not too close. "Us."

"You got a vivid imagination." There was a slight sheen of sweat on Brian's skin, especially just under his hairline and on his upper lip. He wanted to reach out and touch it, feel Brian's damp skin under his fingers. "I wasn't aware there was an us."

"Yeah, you were." Brian grabbed a fistful of Dom's shirt and lunged forward, bringing his mouth to Dom's so hard he could feel a shockwave going up through his skull. The surprise of it hadn't stopped Dom from kissing him back. Brian's mouth was like fire, hot and quick and liquid, and Dom devoured it, was devoured, pulled inside and scorched. His hands ranged over Brian's hard body; he tugged at the t-shirt to reach skin, let Brian pull his shirt off.

His hands were sure; he touched Dom like he had total possession of his body. When Brian pulled away he said, "Over there," steering Dom to the old bench seat in the side of the bay. Brian straddled his legs, sinking down onto Dom's lap and placing his hands on either side of Dom's face.

The way he kissed was a revelation: so hard and aggressive and eager it took Dom's breath away. Brian's hands on his face, head, shoulders were rough and sensual; they spoke a language on Dom's skin, but different from the one his lips and tongue spoke against Dom's mouth. He twined his fingers through Brian's hair, tugging and stroking. Brian responded with small gusts of sighs into his mouth, across his neck.

Grinding his hard cock against Dom's, Brian writhed in his lap like he was trying to tell him that he wanted everything, right now, right here. But then he stood up, took something from a pocket -- lube and condoms, Dom realized thickly, and that meant he'd planned this -- then kicked his sneakers off and pulled off his jeans. Dom wasn't sure what to do; everything was happening so fast he didn't have time to really think this insanity through. Except that Brian stood in front of him, golden, strong, a pearly sheen of sweat making him glow like some crazy jewel he'd never realized he'd wanted so much, and Dom didn't really care if he was insane or not.

Brian slid back down onto his thighs but reached beneath him, unzipping Dom's pants and moving his hand inside his underwear, awkwardly tugging everything down with a little help from Dom. His hand curled around Dom's cock like a lick of flame, so hot and forceful he almost came right there. Brian knew exactly what he was doing and Dom wanted to ask how, why, but as arousal coiled through his gut, he found he didn't care. He didn't even really care that Brian seemed to assume two years in prison meant Dom knew what he was doing, too, and that none of this was weird or unsafe or just plain scary.

Brian's dick twitched against Dom's belly, a cool slick of fluid already spilled across Dom's skin. Then Brian lifted himself higher to push his ass against Dom's cock and the friction was almost too much, he gasped against Brian's throat and pulled him tighter. Wanting it so fiercely he couldn't breathe -- not even sure what it was, but not caring, just wanting. In prison even touching another guy was just about getting off; it was meaningless and short. Dom almost wished that he could feel outraged or freaked about this, because doing this meant something he didn't understand; instead all he wanted was for this to last as long as possible, to feel as good as possible for both of them.

Brian pulled his head back, ran a thumb along Dom's lower lip. "This. You, me." He plunged his mouth to Dom's, put the lube in his hand even as he distracted him with wet, deep kisses. Brian didn't even let him hesitate, guiding him in what to do as he slicked the lube over Don's dick, then with sure hands directed that slowly inside himself.

All Dom could do was give a ragged sigh of pleasure, take in small gulps of air as Brian thrust languidly against him, over and over. So hot and so tight, and it was Brian above him, Brian around him like they were meant to be here, made one for this moment. Like Dom was meant to be consumed in Brian's fire.

When he came it was in hard, rough spasms that rocked his body for what felt like at least ten minutes, and he buried his face in Brian's neck. "Us," he heard himself say from some distant place, but it sounded righter than any other words or sounds.

He reached for Brian's cock and stroked it firmly, thumb teasing over the head. He was still inside Brian, still rocking him slowly with his strong thighs. Dom worked at Brian's nipples with his tongue and teeth, causing Brian to arch back -- and he almost fell backwards until Dom braced him with his thighs and arms. He could tell Brian was ready to come and stroked him faster, harder in time with the rocking, and then Brian grunted and panted, the hot stickiness of him shooting across Dom's belly and chest. Brian collapsed against him, his arms around Dom's neck and draped over the seat back.

"You definitely know what you're doing," Dom said into his neck, trying not to make it sound like he was insinuating something. He pushed the sweat-damp curls off Brian's forehead. "So then what is this thing with Mia? Now I have no idea what's going on here."

"What, a person can't have it both ways?"

"Is that what this is?"

Brian chuckled, running his hand over Dom's head. "It started with her. But the more I got to know you... Variables. You can never plan for the variables."

Rubbing Brian's lower lip with his thumb, he said, "You're crazy. You know that, don't you?" But he loved it. If Brian was crazy, he wanted to be swept away in all that madness, never come down. He felt as if he'd punched the NOS on his own life right then, jolted forward into some insane freefall.

All he got in reply was a kiss.

Dom didn't want to pull out, but Brian's legs had to be killing him, and Dom's own thighs were rubbery and numb. He wanted to stay that way as long as they could, keep this discovery like the precious thing it was. But Brian kissed the top of his head and they went about cleaning themselves up, re-dressing. Separate.

When Brian turned back to him he was grinning that idiotic grin that had suddenly become the most wonderful thing in the world. "Don't worry, I can keep a secret," he said cryptically. Dom hadn't asked him to pretend it hadn't happened, but that was the only thing he could make sense of in what Brian was saying.

Brian dropped the hood on his car and opened the door, getting serious. "I know how things can get in the way, even if it's something you want."

Dom had kissed him then, making sure Brian knew he was in this thing, all the way. That he wasn't interested in what could get in the way or hang it up.

He had let Brian drive away first, then closed up the garage. He'd thought they would have time at Race Wars to sort it out -- and Dom had wanted to sort it out, wanted to keep Brian in his life now that he'd found him. So many things they'd said with hands, lips, cocks, but still too much had been left unsaid. He'd wanted to find those missing words and say them, the way they'd spoken with their bodies.

But then it had all blown apart at the welds.

 

*****

That quality of Brian's always got him in trouble: needing to fix everything for everyone. He couldn't resist a challenge to make things right, even if they were only slightly wrong. Boy scout. He'd tried so hard to make the truck hijackings turn out right, to stop them before it went too far. Sometimes Dom tried to cut back through the fog of this recent past and picture what might have happened if he'd known before Race Wars that Brian was a cop. If Brian had told him that night in the garage...

Maybe in a way he'd tried. But how could Dom have guessed, despite Vince's insistence that he wasn't to be trusted? Nothing could convince him that Brian wasn't real, that this wasn't something true.

That's how Dom remembered him now: a fixed point, true like a star, something to guide himself by. He knew Brian would laugh at that, but loss made you sappy, Dom had learned. Though Brian would hate the thought of him hanging on like this, unable to let go and accept, Dom had never been an accepting guy and he wasn't really capable of starting now.

I hear you laugh. But think about it -- three years for the statute of limitations to run out on the armed robbery, and Bilkins said he never filed the other charges. This is a good deal. Don't worry about me, you know I can take care of myself. I got a good thing going; I'm not gonna throw it all away, you know?

 

****

The last postcard had come from Miami. Pastel colors and palm trees. He expected a joke about Crockett and Tubbs, but on the back was scrawled "Home sweet home." So he'd landed, but in a way Dom felt like he was still moving farther away than ever. Because he had no idea what Brian wanted, what his goal was? Dom wasn't sure; he only knew that he felt as if he was the directionless one, lost without map or compass in this strange territory called Brian O'Conner. By then it had been so long since he'd seen him last -- standing on that street near the wrecked Charger looking broken and confused -- that he could hardly remember what Brian looked like. It was a collection of sensations: the dazzling smile; the throaty voice that sent a shiver up his spine; the thick, curly surfer-blond hair; the ice blue eyes that made Dom feel like he was peeling away layers of his soul when he looked at him.

After the last postcard came, though, he fell into limbo. That night in the garage Dom had at last discovered what he'd been feeling all those years when the quarter-mile kept him alive -- that he'd only been waiting, living a half-life. The language Brian had spoken, that he'd taught Dom that night, had finally allowed him to understand just what it was he'd really waited for.

But he had no idea if Brian knew that, or cared. Or if he would ever find out the answer. Both Vince and Leon grew restless in their new surroundings; they were East LA boys born and bred. Eventually they'd left, apologetic, but with the promise of their friendship, as always, when Dom eventually returned home. Letty tried to stick it out but the isolation chafed her, and she became increasingly hostile or removed. One day she packed her bags, while Dom did nothing to get her to stay. She gave him that relentless, squinting stare, then kissed him one last time. "It was hard enough seeing you in Lompoc and watching what it did to you," she said. "I can't stay around here and watch what's left of your soul get destroyed."

So he continued on his own, occasionally fantasizing about seeing if that stolen passport and fake ID would hold up to the scrutiny of a return trip to the States, seeing if he could find Brian in Miami. He gave up hope that Brian would find him, and sometimes the fact that he thought about it at all embarrassed him. Brian had lied to him, deceived him, hurt him, and yet all he could find inside himself was a fruitless desire that they might at least see each other again and finish what they'd started.

Then the first letter came. It didn't say much more than the postcards had, but it was less cryptic. Brian told him that he'd been checking up on him to make sure he was still there, and that he would "drop by for a visit." Of course he didn't say when. Three subsequent letters -- telling of races, friends, where he was living -- came, all just as brief, all saying he would visit. Dom thought Brian enjoyed the game just a little too much. Or maybe he was just scared. That he definitely got.

He was working on a car one afternoon when he heard someone drive up, then a door slammed, followed by a low chuckle. Dom glanced up slowly, not sure he could really believe the laugh belonged to the person he wanted it to belong to.

Brian grinned at him. His hair was shorter now, much of the blond cut away. Must not be getting his surfing time in these days. In some ways he seemed thinner, but not much different otherwise. Same two-day stubble, same bad sloppy clothes. And the blue eyes that burned like an eerie lamp. "You're really here," was all he said in greeting, walking up close but still a safe distance away.

"So are you." Dom wiped his hands clean and turned off the music he'd been blasting. "Trouble finding it?"

"Nah, just like Mia said. Everyone knows about you, too -- the gringo with the partes who fixes the autos." They stared at each other for a while, both kind of numb, he thought. Hesitation and doubt hung in the air. Then Dom shook it off. This wasn't how he'd envisioned it, so he wasn't sure how to act.

"Do you want to see the place? It's not much."

"Love to. Besides, I need a bathroom -- long drive. Man, it's hard to get a decent car here."

Dom smiled and peeled off the over-shirt, aware that Brian was watching him closely. He'd tried to keep himself in shape even down here, even alone. Maybe just because of this possibility. They went into the house and Dom pointed out the small bathroom. He hoped there weren't any scorpions running around, but also didn't want to freak Brian out by warning him. He wasn't sure how much experience he'd had south of the border.

They were both acting so strangely casual, as if this was just an ordinary reunion, as if they'd seen each other only a few days ago and their worlds hadn't been split apart. But when Brian came out the act fell apart. The look on his face was every bit as fretful and anxious as it had been when Dom found out he was a cop. And Dom was pretty sure he was wearing a similar face.

"It's... this is it, basically. Just this main room, the kitchen. And indoor plumbing, as you see." He walked to the narrow hallway. "Four rooms, though, back here, which is why I got it -- just in case we needed a place. Never thought I really would."

Brian peered into Dom's room. "It's nice. Not like what I was expecting."

"It'll do."

Brian leaned against the jamb, looking down at his feet for a minute before making eye contact again. "I'm just glad you're safe. So with all these rooms, you're not here... alone, then."

Dom leaned back opposite him; they were nearly touching in the narrow space. "I'm alone now. The rest of the team was here for a while, but they left."

"Couldn't stand the scorpions?" Brian smiled. "Or just not what they expected?"

"They got tired of my pining." Dom smiled back, but he felt so tense that he wondered if it came out more like a grimace.

"They just left? Doesn't sound like them... like Letty, especially."

"A lot's changed."

He squinted at Dom. "You were pining? For what -- home? Or just grieving?"

"All of it. None of it." He didn't know what else to say, so he reached out and pulled Brian to him, took Brian's mouth to his. Brian kissed him back, his hands suddenly everywhere: on Dom's shoulders and back and his neck and then across his head, Brian touching him nearly everywhere and his tongue was halfway down Dom's throat. He couldn't tell where he ended and Brian began, couldn't get enough of his skin and his mouth, as if this had been his sole purpose, waiting for this. Nothing by halves, ever again, he thought, and dug his fingers into Brian's arms.

When Brian pulled away his mouth was red and wet, his eyes shiny with lust. "Dude, you were pining for me?"

Dom wound an arm around Brian's waist and cupped the back of his neck, bit into the blade of his jaw, chin, lower lip, then ran his tongue around Brian's lips, over teeth and tongue and palate. "For you. Me. Us."

"Oh, god." Brian melted against him, grinding his cock against Dom's hip, sliding his hands up under the t-shirt. His mouth was so hot, tongue hard and slithery as it darted through Dom's mouth, around his ear, down along his neck.

The button on his pants was undone with a slight pop, then Brian slid the zipper down slowly. "I hope you don't think I came here just to get down. Not that, you know, I don't want to."

Dom laughed. "Thought we were gonna talk. You kept threatening that in your postcards. I liked them, by the way."

"Yeah, I thought you would. Terse and mysterious, just like you." He pulled Dom to the bed, tugging Dom's shirt over his head, then his own. "There are things to say. But a lot of time to say 'em in."

He could not believe that Brian was finally here in his bed, under his hands. Golden and shimmering and true. He'd believed he wanted to be in it with Brian, all the way, long before he thought he'd lost his only chance. Now there was a second chance, right here, right in it with him.

Brian ran his thumb along Dom's lips and Dom sucked his fingers in, watched as Brian moaned and opened his mouth, licking his lips sensuously, staring at him with such intensity it burned Dom's gut, his heart.

Then Brian pulled Dom to him and whispered harshly against his ear. "Be in me."

He sighed against that warm, smooth skin. Yeah, he thought. All the way.

 

 

They did talk, throughout the week, in between eating and drinking and sex and just being together. Dom had work to do but no inclination to do it unless Brian accompanied him. All the important stuff left unsaid when Brian had given him the keys and let him drive away was finally laid out. Dom liked how Brian thought, how he talked -- he was honest and open, but reserved. Dom thought, when he first saw him again, that he knew nothing at all about Brian. The choices he'd made before couldn't have been more unfathomable. Within this short time, though, the picture of Brian became clearer, and all the things Dom had feared happening faded away.

Brian told him about running and the choices he'd made that day. But he wouldn't allow Dom to feel guilty; they were his decisions, Brian insisted, and he didn't regret it. He talked about the racing he'd done, his success in Miami, and he gave Dom full credit for teaching him everything he'd needed to win -- not to stroke Dom's ego, but to acknowledge where the two of them had come from, where they had to go.

Eventually he got around to what had brought him there when they were lying in bed in the early evening heat.

"If it's cool with you, I want to stay here. I like Miami, but... it's a little lonesome, you know? And it's a lot easier to live under the radar here. Someday the tax man's gonna find me or some cop will get me at a race. At least here we could wait it out."

"Mi casa es su casa." He hoped Brian would know that it was more than that -- he could never go back to being alone now, either. Nothing by halves.

"I was figuring we could drive back to Miami, see the sights, do that cross-country drive thing for real this time. My ID got me here just fine, I'm sure it'll be okay."

"Yeah, I was meaning to ask you about that... who are you?"

Brian laughed and ducked his head. "Ron Owens. Pleased to meet you."

Dom howled. "Christ, they couldn't get you a passport with a better name? Damn."

"Tell me yours."

"No fucking way."

"I'll get it out of you sooner or later."

"Like hell you will. So aside from this desire to see the USA in your Chevrolet, why are we going back there?"

"Just something to do. And I want to get my stuff."

"Stuff? You have stuff?"

"Well, yeah. Not a lot, because the whole cross-country fugitive from justice deal kind of hampers your ability to accumulate much, but I have stuff. And I want--"

"You want to get the Skyline."

"--to get the Skyline. Say goodbye to some friends. You can come back here, and I'll follow as soon as I wrap it up."

Dom pushed his hair back from his forehead. "That's what I love about you -- somehow you always seem to fit in and find a place, even if you shouldn't."

Brian punched his arm. "Love? Dominic, you love something about me? I bet you don't throw that word around a lot. I feel like I should get a memorial plaque or something."

"Don't make a big thing out of it."

"Okay, I won't." He grinned and went to the kitchen to rummage around in the refrigerator. Dom watched him, swept by a surge of happiness, yet worried by a kind of dread that he couldn't name. As if now that he had Brian here, letting him go would bring something terrible down on them both. It was silly, but the feeling uncoiled inside him, making his heart beat faster with fear.

Dom called out from the bedroom, "On second thought, make a thing out of it."

Brian made a running leap for the bed and landed with a woof! on top of Dom. "Let me show you how big of a thing I can make."

 

 

They planned to cross in Arizona, where Brian suggested they go separately at the border as it would raise less suspicion than two California guys coming through together a state away. "Even if we say we were just down there for pussy, it's going to look funny, and then they might look harder at the ID." Dom agreed to whatever he said because he preferred letting Brian think about that stuff. He finished his commitments to customers and then they were off, driving up and over to the crossing at San Luis. Dom ditched his junker car in Yuma and they continued on together, taking their time.

Dom had always thought of himself as a city boy, but out in the wide open spaces of desert and mountain and canyon he felt alive in a different way. The landscape around them was stark and beautiful; they drove up through the Four Corners area, into Utah and Colorado and back down to New Mexico. They'd stopped at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Zion and Glen Canyon, Moab and the salt flats in Utah. He saw the Rockies for the first time in Colorado, the Sangre de Cristos in New Mexico, and the Rio Grande. All that purple mountains' majesty stuff had unfolded in front of him and he was awed by it, as was Brian. As often as they could they took the parts of Route 66 still left to travel, or ran the new highways built on its remains. Dom wasn't impressed by Texas even though Brian liked it, but he loved Louisiana despite the heat, especially Lake Ponchartrain. The rest of the south, though, they sped through as quickly as they could till they reached Florida, where Brian took him the long way down, across Alligator Alley to the east coast and then at last to his grungy little boat in Miami.

Sometimes they slept by day and drove by night, not even for speed, just to feel the night air of summer flow over them, see the stars above them like a net of light. They talked and didn't talk, whatever suited them at the time, and Dom discovered a feeling inside himself he'd never really known before: satisfaction. He had no desire to do anything else, no need to live for some unspecified time in a nebulous future. It was all here, now, his.

But it wasn't perfect. Dom had always been moody and liked his space, and though it didn't come on him a lot, when he was in a bad mood he wanted to be away from people, focus on something mechanical. Brian was mostly cool with that, seemed to get when to leave him alone, but he also had such a reserve at times that it bewildered Dom. Always emotional and volatile, Dom had a hard time understanding how Brian kept back some of himself, even while being so good-natured and outgoing.

Somehow, though, they worked around the problems. It was worth it to Dom, and Brian said as much, too. When Brian had brought up moving in with him, he hadn't hesitated. Not even a second of uncertainty, he'd just known that it was the thing he wanted most.

He knew these long weeks of contentment would have to end at some point. Brian insisted, as they got closer to Florida, on having Dom drive back some of his stuff while he would follow later with the rest. The idea of going back without Brian depressed him, but he didn't want to act sappy about it for fear of giving Brian second thoughts. He got that Brian needed the space, though, needed to let go of that part of his life on his own terms. Dom had already had the chance to do that; even though Brian had come to see him, he'd made the decision to stay with Dom impetuously. Or so he said.

In Miami it felt final. Brian seemed to sense that and went out of his way to introduce Dom to his life there, even found a race one night to show off his Skyline... and maybe himself. Dom liked it, a lot, and he liked the place: the palm trees felt like home, but it was exotic with the southern humidity, the little lizards that darted around his feet when he stepped off the boat. He remembered that confident yet anxious kid who'd first challenged him one night on a Los Angeles street. It was a lifetime and a universe away, and Dom was glad of that -- this new world was much better. After Brian won his race one night Dom hunched himself up over the console and gave him head on the trip home, just for the hell of it. Brian nearly took them off an overpass when he came, but it was worth the scare. Things he would never have done before now came as easily to him as driving; Dom was untethered to his earlier life.

Brian didn't have much stuff, not in the crummy boat he lived on. So Dom figured it was the people he'd really come back to say goodbye to. That made him think of his own team, though these friendships were newly formed. It was so like Brian to make at least a few friends wherever he went.

The night before he left to head back to Mexico, Brian actually asked him if he was happy. As if he was afraid of having pushed himself on Dom.

"What do you think?" he asked, pulling Brian's mouth to his.

Brian shoved him down on the bed, straddling his hips. It reminded Dom of that night in the garage, a world away now but still all the same feelings of desire and need. "I think if you're half as happy as I am, then you're pretty damn happy."

"You're a sap."

"Yeah." Brian peeled Dom's shirt off, circled his hands around Dom's upraised arms and slid them slowly down, around, along, over shoulders and pecs and stomach. When Dom pulled his arms down Brian pushed them back up and held his wrists there.

"Take off your clothes," he growled, and Brian laughed.

"Hey, who's in charge here?"

Dom thrust his hips up into Brian's crotch. "You are. So get on with it."

"Mmm..." Brian responded, using one hand to undo Dom's pants. "Stay still for once. I want to show you what I think of you."

So Dom left his arms up and Brian started at his fingertips: running his hands over everything as a prelude to lips and tongue and teeth, kissing, licking, sucking. He took forever to work his way down Dom's body, all the sensations blending together into one incredible, wonderful torment. He tried to thrust his hips against Brian's body, grind his cock into him, but Brian just stilled him with an insistent press of his hand. As soon as he got Dom so worked up he was panting and moaning, Brian would sit back on his heels and watch him, running his hand over Dom's stomach, then beginning his languorous path again.

Of course Brian would choose something wordless and sensual as a way to show his feelings. Dom had grown used to how Brian expressed himself, so differently than he did. Brian could never seem to bring himself to say the actual words, but he'd leave an LY for love you on notes, drop a remark about "us" whenever he could. He'd grown up in a different kind of family, one uncomfortable with speaking their feelings, and even though it made Brian uneasy to do it, he tried -- simply because it was what Dom wanted. And now this... this silent worshipping of him, so focused and intense... This was how Brian showed his feelings, and Dom was happy to oblige him.

When he reached Dom's feet he gently turned him over and began the same slow trail up his legs, along his back. Then he pushed Dom's leg out sideways and shoved his face in his ass, tongue flickering hard and fast over the hole, and Dom grabbed the sheets, trying to keep anchored on the bed without hurling both of them off in his shocked pleasure.

"Jesus god," he panted, and Brian laughed behind him, holding his hips down and doing even crazier things with his tongue. He'd learned over the past few months that Brian was totally fearless, especially when it came to sex, but he hadn't been prepared for some of the things he did. When he looked over his shoulder to see Brian's face at his ass, he was afraid he would come right then. Brian seemed to figure that out; he pulled away and grinned, stroking his fingers there and then down underneath, cupping Dom's balls, rolling them between his fingers. "I don't know how much of this I can take," Dom said into the bed.

"Just let me enjoy you," Brian whispered against the back of his neck, continuing his journey. He licked around Dom's ears, stuck his tongue inside them, then lightly dragged his lips over his head, hot breath feathering over Dom's scalp and making his dick twitch even harder. Dom's whole head tingled and he could feel the press of Brian's rigid cock in the small of his back. By then it required everything in him not to hump the bed. Brian turned Dom over again, sucking and biting his nipples, before he finally took Dom's cock in his mouth, slowly licking, moving his hand up and down. There was no way Dom could last; he pulled at Brian's waist to bring his hips around. At first Brian resisted, but a firm grip on his dick appeared to change his mind. If Dom focused on doing to Brian what was being done to him, he might last longer. Shifting onto his side he took Brian inside his mouth, stroking his belly, gripping his narrow hips. But as soon as Brian deep-throated him Dom lost it and came with a loud, guttural cry. Brian sucked him dry, easing him down with each spasm, running his fingers in circles over Dom's chest and belly.

In time he remembered what he was supposed to be doing and went back to sucking Brian's cock, enjoying the little "mm-hmm" sounds coming from his throat, then the longer, drawn-out "MMMmmm" when he came. He liked holding on to Brian as he trembled for a while afterwards, his hands traveling in lazy circles over that smooth, tanned skin.

"You're amazing," Dom said, running his fingertips over Brian's lip when they were facing each other again. "If I don't tell you enough, I'm telling you now: you're amazing."

Brian knelt above him and sat back on his heels, laughing that rich, deep laugh. God, he loved that sound. "Dude. You tell me that all the time."

"Just have to get used to hearing it, then." All those years thinking that speed was what made him free, what made him happy, and now he knew that had just been a warm-up; this was the real thing.

He draped himself over Dom, letting Dom stroke his back, wind fingers through his hair. It was difficult not to get all sappy and stupid over Brian at times like this. Though he may not have been a blushing virgin, what physical contact he'd had with a guy had been about raw need, not desire or affection. To want to do these things -- kiss Brian, suck his cock, take him inside him all the way -- was not something he would ever have guessed that he'd want so badly, that he would need it like air or water. Brian rose and cleaned them both up, then straddled Dom's thighs, his hands still exploring.

Brian touched his index finger to Dom's stomach and drew the shape of an L, then a Y. Dom held his hand there, like he could make it permanent. If Brian couldn't say the words, Dom was okay with that. He knew what he needed to know.

In the morning he said goodbye to Brian. He didn't care that they were outside where anyone could see, he took Brian's face in his hands and kissed him long and hard. "Gonna be a hard couple weeks without you." He pressed his forehead to Brian's.

"Nah, you'll enjoy all that quiet and relaxation. Just think how happy your dick will be to have a rest."

Dom didn't want to joke about it. Knowing Brian tended to keep things at a distance didn't help him when he was feeling this way. The surge of emotion made his chest tight and his face ache.

"I'll be waiting for you."

"I'll be there. Gonna see if I can bring a few extra Gs with me, too."

"We're set, I told you that."

"I know. It's just... A little cross-country jaunt for a month is muy expensivo. Don't want you thinking I'm a kept man. I want to pay my way into the party, you know?"

"Yeah, I feel you." He took a deep, ragged breath. "Be careful." Dom kissed him again and Brian wrapped his hands around Dom's even as he still held his face. "Love you. Don't forget it."

Brian grinned that crazy grin. "Wouldn't dream of it."

Dom watched him in the rearview mirror as he drove away. Brian stood there, hands in pockets, motionless, until he faded from view.

 

*****

He had thought about it a lot in the past few months. What might have happened if he'd stayed? He liked to think that if he'd been the one watching Brian's back it would never have happened, but of course there was no way he could know that. It was easier to beat himself up over it, though.

He could have pushed himself into Brian's life whether he wanted it or not, made sure that whatever they did they did together. It had only taken a few days, really, for Dom to lose everything. His whole world obliterated in a matter of days. They'd both liked their space, it was true, but by respecting Brian's desire for it he'd given himself up to this black emptiness. It made Dom wish that he hadn't tried to be so accommodating, to make up for the mistakes he'd made with Letty and with his family.

Could you ever know what was in someone else's heart? Brian had kept so much of himself back; would he have wanted Dom to argue with him, insist on staying despite his plans? He went over and over it, and still couldn't figure out if there had been signs he missed, subtle hints that he should have stayed.

It took a long time for the image of Brian receding from view to stop torturing him. It woke him up in a sweat, permeated his waking life.

But Brian had always been so confident. It was the thing that drew Dom to him the most: his quiet competence and strength, his unwavering belief that what he was doing was right.

Heart warred with mind. He wanted to remember the good things: Brian silhouetted by moonlight one night in the Painted Desert when they'd stopped to stretch their legs; driving flat-out on a desert road, topping out the speedometer and nothing in front of them but open highway; Brian lying naked and pooled in rumpled, blinding white sheets, spread open before him, waiting and eager; Brian looking up from under a car hood, a grease smudge across one cheek, talking about engines. But Dom kept coming back instead to that last glimpse fading from sight, to the letter, to the phone call. To his failure to protect him and keep him safe.

These were the bones of loss, memories and regrets so stark white and brittle, lying scattered on their beds of sorrow. Something once formed in the shape of a person, of love. In the end they would be scoured and buried by the sand of time blowing in on a desert wind.

 

*****

He got the letter about a week after he arrived home. He'd driven straight through, stopping only when he had to sleep. Dom wanted to believe in Brian's ability, but something about it had worried him. A lot. If Verone was really a minor-league crime kingpin, then it was a whole different game for Brian than his undercover job trying to bring down Dom and his team.

And then the phone call came. As soon as he heard "My name's Roman Pearce," he knew; the cold anguish that exploded inside him made it impossible to hear, to think, to feel anything at all but numb fear. Roman explained everything in a broken, bleeding voice, but Dom didn't really listen. All he remembered was that they'd let Verone go and he'd done what he'd said he would do. He'd almost taken both of them out, Roman said, but Roman had come through it with bullet injuries to his shoulder that would never likely go away. He could barely bring himself to say that Brian was gone; he choked on the words, overcome.

For weeks Dom wandered ghostlike through his life, helpless, directionless. Then he went home.

No one really understood when he explained, least of all Mia. But she comforted him, regardless. Inadvertently she reminded him that he wasn't the passive type, and that spurred him to action, even if it wasn't the action she wanted him to take.

Dom went hunting for Bilkins. He knew that a call from him would be too tempting for the fed to pass up -- the chance to bring in a mark who'd gotten away didn't come along every day. But he wasn't planning to walk into a trap until he'd accomplished what he wanted to do; then he didn't care if they took him in. He felt dead inside anyway; what else could they do to him to make it worse?

They met at an office building plaza near the federal offices, one where he could keep a close eye out for follows.

"You got me here, now tell me what it is you think you're doing," Bilkins said, while Dom sized him up, trying to gauge just what kind of a guy he was dealing with.

"Why'd you let Carter Verone go?"

Bilkins blinked and drew his head back in surprise. "How do you know about him?"

"What concerned Brian concerns me."

Bilkins watched him for a while, a weird, bitter smile slowly growing on his face. "So it's that way. I wondered why he did it -- went under like that. He was so adamant about pulling your jacket, but I thought it was the sister. Never would have guessed."

Dom just stared. "Yeah, it takes all kinds."

"What do you want, Toretto?"

"I want to know why you let Verone go. How it was that all the work Brian and his friend did went for shit and Verone whacked your own... employee."

Bilkins took a deep breath and sat down on the seat of the concrete planter, motioning for Dom to do the same. "You think I don't care about what happened to him, is that it?"

He didn't respond.

"I do. When we pulled O'Conner in, we pulled him for a reason. I knew he could do the job and it wasn't easy -- it wasn't an accident that we found out where he was. But you know as well as anyone that getting charges to stick on someone with connections or money is a crapshoot -- this time we lost. I did not want to lose. We were on him for years and someone over there seriously fucked up, probably because they were paid to. He got to Pearce and O'Conner before I even knew what had happened. Whoever did the hit, it wasn't Verone himself. He was still under surveillance."

"So what does that mean? He gets away free and clear?"

"If I can find a way to make a case, I will get him. But until then... it's hard. You have no idea how many investigations I'm currently running."

"The murder and attempted murder of two federal officers -- on the books or off -- doesn't have priority?" His fists clenched and unclenched; he wanted to hit something or someone more than anything right now. This was what Brian's life had come down to -- bureaucracy and paperwork.

"Yes, it does. But someone working outside channels might have more luck."

Dom cocked his head, narrowing his eyes. "Are you trying to tell me something?"

"No, not me. I haven't said a word." He got up and picked a card out of his pocket. "But if you hear anything, say, if you talk to Roman Pearce -- he's still in Florida, by the way -- you'll let me know. Or if, for instance, you ever run into Verone or any of his... staff."

Dom took the card and as Bilkins walked away, turned it over. On the back was written an address and the words Key Biscayne.

 

 

"So you gonna go in all Equalizer and, what, take him out single-handed?" Roman asked him when Dom told him his plans. "You might not be totally comprehending the situation, you know what I'm saying?"

"I'm not worried about it."

"Well, hell, Cuz, I am." He shook his head in disbelief. Dom was still trying to get a handle on the guy; he didn't seem like the type to be such a close friend, but it was clear that he and Brian had had a true bond. There was a manic energy about Roman that seemed exactly the opposite of what Brian would like, but he could also see how it might have balanced Brian's occasional reserve, too. "You can't just hang around waiting all conspicuous till you can bust a cap on his ass. He don't work like that."

"Patience is a virtue."

"Oh, Jesus save me. There just ain't no talking to you, is there?"

"Not usually."

Roman paced back and forth in his tiny apartment. It looked like he hadn't lived here long; his temporary FBI job had obviously required him to leave Barstow in a hurry. But he said there hadn't been much to leave behind in California, anyway. "Look, I know what's up. Brian talked about you a lot. At first I couldn't get him to say shit, but after a while he spilled. I ain't saying I understand or I'm with it, but I know it meant something to him." He paused, working his jaw back and forth, scrunching his face up. Like he was trying to hold it together -- Dom recognized that, oh yeah. "And the last thing my boy would want is you getting yourself killed trying to get vengeance on Verone's ass."

Dom hadn't given Pearce credit for being smart enough to think that through. But knowing he was right about it didn't mean Dom was going to stop. The only way he could ease this misery was to do right by Brian, especially if the feds weren't going to. He didn't think of it as vengeance, but justice.

"This is like some comic book superhero shit."

Dom just smiled at him. "Most of those guys got someone on their back, don't they?"

"Damn skippy." He laughed and shook his head again. "You win. Holla -- tell me what you need." That was when he'd finally seen why Brian had liked him.

He needed a gun, a car with Florida plates. All the basics of Roman's experience with Verone, what he thought his weaknesses were.

When Dom left, he stopped by the door, glancing back at Roman, who looked like this had all been way too much for him. Like he was fragile, maybe, the way Dom felt so often these days. He'd had to deal with the worst of it -- watching Brian die, sending his body home to his family in California. Telling Dom.

"You said before that he talked about me. Did he ever say..."

"Yeah, Bro. He said it all the time. He wasn't much for the words, you know what I'm saying? But the way he talked about you... sounded like he finally found 'em."

 

 

You start at the bottom. Find out who goes in and who goes out, when, what their patterns are. You watch and listen. A housemaid, a pool cleaner, a gardener; they all tell a little bit of the story. Then you make a list of who's closer to the top, check their patterns. Start with the bag man or the muscle, then work your way up to the lawyer. The accountant. Sooner or later you'll see them all if you're just patient enough.

You watch who goes in or out of the gate and how they do it. The bodyguards -- who they pay attention to, who they ignore. What pussy the big man prefers and when. The type of car he chooses, which day of the week he goes out, when he stays in. Then you learn the circuit -- the favorite clubs, lunch spots, places of business. That's where you ask your questions.

Almost anyone will have a price. No one is that loyal out of fear, and fear is easily purchased. By the time you're done, you'll know everything there is to know about him without ever having read a jacket. And he won't even know you're there, gradually becoming an expert on him.

The feds may have used their own way of getting to Verone, but Dom knew the tried and true methods: the ones that got better results in the real world. The government didn't have patience, either, and they cared what happened after the game. So Dom had all the advantages here; he had time on his hands and didn't care what happened to his life.

He watched Verone's place; sat far to the back of the room at his clubs; followed the car at a perfect distance. After a few weeks he found the vulnerabilities and took the information back to Roman to weigh the options. The closer he got to taking action, the more reserved, even afraid, Roman grew. Dom understood that -- Roman didn't believe this was the right thing to do to honor Brian. But Dom needed the closure of seeing Verone punished or killed. Brian had twice given up everything he wanted for this job; then he had given up his life. And Roman wasn't sure Dom would survive; he didn't have the heart to tell Roman he didn't care.

One night he waited at Verone's favorite club. Dom blended in well; the women who came on to him everywhere he went meant he looked like any other wannabe player. He'd noticed a pattern after a while: on certain nights Verone would pick one woman out of the crowd of his employees and take her home. What a great boss. He would leave out a side entrance near the manager's office, just his driver with him and the girl. When Dom saw him winding down that night, chucking a nervous, timid dancer under the chin and pulling hard on her arm, he knew this was his time to roll. Verone was making this way too easy with his assumption that he was now invulnerable.

Dom excused himself from the blonde who'd been plastering herself over him that night and moved toward the men's room, then slipped around to the service hallway behind the manager's office and out to the parking lot. He came up behind the driver just as he was shutting the door, leveled a kick at the back of his knees, and when the guy came down, smashed the butt of his gun on his skull. For good measure he bounced the driver's head off the rear panel and left him on the ground. Then he grabbed Verone by the hair; shoved the girl off him and into the back seat. Verone was yelling all kinds of things, but Dom stuck the gun up under Verone's chin and asked as politely as he could, "Would you mind taking a little ride?" Roman had given him the car the feds had provided for Brian on the job; he still had the one he'd driven -- payment for services rendered, Roman said.

Dom hauled Verone to the car and threw him against it, bashing his forehead on the door frame before he threw him inside. Then he took Verone's cell phone out of his pocket and cracked it against the pillar until it shattered. He started the car, hit the override on the door locks, and pointed the gun at him. He'd gotten used to driving and shifting with the walkie-talkies when they hit the trucks, so he was fairly confident he could keep it trained on Verone without a problem. "You probably don't know this car, do you?" he asked around Verone's bellowing threats and attempts at intimidation. "It belonged to Brian O'Conner. When he did some work for you. You remember him, though, don't you?"

That shut him up. "Who the fuck are you?" He was busy trying to stop the blood flowing out of his nose.

"Not important, really."

"FBI or local?" Dom was pretty sure there were a few motherfuckers and assholes thrown in under the snuffling and wiping of blood, but he couldn't be sure.

"Freelance."

"Oh, that's just fucking great. What do you want?" Verone snarled. "You want money, something the cop owed you? Drugs? What is it?" He tilted his head back to try to stop the bleeding.

"You can't really give me what I want," Dom said quietly. It was tempting to just kill him now and get it over with. But he wanted to make Verone suffer. It wouldn't ever compare to the pain Dom felt, but it would do.

They didn't have far to drive. Dom took him to an empty warehouse building he'd noticed on one of his follows. He grabbed Verone in a headlock and hauled him, kicking and screaming behind the hand that covered his mouth, into the building.

Verone wiped his hand over his face, eyes sparking with rage. "What the fuck is this? You have to want something."

"Give it a few minutes. I'll have it eventually."

That seemed to put him on the clue bus -- I want your death. "What is this about? Whacking a cop? What, did he work for you or something? What does this have to do with you?" He could see that Verone's mind was going a thousand ways trying to figure an angle, come up with a way out.

"Everything. But nothing you'd understand. People like you who don't care for anything would never understand someone like Brian. Or me. Save yourself the trouble." He ejected the round in the spout to take the gun off cock.

Verone was scrambling backwards, crashing into the junk scattered all around. "Oh, I get it." He laughed, sneering and mean. He tried to get to his feet but Dom punched him in the throat and he hit the ground, clutching his neck. After a few minutes of wheezing and gasping, he squeaked out some words. "You're going to avenge your homo lover? You won't shoot me, you faggot."

Dom cocked his head sideways. "No? You're probably right. I'd rather pistol-whip you to death. I'm a guy who likes to work with his hands." Dom raised the gun up and Verone crossed his arms over his face to ward off the blow, which almost made Dom smile. They were always cowards when you got down to it. "You know what I don't get?" Dom asked quietly, curiously. "Why kill him? It was over, you got off. Just for revenge because he took some cash? He didn't cost you enough to show up on your radar."

Verone lowered his arms and grinned. "You know what's the best part about killing a cop like him? It didn't cost me much at all. Cheap and easy. You make a phone call and--" He snapped his fingers.

The sound of cheekbone crunching under the weight of his blow was only mildly satisfactory. Verone's howl of pain didn't give him much either. So he did it again, and again. Not unlike beating Kenny Linder, except that this son of a bitch deserved it, and once he got started Dom didn't want to stop. This time he was fully aware of what he was doing. He tossed the gun aside and picked him up by his shirt, then began beating him with his fist, Verone's head jerking back and forth like a rag doll's. By now he was nearly unconscious, his face like hamburger, a few teeth scattered on the floor near his head, blood splattered across the cement floor. Just like Linder. Dom stumbled up backwards, sick to his stomach.

He wasn't this person, not anymore. Brian had given him a second chance to be better than this, to be more than just a brutal thug who solved all his troubles with his fists or a gun. To be something besides an ex-con and a criminal. His life had been forfeited to that second chance, to giving Dom a choice instead of hiding as a fugitive, and Dom was trashing that so he could get revenge -- a revenge that Brian would never want. As if he'd learned nothing from Brian, as if he'd never loved Brian enough to want to be a better man. He staggered away, repulsed with himself for betraying Brian's sacrifice. That was when he saw the flashing blue and red light out of the small back window. And another, and another.

It took him a second to register the man coming through the door, the others behind him wearing FBI jackets or Dade County uniforms, rushing forward with their guns out. Bilkins and his boys. But no one pointed a weapon at him. Dom spread his hands wide and stared at the blood on them, black in the colors of the lightbars. Brian would be so disappointed in him.

Bilkins's hand was on his shoulder. "Don't." Dom didn't know what he meant, but the look on the fed's face wasn't threatening. So it wasn't a command, just... letting him know he could stop now.

"How did you... you followed me."

"Yeah. GPS on the car. I figured it was time to intervene before you actually killed him. Not that we weren't enjoying the show."

"Letting me do your dirty work?" Dom was shaking now, as if his sole purpose of revenge had held him up these past months and now that it was gone, he would collapse under the weight of his pain. His whole body wracked with shudders; he was lost, empty.

"You got him to admit to murder. It's more than we could get. We can use it to put him away. You did well." Dom was confused, and Bilkins patted his shoulder. "Mic outside in the van. Everything's on tape."

Dom wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, his stomach churning and his heart beating way too fast. Bilkins leaned over and picked up his gun. "I'll take this. Not sure who it belongs to, since you wouldn't be carrying, being an ex-con and all."

"Why are you doing this?"

Bilkins gave him a kind but exasperated look. "Brian was willing to risk a lot to clean his record, and yours. It cost him his life and we let him down. He made good on LA. I just want to make good on Miami."

"You can't. Nothing you could ever do will make up for it." Bilkins was watching him sadly, and Dom knew what he must look like to him -- the psychotic thug with the thousand-yard stare. "And what happens to me now? Felony assault? Intent to kill?"

Bilkins steered him outside and they watched Verone being carried into an ambulance, the local cops swarming the scene. "You're clear. All clear."

Dom just stood there, hollow and terrified. Even in death Brian had found a way to give him his life back, but it was worthless without him in it.

As Bilkins walked away, he turned to Dom. "O'Conner would want something better for you. Don't let him down by sliding. You have a chance now for something better."

Dom got in his car and pressed his forehead to the wheel, trying to slow down the shaking. What use was a future without Brian? Only something dark, blank, unimaginable. They said the past was another country, as if you were supposed to leave it behind, but that was where he desperately wanted to stay. Not in this bleak, barren life stretching out ahead of him. He had no idea where else he could go. He'd had something better, and it was gone.

 

*****

He came back to LA after a detour to Mexico, picking up everything he needed from Rosarito, and the few things Brian had left behind as well. He'd never thought of himself as a sentimental person, but when he went into the garage to look at his father's things, untouched since his death, Dom realized he wasn't the type to let go. Roman had fixed up the Skyline so that Dom could take it back, even though it probably meant just as much to Roman as it did to Dom. Something made by Brian's hands, something that spoke of his soul.

He left the letter out on his dresser for a long time, next to the small stack of postcards. Mia didn't bring them up; just cleaned around them when she did housework. Dom never knew if she'd read them or not. All the photographs Brian had taken with the disposable camera he'd bought on their road trip were of scenery, except three. One was of Brian leaning against the car at a rundown gas station somewhere in eastern Colorado, hands in pockets, that incandescent smile on his face. Another was one he'd taken of Dom sitting at a table outside some taqueria or another -- everything blurred together now with indistinct recall. But it was the last one he kept with him: just their faces next to each other, laughing, as Brian held the camera at arm's length. It was slightly blurry and framed badly, but it gave him a desolate proof that they really had been together those few months, that Brian really had been in his life.

Vince and Leon helped him reopen the shop even though they both had work elsewhere. Letty had found something else and he didn't see her anymore except at an occasional meet. It bothered him occasionally that he'd let everything slide, but mostly he couldn't work up the energy to care. He didn't race any longer; wondered if he should to make use of the Skyline, but it didn't compel him the way it had before. Sometimes he caught Mia looking at him funny, like she knew what he was thinking about, as if she could smell the giving up that permeated him. She wanted Dom to get out and find something to live for again; every so often her inspiration and devotion helped, but only for a little while.

When his mistakes had once cost him everything he loved, he'd found a way to fake that passion. Living for the race, the quarter-mile, brought back what he'd lost, provided a simulacrum of his freedom. But once he'd been with Brian he learned he didn't need that anymore; Dom had found everything he'd been missing in a pair of strong, lean arms and ice-blue eyes.

Roman had told Dom when he left that he had to move on. That Brian wasn't the kind of guy who'd want anyone suffering because of him. He loved life too much for that, and loved Dom too much, as well. Dom knew that was true, but he didn't know how to feel better. There were no guideposts or mile markers for direction in this country.

Dom opened the letter again, even though it was almost dark now, a sliver of purple low on the horizon his only light.

I didn't call because I know you're going to blow a gasket. The way I felt about being a cop never made sense to you, especially after I gave it up. I get that. But I want this for you, me, us. Remember? You can decide what you want to do -- stay in Mexico, go home to LA, hell, even go back to Florida. Or maybe New Mexico -- I never saw you so happy as you were there, and if I could make you that happy for the rest of your life, then it'd be a good life.

I'm not like you and I feel weird saying the words, I'm better at showing how I feel. So more than anything, I want to show you a choice. Mexico, LA, wherever -- your choice. My gift to you.

LY
Brian

He folded the letter and put it back in his wallet. He really ought to stop carrying it with him; it would get torn and crumbled if he didn't. But it was hard to let go. His friends and family had tried to help him move on; even Vince had pointed out that Brian would want him to find something good about life. Dom tried, he really did. Some days he even went for a whole hour without remembering.

Dom slid off the hood and got back in the car, putting it in gear, leaving the smell of sage and dirt and crisp, dry air behind. Far too often he got in the car and just drove until he hit the high desert, desperate for the same sensations he'd experienced with Brian. Up here he felt connected to him, and it was almost like he could hear his voice, see that smile.

He knew they were right, all of them, and that Brian would never have wanted to see him like this. Brian would tell him to move on. If he could get the fastest car there was he would drive until he ran out of road, drive himself into that country of the past. Drive until he hit oblivion, the road stretching out in front and behind, shimmering in the heat, no ending and no beginning -- only Brian at his side and forever there ahead.

Yet Dom had learned something living in this graveyard of memories and regret that the rest of them didn't understand: you could move on and get past the loss of someone you loved, but that didn't mean you ever let them go.